March 1, 2018
A spokeswoman for the Qatari foreign ministry said yesterday that her country will not change its policy even if the blockade continues forever.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Lulwa Al Khater, made the remarks at the opening session of an international conference organized by the Middle East Dialogue Center in Brussels.
“The siege imposed on Qatar by regional players has accelerated our relations through several axes, the most important of which was the launching of the Qatari-US strategic dialogue,” Al Khater said, adding that the conference in Brussels “is an opportunity to refute the lies spread by the blockade countries and to respond to those who try to discredit Qatar.”
For his part, the Qatari Ambassador to Belgium, Abdul Rahman Bin Mohammed Al Khulaifi, said the siege gave Qatar power and it could overcome its consequences quickly, adding that the siege now has only effects on the social side while the state succeeded in maintaining its stability and security.
Al Khulaifi explained that Qatar has succeeded in finding alternatives and strategic partnerships to achieve its ambitions.
According to the ambassador, Doha has investments worth about $2 billion in Turkey, while Ankara will support the Qatari economy and participate in the 2022 World Cup projects.
Source: Middle East Monitor.
January 18, 2018
60,000 armed Turkish soldiers will be deployed across four military bases abroad in accordance with a new 2022 plan, The New Khalij reported today.
The Turkish National Security Council finalized the plan yesterday, in order to meet Turkey’s military and commercial interests to support its allies.
Turkey already has 3,000 troops deployed near the Red Sea, in Somalia and a military base in Sudan’s Suakin Island, which is capable of holding some 20,000 military personnel for five years. 200 Turkish soldiers have been deployed in Somalia since October last year, training Somalia’s military.
In addition to some hundred soldiers currently based in Qatar’s Al-Udeid military base since shortly after the blockade on Qatar, Turkey plans to deploy more to fulfill its 2022 plan. The number has not publicly been disclosed.
Qatar announced today that Turkish commercial firms will be given priority for business during the World Cup in 2022, to be held in the capital of Qatar, Doha.
Some 112 companies from a variety of sectors will be attending Expo Turkey by Qatar, co-organized with Turkey’s Independent Industrialists and Business people’s’ Association (MUSIAD). Turkish and Qatari commercial firms have already signed business agreements worth some 60 million dollars.
Source: Middle East Monitor.
February 16, 2018
Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf Bin Alawi bin Abdullah visited the Al-Aqsa Mosque yesterday.
Azzam Al-Khatib, the director of the Islamic Waqf in occupied Jerusalem, who received the Omani minister, described the visit as “historic” and said it was aimed at supporting the people of Jerusalem.
The visit comes after a meeting between the Omani minister and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.
During a press conference with the PA president, the Omani foreign minister called on the Arab countries to “accept the invitation of Mahmoud Abbas to visit Palestine and occupied Jerusalem, stressing that the Palestinian people are not alone and that all the Arab peoples are behind them”.
“What is required is the hard work of the Palestinians to build their country, which has historically been a beacon of science, containing universities, schools, professors and experts,” he added.
Source: Middle East Monitor.
February 18, 2018
MUNICH (AP) — The international nuclear deal with Iran has emboldened Tehran to become increasingly aggressive in the region, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday, warning that Iran should “not test Israel’s resolve.”
Netanyahu said if the U.S. decides to scrap the 2015 nuclear deal, which he has long opposed, “I think they’ll do nothing.” But Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, appearing two hours later at the same Munich Security Conference, fired back that Netanyahu’s comment was “delusional thinking.”
“I can assure that if Iran’s interests are not secured, Iran will respond, will respond seriously. And I believe it would be a response that means people would be sorry for taking the erroneous action they did,” he said.
U.S. President Donald Trump has expressed deep skepticism about the Iran nuclear deal that lifted sanctions against the country. He extended sanctions waivers in January but said he would not do so again when they come up for renewal in May unless his concerns are addressed.
Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, a main architect of the nuclear deal, said it was “absolutely critical” to ensure it survives. “We know what the world looks like without the Iran nuclear agreement,” he said Sunday, speaking at the same conference. “It’s not a better place.”
If the U.S. abandons the current nuclear deal it’s unlikely Iran would consider a new one, Kerry said. “The problem is the waters have been muddied because of this credibility issue about America’s willingness to live up to any deal,” he said.
Kerry dismissed Netanyahu’s contention that Iran would be on its way to having a nuclear arsenal in 10 years, saying “that’s fundamentally not accurate.” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir weighed in, saying the Iran nuclear deal “has flaws that need to be fixed.” He said that, among other things, the inspection system needs to be more intrusive.
“The world has to extract a price from Iran for its aggressive behavior,” he added. Netanyahu told world leaders, diplomats and defense officials at the conference that the deal was similar to the infamous 1938 “Munich Agreement” that Western powers signed with Adolf Hitler in an attempt to stave off war in Europe, which became synonymous with appeasement.
“The concessions to Hitler only emboldened the Nazi regime,” he said. “Rather than choosing a path that might have prevented war… those well-intentioned leaders made a wider war inevitable and far more costly.”
Similarly, he said, the Iranian nuclear agreement has “unleashed a dangerous Iranian tiger in our region and beyond.” Declaring that Iran’s “brazenness hit new highs,” he theatrically held up a fragment of what he said was an Iranian drone shot down last week by Israel in Israeli airspace and challenged Zarif.
“Mr. Zarif, do you recognize this? You should, it’s yours,” Netanyahu said. “You can take back with you a message to the tyrants of Tehran — do not test Israel’s resolve!” Tehran has denied that the drone belonged to Iran. Zarif on Sunday dismissed Netanyahu’s stunt as “a cartoonish circus… which does not even deserve the dignity of a response.”
Netanyahu has been projecting a business-as-usual approach on his visit to Germany amid uproar at home after police on Tuesday said was sufficient evidence to indict him for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two cases. The Israeli leader has angrily rejected the accusations and denounced what he describes as an overzealous police investigation. He has also dismissed the accusations as a witch hunt orchestrated by a hostile media.
Zarif suggested the Israeli leader might be escalating tensions with Iran simply to distract from his domestic problems. Denouncing what he said were Israel’s “almost daily illegal incursions into Syrian airspace,” Zarif said Israel was trying “to create these cartoonish images to blame others for its own strategic blunders, or maybe to evade the domestic crisis they’re facing.”
Netanyahu told the audience that destroying the drone was a demonstration of Israel’s resolve. “Israel will not allow Iran’s regime to put a noose of terror around our neck,” he said. “We will act if necessary, not just against Iran’s proxies that are attacking us but against Iran itself.”
Lebanese Defense Minister Yaacoub Sarraf accused Israel of being hypocritical, saying that he’d had “an Israeli drone above my head for the past 15 years” and warning about any aggression from its neighbor.
“Lebanon has no belligerent intent on anybody, but watch out, we will defend ourselves,” he said. “We also have partners, we also have friends, we also have people willing to die for their country. We are for peace, yet we will not stand for any threat and we will not accept any aggression. ”
Moulson reported from Berlin.
DUSHANBE – Tajikistan has granted amnesty to more than 100 of its nationals following their return home from Syria and Iraq, where they had joined radical Islamist groups, the interior minister said Thursday.
Speaking at a news conference in the Tajik capital Dushanbe, Interior Minister Ramazon Rahimzoda said the returnees had been pardoned in line with a 2015 government pledge.
“Regarding the fate of 111 Tajik citizens who returned from Syria and Iraq voluntarily, all of them are free under Tajik law,” Rahimzoda said.
Most of the returnees in question had spent time in Syria, which became a magnet for jihadists from around the globe following its descent into civil war in 2011.
Rahimzoda also told reporters that 250 citizens of Tajikistan, a majority-Muslim country, had died fighting for radical groups in Iraq and Syria, mostly the Islamic State group.
Authorities have previously said that over 1,000 Tajik citizens, including women, had joined the radical militants.
Most had traveled to Syria and Iraq through Russia, where over a million Tajiks are believed to work as labor migrants.
The Islamic State group’s most high-profile Tajik recruit Gulmurod Khalimov had served as the chief of the interior ministry’s special forces unit prior to his sensational defection in 2015.
Russia’s defense ministry said in September last year that Khalimov, who may have been IS’s “minister of war”, had been killed in an airstrike.
Rahimzoda said Thursday that Tajikistan was still verifying that report.
Mountainous Tajikistan, the poorest former Soviet republic, shares a 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) border with Afghanistan, long a hotbed of Islamist militancy and the world’s largest producer of opium and heroin.
Governments have warned that fighters returning to their home countries after the collapse of the Islamic State group could raise the terror threat there.
Source: Middle East Online.
February 2, 2018
On Wednesday, the National Union of Kuwaiti Students launched a popular campaign against normalization with the Israeli occupation under the title “Kuwaiti against normalization”.
On Thursday, the Union of Kuwaiti Students distributed huge announcements in the streets of Kuwait to combat all forms of normalization with the Israeli occupation.
The announcements included a warning against academic normalization with the occupation under the cover of research and knowledge cooperation between Arabs and Israel and pointed out that “just dealing with Israel as a state and not as occupation is normalization in itself.”
The Union, which is controlled by Islamists in Kuwait, announced the convening of a seminar against normalization next Tuesday (06/02/2018).
It is worth noting that the National Union of Kuwaiti Students is a student organisation which was established on December 24, 1964 to represent students of the State of Kuwait who are studying both inside and outside the country. The Union consists of branches that are annually managed by elected administrative bodies, the largest of which is the branch of the University of Kuwait.
Source: Middle East Monitor.
February 10, 2018
JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli military shot down an Iranian drone it said infiltrated the country early Saturday before launching a “large-scale attack” on at least a dozen Iranian and Syrian targets inside Syria. Responding anti-aircraft fire led to the downing of an Israeli fighter jet.
Israel said the drone infiltration was a “severe and irregular violation of Israeli sovereignty” and warned of further action against unprecedented Iranian aggression. The military said its planes faced massive anti-aircraft fire from Syria that forced two pilots to abandon an F-16 jet that crashed in northern Israel. One pilot was seriously wounded and the other lightly. Syrian officials reported large explosions in the center of the country and the Syrian counter fire set off warning sirens throughout northern Israel.
The Israeli strikes marked its most significant engagement since the fighting in neighboring Syria began in 2011 and said Iran would be held responsible for its outcome. “This is a serious Iranian attack on Israeli territory. Iran is dragging the region into an adventure in which it doesn’t know how it will end,” Israel’s chief military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, said in a special statement. “Whoever is responsible for this incident is the one who will pay the price.”
Gen. Hossein Salami, acting commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, did not acknowledge Israel’s claim it shot down the drone. “We do not confirm any such news from Israel,” he said. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasem called the Israeli claim “ridiculous.”
But the joint operations room for the Syrian military and its allies denied the drone violated Israeli airspace, saying it was on a regular mission gathering intelligence on Islamic State militants. Syria’s Defense Ministry said in statements on its website that its air defenses responded successfully to the Israeli operation and hit more than one plane. “The Israeli enemy has once again attacked some of our military bases in the southern area and our air defenses responded and foiled the aggression,” it said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman were convening the top brass at military headquarters in Tel Aviv to discuss further response. Israel has mostly stayed out of the prolonged fighting in Syria, wary of being drawn into a war in which nearly all the parties are hostile toward it. It has recently been warning of the increased Iranian presence along its border, but military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said Saturday’s incident marked the most “blatant and severe violation of Israeli sovereignty” yet.
He said Israel has no interest in further escalation but that it would “extract a heavy price” for such aggression. Conricus said Iran was “playing with fire” by infiltrating Israeli airspace, and said the unmanned aircraft Israel shot down was “on a military mission sent and operated by Iranian military forces.” He said Israel recovered the dispatched drone, which was clearly Iranian.
In response, Conricus said Israeli jets destroyed the Iranian site in central Syria that launched it. Upon their return, the jets came under heavy Syrian anti-aircraft fire and the pilots of one of the F-16s had to escape and the plane crashed. It’s unclear whether the plane was actually struck or if the pilots abandoned their mission for a different reason.
If the plane was in fact shot down by enemy fire, it could mark the first such instance for Israel since 1982 during the first Lebanon war. Regardless, Damascus residents celebrated the news. Wassim Elias, 39, a government employee, called it retribution for the many Israeli raids on Syrian soil before. “This earned the Syrian army and every Syrian citizen prestige. This is what we have always demanded,” he said.
Firas Hamdan, 42, a public servant, said such Syrian responses will ensure no more Israeli attacks in Syria. “Such attacks should be confronted and the response should be tougher to give the Israelis a lesson.”
In subsequent attacks, Israel struck four additional Iranian positions and eight Syrian sites in Syria. The military said significant damage was caused. Conricus said the Israeli jets faced between 15 to 20 anti-aircraft missiles fired by SA-5 and SA-17 batteries. All the Israeli jets in those sorties returned home safely.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war in Syria, said Israel targeted the edges of a military air base, called T-4, in the Homs desert near Palmyra, where Iranian and Hezbollah forces are based alongside Syrian troops. The Observatory said the raids resulted in casualties, but didn’t specify. It also said Israeli raids targeted areas in southwestern Damascus, bordering the southern provinces. This was followed by raids on Syrian government posts along the Damascus-Beirut road, close to the border between Syria and Lebanon.
Syrian state TV said air defenses hit more than one Israeli plane and that a girl was injured when Israeli missiles fell near a school in a neighborhood in Damascus’ countryside. A Syrian lawmaker, Feras Shehabi, said the response marked a “major shift in the balance of power in favor of Syria and the axis of resistance.” He said “Israelis must realize they have no longer superiority in the skies or on the ground.”
Retired Lt. Col. Reuven Ben-Shalom, a former Air Force pilot, said the fierce Israeli response was meant not only to counter the immediate threat but also to send “very clear messages” to show Iran how deep Israel’s knowledge was of its activity in Syria.
“The fact that a drone like this is identified, tracked and intercepted so smoothly by the Israeli air force demonstrates our capabilities, demonstrates our resolve not to allow the breach of Israeli sovereignty,” he said. “I think it’s good that our enemies learn and understand these capabilities.”
Israel has long complained about the involvement of archenemy Iran, and Iranian proxy Hezbollah, in the Syria war. The Shiite allies have sent forces to back Syrian President Bashar Assad, who appears headed toward victory after years of fighting. Israel has said it will not accept a permanent military presence by Iran and its Shiite allies in Syria, especially near the Israeli border.
Israel has been warning of late of the increased Iranian involvement along its border in Syria and Lebanon. It fears Iran could use Syrian territory to stage attacks or create a land corridor from Iran to Lebanon that could allow it to transfer weapons more easily to Hezbollah.
The Israeli Cabinet recently held a meeting on the Golan Heights near the border with Syria to highlight new threats, which are attributed to Iran’s growing confidence given Assad’s apparent victory in Syria thanks to their help.
Israel has shot down several drones that previously tried to infiltrate its territory from Syria. The targeting of Iranian sites in response, however, marks an escalation in the Israeli retaliation. The military confirmed that the initial target in Syria — the unmanned aircraft’s launch components — was successfully destroyed.
El Deeb reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Zeina Karam in Beirut, Albert Aji in Damascus and Amir Vahdat in Tehran contributed to this report.