Turkey, Azerbaijan, Pakistan launch ‘Three Brothers’ joint military exercises

Turkey, Azerbaijan, Pakistan launch ‘Three Brothers’ joint military exercises
Azeri soldiers walk near their military vehicles in the Kalbajar district, Azerbaijan, Dec. 21, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 14 September 2021

Turkey, Azerbaijan, Pakistan launch ‘Three Brothers’ joint military exercises

Turkey, Azerbaijan, Pakistan launch ‘Three Brothers’ joint military exercises
  • The ‘Three Brothers — 2021’ exercises are being held in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku with the aim of ‘further strengthening the existing ties’ between the three armies
  • Pakistan and Turkey provided support to Azerbaijan during the 44-day-long Second Karabakh War against Armenia

ANKARA: As part of their tripartite military cooperation, Turkey, Pakistan and Azerbaijan began eight-day joint military drills on Sept. 12.  

The “Three Brothers — 2021” exercises are being held in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku with the aim of “further strengthening the existing ties” between the three armies and helping them find new ways to fight terrorism in the region, according to an official readout. 

Lt. Gen. Hikmat Mirzayev, Azerbaijan’s special forces commander, said during the opening ceremony that cooperation between the three countries was at “the highest level” and that important measures were being taken to further strengthen relations to ensure the security of the region and its people.

Experts say this new format for military cooperation adds a new layer to the political ties that date back to 2017, when Azerbaijan’s then-Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov held the first trilateral meeting with his Turkish and Pakistani counterparts in Baku. 

Pakistan and Turkey provided support to Azerbaijan during the 44-day-long Second Karabakh War last September in which Azerbaijan fought against Armenian armed forces until the conclusion of a Russia-brokered truce in November. 

Following Turkey, Pakistan was the second country to recognize Azerbaijan as an independent state on Dec. 12, 1991.

“The regional trio is important in the sense that they will add a military component to the political ties,” Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Program at the Washington Institute, told Arab News.

“It is interesting to gather Pakistan as a nuclear power, Turkey as one of the largest and most powerful militaries within NATO, and Azerbaijan as a rising regional military power largely thanks to Turkish and Israeli contributions to the defense industry,” he added. 

The joint exercises also aim to increase military experiences and share professional know-how between the military staff of the three countries. 

According to Cagaptay, Turkey’s national security experts consider Pakistan as being among Turkey’s closest allies traditionally. 

“Turkey is now deepening its defense ties with two of the five countries — US, Korea, Israel, Azerbaijan, Pakistan — that are considered its traditional allies. Pakistan brings strategic depth to this alliance,” he said. 

Cagaptay also underlined that this move is part of Ankara’s attempts to seek strategic autonomy and look for allies beyond NATO through comprehensive strategic alliances that can provide flexible and timely reactions vis-à-vis geopolitical and military developments. 

The cooperation between Pakistan and Turkey gained more importance amid the ongoing developments in Afghanistan and the potential refugee influx after the Taliban’s takeover. 

In July, Turkish, Azerbaijani and Pakistani parliament speakers signed the Baku Declaration to boost trilateral cooperation. 

In the declaration, the parties supported each other’s territorial integrity and underlined their respective priorities, with overt support to Azerbaijan in its moves on Karabakh, to Pakistan in its conflict over Jammu and Kashmir, and to Turkey in the settlement of Cyprus, Aegean and East Mediterranean disputes. 

In August, Turkish Aerospace Industries signed a contract with Pakistan’s National Engineering and Science Commission to jointly produce Anka military drones and transfer technology between the two companies.

Erol Bural, head of the Ankara-based Research Center for Defense Against Terrorism and Radicalization, said that joint drilling by the special forces units of three countries is of utmost importance because it is a sign that they may conduct joint operations in the future. 

“The choice of the venue for the joint military drills is also significant and can be considered as a message of solidarity between these three countries — that they see each other as brothers — directed at Armenia following the Second Karabakh War,” he told Arab News. 

Bural also added that using real weaponry during the joint exercises is also essential.

“It helps the military exercise to generate outcomes that are close to real war conditions and to test the newly developed ammunition on the ground,” he said.  

Military analysts underline that the exercises can also lead to cooperation in producing military technology.  

The August visit of Pakistan’s President Arif Alvi to Turkey to attend the launching ceremony of the MILGEM project’s first corvette ship built in Turkey for the Pakistan Navy also boosted military cooperation, which would help Pakistan’s defense capabilities increase the country’s role in South Asia. 

MILGEM corvettes, fitted with modern weaponry and sensors, can be hidden from radar. They are 99 meters long with a displacement capacity of about 24,00 tons and can move at a speed of 29 nautical miles. 

The delivery of the corvettes dates back to a bilateral deal that was signed in 2018. Delivery of all ships that will be among Pakistan’s most modern vessels is due to be completed by 2025.

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Coalition: Nearly 200 Houthis killed in airstrikes on Marib, Al-Bayda, and Taiz

Coalition: Nearly 200 Houthis killed in airstrikes on Marib, Al-Bayda, and Taiz
Updated 56 min 5 sec ago

Coalition: Nearly 200 Houthis killed in airstrikes on Marib, Al-Bayda, and Taiz

Coalition: Nearly 200 Houthis killed in airstrikes on Marib, Al-Bayda, and Taiz
  • The coalition said 29 military vehicles were destroyed during operations over the last 24 hours

RIYADH: More than 190 Houthis were killed in airstrikes on the Yemeni provinces of Marib, Al-Bayda, and Taiz, the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy said on Thursday.

The coalition said 29 military vehicles were also destroyed during the operations over the last 24 hours.

On Wednesday, dozens of Houthis were killed in Marib province as government troops rolled into a new area in Abedia district for the first time in months, adding to the latest military gains in the province, a local military official told Arab News.


FSO Safer tanker disaster could leave Suez Canal unpassable: Greenpeace

FSO Safer tanker disaster could leave Suez Canal unpassable: Greenpeace
Updated 27 January 2022

FSO Safer tanker disaster could leave Suez Canal unpassable: Greenpeace

FSO Safer tanker disaster could leave Suez Canal unpassable: Greenpeace
  • It would also have ‘catastrophic’ environmental, humanitarian consequences for millions
  • Iran-backed Houthi militia has repeatedly refused UN pleas for access to secure tanker

LONDON: Environmental activist group Greenpeace has warned of “catastrophic” humanitarian and environmental consequences if the FSO Safer tanker, currently under the control of the Iran-backed Houthi militia off the Yemeni coast, is not drained of its oil.

An oil spill or explosion from the tanker could also block the Suez Canal, costing the world nearly $10 billion per day, Greenpeace said at a press conference attended by Arab News on Thursday.

The tanker was abandoned in the Red Sea off the Yemeni coast in 2017. It holds 1.1 million barrels of oil, or around 140,000 tons, which Greenpeace said could spill into the sea “at any moment” or spread as a result of an explosion on board.

The vessel’s firefighting system is also inoperative, meaning a fire on the ship could spread vast quantities of pollution into the air if the crude ignites.

Paul Horsman, who leads Greenpeace International’s Safer Response Team, said: “Unless action is taken to make the tanker secure, there’s a real danger of a major oil spill, or possibly worse, an explosion.”

Either outcome would be “severe and long-lasting. In a worst-case scenario, the oil could drift to neighboring countries, to Djibouti, to Eritrea and Saudi Arabia,” he added.

“It could potentially disrupt shipping routes in the Suez Canal, it could impact any future tourism. If the Suez Canal is unable to function because ships can’t get out of the Red Sea, we all remember what happened when the Ever Given was blocked there — it was estimated that trade through the Suez Canal lost about $9 billion per day during that time.”

The Houthis have repeatedly refused international access to secure the FSO Safer despite multiple pleas by the UN.

According to a report released on Thursday by Greenpeace on the risks posed by the tanker, a spill would have a devastating humanitarian impact on millions of Yemenis. Perhaps most notably, access to clean water would be drastically curtailed.

“The desalination plants on Yemen’s coast at Hudaydah, Salif and Aden could be affected and that, combined with disrupted fuel supply, could disrupt the drinking water supply for up to 10 million people,” said the report.

“Yemeni fisheries (as well as those of neighboring countries) could be completely closed by an oil spill. These fisheries support 1.7 million people and closures would be necessary to ensure that no contaminated commercial fish enter the human food chain … the most serious risks are to the livelihoods of the fishing communities.”

Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East, is already facing a humanitarian crisis following years of conflict sparked by the Houthis seizing the capital from the internationally recognized government.

While a spill or explosion appears imminent, Greenpeace stressed that action could be taken immediately to avert a disaster.

Horsman said a barrier could immediately be placed around the ship that would mitigate some of the immediate harm caused by the imminent spill.

He added that the technology exists to transfer the oil on board — still technically owned by the internationally recognized government — into another vessel. The problem, he said, is a “lack of political will” to solve the issue.


Autopsy says violence caused death of detained Palestinian

Autopsy says violence caused death of detained Palestinian
Updated 27 January 2022

Autopsy says violence caused death of detained Palestinian

Autopsy says violence caused death of detained Palestinian
  • Palestinian witnesses say Asaad was roughed up before being bound and blindfolded
  • The Israeli military has said he was detained after resisting an inspection and later released, implying he was alive

JERUSALEM: An autopsy has found that a 78-year-old Palestinian man who was pronounced dead shortly after being detained by Israeli troops in the occupied West Bank died of a heart attack caused by “external violence.”
The autopsy, undertaken by three Palestinian doctors, confirmed that Omar Asaad, who has US citizenship, suffered from underlying health conditions. But it also found bruises on his head, redness on his wrists from being bound, and bleeding in his eyelids from being tightly blindfolded.
The report, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday, concluded that the cause of death was a “sudden cessation of the heart muscle caused by psychological tension due to the external violence he was exposed to.”
Asaad was detained while returning home from a social gathering at around 3 a.m. on Jan. 12 by Israeli soldiers who had set up a flying checkpoint in his home village of Jiljiliya. It’s a common occurrence in the West Bank, which has been under Israeli military rule since Israel captured the territory in the 1967 Mideast war.
Palestinian witnesses say Asaad was roughed up before being bound and blindfolded, and then taken to an abandoned apartment complex nearby. Other Palestinians who were detained in the same building later that night said they didn’t realize he was there until after the soldiers left, when they found him unconscious, lying face down on the ground, and called an ambulance.
The Israeli military has said he was detained after resisting an inspection and later released, implying he was alive. It’s unclear when exactly he died. Initial reports said he was 80 years old.
The unit that detained Asaad, Netzah Yehuda, or “Judea Forever,” is a special unit for ultra-Orthodox Jewish soldiers. It was formed with the aim of integrating a segment of the population that does not normally do military service. But Israeli media have reported problems in the unit stemming from the hard-line ideology of many of the soldiers.
Lt. Col. Amnon Shefler, an Israeli military spokesman, said the incident remains under investigation and that “actions will be taken if wrongdoing is found.”
The State Department has said it is in touch with the Israeli government to seek “clarification” about the incident and that it supports a “thorough investigation.” US officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the autopsy.
The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said Asaad’s detention was “bizarre.”
“This is a very small, quiet village,” said Dror Sadot, a spokeswoman for the group. “There was no reason at all to take an 80-year-old and to drag him and handcuff him. I have no idea why they did it.”
Israel says it thoroughly investigates incidents in which Palestinians are killed by Israeli troops. But rights groups say those investigations rarely lead to indictments or convictions, and that in many cases the army does not interview key witnesses or retrieve evidence.
Sadot said the fact that the military is still investigating more than two weeks after the incident, even with the added pressure of American scrutiny, indicates that any eventual conclusion will be another “whitewash.”
“I don’t know, but from our experience, it will lead to nothing,” she said.


Seven civilians killed in Houthi missile attack on Marib

Seven civilians killed in Houthi missile attack on Marib
Updated 27 January 2022

Seven civilians killed in Houthi missile attack on Marib

Seven civilians killed in Houthi missile attack on Marib
  • The Yemeni Minister of Information Muammar Al-Eryani condemned the attack through a series of tweets
  • Al-Eryani called for an international stance against the Houthis

DUBAI: The Houthi militia killed seven civilians, including a woman, and wounded 36 others in a missile attack on a neighborhood in Yemen’s Marib, Al-Arabiya TV reported.

The Yemeni Minister of Information Muammar Al-Eryani condemned the attack through a series of tweets. He said the massacre was a war crime and an act of revenge after the recent defeats and losses the Houthis suffered.

“We condemn and denounce in the strongest terms the horrific massacre committed by the terrorist Iranian-backed Houthi militia, targeting the densely populated Al-Matar neighborhood and the displaced people in Marib with an Iranian-made ballistic missile,” the minister said. 

Al-Eryani called for an international stance against the Houthis, and called on the international community, the United Nations, human rights organizations, and US envoys to issue a clear and explicit condemnation of the militia’s crime.

Dozens of Houthis were killed on Wednesday in the central province of Marib as government troops rolled into a new area in Abedia district for the first time in months, adding to the latest military gains in the province, a local military official told Arab News from Marib.

A day after seizing control of strategic mountainous locations in neighboring Hareb, Yemen’s army and the Giants Brigades seized control of Al-Jafara in the district of Abedia, south of Marib, and besieged Um Resh military base in Juba district, also south of Marib, after heavy fighting with the Houthis who are coming under attack from government troops and intense airstrikes from the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen.


Coronavirus-ravaged Iran finds brief respite with mass vaccination

Coronavirus-ravaged Iran finds brief respite with mass vaccination
Updated 27 January 2022

Coronavirus-ravaged Iran finds brief respite with mass vaccination

Coronavirus-ravaged Iran finds brief respite with mass vaccination
  • Hospitals preparing for the worst as infections tick upward after a months-long lull
  • More than 88 percent of all of those eligible for vaccines have been fully vaccinated

TEHRAN: As much of the world sees vaccination slowing and infections soaring with the spread of omicron, Iran has found a rare, if fleeting, respite from the anxiety and trauma of the pandemic.
After successive virus waves pummeled the country for nearly two years, belated mass vaccination under a new, hard-line president has, for a brief moment, left the stricken nation with a feeling of apparent safety.
Now, the specter of an omicron-fueled surge looms large. Hospitals are preparing for the worst as infections tick upward after a months-long lull. But so far, the variant has not battered the Islamic Republic as it has many Western countries where most adults got jabs a year ago.
Drastic infection surges among the inoculated from the United States to Russia have revealed the vaccine’s declining defenses against infection even as its protection against hospitalization and death remains strong. Meanwhile, Iranians have received doses more recently and are feeling off the hook with their immunity still robust.
“A large number of people already have contracted the virus and huge vaccination has taken place in recent months,” health official Moayed Alavian said in an attempt to explain the sharp drop in infections easing the burden on Iran’s overwhelmed health system.
The virus has killed over 132,000 people by Iran’s official count — the highest national toll in the Middle East.
Iran’s recently elected president, conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi, has made it a mission to expedite imports of foreign-made COVID-19 vaccines. With hard-liners in control of all branches of government, the new administration is fast fulfilling a task that had been vexed by power struggles during former President Hassan Rouhani’s term.
The contrast is not lost on ordinary Iranians.
“I do not know what happened,” said Reza Ghasemi, a Tehran taxi driver. “Suddenly vaccination happened in a widespread and quick way after Raisi came to office.”
“By the way,” he added, “I am thankful.”
But skeptics question the presidents’ starkly different pandemic responses, criticizing the human cost of the country’s factional rivalries.
“We delayed vaccination because of political issues,” reformist lawmaker Masoud Pezeshkian bluntly said last September.
Now under Raisi, Iran is riding high on its successes against COVID-19. Cases have fallen to about 7,000 a day from some 40,000 just months before. The death toll plummeted to 20 a day this month from peaks of over 700. His administration has provided 180 million vaccines since taking the reins in August.
More than 88 percent of all of those eligible for vaccines have been fully vaccinated. Iran has administered booster shoots to 20 percent of its population. Last week the government announced it would make vaccines available to children under 18.