US, Russia gave Israel green light to strike Iran in Syria, Iraq

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Report: US, Russia gave Israel green light to strike Iran in Syria, Iraq

Under alleged agreement, Jerusalem allowed to conduct attacks against Iranian threats in Middle East, but can’t publicly acknowledge them

Explosions at an arms depot of a Shiite militia group in Iraq, August 20, 2019 (video screenshot)

Explosions at an arms depot of a Shiite militia group in Iraq, August 20, 2019 (video screenshot)

Israel has conducted several strikes on Iranian-controlled bases in Syria and Iraq in recent weeks with permission from the United States and Russia, a Western diplomatic source told a Saudi-owned newspaper Wednesday.

Moscow and Washington agreed that the Jewish state could conduct these attacks on Iranian targets in order to “ensure Israel’s security,” the source told the London-based Arabic-language Asharq Al-Awsat.

In recent weeks, a number of explosions have been reported in Iraqi military installations connected to pro-Iranian Shiite militias, including on Tuesday night in an arms depot north of Baghdad.

As part of the reported agreement, Israel would not publicly acknowledge carrying out the strikes. However, this has not prevented Israeli officials from hinting at their involvement in these attacks.

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Asked about Tuesday night’s blast at the pro-Iranian militia base, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israeli reporters, “Iran has no immunity, anywhere… We will act — and currently are acting — against them, wherever it is necessary.”

The explosions have occurred in bases and warehouses belonging to militia groups under the umbrella of the mainly Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). The state-sanctioned PMF militias have fought alongside Iraq’s regular armed forces against the Islamic State group.

Iraqi MP Karim Alaiwi told pro-Hezbollah Lebanese network al-Mayadeen on Wednesday that evidence pointed to Israel being behind recent attacks on Shiite militias, adding that the Jewish state was trying to weaken the PMF.

Alaiwi said American forces controlled Iraqi airspace and reasoned that no one could be conducting airstrikes without US knowledge.

The Iraqi Civil Defense said in a statement that Tuesday’s blast occurred near Balad air base, one of the country’s largest. A Shiite militia group is stationed nearby.

Iraqi security forces’ vehicles are seen at the delivery ceremony of four new US- made F-16 fighter jets at Balad air base, 75 kilometers (45 miles) north of Baghdad, Iraq, July 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

The officials who confirmed the explosion spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. They said the blast occurred in a depot belonging to the PMF and that an investigation was underway.

The mysterious blasts have given rise to a host of theories, including that Israel may have conducted airstrikes.

No one has claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s blast or other recent explosions.

In July, an explosion took place at a PMF base in Amirli, in Iraq’s northern Salaheddin province, killing two Iranians and causing a huge fire.

Last week, a massive explosion was also reported at the al-Saqr military base.

Israel has struck Iranian bases in neighboring Syria on numerous occasions, and there has been speculation that it might be expanding its campaign to target Iranian bases in  Iraq. However, neither the Iraqi government nor Israel has addressed the reports.

Satellite photo of a weapons depot in southern Baghdad controlled by a pro-Iranian militia that was hit in an alleged Israeli operation on August 12, 2019. (ImageSat International)

Israeli officials have identified Iraq as a likely growing base of operations for Iran-backed efforts against the Jewish state. But Israeli officials have so far neither confirmed nor denied responsibility for the strikes.

Raphael Ahren, AP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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Iran: Grace 1 Tanker Raises Iranian Flag, Changes Name to ‘Adrian Darya-1’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Grace 1 Tanker Raises Iranian Flag, Changes Name to ‘Adrian Darya-1’

Sunday, 18 August, 2019 – 11:15
A view of the Iranian tanker as it stands off the coast of the British territory of Gibraltar, Friday August 16, 2019. (AP)
Asharq Al-Awsat
An Iranian tanker caught in a stand-off between Tehran and the West has raised an Iranian flag and has had a new name painted on its side, Reuters images of the stationary vessel filmed off Gibraltar showed on Sunday.

British Royal Marines seized the vessel in Gibraltar in July on suspicion that it was carrying oil to Syria, a close ally of Iran, in violation of European Union sanctions.

Video footage and photographs showed the tanker flying the red, green and white flag of Iran and bearing the new name of “Adrian Darya-1” painted in white on its hull. Its previous name, “Grace 1”, had been painted over.

The vessel’s anchor was still down.

The Grace 1 had originally flown the Panamian flag but Panama’s Maritime Authority said in July that the vessel had been de-listed after an alert that indicated the ship had participated in or was linked to terrorism financing.

Gibraltar lifted a detention order on the vessel on Thursday but its fate was further complicated by the United States, which made a last-ditch legal appeal to hold it.

The initial impounding of the Grace 1 kicked off a sequence of events that saw Tehran seize a British-flagged oil tanker in the Gulf two weeks later, heightening tension on a vital international oil shipping route.

That tanker, the Stena Impero, is still detained.

The two vessels have since become pawns in a bigger game, feeding into wider hostilities since the United States last year pulled out of an international agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program, and reimposed economic sanctions.

Iran: Zarif: US Turning Gulf Region into ‘Tinderbox’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Zarif: US Turning Gulf Region into ‘Tinderbox’

Monday, 12 August, 2019 – 11:30
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif arrives for a meeting at United Nations Headquarters in the Manhattan borough of New York, US, July 18, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Asharq Al-Awsat
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the United States in a television interview on Monday of turning the Gulf region into a “matchbox ready to ignite.”

Oil tanker traffic passing through the Gulf via the Strait of Hormuz has become the focus of a US-Iranian standoff since Washington pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and reimposed sanctions to strangle Tehran’s oil exports.

After explosions that damaged six tankers in May and June and Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged tanker in July, the United States launched a maritime security mission in the Gulf, joined by Britain, to protect merchant vessels.

According to Reuters, Zarif said in the interview that the Strait “is narrow, it will become less safe as foreign (navy) vessels increase their presence in it”.

“The region has become a matchbox ready to ignite because America and its allies are flooding it with weapons,” he said.

Last month, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized the British tanker, Stena Impero near the Strait for alleged marine violations, two weeks after Britain seized an Iranian oil tanker near Gibraltar, accusing it of violating sanctions on Syria.

The tanker dispute has tangled Britain in the diplomatic dispute between the EU’s big powers – which want to preserve the Iran nuclear deal – and the United States which has pushed for a tougher policy on Iran.

Also Monday, Iranian Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri charged that Washington’s unilateralist policies and its emphasis on sanctions threaten the stability of the region.

He was speaking at an economic forum hosted by Turkmenistan.

UN: 40 Killed, 260 Wounded in Clashes in Yemen’s Aden

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT) 

 

UN: 40 Killed, 260 Wounded in Clashes in Yemen’s Aden

Sunday, 11 August, 2019 – 11:45
A member of the southern separatist movement rides an armored military vehicle in Yemen’s government-held second city Aden on August 11, 2019, following clashes between pro-government forces and separatists. – AFP photo
Asharq Al-Awsat
As many as 40 people have been killed and 260 injured in Yemen’s southern port city of Aden since Aug. 8, when the latest round of fighting broke out, the office of the United Nations’ humanitarian coordinator for the country said in a statement on Sunday, citing preliminary reports.

“It is heart-breaking that during Eid al-Adha, families are mourning the death of their loved ones instead of celebrating together in peace and harmony,” UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen Lise Grande said, AFP reported.

“Our main concern right now is to dispatch medical teams to rescue the injured,” she noted.

“We are also very worried by reports that civilians trapped in their homes are running out of food and water,” Grande added.

“Families need to be able to move freely and safely to secure the things they need to survive.”

Grande further called on authorities to guarantee “unimpeded access” for humanitarian organizations.

Israel: Hamas: Hezbollah and Iran will join war if Israel tries to ‘break resistance’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Hamas: Hezbollah and Iran will join war if Israel tries to ‘break resistance’

Official from Gaza-based Palestinian terrorist group tells Lebanese paper of understandings reached in Tehran meeting last month

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, right, meets Hamas deputy chief, Saleh al-Arouri, second right, and the Hamas delegation, in Tehran, Iran, July 22, 2019. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, right, meets Hamas deputy chief, Saleh al-Arouri, second right, and the Hamas delegation, in Tehran, Iran, July 22, 2019. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

An official with Palestinian terror group Hamas on Saturday told a Lebanese newspaper that in the next major conflagration, should the Gaza rulers feel that Israel is trying to “break” the group, its regional allies will join forces with Hamas.

This was one of the understandings reached between Hamas and Iran during a high-level meeting last month in Tehran, the pro-Hezbollah Lebanese paper al-Akhbar reported (in Arabic) on Saturday.

“If the Israeli enemy launches aggression against the Gaza Strip, and we estimate that it is a confined battle that will not develop into a war to break us, we will face it alone,” the official was quoted by the paper as saying.

“But if the enemy [Israel] tries to break the resistance, the rest of the axis will join the battle,” he went on, in reference to Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah.

The Islamic Republic is a longtime financial supporter of Hamas’s armed wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, sworn to Israel’s destruction, and the al-Quds Brigades, Islamic Jihad’s military branch. Iran also funds Hezbollah, which is similarly sworn to Israel’s annihilation.

In the July meeting between nine senior Hamas officials — including Saleh al-Arouri, the deputy chief of the Hamas politburo, and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — Iran agreed to massively increase its monthly payments to the terror group in exchange for intelligence on Israeli missile capabilities, Israel’s Channel 12 reported earlier this month.

Tehran expressed willingness to raise its monthly financial backing to the terror group to an unprecedented $30 million per month, according to the report citing an unnamed Arab source.

That will represent a massive increase in Iranian support for the Gaza rulers. A report by the Ynet news site from August 2018, citing Palestinian sources, said Iran’s payments to Hamas at the time amounted to $70 million per year (less than $6 million per month).

In exchange for the funding, Tehran asked Hamas to provide intelligence about the location of Israel’s missile stockpiles, the report said. It was not immediately clear if the raise was strictly conditioned on the intelligence provided by the terror group.

The Hamas members said they would convey the request to the movement’s leaders in Gaza.

Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani, center, attends a meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Revolutionary Guard commanders in Tehran, Iran, September 18, 2016. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

According to the report, Qassem Soleimani, the head of  the Iranian Revolutionary Guards al-Quds Force, also joined the meeting and members of Hamas’ military wing explained the difficulties they were facing and shortages in arms and equipment.

Hamas also reportedly asked Iran to act as a mediator for the terror group with Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria, after ties were cut off during the Syrian civil war.

The report also noted that ahead of the visit Saudi Arabia had unsuccessfully been trying to pressure Hamas to cut ties with Iran.

During his visit to Tehran, al-Arouri said that Hamas and Iran stand on “the same path” in fighting Israel, Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency reported at the time.

“We are on the same path as the Islamic Republic — the path of battling the Zionist entity and the arrogant ones,” he said, according to the report.

Arouri visited Iran with several other high-ranking Hamas officials, including Moussa Abu Marzouk, Maher Salah, Husam Badran, Osama Hamdan, Ezzat al-Rishq and Ismail Radwan.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh told a group of Turkish journalists at the time that he hoped the delegation’s visit would achieve “important results.”

Arouri, who was elected as Hamas’s deputy chief in October 2017, has traveled to Iran at least five times over the past two years. He has frequently heaped praised on Iran.

“Iran is the only country that says that entity [Israel] is cancerous and should be uprooted from the region,” he told the pro-Hamas Al-Quds TV in February 2018. “It is the only country that is prepared to provide real and public support to the Palestinian resistance and others to confront the entity.”

report in August by the Haaretz daily said that Israeli intelligence officials believe Hamas and Iran have come to an agreement for the terror group to open a war front against Israel from the southern coastal Strip in the event of conflict breaking out with Iran’s allies on the Jewish state’s northern border.

The report quoted a senior security official as saying the intelligence establishment estimates Hamas and the Islamic Jihad group will try to force Israel to move forces and air defense systems to the south at the expense of troops fighting in the north.

The report said that Israeli intelligence sources believe Iran has increased its involvement in the Strip in order to turn Hamas into its operational arm against Israel.

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5 Oldest Cities in Asia (Middle-East)

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TRAVEL TRIVIA)

 

5 Oldest Cities in Asia

Humans have been building communities for a long time. A really long time. There are people living in places that have seen millennia of human settlement, particularly on the Asian continent, widely considered to be the place where civilization started. Ranking the age of some of these cities is going to be mind-boggling, to say the least, so we’d recommend trying to think about time less as a human would and switch more to a geological scale. It might make it easier. These are the five oldest cities in Asia.

Erbil, Iraq

Erbil, Iraq

Credit: sadikgulec/iStock

~7,000 Years

You may remember learning in elementary school that the earliest civilized people in the Fertile Crescent built their homes out of mud bricks. We do, anyway. We also remember thinking bricks like that can’t be as permanent as ours. Well, they aren’t, which is how the city of Erbil got its start. Roughly located in the center of the city is the Erbil Citadel, a massive fortified dirt mound on an otherwise flat plain. The mound is man-made and the result of thousands of years of settlements built on top of settlements built on top of settlements. The reason people were able to build on top of settlements is the wearing down of those mud bricks we mentioned earlier. Over time, the bricks disintegrate in place, adding a thin layer of dirt to the growing mound. Multiply that by a few thousand years and thousands of residents and Erbil grows from the result.

Byblos, Lebanon

Byblos, Lebanon

Credit: benedek/iStock

~7,000 Years

In Phoenician mythology, Byblos was founded by the god El at the beginning of time. While that might not be completely factual, the mythological truth of the statement can’t be denied. It’s a city so old it’s at least partially responsible for naming the Bible, thanks to its booming papyrus trade (the main thing the Bible was printed on at the time) and the Greek word for book, biblos. Before it accidentally named the second largest religion’s main publication, it was famous for its shipbuilding industry and enabled the Phoenicians to solidify their reputation as world-class sailors. Even before that it was an important port for Mediterranean trade, exporting prized Lebanese cedar to the powerful Egyptian empire. The city’s declined somewhat since its ancient glory, though Ernest Renan, a prominent French historian, contributed to its rejuvenation when he published the mostly forgotten history of Byblos in 1860.

Ray, Iran

Ray, Iran

Credit: mazzo1982/iStock

~7,500 Years

The true age of Ray is difficult, maybe impossible, to determine. A lot of the “archaeology” that went on in the city in the late 1800s and early 1900s amounted to little more than destructive treasure hunting, meaning the trace evidence that could prove the city’s true edge may have been permanently destroyed. But the city’s resilience proved more than treasure hunters could completely destroy. Excavations in the 1990s and 2000s turned up what would be classified as “horizon pottery of Češmeh Ali” and puts Ray’s founders among the very first settlers of the Iranian plateau around 5,500 B.C.

Today, Ray’s been incorporated into the larger metropolitan area of Tehran, no slouch of a city itself. But Ray still has the Iranian capital beaten by a few centuries at least.

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Jericho

Jericho

Credit: Gosiek-B/iStock

~11,000 Years

Jericho’s roots grow so deep that the term “settlers” is more accurate than it is for other places. The earliest traces of human habitation around Jericho point to Mesolithic hunters who just decided to stay put one day. Like the hunters simply got tired and literally settled down. A thousand years after that, the hunters’ descendants started work on a huge stone wall around the town, with evidence of at least one huge tower incorporated into the wall. That’s 10,000 years of walled defense. So while Jericho might not be the oldest settlement in human history, its famous wall certainly is.

Damascus, Syria

Damascus, Syria

Credit: uchar/iStock

~10,000 — 12,000 Years

Twelve thousand years is a ridiculously long time, almost too long to conceptualize. To put it in some kind of perspective, Damascus possibly being 12,000 years old would put its founding during the Ice Age. During. Humans were settling down in Damascus at the same time half the Northern Hemisphere was buried under 4 kilometers of ice.

To make an even more of a dramatic statement of humanity’s ability to build cities, Damascus retains excellent examples from each of the major civilizations to contribute to its construction. Examples of Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic architecture are all on full display in the city, with the major examples being the Roman Temple of Jupiter, Roman walls and gates, and the Great Mosque built by Umayyad Caliphate. Essentially, what the city is today is a living, breathing Arabic city built on a hybrid Greek and Roman city plan in a location that’s seen human habitation since most of the Earth’s surface was made of glaciers.

Saudi Arabia Bolsters Coordination with Horn of Africa to Secure Red Sea

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Saudi Arabia Bolsters Coordination with Horn of Africa to Secure Red Sea

Thursday, 8 August, 2019 – 09:45
Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki receives Prince Fahd bin Turki bin Abdulaziz, commander of the Saudi-led coalition forces, in Asmara. (SPA)
Riyadh – Fatehelrahman Yousif
Lieutenant General Prince Fahd bin Turki bin Abdulaziz, commander of the Saudi-led coalition forces, discussed Tuesday with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki the South Red Sea security and the fight against terrorism and smuggling in all its forms.

A number of issues of common concern were discussed during the Asmara meeting, especially threats against international shipping lanes, reported the Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

The meeting was held less than a year after the Kingdom announced the launch of a regional bloc of seven Arab and African countries bordering the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. It includes Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen, Sudan, Djibouti, Somalia and Jordan.

The bloc aims at bolstering regional security and stability and securing navigation and international trade. It was established following a military exercise in Jeddah earlier this year.

“This meeting and the Saudi-Eritrean talks stem from Riyadh’s acknowledgment of the need to secure the Red Sea navigation and activate the bloc,” expert in Iranian affairs Dr. Mohammed al-Salmi told Asharq al-Awsat.

The Saudi approach stems from the potential it possesses to lead these countries and create a regional deterrent bloc that can secure navigation in the Red Sea and protect it from piracy and terrorist threats, he stressed.

Prince Fahd’s visit is an extension of this Saudi-led approach, he added, expecting a summit to be held by countries bordering the Red Sea to maximize joint action.

Salmi explained that the security of the Red Sea and international waterways is a global security and strategic joint task, highlighting the great political, security and military importance of the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Was Invited to Meet Trump in the Oval Office

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORKER NEWS)

 

Iran’s Foreign Minister Was Invited to Meet Trump in the Oval Office

Last month, amid a rapid-fire escalation in tensions between Washington and Tehran, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, received an unexpected invitation—to meet President Donald Trump in the Oval Office. The diplomatic overture was made by Senator Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican, during a meeting with Zarif in New York on July 15th, according to American and Iranian sources and a well-informed diplomat.

With President Trump’s blessing, Paul had been working on the idea for several weeks, in consultation with the White House and the State Department. An intermediary had reached out to the Iranians on Paul’s behalf three weeks before Zarif was due in New York for meetings at the United Nations. On July 14th, the day before leaving for New York, Paul had a discussion about Iran with the President, while playing a round at the Trump golf course in Sterling, Virginia.

On July 15th, Paul and his senior adviser, Doug Stafford, met Zarif at the elegant residence of Iran’s U.N. ambassador, on Fifth Avenue, a block from the Metropolitan Museum. In his decades as a diplomat, Zarif, who studied under Condoleezza Rice’s Ph.D. adviser, at the University of Denver, has built a modest rolodex with the private numbers of members of the House and Senate. “I always see people from Congress,” Zarif told me and a small group of journalists later that week, without naming names. But this was his first meeting with Paul, who is on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The two men initially talked about long-standing issues, notably Tehran’s nuclear program, and also recent flare-ups in the Persian Gulf, according to the sources. In May and June, the United States accused Tehran of sabotaging six oil tankers just beyond the strategic Strait of Hormuz. On June 20th, Iran shot down one of America’s most sophisticated drones, claiming that it was flying over Iranian airspace. Trump considered military retaliation, but called it off at the last minute, because of projected casualties. While Zarif was in New York, the U.S. downed an Iranian drone, on July 18th. As tempers frayed, Washington was abuzz with worry about the prospect of a new war in the Middle East. Paul’s mission was to break through the messy layers of conflict and launch a direct diplomatic channel, at the highest level. The overture was a miniature version of Trump’s tactic in circumventing traditional diplomacy by dealing directly with the North Korean leadership.

During an hour-long conversation, Zarif offered Paul ideas about how to end the nuclear impasse and address Trump’s concerns. He later outlined some of them to our group of journalists and subsequently in more detail to me. “As a diplomat, I have to always think about alternatives,” he told us. Among them was the idea that the Iranian Parliament could codify, in law, a fatwa issued by Iran’s Supreme Leader, originally in 2003 and again in 2010, that forbids the production or use of nuclear weapons. “We consider the use of such weapons as haraam [forbidden] and believe that it is everyone’s duty to make efforts to secure humanity against this great disaster,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said, in 2010.

But, if Trump wanted more, he would also have to offer more, Zarif suggested. Another possibility was moving forward one of the later steps of the nuclear deal brokered between Iran and the world’s six major powers in 2015—the accord that Trump abandoned in May, 2018. Zarif said that Iran could bring forward ratification of the so-called Additional Protocol, which is currently due to be implemented by 2023—potentially this year. The protocol, which has already been signed and ratified by a hundred and forty-six nations, allows more intrusive international inspections—on both declared and undeclared nuclear sites in member states—in perpetuity. “The Additional Protocol is a crucial means by which the world verifies that Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons,” Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, told me on Friday. “If you don’t trust the Iranians, you want inspections in perpetuity.” By ratifying the protocol, Iran would forfeit one of the so-called sunset clauses in the 2015 deal, which had triggered deep skepticism among Republicans, some Democrats, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. In exchange, Zarif suggested, Trump could go to Congress to lift sanctions on Iran, as originally provided under the 2015 nuclear deal but not ratified in legislation. Both sides would then feel more secure in the commitments sought in the original deal.

Paul proposed that the Iranian diplomat lay out the same ideas to Trump in person. The President, Paul said, had authorized him to extend an invitation to meet in the Oval Office as early as that week, the U.S., Iranian, and diplomatic sources told me. A White House spokesperson declined to comment about the invitation on the record.

Israel: Israel said to hit Iranian sites in Iraq, expanding strikes on missile shipments

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL NEWS)

 

Israel said to hit Iranian sites in Iraq, expanding strikes on missile shipments

IAF F-35 jets said to be behind 2 strikes on Iran-linked targets near Baghdad in 10 days; no comment from IDF

Illustrative: An Israeli Air Force F-35 Lightning II fighter jet takes part in a graduation ceremony for IAF pilots at the Hatzerim base in Israel's Negev desert on December 26, 2018. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Illustrative: An Israeli Air Force F-35 Lightning II fighter jet takes part in a graduation ceremony for IAF pilots at the Hatzerim base in Israel’s Negev desert on December 26, 2018. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Israel has expanded its operations against Iranian targets to Iraq, where Air Force jets have struck twice in ten days, a report said Tuesday morning.

Israel commonly conducts strikes in Syrian territory, targeting Iranian missile shipments meant for Lebanese terror group Hezbollah to use against the Jewish state, but strikes in Iraq by Israel have not been reported since the 1981 bombing of a nuclear reactor.

Asharq Al-Awsat, an Arabic-language newspaper published in London, cited Western diplomatic sources as saying an Israeli F-35 plane was behind a July 19 strike on a rocket depot in a Shiite militia base north of Baghdad.

The IDF has not commented on the report.

The Saudi-based al-Arabiya network reported at the time that members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps and Hezbollah had been killed in the strike. It said the base had shortly before the strike received Iranian ballistic missiles, which had been hidden inside trucks.

Iraq’s military said at the time that one fighter was killed and two Iranians wounded, saying the strike was carried out by an unmanned drone. The United States denied involvement.

In this photo from July 1, 2016, members of the Iran-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq paramilitary group take part in a Quds Day march in Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban, File)

Asharq Al-Awsat also said that Israel was behind another strike in Iraq carried out Sunday at Camp Ashraf, the former headquarters of the exiled People’s Mujahedin of Iran, located 40 kilometers northeast of Baghdad and 80 kilometers from the Iranian border.

That strike targeted Iranian advisers and a ballistic missile shipment, the report cited sources as saying.

The report also mentioned a strike in Syria last week blamed on Israel, in which nine were killed including six Iranians fighting for the Syrian regime, claiming it was meant to prevent Iran from taking over a strategic hill in the Daraa province in the country’s south.

Israeli missiles targeted “military positions and intelligence facilities belonging to Iran and [pro-Iranian] militias” in the southern provinces of Daraa and Quneitra early on Wednesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at the time.

The other three killed in the strike were pro-regime Syrian fighters, it added.

Illustrative: Explosions seen near Damascus on July 1, 2019, during a purported Israeli airstrike. (Screen capture/Twitter)

Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria since the beginning of the conflict in 2011, targeting Iranian and Hezbollah forces in the country, as well as those loyal to the Assad regime, as part of a stated policy to prevent arms transfers to Hezbollah in Lebanon and the entrenchment of Iranian military forces across from Israel’s northern border.

Israel does not usually comment on specific reports of strikes, but does insist it has the right to defend itself by targeting positions held by Iran and Hezbollah.

Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi boasted last week that Israel is the only country in the world that has been “killing Iranians.”

In a speech to the UN General Assembly last September, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that “Israel will do whatever it must do to defend itself against Iran’s aggression. We will continue to act against you in Syria. We will act against you in Lebanon. We will act against you in Iraq. We will act against you whenever and wherever we must act to defend our state and defend our people.” An excerpt from that speech was utilized in a recent Likud election campaign clip.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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Saudi: Iraq, Iran Sign Agreement to Establish Investment Funds

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Iraq, Iran Sign Agreement to Establish Investment Funds

Tuesday, 30 July, 2019 – 11:15
Baghdad – Asharq Al-Awsat
Head of Iran’s Securities and Exchange Organization (SEO) Shapour Mohammadi announced the conclusion of a memorandum of cooperation (MoC) with Iraq.

One of the most important objectives of this MoC is the establishment of mutual investment funds.

The signing ceremony was attended by Chairman of Iraq Securities Commission Alaa al-Saedi and Iraq’s Ambassador to Iran Saad Jawad Qandil.

Fars news agency quoted Mohammadi as saying that the MoC includes the establishment of an SEO branch in Iraq and the creation of a platform for exporting and importing goods through this branch, as well as providing legal and technical advice on the capital market.

“Unifying the legal regime of the Iranian and Iraqi capital market is one of the provisions of the memorandum, which will be overseen by a bilateral joint committee,” Mohammadi said.

Saedi, for his part, said that with the “conclusion of this agreement, exchange of information and experience with Iran will take place in a specialized and advanced manner.”

He added that the Commission seeks to take advantage of Iran’s experiences in the field of securities exchange business.

Qandil said the MoC is a great step towards bilateral cooperation and will contribute to bilateral economic dealings.

An Iraqi official source, who spoke of condition of anonymity, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the MoC includes only covers the stock exchange, noting that the Commission’s law allows such agreements between countries and companies.

However, Iraqi economic expert Bassem Jamil Antoun doubted that the agreement could be implemented given the US sanctions imposed on Iran.

“The Iraq Securities Commission has the right to conclude agreements with countries in case there are agreements that allow it. However, any transfer of money in dollars from Iraq to Iran cannot be performed because Iraq’s Central Bank is committed to applying sanctions on Iran,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

“Any money transfer in dollars must pass through the United States.”