How Saudi-Greek intelligence sharing delivered a big blow to Hezbollah’s drug operations

How Saudi-Greek intelligence sharing delivered a big blow to Hezbollah’s drug operations
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The commercial port of Piraeus, Greece, where assistance from the Saudi drug enforcement agency has led to a major narcotics bust. (Shutterstock)
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The commercial port of Piraeus, Greece, where assistance from the Saudi drug enforcement agency has led to a major narcotics bust. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 03 May 2021

How Saudi-Greek intelligence sharing delivered a big blow to Hezbollah’s drug operations

How Saudi-Greek intelligence sharing delivered a big blow to Hezbollah’s drug operations
  • Discovery of processed cannabis at main port of Piraeus viewed as fruit of expanding bilateral cooperation
  • Help provided by Saudi Arabia demonstrates the potential in intelligence exchange for common purposes

ATHENS: The assistance recently provided to Greek authorities by the drug-enforcement agency of Saudi Arabia (GNDC/SA), which led to the discovery of a huge shipment of processed cannabis at Greece’s main port of Piraeus, marks a new chapter in expanding bilateral cooperation between Athens and Riyadh.

The two countries have shown willingness to boost their defense ties, but this specific case shows that cooperation on intelligence issues can be critical.

“The help provided by Saudi Arabia to Greek authorities in seizing tons of cannabis exhibits the potential in exchanging intelligence information for common purposes,” George Tzogopoulos, senior fellow at the Institute of European and International Studies and research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, told Arab News.

The SDOE, Greece’s financial crimes squad, said the drugs were uncovered following a tip-off from the US Drug Enforcement Agency. The shipping container, whose registered contents were three industrial cupcake-making machines, arrived by sea from Lebanon on April 14.




Cooperation between Saudi and Greek anti-narcotics units have resulted in the busting of massive amounts of drugs smuggle from Lebanon. (SPA photo)

It has been scheduled for departure by rail to Bratislava, Slovakia a few days later, passing through North Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary.

Greek authorities raided the container on April 16 and uncovered 4.3 tons of processed cannabis hidden inside a compartment built into a metal tank among the machinery.

According to some estimates, the seized narcotics had a potential street value of €33 million (almost $39.6 million).




Lebanese anti-narcotics police destroy cannabis plants in the village of Bouday, at the eastern Bekaa Valley near the ancient city of Baalbek. (AP)

This is not the first time Greek and Saudi authorities have worked together to seize large quantities of drugs transported out of Lebanon.

In January 2020, the Greek financial crimes squad worked with GNDC/SA to uncover almost 1.3 tons of processed cannabis hidden in a container at Piraeus destined for Misrata, Libya.

“Greece traditionally enjoys warm relations with Arab countries,” said Tzogopoulos.




Drug smugglers keep changing their tactics to stay ahead of anti-narcotics teams around ther world. (SPA photo)

He added: “In this respect, ties with Gulf countries and with Saudi Arabia have been strengthened and they recently reached new heights with the visit of Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos to Riyadh. The nature of the developing collaboration allows the two countries to embark on various projects of common interest.”

Intelligence cooperation comes as a natural continuation of blossoming defense ties. In March, six F-15 fighter jets of the Royal Saudi Air Force, their crews and supporting technicians arrived on the Greek island of Crete to take part in a major joint air drill, Falcon Eye 1, over the Mediterranean.

During their recent visit to Riyadh, Dendias and Panagiotopoulos announced the deployment of a Patriot-2 air defense missile system (accompanied by 130 personnel) to help defend Saudi Arabia’s energy infrastructure, repeatedly targeted in ballistic missile and drone attacks carried out by the Iran-backed terrorist Houthi militia in Yemen.


Lebanon’s economic meltdown makes it impossible for families to decorate for and celebrate Christmas

Lebanon’s economic meltdown makes it impossible for families to decorate for and celebrate Christmas
Updated 5 sec ago

Lebanon’s economic meltdown makes it impossible for families to decorate for and celebrate Christmas

Lebanon’s economic meltdown makes it impossible for families to decorate for and celebrate Christmas
  • Prices of festive season ornaments have are sky-high
  • Most families and children won’t enjoy the Christmas spirit due to lack of decorations

DUBAI: Christmas is a joyous and celebrative season around the globe, but this year Lebanon and the Lebanese won’t be celebrating the seasonal festivities amid an unprecedented and unstoppable economic downfall.

The country’s worsening financial situation and unstoppable economic meltdown that the World Bank has called one of the worst depressions of modern history, is making it nearly impossible for families to afford celebrating the festive season.

Prices of Christmas ornaments and decorative gadgets are sky-high, making it unaffordable and inaccessible for families and children to decorate their houses and enjoy the seasonal mood and spirit.

Having decided to use the same Xmas tree she’s been using for a few years, Farah Fouad says prices are skyrocketing for “decorations as well as trees.”

“I just bought an affordable Christmas star for 50,000 Lebanese pounds [$2 per today black market rate meanwhile earlier it was 3,000 Lebanese pounds] to put atop, and used last year’s ornaments,” said the mother of a 6-year-old boy not wanting to deprive him of Christmas spirit.

A working single mom, Farah stressed that it is not the steeply-rising prices that are depriving families from enjoying Christmas spirit, but also the fact that some parents who cannot afford buying gifts to their children are telling them ‘Santa Clause is sick and not coming this season’.

Maroun Yousef, a father of three children who works in the Gulf, has never skipped a holiday to spend with his family in Beirut.

“I earn my salary in fresh dollars since I work overseas, yet my wife told me that prices are unbelievably high. She had a quick tour in the market and the average price for a tree is 3,000,000 Lebanese pounds,” Yousef told Arab News.

In the past few days, the country witnessed nationwide protests and blockades once the dollar reached the highs of 25,000 in local currency as opposed to the official rate of 1,500.

An average sized tree costs between $80 and $120 which is between 2m and 3m pounds as per today’s black market rate.
“This doesn’t make sense at all and kills the season’s spirit. Adults, might accept the idea of not having a Christmas tree, but imagine how children would feel! This dollar crisis has been killing everything in Lebanon, literally everything,” he said.

Reuters reported last week that the Lebanese currency has lost more than 93% of its value since summer 2019, when it began to split from the rate of 1,500 pounds per dollar at which it had been pegged since 1997.

Over the weekend, it slid to a new low against the US dollar amid government paralysis as the country's financial meltdown deepens while several money exchangers were trading at around 25,000 per dollar.

“This is hilarious … it’s seriously ridiculous. A tree for 3million pounds! That is almost double my salary,” said Maria Michele who works in a telecom office.

She said that even if she adds her salary [in full] to that of her husband’s they cannot afford buying half a tree.

“Forget about the tree, what about the ornaments! I guess we're going to have a decoration-free season. Unfortunately, that would be on the expense of my two children’s joy,” said Maria who highlighted that she even gets more worried about Christmas gifts to her kids.  

In a quick Arab News tour across few areas famous for annual Christmas decorations like in Hamra, Mar Elias, Achrafieh, Mar Mkhayel and others, it was quite noticeable how most shoppers were window shopping.

Gaby, a gifts shop owner told the newspaper, ‘this is such a saddening and heartbreaking situation’.

“Earlier this morning, a mother had to pull her crying son forcibly out of my store once she saw the prices of decorations and gifts. It was dearly painful to see how she scolded him for wanting to buy a gift he liked … but obviously she didn’t have the money,” said Gaby.

One common scene across Beirut streets is that of empty shops and shoppers gazing from outside at Christmas items that they cannot afford to buy.

Soumaya Adel, a teacher and mother, preferred not to comment except by saying “no dollar, no money, no Christmas, no decorations, no nothing.”

Meanwhile, Mona Bassem said she and her husband decided to ‘play it low this festive season’.

“We have started preparing our kids that this season Santa Clause won’t be coming, so they need to expect small [affordable] gifts, unlike before,” said the mother of two who had to set up last year’s tree and decorations.   

She said her kids went “grumpy and sad” for two consecutive days but would have to deal with the situation, as “after all we are going through very tough financial conditions.” “At least they get to enjoy Christmas spirit and festivities at school,” concluded Bassem.

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.”

A business manager, Khalil Faris, had a brief comment to say “it doesn’t feel like Christmas at all … we are barely having food on the table.”

Meanwhile his cousin Adel said: “Even if we can afford buying a Christmas tree, there is no electricity to light it up. Everything is black and doomed in this country.”

Housewife Denise Ebrahim told Arab News that the economic meltdown has coerced her to be ‘super frank’ with her two daughters that ‘this Christmas they won’t be decorating or exchanging gifts due to the situation’.

“I couldn’t find any easier way despite the fact that they went into tears. I promised them that if things improve, next year they’ll each get two gifts,” she concluded.


Egyptian Ministry of Health denies discovery of omicron variant in the country

Egyptian Ministry of Health denies discovery of omicron variant in the country
Updated 30 November 2021

Egyptian Ministry of Health denies discovery of omicron variant in the country

Egyptian Ministry of Health denies discovery of omicron variant in the country
  • It follows reports that two people infected with the new coronavirus variant were found on a flight from Ethiopia
  • Ministry of Health has ordered rapid lateral flow tests for all people arriving in Egypt from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini

CAIRO: The Egyptian Ministry of Health on Tuesday dismissed as rumors reports that two people infected with the newly discovered omicron coronavirus variant had been found on a flight arriving from Ethiopia.

Spokesman Hossam Abdel Ghaffar said: “This is not true. Egypt is still free of the new coronavirus variant.”

The Ministry of Health has ordered rapid lateral flow tests for all people arriving in Egypt from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini. Any passengers that test positive must return to their points of origin on same planes on which they arrived. Those who test negative must self-quarantine for seven days and take a PCR test at the end of that time.

Abdel Ghaffar stressed the importance of adhering to the precautionary measures implemented by Egyptian authorities to prevent the spread of the virus. He said these are designed to prevent the omicron variant entering the country, and added that although no cases of infection with the new variant have been discovered, “when it happens it will be announced with full transparency.”

Mohammed Al-Nadi, a member of the scientific committee charged with combating the coronavirus, said that although Egypt is free of the omicron variant so far, it is only a matter of time before cases are discovered in the country. He added that although many countries are attempting to prevent or slow the arrival of the variant, in the end it is likely to get through.

Egyptian authorities so far have done good job, Al-Nadi said, of isolating people arriving from places where the variant has been detected to reduce the chances of it spreading while information about it — such as its specific symptoms, how contagious it is and whether it is resistant to vaccines or treatments — is still uncertain.


Tens of thousands protest in anti-military marches in Sudan

Tens of thousands protest in anti-military marches in Sudan
Updated 30 November 2021

Tens of thousands protest in anti-military marches in Sudan

Tens of thousands protest in anti-military marches in Sudan
  • Protesters took to the streets in Khartoum and other cities to demand that the armed forces stay out of government
  • Sudanese security forces have cracked down on the rallies and have killed some 43 protesters so far

CAIRO: Security forces fired tear gas at anti-coup protesters in the Sudanese capital on Tuesday, as tens of thousands marched in the latest demonstrations against a military takeover that took place last month.
Protesters took to the streets in Khartoum and other cities around the country to demand that the armed forces stay out of government.
Deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was reinstated earlier this month under military oversight in a deal that many in the pro-democracy movement oppose. Since the generals seized power on Oct. 25 and rounded up more than 100 civilian government figures, protesters have repeatedly taken to the streets.
In a video streamed online from the Bahri neighborhood of Khartoum, a few protesters threw stones as security forces repeatedly fired tear gas and used sound bombs to try to disperse them. Leaders of the pro-democracy movement have consistently called on those taking part in demonstrations to remain peaceful. In a larger march not far away, demonstrators filled an entire street.
Sudanese security forces have cracked down on the rallies and have killed some 43 protesters so far, according the Sudan Doctors’ Committee, which tracks protester deaths. On Tuesday, the group announced that the latest death was that of a protester who died from hemorrhaging in the skull after being badly beaten by security forces during a march last week.
On Saturday, Hamdok announced the replacement of top officials in the country’s police forces, according to Sudan’s state news agency, firing those who oversaw the response to earlier demonstrations.
Tuesday’s demonstrations come after Hamdok emphasized that the Sudanese people have the right to peacefully protest. In a Facebook post on Monday, he said it is a right “the Sudanese people have secured through decades of struggle.”
The military’s signing of a power-sharing deal with Hamdok coincided with his release from weeks of house arrest. Since then, a number of other officials have also been let go but many remain in detention, along with many activists and protesters.
Hamdok’s reinstatement was the biggest concession made by the military since the coup but leaves the country’s transition to democracy mired in crisis. Sudan’s key pro-democracy groups and political parties have dismissed the deal as falling short of their demands for full civilian rule.
Sudan has been struggling with its transition to a democratic government since the overthrow of autocrat Omar Al-Bashir in 2019, following a mass uprising against three decades of his rule.


If Iran not serious this week, there will be a problem, senior E3 diplomats say

If Iran not serious this week, there will be a problem, senior E3 diplomats say
Updated 30 November 2021

If Iran not serious this week, there will be a problem, senior E3 diplomats say

If Iran not serious this week, there will be a problem, senior E3 diplomats say

VIENNA: There will be a problem if Iran does not show it is serious in nuclear negotiations with world powers this week, senior European diplomats said on Tuesday.
As talks resumed in Vienna, the diplomats from France, Britain and Germany, known as the E3, told reporters that they had still not resolved the thorny issue of what to do with advanced centrifuges which Iran is using to enrich uranium.

The E3 told reporters at a briefing there was urgency in reaching a conclusion on reviving the pact but they did not want to impose artificial deadlines.
Under the agreement, Iran limited its uranium enrichment program, a process that can yield fissile material for bombs, in return for relief from US, EU and UN economic sanctions. Iran says its nuclear program is for solely peaceful purposes.


Emotions run high as Syrians plead with UN Security Council to investigate war crimes

Emotions run high as Syrians plead with UN Security Council to investigate war crimes
Updated 30 November 2021

Emotions run high as Syrians plead with UN Security Council to investigate war crimes

Emotions run high as Syrians plead with UN Security Council to investigate war crimes
  • Torture survivor Alshogre urges delegates to hold Assad regime accountable for its treatment of political prisoners
  • Sentencing by a German court of former Syrian agent Eyad Al-Gharib to 4.5 years in prison hailed as historic

NEW YORK: The atmosphere in the UN Security Council changed when human rights activist and survivor of Assad regime prisons Omar Alshogre began to talk. Monday’s meeting had been convened to shed light on the prevailing impunity in Syria and the need for the council to do more to end it and ensure accountability for crimes committed during the country’s ongoing war.

The conflict began when the regime launched a brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters during the “Damascus Spring.” Since then, more than 350,000 people have died and millions more forced from their homes.

Alshogre, whose harrowing experiences as a political prisoner in Bashar Assad’s jails — “being detained, starved, tortured within an inch of my life” — had made the news worldwide, looked the representatives of world powers in the eye in the UNSC chamber and asked them: “If you were presented with the opportunity to save an innocent life without risking your own, would you do it? Most people would.”

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the 25-year-old refugee continued. “The opportunity is presenting itself today. It presented itself yesterday, and every day since March 15, 2011. That is 3,912 missed opportunities to save lives in Syria. In that time, more than 350,000 people have been killed by the Syrian regime, according to the UN.”

The informal meeting was convened by council members Estonia, France, the UK and the US, along with a dozen sponsors including Qatar and Turkey.

Alshogre told the ambassadors that it was his own mother’s “courage to stand up to the brutal dictatorship” that saved his life and urged them to remember her name, “Hala,” and follow her example.

Despite her husband and sons being massacred in front of her eyes by Assad’s men and their “Iranian allies,” and “instead of complaining about her limitations, (my mother) found a way to take action.

“Despite many failed attempts to get me out of prison, she kept trying again and again. She persisted until I was freed,” Alshogre said.

“By saving me from prison, my mother set an example of how we all must act to stop the Syrian regime from taking more lives and hold its leaders accountable for the countless lives it has already taken.

“It doesn’t require a miracle. It just requires courage, action and persistence.”

A recent report by the UN’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic concluded that thousands of detainees have been subjected to “unimaginable suffering” during the war, including torture, death and sexual violence against women, girls and boys.

The UNSC had tasked the commission with investigating and recording all violations of international law since the start of the conflict.

“At least 20 different, horrific methods of torture used by the government of Syria have been extensively documented,” the investigators wrote in their report.

“These include administering electric shocks, the burning of body parts, pulling of nails and teeth, mock executions, folding detainees into a car tire, and crucifying or suspending individuals from one or two limbs for prolonged periods, often in combination with severe beating.”

The perpetrators, however, still roam freely in Syria amid no tangible deterrence, as violations and crimes continue to this day.

The sentencing by a German court in Koblenz in February of former Syrian secret agent Eyad Al-Gharib to four and a half years in prison on charges of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity has been hailed as historic.

Al-Gharib had been accused of rounding up peaceful anti-government protesters and delivering them to a detention center, where they were tortured. The verdict marked the first time a court outside Syria had ruled on state-sponsored torture by members of the Assad regime.

Christoph Heusgen, Germany’s former permanent representative to the UN, said the verdict of the Koblenz state court sends a clear message to Assad that “whoever commits such crimes cannot be safe anywhere.” He added that “Assad’s state has turned the cradle of civilization into a torture chamber.”

Teams from war crimes units in Sweden, France and Germany have recently begun joint investigations into Syria’s war crimes, with Sweden focusing on torture and killings by both the Assad regime and Daesh.

In France, a preliminary investigation has drawn on the tens of thousands of photos of dead bodies taken between 2011 and 2013 by “Caesar,” the codename for a former Syrian military photographer.

While speakers at Monday’s meeting welcomed similar proceedings in courts outside of Syria, they said that such moves “do not come close to addressing the magnitude of the Syrian crisis.”

They lamented the UNSC’s inaction and the fate of its 2014 resolution to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, which was not approved.

“Several resolutions aimed at identifying those responsible for the use of chemical weapons met the same fate,” said the meeting’s sponsors in a statement. They reiterated their call for the file to be placed in the hands of the ICC.

As Syrian filmmaker Waad Al-Kateab, who also gave heart-wrenching testimony about life under Assad, played a video in the chamber showing an Aleppo mother at the moment she lost her child in an Assad bombing, some council members choked back tears.

Alshogre said: “We have stronger evidence today than what we had against the Nazis at Nuremberg. (We) even know where the mass graves are located. But still no international court and no end to the ongoing slaughter for the civilians in Syria.

“I understand that there are barriers to action, but I also believe in the international system and the UN and the principles they were founded upon.”

Alshogre made a final plea to the international community that, while it is too late to save those who died, there are millions of Syrian lives that can still be saved and “that is my biggest ask to you: That you save them.”