Israel would reject Iran deal enabling nukes: Netanyahu

Israel would reject Iran deal enabling nukes: Netanyahu
Netanyahu said that Israel would not be bound to a nuclear deal between world powers and Iran if that would enable the Islamic republic to develop nuclear weapons. (File/AP)
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Updated 07 April 2021

Israel would reject Iran deal enabling nukes: Netanyahu

Israel would reject Iran deal enabling nukes: Netanyahu
  • China, France, Germany, Russia, Britain and the European Union — acting as an intermediary for the US — met in Vienna Tuesday for talks with Iran
  • The nuclear talks were set to continue on Friday

JERUSALEM: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that Israel would not be bound to a nuclear deal between world powers and Iran if that would enable the Islamic republic to develop nuclear weapons.
“An agreement with Iran that would pave the way to nuclear weapons — weapons that threaten our extinction — would not compel us in any way,” Netanyahu said in a speech, on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“There is one thing that compels us — to prevent those who seek our extermination from carrying out their plot,” he said at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.
China, France, Germany, Russia, Britain and the European Union — acting as an intermediary for the US — met in Vienna Tuesday for talks with Iran, aimed at rescuing the 2015 international agreement on Tehran’s nuclear program.
US President Joe Biden has said he is ready to reverse the decision of his predecessor Donald Trump to withdraw from the agreement and reimpose unilateral sanctions, raising concern in Israel.
The nuclear talks were set to continue on Friday.
Iran and Israel have both recently attacked each other’s commercial vessels, according to reports.
Israel believes Iran was cheating on the deal and working toward a nuclear weapon, while Tehran denies such ambitions.
“During the Holocaust, we had neither the power to defend ourselves nor the sovereignty to do so,” Netanyahu said at the Wednesday ceremony.
“Today we have a state, we have a defense force, and we have the full and natural right as the Jewish people’s sovereign state to defend ourselves from our enemies,” he said.
As tensions with Iran remained high, Israel in recent months has forged ties with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, where Jewish communities were for the first time holding public Holocaust ceremonies.
“In these very moments, a museum in Dubai is holding a memorial event for Holocaust victims,” Netanyahu noted. “Who would have believed?“
“These are indications of a welcome change in the ties between Arabs and Jews, outside of Israel and inside the country too,” he said.
Ceremonies held by the Jewish communities in Dubai and Manama on Wednesday will be joined by Muslim neighbors, said Houda Nonoo, Bahrain’s former ambassador to the US, who is a board member of the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities.
Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies will continue on Thursday, when sirens will blare across the country for two minutes in the morning, followed by a series of events in memory of the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust.


Gaza gravediggers and medics stretched as COVID-19 spikes

Gaza gravediggers and medics stretched as COVID-19 spikes
Updated 2 min 45 sec ago

Gaza gravediggers and medics stretched as COVID-19 spikes

Gaza gravediggers and medics stretched as COVID-19 spikes

GAZA: The sick and dying are rapidly pushing Gaza’s hospitals close to capacity amid a surge in COVID-19 cases in the impoverished Palestinian territory, health officials said.
Palestinians fear a combination of poverty, medical shortages, vaccine skepticism, poor COVID-19 data and mass gatherings during Ramadan could accelerate the increase, which began before the start of the holy month on April 13.
Gaza health officials said around 70 percent of intensive care unit beds were occupied, up from 37 percent at the end of March. There were 86 deaths over the past six days, an increase of 43 percent over the week before.
“The hospitals are almost at full capacity. They’re not quite there yet, but severe and critical cases have increased significantly in the last three weeks, which is a concern,” said Dr. Ayadil Saparbekov, head of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Team in the Palestinian Territories.
Gaza’s daily positivity rate reached as high as 43 percent this week, although Saparbekov said that number could be inflated because a shortage of tests meant they were mostly given to people already showing symptoms.
Saparbekov also said Gaza does not have the capacity to identify highly infectious COVID-19 variants when testing, meaning there is little data on them.
Graveyards are also feeling the strain. In Gaza City, gravedigger Mohammed Al-Haresh said he had been burying up to 10 COVID-19 victims per day, up from one or two a month ago.
“Wartime was difficult, but the coronavirus has been much harder for us,” said Haresh, who dug graves throughout the 2014 Israel-Gaza war.
“In war, we would dig graves or bury the dead during a truce or ceasefire. With the coronavirus, there is no truce.”
Densely populated and home to 2 million Palestinians, Gaza has for years had limited access to the outside world because of a blockade led by Israel and supported by Egypt.
Both countries cite security concerns over Hamas, saying they want to stop money and weapons entering.
Palestinians say the blockade amounts to collective punishment and that it has crippled Gaza’s economy and medical infrastructure, with shortages of critical supplies and equipment hampering their ability to tackle the pandemic.
The situation in Gaza is a stark contrast to Israel, where a world-beating vaccination rollout has led to more than 53 percent of Israelis being fully vaccinated.
Amid growing concern, Hamas was set to begin a week of nightly curfews, shutting down mosques that host hundreds of worshippers for Ramadan evening prayers.
But with around 49 percent of Gazans unemployed and parliamentary elections slated for May 22, Hamas has held back from more drastic measures that could further damage the economy.
“We may impose additional measures, but we do not expect at this phase to go into a full lockdown,” Hamas spokesman Eyad Al-Bozom said.
Health officials say the factors that led to the current spike include the flouting of guidelines for mask-wearing and social distancing and the opening in February of Gaza’s border with Egypt, which may have allowed in new variants.
Suspicion of vaccines also runs deep. A majority of Gazans — 54.2 percent — said they would not take the vaccine, against 30.5 percent who said they would and 15.3 percent who were undecided, according to an April 21 survey by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center.
Just 34,287 people have been vaccinated, even though the enclave has received 109,600 doses since February donated by Russia, the UAE and the global COVAX program.
“(The) reluctance of many, including medical staff, to be vaccinated remains a key concern,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in an April 12 report.
One Palestinian eligible for Gaza’s initial round of vaccines, Qasem Abdul Ghafoor, said he decided to get the jab to protect himself and his family.
“The situation here is horrific. We took it lightly before, but I assure you, it should not be taken lightly,” he said.


Speculation rife over deaths of 2 senior IRGC commanders

Speculation rife over deaths of 2 senior IRGC commanders
Updated 3 min 53 sec ago

Speculation rife over deaths of 2 senior IRGC commanders

Speculation rife over deaths of 2 senior IRGC commanders
  • Iranian media reports of COVID-19, heart attack as cause of deaths called into question
  • ‘IRGC looks a bit chaotic at the moment. Impact on morale could be quite significant,’ expert tells Arab News

LONDON: Two senior commanders from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have died suddenly just days apart, and obscure reports from Iranian media have prompted suspicion that there is more to their deaths than Tehran is willing to admit.

Brig. Gen. Mohammad Hosseinzadeh Hejazi, 65, was deputy head of the IRGC’s Quds Force. Iranian media reported that he had died suddenly last weekend from a heart attack. 

Hejazi was notorious for his role in violently suppressing the 2009 anti-regime protests while head of the IRGC’s domestic force, the Basij, and for commanding significant influence over the group’s missile program and relations with its proxies in Yemen and Lebanon.

He was promoted to his position in the Quds Force last year, when Esmail Qaani was assigned leadership of the organization following the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

Just days after Hejazi’s death, another general from the Quds Force, Brig. Gen. Mohammad Ali Haghbin, was reported dead.

State media blamed COVID-19 for his death, but images circulating online showed him in a hospital bed with breathing apparatus and two heavily bandaged legs.

This prompted rumors that he had actually died from wounds sustained fighting alongside one of Iran’s proxies in Syria or Yemen. Iranian media later retracted the image and replaced it with one hiding his injured legs.

The two generals’ deaths have prompted speculation that the killings were conducted by Israel, which sees Iran’s relationship with Hezbollah, which Hejazi worked with closely, as a major security concern. 

Eloise Scott, Middle East, North Africa and Turkey analyst at political risk consultancy Sibylline, told Arab News that not only will Iran suffer from the loss of two seasoned commanders, but their deaths are the latest in a long series of embarrassing setbacks for the image-conscious IRGC.

Both Hejazi and Haghbin “have had quite considerable experience both internally in Iran, but also in places like Lebanon and Syria,” she said.

“The IRGC … has put a huge amount of effort into its proxies and its networks on the military front, but it’s also incredibly concerned and anxious about its perception at home, certainly in the last couple of years.”

Earlier in April, a large blast struck Iran’s flagship nuclear facility in Natanz, in an act of sabotage that observers said bears the hallmarks of Israel, Tehran’s regional arch-nemesis. 

“The IRGC looks a bit chaotic at the moment. Coming off the back of the Natanz incident … a lot of things are building up. The impact on morale could be quite significant,” Scott said, pointing to other incidents from the past two years that have hurt the paramilitary group’s reputation.

The downing of a Ukrainian jet in early 2020 and huge anti-regime protests in November 2019 — the anger of which, Scott said, was largely targeted at the IRGC — have left it in a “very fragile position in terms of its own domestic standing, particularly given the chaos in the country with regards to the pandemic.”

Iran is currently experiencing its worst wave of infections from COVID-19, and is grappling with hundreds of deaths every day.

“It’s setback after setback for them,” Scott said. “They’re trying to advance their causes in places like Lebanon, which is very fragile, while they barely look like they’re keeping it together at home.”


Lebanon PM hopes potential Pope Francis visit will jumpstart government formation

Lebanon PM hopes potential Pope Francis visit will jumpstart government formation
Updated 45 min 1 sec ago

Lebanon PM hopes potential Pope Francis visit will jumpstart government formation

Lebanon PM hopes potential Pope Francis visit will jumpstart government formation
  • Pontiff calls for end to political deadlock as Prime Minister-designate meets other Italian leaders in Rome on Thursday
  • “The Vatican knows very well who is and who is not obstructing the government formation process,” Hariri says

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri is hoping a potential visit from Pope Francis to his fractured country will help political forces put aside their differences and finally form a government. 

Hariri met with the pope in the Vatican on Thursday, along with other Italian leaders.

“The Vatican knows very well who is and who is not obstructing the government formation process,” said Hariri, who has been unable to form a government of non-partisan specialists in Lebanon since his appointment on Oct. 22.

Pope Francis confirmed he would visit crisis-hit Lebanon but only after its fractious politicians can agree on a new government.

Hariri has been in disagreement with President Michel Aoun and his political team, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), for months over naming Christian ministers. Aoun has insisted on having the blocking third in the government.

It was a quick visit to Italy but Hariri was very busy. He also met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, and Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, secretary for relations with states. While in Rome, Hariri held meetings with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Luigi Di Maio, the country’s foreign minister.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said: “The pope met alone with Hariri for about 30 minutes and wanted to reaffirm that he is close to the Lebanese people, who are enduring extreme hardship and instability.”

The pope hoped, according to Bruni, that “with the help of the international community, Lebanon will be able to once again be the land of gathering, coexistence, and pluralism.” He stressed that “all political forces have the responsibility to urgently commit to all what benefits the country.”

After his meetings, Hariri said Pope Francis “was aware of the current problems in Lebanon and was understanding and encouraging that we can form a government. He also expressed his keenness to visit Lebanon, but only after the government is formed. This is a message to the Lebanese that we must form a government so that all powers and countries come together to help us.”

Hariri accused Hezbollah and the FPM, without explicitly naming them, of obstructing the formation of a new government.

“The dispute in Lebanon today is over two economic points of view,” Hariri said. “The first of which wants to have power over everything in the country, from the banking sector to the productive sector and telecommunications, under the pretext that they want to control it. The other team believes in a free economy and in communicating with all the world and not just with one, two, or three countries.

“We want a free economy and we want to work with the US, Europe, China, and Russia against a team that only wants to work with one side. There is a Lebanese group that supports the latter.”

Hariri stressed that the situation in Lebanon “is very bad, and forming a government will stop this collapse. There are those who are trying to prevent us from stopping this collapse in the first place because they want Lebanon to collapse so that they can stay in politics.”

Hariri indirectly criticized Aoun, saying: “Suggesting that I traveled abroad for the purpose of tourism offends the countries that I visit. Maybe they are on a tourist trip in the Baabda Palace.”

The one-on-one meeting between the pope and Hariri on Thursday was preceded by a meeting on Wednesday between Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rai and Gebran Bassil in Bkerke. 

Bassil implicitly declared after the meeting: “If Christ abandoned his message 2,000 years ago, there would be no Christians today. He bore witness to the truth, and we will continue to bear witness to the truth whatever the cost. We are sure that the cost is high, but we know that the truth will win in the end.”

Bassil’s statement was slammed on social media by his opponents, who criticized him for likening himself to Jesus Christ.

Meanwhile, Aoun reprimanded security services about how they dealt with the FPM supporters who accompanied the Mount Lebanon state prosecutor, Judge Ghada Aoun, when she raided the Mecattaf money exchange company on Wednesday.

The media bureau of the Baabda Palace said: “Aoun stressed the importance of respecting freedom of expression while protecting public and private property and not attacking them, as well as the importance of understanding the pain of the citizens, especially as they have lost their money and deposits. The security forces must maintain security peacefully in accordance with the laws in force and avoid repeating what happened.”

Caretaker Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmy said: “The internal security forces acted within the scope of policing and they did not attack private and public property.”

Judge Ghada Aoun, who defied the decision of the Supreme Judicial Council and the discriminatory public prosecutor to dismiss her from investigating a case related to financial transfers abroad, took computers and documents from the Mecattaf company office. She put them in her private car before leaving amid the support of FPM supporters and the astonishment of the judicial body and public opinion.

Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces party, blamed the FPM and said: “Protecting the rights of Christians cannot be done by attacking and destroying private companies. Fighting corruption cannot be done by anonymizing the perpetrator in the electricity sector, communications, and customs, and at illegal crossings, nor can it be done by practicing clientelism in the state through discretionary and unjust methods.”


US formally excludes Turkey from F-35 consortium 

US formally excludes Turkey from F-35 consortium 
Updated 22 April 2021

US formally excludes Turkey from F-35 consortium 

US formally excludes Turkey from F-35 consortium 
  • Move comes after Turkish purchase of Russian missile defense system
  • Russia-Turkey relationship remains unsteady following Ankara backing for Ukraine

ANKARA: The US has reportedly informed Turkey of its formal exclusion from the new F-35 consortium agreement.  

The long-awaited decision comes as little surprise, following Turkey’s acquisition of Russia’s S-400 anti-aircraft weapons system, amid fears over its compatibility with the F-35 and its possible use for Moscow to obtain intelligence on NATO members.  

Turkish companies are expected to fulfill commitments to manufacturing thousands of parts for the F-35 program until next year, but Ankara will no longer be able to obtain the aircraft. 

Turkey now faces a decision over its direction in terms of military procurement, with relations with Moscow complicated by the latest standoff between Ankara and Kremlin over Ukraine. 

Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat and chairman of the Istanbul-based Center for Economics and Foreign Policy (EDAM), told Arab News: “Exclusion from the F-35 program has two important consequences. One is obviously about the companies that have until now participated in the manufacturing process of the F-35s. There is no going back because the manufacturing process shifted away from Turkey to other countries.”

The other consequence, he said, concerned the Turkish airforce and Ankara’s deterrence power without the acquisition of the fifth-generation aircraft. 

“There is no real, tangible way to replace the F-35s with another such platform. The only commercially available fifth-generation platforms that could potentially replace them is the Russian Su-57, and the Chinese (Chengdu J-20) but both of them will create more complications given that they are not NATO-interoperable, and it would be considered a signal that Turkey is distancing itself further away from the West,” Ulgen added. 

In February, Turkey hired a Washington-based lobbying firm to attempt to orchestrate a return to the F-35 program with a six-month contract, claiming that its removal was not fair. 

The lobbyists were also expected to get back money Ankara paid to buy over 100 of the jets, but as yet nothing has come of this.  

“Turkey could work on creating the conditions for its return to the F-35 program, which will require an elaborate negotiation with the US. If that is not possible, and if CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) sanctions are not lifted, Turkey could create its own domestic fighter plane (development) program,” Ulgen said.

“So far, there has been no solution for manufacturing (an) engine for that potential plan. Secondly, even if that problem is solved, Turkey can only acquire a sizeable number of these airplanes — realistically speaking — in a timeframe of between 2025 and 2030, which means that Turkey’s air superiority will be diminished given that many countries in the region have started to require fifth-generation planes. It will be a strategic gap if it is not addressed properly.”

On Thursday, Selcuk Bayraktar, executive of Turkish drone producer Baykar, and son-in-law of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, announced that his firm had accelerated its National Unmanned Combat Aircraft project. 

It remains to be seen to what part Russia will play in future Turkish military procurement. 

As Ankara voices support for Kiev amid Russian military reinforcement along its border with Ukraine, Turkey’s defense ties with Moscow might become unsustainable in the short run. 

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov said on Wednesday the Kremlin will scrutinize the prospect of military and technical cooperation with Turkey if Ankara delivers drones to Ukraine. 

That was triggered by a report in Turkey’s pro-government Turkiye newspaper claiming that Ankara was ready to sell its weapons and drones to all countries, including Ukraine, following their successful deployment in the recent conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh. 

Ulgen said the future of military and industrial cooperation with Russia remains clouded, with Borisov’s statement showing how difficult it would be to rely on Moscow as a safe partner. 

“It also demonstrates the differences between trying to find alternative suppliers outside of the NATO framework. Unlike some NATO partners like Canada, which halt supplies of some specific materials and don’t go beyond that, Russia is trying to gain and use leverage over Turkey, and put pressure on Turkey’s foreign policy positions through its supply lines to the military,” he said. 

Last week, Canada canceled permits for high-tech arms exports to Turkey over the “credible evidence” that the Canadian technology, as an end-user, was diverted to the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh last year. 


Gunmen kill two Guard members in Iran’s Kurdish area

Gunmen kill two Guard members in Iran’s Kurdish area
Updated 22 April 2021

Gunmen kill two Guard members in Iran’s Kurdish area

Gunmen kill two Guard members in Iran’s Kurdish area
  • Guard members killed two gunmen and wounded few accomplices in shootout near Kurdish town of Marivan
  • Iran’s Kurdish area has seen occasional fighting between Iranian forces and Kurdish separatists

TEHRAN: Unknown gunmen suspected of terrorism killed two members of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, the official IRNA news agency reported on Thursday.
The Guard members also killed two gunmen and wounded several of their accomplices in the Wednesday night shootout near Kurdish town of Marivan, near the border of Iraq.
It said other several other members of the terrorist group fled the site of the clash.
The report identified the fallen Guard members as Osman Jahani and Nasser Amini without giving their rank. It said they were buried on Thursday in Marvian cemetery, which suggested they were local forces of the Guard.
Iran’s Kurdish area has seen occasional fighting between Iranian forces and Kurdish separatists, as well as militants linked to the extremist Daesh group.
In December, unknown gunmen killed three Iranian border guards in the Kurdish area near the country’s northwestern border with Turkey. In July, Iran said “terrorists” killed two people and wounded a third person in an attack in a Kurdish area. In June, Iran attacked bases of Iranian Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq.