Iran, Israel missile strikes put American troops at risk, top US general for Middle East says

General Frank McKenzie, USMC Commander, U.S. Central Command. (REUTERS file photo)
General Frank McKenzie, USMC Commander, US Central Command. (Reuters file photo)
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Updated 20 March 2022

Iran, Israel missile strikes put American troops at risk, top US general for Middle East says

General Frank McKenzie, USMC Commander, U.S. Central Command. (REUTERS file photo)
  • ‘… many times our forces are at risk, whether in Iraq or in Syria. So that, in fact, does concern me’

WASHINGTON: The exchange of missile strikes by Iran and Israel in Iraq and Syria puts US forces at risk, the top US commander for the Middle East said, just days after an Iranian missile barrage struck near the US Consulate complex in northern Iraq.
Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie told Pentagon reporters that over the past six months Iran has attacked US forces and facilities a number of times, but “very good action on the part of commanders on the ground” had thwarted any US casualties.
“Had US casualties occurred, I think we might be in a very different place right now,” said McKenzie.
McKenzie and other US officials said this week the missile strikes on Sunday that hit close to the consulate were not aimed at the US And Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard said on its website that it had attacked what it described as an Israeli spy center in Irbil.
The attack came several days after Iran said it would retaliate for an Israeli strike near Damascus that killed two members of its Revolutionary Guard.
“I think it’s obvious that Israel is going to take steps to defend itself when it’s confronted with with Iranian actions. And of course, Iran is dedicated to the destruction of Israel,” McKenzie said.

I think it’s obvious that Israel is going to take steps to defend itself when it’s confronted with with Iranian actions.

Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, Top US commander for the Middle East

“I do worry about these exchanges between Iran and Israel, because many times our forces are at risk, whether in Iraq or in Syria. So that, in fact, does concern me.”
McKenzie, who is retiring after about three years as head of US Central Command, was speaking at what was expected to be his final press briefing. He said that as he prepares to turn over the job to incoming Army Gen. Erik Kurilla, his message to his successor is that Iran continues to be his biggest challenge.
“My central problem in my three years of command was Iran,” said McKenzie, who also oversaw the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and commando raids to kill Daesh leaders.
“There were other problems, other huge problems, but the headquarters as a whole ... focused on the Iranian problem and everything attendant to that.”
The US presence in Iraq has long been a flash point for Tehran, but tensions spiked after a January 2020 US drone strike near the Baghdad airport killed a top Iranian general. In retaliation, Iran launched a barrage of missiles at Al-Asad air base, where US troops were stationed. More than 100 service members suffered traumatic brain injuries in the blasts.
More recently, Iranian proxies are believed responsible for an assassination attempt late last year on Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi. And officials have said they believe Iran was behind the October drone attack at the military outpost in southern Syria where American troops are based. No US personnel were killed or injured in the attack.
Last year, US forces in Iraq shifted to a non-combat role, but Iran and its proxies still want all American troops to leave the country.
McKenzie said the Iranian leaders believe that they can launch a certain level of attacks against the US without affecting the ongoing negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear program.
Diplomats trying to salvage the 2015 Iran nuclear deal appear to be near the cusp of an agreement that would bring the US back into the accord and bring Iran back into compliance with limits on its nuclear program.
Congressional opponents of the deal peppered McKenzie with questions this week about the impact of an agreement on Iranian aggression and whether sanctions relief will only provide Iran funding for other malign behavior.
McKenzie said the US has gotten better at countering potential strikes by Iranian drones and other defensive measures, which contributed to the lack of American casualties. But he and others have noted that the Iranian ballistic missile strikes have gotten more precise.
“We don’t want Iran to have a nuclear weapon, and the best way to get to that is probably through a negotiated solution,” he said, adding that such a deal won’t likely solve other problems, such as Iranian conventional attacks in the region.
“I don’t think anybody in the United States government is blind to that fact, but ... if you can take nuclear weapons off the table, that’s a powerful capability that you don’t have to worry about.”
Once that is done, he said, then the US could move on and deal with other problems, including Iran’s increasing ballistic missile and drone threats.
“What you’d like to do is negotiate that, but if you can negotiate that, that’s where US Central Command comes in. It’s our job to demonstrate to Iran the concept of deterrence — that the things they want to pursue are too painful for them to achieve. We work at that every day.”


Turkey arrests Greek on spying charges

Turkey arrests Greek on spying charges
Updated 15 sec ago

Turkey arrests Greek on spying charges

Turkey arrests Greek on spying charges
  • Mohamed Amar Ampara was caught in the southeastern city of Gaziantep near Turkey’s border with Syria

ISTANBUL: Turkey arrested a Greek citizen on Sunday on suspicion of espionage activities, a day after seizing him in an operation coordinated with its spy agency, local police said.

Mohamed Amar Ampara was caught in the southeastern city of Gaziantep near Turkey’s border with Syria.

“The agent, named M.A.A., was detained by the judicial authorities after he was discovered to have connections with the Greek National Intelligence Organization ... compiled information about our country’s border security and transferred it to Greek intelligence,” the police department in Gaziantep said in a statement.

Turkish media reported at the weekend that Ampara operated disguised as a businessman during his trips to Turkey.

The Greek Foreign Ministry said in the meantime that Ampara’s disappearance had been reported to the Greek Embassy in Ankara a few weeks ago.

The embassy had repeatedly raised the subject with the Turkish authorities but the latter had never provided any answers, it added.

Turkey and Greece are allies within NATO but are embroiled in a number of disputes.

Tensions have escalated in recent weeks, with Ankara accusing Athens of stationing troops on islands near its maritime border.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said earlier this month that he would no longer hold bilateral meetings with Greek leaders.


Rich heritage buried under impoverished Gaza Strip

Rich heritage buried under impoverished Gaza Strip
Updated 22 min 32 sec ago

Rich heritage buried under impoverished Gaza Strip

Rich heritage buried under impoverished Gaza Strip
  • In the Gaza Strip, ruled by Hamas and repeatedly ravaged by war, people are more familiar with burying the dead than digging up their heritage

JABALIYA, Palestine: While workers labored on a large construction site in the Gaza Strip, a security guard noticed a strange piece of stone sticking out of the earth.

“I thought it was a tunnel,” said Ahmad, the young guard, referring to secret passages dug by the militant group Hamas to help it battle Israel.

In the Gaza Strip, ruled by Hamas and repeatedly ravaged by war, people are more familiar with burying the dead than digging up their heritage.

But what Ahmad found in January was part of a Roman necropolis dating from about 2,000 years ago — representative of the impoverished Palestinian territory’s rich, if under-developed, archaeological treasures.

After the last war between Israel and Hamas in May 2021 left a trail of damage in Gaza, Egypt began a reconstruction initiative worth $500 million.

As part of that project in Jabaliya, in the north of the coastal enclave, bulldozers were digging up the sandy soil in order to build new concrete buildings when Ahmad made his discovery.

“I notified the Egyptian foremen, who immediately contacted local authorities and asked the workers to stop,” said Ahmad, a Palestinian who preferred not to give his full name.

With rumors on social media of a big discovery, Gaza’s antiquities service called in the French nongovernmental group Premiere Urgence Internationale and the French Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem to evaluate the site’s importance and mark off the area.

“The first excavations permitted the identification of about 40 tombs dating from the ancient Roman period between the first and second centuries AD,” said French archaeologist Rene Elter, who led the team dispatched to Jabaliya.

“The necropolis is larger than these 40 tombs and should have between 80 and 100,” he said.

One of the burial sites found so far is decorated with multi-colored paintings representing crowns and garlands of bay leaves, as well as jars for funereal drinks, the archaeologist added.

Archaeology is a highly political subject in Israel and the Palestinian territories, and discoveries are used to justify the territorial claims of each people.

While the Jewish state has a number of archaeologists reporting on an impressive number of ancient treasures, the sector is largely neglected in Gaza.

Authorities periodically announce discoveries in the territory, but tourism at archaeological sites is limited.

Israel and Egypt, which shares a border with Gaza, tightly restrict the flow of people in and out of the enclave administered by Hamas since 2007.

“However, there is no difference between what you can find in Gaza and on the other side of the barrier” in Israel, Elter said. “It’s the same great history.”

“In Gaza, a lot of sites have disappeared because of conflict and construction, but the territory is an immense archaeological site which needs many teams of experts,” he added.

Stakes and fences have been erected around the Roman necropolis, which is watched over constantly by guards as new buildings go up nearby.

“We are trying to fight antiquities trafficking,” said Jamal Abu Rida, director of the local archaeological service tasked with protecting the necropolis and which hopes to find investors for further excavation.

“The image of Gaza is often associated with violence, but its history is bursting with archaeological treasures that need to be protected for future generations,” said Jihad Abu Hassan, director of the local Premiere Urgence mission.

Demographics add to the pressure. Gaza is a tiny, overcrowded strip of land whose population in 15 years has ballooned from 1.4 million to 2.3 million. As a result, building construction has accelerated.

“Some people avoid telling authorities if there is an archaeological discovery on a construction site out of fear of not being compensated” for the resulting work stoppage, Abu Hassan said.

“We lose archaeological sites every day,” which shows the need for a strategy to defend the enclave’s heritage, including training local archaeologists, he said.

Over the last few years, his organization has helped to educate 84 archaeological technicians. Doing so also offers employment prospects, in an impoverished territory where youth joblessness exceeds 60 percent.


Lebanese politicians urged to form government

Lebanese politicians urged to form government
Updated 28 min 42 sec ago

Lebanese politicians urged to form government

Lebanese politicians urged to form government
  • Lebanon’s Najib Mikati was nominated premier for a fourth time on Thursday after securing the support of 54 of parliament’s 128 lawmakers

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s top Christian cleric urged fractious politicians on Sunday to speed up the formation of a government to allow authorities to prepare for presidential elections due before the end of October.

Lebanon’s Najib Mikati was nominated premier for a fourth time on Thursday after securing the support of 54 of parliament’s 128 lawmakers, including the Iran-backed Hezbollah, in consultations convened by President Michel Aoun.

But with splits running deep among Lebanon’s ruling elite, it is widely believed Mikati will struggle to form a government, spelling political paralysis that could hamper reforms agreed with the International Monetary Fund to unlock aid.

“Again I demand speeding up formation of a national government with the country’s pressing need for it and so that the focus can immediately be on preparations to elect a president who saves the country,” Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai said at a sermon on Sunday.

“We call on all parties to cooperate with the premier designate ...,” he added.

Analysts and politicians expect the process of forming a Cabinet to be further complicated by a looming struggle over who will replace Aoun, the Hezbollah-aligned head of state, when his term ends on Oct. 31.


Houthis seize properties of late former PM Bajamal

Houthis seize properties of late former PM Bajamal
Updated 26 June 2022

Houthis seize properties of late former PM Bajamal

Houthis seize properties of late former PM Bajamal
  • Bajamal was a senior member of the General People’s Congress, the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s party, and head of three consecutive governments from 2001 to 2006

AL-MUKALLA: An anti-corruption authority controlled by the Iran-backed Houthis in Sanaa has ordered the seizure of assets belonging to Abdul Qader Bajamal, a late former prime minister, accusing him of misusing public funds, Yemeni activists and local media said.  

Ahmed Nagi Al-Nabhani, a Yemeni activist based in the city, told Arab News that the Supreme National Authority for Combating Corruption issued a seizure order targeting houses, bank accounts and other properties owned by Bajamal over a failed project during his tenure in 2003.

Bajamal was a senior member of the General People’s Congress, the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s party, and head of three consecutive governments from 2001 to 2006.

Al-Nabhani said that the SNACC had sent the case to the Public Funds Court for prosecution, and called for coordinated local and international rights campaigns, mainly from Bajamal’s party, to pressure the Houthis to allow the former premier’s family to access their assets.

“There must be serious and real solidarity with the family of Bajamal, because they are now, according to the decision of the SNACC, banned from using their father’s property,” Al-Nabhani said.

Bajamal died in September 2020 at the age of 67.

In a condolence message to his family, Mahdi Al-Mashat, head of Houthi Supreme Political Council, described Bajamal then as a “sincere, dedicated” national leader who served his country.  

The seizure order against Bajamal came as the Houthis raided the houses of other late Yemeni officials in Sanaa and areas under their control.

In Sanaa, armed Houthis occupied the house of the late Abdul Rahman Bafadhel, an MP and member of the Islamist Islah party, and expelled his daughter and her husband, citing a seizure order, a friend of the family told Arab News.

Bafadhel died in Saudi Arabia in October 2015 in a car accident.

The militia also raided the house of Ameen Ali Al-Kaderi, a late tribal leader who opposed their rule in the central province of Ibb, his son Salah said.

Since taking power militarily in late 2014, the Houthis have issued hundreds of seizure orders and death sentences against military and security leaders, politicians, journalists and activists who rejected their coup and supported the internationally recognized government of the country and military operations by the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen.

The Houthis sold or rented some of the seized properties, turned others into secret detention centers, and gifted others to their leaders.

Abdurrahman Barman, a Yemeni human rights advocate and director of the American Center for Justice, told Arab News that the latest string of seizure orders against Bajamal and Bafadhel show the Houthis are moving to dispossess families of dead politicians of their property under the pretext of fighting corruption.

“This is an attempt to impoverish Yemenis to concentrate wealth, power, the economy, the judiciary, the media and all sources of power in the hands of the group,” Barman said.


Israel forms special military brigade to protect West Bank wall

Israel forms special military brigade to protect West Bank wall
Updated 26 June 2022

Israel forms special military brigade to protect West Bank wall

Israel forms special military brigade to protect West Bank wall
  • The Wall Brigade started functioning two weeks ago and consists of six battalions numbering 2,100 personnel

RAMALLAH: Israel has established a new special military brigade to protect its barrier in the West Bank and reconstruct several kilometers of wall in southern Jenin, with a shoot-to-kill policy against Palestinian infiltrators, senior Israeli military sources revealed this week.

The Wall Brigade started functioning two weeks ago and consists of six battalions numbering 2,100 personnel.

The budget for the new 60-kilometer-long, seven-meter-high cement wall, which will start from the south of Jenin and run along the border with the West Bank, is $100 million.

The brigade command is located in the Maccabim area near the village of Ni’lin, close to Israel’s borders west of Ramallah.

“The idea of ​​establishing the new wall brigade came in the wake of the wave of escalation in attacks against Israel from the West Bank in March and April,” a senior Israeli defense source said.

He added that the new brigade is responsible for securing and protecting the existing wall area, supervising the process of building the new Jenin wall and restoring destroyed sections from which Palestinians can enter Israel illegally.

Mustafa Barghouti, secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative Party, told Arab News: “These instructions are intended to kill and abuse Palestinians. Since the beginning of this year, more than 70 Palestinians, including 16 children and several workers, have been killed, and all the victims are civilians who were not armed and did not pose a threat to the lives of Israelis.

“The wall is not an international border, but rather military a barrier set up by the Israeli army between the West Bank and Israel on Palestinian land, and the claim that it constitutes an international border for Israel is just a manipulation of words.”

With the launch of the Wall Brigade, the Israeli Army has changed firing rules against Palestinian infiltrators, considering the wall as an official international border.

Barghouti said: “The shooting instructions have been changed, and the Israeli soldiers are allowed to shoot anyone trying to cross the wall into Israel.”

The Israeli civil administration, known as “the coordinator,” publishes warnings through its social media sites telling the 180,000 legal and 24,000 illegal Palestinian workers in Israel to enter the country through official border crossings, threatening those who enter illegally with permit suspension.

A senior Palestinian security official in Ramallah told Arab News: “The killing of any suspected Palestinian trying to approach the wall is a continuation of disregard for their lives. It does not differ from the orders issued to the occupation soldiers to kill the Palestinians as soon as the soldier feels his life is in danger.

“According to the international border protection standards, if the infiltrator is unarmed then it’s permissible to shoot in the air, then at his feet, but not to shoot to kill. Still, the Israelis apply their arrogant laws that do not value the lives of the Palestinians.”

The Israeli army killed a 53-year-old Palestinian worker, Nabil Ghanim, from Nablus, south of Qalqilya, when he tried to cross the separation wall from the West Bank into Israel on June 19.

Soldiers in the new brigade have been provided with modern night vision equipment, GPS devices, fast armored vehicles and drones to track infiltrators inside Israel, and carry out round-the-clock patrols over sections of the wall.

Before the establishment of the Wall Brigade, Israel relied on replaceable forces from the border guards, the regular army and the reservists.

The Israeli Army and security services claim that in attacks that took place in Israel between March and May, armed perpetrators illegally entered the country.