Veteran Mossad operative named Israeli spy agency’s new chief

Veteran Mossad operative named Israeli spy agency’s new chief
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said Monday David Barnea, a veteran Mossad operative, becomes Israel’s intelligence agency new chief next month. (AP)
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Updated 24 May 2021

Veteran Mossad operative named Israeli spy agency’s new chief

Veteran Mossad operative named Israeli spy agency’s new chief
  • David Barnea, 56, and currently the Mossad's deputy director, will replace Joseph (Yossi) Cohen, early next month
  • Cohen is stepping down after more than five years at the Mossad's helm

JERUSALEM: A veteran Mossad operative, who Israeli media said specialized in recruiting agents to work against Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group, was named on Monday as the Israeli intelligence agency’s new chief.
David Barnea, 56, and currently the Mossad’s deputy director, will replace Joseph (Yossi) Cohen, early next month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.
Cohen is stepping down after more than five years at the Mossad’s helm, during which he was closely involved in Israel’s outreach to Gulf Arab states that resulted in peace deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain last year.
Barnea joined the Mossad in 1996, serving as a case officer. From 2013 until his appointment in 2019 to the Mossad’s number two post, he commanded its Tzomet division, which Israeli media reports said recruits and runs agents.
The Haaretz newspaper said that as Tzomet’s commander, Barnea was responsible for enlisting operatives against the Mossad’s top priority targets, Iran and Hezbollah.
Iran has accused the Mossad of being behind the assassinations of nuclear scientists and military commanders as well as sabotage at uranium enrichment facilities that Israel alleges are part of a program aimed at producing atomic weapons.
Tehran denies it is seeking to build nuclear arms.
Barnea’s name and position in the Mossad could not be reported in Israel under military censorship rules until the announcement from the prime minister’s office of his new appointment.


Lebanon’s PM to meet Kuwaiti foreign minister in Beirut

Lebanon’s PM to meet Kuwaiti foreign minister in Beirut
Updated 22 January 2022

Lebanon’s PM to meet Kuwaiti foreign minister in Beirut

Lebanon’s PM to meet Kuwaiti foreign minister in Beirut
  • In October, Kuwait, along with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, expelled Lebanese diplomats following a minister’s critical comments about the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati will meet Kuwait’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah on Saturday in Beirut, Mikati’s office said in a statement.
In October, Kuwait, along with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, expelled Lebanese diplomats and recalled their own envoys following a minister’s critical comments about the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen.


US bombing run over Syrian dam risked tens of thousands of deaths: Report

US bombing run over Syrian dam risked tens of thousands of deaths: Report
Updated 22 January 2022

US bombing run over Syrian dam risked tens of thousands of deaths: Report

US bombing run over Syrian dam risked tens of thousands of deaths: Report
  • Special forces used ‘emergency’ protocol to launch strike, ignoring Pentagon warning
  • Attack shocked US Air Force personnel, military planners: New York Times

LONDON: A covert US task force came close to decimating a major area in Syria by bombing a dam that the Pentagon had put on a “no-strike list,” a new report claims.

In 2017, the American unit bombed the Tabqa dam on the Euphrates in eastern Syria, upstream of Raqqa, where Daesh fighters were occupying the control towers.

When the attack was originally reported, the US and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces claimed that limited munitions were used to seize the location, with the head of the anti-Daesh coalition describing rumors that it was bombed as “crazy reporting.”

But new analysis by the New York Times, which has uncovered and reviewed a slurry of bombing incidents from the war against Daesh, claimed that three 2,000-lb bombs were deployed.

The attack risked tens of thousands of lives, destroying the dam’s machinery and requiring emergency intervention to prevent the reservoir from flooding. The dam was only saved due to a “bunker-buster” bomb failing to explode.

On March 26, 2017, as the SDF closed in on Raqqa, the US launched the strike with support from its Kurdish allies on the ground, with whom it had established a close relationship for calling in high-powered attacks.

The SDF called for a B-52 — the long-range strategic bomber that has been in continual service since the 1950s — as the fighting party was being blocked from advancing by Daesh fighters further ahead up the reservoir.

Spotting the Islamists in fortified positions in the control towers, a bombing run was requested.

Task Force 9 — the US Special Operations force working alongside the SDF on the Raqqa advance — was warned that the dam should not be bombed when it asked the Pentagon’s Defence Intelligence Agency to determine which munitions could be used.

But the unit ignored this advice, using an emergency protocol that allowed it to call in airstrikes beyond the ordinary chain of command during sudden life-threatening moments, such as the battle with Daesh at the reservoir.

However, crew logs from the B-52 flight that undertook the bombing run said it had been required for “terrain denial,” with no reference to lives being at risk from Daesh fighters.

The bombing run was devastating. Fifty feet of water quickly rose as the machinery was bust, with dams on the Euphrates in Turkey further upstream rushing to slow the flow.

A one-day ceasefire was called to allow a group of 16 engineers from all sides of the conflict to lift the floodgates and prevent further damage.

Three of those engineers were killed after they had successfully used a crane to lift the gates, bombed by a drone while driving home.

The dam strike reportedly shocked US Air Force personnel and military planners. Scott Murray, a retired USAF colonel, was quoted by the NYT as saying: “Using a 2,000 lb bomb against a restricted target like a dam is extremely difficult and should have never been done on the fly. Worst case, those munitions could have absolutely caused the dam to fail.”

The Pentagon defended the strike, saying it had targeted the dam’s control towers, not its structure.

“Analysis had confirmed that strikes on the towers attached to the dam were not considered likely to cause structural damage to the Tabqa dam itself,” said Bill Urban, a US Central Command spokesman, adding that the dam had not collapsed. “That analysis has proved accurate.”


More than 70 dead in fighting after Syria jail attack

More than 70 dead in fighting after Syria jail attack
Updated 22 January 2022

More than 70 dead in fighting after Syria jail attack

More than 70 dead in fighting after Syria jail attack
  • Daesh launched the attack on Thursday night against the prison housing some 3,500 suspected members of the militant group

BEIRUT: Fighting raged for a third day Saturday between the Daesh group and Kurdish forces in Syria after Daesh attacked a prison housing militants, in violence that has claimed over 70 lives, a monitor said.
The assault on the Ghwayran prison in the northern city of Hasakah is one of Daesh’s most significant since its “caliphate” was declared defeated in Syria nearly three years ago.
“At least 28 members of the Kurdish security forces, five civilians and 45 members of Daesh have been killed” in the violence, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Daesh launched the attack on Thursday night against the prison housing some 3,500 suspected members of the militant group, including some of its leaders, said the Observatory.
Hundreds of militant inmates had since been detained and around 10 were believed to have escaped, said the Observatory, a Britain-based monitor that relies on sources inside war-torn Syria for its information.
“The exceptional situation continues in and around the prison,” said Farhad Shami, spokesman for the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The fighting on Saturday morning was taking place north of the prison, he added.
The militant group said in a statement released by its Amaq news agency that its attack on the jail aimed to “free the prisoners.”
Daesh has carried out regular attacks against Kurdish and government targets in Syria since the rump of its once-sprawling proto-state was overrun on the banks of the Euphrates in March 2019.
Most of their guerrilla attacks have been against military targets and oil installations in remote areas, but the Hasakah prison break could mark a new phase in the group’s resurgence.
The Kurdish authorities have long warned they do not have the capacity to hold, let alone put on trial, the thousands of Daesh fighters captured in years of operations.
According to Kurdish authorities, more than 50 nationalities are represented in a number of Kurdish-run prisons, where more than 12,000 Daesh suspects are now held.
The war in Syria broke out in 2011 and has since killed close to half a million people and spurred the largest conflict-induced displacement since World War II.


Oman issues new COVID-19 measures due to spike in infections

Oman issues new COVID-19 measures due to spike in infections
Updated 22 January 2022

Oman issues new COVID-19 measures due to spike in infections

Oman issues new COVID-19 measures due to spike in infections
  • Government units and other public entities will limit their workplace capacities to 50 percent
  • The Sultanate suspended Friday prayers but allowed mosques to remain open at a 50 percent capacity

DUBAI: Oman has updated its coronavirus precautionary measures effective for two weeks starting on Jan. 23 due to a sharp spike in COVID-19 infections.
Government units and other public entities will limit their workplace capacities to 50 percent, state news agency ONA reported.
The government has further suspended all conferences and exhibitions. Congregational activities have also been halted and organizers have been advised to hold them without audiences. Participants and organizers would now also be required to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination.
The Sultanate further suspended Friday prayers but allowed mosques to remain open at a 50 percent capacity.
The country’s Supreme Committee has called on all public establishments to stick to the measures set for their businesses, including operating at a capacity of 50 percent, requiring proofs of vaccination for customers, observing physical distancing and wearing of face masks.
Oman shifted to distance learning for all schools earlier this month for four weeks as a precaution against the spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.


US Treasury imposes more sanctions on Hezbollah-linked Lebanese individuals

US Treasury imposes more sanctions on Hezbollah-linked Lebanese individuals
Updated 22 January 2022

US Treasury imposes more sanctions on Hezbollah-linked Lebanese individuals

US Treasury imposes more sanctions on Hezbollah-linked Lebanese individuals
  • Lebanon’s economy has been in crisis since 2019 when it collapsed under a mountain of debt

WASHINGTON: The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on three Lebanese nationals and 10 companies it said were part of an international Hezbollah network, accusing them of evading sanctions on the powerful group with an armed militia that is designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by Washington.
The US Treasury Department in a statement said it designated Adnan Ayad, who it said was a Hezbollah member and businessman, as well as other members of an international network of facilitators and companies connected to him and his business partner, Adel Diab, who was designated by Washington on Tuesday.
Friday’s move comes after the United States on Tuesday imposed sanctions on three businessmen, including Diab, with ties to Hezbollah, saying their activity as financial facilitators for the Iran-backed group was exploiting Lebanon’s economic resources at a time of crisis for that country.
“Treasury is committed to disrupting Hizballah’s illicit activity and attempts to evade sanctions through business networks while the group doubles down on corrupt patronage networks in Lebanon,” Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson said in the statement on Friday.
Lebanon’s economy has been in crisis since 2019 when it collapsed under a mountain of debt. Its currency plunged to a new low last week, and swaths of the country have been driven into poverty.
Lebanon’s Cabinet will hold its first meeting in three months next week, local media reported on Monday, after Hezbollah and another group, Amal, ended their boycott of the Cabinet over the weekend.
The two groups, which back several ministers, had been boycotting the Cabinet in a dispute over the conduct of an investigation into a huge explosion at Beirut’s port in 2020.