10/22/2019

Bahrain maritime security meeting amid mysterious Gulf attacks

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/10/bahrain-maritime-security-meet-held-mysterious-gulf-attacks-191022072509736.html


The US formed a naval coalition to protect navigation in a region critical to global oil supplies after tanker attacks.

Representatives from more than 60 countries - including Israel but not Iran - continued meeting inBahrain on Tuesday to discuss maritime security following attacks on tankers in the Gulf and Saudi oil installations.
The United States, other Western states, and Saudi Arabia blame the attacks on Tehran, which denies any involvement.
"We all must take a collective stand ... to take the necessary steps to protect our nations from rogue states," Bahraini Foreign Minister Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa told the two-day meeting on Monday.

More:

Although it does not have relations with Bahrain, Israel is attending the gathering.
In June, the Jewish state was represented at a workshop in Manama on the economic component of Washington's as yet unrevealed Middle East peace plan.
"This meeting comes at a critical moment in history," US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote in a letter to the meeting's participants.
"The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction [WMD] and their means of delivery, whether by air or sea, poses a serious threat to international peace and security," he wrote.
"Together, we must all be committed to taking the necessary actions to stop countries that continue to pursue WMD at great risk to all of us," Pompeo said, in an apparent reference to Iran.
Tension between Tehran and Washington has grown since the United States abandoned a multinational deal on curbing Iran's nuclear programme last year and reimposed heavy sanctions on the Islamic republic.

'Iranian menace'

The meeting's participants belong to the Maritime and Aviation Security Working Group, created in February during a Middle East conference in Warsaw, Poland.
"The meeting is an occasion to exchange views on how to deal with the Iranian menace and to guarantee freedom of navigation," Bahrain's foreign ministry said on Twitter.
Following recent attacks against tankers in the Gulf, the United States formed a naval coalition to protect navigation in a region critical to global oil supplies.
Bahrain, which hosts the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, joined the coalition in August. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates joined in September.
The United Kingdom and Australia are the principal Western partners of the US to have agreed to send warships to escort commercial shipping in the Gulf.
Most European states have declined to participate, fearful of undermining their efforts to save the nuclear accord with Iran, which was weakened by the US withdrawal.
Iran, which considers itself the guardian of the Gulf, has presented its own regional plan to assure "energy security" and "freedom of navigation".

10/20/2019

LA CENSURA DI ERDOGAN SI ALLARGA AI SOCIAL: OSCURATE PAGINE DI SOSTEGNO AI CURDI


https://caffedeigiornalisti.it/la-censura-di-erdogan-si-allarga-ai-social-network-oscurate-pagine-di-sostegno-ai-curdi/

«La nostra associazione è nata nel 1994 e siamo andati anche a Kobane, in Siria, nel 2015. Dopo è stato troppo pericoloso, ma abbiamo sempre sostenuto energicamente la causa curda. Cosa è accaduto? Nel giro di poche ore, dieci post con relative foto sono stati oscurati da Facebook». A parlare è Cristian Peverieri, responsabile della sezione di Venezia dell’Associazione YaBasta! ÊdîBese! «Questa è una grave violazione del diritto di opinione e di informazione su una piattaforma privata come Facebook che, molto probabilmente, fa affari con Erdogan».
Tante sono state le pagine in solidarietà con il Kurdistan bloccate su Facebook: l’ultima – o forse no – a cadere è stata quella di MilanoInMovimento, portale di informazione che lavora con Radio Onda D’Urto e Globalproject, che collabora con MiM e Contropiano. I contenuti, secondo Facebook, violerebbero gli “standard di comunità” e l’operazione, piuttosto articolata anche su Twitter, sta avvenendo anche su Instagram. «L’intelligence del presidente Erdogan sta evidentemente scandagliando i social e l’informazione, con team impegnati a segnalare scientificamente migliaia di profili e contenuti che denunciano l’operazione militare della Turchia in Siria».
La storia dell’Associazione YaBasta! ÊdîBese è ancora più interessante: sono vittime di una sentenza turca in buona compagnia con altri social media internazionali. Pochi mesi fa, la polizia internazionale turca ha addirittura emesso una condanna contro il sito web di Ya Basta Êdî Bese, con l’accusa di terrorismo. La sentenza porta la data del 9 aprile 2019, quando la corte penale di Ankara, presieduta dal giudice Fatih Yilmaz, decide, su indagine del Comando generale della gendarmeria turca, divisione per i crimini terroristici, di procedere contro l’associazione. Le motivazioni della sentenza parlano di “terrorismo e istigazione all’odio organizzato”. «Conformemente a un’inchiesta condotta dal Ministero della Repubblica, gli utilizzatori di alcuni social media che figurano all’interno del documento di notifica redatto dal Comando Generale della Gendarmeria, legati agli account social media che si trovano negli indirizzi elettronici ivi riportati, hanno condotto propaganda a favore di organizzazioni terroristiche PKK/KCK/PYD-YPG, con condivisioni esplicitamente spregiative rivolte agli organi e alle istituzioni della Nazione Turca e dello Stato Repubblicano di Turchia». Queste le parole tradotte dalla sentenza, a cui viene aggiunto un elenco di profili social network di altre reti solidali internazionali (Twitter, Facebook) che tuttora sono operative e rappresentano un’importante piattaforma informativa. I profili segnalati in sentenza hanno subito oscuramenti e cancellazioni per periodi più o meno lunghi: si tratta di Kurdish.org, YaBasta! ÊdîBese!, DSabahi1,Joan #RiseUp4Rojava @joanenciam.
Tra i tanti, anche il sito di Binxet: «A causa dell’oscuramento della pagina del film Binxset – Sotto il confine, il documentario del regista Luigi D’Alife, da parte di Facebook, abbiamo deciso di aprire questa sezione per continuare il puntuale e prezioso lavoro di informazione su quanto sta avvenendo nella Siria del Nord a causa dell’attacco della Turchia». Dopo pochi minuti, l’annuncio dell’uccisione di Heval Dilovan di YPJ Media. Uccisa durante la battaglia a Tal Abyad – Gire Spi. E i funerali di un’altro giovane giornalista, Mohammed Resho, uno dei due cronisti uccisi durante il bombardamento di un convoglio civile a Serekaniye il 13 ottobre.

Israeli Delegation to Attend Anti-Iran Summit in Bahrain

https://ifpnews.com/israeli-delegation-to-attend-anti-iran-summit-in-bahrain?fbclid=IwAR1B6j6vXdaX0_y84N1yUHpwjfvhkmfKQra-nwokeoauL4Hctuav_gZijmE#.XaxzApbyHbY.facebook

By IFP Media
20 October 2019

A source in Bahrain told The Times of Israel online newspaper on Sunday that a senior Israeli foreign ministry official working on regional security and counter-terrorism will take part at the Working Group on Maritime and Aviation Security in Manama on October 21-22.
Israel’s foreign ministry has not denied sending a representative to Manama, Channel 13 reported, confirming that Tel Aviv will participate “in the post-Warsaw process.”
The so-called Warsaw process started with the February 13-14 anti-Iran conference in the Polish capital, co-sponsored by Poland and the US. At the time, Tehran denounced the summit as a “desperate circus” disgracing its participants.
Western officials told the Israeli TV channel that the Bahrain conference is an initiative pushed by the administration of US President Donald Trump.
Starting on Monday, the Manama summit is set to purportedly discuss the protection of vessels in the Persian Gulf from alleged “Iranian attacks,” the prevention of weapons smuggling and the protection of civil aviation.
On July 31, Bahrain where the US Fifth Fleet is based hosted a conference on “maritime security” in the Persian Gulf, after a number of mysterious attacks in the strategic waters, which Washington has blamed on Iran, without offering any credible evidence.
Iran has blasted Bahrain for hosting “suspicious and provocative meetings,” calling on the regime in Manama to stop acting as “a facilitator of enemy plots” in the region.
Israel has full diplomatic ties with only two Arab states, Egypt and Jordan, but recent reports suggest Tel Aviv has been working behind the scenes to establish formal contacts with other Arab countries such as Bahrain.
In July, Israeli and Bahraini foreign ministers Israel Katz and Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifah met for a brief chat on Iran in Washington and the two posed for a rare photograph.


10/11/2019

Top Secret Russian Unit Seeks to Destabilize Europe, Security Officials Say

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/08/world/europe/unit-29155-russia-gru.html?fbclid=IwAR2Xwt2l8rKWT3TBXY96EyHJ2GFCSP_GVZpBsUXA3CipvtusEJBQrX0YSZw


BY 
New York Times

First came a destabilization campaign in Moldova, followed by the poisoning of an arms dealer in Bulgaria and then a thwarted coup in Montenegro. Last year, there was an attempt to assassinate a former Russian spy in Britain using a nerve agent. Though the operations bore the fingerprints of Russia’s intelligence services, the authorities initially saw them as isolated, unconnected attacks.
Western security officials have now concluded that these operations, and potentially many others, are part of a coordinated and ongoing campaign to destabilize Europe, executed by an elite unit inside the Russian intelligence system skilled in subversion, sabotage and assassination.
The group, known as Unit 29155, has operated for at least a decade, yet Western officials only recently discovered it. Intelligence officials in four Western countries say it is unclear how often the unit is mobilized and warn that it is impossible to know when and where its operatives will strike.
The purpose of Unit 29155, which has not been previously reported, underscores the degree to which the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, is actively fighting the West with his brand of so-called hybrid warfare — a blend of propaganda, hacking attacks and disinformation — as well as open military confrontation.
“I think we had forgotten how organically ruthless the Russians could be,” said Peter Zwack, a retired military intelligence officer and former defense attaché at the United States Embassy in Moscow, who said he was not aware of the unit’s existence.
In a text message, Dmitri S. Peskov, Mr. Putin’s spokesman, directed questions about the unit to the Russian Defense Ministry. The ministry did not respond to requests for comment.
Hidden behind concrete walls at the headquarters of the 161st Special Purpose Specialist Training Center in eastern Moscow, the unit sits within the command hierarchy of the Russian military intelligence agency, widely known as the G.R.U.
Though much about G.R.U. operations remains a mystery, Western intelligence agencies have begun to get a clearer picture of its underlying architecture. In the months before the 2016 presidential election, American officials say two G.R.U. cyber units, known as 26165 and 74455, hacked into the servers of the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign, and then published embarrassing internal communications.
Last year, Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel overseeing the inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, indicted more than a dozen officers from those units, though all still remain at large. The hacking teams mostly operate from Moscow, thousands of miles from their targets.
By contrast, officers from Unit 29155 travel to and from European countries. Some are decorated veterans of Russia’s bloodiest wars, including in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Ukraine. Its operations are so secret, according to assessments by Western intelligence services, that the unit’s existence is most likely unknown even to other G.R.U. operatives.
The unit appears to be a tight-knit community. A photograph taken in 2017 shows the unit’s commander, Maj. Gen. Andrei V. Averyanov, at his daughter’s wedding in a gray suit and bow tie. He is posing with Col. Anatoly V. Chepiga, one of two officers indicted in Britain over the poisoning of a former spy, Sergei V. Skripal.
“This is a unit of the G.R.U. that has been active over the years across Europe,” said one European security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe classified intelligence matters. “It’s been a surprise that the Russians, the G.R.U., this unit, have felt free to go ahead and carry out this extreme malign activity in friendly countries. That’s been a shock.”
To varying degrees, each of the four operations linked to the unit attracted public attention, even as it took time for the authorities to confirm that they were connected. Western intelligence agencies first identified the unit after the failed 2016 coup in Montenegro, which involved a plot by two unit officers to kill the country’s prime minister and seize the Parliament building.
But officials began to grasp the unit’s specific agenda of disruption only after the March 2018 poisoning of Mr. Skripal, a former G.R.U. officer who had betrayed Russia by spying for the British. Mr. Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, fell grievously ill after exposure toa highly toxic nerve agent, but survived.
(Three other people were sickened, including a police officer and a man who found a small bottle that British officials believe was used to carry the nerve agent and gave it to his girlfriend. The girlfriend, Dawn Sturgess, died after spraying the nerve agent on her skin, mistaking the bottle for perfume.)
The poisoning led to a geopolitical standoff, with more than 20 nations, including the United States, expelling 150 Russian diplomats in a show of solidarity with Britain.
Ultimately, the British authorities exposed two suspects, who had traveled under aliases but were later identified by the investigative site Bellingcat as Colonel Chepiga and Alexander Mishkin. Six months after the poisoning, British prosecutors charged both menwith transporting the nerve agent to Mr. Skripal’s home in Salisbury, England, and smearing it on his front door.
But the operation was more complex than officials revealed at the time.
Exactly a year before the poisoning, three Unit 29155 operatives traveled to Britain, possibly for a practice run, two European officials said. One was Mr. Mishkin. A second man used the alias Sergei Pavlov. Intelligence officials believe the third operative, who used the alias Sergei Fedotov, oversaw the mission.
Soon, officials established that two of these officers — the men using the names Fedotov and Pavlov — had been part of a team that attempted to poison the Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev in 2015. (The other operatives, also known only by their aliases, according to European intelligence officials, were Ivan Lebedev, Nikolai Kononikhin, Alexey Nikitin and Danil Stepanov.)
The team would twice try to kill Mr. Gebrev, once in Sofia, the capital, and again a month later at his home on the Black Sea.
Speaking to reporters in February at the Munich Security Conference, Alex Younger, the chief of MI6, Britain’s foreign intelligence service, spoke out against the growing Russian threat and hinted at coordination, without mentioning a specific unit.
“You can see there is a concerted program of activity — and, yes, it does often involve the same people,” Mr. Younger said, pointing specifically to the Skripal poisoning and the Montenegro coup attempt. He added: “We assess there is a standing threat from the G.R.U. and the other Russian intelligence services and that very little is off limits.”
The Kremlin sees Russia as being at war with a Western liberal order that it views as an existential threat.At a ceremony in November for the G.R.U.’s centenary, Mr. Putin stood beneath a glowing backdrop of the agency’s logo — a red carnation and an exploding grenade — and described it as “legendary.” A former intelligence officer himself, Mr. Putin drew a direct line between the Red Army spies who helped defeat the Nazis in World War II and officers of the G.R.U., whose “unique capabilities” are now deployed against a different kind of enemy.
“Unfortunately, the potential for conflict is on the rise in the world,” Mr. Putin said during the ceremony. “Provocations and outright lies are being used and attempts are being made to disrupt strategic parity.”
In 2006, Mr. Putin signed a law legalizing targeted killings abroad, the same year a team of Russian assassins used a radioactive isotope to murder Aleksander V. Litvinenko, another former Russian spy, in London.
Unit 29155 is not the only group authorized to carry out such operations, officials said. The British authorities have attributed Mr. Litvinenko’s killing to the Federal Security Service, the intelligence agency once headed by Mr. Putin that often competes with the G.R.U.
Although little is known about Unit 29155 itself, there are clues in public Russian records that suggest links to the Kremlin’s broader hybrid strategy.
A 2012 directive from the Russian Defense Ministry assigned bonuses to three units for “special achievements in military service.” One was Unit 29155. Another was Unit 74455, which was involved in the 2016 election interference. The third was Unit 99450, whose officers are believed to have been involved in the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014.
A retired G.R.U. officer with knowledge of Unit 29155 said that it specialized in preparing for “diversionary” missions, “in groups or individually — bombings, murders, anything.”
“They were serious guys who served there,” the retired officer said. “They were officers who worked undercover and as international agents.”
Photographs of the unit’s dilapidated former headquarters, which has since been abandoned, show myriad gun racks with labels for an assortment of weapons, including Belgian FN-30 sniper rifles, German G3A3s, Austrian Steyr AUGs and American M16s. There was also a form outlining a training regimen, including exercises for hand-to-hand combat. The retired G.R.U. officer confirmed the authenticity of the photographs, which were published by a Russian blogger.
The current commander, General Averyanov, graduated in 1988 from the Tashkent Military Academy in what was then the Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan. It is likely that he would have fought in both the first and second Chechen wars, and he was awarded a Hero of Russia medal, the country’s highest honor, in January 2015. The two officers charged with the Skripal poisoning also received the same award.
Though an elite force, the unit appears to operate on a shoestring budget. According to Russian records, General Averyanov lives in a run-down Soviet-era building a few blocks from the unit’s headquarters and drives a 1996 VAZ 21053, a rattletrap Russia-made sedan. Operatives often share cheap accommodation to economize while on the road. British investigators say the suspects in the Skripal poisoning stayed in a low-cost hotel in Bow, a downtrodden neighborhood in East London.
But European security officials are also perplexed by the apparent sloppiness in the unit’s operations. Mr. Skripal survived the assassination attempt, as did Mr. Gebrev, the Bulgarian arms dealer. The attempted coup in Montenegro drew an enormous amount of attention, but ultimately failed. A year later, Montenegro joined NATO. It is possible, security officials say, that they have yet to discover other, more successful operations.
t is difficult to know if the messiness has bothered the Kremlin. Perhaps, intelligence experts say, it is part of the point.
“That kind of intelligence operation has become part of the psychological warfare,” said Eerik-Niiles Kross, a former intelligence chief in Estonia. “It’s not that they have become that much more aggressive. They want to be felt. It’s part of the game.”

Syrian Kurds 'determined' to resist Turkish operation


https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/10/syrian-kurds-determined-resist-turkish-operation-191011082442285.html


Turkey's military action in northern Syria has been met with strong resistance from the Kurdish population.

by Tessa Fox

Istanbul, Turkey - As the offensiveTurkey dubbed Operation Peace Spring continues for a third day in northeast Syria, tens of thousands of civilians are fleeing border villages in search of safety.
The majority of non-combatants have moved about 20km (12 miles) from the border with Turkey into  southern villages as the Turkish military and its allies attempt to clear a corridor from the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) that it deems a "terrorist" organisation.
Turkey's military action in the region currently controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) - which is spearheaded by the YPG - was being met with strong resistance. At least one Turkish soldier and four allied fighters have been killed so far, while Ankara said more than 340 SDF soldiers have died.
Guerrilla tactics are being employed including ambushes from trenches and the use of tunnels to conceal movement. 
Shahin Najib al-Ali, a justice council member in the Syrian city of Kobane, told Al Jazeera civilians are travelling to tents set up along the border - even from as far away as the city of Raqqa - to act as "human shields" against Turkey's forces.
"I was there until 3pm today in that tent of human shields. The bombardment was raining close by in the east, west and south of the tents," al-Ali said.
Young people in northeast Syria, typically between the ages of 20 and 25, were also registering themselves as fighters with the YPG and the SDF to defend their cities, while older people, including women, were attempting to protect their homes and communities, he said.
"We took the decision that we will defend this region until the last minute of our lives," al-Ali said.

'Fight to the death'

Turkey is NATO's second-biggest military force with about 800,000 military personnel and a budget of $19bn in 2018.
The YPG-led SDF, on the other hand, does not have anywhere close to those resources, but the Kurdish-majority fighters do not appear to be deterred by the military imbalance.
Elizabeth Tsurkov, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute based in the United States, told Al Jazeera she did not expect the YPG to retreat.
"Determination is one factor in regards to military success, [but] then you have quite a superior military force that has jets and drones at its disposal," Tsurkov said.
While Turkey is a better-equipped military force, the YPG has thousands of fighters who are unwavering and have been trained by the US to battle the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS).
"They fought ISIS even when they were outmatched against them in Kobane and in Sinjar, Iraq ... and they did not give up," Tsurkov noted.
"They are a highly determined force and here they're defending their home, so I think at the end there will be people who fight to the death."
Currently, ground operations by the Turkish military are focused on the villages of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain. The SDF pulled their forces away from the border, leaving armed civilians to defend their towns, according to Tsurkov.
The SDF has advanced weaponry provided by the US in the war against ISIL.
Tsurkov said she believes as Turkey moves deeper into Syria, this weaponry will be unleashed by the SDF to support its defence.

Nowhere to turn

Despite the SDF feeling betrayed after the US pulled out its troops and support from northeast Syria, the Kurdish-led group cannot sever ties completely, considering it has no one else to turn to in the West, and Damascus and Moscow will not negotiate terms of assistance.
Nicholas Danforth, a senior visiting fellow from the German Marshall Fund based in Istanbul, told Al Jazeera the SDF is desperate to take whatever the US offers.
"[Even if that's only] Trump's vague threats to obliterate the Turkish economy [or] whether that's the US Congress looking at sanctions on Turkey," Danforth said.
Meanwhile, the government of Syrian PresidentBashar al-Assad has continued to demand the Kurdish forces surrender the land they captured during the civil war and have since controlled since 2011. 

"The YPG wasn't willing to surrender its autonomy in return for the regime's support against Turkey," Danforth explained.
Still, the SDF and the YPG have maintained a relationship with the Syrian government, just in case the US decided to abandon them - as it did earlier this week, he said.

'Very difficult position'

Even though President Donald Trump had threatened the withdrawal of American troops from Syria since last December, this week's sudden pullout caught the Kurdish administration off guard, analysts said.
"[It has made it] much more difficult for the Syrian Kurds to seek the kind of arrangement with Damascus and Moscow that they otherwise might have been able to," Danforth said.
"Essentially, now Damascus is asking for surrender rather than any negotiated agreement, putting the YPG in a very difficult position."
The SDF now faces pressure from both sides - Turkey and al-Assad's government in Damascus.
Tsurkov said the Kurds will try and delay any choice and hope for intervention from the international community.
"They have many countries and leaders who feel sympathy for them and recognise the sacrifice they made with ISIS," Tsurkov said.
"And yet, they aren't willing to act on this and support them, other than issuing a statement."
Al-Ali in Kobane said the people in northeast Syria hope Trump "takes his decision back".
"We as the SDF and the Kurdish people that were in this region, we defeated the big terrorist organisations like Daesh [ISIL]," al-Ali said.
"So we hope ... the US and coalition ... protect their allies and also the people who were helping them to defeat the terrorist groups."

Explosions on Iranian oil tanker off Jeddah's coast cause spill

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/10/explosion-sets-iranian-oil-tanker-ablaze-red-sea-report-191011053301991.html


Suspected rocket attack damages Iranian vessel causing an oil leak off Saudi Arabia's port city of Jeddah.

An Iranian oil tanker in the Red Sea was hit by two suspected rockets on Friday off the coast of Saudi Arabia, raising fears of further escalation in the already-volatile Gulf region. 
The National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC) said in a statement the hull of the ship sustained two separate explosions about 100km (60 miles) off the Saudi port city of Jeddah.
It said the blasts - one at 5am local time (02:00 GMT) and the other at 5:30am (02:30 GMT) - were "probably caused by missile strikes". Oil pricesspiked 2 percent on the news.
"All the ship's crew are safe and the ship is stable too," said NITC, the tanker's owner, adding those on board were trying to repair the damage.
The state-owned company said contrary to reports, "there is no fire aboard the ship and the ship is completely stable".
"Experts believe it was a terrorist attack," Iran's Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. It did not say whom Iranian officials suspect of launching the missiles.
Leaking oil had been stopped but it restarted once the vessel began moving again. 
Iran's foreign ministry confirmed the tanker was hit twice.
"Those behind the attack are responsible for the consequences of this dangerous adventure, including the dangerous environmental pollution caused," Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told state TV.
There was no immediate acknowledgement from Saudi Arabia about the blasts. Russia's foreign ministry said it was too early to assign blame for the explosions.
Images of the oil tanker, identified as the Sabiti, circulated on Twitter, but Al Jazeera was not able to verify their authenticity. 
The vessel last turned on its tracking devices in August near the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas. Iranian tankers routinely turn off their trackers as US sanctions target the sale of Iran's crude oil.
Lieutenant Pete Pagano, a spokesman for the US Navy's 5th Fleet in the Middle East, said authorities were "aware of reports of this incident" but he declined to comment further.
Al Jazeera's Zein Basravi, reporting from Tehran, said officials at the national oil company said the fire was put out.
According to the website Tankertrackers, the vessel was the largest-sized tanker, was fully loaded with one million barrels of oil, and "it does the Syria route", said Basravi.
"This is the third time in the past six months that an Iranian tanker has been incapacitated in these waters," he noted.

'Deteriorating relations'

The tanker company said it will change the route of its Sabiti vessel.
"It is still in the Red Sea but its route will change... No help was offered to assist by any country," an official from the National Iranian Tanker Company said, according to ISNA.
The status of the Sabiti was "under way using engine" with its destination set as Larak, an island off the Iranian coast, the latest data from Refinitiv shipping showed.
Benchmark Brent crude oil rose more than 2 percent in trading on Friday to reach $60.40 a barrel.
"This latest incident - if confirmed to be an act of aggression - is highly likely to be part of the wider narrative of deteriorating relations between Saudi and the US and Iran," private maritime security firm Dryad Maritime warned.
"It is likely that the region, have being stable for the last month, will face another period of increasing maritime threats, as the Iranian and Saudi geopolitical stand-off continues."
Mysterious attacks
Several attacks on oil infrastructure in the Gulf have occurred in recent months amid heightened tensions across the Middle East.
Friday's incident comes after the United States alleged that Iran attacked oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz in June and July, accusations denied by Tehran.
Relations between Washington and Tehran have steadily deteriorated since last year'snuclear-deal withdrawal by the US. 
After pulling out of the landmark accord, the US reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran's oil and banking sectors in what it calls a "maximum pressure" campaign.
Mysterious attacks on oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, Iran shooting down a US military surveillance drone, and other incidents across the Middle East followed President Donald Trump's decision.
Tensions rose further after drone and missile attacks hit Saudi Aramco facilities on September 14, halting about 5 percent of the world's oil production. 
Several countries blamed Iran for those attacks - but Tehran denied any responsibility.

10/02/2019

Al Aljazeera: Jamal Khashoggi case

A year on, MBS 'gets pass from world leaders' on Khashoggi murder

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/10/year-mbs-pass-world-leaders-khashoggi-murder-191001201618695.html

Amid demands for justice, rights groups say normalising ties with Saudi Arabia may mean journalist 'died in vain'.

by Zaheena Rasheed

Weeks after journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder inside Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul, the kingdom's crown prince attended the G20 summit in Argentina to an apparent cool reception.
During the official family photo, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), who faced allegations of ordering the October 2, 2018, killing, stood at the far edge of the group portrait. Largely ignored by the leaders of the world's largest economies, he exited the stage quickly afterwards, without stopping to speak to the others. "Saudi Crown Prince sidelined in G20 family photo", "A bro-shake with Putin, a talking-to from Macron: The Saudi prince's less-than-royal treatment at the G-20", read some of the headlines after the November summit.
The leaders of France, Canada and the United Kingdom, meanwhile, said they pressed for an investigation into Khashoggi's killing during their separate meetings with Prince Mohammed, who denies any knowledge of the murder.
But when the same G20 leaders gathered in Japan's Osaka in June, things appeared different. This time, Prince Mohammed stood front and centre in the family photo, sandwiched between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and US President Donald Trump, who at a personal breakfast earlier, congratulated the crown prince for doing a "spectacular job" in "opening up" Saudi Arabia and fighting "terrorism".
The US president has not been the only leader to have heaped praise on Prince Mohammed over the past year. During a February visit to Pakistan as part of an Asia tour that included stops in China and India, Prince Mohammed was given Pakistan's highest civilian honour after signing investment deals worth $20bn. 
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is scheduled to host next year's G20 summit, and this month it is stepping up preparations for its annual "Davos in the Desert" summit, a high-profile investment conference that last October was shunned by many business leaders amid the global outcry over Khashoggi's murder.
This year, however, business heavy hitters are expected to return to Riyadh, with the list of attendees also reportedly including Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and a senior White House adviser.
Riyadh's public relations push has drawn concern from global human rights groups.
"There is an undeniable risk that with big events scheduled to take place in Saudi Arabia in 2020, such as the G20 summit and the famous Dakar Rally, state-to-state relations could normalise," 19 organisations that include Amnesty International and the Index on Censorship said in a joint statement on Tuesday.
The "return of business as usual would mean Khashoggi died in vain", the groups said, "and there is little hope for hundreds of other unlawfully disappeared, detained, tortured or executed activists whose cases failed to attract similar levels of international attention". 
Bessma Momani, professor of political science at the University of Waterloo in Canada, said world leaders have given Prince Mohammed "a pass", despite incriminating evidence linking him to Khashoggi's killing.
She was referring to a June report by a United Nations expert that said it found "credible evidence" warranting further investigation of the crown prince's liability for the killing.
The inquiry by Agnes Callamard, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, said Khashoggi was the victim of "deliberate, premeditated execution" for which Saudi Arabiabore responsibility. Her report backed Turkish intelligence reports that a 15-member hit squad comprising of senior Saudi agents killed and dismembered Khashoggi inside the consulate. Many of Khashoggi's killers were close aides to the crown prince, the inquiry found.  
Yet, "not only is he (the crown prince) being welcomed to international events, he continues to have many face-to-face meetings with world leaders, including those from liberal democracies," Momani said.
Prince Mohammed's successful comeback bid is a testament to Saudi Arabia's clout on the global stage as the world's top oil producer and arms importer, she added, referring to the kingdom's multibillion-dollar defence contracts with Western countries. 
Trump, announcing his decision in November last year to "stand with Saudi Arabia", touted Riyadh's import of US weapons, as well as its support of Washington's policies on Iran and Syria.
The decision not to take punitive measures against Saudi Arabia for Khashoggi's killing also reflects a rise of "nationalist-populist dictators globally", Momani argued.
"If you're going to censure Mohammed bin Salman, why wouldn't you censure Xi Jinpingof China, who's got one million Muslim Uighurs in internment camps, Narendra Modi of India who's got Muslims in Kashmir in one big open-air prison - so where do you begin the censuring?"
In addition to business and geopolitical interests, "there's also an appreciation - whether you like it or not - for some of the economic and social reforms that Mohammed bin Salman has carried out", Momani said, referring to the crown prince's pledge to diversify the Saudi economy away from oil, as well as a decision to grant women the right to drive.
Still, the fallout over Khashoggi's murder has cost Prince Mohammed and Saudi Arabia.
Germany, Denmark and Finland have banned arms sales to the kingdom, but arguably the most notable effect has been the US Congress's stance towards Riyadh.
Despite Trump's fervent support, the Senate in December approved a measure blaming the crown prince for Khashoggi's killing. This year, both the House of Representatives and the Senate voted to end US military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen - but Trump vetoed those measures.
In a Twitter post on Monday, Robert Menendez, a Democratic senator, pledged to continue the effort to hold Saudi Arabia to account.  "Trump has repeatedly vetoed Congress' efforts, but we remain undeterred," he said. 
"Khashoggi's murder will be remembered as the straw that broke the camel's back - a grim reminder that Saudi behaviour has strayed so far out of line with our own values that business as usual with the kingdom was no longer in our interests," he added in an op-ed for The Washington Post.
Ayham Kamel, Middle East director at the Eurasia Group, said the US Congress's stance was among the factors behind Prince Mohammed's recent decision to take responsibility for Khashoggi's killing. In an interview with CBS's 60 minutes programme that aired on Sunday, just as the looming anniversary of Khashoggi's killing began to draw attention to the case, the crown prince denied ordering the murder, but said he took "full responsibility as a leader in Saudi Arabia". 
The comments "represent a clear shift in approach in embracing the mistake that was made and promising some form of accountability," Kamel said. "He has seen there are limitations to what he can do on the international arena, for sure."
However, many have denounced the crown prince's comments.
Callamard said they represented an attempt by the crown prince to exonerate himself from direct criminal responsibility in the killing, while The Washington Post's editorial board described them as "a lie that only those wishing to excuse him will accept".
Fred Ryan, publisher of the US newspaper, said he believed Khashoggi's case could still be "a turning point".
Some actions are too heinous for the public to forget, he wrote in a hopeful op-ed on Sunday. And Khashoggi's murder "might be recorded as the moment when Saudi Arabia began to understand the consequences of its brutality, when the United States learned important lessons about standing up for its values, and when both countries rediscovered liberty, human rights and respect for the truth".


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