US Navy fires warning shots in new tense encounter with Iran

US Navy fires warning shots in new tense encounter with Iran
The USS Firebolt fired warning shots when vessels of Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard came too close to a recent patrol in the Arabian Gulf, the U.S. Navy said Wednesday, April 28, 2021. (File/AP)
Short Url
Updated 28 April 2021

US Navy fires warning shots in new tense encounter with Iran

US Navy fires warning shots in new tense encounter with Iran
  • The Navy said the Cyclone-class patrol ship USS Firebolt fired the warning shots after three fast-attack Guard vessels came within 62 meters of it
  • The last time a Navy vessel fired warning shots in the Arabian Gulf in an incident involving Iran was in July 2017

DUBAI: An American warship fired warning shots when vessels of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard came too close to a patrol in the Arabian Gulf, the US Navy said Wednesday. It was the first such shooting in nearly four years.
The Navy released black-and-white footage of the encounter Monday night in international waters of the northern reaches of the Arabian Gulf near Kuwait, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. In it, lights can be seen in the distance and what appears to be a single gunshot can be heard, with a tracer round racing across the top of the water.
Iran did not immediately acknowledge the incident.
The Navy said the Cyclone-class patrol ship USS Firebolt fired the warning shots after three fast-attack Guard vessels came within 68 yards (62 meters) of it and the US Coast Guard patrol boat USCGC Baranoff.
“The US crews issued multiple warnings via bridge-to-bridge radio and loud-hailer devices, but the (Guard) vessels continued their close range maneuvers,” said Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, a spokeswoman for the Mideast-based 5th Fleet. “The crew of Firebolt then fired warning shots, and the (Guard) vessels moved away to a safe distance from the US vessels.”
She called on the Guard to “operate with due regard for the safety of all vessels as required by international law.”
“US naval forces continue to remain vigilant and are trained to act in a professional manner, while our commanding officers retain the inherent right to act in self-defense,” she said.
The last time a Navy vessel fired warning shots in the Arabian Gulf in an incident involving Iran was in July 2017, when the USS Thunderbolt, a sister ship to the Firebolt, fired to warn off a Guard vessel. Regulations issued last year give Navy commanders the authority to take “lawful defensive measures” against vessels in the Mideast that come within 100 meters (yards) of their warships.
While 100 meters may seem far to someone standing at a distance, it’s incredibly close for large warships that have difficulty in turning quickly, like aircraft carriers. Even smaller vessels can collide with each other at sea, risking the ships.
The incident Monday marked the second time the Navy accused the Guard of operating in an “unsafe and unprofessional” manner this month alone after tense encounters between the forces had dropped in recent years.
Footage released Tuesday by the Navy showed a ship commanded by the Guard cut in front of the USCGC Monomoy, causing the Coast Guard vessel to come to an abrupt stop with its engine smoking on April 2.
The Guard also did the same with another Coast Guard vessel, the USCGC Wrangell, Rebarich said.
The interaction marked the first “unsafe and unprofessional” incident involving the Iranians since April 15, 2020, Rebarich said. However, Iran had largely stopped such incidents in 2018 and nearly in the entirety of 2019, she said.
In 2017, the Navy recorded 14 instances of what it describes as “unsafe and or unprofessional” interactions with Iranians forces. It recorded 35 in 2016, and 23 in 2015.
The incidents at sea almost always involve the Revolutionary Guard, which reports only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Typically, they involve Iranian speedboats armed with deck-mounted machine guns and rocket launchers test-firing weapons or shadowing American aircraft carriers passing through the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Arabian Gulf through which 20% of all oil passes.
Some analysts believe the incidents are meant in part to squeeze President Hassan Rouhani’s administration after the 2015 nuclear deal. They include a 2016 incident in which Iranian forces captured and held overnight 10 US sailors who strayed into the Islamic Republic’s territorial waters.
The incident comes as Iran negotiates with world powers in Vienna over Tehran and Washington returning to the 2015 nuclear deal. It also follows a series of incidents across the Mideast attributed to a shadow war between Iran and Israel, which includes attacks on regional shipping and sabotage at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility.


Turkey shifting Syria strategy after Kurdish militia’s attacks

Turkey shifting Syria strategy after Kurdish militia’s attacks
Updated 20 sec ago

Turkey shifting Syria strategy after Kurdish militia’s attacks

Turkey shifting Syria strategy after Kurdish militia’s attacks
  • The militia has engaged in a cross-border shelling campaign against nearby Turkish villages

ANKARA: Turkey is shifting to a proxy force strategy and diplomacy with the US and Russia to counter the Kurdish People’s Defense Units in Syria instead of deploying its own troops, analysts have said.
It comes after senior Turkish officials hinted at a strategy change regarding the war-torn country following deadly attacks by the militia in the Kurdish-dominated Tal Rifaat region, which targeted Turkish police officers.
The militia has also engaged in a cross-border shelling campaign against nearby Turkish villages.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Ankara was “determined to remove all threats in northern Syria,” while Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu pledged that Turkey “would do what is necessary for its security,” adding that neither the US or Russia had kept their promises to ensure the withdrawal of the militia from the Syrian border.
But the Turkish government has said that the military will pursue a “much more different campaign” in northern Syria, sparking debate over whether Ankara will engage in diplomatic talks with the US and Russia before launching possible military action.
The militia is the chief local partner of the US in its fight against Daesh in the region, while Turkey considers the Kurdish group and its political wing, the Democratic Union Party, as Syrian extensions of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has fought a civil war against the Turkish state for more than three decades.
In the meantime, the Syrian Liberation Front branch of the Syrian National Army said that it is “determined to clear our regions from all terror groups,” including the Kurdistan Workers’s Party, Democratic Union Party and Daesh.
Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish program at the Washington Institute, said that every time Russian President Vladimir Putin has allowed Turkey to enter Syria and seize territory from the Kurdish militia, he has demanded that Turkey end its support for rebel groups.
“This involved a land exchange with either Turkey taking territories from the YPG (Kurdish People’s Defense Units in Syria) or the Bashar Assad regime taking territories from the hands of the rebels. But this new model that we are talking right now is a bit different from this one. Now, Turkish-backed troops in Syria, instead of Turkish troops, might move in to take an area from the YPG with a tacit agreement from Putin,” he told Arab News.
According to Cagaptay, Ankara’s broader strategy is to divide the militia-controlled zones and prevent the formation of any future political entity in the group’s territory.
“The recent Erdogan-Putin deal in Sochi aimed at implementing this new model,” he said.
Amid particularly sensitive times for US-Turkey relations, a growing emphasis on diplomatic channels outweighs military action, he added. Erdogan is expected to discuss the issue with US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Rome at the end of October.
After their recent meeting in Sochi, Erdogan will also talk to Putin following his meeting with Biden.
According to Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director of the German Marshall Fund of the US, the threat that Turkey sees in the Kurdish militia is the possibility of a Kurdish state being formed close to its borders.
“Ankara is therefore taking whatever measures it can to prevent this from happening,” he told Arab News.
Unluhisarcikli said that current conditions mean that it is unsuitable for Turkey to conduct military operations against YPG-held territories in northwest or northeast Syria.
Therefore, Ankara will push diplomatic channels to proceed efficiently, he added.
“Turkey is already in a tense relationship with Russia over Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province and would not like to add a new layer to these tensions. At a time when Turkey is trying to improve relations with US, it would not like to introduce a new headache,” he said.
Meanwhile, during a press conference last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the Biden administration does not support efforts to normalize relations with the Assad regime.
Experts also note that the fate of Idlib province, hosting about 4 million civilians under the control of Turkish-backed rebels, will be critical in the coming days in shaping the calculus of Turkey’s relationship with Syria, with a potential migrant influx causing domestic political worries for Ankara.
On Saturday, shelling by regime forces of the opposition-held town of Sarmada on the northern outskirts of Idlib near the Turkish border killed four people and wounded more than a dozen, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.


UAE and UK foreign ministers discuss strengthening cooperation

UAE and UK foreign ministers discuss strengthening cooperation
Updated 10 min 7 sec ago

UAE and UK foreign ministers discuss strengthening cooperation

UAE and UK foreign ministers discuss strengthening cooperation
  • The two sides discussed ways to enhancer joint cooperation in all fields
  • Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed also met with the UK health, education and climate change officials

LONDON: UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed and British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss have pledged to develop areas of joint cooperation and enhance their development relations.
The ministers met in London on Monday, where the two sides discussed ways to enhancer joint cooperation in all fields, including economic, trade, investment and climate change.
Sheikh Abdullah’s visit comes after a recent visit by Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed to the UK, where he met with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and announced the establishment of a new and ambitious partnership between the two countries for the future.
Sheikh Abdullah and Truss also discussed regional and international issues of common interest.
During his visit, the UAE foreign minister also held talks with the UK health secretary Sajid Javid, Nadhim Zahawi, secretary of state for education, and Alok Sharma and president of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26).


Yemeni government takes new measures to curb devaluation of riyal 

Yemeni government takes new measures to curb devaluation of riyal 
Updated 11 min 11 sec ago

Yemeni government takes new measures to curb devaluation of riyal 

Yemeni government takes new measures to curb devaluation of riyal 

AL-MUKALLA: The Central Bank of Yemen on Monday closed six exchange firms and shops for not complying with its anti-speculation regulations, bringing the total number of outlets blacklisted since Saturday to 60.
The Aden-based bank vowed to crack down on more money traders if they did not abide by the bank’s monetary rules, warning others against dealing with the banned entities.
“The bank calls upon all exchange companies and establishments to exercise caution and abide by all instructions issued by the central bank,” it said in a statement. 
Despite the bank’s fresh punitive measures against violators, the Yemeni riyal reached a new record low against the US dollar, falling to nearly 1,400 riyals on the black market.
In the past, the Aden-based bank closed dozens of exchange companies and firms, ordered the other companies and private companies to send their annual financial statements to the bank and asked Sanaa-based banks to move operations to Aden.  
On Sunday, the Yemeni Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed, supported the central bank’s latest measures to rein in the depreciation of the riyal and ordered judiciary and security authorities to implement the bank’s punishing measures.
The Yemeni government also suspended the internal transfer network between exchange companies — known as hawala — and ordered security forces to enhance border checks to prevent the smuggling of foreign currencies outside the country.
Aden Gov. Ahmed Hamed Lamlis on Sunday banned rent being paid with the US dollar or the Saudi riyal in another bid to curb the demand for foreign currencies. 
Despite the latest measures, blacklisted entities opened their doors on Monday as the riyal continued to hit new lows amid unprecedented speculative activities by money dealers. 
Critics questioned the government’s ability to reinforce the rules or to bring the chaotic market under its control, citing unfulfilled measures during the past five years when the Yemeni riyal began to tumble.
“The bank’s measures did not target currency barons who control the market and are heavily involved in speculation,” a local money trader told Arab News on condition of anonymity.
People in the city of Al-Mukalla, the capital of the southeastern province of Hadramout, told Arab News that local exchange firms sell the dollar at 1,400 Yemeni riyal and buy it at 1,200 riyals.
The devaluation of the currency since last week has led to a historic rise in the prices of basic goods such as rice, cooking oil, wheat and flour, prompting shop owners to barricade their stores as violent protests sparked in some government-controlled areas.
“We are bearing the brunt of the devaluation as we buy our goods in Saudi riyals and sell them in Yemeni riyals. Big traders would not be impacted as they buy and sell goods in Saudi riyals,” a local trader, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Arab News.
Roads were closed and tires were burnt in the southern province of Lahj amid protests against the fall of the riyal and skyrocketing prices. Last month, at least three people were killed and many others wounded during violent protests against the crumbling economy and currency in several cities in southern Yemen. 
Yemeni economists and sociologists have warned that the continuing fall of the riyal would fuel a new round of violence in the liberated provinces, widening the already big gap between the poor and rich and pushing thousands of Yemenis into hunger.
Mohamed Salem bin Jumaan, an associate professor of sociology at Hadramout University, said that the government and local authorities in the provinces must listen to people’s grievances and work on addressing economic woes — including the fall of the riyal — or risk more violent protests.
“Many families are below the poverty line. The middle class no longer exists. Solutions must be found to reduce the level of violence. People block roads and cause violence when they think no one listens to them,” the academic told Arab News.


Hezbollah’s Nasrallah says Beirut violence was a dangerous event

Hezbollah’s Nasrallah says Beirut violence was a dangerous event
Updated 28 min 10 sec ago

Hezbollah’s Nasrallah says Beirut violence was a dangerous event

Hezbollah’s Nasrallah says Beirut violence was a dangerous event
  • "The real agenda of the Lebanese forces is civil war," Nasrallah said in a live televised speech
  • Nasrallah says Hezbollah is not the enemy of the Christians and trying to portray it as such is an illusion

BEIRUT: The leader of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Shiite group Hezbollah said on Monday that last week’s Beirut violence in which seven Shiite Muslims were shot dead was a dangerous development and marked a new phase in the country’s internal politics.
In his first remarks since the worst street violence in over a decade, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah lashed out at the Christian Lebanese Forces party and its head Samir Geagea, repeating accusations that they were responsible for the killings on Thursday.
“The real agenda of the Lebanese forces is civil war,” Nasrallah said in a live televised speech.
Heavy gunfire erupted in Beirut’s southern suburb of Dahiya, a Hezbollah stronghold, to celebrate the start of Nasrallah’s speech, which came amid tensions over the investigation of last year’s devastating explosion at the capital’s port.
Nasrallah said Hezbollah was not the enemy of Lebanese Christians.
“The biggest threat to the Christian presence in Lebanon is the Lebanese Forces party and its head,” Nasrallah said.
The bloodshed, which stirred memories of the 1975-1990 civil war, added to fears for the stability of a country that is awash with weapons and suffering an economic meltdown.
The Lebanese Forces party (LF) has denied it started the fighting last week. It blamed the violence on Hezbollah “incitement” against Tarek Bitar, the lead investigator in an investigation into the port explosion.

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

It also accused Hezbollah of sending supporters into the Christian neighborhood of Ain Al-Remmaneh where it says four residents were wounded before a shot was fired.
“I advise the Lebanese Forces party to give up this idea of internal strife and civil war,” said Nasrallah.
“You are wrong one hundred percent, your calculations are wrong. The region has never seen Hezbollah as strong as it is now.”
Despite his tough stand, Nasrallah dedicated a significant part of his speech to trying to reassure Lebanon’s Christians, saying Hezbollah was protecting their rights and is allied with the largest Christian party, the Free Patriotic Movement.
Lebanon’s Shiite Amal movement, a Hezbollah ally, said earlier that the Beirut violence was intended to reignite internal strife and threaten peace.
The seven victims were killed as crowds headed for a demonstration called by Amal and Hezbollah to protest against Bitar.
“What happened showed the Lebanese people the truth behind what these groups are doing in terms of trying to ignite internal strife and national division and threaten civic peace, and push the Lebanese back to the era of civil wars,” Amal said in a statement.
Amal, which is led by Lebanese parliament speaker Nabih Berri, one of the most powerful political figures in the country, urged the authorities to arrest all those responsible for the violence.
The inquiry into the Aug. 4, 2020 explosion, which killed more than 200 people and devastated swathes of Beirut, has made little headway amid pushback from political factions.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati told the al Modon newspaper on Monday that the government would not meet unless an agreement is reached concerning the investigation.
Mikati also said he was not planning to resign at the moment. “The country can’t be left in circumstances like this.”
Tensions over the probe have spilt over into cabinet, with ministers aligned with the politicians the judge was seeking to question demanding his removal.


Another 50 migrants rescued off Libyan coast in past two days

Another 50 migrants rescued off Libyan coast in past two days
Updated 18 October 2021

Another 50 migrants rescued off Libyan coast in past two days

Another 50 migrants rescued off Libyan coast in past two days
  • Migrants picked up by humanitarian group Sea-Watch, which now has more than 400 rescued people on its vessel
  • More than 49,000 migrants have reached Italian shores so far this year according to the country’s Ministry of Interior

ROME: Fifty migrants were rescued on Sunday and Monday by the Sea-Watch 3 vessel in the waters off the coast of Libya.

More than 400 people are now on the boat, according to German humanitarian organization Sea-Watch. It is patrolling the central Mediterranean rescuing people trying to reach the small Italian island of Lampedusa in small, crowded boats.

Meanwhile landings continue non-stop on the island. Three vessels with 52 Tunisians on board reportedly landed on Monday morning, and four boats containing 140 foreigners arrived the previous night. One boat, with 13 Tunisians aboard, managed to reach the shore without being intercepted by coast guard vessels.

“On Sunday we had 152 Tunisians arriving here in six different landings,” Lampedusa Mayor Salvatore Martello told Arab News, giving his latest official figures. “There are now 329 migrants in our facility, which can accommodate a maximum of 250 people.

“The prefecture of Agrigento ordered for them to be transferred to the quarantine ship GNV Atlas, which is moored one mile from the coast. We cannot carry on like this. The entire population here is under stress. We are left alone but we have no intention not to help how we can those who arrive here. But this has been going on for too long.”

Meanwhile, more than 100 migrants from Tunisia arrived over the weekend on the southern shores of the Italian island of Sardinia. They were detained by the Italian coast guard and by police.

“They were very dehydrated and tired as they have covered quite a long distance on a small vessel,” a spokesman for the coast guard in Cagliari told Arab News.

The journey to Sardinia from Tunisia is longer than to Lampedusa, and navigation in recent days has been difficult as a result of bad weather.

Sea-Watch said that its Seabird aircraft, which flies over the Mediterranean looking for vessels carrying migrants so that they can be rescued, also reported what it described as “illegal pushbacks operated by the so-called Libyan coast guard.”

Since 2014, nearly 23,000 people have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe, according to the UN’s migration agency.

More than 49,000 migrants have reached Italian shores so far this year according to the country’s Ministry of Interior. This is almost double the number of people who arrived in the same period last year.