Israel investigating after Lebanon’s Hezbollah says it shot down Israeli drone

Israel said it was investing an incident on Thursday after Lebanon's Hezbollah group said it had shot down an Israeli drone in the outskirts of Lebanese southern village Yater. (File/AFP)
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Updated 30 September 2021

Israel investigating after Lebanon’s Hezbollah says it shot down Israeli drone

  • Hezbollah group said it had brought down the drone on the outskirts of Yater by targeting it with "suitable weapons"

BEIRUT: Israel said it was investing an incident on Thursday after Lebanon’s Hezbollah group said it had shot down an Israeli drone in the south of Lebanon.
A statement by the armed group said it had brought down the drone on the outskirts of the village of Yater by targeting it with “suitable weapons.”
“A short time ago, during routine activity, an IDF drone fell within Lebanese territory. The incident is being investigated,” IDF spokesman on Twitter.


Assassins Creed: Why the plot to kill John Bolton is in the DNA of the Iranian regime

Updated 11 sec ago

Assassins Creed: Why the plot to kill John Bolton is in the DNA of the Iranian regime

  • In 2011 Iranian operatives had similarly plotted to kill (then Saudi ambassador) Adel Al-Jubeir in Washington, D.C.
  • Latest DoJ revelation of IRGC plot to target Bolton and Pompeo exposes Tehran’s long history of overseas terror

QAMISHLI, Syria/JEDDAH: For the past year, unbeknown to the citizens of Washington D.C., an assassin had allegedly been stalking the streets of the US capital searching for a prime target: A former high-ranking American official whose killing would shake the world and serve as a symbol of vengeance against the West.

This alleged plan was revealed to have been foiled when, on Wednesday, the US Department of Justice officially charged an Iranian citizen with plotting to kill John Bolton, a senior national security adviser under both the Bush and Trump administrations.

Shahram Poursafi was charged with use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder for hire and providing and attempting to provide material support to terrorists.

The FBi announcement of ‘wanted’ sharham Poursafi. (AFP)

According to the Justice Department’s indictment, Poursafi attempted to hire criminals in the US to carry out the murder in Washington, D.C., or Maryland for $300,000. On Nov. 9, 2021, Poursafi contacted a confidential source.

The FBI said that Poursafi is a member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is designated as a terrorist organization by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the US. He was acting on behalf of the Quds Force, an elite arm of the IRGC. Poursafi remains at large and is considered armed and dangerous.


BIO

Name: Shahram Poursafi

Place of birth: Iran

Date of birth: Sept. 21, 1976

Affiliation: Quds Force, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps

Criminal charges: Material support to terrorism, attempted murder-for-hire of high-ranking US official

Status: At large


Nasser Kanaani, an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, has strenuously denied that the Iranian government planned to assassinate Bolton, calling the accusations “baseless.” But the regime’s long history of targeting critics and dissidents abroad belies its protestation of innocence.

Since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, Tehran has carried out assassinations and attacks on Iranian dissidents and foreign officials worldwide. Which is why for Iranian affairs expert Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami, the revelation of the most recent plot comes as no surprise.

“Iran has been following this strategy for decades,” Al-Sulami, founder and chairman of Rasanah: International Institute for Iranian Studies in Riyadh, told Arab News. “More than two dozen successful assassination operations have been carried out by the Iranian regime across the globe.”

Since 1979, individuals believed to be linked to the Iranian government have carried out attacks against dissidents and opposition figures in more than a dozen countries, including, France, the US, Austria, Switzerland, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Albania, Thailand, Denmark and Turkey. Individuals linked to the Iranian government have also hijacked aircraft and bombed government offices as well as military installations around the world.

“Worldwide threat assessments from the US intelligence community have for years warned that Iran is trying to develop networks inside the US for such operations,” Jason Brodsky, policy director at United Against Nuclear Iran, told Arab News.

“These operations are shocking, but not surprising. There’s a long history dating back to the beginning of the Islamic Revolution,” he said, citing the assassination of Iranian exile and former press attache to the Iranian embassy in the US, Ali Akbar Tabatabaei, in Maryland in 1980.

IRANIAN PLOTSIN NUMBERS

21 Targeted Iranian dissidents.

21 Directed at Western or Arab targets.

19 Aimed against Israelis or Jews.

Brodsky pointed out that in 2011, the US Justice Department charged two Iranian citizens, one of whom was a commander in the Quds Force, with planning a murder-for-hire targeting the then Saudi ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir at a restaurant in Washington, D.C.

FBI investigations revealed that money had been wired to Iranian US dual national Mansour Arbabsiar, one of the potential assassins, from a known Quds Force bank account, and that the fee for the assassination was $1.5 million.

The 2011 criminal complaint from the Justice Department said that “the Quds Force conducts sensitive covert operations abroad, including terrorist attacks, assassinations and kidnappings, and is believed to sponsor attacks against coalition forces in Iraq.”

Eric Holder, US attorney general at the time, added: “The criminal complaint unsealed today exposes a deadly plot directed by factions of the Iranian government to assassinate a foreign ambassador on US soil with explosives.”

Ultimately, the plot, which involved the hiring of a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate Al-Jubeir — now the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs — failed due to poor planning and the use of unskilled operatives. Arbabsiar, who was working as a used car salesman in Texas, was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2013.

“Iran has, beyond any reasonable doubt, sponsored international terrorism,” Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, a Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar, told Arab News.

“They do so through their agents and proxy army, creating chaos in the region and beyond. They are now a threat not only to the region, but to the US as well by attacking US missions and army bases.”

Such attacks blamed on Iran are not just limited to political figures. Masih Alinejad, an Iranian US journalist and women’s rights activist, was the target of a kidnapping plot in July of last year. Just last month, a man with a loaded AK-47 rifle was arrested outside her home in New York City.

Brodsky says that in the plot against Alinejad, instead of the elite international Quds Force, Iranian intelligence operatives were directly involved.

“Not just the IRGC Quds Force has attempted operations to harm American citizens on US soil. Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence has also undertaken those operations,” he said. “That shows that we have different parts of the Iranian system all trying to penetrate the US, and that’s definitely a cause for concern.”

Sources close to Mike Pompeo, the former US secretary of state, told CNN that Bolton was not the only target of the most recent Iranian plot. Pompeo was reportedly one of two individuals whom Poursafi had sought to assassinate through a third party, with the price tag for Pompeo’s death being $1 million.

Iran’s plots against US officials and citizens have come in the wake of the Jan. 1, 2020, strike that killed Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force. After the incident, Iranian political and military officials vowed revenge for Soleimani’s death.

However, according to Al-Sulami, the regime completely failed in terms of taking revenge, denting its image among followers in the region and beyond.

“Soleimani is not a replaceable military commander in terms of managing the IRGC’s militias in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen; he is a big loss for the management of Iran’s regional file,” Al-Sulami told Arab News, adding that Iran resorted to carrying out assassinations when its propaganda failed to convince Iranians and Iran-backed militias that it had avenged Soleimani’s death.

In January, two years after the killing of Soleimani, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi vowed to exact vengeance on those responsible if then US President Donald Trump was not put on trial for ordering the strike.

Pompeo was serving as secretary of state at the time of Soleimani’s killing, and Bolton had pushed for both regime change in Iran and the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement.

Al-Shehri says the latest revelation begs the question of how US-Iranian relations will be affected, if at all. “Since Ayatollah Khomeini denounced the US as the ‘Great Satan’ and approved seizing the American Embassy in Tehran in November 1979, the US has treated Iran as one of the most extreme, irrational and dangerous governments in the world,” he told Arab News.

After the attempt on Bolton and Pompeo’s lives, he asks, “will the US still allow Iran to continue its enrichment program? Will they allow Iran to obtain nuclear capabilities.”

With the uncovering of the alleged plot, political commentators took to social media to criticize the Biden’s administration’s approach to relations with Iran.

“Intent to murder a former senior US official is not enough to dissuade this administration from negotiating with Iran,” tweeted Simone Ledeen, former US deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East.

Reacting on Twitter, Morgan Ortagus, a former State Department spokesperson, said: “It is clear that the Iranian regime will spare no cost to kill (Mike Pompeo). The smoking gun that the Biden administration apparently requires to push back on Iran must not be a mass-casualty event with our former secretary of state at the center.”

Analysts caution that the perception of a lack of serious consequences may be behind Iran’s bold attempts to assassinate dissidents and enemies abroad. Brodsky says that for Iran, the potential rewards associated with assassinating a top US official far outweigh the risks, partially due to the lack of perceived consequences from the US.

“On the policy level toward the Iranian regime, the US is saying there will be severe consequences when there is an attack on US officials. What about an attempted attack? This was an attempted attack on a former US national security adviser and secretary of state. That’s explosive,” he said.

“So if there isn’t a consequence when there’s an attempted attack, it’s not going to break the cycle and change the Iranians’ calculation.”

Looking to the future, Al-Sulami said, “The Iranian political system will continue targeting other countries in the region and beyond, as well as officials from the US and Saudi Arabia in particular, unless the political and security negotiations, and engagements with Tehran, address this belligerent and terrorist behavior.

“If not, Iran will continue with its policy of assassinations targeting US and Arab officials.”

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Hamas ‘wins with Israel but loses with Palestinians’: Analysts

Updated 14 min 19 sec ago

Hamas ‘wins with Israel but loses with Palestinians’: Analysts

  • Group ‘showed self-restraint in recent Gaza clashes, avoided prolonged war’

AMMAN: Long after the dust of the latest attack on Gaza has settled, the Hamas movement — the predominant power in the Gaza Strip — has yet to overcome the political fallout of its refusal to join fellow Islamic Jihad in retaliation against Israel.

Leading Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki told Arab News that Hamas failed to consider the arrest of Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader in Jenin Bassam Saadi a national threat requiring a military response from the Gaza Strip.

“But it seems Hamas did see the assassination of Islamic Jihad commander Tayseer Al-Jabari as a threat requiring a military response, but only a limited one. Yet even in response to the latter, Hamas held its guns while allowing Islamic Jihad to defend itself and bear the brunt of the Israeli war machine.”

Shikaki, a professor of political science and director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, told Arab News that Hamas’ decision was “wise, but it might cost it some popular support.”

Comments by Palestinian political activists and social media were not as kind to the Hamas movement, which has often attacked other figures and groups for their silence.

They compared the passive Hamas position to how the Ramallah leadership has behaved in order to protect some of the benefits of governing.

Jamal Dajani, former communications director of the Palestinian Prime Ministry, told Arab News that Hamas understood that the new Israeli leadership initiated the attack on Gaza for political gain.

“Hamas did not bite the bait and showed self-restraint avoiding a prolonged war causing more death and destruction,” he said.

Shikaki believes that both Egypt and Israel will value Hamas’ behavior and will reward the movement by providing greater economic facilities, allowing it to consolidate control over the Gaza Strip.

“Israel will hope that this will provide Hamas with the means to exert greater leverage over Islamic Jihad and ensure a long-term quietness,” said Shikaki.

BACKGROUND

Khalil Shikaki, a professor of political science and director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, said that Hamas’ decision was wise, but it might cost it some popular support.

“Ultimately, those in Israel who call for direct Israel-Hamas dialogue, particularly with the Israeli security sector, will gain more points and use this episode to prove that Hamas is not bound by ideology alone and that it is a pragmatic organization with whom Israel can make long-term deals.

“Internally, however, Islamic Jihad-Hamas relations might become tense. Hamas-Palestinian Authority relations might also worsen, as greater Hamas control over Gaza might create conditions in which the Ramallah leadership loses any prospects for a return to control the strip any time soon,” said Shikaki.

Zaha Hassan, a human rights lawyer and fellow with the Middle East Program at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Arab News that Hamas was always interested in showing itself to be the “real” resistance to Israeli occupation when the Fatah-led Palestinian government was standing by in escalations of violence, such as during May 2021.

“The latest bombardment by Israel in Gaza forced Hamas to stay on the sidelines not wanting to cause economic fallout that would invariably result in access restrictions.

“But if Hamas’ popularity has been based on it being the real resistance, particularly when Al-Aqsa is involved, keeping quiet during the march of hundreds of Israeli right-wing activists on the Haram Al-Sharif for the ‘temple’ destruction commemoration was not a good look for the organization.”

But Samar Muhareb, an Amman-based civil society activist and a close watcher of the Palestinian issue, took a different view.

Muhareb, executive director of the Amman-based Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development, said that what was important was to look at the gains of the resistance by Islamic Jihad.

She told Arab News that the cycle of violence in Gaza had been frustrating.

“Despite all the disappointments and losses, the resistance in Gaza came out with tangible accomplishments on the ground that will lead to change if Israel continues in its madness within the fragile ceasefire.”

By looking at the economic benefits, Ofer Salzberg, Middle East program director at the Herbert Kelman Institute for Conflict Transformation, told Arab News that Hamas’ decision was “more economic than ideological.”

He added: “Hamas choosing to stay out of the fighting provided a tailwind to the dominant recommendation of Israel’s defense officialdom: To strengthen the Gazan economy despite Hamas’ rule in order to defer wars.”


US envoy to Yemen visiting Saudi Arabia, other Gulf nations amid Houthi escalation in Shabwa

Updated 12 August 2022

US envoy to Yemen visiting Saudi Arabia, other Gulf nations amid Houthi escalation in Shabwa

  • Tim Lenderking’s regional tour is part of the intense diplomatic efforts to extend a UN-mediated truce in Yemen and bolster the peace process
  • He is also expected to rally support and funding for UN efforts to tackle the threat posed by the derelict Safer oil tanker, amid fears of an ecological disaster in the Red Sea

LONDON: The US special envoy for Yemen, Tim Lenderking, began a tour of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman on Aug. 11, and members of his team have traveled to Jordan, as part of intense diplomatic efforts to extend a UN-mediated truce in Yemen and bolster peace efforts.

“The special envoy and his team will focus on helping to meaningfully expand benefits of the truce to all Yemenis and pave the way for a permanent ceasefire and an inclusive, durable Yemeni-led resolution to the conflict,” the State Department said.

Lenderking will also discuss recent instability in Shabwa and the need for a return to calm after fighting intensified in the oil-rich, eastern province, and highlight the need for additional financial assistance for the Yemeni people.

“The United States has already provided over $1 billion in humanitarian aid this year alone, bringing our total contribution to the humanitarian response in Yemen to nearly $5 billion since the crisis began eight years ago,” the State Department said.

“We urge donors both to give generously and to make previous pledges immediately available for the sake of the people of Yemen.”

The head of the Yemeni Presidential Leadership Council, Rashad Al-Alimi, on Wednesday announced moves designed to quickly end sedition in Shabwa and hold to account those responsible.

He added that “the strife that occurred in Shabwa confirms the importance of rallying around the state,” according to a report by the official Yemeni news agency, Saba.

Lenderking is also expected to continue to rally support for UN efforts to raise awareness of the threat posed by the Safer oil tanker, and funding to address it. The vessel, which is moored in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen, holds more than 1.1 million barrels of oil and has had little or no maintenance carried out since the civil war began in late 2014. As a result, its condition has deteriorated to the point where there are fears of a major ecological disaster.

“With about $14 million unfunded and a UN-Houthi agreement to offload the oil to a temporary vessel, we are the closest we have ever been to addressing the threat posed by this derelict tanker,” Lenderking said.

“An oil spill would exacerbate the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, cause severe environmental damage, and impact global shipping and other economic activity.”

Meanwhile, the EU said it is very concerned about the recent violence in Shabwa and the reported loss of lives.

“The EU welcomes the efforts of President Rashad Al-Alimi and the PLC to deescalate the situation (in) Yemen,” it said.


UN rights chief sounds alarm at number of Palestinian children killed, condemns lack of accountability

Updated 12 August 2022

UN rights chief sounds alarm at number of Palestinian children killed, condemns lack of accountability

  • High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said a ‘climate of impunity’ is driving endless cycles of violence
  • So far this year 37 Palestinian children have been killed, including 19 during the intense fighting between Israel and Islamic Jihad last weekend

NEW YORK: The UN’s human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, on Thursday expressed alarm at the “unconscionable” number of Palestinian children who have been killed or injured this year, and called for all incidents to be thoroughly investigated.

The figures soared last weekend during intense fighting between Israeli authorities and the Islamic Jihad group, and subsequent Israeli enforcement operations in the West Bank.

In the past week alone, 19 Palestinian children were killed in the Occupied Territories, raising the death toll since the start of the year to 37.

“Inflicting hurt on any child during the course of conflict is deeply disturbing, and the killing and maiming of so many children this year is unconscionable,” said Bachelet, the UN’s high commissioner for human rights.

A number of Israeli military strikes hit “prima facie civilian objects,” she added, resulting in deaths and damage to infrastructure.

“International humanitarian law is clear,” she said. “Launching an attack which may be expected to incidentally kill or injure civilians, or damage civilian objects, in disproportionate manner to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated, is prohibited. Such attacks must stop.”

Bachelet also highlighted the violations of international humanitarian law by Palestinian armed groups who “launched hundreds of rockets and mortars in indiscriminate attacks, causing civilian casualties and damage to civilian objects in Israel as well as in Gaza.”

According to Israeli authorities, 70 Israelis were injured during the fighting.

While the ceasefire that halted the latest violent escalation in Gaza is holding, tensions remain extremely high in the West Bank, where four Palestinians were killed and 90 injured on Aug. 9 by shots fired by Israeli forces.

Among the fatalities was a 16-year-old boy shot by Israeli soldiers during an arrest raid in Nablus, which also left 76 people injured. Another 16-year-old boy was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint in Hebron after some Palestinians threw rocks and fireworks at them.

“The widespread use of live ammunition by Israeli forces in law enforcement operations across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in 2022 has led to an alarming increase in Palestinian fatalities,” Bachelet said.

So far this year, 74 Palestinians have been killed, many as a result of the use of lethal force by Israeli authorities in a manner described by the UN Human Rights Office in the Occupied Territories as a violation of international human rights law.

Bachelet called for “prompt, independent, impartial, thorough and transparent investigations” into all incidents in which any person is killed or injured.

“An almost total lack of accountability persists in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, whether for violations of international humanitarian law by all parties in hostilities in Gaza, or for recurring Israeli violations of international human rights law and the law of occupation in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, including incidents of unnecessary and disproportionate use of force,” she said.

“This climate of impunity, along with the long-standing violations, drives the cycle of violence and the recurrence of violations.

“The situation in Palestine is extremely fragile. The utmost restraint is necessary to prevent further bloodshed, including by ensuring that firearms are used strictly in compliance with international standards.”


Lebanese bank hostage situation ends after partial payout

Updated 15 min 17 sec ago

Lebanese bank hostage situation ends after partial payout

  • Civilians gather outside bank in support of gunman
  • Bank's lawyer claims efforts under way to reach a negotiated conclusion

Bystanders praised an armed customer who held bank staff hostage for hours on Thursday in Beirut because he could not access funds frozen after the country’s economic collapse.

The hostage situation in a bank in Lebanon’s capital ended after authorities agreed to grant the gunman partial access to his frozen funds in exchange for releasing all the hostages.

The suspect — 42-year-old Bassam Al-Sheikh Hussein — turned himself in when the bank agreed to give him $30,000 out of his more than $200,000 in trapped savings.

 

 

 

Al-Sheikh Hussein earlier took more than eight employees as hostages at Federal Bank in Hamra, Beirut.

He poured gasoline on the floor and pointed a shotgun at the employees, demanding to withdraw $2,000 from his frozen deposits, in accordance with the central bank circulars to all banks in 2019.

Army soldiers and officers from the Internal Security Forces surrounded the bank, which is situated on one of the busiest streets leading to the American University of Beirut and its medical center.

Negotiations began between the gunman and the bank’s management, first led by Hassan Mughnieh, the head of Lebanon’s Depositors Association.

They were later joined by the ISF’s information branch in the negotiations.

Caretaker Minister of Interior Bassam Mawlawi’s media office announced that he was following up the negotiations between the information branch and the Federal Bank from the ISF’s operations rooms.

Footage of Al-Sheikh Hussein first appeared on social media platforms, with the gunman shouting and demanding his cash deposit.

 

 

He told the bank employees that he wanted money to pay for medical bills for his father, who was receiving treatment in a hospital.

One of the bank employees filmed the scene, where the gunman was seen carrying a shotgun.

The depositor entered the bank around 11 a.m. and asked the bank’s clients to leave while keeping the employees and the bank’s branch manager Hassan Halawi inside the building.

Two clients remained inside by accident, and another employee was not detained as he was on duty outside the bank. The employee told Arab News that he was surprised to see the army and ISF surrounding the bank upon his return.

 

One of the detained clients was brought outside, where the Red Cross waited for him for medical aid if needed, while the other insisted on staying inside “in solidarity with the armed man.”

Mughnieh, who led the negotiations with the armed depositor, told Arab News that he was negotiating with him from behind the metal bars of the bank’s closed gate.

The armed man was very comfortable and was assured by the security agencies that he would not be harmed, said Mughnieh.

“He is sitting in a chair, and I do not know how he dares to smoke a cigarette near the gasoline.”

Mughnieh added that the depositor initially demanded to withdraw $2,000 to pay for his hospitalized father’s medical bills at the Al-Zahraa hospital.

Mughnieh said he had been following up with the bank’s manager who had reached out to the management, and offered him (the depositor) $10,000. However, the armed depositor rejected the offer and demanded to withdraw his entire $210,000 cash deposit.

 

“I do not know the armed man in person. However, while negotiating with him, his threats seemed serious as he told me that he will throw the bank manager out of the window. He did not harm the detainees,” Mughnieh added.

Curious onlookers first gathered near the bank, then were joined by the concerned families of the bank employees.

They were later joined by Al-Sheikh Hussein’s family in Beirut, who began negotiating for a settlement for him.

Mughnieh said: “The family wants a written undertaking that the ISF would not assault their son, and that they are ready to lower the demand and deduce a decent amount from the deposit.”

He said that the bank first suggested $10,000, and when the armed man insisted on withdrawing his entire deposit, there was no more contact between the bank manager and the central management.

 

 

Other depositors, citizens and lawyers gathered outside the bank, chanting in support of the armed depositor: “Down with the rule of the banks,” one of the slogans of 2019’s mass protests.

Activist lawyer Haytham Azzo told Arab News: “We are following up on the events and we had warned that this would be one of the unjust banking procedures’ implications. As lawyers, we are ready to defend Al-Sheikh Hassan for free.”

Azzo said the banks had compromised national security, which was proven by “what we are seeing today.”

He added: “We called upon withdrawing from deposits when necessary, and they refused.”

The head of the Federation of Syndicates of Banks Employees in Lebanon, George Al-Hajj, earlier said they wanted the incident to end peacefully.

“We will not resort to a strike because it would be useless.”

A statement from the Depositors Association held the bank owners, government, parliament and the central bank responsible for Thursday’s developments.

The association said that “the extortion of depositors and theft of their life savings will lead to further unpredictable responses.”

The association held the judicial authorities responsible for any violence on the streets or in the face of banks, due to its determination to protect the “unjust and aggressor against the oppressed depositor.”

The tense situation in Beirut occurred after Lebanese banks resumed work on Wednesday, following a strike last Monday, in protest against the judiciary’s treatment of banks, in light of the depositors’ proceedings against them.

In a general assembly on Wednesday, the Association of Banks in Lebanon called upon the establishment of a banking court, similar to the financial markets tribunal.

The association also demanded the acceleration of adopting legislation related to a recovery plan, noting demands from the International Monetary Fund.