Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
News, May 2015
As Kerry Meets with GCC Foreign Minister in Preparation for Summit, 100 Saudi Air Strikes Launched on Yemen in One Day
May 9, 2015
U.S., Gulf allies seek agreement on new security measures: Kerry
Fri May 8, 2015 4:21pm EDT
The United States and its Gulf allies will try to agree on new security measures at a summit in Washington next week to guard against destabilizing actions by Iran in the region, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday.
The West hopes to secure a nuclear deal with Tehran by an end-of-June deadline and this has stirred anxiety among Washington's Gulf allies who fear Shi'ite Muslim Iran's intentions in the region.
Iran and the Gulf monarchies are also at loggerheads in Yemen, where Saudi-led warplanes again bombed Iranian-allied Houthi rebels on Friday, though Riyadh also then announced a conditional five-day humanitarian ceasefire.
After marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two in Europe at the Arc De Triomphe in Paris, Kerry hosted counterparts from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain, as well as the head of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
The Paris meeting set the stage for a summit next week in Washington and Camp David between U.S. President Barack Obama and the six-nation GCC.
The Obama administration faces a formidable challenge to allay Gulf Arab fears over a nuclear deal with Tehran.
"President Obama completely understands the stakes," Kerry told a news conference, "We are fleshing out a series of new commitments that will create between the United States and the GCC a new security understanding, a new set of security initiatives. That will take us beyond anything that we have had before," he added.
U.S. officials have told Reuters the Washington summit would create a region-wide defense system to guard against Iranian missiles and could be accompanied by enhanced security commitments, new arms sales and more joint military exercises.
"It is not a one-way street, it is a two-way street, with mutual interests and mutual needs that need to be addressed," Kerry said.
"I am confident that with Camp David those views are going to take shape in a form that will greatly enhance our ability to meet the needs of our people, and the needs of all those people, who want a future that is free of terrorism...," he added.
More than 100 Saudi-led air strikes hit Yemen: Houthis
Sat May 9, 2015 8:34am EDT
A Saudi-led coalition struck northern provinces of Yemen on Saturday in a third consecutive night of heavy air strikes, the Houthi rebels said, following their shelling this week of Saudi border areas.
More than 100 air strikes hit areas of Sa'ada and Hajjah provinces, including the districts of Haradh, Maidi and Bakil al-Mir, the Houthis said.
It was not possible to independently verify the number or location of strikes but coalition jets destroyed a Houthi headquarters in al-Talah and tanks and military vehicles in al-Baqah in Sa'ada province, Saudi state television reported.
Other strikes targeted Sanaa airport's runway, an official there said, and Houthi targets in the al-Sadda district of Ibb in central Yemen, residents there said.
In the southern port city of Aden, clashes continued on Friday and Saturday in the central Crater, Khor Maksar and Mualla districts as the Houthis and forces loyal to Saleh shelled local militias trying to oust them from the city.
However, the Houthis were pushed back from parts of Dar al-Saad in the city's north into Lahj Province, local militias send, and faced fighting in al-Dhala Province.
FEARS OF PROXY WAR
The coalition has bombarded the Houthis and army units loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh since March 26, but eased back on the strikes in late April and on Friday offered a five-day truce starting on May 12 if other parties agreed.
The Saudis and nine other Arab countries, backed by the United States, Britain and France, hoped to force the Houthis back to their northern heartland and restore the exiled government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who is in Riyadh.
The Houthis are mainly drawn from the Zaydi sect of Shi'ite Islam that predominates in Yemen's northern highlands. They took advantage of political chaos to seize Sanaa and then advance further south over the past year, aided by Saleh.
Riyadh fears the Houthis will act as a proxy for their main regional rival, Shi'ite Iran, to undermine Saudi security, and that their advance into Sunni regions will add a sectarian edge to the civil war, strengthening an al Qaeda group in Yemen.
Iran and the Houthis deny there are funding, arming or training efforts by Tehran, and regional analysts say the rebel group is unlikely ever to become an all-out proxy for the Islamic Republic in the mould of Lebanon's Hezbollah.
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday said the campaign was the work of an "inexperienced" government that did not understand the region's politics.
Iran's allies, not atoms, preoccupy Israeli generals
Tue May 5, 2015 12:31pm EDT
JERUSALEM | By Dan Williams
While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thunders against a possible nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, his defense chiefs see Tehran's guerrilla allies as a more pressing menace.
Chief among these is Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia that fought the Israeli armed forces to a standstill in their 2006 war and has since expanded its arsenal and honed its skills helping Damascus battle the Syria insurgency.
Ram Ben-Barak, director-general of Israel's Intelligence Ministry, accused Iran on Tuesday of "seeking footholds" from Syria to Yemen to Egypt's Sinai and the Palestinian territories. But he deemed Hezbollah a foe as formidable as the conventional Arab armies that fought Israel in the 1967 and 1973 wars.
"The only entity that can challenge us with a surprise attack on any scale nowadays is Hezbollah in Lebanon," Ben-Barak told a conference organized by the Israel Defense journal.
Israel believes Hezbollah has more than 100,000 missiles capable of paralyzing its civilian infrastructure. Seeking to deter the guerrillas, Israeli generals have threatened to devastate Lebanon should there be another full-on conflict.
In the interim, Lebanese and Syrian security sources report regular Israeli air force sorties as part of an apparent effort to monitor and at times destroy weapons transfers to Hezbollah.
A Jan. 18 air strike that killed an Iranian general and several Hezbollah operatives in Syria's Golan Heights, northeast of Israel, suggested the Lebanese guerrillas have been setting up a second front close to Jordan, Israel's security partner.
An Iranian-backed Hezbollah presence in the Golan "will pose a very big problem for us in the future", Ben-Barak said.
Two Western diplomats who track Israel's military assessed that it was now busiest securing the Lebanon and Syria borders.
"I don't think anyone's looking for escalation, but the potential for this to spiral out of control is high," one diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
When Israel's military intelligence chief, Major-General Herzi Halevy, visited Washington in March, as world powers and Iran entered the final stretch of negotiations on curbs to Iran's nuclear program, he urged U.S. care not to inadvertently fuel regional instability.
"What he was really interested in getting across was the military threat from groups like Hezbollah, the (Tehran-backed) Houthis in Yemen, and the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps) in Syria," one of Halevy's American hosts said.
Ben-Barak predicted that sanctions relief under the Iran nuclear deal, whose deadline is June 30, would bring Tehran "several hundreds of billions of dollars" which would help it fund its regional allies.
Israel has condemned the proposed deal, under which Iran would scale down its nuclear projects in return for sanctions relief, as not tough enough to remove the risk of an Iranian nuclear weapons capability.
(Editing by Jeffrey Heller/Mark Heinrich)
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