US airman sets himself on fire outside Israeli embassy in Washington

Police are deployed outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024, after an active-duty member of the US Air Force was critically injured after setting himself ablaze outside the diplomatic compound. (AP)
Police are deployed outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024, after an active-duty member of the US Air Force was critically injured after setting himself ablaze outside the diplomatic compound. (AP)
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Updated 27 February 2024
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US airman sets himself on fire outside Israeli embassy in Washington

Police are deployed outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024.
  • The man had filmed himself shouting “Free Palestine” as he lit himself on fire, according to footage shared on social media
  • In the video, the man is seen wearing military fatigues and declaring he will “not be complicit in genocide” before dousing himself in liquid

WASHINGTON: An active member of the US Air Force has died after setting himself on fire outside the Israeli embassy in Washington over the weekend in protest of the war in Gaza, the Pentagon said Monday.
Emergency responders on Sunday had rushed to the scene just before 1:00 p.m. (1800 GMT) in response to a “call for person on fire outside the Israeli Embassy,” according to a message on X, formerly Twitter, by the capital city’s fire department.
They arrived to find that officers from the Secret Service — the US law enforcement agency tasked with protecting embassies in Washington — had already extinguished the fire.
The man had filmed himself shouting “Free Palestine” as he lit himself on fire, according to footage shared on social media.
He was initially transported to hospital with “critical life-threatening injuries,” the fire department said.
An Air Force spokeswoman told AFP Monday morning that the unnamed “individual involved in yesterday’s incident succumbed to his injuries and passed away last night.”
“We will provide additional details 24 hours after next-of-kin notifications are complete.”
A spokesperson for the Israeli embassy said no staff were injured in the incident, and that the man was “unknown” to them.
In the video shared on social media, the man is seen wearing military fatigues and declaring he will “not be complicit in genocide” before dousing himself in liquid.
He then lights himself on fire while yelling “Free Palestine!” until he falls on the ground.
The video was reportedly first shared in a livestream on the social platform Twitch.
The shocking act came as protests are increasing across the United States against Israel’s actions in Gaza, where it is waging a retaliatory war for an attack on October 7 by Hamas militants.
With the death toll in Gaza nearing 30,000, according to the Hamas-run health ministry there, international pressure has been increasing on the United States to rein in its ally Israel and call for a ceasefire.


Government in Pakistan’s Balochistan to revise security plan after gunmen kill nine people

Government in Pakistan’s Balochistan to revise security plan after gunmen kill nine people
Updated 19 min 33 sec ago
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Government in Pakistan’s Balochistan to revise security plan after gunmen kill nine people

Government in Pakistan’s Balochistan to revise security plan after gunmen kill nine people
  • Gunmen killed nine bus passengers near Noshki district last week, alleging they were spies from the Punjab province
  • Outlawed Balochistan Liberation Army claimed responsibility for attack, offering no evidence in support of its claim

ISLAMABAD: The government in Pakistan’s Balochistan province has decided to revise security plan for the province, it said on Sunday, a day after the killing of nine people in the restive region.
The decision was made at a meeting to review law and order in the province following the killing of nine people, who hailed from the eastern Punjab province, after they were abducted by gunmen from a bus on a highway near the Noshki district.
The outlawed Balochistan Liberation Army claimed responsibility for the attack in the restive Balochistan province, which has long been the scene of an insurgency by separatists fighting for independence.
Balochistan Chief Minister Sarfraz Bugti presided over the law-and-order meeting to review the situation after the tragedy, Bugti’s office said in a statement on Sunday.
“It was decided to revise the security plan to prevent such incidents in the future,” the statement read.
The meeting was attended by Provincial Police Chief Abdul Khaliq Sheikh, Balochistan Chief Secretary Shakeel Qadir Khan and other senior civilian and military officials.
“This war against terrorism is not only for security forces,” the chief minister was quoted as saying. “Politicians, civil armed forces, bureaucracy, judiciary, media all have to fight this war.”
Bugti said they would fight this war through a “common plan of action,” asking officials to ensure payment of compensation to the families of the victims.
The mineral-rich province of Balochistan has been the scene of a low-level insurgency by the BLA and other groups, which demand independence from the central government in Islamabad. The militants usually target police forces and soldiers or infrastructure.
Although the government says it has quelled the insurgency, violence in Balochistan has persisted and the bus attack is the latest incident in the restive region.


Saudi crown prince, Iraqi PM discuss Middle East escalation

Saudi crown prince, Iraqi PM discuss Middle East escalation
Updated 39 min 33 sec ago
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Saudi crown prince, Iraqi PM discuss Middle East escalation

Saudi crown prince, Iraqi PM discuss Middle East escalation

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman spoke with the prime minister of Iraq on Sunday, Saudi Press Agency reported. 

During their phone call, Prince Mohammed and Mohammed Al-Sudani discussed developments in the region and increasing escalation against the backdrop of the crisis in the Gaza Strip and its repercussions.

They also dissussed the importance of making the necessary efforts to prevent the situation from worsening and ways to spare the region from the risks of escalation, SPA added.


Saudi FM receives phone call from Iranian counterpart

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan and his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. (File/AFP)
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan and his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. (File/AFP)
Updated 58 min 11 sec ago
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Saudi FM receives phone call from Iranian counterpart

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan and his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. (File/AFP)

RIYADH: Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan received a phone call from his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on Sunday.

During the call, the officials discussed developments in the region and increasing escalation against the backdrop of the crisis in the Gaza Strip and its repercussions.


Rohit Sharma century in vain as Chennai Super Kings beat Mumbai Indians in IPL

Rohit Sharma century in vain as Chennai Super Kings beat Mumbai Indians in IPL
Updated 26 min 8 sec ago
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Rohit Sharma century in vain as Chennai Super Kings beat Mumbai Indians in IPL

Rohit Sharma century in vain as Chennai Super Kings beat Mumbai Indians in IPL
  • Set 207 for victory, five-time winners Mumbai finished on 186-6

MUMBAI: India’s Rohit Sharma hit an unbeaten 105 but his Mumbai Indians fell 20 runs short as they tried to chase down a big target set by holders Chennai Super Kings in a battle of IPL heavyweights on Sunday.
Set 207 for victory, five-time winners Mumbai finished on 186-6 even though Rohit raised his ton in 61 balls at his home in Wankhede Stadium.
Skipper Ruturaj Gaikwad and the in-form Shivam Dube powered Chennai, who won their fifth title last year, to 206-4.
Gaikwad hit 69 and Dube smashed an unbeaten 66 before warhorse M.S. Dhoni smashed three successive sixes in the 20th over to take Chennai past 200.
Dhoni came in to bat with four balls left and scored 20. He smashed Mumbai skipper Hardik Pandya for three sixes and finished with a two to end a 26-run over.
“Our young wicketkeeper scoring three sixes down the order helped a lot and I think that was the difference,” Gaikwad said of the 42-year-old Dhoni.
Sri Lanka quick Matheesha Pathirana then took four wickets to push Mumbai to their fourth loss of the season and Gaikwad said he bowled “exceptionally well and nailed those yorkers.”
The two teams are on contrasting runs after changes of guard this season.
Pandya replaced Rohit as Mumbai captain while Dhoni surprisingly handed over the Chennai leadership to Gaikwad.
Gaikwad had his fourth win as captain after he set the pace for his team with his 40-ball knock laced with five fours and five sixes.
He put on 90 runs with Dube before falling to Pandya, but Dube and then Dhoni’s cameo ensured Chennai finished strongly.
Mumbai started well with Rohit and Ishan Kishan putting on 70 runs for the first wicket before Pathirana hit back.
Pathirana, known “Baby Malinga” for his slinging action similar to former Sri Lankan quick Lasith Malinga, sent back Kishan and then Suryakumar Yadav, for his second duck this season, in the space of three balls.
He later dismissed Tilak Varma for 31 as Rohit attempted to keep up the charge in his 63-ball knock and his second IPL ton.
Pathirana was named man of the match and Pandya said the Sri Lankan “was the difference.”
Tushar Deshpande got Pandya out and the home crowd cheered in another sign of growing unpopularity of Mumbai’s choice of captain.
In the first match of the day, Phil Salt’s rapid 89 and three wickets for Mitchell Starc helped Kolkata Knight Riders race to a crushing eight-wicket win over Lucknow Super Giants.
Starc’s 3-28 kept Lucknow down to 161-7 at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens, with the other Knight Riders’ bowlers putting in disciplined performances after their side elected to field first.
The Australian left-arm quick became the most expensive buy in IPL history after Kolkata shelled out $2.98 million for his services.
Opener Salt then steered the two-time IPL winners to their target in 15.4 overs for their fourth victory in five matches this season.
The English wicketkeeper-batsman put on 120 runs with skipper Shreyas Iyer, who made 38, smashing 14 fours and three sixes in his 47-ball knock.


How Iranian drones went into action from Yemen to Ukraine to Israel

How Iranian drones went into action from Yemen to Ukraine to Israel
Updated 26 min 51 sec ago
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How Iranian drones went into action from Yemen to Ukraine to Israel

How Iranian drones went into action from Yemen to Ukraine to Israel
  • Country has come a long way since first building surveillance drones during the Iran-Iraq War
  • Attack on Israel showed UAVs deployed en masse are vulnerable to sophisticated air defense systems

LONDON: In July 2018, a senior Iranian official made an announcement that raised eyebrows around the Middle East.

The Islamic Republic, said Manouchehr Manteqi, head of the Headquarters for Development of Knowledge-Based Aviation and Aeronautics Technology and Industry, was now capable of producing drones self-sufficiently, without reliance on foreign suppliers or outside technical know-how.

International sanctions restricting imports of vital technology had effectively crippled Iran’s ability to develop sophisticated conventional military aircraft.

Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi (C) and Defense Minister Mohammad Reza Gharaei Ashtiani (R) attend an unveiling ceremony of the new drone "Mohajer 10" in Tehran on August 22, 2023. (Iranian Presidency photo handout/AFP)

But now, said Manteqi, “designing and building drone parts for special needs (is) done by Iranian knowledge-based companies.”

In developing its own drone technology, Iran had found a way to build up its military capabilities regardless of sanctions.

Iran had already come a long way in the development of unmanned aerial vehicles, having first embarked on the creation of surveillance drones during the Iran-Iraq War.

Speaking in September 2016, Maj. Gen. Mohammed Hossein Bagheri, chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, credited the tactical demands of the eight-year conflict as having been “pivotal in the production of modern science and technology for future use.”

This, he said, had led to the development of “Iranian-manufactured long-range drones (that) can target terrorists’ positions from a great distance and with a surface of one meter square.”

Iran’s first UAV was the Ababil, a low-tech surveillance drone built in the 1980s by the Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Co. It first flew in 1985 and was quickly joined by the Mohajer, developed by the Quds Aviation Industry Co.

Although initially both of these drones were fairly primitive, over the years both platforms have been steadily developed and have become far more sophisticated.

According to a report in state newspaper Tehran Times, the current Ababil-5, unveiled on Iran Army Day in April 2022, has a range of about 480 km and can carry up to six smart bombs or missiles.

But the Mohajer 10, launched last year on Aug. 22, appears to be an even more capable, hi-tech UAV, closely resembling America’s MQ-9 Reaper in both looks and capabilities.

Armed with several missiles and able to remain aloft for 24 hours at an altitude of up to 7 km, it has a claimed range of 2,000 km. If true, this means it is capable of hitting targets almost anywhere in any country in the Middle East.

This appeared to be confirmed in July 2022, when Javad Karimi Qodousi, a member of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, told Iran’s state news agency IRNA that “Iran’s strategy in building drones is to maintain the security of the country's surrounding environment up to a depth of 2,000 kilometers.”

He added: “According to the declared policy of the Leader of the Revolution, any person, group or country who stands up against the Zionist regime, the Islamic Republic will support him with all its might, and the Islamic Republic can provide them with knowledge in the field of drones.”

By 2021, following a rash of attacks in the region, it was clear that Iranian drone technology was in the hands of non-state actors and militias throughout the Middle East.

Speaking during a visit to Iraq in May 2021, Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of US Central Command, said the Iranian drone program “has innovated with sophisticated, indigenously produced drones, which it supplies to regional allies.”

This “broad diffusion of Iranian drone technologies makes it almost impossible to tell who conducted a lethal drone strike in the region, and thus who should be held responsible and accountable.”

This, he added, “is only going to get more difficult.”

As it has raced to supply proxies and allies throughout the region and the wider world with these weapons, Iran has developed a second, cheaper class of UAV — the so-called “loitering munition,” or suicide drone.

Variations of these weapons, relatively cheap to produce but capable of carrying a significant explosive payload over hundreds of kilometers, have been produced in large numbers by the IRGC-linked Shahed Aviation Industries Research Center.

In September 2019, the Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for an attack by 25 drones and other missiles on Saudi Aramco oil sites at Abqaiq and Khurais in eastern Saudi Arabia.

Afterward, the Kingdom’s Defense Ministry displayed wreckage that revealed delta-winged Shahed 136 drones were among the weapons that had been fired at the Kingdom.

The Houthis have claimed responsibility for other attacks by Iranian-made drones. In 2020, another Saudi oil facility was hit, at Jazan near the Yemen border; the following year, four drones targeted a civilian airport at Abha in southern Saudi Arabia, setting an aircraft on fire; and in January 2022 drones struck two targets in Abu Dhabi — at the international airport and an oil storage facility, where three workers were killed.

A picture taken on June 19, 2018 in Abu Dhabi shows the wreckage of a drone used by Yemen's Houthi militia in battles against the coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The coalition was assembled in 2014 to help restore the UN-recognized Yemeni government that was ousted by the Iran-backed Houthis. (AFP)

In addition to supplying non-state actors with its drones, Iran is also developing a lucrative export market for the technology.

In November 2022, analysis by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy concluded that Iran “may be outsourcing kamikaze drone production to Venezuela,” a country sanctioned by the US in part because of its ties with Tehran, and in July 2023, Forbes reported that Bolivia had also expressed interest in acquiring Iranian drone technology.

Iran is not alone in developing markets for such weapons in South America. In December 2022, military intelligence and analysis organization Janes reported that Argentina had signed a contract with the Israeli Ministry of Defense to buy man-portable anti-personnel and anti-tank loitering munitions, produced by Israeli arms company Uvision.

Only four days ago, it was reported that Iranian-made armed drones have been used by the Sudanese army to turn the tide of conflict in the country’s civil war and halt the progress of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.

According to Reuters, Sudan’s acting Foreign Minister Ali Sadeq denied his country had obtained any weapons from Iran. But the news agency cited “six Iranian sources, regional officials and diplomats,” who confirmed that Sudan’s military “had acquired Iranian-made unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) over the past few months.”

Iran’s interest in Sudan is strategic, according to an unnamed Western diplomat quoted by Reuters: “They now have a staging post on the Red Sea and on the African side.”

But Iran’s most significant state customer for its deadly drone technology to date is Russia.

In September 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expelled Iranian diplomats from the country after several downed drones were found to have been made in Iran.

“We have a number of these downed Iranian drones, and these have been sold to Russia to kill our people and are being used against civilian infrastructure and peaceful civilians,” Zelensky told Arab News at the time.

Since then, drone use on both sides in the conflict has escalated, with Russia procuring many of its weapons and surveillance systems from Iran, in violation of UN resolutions.

At a meeting in New York on Friday the UK’s deputy political coordinator told the UN Security Council that “Russia has procured thousands of Iranian Shahed drones and has used them in a campaign against Ukraine’s electricity infrastructure, which is intended to beat Ukraine into submission by depriving its civilians of power and heat.”

But although Iran has successfully exported its drones, and drone technology, to several countries and non-state actors, its own use of the weapons has not been particularly auspicious.

As initially developed, drones were intended first for surveillance, and then as armed platforms for tactical use against single targets.

It is not known what Iran hoped to achieve by unleashing a swarm of 170 drones at once against Israel on Saturday night, in its first openly direct attack against the country. But all the reportedly failed attack has done is demonstrate that slow-moving drones deployed en masse in a full-frontal assault are extremely vulnerable to sophisticated air defense systems.

The vast majority of the drones, and the 30 cruise and 120 ballistic missiles fired at Israel in retaliation for the Israeli airstrike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus on April 1, were shot down, either intercepted by American warships and aircraft or downed by Israel’s multi-layered anti-missile systems.


Drone warfare through the years

The word “drone” used to describe an unmanned aerial vehicle was first coined during the Second World War, when the British converted a Tiger Moth biplane to operate as an unmanned, radio-controlled target for anti-aircraft gunnery training. Codenamed Queen Bee, between 1933 and 1943, hundreds were built. Purpose-built drones as we know them today first took to the skies over Vietnam in the 1960s in the shape of the Ryan Aeronautical Model 147 Lightning Bug. Radio-controlled, the jet-powered aircraft was launched from under-wing pylons fitted to converted C-130 Hercules transport aircraft. After its reconnaissance mission was over, the Lightning Bug parachuted itself back to Earth, where it could be recovered by a helicopter. It was Israel that developed what is considered to be the world’s first modern military surveillance drone, the propellor-driven Mastiff, which first flew in 1973. Made by Tadiran Electronic Industries, it could be launched from a runway and remain airborne for up to seven hours, feeding back live video.

• • • • • •

The Mastiff was acquired by the US military, which led to a collaboration between AAI, a US aerospace company, and the government-owned Israel Aerospace Industries. The result was the more sophisticated AAI RQ-2 Pioneer, a reconnaissance drone used extensively during the 1991 Gulf War. The breakthrough in drones as battlefield weapons was made thanks to Abraham Karem, a former designer for the Israeli Air Force who emigrated to the US in the late 1970s. His GNAT 750 drone was acquired by General Atomics and operated extensively by the CIA over Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1993 and 1994. This evolved into the satellite-linked RQ-1 Predator. First used to laser-designate targets and guide weapons fired by other aircraft, by 2000 it had been equipped with AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, and the first was fired in anger less than a month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America.

• • • • • •

The first strike, against a convoy carrying a Taliban leader in Afghanistan, missed. But on Nov. 14, 2001, a Predator that had taken off from a US air base in Uzbekistan fired two Hellfire missiles into a building near Kabul, killing Mohammed Atef, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, and several other senior Al-Qaeda personnel. Since then, silent death from the air has become the signature of American military power, thanks to a remotely operated weapons system from which no one is safe, no matter where they are. This was made clear by the audacious attack on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp’s Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, killed by a drone strike as he left Baghdad airport on Jan. 3, 2020. The MQ-9 Reaper drone that killed him had been launched from a military base in the Middle East and was controlled by operators at a US airbase over 12,000 km away in Nevada. — Jonathan Gornall