Pentagon says Poland’s jet offer for Ukraine ‘not tenable’

Two Polish Air Force Russian made Mig 29's fly above and below two Polish Air Force US made F-16's fighter jets during the Air Show in Radom, Poland. (AP/File)
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Updated 09 March 2022
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Pentagon says Poland’s jet offer for Ukraine ‘not tenable’

  • Poland’s decision to publicly float its plan came the day before Vice President Kamala Harris was scheduled to depart for Warsaw for talks with Polish officials

WARSAW, Poland: The Pentagon on Tuesday rejected Poland’s offer to give the United States its MiG-29 fighter jets for use by Ukraine, in a rare public display of disharmony by NATO allies seeking to boost Ukrainian fighters while avoiding getting caught up in a wider war with Russia.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Poland’s proposal earlier Tuesday to deliver the jets to the US Ramstein Air Base in Germany raised the concerning prospect of jets departing from a US and NATO base to fly into airspace contested with Russia in the Ukraine war.
“We will continue to consult with Poland and our other NATO allies about this issue and the difficult logistical challenges it presents, but we do not believe Poland’s proposal is a tenable one,” Kirby said in a statement.
“It is simply not clear to us that there is a substantive rationale for it,” he said.
Any decision to provide the MiGs would be a morale booster for Ukraine as Russian attacks on its cities deepen the humanitarian catastrophe. But it also would raise the risks of a wider war.
One senior US diplomat said Poland’s announcement came as a surprise.
“To my knowledge, it wasn’t pre-consulted with us that they plan to get these planes to us,” said US Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland, who told lawmakers she learned of the proposal as she was driving to testify about the Ukraine crisis before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Ukraine has been pleading for more warplanes and Washington has been looking at a proposal under which Poland would supply Ukraine with the Mig29s and in turn receive American F-16s to make up for their loss. Ukrainian pilots are trained to fly the Soviet-era fighter jets.
The Polish Foreign Ministry announced the plan in a statement, which said the jets would be delivered to Ramstein free of charge.
“At the same time, Poland requests the United States to provide us with used aircraft with corresponding operational capabilities,” it said.
The Polish government also appealed to other owners of MIG-29 jets to follow suit.
Former Soviet-bloc NATO members Bulgaria and Slovakia also still have Soviet-made fighter jets in their air forces.
Poland’s decision to publicly float its plan came the day before Vice President Kamala Harris was scheduled to depart for Warsaw for talks with Polish officials. The disconnect is likely to cast an awkward layer to the talks, which were expected to focus largely on US efforts to help Poland and other eastern European nations that have taken in some 2 million refugees since the war started less than two weeks ago.
The handover of Poland’s 28 Soviet-made MiG-29s would signal Western resolve to do more to deter Russia. Militarily, it would be unlikely to be a game-changer. The number of aircraft is relatively small. The MiG-29s also are inferior to more sophisticated Russian aircraft and could be easy prey for Russian pilots and Russian missiles.
Russia has warned that supporting Ukraine’s air force would be seen in Moscow as participating in the conflict and open up suppliers to possible retaliation.
It would also weaken Poland’s own air force at a time of heightened danger in Eastern Europe.
A transfer of the MiGs to Ukraine is fraught with complications as neither NATO nor the European Union want to be seen as directly involved in the transaction, which will significantly raise already extreme tensions with Russia. The US has no plan to directly transfer the planes to Ukraine.
In order to maintain the pretense that NATO and the EU are not direct participants in the Ukraine conflict, US and Polish officials have been considering a variety of options. One begins with the “donation” of Poland’s MiGs to the United States, as Poland announced on Tuesday.
Under one scenario that has been floated, Poland would deliver the fighter jets to the US base in Germany, where they would be repainted and flown to a non-NATO, non-European Union country. Ukrainian pilots would then come to fly them to Ukraine, under that proposal.
No country has been publicly identified as a transit point, but Kosovo, a non-aligned country that is very friendly with the United States, has been mentioned as one of several nations that might be willing to serve as a middleman.
Poland had been asking for the US to provide it with F-16 fighter jets to replace the MiGs.
F-16 production is backlogged, however, and the next recipient in line for new deliveries is Taiwan, which is facing renewed threats from China and has strong support from both parties in Congress.
In its statement, the Polish government specifically asked for “used” planes, a distinction that would allow the Biden administration to bypass congressional opposition to making Taiwan wait to receive its F-16s.
Earlier Tuesday, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said his country would stand by Poland if it handed over the jets, noting that it could face the “direct consequence” of its decision.
“And so we would protect Poland, we’ll help them with anything that they need,” Wallace said on Sky News.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said any decision about delivering offensive weapons must be made unanimously by NATO members.
“This is why we are able to give all of our fleet of jet fighters to Ramstein, but we are not ready to make any moves on our own because ... we are not a party to this war,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that he believed the aid that Congress hopes to approve later this week for Ukraine will include loan guarantees to help NATO allies replenish their air forces after giving MiGs to Ukraine.


Indonesia denies reports of recognizing Israel, vows to stay at forefront defending Palestine

Updated 12 April 2024
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Indonesia denies reports of recognizing Israel, vows to stay at forefront defending Palestine

  • Establishing ties with Israel would be ‘political suicide’ for Indonesian leadership, analyst says
  • Israeli media reports claim Jakarta has begun OECD-brokered talks with Tel Aviv

JAKARTA: Jakarta has denied plans to establish diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv, following viral Israeli media reports claiming it was part of a deal to smooth Indonesia’s entry into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Indonesia is the first Southeast Asian nation to apply for the membership of the 38-nation forum. Accession talks began in February, but according to local Israeli media were objected to by Tel Aviv over the lack of diplomatic ties with Jakarta.

Countries need unanimous approval from all OECD members, including Israel, to join the bloc.

Citing anonymous sources, the Israeli media reports claimed that Indonesia had started OECD-brokered talks with Israel, which in exchange for recognition would agree to the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation joining the group.

However, the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected the claims.

“There are no plans to open diplomatic ties with Israel, especially in the wake of Israel’s atrocities in Gaza. Indonesia’s stance has not changed, and we remain consistent in supporting Palestine’s independence within the framework of the two-state solution,” Lalu Muhamad Iqbal, the ministry’s spokesperson, told reporters late on Thursday.

“Indonesia will always be consistent and at the forefront of defending the rights of the Palestinian people.”

One of the staunchest supporters of Palestine, the Indonesian government has repeatedly called for an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and for a two-state solution based on pre-1967 borders.

Since the beginning of Israel’s deadly invasion of Gaza in October, Jakarta has also been vocal on the international stage, demanding an end to military support and weapons sales to Tel Aviv.

In January, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi called on the UN Security Council to make no exceptions in upholding international law, and to bring Israel to account over mass killing and atrocities.

Israeli ground and air attacks have in the past six months have killed at least 33,400 Palestinian citizens, almost half of them children. Over 70,000 have been injured, mutilated or disabled by the strikes, while thousands remain missing under the rubble.

The Israeli military has also levelled large parts of Gaza, destroyed most of its civilian and medical infrastructure, and blocked water, food and aid supplies to the territory, bringing its more than 2 million inhabitants to the brink of famine.

Since the beginning of the onslaught, mass public protests in support of Palestine have taken place frequently in Indonesia, where people see Palestinian independence as mandated by their own constitution, which calls for the abolition of colonialism.

“If the government takes the opposite step by recognizing the state of Israel and tolerating colonialism and oppression, that will cause political suicide, given that such a thing would lead to political delegitimization and loss of public trust,” Airlangga Pribadi Kusman, a political science lecturer at Airlangga University in Surabaya, told Arab News.

“The current and future Indonesian government should continue its policy of supporting Palestinian independence as has been the commitment of previous governments.”


Indonesia denies reports of recognizing Israel, vows to stay at forefront defending Palestine

Updated 12 April 2024
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Indonesia denies reports of recognizing Israel, vows to stay at forefront defending Palestine

  • Establishing ties with Israel would mean ‘political suicide’ for Indonesian leadership
  • Israeli media reports claim Indonesia has started OECD-brokered talks with Tel Aviv

JAKARTA: Jakarta has denied plans to establish diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv, following viral Israeli media reports claiming it was part of a deal to smooth Indonesia’s entry into the Organization for Economic Cooperation.

Indonesia is the first Southeast Asian nation to apply for the membership of the 38-nation forum. Accession talks began in February but, according to local Israeli media, were objected to by Tel Aviv over the lack of diplomatic ties with Jakarta.

Countries need unanimous approval from all OECD members, including Israel, to join the bloc.

Citing anonymous sources, the Israeli media reports claimed that Indonesia had started OECD-brokered talks with Israel, which in exchange for recognition would give its nod for the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation to join the group.

The Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs debunked the claims.

“There are no plans to open diplomatic ties with Israel, especially in the wake of Israel’s atrocities in Gaza. Indonesia’s stance has not changed, and we remain consistent in supporting Palestine’s independence within the framework of the two-state solution,” Lalu Muhamad Iqbal, the ministry’s spokesperson, told reporters Thursday evening.

“Indonesia will always be consistent and at the forefront of defending the rights of the Palestinian people.”

One of the staunchest supporters of Palestine, the Indonesian government has repeatedly called for an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and for a two-state solution based on pre-1967 borders.

Since the beginning of Israel’s deadly invasion of Gaza in October, it has also been vocal on the international stage, demanding a stop to military support and weapons sales to Tel Aviv.

In January, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi called on the UN Security Council to make no exceptions in upholding international law and to bring Israel to accountability over mass killing and atrocities.

Israeli ground and air attacks have in the past six months killed at least 33,400 Palestinian citizens — nearly half of them children. Over 70,000 have been injured, mutilated and disabled by the strikes, while thousands of others remain missing under the rubble.

The Israeli military has also levelled large parts of Gaza, destroyed most of its civilian and medical infrastructure, and blocked water, food and aid supplies to the territory, bringing its more than 2 million inhabitants to the verge of famine.

Since the beginning of the onslaught, mass public protests in support of Palestine have been regular in Indonesia, where the people see Palestinian independence as mandated by their own constitution, which calls for the abolition of colonialism.

“If the government takes the opposite step by recognizing the state of Israel and tolerating colonialism and oppression, that will cause political suicide, given that such a thing would lead to political delegitimization and loss of public trust,” Dr. Airlangga Pribadi Kusman, political science lecturer at Airlangga University in Surabaya, told Arab News.

“The current and future Indonesian government should continue its policy of supporting Palestinian independence as has been the commitment of previous governments.”

 


EU, Britain and Spain to hold more talks on post-Brexit status of Gibraltar

Updated 12 April 2024
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EU, Britain and Spain to hold more talks on post-Brexit status of Gibraltar

  • The two ministers will hold talks with European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic in Brussels
  • All sides are eager to clinch a deal before European elections in June

MADRID: British and Spanish foreign ministers will meet Friday with a top European Commission official for another round of negotiations over the status of the disputed territory of Gibraltar following Britain’s exit from the European Union.
The two ministers will hold talks with European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic in Brussels. Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo will also attend.
Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares said that while the meeting with his British counterpart David Cameron “may not be the final day,” he was optimistic of an agreement “as soon as possible.”
“These are complex, technical issues, and then we will have to draft a whole set of documents, but we are already close to reaching an agreement on the general political lines,” Albares told Spain’s Onda Cero radio on Thursday.
All sides are eager to clinch a deal before European elections in June.
Britain left the European Union in 2020 with the relationship between Gibraltar and the bloc unresolved. Talks on a deal to ensure people and goods can keep flowing over the Gibraltar-Spain border have made halting progress during 18 rounds of negotiations, but UK officials have recently expressed optimism about reaching a deal.
In Britain’s 2016 Brexit referendum, 96 percent of voters in Gibraltar supported remaining in the EU. The tiny territory on Spain’s southern tip depends greatly on access to the EU market for its 34,000 inhabitants.
Gibraltar was ceded to Britain in 1713, but Spain has maintained its sovereignty claim ever since. Relations concerning the Rock, as it is popularly referred to in English, have had their ups and down over the centuries.
British Foreign Office Minister David Rutley said last month that “while negotiations have been technically and politically complex, significant progress has been made.”
A major sticking point has been who controls Gibraltar’s airport, which under the proposed free-movement deal would be an external border of the EU. The UK and Gibraltar have resisted Spain’s insistence that Spanish border officials be based at the airport, which is also home to a Royal Air Force base.
The British Foreign Office said in a statement Thursday that while it is “not expecting this meeting to reach a final agreement, getting senior political figures from the UK, European Commission, Spain and Gibraltar in one room is significant.”


Teaching refugee women from Pakistan, other states to drive goes farther than destination

Updated 12 April 2024
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Teaching refugee women from Pakistan, other states to drive goes farther than destination

  • Students sign up for driving program through Ethaar, an Atlanta-area nonprofit organization that aids refugee families resettlement
  • US government gives refugee families up to 12 months of financial, medical assistance, so there is limited time to become autonomous

STONE MOUNTAIN: In a large, empty parking lot outside Atlanta, one car slowly careened around parking spaces. From the passenger seat, driving instructor Nancy Gobran peered over large sunglasses at her student, a 30-year-old Syrian refugee woman who was driving for one of the first times in her life.

“Turn the wheel and then accelerate,” Gobran, the owner of Safety Driving School, said softly in Arabic. Gripping the wheel tightly, the student cautiously rounded the corners of the parking lot for nearly an hour.

Gobran has been working for nearly five years with a program called Women Behind the Wheel, which offers 14 hours of free drivers’ education to mostly refugee and immigrant women. Many of the women who enroll come from countries that discourage women from driving or working outside their home.

It’s not a new concept, but Women Behind the Wheel is unique to Georgia. Similar programs exist across the country, such as Refugee Women Rising in Omaha, Nebraska, which offers driver’s education, seat belt safety and car seat installation help, and Driving Opportunity in Denver, which offers classroom and road instruction to refugee women.

“Helping a lot of refugees is not easy,” Gobran said. “At the beginning, it’s kind of awkward for some people for their first time being behind the wheel, but by the end of the program, they gained the benefit they’ve been looking for.”

Students sign up for the driving program through Ethaar, an Atlanta-area nonprofit organization that aids refugee families through their resettlement. Its name is an Arabic word meaning altruism and affection.

Ethaar co-founder Mona Megahed said she started Women Behind the Wheel to fill a glaring need many refugee families have that partially stem from cultural differences.

“We named it Women Behind the Wheel for a reason,” Megahed said. “We really wanted to empower our female clients. A lot of these women were struggling because they were fully dependent on their spouses.”

She noted some husbands held beliefs from their home countries that their wives shouldn’t drive or work.

“We quickly explained, well, you can’t really provide if you’re making minimum wage and you have six mouths to feed in addition to helping with your wife,” Megahed said. “So she also needs to kind of learn how to drive and find a job and get out there.”

The stress can be compounded for families in metro Atlanta, where many people rely on cars to get around. Most of the refugee families Ethaar works with settle in Clarkston, a suburb 15 miles (24 kilometers) northeast of Atlanta.

“Most of the time because of lack of access to transportation, it’s hard for them to get to their jobs,” said Sarah Karim, Ethaar’s executive director. “It’s hard for them to go study anywhere except for what is close by, and there aren’t that many options, unfortunately.”

Their clientele depends on the shifting global landscape and conflicts, Karim said.

“Lately, we’ve observed various nationalities among our clients, including families and individuals from Afghanistan, Burma, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Pakistan, Iraq, and Eritrea,” Karim said.

So far, there have been 230 graduates of the program, including a few men. The driving program typically has a three-to-four-month waitlist because of the demand. The US government gives refugee families up to 12 months of financial and medical assistance, so there is limited time to become autonomous.

“The point is for every refugee to reach self-sufficiency or self-reliance,” said Dorian Crosby, a Spelman College professor who is an expert in refugee migration.

“Learning how to drive and getting access to a license is critical to refugee women reaching that level of self-reliance,” Crosby said. “It’s not just to meet the government regulations of the cutoff, but they now can sustain themselves. It is also such an emotional boost.”

Instructors like Gobran are fluent in Arabic, which makes students more comfortable. She watched her client slowly gain confidence over her hourlong session. A smile crept across her face. A month later, her student passed her driving test.

“This is their new home, and they have to understand how this country works,” Gobran said. “It starts with the very little thing as driving to build a future.”


Argentina court blames ‘terrorist state’ Iran for 1990s attacks

Updated 12 April 2024
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Argentina court blames ‘terrorist state’ Iran for 1990s attacks

  • Court found that Iran ordered the bomb attacks on Israel’s embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992 and on the AMIA Jewish center in 1994
  • The embassy blast killed 29 and the AMIA Jewish Center bombing left 85 dead and 300 injured
  • Prosecutors charged top Iranian officials with ordering the attacks. Tehran has denied any involvement

BUENOS AIRES: Over three decades after deadly attacks in Buenos Aires targeted Israel’s embassy and a Jewish center, an Argentine court placed the blame Thursday on Iran and declared it a “terrorist state,” according to local media.

The ruling, cited by press reports, said Iran had ordered the attack in 1992 on Israel’s embassy and the 1994 attack on the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) Jewish center.
The court also implicated the Iran-backed Shiite movement Hezbollah and called the attack against the AMIA — the deadliest in Argentina’s history — a “crime against humanity,” according to court documents cited by media reports.
“Hezbollah carried out an operation that responded to a political, ideological and revolutionary design under the mandate of a government, of a State,” Carlos Mahiques, one of the three judges who issued the decision, told Radio Con Vos, referencing Iran.
In 1992, a bomb attack on the Israeli embassy left 29 dead. Two years later, a truck loaded with explosives drove into the AMIA Jewish center and detonated, leaving 85 dead and 300 injured.
The 1994 assault has never been claimed or solved, but Argentina and Israel have long suspected Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah group carried it out at Iran’s request.
Prosecutors charged top Iranian officials with ordering the attack. Tehran has denied any involvement.
Argentina has the largest Jewish community in Latin America, with some 300,000 members.
It also is home to immigrant communities from the Middle East — from Syria and Lebanon in particular.
The judges ruled Thursday that the AMIA attack was a crime against humanity, and put blame on then-president Ali Akbar Hashemi Bahramaie Rafsanjani as well as other Iranian officials and Hezbollah members.
The decision was welcomed by the president of the Delegation of Israelite Associations of Argentina (DAIA), Jorge Knoblovits.
He told Radio Mitre the ruling “is very important, because it enables the victims to go to the International Criminal Court.”
Former Argentine president Carlos Menem, who died in 2021 and was the president at the time of both attacks, was tried for covering up the AMIA bombing, but ultimately acquitted.
His former intelligence chief Hugo Anzorreguy was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in jail for his role in obstructing the probe.
He was among some dozen defendants who faced a slew of corruption and obstruction of justice charges in the case, including the former judge who led the investigation into the attack, Juan Jose Galeano, who in 2019 was jailed for six years for concealment and violation of evidence.