IAEA chides Iran for undeclared change to Fordow uranium enrichment setup
IAEA chides Iran for undeclared change to Fordow uranium enrichment setup/node/2243061/middle-east
IAEA chides Iran for undeclared change to Fordow uranium enrichment setup
The UN nuclear watchdog criticised Iran for making an undeclared change to the interconnection between the two clusters of advanced machines enriching uranium to up to 60% purity, close to weapons grade, at its Fordow plant. (File/AFP)
VIENNA: The UN nuclear watchdog criticized Iran on Wednesday for making an undeclared change to the interconnection between the two clusters of advanced machines enriching uranium to up to 60 percent purity, close to weapons grade, at its Fordow plant.
The International Atomic Energy Agency found the change during an unannounced inspection on Jan. 21 at the Fordow Fuel enrichment Plant (FFEP), a site dug into a mountain where inspectors are stepping up checks after Iran said it would dramatically expand enrichment.
Fordow is so sensitive that the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers banned enrichment there. Since the United States pulled out of the deal in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions against Iran, the Islamic Republic has breached many of the deal’s restrictions on its nuclear activities.
In a confidential report to member states seen by Reuters, the IAEA did not say how the interconnection between the two cascades of IR-6 centrifuges had been changed except that “they were interconnected in a way that was substantially different from the mode of operation declared by Iran (to the IAEA).”
In a public statement summarising that confidential report, the IAEA said its chief Rafael Grossi “is concerned that Iran implemented a substantial change in the design information of FFEP in relation to the production of high-enriched uranium without informing the Agency in advance.”
“This is inconsistent with Iran’s obligations under its Safeguards Agreement and undermines the Agency’s ability to adjust the safeguards approach for FFEP and implement effective safeguards measures at this facility.”
The IAEA has had regular access to Fordow to carry out verification activities like inspections and it is in talks with Iran on stepping up those activities, the report said.
“The Agency and Iran have continued their discussions. The Agency has increased the frequency and intensity of its verification activities at FFEP. However, some other safeguards measures are still required and are being discussed with Iran,” the report added.
Tunisia introduces water quota system due to severe drought
Tunisia recorded drop in dam capacity due to rain scarcity
Agriculture ministry banned use of potable water to wash cars, water green areas, clean streets and public places
Updated 31 March 2023
TUNIS: Tunisia on Friday introduced a quota system for potable water and banned its use in agriculture until Sept. 30 in response to a severe drought that has hit the country, the agriculture ministry said.
Tunisia, which is suffering a fourth straight year of serious drought, recorded a drop in its dam capacity to around 1 billion cubic meters, or 30 percent of the maximum, due to a scarcity of rain from September 2022 to mid-March 2023, senior agriculture ministry official Hamadi Habib said.
The agriculture ministry also banned the use of potable water to wash cars, water green areas and clean streets and public places. Violators face a fine and imprisonment for a period of between six days to six months, according to the Water Law.
Residents said that Tunisian authorities have for the last two weeks been cutting off drinking water at night in some areas of the capital and other cities in a bid to cut consumption, a move that has sparked widespread anger. The government declined to comment on the claim.
The new decision threatens to fuel social tension in a country whose people suffer from poor public services, high inflation and a weak economy.
The Sidi Salem Dam in the north of the country, a key provider of drinking water to several regions, has declined to only 16 percent of its maximum capacity of 580 million cubic meters, official figures showed.
Tunisia’s grain harvest will be “disastrous,” with the drought-hit crop declining to 200,000-250,000 tons this year from 750,000 tons in 2022, senior farmers union official Mohamed Rjaibia told Reuters on Thursday.
At least 14 workers dead in gold mine collapse in Sudan
The workers died after the roof of the Jebel Al-Ahmar gold mine collapsed
Many other miners still missing
Updated 31 March 2023
KHARTOUM, Sudan: At least 14 workers are dead after a gold mine collapsed in northern Sudan, state mining authorities said Friday.
According to the state-run news agency, SUNA, the fatal collapse happened after one of the hillsides that surround the Jebel Al-Ahmar gold mine — situated near the Egyptian border — gave way Thursday afternoon.
Many other miners are still missing among the rubble, it said.
Witnesses cited by SUNA said the workers were searching inside mining wells for gold using heavy machinery which caused the collapse.
Several of the bodies, mostly of young men, have been recovered from the site and search efforts are ongoing, SUNA said.
A security source cited by the state agency said workers are feared to be trapped beneath the mine’s groundwater. Few further details were given.
Collapses are common in Sudan’s gold mines, where safety standards and maintenance are poor.
In 2021, 31 people were killed after a defunct gold mine collapsed in West Kordofan province.
Sudan is a major gold producer with various mines scattered across the country.
Adviser killed in Israeli attack on Syria Iran’s Revolutionary Guard say
There was no immediate statement from Israel, which usually declines to comment on reports of strikes in Syria
Updated 31 March 2023
DAMASCUS: Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said in a statement that one of their military advisers was killed in an Israeli attack on the Syrian capital Damascus on Friday, Iranian media reported.
“The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has announced the martyrdom of guardsman Milad Haydari, one of the IRGC’s military advisers and officers, in the criminal attack of the Zionust regime on the outskirts of Damascus at dawn today,” the media quoted an IRGC statement.
Israel carried out an air strike near the Syrian capital early Friday, Syrian state media reported, the second attack near Damascus in the last two days.
Reuters witnesses heard at least three big explosions over the city overnight.
Citing a military source, state media reported that Israel fired “sprays of missiles” just after midnight.
“Syrian air defenses intercepted the missiles and shot down a number of them,” the source said, saying the aggression caused some material damage. There were no details about casualties.
The source said the attack hit “a site in the Damascus countryside” but did not provide further details.
There was no immediate statement from Israel, which usually declines to comment on reports of strikes in Syria.
Israel has for years been carrying out attacks against what it has described as Iran-linked targets in Syria, where Tehran’s influence has grown since it began supporting President Bashar Assad in the civil war that began in 2011.
Iranian-backed groups, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and Iraqi paramilitary groups have entrenched positions around the capital and in the country’s north, east and south.
There have been at least six strikes in March alone, according to a tally by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based war monitor with sources on the ground.
Two soldiers were wounded in an Israeli missile attack near Damascus on Thursday, Syrian state media reported.
US, UK sanctions highlight role of Syrian, Lebanese figures in fueling Captagon addiction crisis
Sanctions imposed on Syrian-linked figures reflect growing international alarm over Captagon trafficking
Arab News Deep Dive shed light on Saudi efforts to stop trade blamed for destroying lives, destabilizing region
Updated 31 March 2023
LONDON: Sanctions recently imposed by US and UK authorities on two cousins of President Bashar Assad and several Syrian and Lebanese figures reflect growing international alarm over their role in manufacturing and trafficking Captagon, estimated to be worth up to $57 billion to the Syrian regime.
Captagon is a highly addictive amphetamine used throughout the Middle East, with 80 percent of the world’s supply produced in Syria. Multibillion-dollar shipments of the drug routinely leave regime strongholds such as the Port of Latakia.
In a recent Deep Dive published in February, Arab News delved into the dark underbelly of the Captagon industry, speaking to recovering addicts, dealers, traffickers, health professionals, and border officials involved in clamping down on the illicit trade.
“Syrian President Bashar Assad’s family members and associates rely on the illicit drug trade to fund his regime’s violent oppression and commission of abuses against the Syrian people,” Vedant Patel, the State Department’s deputy spokesman, said on Tuesday.
“The individuals and entities being designated today have enabled the Syrian regime to continue carrying out abuses against the Syrian people by providing funds to the regime derived from trade in illicit drugs.
“Captagon trafficking by the Assad regime, Hezbollah and their affiliates poses a significant threat to stability, public health and rule of law in the region.”
Trade in the drug is a financial lifeline for the Assad regime during 12 years of civil war, sanctions and diplomatic isolation. According to UK authorities, the business is worth approximately three times the combined trade of the Mexican cocaine cartels.
The Assad regime, Lebanese militia Hezbollah, and other Iranian-backed groups in the region are all known to facilitate the Captagon industry, and in doing so fuel regional instability while creating a growing addiction crisis.
American and British authorities announced the new sanctions on March 28, targeting two of Assad’s cousins, Samer Kamal Assad and Wassem Badi Assad, over their role in the drug trade.
According to the US Treasury, Samer Kamal Assad owns a factory in the coastal city of Latakia that produced 84 million Captagon pills in 2020 alone.
“Syria has become a global leader in the production of highly addictive Captagon, much of which is trafficked through Lebanon,” Andrea Gacki, the senior Treasury official handling sanctions, said in a statement.
“With our allies, we will hold accountable those who support Bashar Assad’s regime with illicit drug revenue and other financial means that enable the regime’s continued repression of the Syrian people.”
The list includes senior regime officials facilitating the trade, to the manufacturers of the drug, and key Hezbollah associates responsible for trafficking it across the Middle East.
Others targeted in the sanctions include Nouh Zaitar, Lebanon’s most famous drug lord who is on the run from authorities, and Hassan Dekko, a Lebanese-Syrian drug kingpin with high-level connections in both countries.
Under the US Treasury action, the US will block any assets on its soil held by the alleged drug traffickers and will make transactions with them a crime. The sanctions also constitute an asset freeze and UK travel ban on the individuals concerned.
“The Assad regime is using the profits from the Captagon trade to continue their campaign of terror on the Syrian people,” Lord Tariq Ahmad, the UK minister of state for the Middle East, said in a statement.
“The UK and US will continue to hold the regime to account for brutally repressing the Syrian people and fueling instability across the Middle East.”
Recognizable by the distinctive twin half-moons logo, which gives the drug its Arabic street name, “Abu Hilalain,” “Father of the Two Crescents,” the pills are easy to make, readily available and relatively cheap to buy.
In the past six years, Saudi authorities have seized a total of 600 million Captagon pills at the country’s borders, including more in the first quarter of 2021 than in the whole of the previous two years.
Almost 120 million pills were seized in 2021, and in August 2022 alone the authorities intercepted a record single haul of 45 million pills.
One of the largest recent hauls was in October, when almost 4 million pills were discovered in a shipment of bell peppers in Riyadh, leading to the arrest of five suspects, in the capital and Jeddah.
Intercepting the drugs at the border is only half the battle against Captagon, which is also being fought by medical professionals at dedicated treatment centers across Saudi Arabia. Thankfully, addicts in Saudi Arabia have the opportunity to seize the lifeline offered by organizations such as the Kafa Society.
• $57bn Estimated value of the Captagon trade to the Bashar Assad regime.
• 80% Proportion of the world’s supply of Captagon produced in Syria.
• 5%-10% Approximate amount of Captagon intercepted by Gulf authorities.
Many young people turn to Captagon to help keep them awake during intense periods of study and exams or to hold down jobs with long or antisocial working hours.
Once addicted, some users will turn to street crime in order to feed their habit, or treat it as a gateway to harder substances. In the process, the addiction can destroy relationships, careers and academic potential, and can lead to arrest, hospitalization and even death.
Captagon has been found to cause confusion and mood swings, ranging from anxiety and extreme depression to impatience, irritability and feelings of anger or rage.
Even more worryingly, it also endows some users with an indifference to pain and fear and a dangerous sense of invincibility — qualities that have reportedly led to the drug being adopted by the foot soldiers of Daesh and other terror groups in the region.
In 1981, amid growing evidence of widespread addiction and misuse, including its use as a performance-enhancing drug in sports such as cycling and soccer, Captagon was banned by the US Food and Drug Administration.
In 1986, Captagon’s legal run finally came to an end when the World Health Organization listed fenethylline as a controlled substance under the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, to which Saudi Arabia has been a signatory since 1975.
Since then, the drug has not been produced, sold or prescribed legally anywhere in the world. But in the shadows, criminal gangs had spotted a profitable opportunity and counterfeit versions of Captagon soon began to appear in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Today, the vast majority of the tens of millions of pills flooding the Arabian Peninsula every year are manufactured in Syria with the active involvement of the Assad regime.
According to a report published in April 2022 by Washington think tank the New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy, war-torn Syria has become “the hub for industrial-sized production.”
It adds that “elements of the Syrian government are key drivers of the Captagon trade, with ministerial-level complicity in production and smuggling, using the trade as a means for political and economic survival amid international sanctions.”
The government “appears to use local alliance structures with other armed groups, such as Hezbollah, for technical and logistical support in Captagon production and trafficking.”
Caroline Rose, a senior analyst at New Lines, told Arab News there was no doubt that “Captagon is being produced and trafficked by an array of individuals that are very close to the Assad regime, some of them cousins and relatives of regime members.”
Most notable among them, she said, was “Bashar Assad’s brother, Maher, who has been affiliated with production and smuggling efforts in his role as commander of the Fourth Armored Division.”
This military unit has been associated with a diverse range of economic activities linked to Syria’s wartime economy, including the collection of levies from traders and smugglers at checkpoints set up at international border crossings under regime control.
On Sept. 20, 2022, the Syrian regime’s role in the drug trade was officially recognized when the US House of Representatives passed H.R. 6265, the “Countering Assad’s Proliferation Trafficking and Garnering of Narcotics (CAPTAGON) Act.”
The Act requires the US government “to develop an interagency strategy to disrupt and dismantle narcotics production and trafficking and affiliated networks linked to the Bashar Assad regime in Syria.”
Speaking on the House floor in support of the Bill, Representative French Hill said that “in addition to regularly committing war crimes against his own people, the Assad regime in Syria is now becoming a narco-state.”
Captagon, he added, “has already reached Europe and it is only a matter of time until it reaches our shores.”
The Kingdom vs Captagon
Inside Saudi Arabia's war against the drug destroying lives across the Arab world
Israel’s relations with Arab world jeopardized by new government’s actions: Experts
Participants in a discussion hosted by the Middle East Institute said the first three months of the far-right government led by Benjamin Netanyahu have been ‘chaotic’ and its policies are ‘racist’
The ruling coalition has overseen the violent suppression of Palestinian protests, with nearly 100 Palestinians killed as Israeli and settler raids have been stepped up in the West Bank
Updated 31 March 2023
CHICAGO: Israeli journalists, former diplomats and government ministers agreed on Thursday that escalating violence directed toward Palestinians under the rule of the new coalition government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is undermining Israel’s relations with neighboring Arab countries, in particular those that have signed the Abraham Accords or might have considered doing so.
During a discussion hosted by the Middle East Institute, the panelists said the first three months of the far-right government have been “chaotic” and its policies are “racist” and “disconnected from reality.”
Since it came to power in December, the ruling coalition has overseen the violent suppression of Palestinian protests. Nearly 100 Palestinians have been killed as Israeli and settler raids targeting activists have been stepped up throughout the occupied West Bank.
One of the most violent incidents was an assault on the Palestinian village of Huwara on Feb. 27, which an Israeli panelist described as a “pogrom,” a word used to describe an organized massacre of a particular ethnic group. Armed settlers, who claimed to be avenging an attack on Israelis by Palestinians the day before, led a violent, late-night rampage through the village in the northern West Bank, killing one Palestinian and injuring more than 100. The Israeli military, which has responded rapidly to increased tensions related to Palestinian assaults, did nothing to intervene.
“The fact is that this government, in its first three months, is totally dysfunctional and chaotic, and almost any step it takes does not come out of initiative but out of reaction to events,” said Barak Ravid, a veteran Middle East and diplomatic correspondent for Israeli media outlets.
“This is also a government that … is the most far-right government in Israel’s history, with racist and Jewish-supremacist elements in it, in key positions that have a lot of influence over foreign relations and national security, like Itamir Ben Gvir, the minister of national security, or Mr. (Bezalel) Smotrich, the minister of finance.”
Ravid continued: “When Netanyahu came in, he said several things. Firstly, he said he is going have his hands on the wheel when it comes to national security and foreign policy. I think in the three months since this government was formed it is obvious to everybody that this is not the case. He is not running anything, everything is chaotic.
“And secondly, he put forward a pretty ambitious foreign policy agenda, first stressing he will focus on Iran and on countering its nuclear program. And second, he said he will try to broaden the Abraham Accords and get a peace treaty with Saudi Arabia. In the last three months, he has done nothing, not on the first foreign policy goal and not on the second foreign policy goal.”
Ravid said the unrelated issue of the government’s proposed reforms of Israel’s judicial system, which have sparked widespread protests across Israel and international concern, has contributed the problems because it has “hijacked the government’s agenda.”
The violence in the West Bank, the panelists agreed, has caused a spike in killings of Palestinians and Israelis, and put the brakes on any more potential normalization agreements, similar to the Abraham Accords deals with Morocco, Bahrain and the UAE, in particular dashing hopes that there might be one with Saudi Arabia.
Netanyahu’s coalition “knows very well that they are harming relations with the Arab World but they don’t care,” said Nachman Shai, Israel’s former minister of diaspora affairs.
“Don’t tell me they don’t know, when they let Minister Ben Gvir on the Temple Mount (Al-Aqsa Mosque) or other statements were made by coalition members and government ministers. They know very well that they are harming relations with the Arab world but they don’t care.”
Shai described the “Huwara pogrom” as a “terrible event, a tragedy that disrupted our relationship with the United States, with the Jewish community, and with the world. And especially with our relations with the Arab World.”
He said the new government’s policies have drawn anger from the administration of US President Joe Biden, who has been a strong advocate for Israeli security and democracy.
Elie Podeh, a professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said the biggest effect of the coalition’s actions has been to undermine any possibility of normalized relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, which was “Netanyahu’s main target” for his foreign policy.
“Any tension, and certainly an intifada and anything significant that happens between Israel and the Palestinians, especially if Jerusalem is involved, is going to hamper and is going to hurt any developments between the Israelis and the Saudis,” Podeh said. “So, it is not on the horizon, at least the immediate horizon.”
Maya Sion Tzidkiyahu, director of Mitvim, the Israel-Europe Relations Program at the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, said the turmoil during the first 100 days of Netanyahu’s government has not only soured support for Israel among leaders of EU countries, but also the normalized relations with the UAE. She said the Netanyahu government has not recognized the damage it is causing to its efforts to improve relations with the Arab World.
The moderator of the discussion was Nimrod Goren, a senior fellow of Israeli Affairs at the Middle East Institute.