Iran warns Israel of ‘firm’ response to air raids in Syria

Iran has warned Israel of a “firm and appropriate” response if it continued attacking targets in Syria, where Tehran has backed President Bashar al-Assadand his forces in their nearly eight-year war against rebels and ISIL fighters.

Israel, which views Iran as its biggest security threat, has repeatedly attacked Iranian targets and those of its allied militia in Syria.

With an election looming in April, Israel has been increasingly open about carrying out its air strikes.READ MORE

Russia criticises Israel for ‘gross violation’ in Syria strikes

In a meeting on Tuesday with Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moalem in Tehran, the secretary of Iran’s National Security Council Ali Shamkhani said the Israeli attacks violated Syria’s territorial integrity and were “unacceptable”.

“If these actions continue, we will activate some calculated measures as a deterrent and as a firm and appropriate response to teach a lesson to the criminal and lying rulers of Israel,” Shamkhani was quoted as saying by the Fars news agency.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last month that Israeli forces would continue to attack Iranians in Syria and warned them to “get out of there” fast.

If #Israel continues its actions in #Syria, calculated measures will be activated as a deterrent and firm and appropriate response to teach a lesson to lying and criminal rulers of Israel: #Iran‘s Shamkhani pic.twitter.com/eg6c7NwH25β€” Tasnim News Agency (@Tasnimnews_EN) February 5, 2019

Continuous attacks

Israel has sought to avoid direct involvement in the conflict in war-torn Syria, but has acknowledged carrying out dozens of attacks to stop what it says are deliveries of advanced weaponry to its Lebanese enemy Hezbollah.

It has also pledged to prevent its regional rival Iran from entrenching itself militarily in Syria, and a series of attacks that have killed Iranians in Syria have been blamed on Israel.

“We are working to prevent Iran from establishing a military presence in Syria,” Netanyahu said.

“We will not relent in pursuit of this goal just as we did not relent in bringing about the cancellation of the bad nuclear agreement with Iran.”

In January, Israeli planes carried out an attack on what they called an Iranian arms cache in Syria.READ MORE

Israel says it launched 200 strikes in Syria since 2017

In May last year, Israel hit dozens of military sites in Syria after accusing Iran of launching rockets and missiles towards its forces in the occupied Golan Heights.

And in July, it carried out air attacks on three Syrian military facilities in Quneitra province following the incursion of what it said was a Syrian drone into its airspace.

However, Netanyahu and officials have also expressed concern over the US withdrawal from Syria because it could enable Iran to expand its influence and presence in the country.

The prime minister has urged the US and other countries to recognise Israel’s sovereignty over the strategic Golan Heights it seized from Syria in the 1967 War and later annexed.

For his part, Bolton last month said the US backed Israel’s right to self-defence and said the Trump administration will continue to work with Israel to counter “the continuing threat of Iran’s quest for deliverable nuclear weapons”.

US will ‘assure’ Israel’s security before Syria pullout (4:53)

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

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Saudi Arabia, UAE gave US arms to al-Qaeda-linked groups: Report

CNN says Saudi Arabia and UAE transferred US-made weapons to militias designated by the US as terrorist groups.05 Feb 2019 09:26 GMT

Saudi Arabia, UAE gave US arms to al-Qaeda-linked groups: Report
US-made Oshkosh armoured vehicles were given to the Abu al-Abbas Brigade in Taiz, CNN reported [Al Jazeera]

Saudi Arabia and its coalition partner in Yemen, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) transferred US-made weapons to al-Qaeda-linked groups and a Salafi militia whose commander who once “served with” the Yemeni branch of ISIL, a CNN investigation has found.

Corroborating an earlier report by Al Jazeera, the CNN investigation said that the weapons had also made their way into the hands of Houthi rebels who are battling against the coalition for control of the country.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE entered Yemen’s war in 2015 leading a military coalition to try and restore the internationally recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

The two Gulf countries wanted to restore the Hadi government after a civil war broke out between Hadi’s supporters and those loyal to the Houthis.

But according to CNN, the coalition was using US-manufactured weapons “as a form of currency to buy the loyalties of militias or tribes, bolster chosen armed actors, and influence the complex political landscape,” local commanders and analysts said.

According to the Pentagon, the Gulf monarchies were breaking the terms of their arms deal with Washington.

A US defence official told CNN that there was an ongoing investigation into the issue.

‘The coalition is still supporting me’

Citing the situation in the flashpoint city of Taiz, CNN said that al-Qaeda had forged “advantageous alliances with the pro-Saudi militias they fought alongside”.

It said the Abu al-Abbas Brigade possessed US-made Oshkosh armoured vehicles that were paraded through the city in a 2015 show of force.

Abu al-Abbas, the militia’s founder, was sanctioned by the US in 2017 for allegedly financing al-Qaeda and the Yemeni chapter of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group.

“The coalition is still supporting me,” al-Abbas said in an interview in December with the Washington Post. “If I really was a terrorist, they would have taken me in for questioning.”

According to CNN, his group still enjoyed support from the Saudi-led coalition and was absorbed into the coalition-supported 35th Brigade of the Yemeni army.

“The United States has not authorized the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates to re-transfer any equipment to parties inside Yemen,” Pentagon spokesperson Johnny Michael told CNN.

“The US government cannot comment on any pending investigations of claims of end-use violations of defence articles and services transferred to our allies and partners,” Michael added.

US weapons in Houthi hands

According to the report, US-made weapons also ended up in the hands of Houthi rebels.

In September 2017, a Houthi-run TV channel broadcast images of Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, a senior Houthi leader, sitting behind the wheel of a captured US-made Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle (MRAP) in the capital Sanaa, as a crowd chanted “death to America” in the background.

CNN also obtained an image showing the serial numbers of a second MRAP in the hands of another senior Houthi official last year in Hodeidah.

The vehicle was part of a $2.5bn sale to the UAE in 2014.

The sale document, seen by CNN, certifies that “a determination has been made that the recipient country can provide the same degree of protection for the sensitive technology” as the US.

Hiram Al Assad, a member of the Houthi political council, confirmed to CNN that the MRAPs were still in Houthi hands but denied reports that the vehicles had been probed by Iranian intelligence.

The US is by far the biggest supplier of arms to both Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and its support is crucial to the Saudi-led coalition’s continuing war in Yemen.

In his first overseas trip as president, US President Donald Trump sealed an arms deal with Saudi Arabia worth about $110bn over several years. The agreement was said to be aimed at bolstering security “in the face of Iranian threats”.

According to CNN, the revelations raise fresh questions over whether Saudi Arabia is responsible enough to be allowed to continue buying sophisticated US arms and other military hardware.

Out of the 18,000-plus raids the Saudi-UAE coalition has launched since the start of the conflict, nearly a third of all bombs have hit civilian targets, according to the Yemen Data Project, a monitor of the war in Yemen.

The developments also come as Congress, outraged with Riyadh over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year, considers whether to force an end to the Trump administration’s support for the Saudi-UAE coalition.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS