Saturday, 25 April 2015

Hezbollah's Secret Airstrip Discovered

------------------------------------------- Eds Note:  With the Syrian conflict on rise, along with the developing Middle East crisis, Hezbollah is capitalizing on the resources to be prepared to combat his enemies. Pentagon needs to deeply think their war strategy, alongwith Obama's vision on foreign policy needs revisiting.  (063 News)
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- LEBANON:
Lebanon based Hezbollah has constructed an airstrip in the northern Bekaa Valley for the takeoff and landing of its unmanned aerial vehicles, satellite imagery has revealed.
Reports by IHS Jane’s indicate the airstrip was built in a sparsely populated area slightly south of the northern Lebanese region of Hermel, bordering the Syrian border, sometime between February 27, 2013 and June 19, 2014.

The airstrip itself is very simple. It consists of a single unpaved strip that is 670 meters long and 20 meters wide. Materials for the strip were taken from a nearby quarry to build up its northern end and to level it out.
The short length of the air strip indicates that it is not used to smuggle in weapons from Syria or Iran, since it is too short to be used by nearly all other transport aircraft used by either country’s air force, with the exception of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ An-74T-200 short take-off transports.
According to Jane’s, the most likely explanation is that the runway was “built for Iranian-made UAVs, including the Ababil-3, which has been employed over Syria by forces allied to the Syrian regime, and possibly the newer and larger Shahed-129.”

Hezbollah has already confirmed that it is using UAVs to support its operations against opposition forces in Syria, particularly over the strategically-important Qalamoun region on Lebanon’s eastern border.

An antenna, which might be used to extend the range of a local UAV ground control station, is also located close to the strip, along with six small utility buildings, though none are large enough to house an Ababil-3. However, according to Jane’s, “there is a facility constructed in a valley 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) west of the airstrip that includes two utility buildings large enough to house UAVs.”

The site is also guarded by a checkpoint and swing gate, similar to other Hezbollah facilities that are located across Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.

News Edited By:   KANWAL ABIDI   063 News
                               *Political Analyst & Journalist

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Pakistan holds High-level meeting on Yemen

PR. No. 120/2015
 Office of the Spokesperson
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Press Release 

PM Chairs High-level meeting on Yemen situation

Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif chaired a high-level meeting on Yemen situation at the PM House here this evening, which was attended by Advisor to PM on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Mr. Sartaj Aziz; Chief Minister Punjab, Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif; SAPM, Mr. Tariq Fatemi; Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, General Rashad Mahmood; Chief of the Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif; Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman; Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Muhammad Zakaullah; Chief of General Staff, Lt. General Ashfaq Nadeem Ahmad and Foreign Secretary, Mr. Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry along with other senior officials.

Chief Minister Punjab, Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif, who visited Saudi Arabia on 15th April as Special Envoy of the Prime Minister, along with Advisor to PM , Chief of General Staff and Foreign Secretary briefed the meeting about the outcome of their discussions with the leadership of the Kingdom. 

Objective of the visit:
The objective of the visit was to express solidarity with the leadership and people of Saudi Arabia. During this visit the delegation met with His Royal Highness, Prince Muhammad bin Naif, Deputy Crown Prince and Minister for Interior and His Royal Highness Prince Saud Al-Faisal, Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia.
The meeting was apprised that Mr. Shahbaz Sharif reiterated to the Saudi leaders unequivocal support of the government and people of Pakistan to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia while reaffirming that the people of Pakistan stand ever-ready to protect Harmain Al-Sharifain and the people of Saudi Arabia. Pakistan has always stood by Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia with Pakistan, he said.

The meeting was informed that Saudi leaders reciprocated the warmth of relations between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and reaffirmed the special bond of friendship between the two countries. The Saudi leadership also appreciated the statement of the Prime Minister of Pakistan of 13th April, 2015 amplifying the resolution of the parliament of 10th April, 2015. The delegation held detailed discussions with the Saudi leadership on the situation in Yemen and condemned the violent overthrow of the legitimate government of President Hadi by the Houthis.

UN imposes embargo on weapons:
The civil and military leadership was further informed that the delegation welcomed the adoption of UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution of 14th April, 2015 calling upon the Houthis to end the use of violence that undermines political transition in Yemen, and calls upon them to withdraw their forces from all areas they have seized, including the capital Sana’a, and relinquish all arms seized from military and security institutions. The delegation also expressed its concerns on the reports of foreign support to the Houthis, and noted with satisfaction that the UN resolution requires all member states to prevent supply of arms and equipment to Houthis and their allies, including by inspecting all cargo going to Yemen, if the state concerned has information that the cargo contains the supply of arms prohibited under the UN resolution.

During their briefing the delegation members said they affirmed to the Saudi leadership that the government of Pakistan would fully participate and contribute to the implementation of the UNSC resolution, and discussed the possibility of expanding Pakistan's cooperation with Saudi Arabia in compatibility with the UNSC resolution, and pursuant to paragraphs 10 and 11 of parliament's resolution of 10th April.

The meeting expressed satisfaction on the efforts being made by leadership, government and people of Pakistan to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Saudi brothers, and play a constructive role for a peaceful resolution of the crisis in Yemen.
The high-level meeting expressed the hope that in accordance with the UNSC resolution, all Yemeni parties would resolve their differences through dialogue and consultation, and all parties would take steps to agree and implement a consensus based political solution to Yemen's crisis in accordance with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative and its Implementation Mechanism and the outcomes of comprehensive National Dialogue conference.

Edited by: KANWAL ABIDI (063 News)
                 *Political Analyst & Journalist

April 16, 2015

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Mapping Chaos in Yemen

Yemen is more of Civil War issue, rather than pulling GCC countries in it & involving Pakistan too

ADEN, Yemen — Rooftop snipers have emptied the streets of this dusty seaside city and swelled its hospitals and morgues.Weeks of fighting between armed groups have left nearly 200 people dead and the city starved of water, fuel and electricity. Hospitals struggle to obtain anesthetic and dressings. Barefoot, nervous teenagers with matted hair and guns mind checkpoints on the treacherous roads. Gun battles sweep across the city while residents lie low and worry that there is worse suffering to come.

“The war of hunger has not started — yet,” said Ali Bamatraf, a grocer with dwindling stocks, standing among empty food boxes that would not soon be replaced.As war engulfs Yemen, no place in the beleaguered country has suffered as severely as Aden, a southern port city captive to ferocious street fighting for the better part of a harrowing month. Foreign navies patrol its waters and warplanes circle above, blockading a city that is steadily crumbling under reckless fire from tanks and heavy guns.

“Damaged. Ruined,” said Faris al-Shuaibi, a professor of English literature at Aden University, searching for the words to describe the beaten-up neighborhood around him. “Everything is destroyed.”

Start of Clash:

The clashes began in mid-March as a feud between forces allied with two members of Yemen’s political elite: southern fighters loyal to President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who had retreated to Aden after being driven from the capital, against Houthi militiamen and security forces allied with Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s former leader.

Weeks later, the war has spread and become far more complicated. Saudi Arabia unleashed an air offensive last month that so far has failed in its primary goal: to stop the Houthi advance.

*Saudi officials are threatening a ground invasion, seeing the hand of Iran, their regional nemesis, behind the Houthis, whose leaders follow an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

For many residents of Aden, though, each day has only simplified the conflict, reducing it to an existential fight. After Mr. Hadi and most of his loyal fighters quit the city, residents dusted off personal weapons and formed their own units to fight the advance of the Houthis and their allies — the latest northern invaders, they say, seeking to dominate the south.

North and South Yemen were separate countries until 1990 and fought a brief civil war four years later. For decades, southern grievances over ill treatment by the rulers in the northern capital, Sana, have festered, escalating in recent years into a movement openly calling for secession.

Professor Shuaibi was among thousands of people protesting peacefully a few months ago in Aden for an independent state, in a square adorned with pictures of southerners who had died in wars and at the hands of Mr. Saleh’s security forces.

On Thursday, he was back in the streets with a gun, preparing to join other residents fighting in the central district of Al Mualla.

The local militias are loosely organized, dominated by young men focused on securing their own neighborhoods, said Jamal Khulaqi, a 25-year-old Yemeni-American from Buffalo who said he was helping with relief efforts in the city. Most lack training and weapons apart from AK-47s.

Their opponents are mostly security men loyal to Mr. Saleh, known for their repression back when they were in power. Now, as militiamen, residents say, they are unrestrained and more brutal. “They are bombing innocent people, families,” Professor Shuaibi said.

The Houthis, fighting all over the country, are a smaller part of the force in Aden, their ranks filled with many teenagers and even some children. Some of the young Houthis who had been captured seemed filled with religious zeal and said they had been told they were going to Aden to fight Al-Qaeda, the Sunni extremists the Houthis regard as their principal foe, Professor Shuaibi said.“There is no Al-Qaeda here,” he said.

------> The city has been carved up into sectors guarded by fighters with guns slung over their shoulders, drained by the stresses of war but still full of swagger. One fighter, Mohamed Saleh Salem, 38, called the local fighters “ferocious” and vowed that the Houthis would not advance, while adding that he had not had a bath in days.

The Houthis and their allies, armed with tanks and other heavy weapons, have captured several strategic areas, including a coastal road. But their hold on the city remains shaky, and they are vulnerable to repeated attacks by the local groups, which are fighting in familiar neighborhoods.

The Houthi forces respond savagely to any assault, Mr. Khulaqi said. “When someone shoots at them, they fire on buildings,” he said as he drove a friend through the city’s checkpoints to catch the only bus still shuttling people out of Aden and across the country to the Saudi border.

As dangerous as it is to travel outside the city, it has become deadly to stay. Volunteer medics said that at least 198 people had been killed and nearly 2,000 people injured in the city since March 25. The estimate was probably conservative: Ambulances have not been able to reach people in neighborhoods with the heaviest fighting, said Khadeja bin Bourek, a volunteer aid worker, who said there was also a shortage of medics at government hospitals.

Casualty Update:

*Valerie Pierre, the project coordinator for Doctors Without Borders in Aden, said an average of 15 to 20 patients, most of them gunshot victims, arrived every day at a hospital where the group is working and living. The group had just received its first shipment of medical supplies by boat from the tiny East African nation of Djibouti, across a narrow strait from Aden, but still had only a third of the supplies it needed.

Ms. Pierre, a midwife, arrived in Aden in January, finding a “beautiful city, a very historic place.” Now, she and the doctors are sequestered, listening to gun battles, sometimes distant, sometimes just outside the hospital walls.

“I am full of adrenaline, so I am still running, still motivated,” she said. “It is very scary.

Elsewhere in the city, residents were hauling water in buckets because water tanks supplying at least four districts had been destroyed or cut off by the fighting. In many places, electricity was only available a few hours each day. Only local neighborhood stores were open, and by 7 p.m., the streets were empty, except for the fighters.

Saudi airstrikes have mostly targeted the outskirts of the city, in an attempt to cut off the supply lines of the Houthis and their allies. There also appears to have been shelling from warships, though no one seems to know for sure.

“Aden is almost the only city in Yemen to be attacked by air, sea and land,” said Nashwan al-Othmani, a resident.

The siege has left little time to think about the political arguments dividing the country. No one seems to be clamoring for the return of Mr. Hadi, whom the Saudis have vowed to restore as president.

“There are many who criticize Hadi,” Mr. Othmani said. “There are many who accuse him of bringing the struggle to Aden and then leaving.”

Edited By:

KANWAL ABIDI   ( 063 News) - Global Press Agency (founder)
- Journalist & Political Analyst

Editors' Point of Order:
Saudis should lobby to restore Hadi, rather than indulge in airstrikes in the name of territorial integrity.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Iran Nukes Deal Done or Not?

Iran Nuclear Agreement: Is It a Done Deal?
Despite the fanfare about reaching a framework on Nuclear Agreement, there appears to be a big gap in the perception of what was actually agreed to.

Edited by:    KANWAL ABIDI     ( 063 News - Press Agency )
                    Journalist & Political Analyst
After months of intensive negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran, EU Foreign Policy Chief Frederica Mogherini and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, amid much media fanfare, announced a joint statement of principles outlining the agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear program.
The announcement was followed by a statement by President Obama framing the agreement as a victory for sanctions and diplomacy. Despite the announcement of the agreement and the subsequent celebrations and recriminations, it remains clear that a lot of hard work, difficult bargaining over details and political arm twisting and horse trading will be required before the June 30 deadline for the final agreement.
The U.S. and its allies on the P5+1, having long since abandoned the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) principles to “allow and inspect” and having focused on a policy to “deny and punish,” have insisted on a one-year “breakout time to a nuclear weapon,” a nebulous concept subject to much debate and interpretation.
They never have acknowledged Iran’s right to a peaceful nuclear program; a right which has been the cornerstone of the Iranian negotiating position.
In line with this position, Iran has insisted that they are unwilling to make what they call “irreversible change” to their nuclear infrastructure in return for a “suspension” of sanctions. They want the sanctions “lifted.” Given the long history of “double dealing” by the western powers, Iran does not have a lot of trust that it won’t happen again as the stated position of the U.S. with respect to Iran is “regime change.”
Shortly after the announcement of the agreement, the U.S. State Department issued a “fact sheet” apparently designed to spin the agreement for domestic consumption.
The release contains a series of bullet points that purport to explain what has been agreed to.
While many of the points regarding Iran’s obligations reflect the joint announcement, in the area of the lifting of sanctions there appears to be a wide gap. Foreign Minister Zarif immediately tweeted: “The solutions are good for all, as they stand. There is no need to spin using ‘fact sheets’ so early on.”
With regard to sanctions the joint announcement says, “The European Union will terminate the implementation of all nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions and the United States will cease the application of all nuclear-related secondary economic and financial sanctions simultaneously with the IAEA-verified implementation by Iran of its key nuclear commitments."
"A new UN Security Council resolution will endorse the JCPOA, terminate all previous nuclear-related resolutions, and incorporate certain restrictive measures for a mutually agreed period of time.”

The State Department fact sheet says,
·         Iran will receive sanctions relief, if it verifiably abides by its commitments.
·         S. and E.U. nuclear-related sanctions will be suspended after the IAEA has verified that Iran has taken all of its key nuclear-related steps. If at any time Iran fails to fulfill its commitments, these sanctions will snap back into place.
·         The architecture of U.S. nuclear-related sanctions on Iran will be retained for much of the duration of the deal and allow for snap-back of sanctions in the event of significant non-performance.
·         All past UN Security Council resolutions on the Iran nuclear issue will be lifted simultaneous (sic) with the completion, by Iran, of nuclear-related actions addressing all key concerns (enrichment, Fordow, Arak, PMD, and transparency).
·         However, core provisions in the UN Security Council resolutions – those that deal with transfers of sensitive technologies and activities – will be re-established by a new UN Security Council resolution that will endorse the JCPOA and urge its full implementation. It will also create the procurement channel mentioned above, which will serve as a key transparency measure. Important restrictions on conventional arms and ballistic missiles, as well as provisions that allow for related cargo inspections and asset freezes, will also be incorporated by this new resolution.    (063 news)

Twitter Update on Iran Nuke Deal:
Zarif’s Twitter reaction to this was “Iran/5+1 Statement: ‘US will cease the application of ALL nuclear-related secondary economic and financial sanctions.’ Is this gradual?” and “Iran/P5+1 Statement: ‘The EU will TERMINATE the implementation of ALL nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions’ How about this?” (Original emphasis.)
There appears to be a big gap in the perception of what was agreed to. The U.S. appears to be saying one thing to its negotiating partners and another to its domestic constituencies. Not a recipe for success. We may have a long way to go.