Iran says US trying to violate sovereignty over unrest, warns of response

Iran has been rocked by nationwide demonstrations sparked by the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini, after she was detained by morality police enforcing the Islamic Republic’s strict restrictions on women’s dress. (File/AFP)
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Updated 26 September 2022
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Iran says US trying to violate sovereignty over unrest, warns of response

  • Iran has said the United States was supporting rioters and seeking to destablize the Islamic Republic

DUBAI: US attempts to violate Iran’s sovereignty over the issue of protests triggered by the death of a woman in police custody will not go unanswered, the foreign ministry said on Monday.
Iran has been rocked by nationwide demonstrations sparked by the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini, after she was detained by morality police enforcing the Islamic Republic’s strict restrictions on women’s dress.
The case has drawn international condemnation. Iran has said the United States was supporting rioters and seeking to destablize the Islamic Republic.
“Washington is always trying to weaken Iran’s stability and security although it has been unsuccessful,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani told Nour news, which is affiliated with a top security body, in a statement.


‘Become stronger’: Iranians urged to vote as Mideast tensions soar

Updated 26 February 2024
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‘Become stronger’: Iranians urged to vote as Mideast tensions soar

  • Voters in the Islamic republic will pick a new parliament for another four years

QOM,Iran: In the Iranian shrine city of Qom, huge street banners remind voters to head to the polls in Friday’s parliamentary elections, held as the Gaza war stokes Middle East tensions.

Voters in the Islamic republic will pick a new parliament for another four years, as well as members of the Assembly of Experts in charge of electing Iran’s supreme leader.

The vote comes amid a biting economic crisis and will be the first since Iran was rocked by nationwide protests over the death of Iranian Kurd Mahsa Amini, 22, after her arrest for allegedly violating the strict dress code for women.

Large posters around Qom — around 120 kilometers (75 miles) south of the capital Tehran — show Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in front of a ballot box, with a message urging people to vote in order for Iran “to become stronger.”

Islamic theology student Mohammad Jafari said he will heed the call, voicing hope that the election will strengthen Iran at a time its arch enemy Israel is fighting a devastating war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

“The elections will strengthen both the country’s internal and international standing,” said 27-year-old Jafari in Qom, a center of Shiite Muslim shrines and home to renowned religious scholars.

The Gaza war broke out after the unprecedented October 7 attack by Hamas militants claimed about 1,160 lives in Israel, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.

Israel’s military campaign has killed at least 29,782 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s Health Ministry.

Iran and Israel are bitter enemies, and Tehran has made support for the Palestinian cause a centerpiece of its foreign policy since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Iran has supported Hamas in the war, but denied any direct involvement in its attack, or in military action launched by allied armed groups in countries from Lebanon to Yemen.

To Jafari, it is important that “our enemies see that the government has the support of the people” to deter military threats against it.

Regional tensions have soared since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, also drawing in Iran-backed militant groups in Syria and Iraq.

Iran has repeatedly said it does not seek an “expansion” of conflict.

Rahbari, a 40-year-old housewife in Qom, said the elections are an opportunity to assert Iran’s “independence” and “neutralize all enemy plots.”

She said it is important to vote given “the events that are happening in the region and also the threats made by Iran’s enemies.”

Iran’s current parliament, elected in 2020, has been dominated by conservatives and ultra-conservatives after many reformists and moderates were disqualified.

The 2020 elections saw the lowest voter turnout since 1979 — while a recent poll conducted by Iran’s state television found that more than half of respondents were indifferent to the elections.

Jafari believes a low turnout this time would show Iran “is in the grip of unrest and divisions,” fearing this might prompt a “military attack” on its territory.

But for others in Iran, the war in Gaza is not a major concern.

Iran’s economy has been reeling under crippling US sanctions imposed over its contested nuclear program, and inflation in recent years has hovered near 50 percent.

The 88-member Assembly of Experts is tasked with electing, supervising and, if necessary, dismissing the supreme leader, who has the final say in all matters of state in Iran.

Khamenei, now 84, has held the post since 1989.

Former moderate president Hassan Rouhani has called on the people to vote “to protest against the ruling minority.”

Rouhani recently announced that he was barred from seeking reelection to the Assembly of Experts after 24 years of membership.

Meanwhile a coalition called the Reform Front has said it will not take part in “meaningless, non-competitive and ineffective elections.”

Majid Hosseini, a farmer visiting the Masoumeh shrine in Qom, insisted that the elections this year are particularly important.

“If we do not participate, all these 40 years of hard work will be lost,” the 79-year-old said, referring to the Islamic revolution of 1979.

Similarly, Mehdi Mousavi believes choosing the Assembly of Experts is especially significant.

The assembly is “the guarantor of preserving Islam,” said the 39-year-old Qom resident, noting that its members are “experts in the important religious issues.”


Could Houthi attacks on ships off the Yemen coast continue even after a Gaza ceasefire?

Updated 4 min 21 sec ago
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Could Houthi attacks on ships off the Yemen coast continue even after a Gaza ceasefire?

  • Militia says it is acting in solidarity with Palestinians, but it appears to be profiting in other ways
  • Security experts say current Western military response may be playing into the hands of Houthis

LONDON: The campaign of attacks by Yemen’s Houthi fighters on shipping in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden continues, despite renewed US and UK strikes on their positions, leading to fears about the long-term security of these strategically important waterways.

The persistence of the attacks has turned the spotlight on the Iran-backed militia as it appears to be gaining strength, in terms of weaponry and fighters, and confidence in its ability to cause global trade disruptions.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference last week, Rashad Al-Alimi, chair of the Presidential Leadership Council of the UN-backed Yemeni government, said the Houthis had irrevocably altered the region’s geopolitical contours.

“The Red Sea will continue to be a source of tension, ready to explode at any political turn, as long as the Houthis control coastal regions,” he added.

“To end Houthi piracy, we must address its origin and source. This can only be accomplished by restoring state institutions, ending the coup, and applying maximum pressure on Iran.”

The Houthi militia is part of the “axis of resistance,” a loose network of Iran-backed proxy militias throughout the region that includes the Palestinian militant group Hamas, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and several Shiite groups in Iraq.

When the Houthis began attacking commercial shipping in November, they claimed they were only targeting vessels with links to Israel in an attempt to pressure the Israeli government to end its military operation against Hamas in Gaza.

However, Houthi drones, missiles and acts of piracy have been launched against several ships with no ties to Israel. In fact, in recent weeks Yemeni ships, and even vessels belonging to Houthi-allied Iran, have come under attack.

According to a tally by the Associated Press news agency, the Houthis have carried out at least 57 attacks on commercial and military ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden since Nov. 19. US Central Command has even identified the use of a Houthi-operated submarine drone.

In response to these attacks, many of the world’s biggest freight companies have redirected their vessels from the Suez Canal route to the Mediterranean, thereby avoiding the Red Sea, and instead are using much longer and more expensive routes via the Cape of Good Hope.

Simon Evenett, founder of nonprofit organization the St. Gallen Endowment for Prosperity Through Trade, said that while shipping costs have risen, they are still “well below” their pandemic-era peaks. He also noted that some freight companies had simply continued to traverse the waterways of the Red Sea despite the risk of attack.

“The New York Fed’s index of Global Supply Chain Pressure has barely moved,” Evenett told Arab News. “Important as it is, just 11 percent of global trade flows through the Red Sea. This isn’t enough to disrupt the world economy.

“What’s harder to assess is whether yet more upheaval in trade routes further undermines policymakers’ and corporate trust in long-distance sourcing. A further nudge towards national and regional sourcing can be expected.”

To prevent disruption to trade, protect mariners and uphold the right to freedom of navigation, the US-led patrol mission, Operation Prosperity Guardian, was established in December. When the Houthi attacks persisted, the US and UK launched strikes against militia targets in Yemen.

In a joint statement on Feb. 24, the US and the UK said their military forces struck 18 Houthi sites across eight locations in Yemen, including underground weapons and missile storage facilities, air defense systems, radars and a helicopter.

The operation was the fourth time the US and UK had carried out joint attacks against the Houthis since Jan. 12. The US has also carried out almost daily operations against Houthi targets, including incoming missiles, rockets and drones targeting vessels.

These Western strikes have done little to stem the tide of attacks, however. On Feb. 19, the Houthis mounted one of their most damaging assaults yet, on the Belize-flagged Rubymar, carrying cargo from the UAE to Bulgaria, forcing its crew to abandon ship.

Indeed, far from curtailing the activities of the Houthis, their popularity in Yemen appears to have grown since the shipping attacks began, with thousands of recruits reportedly joining their ranks.

If its intent was to force a swift Houthi climbdown, the Western military response has so far borne little fruit. The Houthis seem only too keen to up the ante, with their leader Abdul Malik Al-Houthi stating “we will also attack with submarine weapons.”

However, in a message posted recently on social media platform X, the militia said: “What the world is impatiently waiting for is not the militarization of the Red Sea, but rather an urgent and comprehensive declaration of ceasefire in Gaza, for humanitarian reasons that are clear to anyone.

“There is no danger to international or European navigation so long as there are no aggressive operations, and thus, there is no need to militarize the Red Sea.”

Not everyone is convinced that securing a ceasefire in Gaza will end the Houthi attacks on shipping. Like Al-Alimi, those with such concerns want the international community to take the worst-case scenario more seriously and take preventive action now.

Raiman Al-Hamdani, a researcher at social enterprise organization Ark, agreed that attacks are likely to continue after the war, but in the form of piracy in a “push to monetize their presence” in the seas off the coast of Yemen.

“This could mean attacking commercial vessels in the future, albeit not to the extent that we are seeing today,” Al-Hamdani told Arab News, who also predicted the Houthis could begin demanding tolls from vessels passing through Bab Al-Mandab Strait in return for avoiding attacks.

Farea Al-Muslimi, a research fellow at Chatham House, likewise believes the Houthis have hit upon an opportunity to raise revenues from passing vessels.

“They will, of course, try to make deals and there are already countries that are looking for waivers,” Al-Muslimi told Arab News.

“But there are several problems with this, one of which is that were they to escalate the crisis in the Red Sea, it would not be safe for anyone.

“As you can see, they have already attacked ships linked to Yemen and vessels belonging to their own ally, Iran, so any escalation of this will not be a clean battle.”

Some countries, including regional states, have called for a more measured response to the attacks, rather than military action that might inflame tensions in the region.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry recently expressed “deep concern over the escalation of military operations in the Red Sea and the airstrikes that were directed at a number of sites in Yemen.” It called for a “united international and regional effort to reduce tension and instability in the region, including navigation security.”

It added: “The dangerous and escalating developments taking place are a clear indication of what we’ve repeatedly warned against regarding the dangers of expanding the conflict in the region as a result of the continued Israeli attacks in the Gaza Strip.”

Security experts have also said the military response might prove counterproductive, with concerns that it could play into the hands of the Houthis, who have sought to present themselves as defenders of Gaza who are standing up to Israel and its Western allies.

Al-Hamdani believes the attacks on shipping serve several purposes for the Houthis: to help recruit new followers, distract from domestic problems, burnish support among the population, and to strengthen the militia’s negotiating position in the ongoing Yemen peace process.

Al-Muslimi believes the Houthis have “already capitalized on it as much as they could politically,” suggesting the attacks will likely stop when the war in Gaza ends.

However, he said the regional calculus has changed as a result of the Houthi onslaught and the broader context in the region since the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas on southern Israel that sparked the conflict in Gaza, increasing the chances the Middle East could be plunged into a wider war.

The persistence of the attacks has turned the spotlight on the Iran-backed militia. (AP)
The persistence of the attacks has turned the spotlight on the Iran-backed militia. (AP)

“Nothing in the Middle East will be the same after Oct. 7, and this includes how the world views Yemen, how the world views the Red Sea,” said Al-Muslimi.

“That applies to everything and everywhere. That is how much of an influence it has had. That is how much it has spilled over.”


Two dead in Israeli raids on Baalbek

Updated 26 February 2024
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Two dead in Israeli raids on Baalbek

  • Hezbollah downs Israeli drone north of Litani Line
  • Mohammed Raad warns of ‘consequences’ if Israel ‘miscalculates their actions’ in Lebanon

BEIRUT: On Monday, the scope of the 142-day confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah Lebanon’s southern border expanded after Israeli warplanes raided two sites near the city of Baalbek.

The strikes on the city, deep in the Bekaa, killed two people and lead to numerous injuries among Hezbollah members, civilians, and Lebanese Armed Forces personnel.

A few hours later, an Israeli drone targeted a car in Al-Majadel plain in Tyre, southern Lebanon. Initial reports indicated that Hezbollah members were killed in the strike, but the identities of the victims are as yet unknown.

The raids, the first of their kind on an area west of the city of Baalbek, where Hezbollah centers are located, resulted in the deaths of Hussein Ali Younis, from Brital, and an as yet unnamed young man from the town of Chmistar.

Lebanese Army soldier Ali Fayyad Salem and his child, Joud, aged 4, were among four people injured.

The raids targeted two Hezbollah centers in the Adous plain in Bodai and in the town of Haouch Tall Safiyeh in the vicinity of Baalbek. Initial reports indicated that the two raids targeted “supply warehouses belonging to one of Hezbollah’s institutions.”

Locals shared pictures of smoke rising from the two sites on their mobile phones. A correspondent for Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV said that one of the two raids “targeted an empty, three-story building.”

Hezbollah confirmed in its initial position that “the Israeli strike on Baalbek will not go without a response.”

Israel Defense Forces spokesman Avichay Adraee said on social media that the IDF “will continue to protect Israel and operate in Lebanese airspace against Hezbollah.”

Adraee acknowledged that “warplanes launched raids on complexes used by Hezbollah’s air defense unit in the Bekaa, in response to the firing of surface-to-air missiles at a Zik drone.”

Meanwhile, Hezbollah downed an Israeli drone in the Iqlim Al-Tuffah area using a surface-to-air missile.

The escalation on Monday began with Hezbollah’s air defense unit shooting down the drone that had been flying for hours over the Nabatieh and Iqlim Al-Tuffah areas, north of the Litani Line.

Two consecutive explosions were heard around 8:45 a.m., and dozens of people managed to capture images on their phones of white smoke in the sky of Iqlim Al-Tuffah, followed by the drone catching fire before crashing into a forested area nearby.

Hezbollah announced in a statement that “the drone was a Hermes 450 and was targeted with a surface-to-air missile above the Iqlim Al-Tuffah area, and it was seen falling with the naked eye.”

Israeli media confirmed that “an Israeli settler was injured by missile fragments during the shelling of Shtula with an anti-tank missile fired from Lebanon.”

The use of Israeli drones to carry out assassinations inside Lebanon marked a dangerous turning point in the ongoing conflict.

Israel has flown Hermes 900 drones over Lebanon, which weighs 350 kg and has various capabilities like surveillance, intelligence gathering and target acquisition. The drone has a laser, flies at 30,000 feet, can stay airborne for 36 hours, scanning vast areas.

Hermes 450 drones, like that shot down on Monday, have also often been used. This drone is designed for long-term tactical operations in the IDF’s reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering units.

Another drone deployed in Lebanon on Monday afternoon over the south was the Heron TP. This drone is considered “dangerous” and has used to carry out most drone-based assassinations in Lebanon.

Mohammed Raad, the leader of the Hezbollah parliamentary bloc, warned Israel that they would face severe consequences if they “miscalculate their actions towards us in Lebanon.”

Raad stressed that “the enemy’s pain is what makes them overreact at times, but they still adhere to the boundaries of deterrence established by the resistance with a great deal of discipline.”

He stated that the battle against Israel in Lebanon is “a crucial and delicate one, with its own strategic considerations. The aim “is to prevent the enemy from achieving their objectives, while the enemy seeks to draw us into a broader conflict to their advantage, exploiting tyrannic international support. We intend to lure the enemy into a battle on our terms and for our benefit.”

 


Jordan’s King Abdullah warns of dangers of Israel’s planned Rafah assault

This picture shows President Mahmud Abbas (L) being welcomed by Jordan's King Abdullah II ahead of their meeting in Amman.
Updated 26 February 2024
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Jordan’s King Abdullah warns of dangers of Israel’s planned Rafah assault

  • King also said only way to end the decades-old conflict was to find a “political horizon” for Palestinians that would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state

AMMAN: Jordan’s King Abdullah warned on Monday of the dangers of a military operation planned by Israel in Rafah and reiterated his appeal for an immediate ceasefire to help protect civilians in Gaza and bring in aid, the royal palace said.
The king also said the only way to end the decades-old conflict was to find a “political horizon” for Palestinians that would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state on territory Israel occupied in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, including east Jerusalem.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier this week the Israeli security cabinet would approve military plans for Rafah — including the evacuation of more than a million displaced Palestinian civilians who have been sheltering there, and whose fate worries world powers.
Almost 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war, Gaza medical officials say. The Hamas raid of Oct. 7 killed 1,200 people in Israel, which has also lost 241 soldiers in Gaza ground fighting that followed, according to official tallies.
The Jordanian army also arranged on Monday the biggest air drop operation so far to deliver aid to Gaza where the mostly displaced population of 2.3 million is facing crisis levels of hunger, an army statement said.
The operation deployed four C-130 planes including one belonging to the French air force, army spokesperson Mustafa Hiyari said.
Aid was dropped to 11 sites along the Gaza coast from its northern edge to the south for civilians to collect, Hiyari told Reuters. Previous air drops that parachuted in medicines and humanitarian provisions were sent to hospitals the Jordanian army runs in Gaza.


IAEA increasingly concerned over Iran’s nuclear weapon capability

In recent years, Iran has gradually decreased its cooperation with the IAEA by deactivating surveillance devices.
Updated 26 February 2024
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IAEA increasingly concerned over Iran’s nuclear weapon capability

  • Grossi reiterated his call on Tehran to “cooperate fully and unambiguously with the agency”
  • Iran has significantly ramped up its nuclear program and now has enough material to build several atomic bombs

VIENNA: The UN nuclear watchdog has voiced growing concern over Iran’s ability to build nuclear weapons, fueled by public statements in the country, a confidential report seen by AFP on Monday said.
Tensions between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have repeatedly flared up since a 2015 deal curbing Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanction relief fell apart.
In the report, IAEA head Rafael Grossi said that “public statements made in Iran regarding its technical capabilities to produce nuclear weapons only increase the director general’s concerns about the correctness and completeness of Iran’s safeguards declarations.”
In recent years, Iran has gradually decreased its cooperation with the IAEA by deactivating surveillance devices needed to the nuclear program and barring inspectors among other measures.
Grossi reiterated his call on Tehran to “cooperate fully and unambiguously with the agency,” as relations between the two parties have been steadily deteriorating.
“Only through constructive and meaningful engagement can these concerns be addressed,” Grossi said in a confidential quarterly report.
While Tehran denies seeking to acquire a nuclear weapons, some politicians and officials have made concerning statements about the country’s technical capabilities, a diplomatic source said.
At the same time, Iran has significantly ramped up its nuclear program and now has enough material to build several atomic bombs.
In a separate confidential report seen by AFP ahead of an IAEA board of governors’ meeting next week, the agency said that Iran’s estimated stockpile of enriched uranium had reached 27 times the limit set out in the 2015 accord.
Iran’s total enriched uranium stockpile was estimated at 5,525.5 kilogrammes as of February 10, up by 1,038.7 kilogrammes from October, the report said.
Nuclear weapons require uranium enriched to 90 percent, while 3.67 percent set out in the deal is enough for nuclear power stations.
According to the report, Iran has 712.2 kilogrammes of uranium enriched at up to 20 percent and 121.5 kilogrammes at up to 60 percent.
EU-mediated efforts to revive the deal — bringing the US back on board and Iran back into compliance — have so far been fruitless.
Grossi also “deeply regrets” that Iran has not yet reversed its decision to ban several of its inspectors.
Iran in September withdrew the accreditation of several inspectors, a move Teheran described as retaliation for “political abuses” by the United States, France, Germany and Britain.
The IAEA has condemned the move — which targets eight top inspectors, with French and German nationals among them, according to a diplomatic source.
Iran’s “unprecedented” move has “directly and seriously affected” the UN body’s work.
Faced with increased criticism, the Iranian government announced last week that it had invited Grossi to come to Tehran in May for an international conference on energy.