Iran has unveiled two new missiles amid heightened tensions between Iran and the United States, reported Iran State TV.
State TV said officials unveiled the two new missiles on Thursday — National Defense Industry Day in Iran, reports AP.
They are named after top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who were killed outside Baghdad’s international airport in a U.S. strike in January.
The “Martyr Hajj Qassem” surface-to-surface ballistic missile has a 1,400-kilometer (870-mile) range, according to the semi-official Fars news agency. State TV said the “Martyr Abu Mahdi” naval cruise missile has a 1,000-kilometer (620-mile) range.
State TV said the “Martyr Hajj Qassem” missile was not intercepted by a defense system during a test.
Also on Thursday, Iran unveiled a fourth-generation light turbo-fan engine for its advanced drones.
Iran also inaugurated the production line of its domestically produced “Owj” engine for the Iranian-made twin-seat Kowsar fighter jet.
Iran routinely unveils technological achievements for its armed forces, its space program and its nuclear efforts.
President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the nuclear agreement between Iran and six major powers, known in 2018, and tensions between the two countries have escalated since.
Also read: N Korea fires missiles off its east coast, says S Korea
Dubai has again loosened laws governing alcohol sales and possession of liquor as part of the United Arab Emirates efforts to bring itself out of an economic depression worsened by the coronavirus pandemic.
The virus outbreak exacerbated the emirate’s woes with mass layoffs thinning the ranks of its foreign workforce and empty homes even amid slight signs of recovery. Experts warn the sheikhdom's crucial real-estate market is on track to hit record lows seen in the 2009 Great Recession.
“It’s been a challenging year and there’s no hiding from that for any business — particularly those in the hospitality industry,” Mike Glen, managing director for the United Arab Emirates and Oman for alcohol distributor Maritime and Mercantile International, told The Associated Press in an emailed statement.
Alcohol sales have long served as a major barometer of the economy of Dubai, a top travel destination in the UAE. The sales also serve as a major tax revenue source for Dubai’s Al Maktoum ruling family.
In Dubai, alcohol sales in general reflect the confidence of buyers in their own finances and in turn, the economy. Pre-pandemic, those sales already showed the trouble Dubai faced amid falling global energy prices and a weakening real estate market. Dubai also postponed its Expo 2020, or world’s fair, to next year, another major blow.
Overall sales of alcohol by volume fell sharply in 2019 to 128.79 million liters, down some 3.5 percent from 133.42 million liters sold the year before, according to statistics from Euromonitor. The 2019 sales are down nearly 9 percent low from 2017, which saw 141.51 million liters sold.
Amid the lockdown, Dubai’s two major alcohol distributors began legal home deliveries of alcohol for the first time in hopes of boosting the sales. Now, the city-state has changed the very system granting permission to residents to legally purchase alcohol.
By law, non-Muslim residents are supposed to carry red plastic cards issued by the Dubai police that permit them to purchase, transport and consume beer, wine and liquor. Otherwise, they can face fines and arrest — even though the sheikhdom's vast network of bars, nightclubs and lounges never ask to see the permit.
Those red cards now have been replaced with a black card and a simplified application process only requiring an Emirati national ID card. An application no longer requires an employer’s permission. Purchase restrictions based on salaries also have been eased.
The new card system comes as Dubai also now allows tourists and visitors to buy alcohol from distributors simply by using their passports, closing a loophole that made visiting imbibers unable to get a permit subject to arrest for possessing alcohol.
Tough time ahead for real-estate
The UAE as a whole still faces the challenge of the coronavirus — with some 64,000 confirmed cases and 360 deaths. But Dubai has been aggressively advertising itself as reopened to tourism and now appears set to host Indian Premier League cricket, beginning in September.
There have been signs of a tentative and slight recovery starting to take hold. In July, Dubai's non-oil sector saw its first improvement in five months, according to a monthly survey by IHS Markit and Emirates NBD bank. But that appeared driven by deep cuts in price discounts, particularly in travel and tourism, the report said.
“The recovery in activity has not been sufficient to prevent firms continuing to lay off workers as they seek to reduce costs,” wrote Khatija Haque, the head of research and chief economist at Emirates NBD.
Those layoffs struck Emirates, the flagship of Dubai's state investment firm, particularly hard with thousands of employees fired. That's not counting all the other businesses large and small through the city similarly hurt by the virus.
Dubai's biggest private real estate company, DAMAC, which operates President Donald Trump's eponymous golf club in the UAE, just reported a net loss of $105 million for the first half of 2020. The company's chairman, Hussain Sajwani, blamed the pandemic.
“Resulting travel restrictions impacted the economy and the real estate sector, and we will see a difficult market for the coming 18 to 24 months,” Sajwani said.
Meanwhile, the mass layoffs have seen a noticeable number of for-rent and sales signs in front of homes and apartments across the city. The Dubai firm Property Monitor said in a report this week that real estate prices likely will set new record lows by the end of the third quarter of this year.
Rental listings have risen by 11 percent in Dubai as over 45,000 new residential units have entered the already soft market, according to REIDIN Data and Analytics, which tracks the market. Another 120,000 units are expected to come into the market in the next two years, further pushing down prices, REIDIN said.
Both sales and rental prices have dropped about a third since a market high in 2014, when Dubai announced it would be hosting the Expo.
The “current pandemic, coupled with oversupply in the market and reduced occupancy levels, caused and increase in the rate of decline of prices for both apartment and villas especially in the second quarter,” said Ozan Demir, the director of operations and research at REIDIN.
Israel’s agreement to establish diplomatic ties with the United Arab Emirates marks a watershed moment in its relations with Arab countries, but the Palestinians say it puts a just resolution of the Middle East conflict even farther out of reach.
The UAE presented its decision to upgrade longstanding ties to Israel as a way of encouraging peace efforts by taking Israel’s planned annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank off the table, something Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu swiftly rebuffed by insisting the pause was “temporary.”
From the Palestinian perspective, the UAE not only failed to stop annexation, which would dash any remaining hopes of establishing a viable, independent state. It also undermined an Arab consensus that recognition of Israel only come in return for concessions in peace talks — a rare source of leverage for the Palestinians.
“I never expected this poison dagger to come from an Arab country,” Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian official and veteran negotiator said Friday. “You are rewarding aggression. ... You have destroyed, with this move, any possibility of peace between Palestinians and Israelis.”
President Donald Trump has presented the U.S.-brokered agreement as a major diplomatic achievement and said he expects more Arab and Muslim countries to follow suit. Israel has quietly cultivated ties with the UAE and other Gulf countries for several years as they have confronted a shared enemy in Iran.
In Israel, the agreement has renewed long-standing hopes for normal relations with its Arab neighbors. Netanyahu has long insisted, contrary to generations of failed peace negotiators, that Israel can enjoy such ties without resolving its conflict with the Palestinians. For now, he seems to have been proven right.
“It’s hard to claim right now that the 53-year-old occupation is ‘unsustainable’ when Netanyahu has just proved that not only is it sustainable, but Israel can improve its ties with the Arab world, openly, with the occupation still going,” wrote Anshel Pfeffer, a columnist for Israel’s Haaretz newspaper.
But the Middle East conflict was never between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, which have fought no wars and share no borders. And the nature of the agreement will likely force the Palestinians to harden their stance and redouble their efforts to isolate Israel.
The Palestinian Authority issued a scathing statement in response to the move, calling it a “betrayal of Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Palestinian cause,” language clearly aimed at inflaming Arab and Muslim sentiment worldwide.
The Palestinians have called for an urgent meeting of the Arab League and the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation to condemn the move. But in those forums they will be pitted against the oil-rich UAE, which has deep pockets, allies across the region and even more influence in Washington following the agreement with Israel.
The international campaign is “meant to isolate the Emiratis so that other countries will not take the same step,” said Ibrahim Dalalsha, a Palestinian analyst. “Whether it will succeed in this or not, it remains to be seen.”
Iran and Turkey lashed out at the UAE, a regional rival, accusing it of betraying the Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims.
But the agreement, and the decision to pause annexation, was welcomed by much of the international community, including Egypt and the Gulf Arab nations of Bahrain and Oman. Many countries, including Germany, France, Italy, China and India, expressed hope it would help revive the peace process.
The Palestinians want an independent state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza, areas seized by Israel in the 1967 war. Trump’s plan would allow Israel to keep nearly all of east Jerusalem, including holy sites sacred to Christians, Jews and Muslims, and annex up to a third of the West Bank. The Palestinians have angrily rejected the proposal.
Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas reiterated his country’s support for a two-state solution when he called to congratulate Israel on the “historic” agreement with the UAE.
“We stand by our position that only a negotiated two-state solution can bring lasting peace to the Middle East,” Maas said in a statement. “Together with our European partners and the region we have campaigned intensively in past months against an annexation and for the resumption of direct negotiations.”
That strikes many Palestinians as a return to a similarly unbearable status quo, in which Israel rules the West Bank and expands Jewish settlements while the international community calls for peace talks that never materialize.
Any serious negotiations, or lasting solution to the conflict, will require the Palestinians, who feel they have been brushed aside.
“We’re now in a situation where everybody is talking about us and no one is talking to us,” said Diana Buttu, a former legal adviser to the Palestinian Authority. It’s a “colonial approach,” she said, “as though we are just some problem that needs to be addressed without ever speaking to us.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas suspended all contacts with the U.S. after it recognized disputed Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017. In May, the Palestinians cut all ties with Israel, including security coordination, in response to the threat of annexation, and said they would no longer abide by any past agreements with Israel or the United States.
In recent weeks, as the threat of annexation faded amid internal political disputes in Israel, some had speculated the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority would quietly back down, if only to restore the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes collected by Israel.
Now, in the wake of the UAE agreement, many say that’s out of the question.
“This is not a way for them to climb down from the tree,” Buttu said. “It’s quite the opposite, I think it keeps them there.”
BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon’s prime minister stepped down from amid widespread anti-government protests over Beirut port explosion last week that triggered public fury and mass protests.
In a brief televised speech, Prime Minister Hassan Diab said on Monday that he is taking “a step back” so he can stand with the people “and fight the battle for change alongside them.”
He said, “I declare today the resignation of this government. May God protect Lebanon,” repeating the last phrase three times.
A brief while earlier, Diab's Cabinet resigned. The developments follow a weekend of anti-government protests in the wake of the Aug. 4 explosion in Beirut’s port that caused widespread destruction, killed at least 160 people and injured about 6,000 others.
Diab blamed corrupt politicians who preceded him for the “earthquake” that has hit Lebanon.
“They (political class) should have been ashamed of themselves because their corruption is what has led to this disaster that had been hidden for seven years,” he added.
Prime Minster Hassan Diab headed to the presidential palace to submit the Cabinet’s group resignation, said Health Minister Hamad Hassan. It follows a weekend of anti-government protests in the wake of the Aug. 4 explosion in Beirut's port that caused widestpread destruction, killed at least 160 people and injured about 6,000 others.
The moment typified Lebanon’s political dilemma. Since October, there have been mass demonstrations demanding the departure of the entire sectarian-based leadership over entrenched corruption, incompetence and mismanagement.
But the ruling oligarchy has held onto power for so long — since the end of the civil war in 1990 — that it is difficult to find a credible political figure not tainted by connections to them.
Although Diab’s resignation had appeared inevitable after the catastrophe, he seemed unwilling to leave and only two days ago made a televised speech in which he offered to stay on for two months to allow for various factions to agree on a roadmap for reforms. But the pressure from within his own Cabinet proved to be too much.
Diab’s government was formed after his predecessor, Saad Hariri, stepped down in October in response to the demonstrations. It took months of bickering among the leadership factions before they settled on Diab.
His government, which was supported by Hezbollah and its allies and seen as one-sided, was basically doomed from the start, tasked with meeting demands for reform but made up of all the factions that reformers want out.
Now the process must start again, with Diab’s government in a caretaker role as the same factions debate a new one.
“I hope that the caretaking period will not be long because the country cannot take that. Lets hope a new government will be formed quickly,” Public Works Minister Michel Najjar told reporters. “An effective government is the least we need to get out of this crisis.”
The weekend protests saw clashes with security forces firing tear gas at protesters.
The explosion is believed to have been caused by a fire that ignited a 2,750-ton stockpile of highly volatile ammonium nitrate. The material had been stored at the port since 2013 with few safeguards despite numerous warnings of the danger.
The result was a disaster Lebanese blame squarely on their leadership’s corruption and neglect. Losses from the catastrophic blast are estimated to be between $10 billion to $15 billion, with nearly 300,000 people left homeless.
The last decision taken by Diab’s government before its resignation was to refer the case of the explosion to the Supreme Judicial Council, which handles crimes infringing on Lebanon’s national security as well as political and state security crimes. The Supreme Judicial Council is Lebanon’s top judicial body.
A judge on Monday questioned the heads of the country’s security agencies. Public Prosecutor Ghassan El Khoury questioned Maj. Gen. Tony Saliba, the head of State Security, according to state-run National News Agency. It gave no further details, but other generals are scheduled to be questioned.
About 20 people have been detained after the blast, including the head of Lebanon’s customs department and his predecessor, as well as the head of the port. Dozens of people have been questioned, including two former Cabinet ministers, according to government officials.
Iran, meanwhile, expressed concern that Western countries and their allies might exploit anger over the explosion to pursue their political interests. Iran supports the Hezbollah militant group, which along with its allies dominates the government and parliament.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said “it is natural for people to be frustrated.” But he said it would be “unacceptable if some individuals, groups and foreign countries use the incident as a pretext for their purposes and intentions.”
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz drew a line Monday between the blast and claims that Hezbollah stores its rockets and weapons deep inside civilian areas.
While he did not accuse Hezbollah and its arms of being linked to the blast, Gantz said villages and towns across Lebanon were packed with Hezbollah arms that, if set off — whether by Israeli operations or by accident — would destroy homes. He said Hezbollah was Lebanon’s biggest problem.
Iran on Saturday said it detained an Iranian-American leader of a little-known California-based militant opposition group for allegedly planning a 2008 attack on a mosque that killed 14 people and wounded over 200 others.
Iran's Intelligence Ministry also alleged Jamshid Sharmahd of the Kingdom Assembly of Iran planned other attacks around the Islamic Republic amid heightened tensions between Tehran and the U.S. over its collapsing 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
It was unclear how the 65-year-old Sharmahd, whom Iran accused of running the opposition group's Tondar militant wing, ended up detained by intelligence officials. The Intelligence Ministry called it a "complex operation," without elaborating. It published a purported picture of Sharmahd, blindfolded, on its website.
Iranian Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi later appeared on state TV, saying Sharmahd had been arrested in Iran, without elaborating.
Requests for comment sent by email to the Glendora-based Kingdom Assembly of Iran were not immediately answered and a telephone number for the group no longer worked.
The U.S. State Department, which mentioned how Sharmahd earlier had been targeted for assassination in a recent report called "Outlaw Regime: A Chronicle of Iran's Destructive Activities," acknowledged reports of his detention.
"The Iranian regime has a long history of detaining Iranians and foreign nationals on spurious charges," the State Department said in a statement. "We urge Iran to be fully transparent and abide by all international legal standards."
Iranian state television broadcast a report on Sharmahd's arrest, linking him to the 2008 bombing of the Hosseynieh Seyed al-Shohada Mosque in Shiraz. It also said his group was behind a 2010 bombing at Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's mausoleum in Tehran that wounded several people.
The report also alleged without providing evidence that Tondar, or "Thunder" in Farsi, plotted attacks on a dam and planned to use cyanide bombs at Tehran's annual book fair.
State TV later aired footage of Sharmahd interspersed with footage from the moment of the 2008 explosion at the Shiraz mosque. Sharmahd's face appeared swollen and the style of the footage resembled one of what a rights group has identified as over 350 coerced confessions aired by the broadcaster over the last decade.
The Intelligence Ministry has not said what charges Sharmahd will face. Prisoners earlier accused in the same attack were sentenced to death and executed.
The Kingdom Assembly of Iran, known in Farsi as Anjoman-e Padeshahi-e Iran, and Tondar seek to restore Iran's monarchy, which ended when the fatally ill Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi fled the country in 1979 just before its Islamic Revolution. The group's founder disappeared in the mid-2000s.
Iranian intelligence operatives in the past have used family members and other tricks to lure targets back to Iran or friendly countries to be captured. An alleged Iranian government operative who allegedly tried to hire a hit man to kill Sharmahd disappeared in 2010 before facing trial in California, likely having returned to Iran.
A 2010 U.S. diplomatic cable from London later published by WikiLeaks shows that a Voice of America commentator said that same operative earlier had been in contact with him. British anti-terror police later warned the commentator that he "had been targeted by the Iranian regime," the cable said.
The two cases marked "a clear escalation in the regime's attempts to intimidate critics outside its borders, and could have a chilling effect on journalists, academics and others in the West who until recently felt little physical threat from the regime," the cable said.
Sharmahd last appeared in an online livestream video on Dec. 29, according to his group's website, speaking in Farsi while sitting in a black chair in front of a black background.
"We are not only seeking the liberation of the homeland, but we are also moving towards a special direction, and that is to be Iranian," Sharmahd said at one point in the video. "Because we have heard that once upon a time some people were living in the region who were able to build an empire."
While overshadowed by other exiled opposition groups, Iran reportedly brought up the Kingdom Assembly multiple times while negotiating the terms of the 2015 deal, which saw Tehran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi reacted to the news by criticizing the U.S. for allowing Sharmahd and others to live in America.
The U.S. "must be responsible for supporting terrorist groups which are inside of this country and carry out and lead terrorist acts against the Iranian people," state TV quoted Mousavi as saying.
A statement attributed to Tondar claimed the assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist in 2010 by a remote-control bomb, though it later said it wasn't responsible. Suspicion long has fallen on Israel for a string of assassinations targeting scientists amid concerns about Iran's nuclear program, which the West fears could be used to develop a nuclear bomb. Iran long has maintained its program is for peaceful purposes.
Sharmahd's reported arrest comes as tensions remain inflamed by President Donald Trump's 2018 decision to unilaterally withdraw America from the nuclear deal. A series of incidents last year were capped by a U.S. drone strike in January killing a top Iranian general in Baghdad. Iran responded by launching a ballistic missile attack on U.S. soldiers in Iraq that injured dozens.