Saturday, January 31, 2015

Rouhani: Hardliners ‘Cheering On’ Other Side in Nuclear Talks

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani today accused the country’s hardliners of effectively “cheering on” the other side in Iran’s grueling nuclear negotiations with world powers.

“The other side applauds their own, but here in our country, it is not clear what (the hardliners) are doing. It is as if they are cheering on the rival team,” Rouhani said in a public gathering in Tehran. (IRNA/Reuters, 31 December)

“And when we ask them what they are doing, they answer, ‘We are criticizing and criticism is a good thing’… This is not criticism, it is sabotage of national interests and favor for partisan politics,” Rouhani added.

Rouhani here is alluding to a widely-held suspicion among the moderates and circles close to him that the hardliners prefer to see the nuclear negotiations fail than letting Rouhani and the moderates get credit for ending a 12-year nuclear standoff with the West and securing the lifting of sanctions, which have crippled Iran’s oil-based economy.

The hardliners are weary that Rouhani and the moderates could parlay the success into important victories in the upcoming elections for the Assembly of Experts and Majlis, scheduled for March 2016. The elections for the Assembly of Experts are particularly crucial, as the next Assembly could find itself in a position to choose a new supreme leader if the current leader would be incapacitated due to illness. Khamenei recently underwent surgery for prostate cancer.

File photo: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (IRNA)

ISIL Blames U.S. Airstrikes for Loss of Kobane

The Islamic State today acknowledged that its fighters have been defeated in Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane, and blamed U.S.-led coalition airstrikes for its defeat.

“A while ago we retreated a bit from Ayn al-Islam (Kobane) because of the bombardment and the killing of some brothers,” an ISIL fighter told the Associated Press. “The Islamic State will stay. Say that to Obama.” (AP, 31 January)

Another ISIL fighter complained, “The warplanes were bombarding us night and day. They bombarded everything, even motorcycles.”

ISIL fighters said they would continue their fight against the Kurdish militia YPG, the main defenders of Kobane.

ISIL launched its offensive on the Kobane region in mid-September, occupying some 300 villages and large parts of the city. More than 1,000 of its fighters were killed as a result of still Kurdish resistance and U.S.-led coalition airstrikes.

More than 200,000 Kurds were forced from their homes. Many fled to neighboring Turkey.

Photo credit: Kobane refugee children playing outside their tent in the Turkish border town of Suruc; 30 January 2015 (Emrah Gurel/AP)

Iranians Can Survive on One Meal a Day – Jannati

If Sanctions Get Worse
Ayatollah Ali Jannati, the chairman of Iran’s powerful Guardian Council, told Iranians during his Friday Prayer sermons in Tehran that if the nuclear negotiations are unsuccessful and economic sanctions get worse, they can always survive on one meal a day.

“So what if you can have only one meal a day, if the situation gets worse because of sanctions,” Jannati said. “Starvation is not worse than losing a loved one.” (IRNA, 30 January)

Jannati added that Ayatollah Khamenei’s “Resistance Economy” would ensure the survival of the Islamic Republic and all Iranians should be happy to sacrifice in the struggle against the West.

“We endure hardship in the path of resistance,” Jannati added.

Jannati also criticized Rouhani administration for sending the country’s foreign minister to Riyadh to pay respects to the memory of the late King Abdullah. Jannati instead congratulated Muslims over Abdullah’s death.

During his sermons, Jannati also commented on Hezbollah’s missile attack on Wednesday against Israel. “This is the first [response to] the Zionists and they should wait [for more].” (EA Worldview, 31 January)

File photo: Ayatollah Ali Jannati delivering Friday Prayer sermons in Tehran in 2013 (Raheb Homavand/Reuters)

Friday, January 30, 2015

Oil Jumps

Crude oil prices had its biggest daily advance since 2012, with Brent jumping nearly 8 percent to $52.99 a barrel on Friday. Oil services giant Baker Hughes reported the oil rig count fell to a three-year low, signaling that the almost 60 percent slump in oil prices in the past seven months will slow production. Chevron, for example, announced today that it will cut spending in response to free-falling prices. (Bloomberg, 30 January)

Coalition against Islamic State Faces Long War – Kurdish PM

Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said in an interview with Reuters on Thursday that despite recent victories in the war against ISIL, the global coalition fighting the group could face a long war. Barzani added there was little chance of defeating the insurgents so long as the civil war rages in Syria, Iraq’s army continues to exist more on paper than on the ground, and Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq remain woefully under-armed.

“This is a long war. They control more than 15 million people in Iraq and Syria,” said Barzani. “Islamic State has now been contained and controlled but it is still able to carry attacks.” (Reuters, 29 January)

Meanwhile, a senior Kurdish commander was killed in Kirkuk on Friday during a major attack by ISIL. The assault on areas south and west of Kirkuk began at around midnight that was still ongoing Friday morning.

Peshmerga Brig. Gen. Shirko Rauf and fine other members of the Kurdish security forces were killed in clashes, and nearly 50 injured. The Kirkuk security officials announced a curfew beginning 10:00 am (0700 GMT) on Friday, saying it will be in effect until further notice. (Reuters, 30 January)

File photo: Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani speaking at the Iraq-Kurdistan Oil and Gas Conference; Erbil. December 2013 (Azad Lashkari/Reuters)

IRGC-N launch of Parmida 6 crew boat at Bushehr

Above: video still of Parmida 6 crew boat upon launch into Persian Gulf waters 

Iranian media reports the 28JAN15 launch of newly constructed Parmida 6 crew boat at Bushehr, in the presence of Commander of IRGC-N Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi.

Crew boats are vessels specialized in the transport of offshore support personnel, deck cargo, and below-deck cargo such as fuel and potable water to and from offshore installations such as oil platforms, drilling rigs and drill/ dive ships.

Claimed specifications for Parmida 6 include a maximum speed of 25 nautical miles per hour, with capacity to carry 73 passengers and crew of eight.

For comparison, Parmida 5 crew boat specifications list a gross tonnage of 243, deadweight of 134 tons and a length x breadth of 41m x 7.4m.


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Lebanese Hezbollah's retaliatory raid on IDF

Above: IDF Isuzu D-Max vehicle destroyed by Lebanese Hezbollah 9M133 Kornet anti-tank guided missile (ATGM)

On 28JAN15, in retaliation for an Israeli airstrike last week that killed six Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) fighters and an IRGC brigadier general, LH launched Operation "Statement Number One" against an Israeli Defense Force (IDF)  motorized column at Sheba Farms.

LH claims its "Quneitra martyrs of the Islamic Resistance" targeted 9 vehicles, with Israeli sources reporting the column included members of the Tzabar battalion of the Givati Brigade ("Highland Brigade”).  Israeli sources further state LH fired at least five 9M133 Kornet anti-tank guided missiles at the column. Reported IDF casualties are 2 KIA (including a company commander) and 7 WIA.

Israel responded with rocket and artillery strikes against targets along the Lebanon-Israel border, killing a UNIFIL peacekeeper from Spain.

COMMENTARY: Since the IDF strike last week that killed senior Hezbollah and Iranian military leaders, Iran and Hezbollah have publicly declared the intent to retaliate.

Judging by the results, Israel's political and military leadership have again underestimated the tactical capability of Hezbollah. (Past underestimation triggered the 2006 Lebanon War and unsuccessful outcome.)

The IDF experienced Hezbollah 9M133 Kornet ATGM fire during the 2006 Lebanon War. Curiously, despite the heightened sense of risk following last week's IDF strike at Quneitra, soft-skinned vehicles belonging to members Tzabar battalion of the Givati Brigade found themselves within range of infiltrating LH raiders.

Whatever the next moves made by Israel or the Iran-led coalition, it appears the multi-dimensional armed conflicts taking place at or about the Levant are now even more complicated.

Soft-skinned vehicles of the IDF Givati Brigade, successfully targeted during LH's Operation "Statement Number One"

File photo of a Lebanese Hezbollah 9M133 Kornet anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) system

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

American weapons fielded by Iran-backed Kata'ib Hizbullah militia in Iraq

American weapons and equipment fielded by Iran-backed Kata'ib Hizbullah (KH) militia in the war against ISIL, as depicted on video uploaded 25JAN15 on YouTube:

American-supplied, formerly Iraqi Army M1A1M main battle tank on M1070 Truck Tractor and M1000 Heavy Equipment Transporter Semi-trailer; now in use with Iran-backed Kata'ib Hizbullah militia in Iraq.

Note: This former Iraqi Army M1A1M main battle tank may be the same unit adorned with KH flag seen depicted on social media last October 2014.

American supplied, formerly Iraqi Army M113A2 armored personnel carriers; now in use with  Iran-backed Kata'ib Hizbullah militia in Iraq.

American supplied, formerly Iraqi Army Navistar 7000 series heavy lift vehicles; now in use with Iran-backed Kata'ib Hizbullah militia in Iraq.

American supplied, formerly Iraqi ERU and Iraqi Army HMMMV type vehicles; now in use with Iran-backed Kata'ib Hizbullah militia in Iraq.

American supplied, formerly ISF trucks including Fords, Chevrolets and Dodges; now in use as technicals with Iran-backed Kata'ib Hizbullah militia in Iraq.

American supplied, formerly ISF M16 type assault rifles; now in use with Iran-backed Kata'ib Hizbullah militia in Iraq.

Iran-supplied Safir tactical vehicles fitted with Fajr-1 twelve-tube 107 mm rocket launchers; in use with Iran-backed Kata'ib Hizbullah militia in Iraq.

A study of allegiance in similar flags, left to right: Iran's IRGC, Lebanese Hezbollah and Iraqi Kata'ib Hizbullah

Complete video:

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Obama in Saudi Arabia

President Barack Obama travelling with a 27-strong delegation arrived in Riyadh today to pay respects to the memory of the late King Abdullah and to meet with King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, the Kingdom’s new ruler. The delegation accompanying Obama includes Secretary of State John Kerry, CENTCOM Commander GEN Lloyd Austin, CIA Director John Brennan and Senator John McCain.

National Security Council spokesman Ben Rhodes said the president wants the same kind of relationship with the new king that he had with Abdullah, in which “we’re able to move forward on areas of common interest and able to be very candid and frank with one another about developments in the region.” (AFP, 27 January)

Photo credit: President Obama meets with Saudi King Salman; Riyadh, 27 January 2015 (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Senate Democrats to Hold Off on New Iran Bill

U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, co-sponsor of legislation that would tighten sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program, said today he and other Democratic senators would not vote for the passage of the bill until a 24 March deadline for reaching a framework agreement between Iran and world powers. President Obama has said voting for the legislation at this time could upset talks now under way with Iran, and pledged he would veto it.

Menendez said he and his Democratic colleagues have sent a letter to the president telling him they will not support passage of the Kirk-Menendez bill on Senate floor “until after March 24 and only if there is no political framework agreement.” (HuffPost, 27 January)

File photo: U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ); April 2014 (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/HuffPost)

Civilian Aircraft Hit While Landing at Baghdad Airport

UAE Airlines Cancel Flights to BIAP
Flydubai Boeing 737-8KN (A6-FEK), on flight FZ-215 from Dubai to Baghdad, was hit by three rounds of shots while landing at Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) on Tuesday. The UAE-based airliner, carrying 154 passengers, landed safely, but three passengers received "light injuries." Flydubai said its aircraft also suffered damage to the fuselage “consistent with small arms fire.”

BIAP is located west of the capital, near strongholds of ISIL insurgents in Anbar province.

Emirates Airlines, Etihad Airways, Air Arabia as well as Flydubai have suspended all their flights to Baghdad.

UPDATE: Foreign flights into Baghdad were cancelled on Tuesday after shots were fired at flydubai flight FZ-215.

File photo: Flydubai Boeing 737-8KN, A6-FEK, the aircraft that was hit while landing in Baghdad, in a file photo during its delivery flight; 5 January 2014, Birmingham (Birmingham Airport Photo Blog)