Why Iran absorbs Israeli-inflicted blows on its militant proxies in Syria

Israeli F35 I fighter jets are believed to have employed in a number of air strikes in Syria. (AFP)
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Israeli F35 I fighter jets are believed to have employed in a number of air strikes in Syria. (AFP)
Israeli F35 I fighter jets are believed to have employed in a number of air strikes in Syria. (AFP)
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Israeli F35 I fighter jets are believed to have employed in a number of air strikes in Syria. (AFP)
A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on Feb. 24, 2020, reportedly shows Syrian air defende intercepting an Israeli missile in the sky over Damascus. (AFP)
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A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on Feb. 24, 2020, reportedly shows Syrian air defende intercepting an Israeli missile in the sky over Damascus. (AFP)
An Israeli missile explodes as it is intercepted by Syrian air defenses over Damascus on Feb. 14, 2020. (AFP)
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An Israeli missile explodes as it is intercepted by Syrian air defenses over Damascus on Feb. 14, 2020. (AFP)
Why Iran absorbs Israeli-inflicted blows on its militant proxies in Syria
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Hezbollah supporters carry coffins of their fighters killed in Syria, during their funeral procession in Lebanon on March 1, 2020. (AFP)
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Hezbollah supporters carry coffins of their fighters killed in Syria, during their funeral procession in Lebanon on March 1, 2020. (AFP)
Why Iran absorbs Israeli-inflicted blows on its militant proxies in Syria
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Members of Hashed al-Shaabi, an Iran-allied paramilitary force in Iraq, holding a funeral procession in Baghdad for fellow comrades on December 31, 2019. (AFP file photo)
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Members of Hashed al-Shaabi, an Iran-allied paramilitary force in Iraq, holding a funeral procession in Baghdad for fellow comrades on December 31, 2019. (AFP file photo)
Syrian protesters rally in front of a poster of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Syrian President Bashar Assad and military commander Qassem Soleimani. (AFP)
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Syrian protesters rally in front of a poster of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Syrian President Bashar Assad and military commander Qassem Soleimani. (AFP)
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Updated 17 May 2021

Why Iran absorbs Israeli-inflicted blows on its militant proxies in Syria

Why Iran absorbs Israeli-inflicted blows on its militant proxies in Syria
  • Despite losing hundreds of fighters to Israeli bombardment, Iran and its proxies remain committed to their presence in Syria
  • Experts warn sanctions relief for Iran under revived nuclear talks could ignite an already volatile situation in the war-torn country

LONDON: Israel has launched hundreds of strikes against Iran and its allied proxies inside Syria since the country’s descent into civil war over a decade ago, with officials in Tel Aviv making it clear they will refuse to tolerate any Iranian entrenchment along their northern border.

Israeli warplanes have repeatedly attacked Iran-linked facilities and weapons convoys destined for Tehran’s Hezbollah proxies in Lebanon. On May 5, Israeli strikes in the Syrian provinces of Latakia and Hama claimed the lives of at least eight individuals on the payroll of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

Despite the persistent bombardment and loss of personnel, experts say the IRGC is unlikely to strike back directly or relinquish its military presence any time soon. The reason: Syria is simply too precious a strategic prize for Tehran to give up.




A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on Feb. 24, 2020, reportedly shows Syrian air defende intercepting an Israeli missile in the sky over Damascus. (AFP)

“Both Israel and Iran believe that they have vital national security interests at stake in Syria,” Chris Bolan, professor of Middle East Security Studies at the US Army War College, told Arab News.

The Iran-backed Lebanese militia Hezbollah, which intervened early in the Syrian civil war in support of the Assad regime, is the crux of Israel’s national security headache in Syria, said Bolan.

“Israeli concerns with Iran’s support to Hezbollah are enduring and will continue regardless of the outcome of (nuclear) negotiations in Vienna. These concerns have only been exacerbated with Iran’s growing military presence and intervention on behalf of Syrian President Assad since the onset of the civil war,” he said.

“Israel will continue to take whatever actions are necessary — including airstrikes — to both minimize the threat posed by Hezbollah’s growing, sophisticated arsenal of missiles and ensure that Iran’s military presence in Syria does not pose an immediate threat to Israel.

“Similarly, Iranian leaders view their support to Hezbollah as an essential element of Iran’s national security strategy of forward defense. A well-equipped Hezbollah that poses a significant threat to Israel serves as Tehran’s most potent deterrent against large-scale Israeli or Western strikes.”




Members of Hashed al-Shaabi, an Iran-allied paramilitary force in Iraq, holding a funeral procession in Baghdad for fellow comrades on December 31, 2019. (AFP file photo)

Alongside Hezbollah, the IRGC has nurtured, trained and armed a host of other militia groups across Syria. By shipping in fighters from Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq and even Pakistan, Tehran has created its own army of Shiite mercenaries in Syria.

Still, on Syria’s front lines and at the mercy of Israeli warplanes, these foreign fighters have paid a heavy price for their allegiance to Tehran.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), between January 2018, when Israel’s involvement in Syria first escalated, and January 2020, almost 500 Iran-backed fighters were directly killed by Israeli airstrikes.

That figure includes “228 militiamen of the Lebanese Hezbollah and Iranian-backed militias” and “171 members of the Iranian forces and Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps,” as well as nearly 100 Syrian pro-government militiamen.




Hezbollah supporters carry coffins of their fighters killed in Syria, during their funeral procession in Lebanon on March 1, 2020. (AFP)

Thousands more have died on the front lines in direct clashes with rebels and Daesh militants.

According to SOHR, the May 5 strikes alone claimed eight lives: Five Iranians and Afghans, a Syrian and two others of “non-Syrian” nationality.

“The death toll is expected to rise further as the attack left many members injured, some seriously, including Lebanese militiamen and officers,” it said. It is not yet clear whether any members of Hezbollah were killed or injured.

IN NUMBER

500+

Fighters killed in Israeli strikes in Syria in Jan. 2018-Jan. 2020.

According to Matthew Levitt, director of the Washington Institute’s program on counterterrorism and intelligence, Hezbollah is unlikely to risk striking back against Israel in spite of these heavy losses.

“Hezbollah has a clear track record over the past few years of only responding to Israeli strikes in Syria when those strikes kill Hezbollah operatives,” Levitt told Arab News.

“So long as Israeli strikes only hit Hezbollah weapons shipments or infrastructure, the group is unlikely to respond against Israel directly for fear of igniting a cross-border conflict that it currently wants to avoid.

“Hezbollah prefers to avoid fighting wars on two different fronts at once (Syria and Israel), and is also sensitive about dragging Lebanon into a war with Israel that the vast majority of Lebanese don’t want, at a time when Lebanon is experiencing severe economic and political instability.”

Instead, in the face of escalating losses, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has resorted to fiery rhetoric and lofty promises.

Just days after the latest strikes, Iranian state-backed media quoted Nasrallah as saying: “The ‘Israelis’ are concerned today due to the growing capabilities of the Axis of Resistance. The ‘Israeli’ entity is in trouble and its wall is cracking; there is a leadership crisis and this is a sign of collapse and weakness.”

However Hezbollah chooses to dress things up, Israel’s air campaign has not only caused hundreds of casualties but also succeeded in its stated objective of preventing widespread Iranian entrenchment in Syria, particularly in the country’s south.




Syrian protesters rally in front of a poster of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Syrian President Bashar Assad and the late military commander Qassem Soleimani. (AFP)

“The Israeli airstrikes against Iranian-backed groups have been quite effective in destroying and disrupting key targets in Syria,” said Johan Obdola, founder of the International Organization for Security and Intelligence.

In the course of the Syrian war, Israel has bombed secret weapons depots in major cities, key infrastructure including highways, as well as hundreds of shipments of missiles and other arms earmarked for Iran’s allies.




A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on April 27, 2020 shows a damaged building in Damascus after reported Israeli air strikes. (AFP)

“These constant airstrikes have been severely hitting Iran’s smuggling operations of advanced weapons, including missiles to Hezbollah in Syria, and also including warehouses and pre-existing underground compounds that serve as pipelines for military components,” Obdola said.

That said, Israel cannot afford to rest on its laurels, according to experts. If the talks should falter between Washington and Tehran over Iran’s nuclear program, Bolan warns, the standoff in Syria between Iran and Israel could become even more volatile.

“The outcome of negotiations is not likely to significantly alter the basic calculations of entrenched Israeli or Iranian interests in Syria,” said Bolan.

“Nevertheless, failed negotiations in Vienna will likely add to the already mounting tensions between Israel and Iran inside Syria and thereby increase the prospect of intended or unintended escalation.”

Obdola, for his part, says Iran and its allies are likely to capitalize on the talks and any sanctions relief achieved as an opportunity to strengthen their position against Israel.

“The nuclear talks represent to Iran an opportunity to move forward with its plan against Israel,” he said.

An end to sanctions on Iran “would facilitate Iran and Hezbollah in its expansion not only in Syria, but in other countries around the world where they have been implementing an aggressive military, militia and terrorist network.”

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Twitter: @CHamillStewart


Iraq arrests two generals on suspicion of bribery at key port

Iraq arrests two generals on suspicion of bribery at key port
Updated 17 min 31 sec ago

Iraq arrests two generals on suspicion of bribery at key port

Iraq arrests two generals on suspicion of bribery at key port
  • In Iraq, every port and border crossing has its corrupt placemen appointed by political parties or armed groups
  • In Umm Qasr, it is mainly pro-Iranian armed groups who dominate through their nominees in the customs department and the security forces, officials say

BAGHDAD: Iraq announced Saturday it has arrested two generals on suspicion of taking bribes to waive customs duties, a practice estimated to cost the state $6.3 billion a year in lost revenues.
Both men worked at the Gulf port of Umm Qasr, a key entry point for imports of foodstuffs and medicines which is reputed to be the most corrupt in Iraq.
The sums allegedly found in their position were tiny given the scale of corruption in Iraq, which is estimated to have cost the country hundreds of billions of dollars since the US-led invasion of 2003.
"$1,000 were found in the office of the general in charge of Umm Qasr North, while the other general had hidden $2,100 in a waste basket in his office," a source in the state anti-corruption body, the Commission for Integrity, told AFP.
"These were bribes intended to facilitate the smooth passage of cargos," the source said.
In Iraq, every port and border crossing has its corrupt placemen appointed by political parties or armed groups, who ensure a steady flow of illicit revenues to their patrons.
In Umm Qasr, it is mainly pro-Iranian armed groups who dominate through their nominees in the customs department and the security forces, officials say.


Algeria votes for new parliament for first time since Bouteflika’s exit

Algeria votes for new parliament for first time since Bouteflika’s exit
Updated 12 June 2021

Algeria votes for new parliament for first time since Bouteflika’s exit

Algeria votes for new parliament for first time since Bouteflika’s exit

ALGIERS: Polling stations opened Saturday in Algeria's first parliamentary election since a popular uprising forced longtime autocratic president Abdelaziz Bouteflika from office in 2019.

The vote is meant to satisfy demands of pro-democracy protesters and turn a new leaf for the troubled, albeit gas-rich, country — but which many activists plan to boycott.
Authorities have tightened the screws on the Hirak protest movement in recent weeks, and police arrested a politician and journalist who are prominent opposition figures in the run-up to the voting.
The early election is supposed to exemplify President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s “new Algeria,” with an emphasis on young candidates and those outside the political elite. A huge number of candidates — more than 20,000 — are running for the 407-seat legislature, more than half as independents and the rest on party lists.
It’s the first legislative election since former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was forced from office in 2019 after 20 years in power amid protests over corruption, joblessness and repression.
But the threat of boycott, worries about the coronavirus and general frustration with the political system mean Saturday’s turnout may be low.
Women make up half of candidates for the first time, among efforts to make a fresh start. But women have been largely invisible from the campaign — and in some cases their faces were blurred or concealed in campaign posters, according to newspaper El Watan.
Candidates had just 20 days to campaign, and Algerian media said real debate on major issues of concern, like unemployment, was mostly absent.
“With such a slew of candidates, the calculation of power is simple: to elect a patchwork assembly, without a majority, which will allow the president to create his own parliamentary majority with which he will govern,” said political scientist Rachid Grime.
A new election authority was formed to run the vote, and its chief said results may take up to 10 days to tally given the large number of candidates and the new system.
Many candidates couldn’t afford campaign posters. Independent candidates like Djamel Maafa, a former TV producer, used social networks to spread his message for lack of access to the funds and logistical structure of big parties.
Parties supporting the Hirak movement called for a boycott because they want a more fundamental political transition.
“Elections in Algeria have always proved that they are not the solution. The solution lies in democratic transition, it also lies in a dialogue around a table in order to solve the crisis,” said activist Sofiane Haddadji.


Abu Dhabi to provide free COVID-19 vaccines to those with expired residency or entry visas

Abu Dhabi to provide free COVID-19 vaccines to those with expired residency or entry visas
Updated 12 June 2021

Abu Dhabi to provide free COVID-19 vaccines to those with expired residency or entry visas

Abu Dhabi to provide free COVID-19 vaccines to those with expired residency or entry visas
  • Prior to the decision, only those with an Emirates ID or valid residency could register to take the vaccine in the capital

DUBAI: Abu Dhabi will provide free coronavirus vaccines to people with expired residency or entry visas to ensure their safety, Abu Dhabi Media Office said in a tweet on Saturday.
“To receive the free COVID-19 vaccine, any type of formal identification, even if expired, can be used to register at the designated vaccination centers,” it added.
Prior to the decision, only those with an Emirates ID or valid residency could register to take the vaccine in the capital.
The decision comes days after the emirate announced the implementation of the ‘green pass’ system of entry into most public places in the emirate.
Starting June 15, visitors to places including malls, large supermarkets, gyms and hotels must show their color code on Al Hosn app to be allowed entry.
“Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Committee has approved usage of green pass on Al Hosn app, based on the emirate’s 4-pillar strategy to combat COVID-19 focused on vaccination, active contract tracings, safe entry and adopting preventive measures,” it tweeted.
The Al Hosn color-coding system has six categories, including fully vaccinated, second dose recipients and first dose recipients waiting for a second dose appointment, Abu Dhabi Media Office said.
The decision covers individuals aged 16 and above.


Gulf, Arab states and organizations hail UAE election to UN Security Council

Gulf, Arab states and organizations hail UAE election to UN Security Council
This United Nations handout photo shows a view of the Security Council meeting at the UN in New York. (AFP file photo)
Updated 12 June 2021

Gulf, Arab states and organizations hail UAE election to UN Security Council

Gulf, Arab states and organizations hail UAE election to UN Security Council
  • The UAE is one of five countries elected to sit as non-permanent members on the Security Council in 2022 and 2023

DUBAI: Gulf and Arab states and organizations hailed the UAE’s election to a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council for 2022-2023.
Ali bin Saleh Al-Saleh, Bahrain’s Shura Council Chairman, expressed his pride in the UAE’s achievement.
This confirms the country’s dedicated efforts to promote global peace and security, the official added, in a report from state news agency BNA.
Adel bin Abdul Rahman Al-Asoumi, speaker of the Arab Parliament, expressed his full confidence in the UAE’s ability to face major challenges, wishing the country success, Saudi Press Agency reported.
Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Dr. Yousef bin Ahmed Al-Othaimeen congratulated the UAE, Gabon and Albania for their achievement. He said their winning of seats in the UN Security Council reflects their role in consolidating international peace, SPA added.
Kuwait’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Dr. Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah meanwhile discussed with UAE counterpart Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan during a phone call his country’s full support to the UAE in achieving world peace and security.
Jordan’s foreign ministry, likewise, expressed its support for the UAE in serving common Arab issues and interests and preserving international stability and security, according to state news agency Petra.

The UAE is one of five countries elected on Friday by the UN General Assembly to sit as non-permanent members on the Security Council in 2022 and 2023. The others are Brazil, Albania, Gabon and Ghana, and the new arrivals could potentially shift the power balance within the world body, diplomats predicted.

“The UAE’s campaign for Security Council membership was based on its commitment to promoting inclusiveness, stimulating innovation, building resilience and securing peace at all levels,” state news agency WAM reported.

The country affirmed its firm belief in the importance of building bridges to strengthen relations between members of the Security Council, and rebuilding the confidence of member states in the council’s ability to respond effectively to challenges to international peace and security.

“The UAE has always been ready to assume its share of the responsibility to confront urgent global challenges, in cooperation with the international community, and this was the primary motivation for our campaign for Security Council membership,” said Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE’s minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation.

“The UAE has committed itself to multilateral action, international law and the UN Charter since its establishment, and the country will continue to adhere to these principles during its membership of the Security Council.

“I am confident that our history and our role as a reliable partner and mediator will enable us to make an effective contribution during the two years that we will serve on the Security Council. We are aware of the great responsibility associated with the membership, the importance of the challenges facing the Security Council, and with determination and perseverance the UAE will be keen to maintain international peace and security.”

Lana Zaki Nusseibeh, the UAE’s permanent representative to the UN, said her country’s role on the Security Council “stems from our belief that our values and principles can help advance progress toward our common goal of international peace and security.”

She added: “During the two years that we will serve on the council, our team here in New York, Abu Dhabi and around the world will work constructively with our colleagues from the member states to overcome divisions and make tangible progress in addressing the most serious challenges, from building resilience to climate change to addressing global health crises and epidemics, and taking advantage of the potential of innovation to achieve peace.”

The UAE will be committed to working as part of the Security Council in a spirit of cooperation and partnership, she said.

FASTFACT

The five new UN Security Council members will start their terms on Jan. 1, replacing five countries whose two-year terms end on Dec. 31 — Estonia, Niger, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Tunisia and Vietnam.

Nusseibeh also congratulated Albania, Brazil, Gabon and Ghana on their election to the council and said she “looks forward to working together to build a more peaceful, secure and inclusive future.”

The five countries will take their seats on the council in January, replacing Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Vietnam, Estonia, Niger and Tunisia.

The shift will change the balance of power within the Security Council, diplomats predicted. One diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “Brazil and the UAE have strong positions in foreign policy, and Albania, which will sit on the council for the first time in its history, is also a member of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation.”

Of the 193 available votes, Brazil received 181, the UAE 179, Albania 175, Gabon 183 and Ghana 185.

The Security Council has 15 members. Five (the US, the UK, China, Russia and France) are permanent members with a right of veto, and 10 are elected, non-permanent members, half of whom are replaced every year.

The UAE joined the UN in 1971, the year the country was founded. The only time it has previously held a seat on the Security Council was in 1986-1987.

– with AFP


15-year-old Palestinian shot dead by Israeli soldiers

15-year-old Palestinian shot dead by Israeli soldiers
Palestinian women mourn during the funeral of Mohammad Hamayel, 15, who was killed during clashes with Israeli security forces in Beita, West Bank, on June 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
Updated 12 June 2021

15-year-old Palestinian shot dead by Israeli soldiers

15-year-old Palestinian shot dead by Israeli soldiers
  • Violence in the West Bank increased in early May, with at least 30 Palestinians killed in clashes with Israeli forces and in alleged attacks

RAMALLAH: A Palestinian teenager died on Friday after the Israeli Army shot him during clashes in the West Bank, Palestinian medics and the Health Ministry said.
“Mohammad Said Hamayel, 15, died in clashes” with Israeli forces near Beita, south of Nablus, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said six others had been wounded by live gunfire.
The Israeli Army did not immediately respond to an AFP request for comment.
According to Wafa, the Palestinian news agency, the violence took place during “a public protest against Israel’s construction of a colonial settlement outpost near the village,” to which the army responded with live fire and teargas.

BACKGROUND

The teenager’s death comes a day after three Palestinians were killed by Israeli special forces on a mission to arrest suspected ‘terrorists’ in the occupied West Bank.

Violence in the West Bank increased in early May, with at least 30 Palestinians killed in clashes with Israeli forces and in alleged attacks.
That came amid a flare-up in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem that led to 11 days of airstrikes launched by Israel against Hamas fighters in the besieged enclave of Gaza.
West Bank villages often hold Friday demonstrations against land confiscation, house demolitions and Israeli settlements deemed illegal under international law.
The events are often punctuated by clashes with the Israeli army.
Some 475,000 Israeli settlers live in the occupied West Bank, home to more than 2.8 million Palestinians.