Killing of Iranian dissident fuels tensions between Turkey, Iran

Turkish riot police stand guard in front of the Iranian Embassy during a protest against Iran's role in Aleppo, in Ankara, Turkey, December 15, 2016. (Reuters /File Photo)
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Updated 30 March 2020
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Killing of Iranian dissident fuels tensions between Turkey, Iran

  • Tehran officials accused of ordering outspoken critic’s murder in Istanbul in 2019
  • Turkish investigation into the killing has resulted in the arrest of several suspects, including Turks and Iranians

ISTANBUL: A claim that two intelligence officers at Iran’s consulate in Turkey instigated the killing of an Iranian dissident in Istanbul last November has added to simmering tensions between the two countries.

Reuters said that it had been told by two senior Turkish officials that the dissident, Masoud Molavi Vardanjani, had been killed for criticizing Tehran’s political and military leadership.
Vardanjani was shot dead on an Istanbul street on Nov. 14, 2019, a little over a year after Turkish officials say he left Iran.
The accusation will increase friction between Turkey and Iran, two regional powers which had grown closer under the government of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, but which had recently fallen out over the war in Syria.
Before his death, Vardanjani was known as an outspoken critic of the Islamic Republic who frequently targeted Tehran’s military and political leaders on his social media account, the Reuters report said.
“I will root out the corrupt mafia commanders. Pray that they don’t kill me before I do this,” the Iranian dissident said just three months before he was shot dead.
Vardanjani’s death came a year after he left Iran, where he was working in the Iranian Defense Ministry as a cybersecurity official. He also held a doctoral degree in artificial intelligence studies.
Reuters claimed the victim was also warned by Iran against discussing drone projects with Turkish officials.
The Turkish government is expected to take up the issue with Iran through diplomatic channels.
Seth J. Frantzman, executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, said that if the Reuters claim is correct, Iran’s assassination of a dissident in Istanbul is an illegal act that warrants a harsh response.

BACKGROUND

’I will root out the corrupt mafia commanders. Pray that they don’t kill me before I do this,’ Iranian dissident Masoud Molavi Vardanjani said just three months before he was shot dead.

“Iran appears to have shown blatant disregard for Turkey’s sovereignty, even using its diplomatic posts and passports for this brazen act. This requires more than just a diplomatic complaint,” Frantzman told Arab News.
He said that the alleged perpetrators behind the killing were officials carrying diplomatic passports.
“It shows how Iran disregards borders in the region and globally. Internationally, countries should take this very seriously as part of a pattern of Iran’s assassinations of dissenters, a policy going back decades.”
Frantzman said that the alleged murder also reveals that while Iran is demanding international sanctions be reduced, it has continued to conduct illegal overseas operations and “disrespect” its neighbors.
A Turkish investigation into the dissident’s killing has resulted in the arrest of several suspects, including Turks and Iranians.
The allegations are likely to further undermine ties between Ankara and Tehran.
Although Turkey and Iran have been cooperating on a Syria strategy, their partnership is seen by many as a marriage of convenience in a conflict zone where they back opposing sides. Tehran supports Assad, while Turkey wants the regime ousted.
Last month Turkish and Iranian media outlets engaged in a war of words over Syria, with both countries accusing the other of “pursuing aggressive moves” in the war-torn country.
In October 2019, Iran condemned the presence of Turkish military posts inside Syria, which it said were a violation of Syria’s territorial integrity.
Tehran also described Turkey’s operation in northern Syria in early October against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia as an “invasion.”
Erdogan was quick to respond, accusing Iran of betraying the consensus between the two countries.
Attacks by Iranian-backed militia on Ankara-backed fighters in Syria’s rebel-held regions have also angered Turkey.


Rescue underway for crew of Greek-owned vessel hit by Houthis, Philippines says

Updated 2 sec ago
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Rescue underway for crew of Greek-owned vessel hit by Houthis, Philippines says

Iran-aligned Houthis claimed responsibility for the missile attack on the Tutor
Hans Cacdac, the Philippines Department of Migrant Workers Secretary, said “Rescue is forthcoming within the day”

MANILA/LONDON: The crew of a Greek-owned vessel Tutor that was damaged in an attack by Yemeni Houthi militants in the Red Sea should be rescued within the day although one sailor is still missing, the Philippines said on Friday.
The attack near the Yemeni port of Hodeidah on Wednesday caused severe flooding and damage to the engine room and left the Tutor, a Liberia-flagged coal carrier, unable to manouvre. It was taking in water and was in need of rescue.
Iran-aligned Houthis claimed responsibility for the missile attack on the Tutor and on other vessels, including MV Verbena in the Gulf of Aden, over the past days.
The Houthis have made repeated drone and missile strikes on ships in the Red Sea, the Bab Al-Mandab Strait and the Gulf of Aden since November, saying they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza war.
The 22 crew members on board the Tutor are mostly Filipino, Hans Cacdac, the Philippines Department of Migrant Workers Secretary, told a press conference in Manila.
“Rescue is forthcoming within the day,” he said, adding that he could not disclose further information for security reasons.
Philippine President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr said the country’s authorities were coordinating with the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) to take the crew members to Djibouti and bring them back home.
The missing crew member was believed to be trapped in the engine room, maritime sources said. The rest of the crew were “safe and sound” and had adequate food supplies, Cacdac said, citing the captain.
“Right now, we are still in the process of trying to ascertain or trying to account for the particular seafarer in that ship. We are praying we could find him,” Cacdac said.
The ship’s Athens-based manager Evalend Shipping has not responded to Reuters’ requests for comment.
The Houthi campaign in the Red Sea region has disrupted global shipping, cascading delays and costs through supply chains. The militants have sunk one ship, seized another vessel and killed three seafarers in separate attacks.
Thursday’s attack against the Verbena, which sparked a fire and damaged the ship, marked their second direct hit on a merchant ship in two days following Tutor.
The attacks prompted the UKMTO to assess that Houthis’ targeting tactics may have changed since most companies have rerouted their vessels around the bottom of Africa.
It said they appeared to have expanded their scope targeting companies with a fleet that may have called at an Israeli port since early May.
“Any vessel within a company structure meeting this broader criteria and operating in the Red Sea or Gulf of Aden could be at risk,” the UKMTO said.
INTERCARGO, which represents dry cargo ship owners, urged states to enhance maritime security in the area.
“We demand that all involved parties cease their deliberate and targeted attacks on innocent seafarers with immediate effect,” it said.
InterManager, which represents the ship management sector, also called on governments to do more.
“Commercial ships and innocent seafarers must be allowed safe passage as they go about their regular business of carrying trade across the globe,” it said.

US and Turkiye target Daesh-linked smuggling network

Updated 17 min 57 sec ago
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US and Turkiye target Daesh-linked smuggling network

  • The sanctions target three supporters of a human smuggling gang linked to the group
  • The men were based in countries including Uzbekistan and Georgia

WASHINGTON: The United States slapped sanctions Friday on four individuals with ties to the Daesh group following an investigation with Turkiye, the Treasury Department said.
The sanctions target three supporters of a human smuggling gang linked to the group, and one individual involved in establishing an Daesh militant training camp, the US Treasury said a statement.
The men were based in countries including Uzbekistan and Georgia, and least one individual supported Daesh members in Turkiye, according to the Treasury.
The coordinated action with Turkiye “demonstrates our continued commitment to the defense of the homeland against all terrorist threats, including Daesh,” US Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence Brin Nelson said in a statement.
Turkiye, which is a close US military partner and a NATO ally, is taking its own action against the Daesh-linked network, the Treasury Department said.


Hamas’ armed wing says Israeli airstrike killed two hostages in Rafah

Updated 47 min 4 sec ago
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Hamas’ armed wing says Israeli airstrike killed two hostages in Rafah

  • The group did not release the names of those said to have been killed
  • The Israeli government “does not want your hostages to return, except in coffins”

CAIRO: Hamas’ armed wing Al-Qassam Brigades said on Friday that two Israeli hostages held in Gaza were killed in an Israeli airstrike on Rafah a few days ago.
The group, in a video posted on its Telegram channel, did not release the names of those said to have been killed or provide any evidence.
The Israeli government “does not want your hostages to return, except in coffins,” the Al-Qassam Brigades statement said.
Israel rescued four hostages held by Hamas in a hostage-freeing operation in central Gaza’s Al-Nuseirat on June 8. The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said more than 250 Palestinians were killed in the raid.
The war in Gaza erupted when Hamas militants stormed southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
Israel has responded with a military assault on the Gaza Strip that has killed more than 37,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza health ministry. Israel says its campaign is intended to eliminate Hamas as a threat and free the remaining hostages.


Human rights groups join legal review of UK arms sales to Israel

Updated 14 June 2024
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Human rights groups join legal review of UK arms sales to Israel

  • Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Oxfam allowed to submit evidence in case brought by Al-Haq, Global Legal Action Network
  • UK has issued 100 new arms licenses to Israel since start of war in Gaza that has killed over 35,000 Palestinians

LONDON: Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Oxfam will be able to provide evidence to a High Court judicial review of UK arms sales to Israel.
The decision, made by a judge on Thursday, will see the three prominent groups submit testimony to the review launched by Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq and the Global Legal Action Network.
The case is expected to be heard in October, with UK government lawyers having previously sought to block HRW and Amnesty from submitting evidence.
It comes after it was revealed that the UK government has issued over 100 new arms export licenses for Israel since Oct. 7.
UK Department for Business and Trade data also showed that no licenses have been revoked in that period, during which more than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli military in Gaza.
The UK government is legally obligated to suspend licenses if it is found that exported weapons could be used to break international law, which numerous organizations, including GLAN and Al-Haq, say has already happened.
HRW and Amnesty had requested that they be allowed to participate in the review as they are “better placed in terms of capacity and resources” than GLAN and Al-Haq to contribute evidence due to “several decades” of experience in the field.
Amnesty International UK’s CEO Sacha Deshmukh said in a statement: “This is a very welcome decision and we look forward to presenting our evidence to the court. We’ve always believed it was vital that the court has the fullest opportunity to review expert human rights evidence from ourselves and Human Rights Watch.
“Our evidence demonstrates the gap between the Israeli military and political leadership’s policies and practices and their legal obligations, and shows how this gap has resulted in Israeli forces repeatedly committing grave breaches of international humanitarian law.
“The UK’s continued sale of components for equipment such as US-made F-35 jets despite the clear risk that these could be used by Israel in the commission of serious violations of international law is making a mockery of the UK’s own arms export rules and needs to be stopped as a matter of urgency.”
HRW’s UK director, Yasmine Ahmed, said in a statement: “We welcome the court’s decision to allow Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to intervene with key evidence in this critical case.
“In the face of Israel’s ongoing crimes in Gaza, the UK government presents the nonsensical argument that it is lawful to continue sending arms to Israel on the basis that Israel is committed to complying with international law. Our evidence shows the exact opposite.
“Time and again, Israel’s official statements, policies and practice are in direct contradiction with international law and the results are clear to see: children in Gaza are dying of starvation and starvation-related illnesses.
“It is critical that the Government’s justification for arming Israel is properly scrutinized by the UK courts.
“The law is very clear: licenses should be suspended when there is a clear risk that arms and military equipment might be used to facilitate or commit serious violations of international law.
“As Israel continues to carry out widespread serious violations, including war crimes, the UK should immediately suspend arms licenses to avoid breaching its own laws and being complicit in these grave abuses.
“While this decision is of course welcome, it is a sorry state of affairs that the case even needed to be brought. We shouldn’t have to drag ministers in front of judges to have them comply with their own laws.”
Oxfam CEO Halima Begum said in a statement: “Oxfam has been systematically prevented from getting life-saving aid into the enclave, and our staff and partners face a constant threat to their lives while trying to sustain basic humanitarian operations.”
The UK government has said its licenses are kept under “careful and continual review.”


Israeli polls show Netanyahu party narrowing gap behind Gantz

Updated 14 June 2024
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Israeli polls show Netanyahu party narrowing gap behind Gantz

  • The polls showed Likud winning 21 seats behind the National Unity Party on 24
  • Both polls showed a majority of voters would prefer Gantz as prime minister in a head-to-head choice with Netanyahu

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right wing Likud party has reduced the gap behind the centrist party of former minister Benny Gantz, who quit the wartime unity government on Sunday, two polls showed on Friday.
The polls, for the left wing Ma’ariv daily and the right wing Israel Hayom newspaper, showed Likud winning 21 seats behind the National Unity Party on 24. The Ma’ariv poll last week showed Gantz’s party on 27 seats, while at the start of the year, it was regularly polling in the high 30s.
The Ma’ariv poll shows the current ruling coalition winning 52 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, against 58 for the main opposition parties, with the balance of 10 seats held by the United Arab List and the left-wing Hadash-Ta’al alliance.
The Israel Hayom poll put the coalition on 50 seats against 61 for the opposition parties and 9 for the UAL and Hadash-Ta’al.
Both polls showed a majority of voters would prefer Gantz as prime minister in a head-to-head choice with Netanyahu. However, the Israel Hayom poll showed that if former prime minister Naftali Bennett were to join forces with Avigdor Liberman and Gideon Saar, two other center right politicians from outside the Likud camp, their alliance could beat both Likud and Gantz’s National Unity Party.
Gantz, a former army general and defense minister in the last government, joined Netanyahu’s coalition last year as a gesture of national unity following the devastating attack by Hamas on Oct 7.
However, he clashed repeatedly with other ministers and quit the government after demanding Netanyahu articulate a clear strategic plan for the war in Gaza, now in its ninth month.
Netanyahu, who was widely blamed for the security failures that allowed the Oct. 7 attack to take place, has refused to call early elections and would not normally face voters until 2026 if his coalition with a clutch of religious and right wing pro-settler parties holds.