Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval

Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval
A UNIFIL base at Naqoura, Lebanese-Israeli border. On Tuesday, Lebanon’s president said caretaker cabinet in full should approve draft decree to expand maritime claims before presidential approval. (REUTERS)
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Updated 13 April 2021

Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval

Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval
  • Aoun's decision could significantly delay the process
  • Israeli Energy Minister said Monday Lebanon's expanded claim would derail talks

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s president said on Tuesday a draft decree expanding its maritime claims in a dispute with Israel must be approved by the caretaker government, rejecting a request to grant it swift presidential approval.
The dispute with Israel over the maritime boundary has held up hydrocarbon exploration in a potentially gas-rich area of the eastern Mediterranean.
The decree, approved by Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, defense minister and minister of public work on Monday, would add around 1,400 square km (540 square miles) to an exclusive economic zone in the eastern Mediterranean claimed by Lebanon.
Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s office said the decree should be approved by President Michel Aoun so that the new maritime coordinates setting out Lebanon’s claim could be submitted to the United Nations.
But the presidency said it should be approved by Diab’s full cabinet, even though the government resigned eight months ago following a devastating explosion in Beirut, because of the gravity of the issue.
The draft decree “needs a collective decision from the council of ministers..., even under a caretaker government, due to its importance and the consequences,” a statement from Aoun’s office said.
Aoun’s decision could significantly delay the process. Since the government resigned in August it has referred all issues for exceptional approval by the president, leaving them to get formal endorsement when a new government is finally agreed.
Negotiations were launched in October to try to resolve the dispute with Israel yet the talks, a culmination of three years of diplomacy by the United States, have since stalled.
Israel already pumps gas from offshore fields but Lebanon has yet to find commercial gas reserves in its own waters.
Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Monday Lebanon’s expanded claim would derail the talks rather than help work toward a common solution, warning that Israel would implement “parallel measures.”
Lebanon, in the throes of a deep financial meltdown that is threatening its stability, is desperate for cash as it faces the worst economic crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war. But political leaders have failed to bridge their differences and form a new government.


UN chief: Threat to global peace from Daesh rising

UN chief: Threat to global peace from Daesh rising
Updated 9 min 20 sec ago

UN chief: Threat to global peace from Daesh rising

UN chief: Threat to global peace from Daesh rising
  • The report said Daesh and other terrorist groups have taken advantage of the disruption caused by COVID-19
  • It added that the group remains active in wide swaths of Syria where it is seeking to rebuild its combat capabilities

UNITED NATIONS: Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says in a new report that the threat to international peace and security from extremist group Daesh is rising, pointing to an “alarming” expansion of its affiliates in Africa and its focus on a comeback in its former self-declared “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq.
The report to the UN Security Council, which was circulated Tuesday, said Daesh and other terrorist groups have taken advantage of “the disruption, grievances and development setbacks” caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, both on the ground and online.
While lockdowns in non-conflict areas suppressed terrorist activity, in conflict areas where pandemic restrictions have less impact the threat from Daesh “has already increased,” Guterres said.
“As pandemic-related restrictions gradually ease, there is an elevated near-term threat of Daesh-inspired attacks outside conflict zones by lone actors or small groups that have been radicalized, incited and possibly directly remotely online,” he said.
The UN chief said this exemplifies a wider and evolving risk from the accelerated use of digital technologies during the pandemic, and the potential for “new and emerging technologies to be used for terrorist purposes.”
In assessing Daesh’s threat, Guterres said its leader, Amir Muhammad Sa’id Abdal-Rahman Al-Mawla, “remains reluctant to communicate directly with supporters,” and “the group’s command and control over its global affiliates has loosened, even though it continues to provide guidance and some financial support.”
He said the autonomy of regional affiliates has strengthened especially in West Africa and the Sahel, East and Central Africa, Afghanistan and South Asia. This evolution will be an important factor in Daesh’s future global impact, he quoted unidentified UN member states as saying.
Member states also assess that the extremist group “will continue to prioritize regrouping and seeking resurgence” in Iraq and Syria as its core area of operations, he said.
The 16-page report, prepared by Security Council counter-terrorism committee and by experts monitoring sanctions on Daesh, said the group remains active in wide swaths of Syria, where it is seeking to rebuild its combat capabilities and expand its insurgency.
Guterres said Daesh wages hit-and-run operations against checkpoints from hideouts on both sides of the Euphrates River in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor and continues operations against government forces and in the Syrian desert.
In Iraq, Daesh remains under constant counter-terrorism pressure but continues to carry out hit-and-run operations “seeking to undermine critical infrastructure projects, inflame sectarian divisions and communal grievances and generate media coverage,” he said.
As for the extremist group’s finances, the UN chief said estimates of financial reserves available to Daesh in Iraq and Syria range between $25 million and $50 million, with one unidentified UN member state saying most funds are in Iraq.
The secretary-general said the most striking development in the first half of 2021 has been the expansion of Daesh in Africa, where terrorist groups have inflicted the largest number of casualties.
He said some of the most effective Daesh affiliates are spreading their influence and activities from Mali into Burkina Faso and Niger, from Nigeria into Niger, Chad and Cameroon, and from Mozambique into Tanzania.
“It highlights that the interplay between terrorism, fragility and conflict has grown stronger, and underscores the need for an urgent, global response to support African countries and regional organizations,” Guterres said.
In Afghanistan, he said, the Daesh affiliate has expanded its presence in several provinces and in and around the capital Kabul, “despite leadership, human and financial losses during 2020.” In Kabul, most of its attacks have targeted minorities, civil society actors, government employees and security forces, he said.
In Daesh’s efforts to regroup and rebuild in Afghanistan, Guterres said the group has prioritized the recruitment and training of new supporters and hopes to attract Taliban members and other militants who reject the US-Taliban agreement as well as fighters from Iraq.
Estimates of Daesh strength in Afghanistan range widely, from 500 to 1,500 fighters, with one unidentified UN member state saying its strength may rise to 10,000 in the medium term, he said.
Guterres said UN member states have already warned “that Daesh could regain the ability to orchestrate international attacks if either its core or one of its regional affiliates became strong enough.”
“This scenario has only become more plausible,” the UN chief warned.


Italy calls for return of ‘constitutional order’ in Tunisia

Italy calls for return of ‘constitutional order’ in Tunisia
Updated 04 August 2021

Italy calls for return of ‘constitutional order’ in Tunisia

Italy calls for return of ‘constitutional order’ in Tunisia
  • Since turmoil broke out in Tunisia, arrival of migrants to small Italian island has significantly increased
  • Italian prime minister reassures Tunisia of support, donates 1.5m vaccine doses, other medical aid

ROME: Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi urged Tunisian President Kais Saied to “re-establish promptly the constitutional order.”

The Italian premier spoke directly for the first time on Wednesday with the Tunisian president since July 25, when Saied froze the parliament, dismissed the prime minister and announced he will temporarily rule by decree. He also rescinded parliamentary immunity and issued a nationwide curfew for 30 days.

Last week, members of the Tunisian government, including the foreign minister, were expected in Rome for talks, but their visit was canceled at the last moment.

Since political turmoil broke in Tunisia, the arrival of migrants to the tiny island of Lampedusa has significantly increased, and Italian security forces expect that their number could reach up to 20,000 in a few weeks if the country does not achieve stability.

In a long telephone call, described to Arab News as “cordial but firm” by a source in Draghi’s office, the Italian prime minister reassured Saied that the “assistance and support that Italy has offered to Tunisia will continue.”

Italy has made good on this offer, delivering 1.5 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses to Tunisia last Sunday to help the country to fight against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Twenty-five tons of health equipment, including ventilators, protective masks, gloves, surgical gowns and sanitizing gel, were also provided by the Italian government to Tunisia in the past few weeks.

Draghi, it is understood, asked Saied for “more cooperation” in the management of migration flows.

In a press event attended by Arab News, Deputy Foreign Minister Marina Sereni said that Italy, along with other EU nations, is “very concerned” about the current crisis in Tunisia, a country with which it shares “a long friendship and historical ties.”

“COVID, the stagnant economy and the difficulty in carrying out economic and social reforms have fueled the discontent of the population. In this situation, we all hope that the country will go back to normal soon, that the constitution will be respected and the functionality of the Parliament is restored,” she added.

Concerning the issue of migration, Sereni said that Italian Minister of the Interior Luciana Lamorgese “is following the situation of instability and difficulty in Tunisia as well as that of Libya.”

In this regard, she said it was understood that people whose lives were in danger “must be saved” and called on Europe to take on not only the rescue operations but also the redistribution of those who land on Italian coasts.


Iran made ‘big mistake’ with tanker attack: UK’s top soldier

Iran made ‘big mistake’ with tanker attack: UK’s top soldier
Updated 04 August 2021

Iran made ‘big mistake’ with tanker attack: UK’s top soldier

Iran made ‘big mistake’ with tanker attack: UK’s top soldier
  • Gen. Nick Carter slams Tehran “reckless behavior,” urges West to “restore deterrence”
  • Response to Iranian aggression must be kinetic, not just cyber, analyst tells Arab News

LONDON: Iran made a “big mistake” in attacking a commercial tanker last week, claiming the life of a British Army veteran, the chief of general staff and the UK’s most senior soldier said on Wednesday.
“What we need to be doing, fundamentally, is calling out Iran for its very reckless behavior,” Gen. Sir Nick Carter told the BBC. “We’ve got to restore deterrence because it’s behavior like that which leads to escalation, and that could very easily lead to miscalculation, and that would be very disastrous for all the peoples of the Gulf and the international community.”
The attack on the Liberian-flagged Mercer Street tanker killed a Briton and Romanian. The Briton has been identified as Fiji-born Adrian Underwood, a married father who was working as a security contractor when the tanker was struck in Omani waters. The UK and Romania have blamed the drone strike on Iran. 
Tehran is accused of masterminding maritime attacks since 2019, with tankers linked to both Saudi Arabia and Israel — its major rivals — being blighted by mines and other explosive assaults.
Furthermore, investigators determined that drones and missiles that struck a major Saudi oilfield were manufactured in Iran, which has ratcheted up its maritime attacks in recent months, allegedly launching strikes on vessels linked to Israel. 
“Gen. Carter said Iran made a ‘big mistake’ by carrying out the attack that killed Underwood since it has ‘internationalized’ the response, and he’s obviously correct that deterrence needs to be restored because without it Iran will continue escalating,” Kyle Orton, an independent geopolitical researcher, told Arab News.
“The question now is over what form this response takes. So far, the discussion within the British government seems to be about options that are covert and in the cyber realm, neither of which are adequate,” he added.
“If the response to murdering a British citizen isn’t overt, kinetic retaliation, then it will fail. The Iranians — who are quite sensitive to the limits they can push — will conclude that the cost of lethal attacks on us is tolerable.”
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said his country is “working on enlisting the world” in response to the tanker strike, but warned Iran that “we also know how to act alone.” 
He added: “The Iranians need to understand that it is impossible to sit peacefully in Tehran and from there ignite the entire Middle East. That is over.” 
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has called for a “collective response” to the assault, which British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called an “outrageous attack on commercial shipping.”
On Monday, Britain summoned Iranian Ambassador Mohsen Baharvand to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to demand that vessels be allowed to freely navigate the region’s waters. On the same day, Iran said it would respond promptly to any threat to its security.


Radio call describes Iranian gunmen storming tanker off UAE coast

Radio call describes Iranian gunmen storming tanker off UAE coast
Updated 4 min 54 sec ago

Radio call describes Iranian gunmen storming tanker off UAE coast

Radio call describes Iranian gunmen storming tanker off UAE coast
  • “Iranian people are onboard with ammunition,” a crew member said in a radio recording

FUJAIRAH, UAE: The hijackers who captured a vessel off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in the Gulf of Oman departed the targeted ship on Wednesday, the British navy reported, as recorded radio traffic appeared to reveal a crew member onboard saying Iranian gunmen had stormed the asphalt tanker.
The incident — described by the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations the night before as a “potential hijack” — revived fears of an escalation in Mideast waters and ended with as much mystery as it began.
Hints of what unfolded on the Panama-flagged asphalt tanker, called Asphalt Princess, began to emerge with the maritime radio recording, obtained by commodities pricing firm Argus Media and shared with The Associated Press. In the audio, a crew member can be heard telling the Emirati coast guard that five or six armed Iranians had boarded the tanker.
“Iranian people are onboard with ammunition,” the crew member says. “We are … now, drifting. We cannot tell you exact our ETA to (get to) Sohar,” the port in Oman listed on the vessel’s tracker as its destination. It was not clear whether the crew members, whom he identified as Indian and Indonesian, were in immediate danger.
No one took responsibility for the brief seizure, which underscored mounting tensions as Iran and the United States seek a resolution to their standoff over Tehran’s tattered 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Apparently responding to the incident, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh on Tuesday denied that Iran played any role. He described the recent maritime attacks in the Arabian Gulf as “completely suspicious.”
Over the past years, the rising tensions have played out in the waters of the Arabian Gulf, where just last week a drone attack on an oil tanker linked to an Israeli billionaire off the coast of Oman killed two crew members. The West blamed Iran for the raid, which marked the first known fatal assault in the years-long shadow war targeting vessels in Mideast waters. Iran denied involvement.
Late on Tuesday, the intruders boarded the Asphalt Princess sailing off the coast of Fujairah, authorities said. The official news agency of Oman’s military said it received reports that the Asphalt Princess had been hijacked and immediately dispatched Royal Air Force maritime patrol aircraft and naval vessels “to contribute to securing international waters.”
In the recorded radio traffic, when the Emirati coast guard asks the crew member what the Iranian gunmen were doing onboard, he says he “cannot understand the (Iranians),” his voice muffled, before trying to hand over the radio to someone else. The call then cuts off.
Possible signs of trouble began to emerge that evening when six oil tankers off the coast of Fujairah announced around the same time via their Automatic Identification System trackers that they were “not under command,” according to MarineTraffic.com. That typically means a vessel has lost power and can no longer steer.
Satellite-tracking data for the Asphalt Princess had showed it gradually heading toward Iranian waters off the port of Jask early Wednesday, according to MarineTraffic.com. Hours later, however, it stopped and changed course toward Oman, just before the British navy group declared the hijackers had departed and the vessel was now “safe.”
In an analysis, maritime intelligence firm Dryad Global described the seizure of the Asphalt Princess as the latest Iranian response to outside pressures, economic conflicts and other grievances.
“Iran has consistently shown that in conducting this kind of operation, it is calculated in doing so, both by targeting vessels directly connected with ongoing disputes and (vessels) operating within the ‘grey space’ of legitimacy,” which may be involved in illicit trade, Dryad Global said.
The owner of the Asphalt Princess, listed as Emirati free zone-based Glory International, could not immediately be reached for comment.
The US military’s Mideast-based 5th Fleet and the British Defense Ministry also did not respond to requests for comment. The Emirati government did not immediately acknowledge the incident.
The Gulf of Oman sits near the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Arabian Gulf through which a fifth of all traded oil passes. Fujairah, on the UAE’s eastern coast, is a main port in the region for ships to take on new oil cargo, pick up supplies or trade out crew.
For the past two years, after then-President Donald Trump withdrew the US from Iran’s nuclear deal and imposed crushing sanctions, the waters off Fujairah have witnessed a series of explosions and hijackings. The US Navy has blamed Iran for a series of limpet mine attacks on vessels that damaged tankers.
In the summer of 2019, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard troops detained a British-flagged tanker, the Stena Impero, near the Strait of Hormuz. Last year, an oil tanker sought by the US for allegedly circumventing sanctions on Iran was hijacked off the Emirati coast and later ended up in Iran, though Tehran never acknowledged the incident.
And in January, armed Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops stormed a South Korean tanker and forced the ship to change course and travel to Iran. While Iran claimed it detained the ship over pollution concerns, it appeared to link the seizure to negotiations over billions of dollars in Iranian assets frozen in South Korean banks.


Iran court sentences German woman to decade in jail: daughter

Iran court sentences German woman to decade in jail: daughter
Updated 04 August 2021

Iran court sentences German woman to decade in jail: daughter

Iran court sentences German woman to decade in jail: daughter
  • Taghavi was arrested at her Tehran apartment on Oct. 16 after years fighting for human rights in Iran
  • Taghavi suffers from pre-existing conditions including high blood pressure and diabetes

BERLIN: A German-Iranian woman held in Iran has been given a decade-long jail term by an Iran court for participating in an outlawed group, her daughter said Wednesday.

Nahid Taghavi, 66, was given “ten years for membership in an illegal group” and “eight months for propaganda against the regime,” said her daughter Mariam Claren.

Taghavi was arrested at her Tehran apartment on Oct. 16 after years fighting for human rights in Iran, in particular for women’s rights and freedom of expression, according to the rights group IGFM.

According to Claren, Taghavi has been held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, where she contracted Covid-19 last month.

Claren has repeatedly flagged up warnings about her mother’s health, saying that she suffers from pre-existing conditions including high blood pressure and diabetes.

Germany’s foreign ministry said in October that it was aware of the arrest of a German-Iranian woman in Iran, but did not name the detained citizen.

Frank Schwabe, who is the spokesman on human rights issues for the Social Democrats, condemned the verdict.

“The charges are baseless and the verdict a farce,” he wrote on Twitter.