Iraq/Kurdistan – Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines suspend flights to Erbil until 23 March German carrier Lufthansa and its subsidiary Austrian Airlines on 16 March announced a suspension of their flights to Erbil International Airport (EBL, Kurdistan Region, KR) until 23 March. The carriers did not cite a reason for the suspension. In addition, all United Arab Emirates (UAE)-registered airlines remain prohibited from flying into the airports serving Erbil and Sulemaniyah (both KR) until further notice. The measures were implemented on 6 March after the UAE's General Civil Aviation Authority released an official statement to domestic aviation operators notifying them of the prohibitory measures over security concerns in Iraq. 361 COMMENT: Although this has been reported there has been no report of the lifting of the suspension. COMMENT ENDS
Israel/The West – The Counter-Terrorism Bureau warned on the 22 Mar 15 that global jihadi elements likely will seek to carry out additional attacks on Jewish and Israeli targets, particularly in western and northern Europe. The warning appeared in an annual travel advisory guide issued by the Bureau, which is a part of the Prime Minister’s Office. It noted the string of terror attacks in 2014 in Belgium, France, Denmark, Canada and Australia, saying they “raise concerns over additional attacks against Western targets, including Jewish and Israeli targets.” Militant veterans of battlegrounds in Syria and Iraq who return to their countries, and local extremists inspired by terrorist organizations, are behind the threat of more attacks, the advisory, issued ahead of the Pessah holiday, said. The Bureau issued a total of 27 travel alerts, in addition to six enemy states that Israelis are banned by law from visiting, and eight regions that are subject to a variety of advisories. Spring holidays, including Pessah, Independence Day and Lag Ba’omer, could attract attacks by terror elements, the advisory said, adding that the travel alerts contained in the guide are based on “solid and reliable information, which reflect tangible threats and which are based on the intelligence picture for the given period.” In Africa, the threat of attacks against Western targets, including Israeli business travellers and companies, has risen, the advisory stated. The Somali al-Shabaab organization poses a threat to Kenya and other Horn of Africa states, and the Boko Haram group in Nigeria has increased its attacks. Al-Qaida in North Africa poses a threat, as well, and ahead of Lag Ba’omer, the advisory named Tunisia as a country that could see additional attacks. Iran and Hezbollah also continue to pose a threat to Israeli and Jewish targets around the world, particularly Israeli tourist destinations and Jewish community figures. The Counter-Terrorism Bureau, like last year, advises Israelis to refrain from non-essential travel to Turkey.
Yemen – The Islamic State’s “Sana’a Province” in Yemen claimed credit for the coordinated suicide attacks at two Houthi mosques in the capital on the 20 Mar 15. More than 100 people were killed in the first major operation by the Islamic State inside Yemen. The suicide attacks were claimed by the “Media Office of Sana’a Province,” according to a translation provided by the SITE Intelligence Group. The Islamic State said that four “knights of martyrdom wearing explosive belts” attacked the Badr and Hashush mosques in Sana’a, “and blew up the headquarters of their polytheism.” Additionally, the Islamic State claimed another suicide attack against “another den of theirs in Sada’a.” The jihadist group threatened further attacks against the Houthis, a Shiite rebel group that is backed by Iran. The Houthis seized control of Sana’a and ousted the government of President Hadi last summer. “Let the polytheist Houthis know that the soldiers of the Islamic State will not rest and will not stay still until they extirpate them, deter their assault, and cut off the arm of the Safavid project in Yemen, with power from Allah and His strength,” the statement says. “This operation is but the tip of the iceberg that is coming,” the release continued. The coordinated suicide attack was timed to inflict maximum casualties as the bombings took place during Friday prayers. The suicide assault, or coordinated attack using one or more suicide bombers and an assault team, is a tactic frequently used by jihadist groups, including the Islamic State, its rival, al Qaeda, and al Qaeda allies such as the Afghan Taliban, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Suicide assaults are commonly executed by jihadist groups in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Nigeria. The Islamic State has claimed to have a “province” in Yemen since mid-November 2014, when Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the emir of the group and self-declared caliph, welcomed the Yemeni branch into the fold.
Yemen – America withdrew its remaining 100 Special Forces troops from Yemen on the 21 Mar 15 in a sign of the rapid unravelling of the country – which on the 20 Mar 15 was hit by one of its worst ever terrorist attacks. The US commandos, including Green Berets and Navy Seals, have been training Yemeni military forces in counterterrorism operations, but the Americans have not been involved in direct ground combat manoeuvres against militants. Sources told NBC News that the US Special Operations Forces have been based in remote areas of Yemen and considered relatively secure from enemy threats. But one source said that with this week’s deadly surge in sectarian violence, evacuating American commandos makes sense. “The threat is too high,” the source said. “Why take the risk?” Washington closed its embassy on the 11 Feb 15 followed a day later by Britain and France. The state department said the decision was made “due to the uncertain security situation in Sana’a.” Yemen has been hurtling towards civil war since last year, when the Houthis – who belong to a sect derived from Shia Islam – advanced from their northern heartland, taking over the capital Sana’a and nine of the country’s 21 provinces over the past six months, and raising fears of a civil war. Friday’s triple bomb blasts, which killed 150 and injured 351, were claimed by a splinter group of fighters from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – marking a worrying escalation in the conflict between the Shia Houthis and the Sunni forces of ISIL and al-Qaeda. On the 21 Mar 15 the country’s embattled president, Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi pledged to take on the Houthis and remove Iranian influence in the country. He accused the Houthis of importing Tehran’s ideology. “The Iranian Twelver (Shiism) pattern that has been agreed upon between the Houthis and those who support them will not be accepted by Yemenis,” he said. Last week it was announced by the Houthi-run news agency that Iran had signed a deal to supply Yemen with crude oil for one year, and build a new power plant. The agreement was made during a Houthi visit to Iran, and comes after direct commercial flights are re-established between Iran and Yemen for the first time in many years. 361 COMMENT: The withdrawal of the American soldiers may have also been a result of advice from Saudi Arabia. As on the 26 Mar 15 Saudi Arabia along with other nations launched air attacks in Yemen. The soldiers leaving on the 21 Mar 15 and the airstrikes starting on the 26 Mar 15 does seem a little close. The airstrikes would have taken some time to put together as it would need up-to-date imagery and intelligence which would mean that it required sources on the ground and nearby. The operations would have been planned weeks in advance as would the agreement from the Arab States and others involved. (see Yemen/Saudi Arabia/Iran) COMMENT ENDS.
Yemen/Saudi Arabia/Iran – Saudi air strikes on Shia rebels in Yemen have triggered a furious reaction from regional rival Iran, with top officials warning that military action could spill into other countries it was reported on the 26 Mar 15. Saudi Arabia said that a coalition consisting of 10 countries, including members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), had begun air strikes at 0200 hrs local time on the 26 Mar 15 targeting Houthi positions in the capital, Sanaa. The strikes carried out by 100 jets from Saudi and its coalition, have destroyed Iranian-made missile launchers in the capital Sanaa. Houthi military barracks and air bases controlled by the rebels were also reportedly destroyed, Fayez al-Duweiri were also destroyed. The bombing of the Houthis, who are said to be backed by Iran - a charge Tehran denies - came after several weeks of warnings that Yemen was descending into civil war. Saudi Arabia said it had launched the bombing raids to reinstate what it called the legitimate government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who has been holed up in the main southern city of Aden since fleeing rebel-controlled Sanaa. The Houthis and their allies within the armed forces had been closing in on Hadi's last bastion, Aden. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the air strikes would lead only to greater loss of life. "Military action from outside of Yemen against its territorial integrity and its people will have no other result than more bloodshed and more deaths," he told the Iranian-owned Al-Alam television channel. "We have always warned countries from the region and the West to be careful and not enter short-sighted games and not go in the same direction as al-Qaeda and Daesh," he added. He also called for an "urgent dialogue" among the Yemeni factions "without external interference". Strikes were also reported on targets in the Malaheez and Hafr Sufyan regions of Saada province, a main Houthi stronghold on the border with Saudi Arabia. Citing Saudi military sources, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV channel reported that 100 Saudi warplanes were involved in the operation, dubbed 'Decisive Storm'. The United Arab Emirates is participating with 30 jets, Bahrain with eight, Morocco and Jordan both with six. Sudan reportedly offered three war planes to assist the operation. Egypt is said to be another member who is willing to take part and it is believed that another four Muslim countries are to take part including Pakistan and Kuwait. Four Egyptian warships also entered the Suez Canal on the 26 Mar 15 en route to the Gulf of Aden after Cairo pledged military support for the campaign. The officials said the ships will take part in operations "to secure" the strategic waters that control southern access to the Suez Canal. 361 COMMENT: Iran has denied backing the Houthi which is expected. The missiles that were destroyed may have been part of a shipment that was discovered and reported on the 4 Mar 13 when an Iranian boat was seized off the Yemeni coast and was found to be carrying sophisticated Chinese anti-aircraft missiles which at the time signalled an escalation of Iran's support to its Middle Eastern proxies. Among the items aboard the dhow, according to a review of factory markings on the weapons and their packing crates were 10 Chinese heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles, most of them manufactured in 2005. The missiles were labelled QW-1M and bore stencils suggesting they had been assembled at a factory represented by the state-owned China National Precision Machinery Import and Export Corporation, which is sanctioned by the US for transfers of missile technology to Pakistan and Iran. The shipment, which officials portray as an attempt to introduce sophisticated new anti-aircraft systems into the Arabian Peninsula, has raised concerns in Saudi Arabia, Oman and Yemen, as the weapons would have posed escalated risks to civilian and military aircraft alike. Iran at the time denied any involvement with the weapons. Iran may also dispute that an Iranian ship unloaded more than 180 tons of weapons and military equipment at a Houthi-controlled port in western Yemen, Al Arabiya News Channel reported on the 20 Mar 15, quoting security sources. The ship had docked at al-Saleef port northwest of the al-Hodeida province on the 19 Mar 15. The Houthi militias reportedly closed the port and denied entrance to employees there. Al-Saleef port is considered the second most vital in Yemen. The news follows last week’s economic partnership agreements between Iran and the Houthis, including a deal that promises a year’s worth of oil supply from Iran. Iran has also agreed to provide Yemen with a 200 megawatt power plant, according to Yemeni news agency Saba. As for Iran stating that it wants dialogue to resolve the conflict it is important to see who and why the Iranians got involved in the first place. If the Iranian backed Houthi rebels control Yemen then Iran will also control the Straits of Hormuz and that between Djibouti and Yemen known as Bab el-Mandeb Strait, Iran will control two very important oil shipping lanes. The question that has to be asked is how long are the Arab states willing to continue this fight? If Iran decides to carry out its threat regarding bloodshed then the likely scenario of this will be to train and fund terrorist organisations in the various Arab speaking coalition countries to exact revenge by supporting terrorist acts. Iran does like to get its own way and feels that it is an important world player now that it is nearing the completion of nuclear power. Another point of interest is that Saudi Arabia and Oman would have an Iranian backed group on its borders, something both countries would not want. COMMENT ENDS