US Leads Naval Exercise off Iran; Israel Apologizes for Attacking German Ship

October 30th, 2006 - by admin

The Financial Times & Ronny Sofer / Ynet – 2006-10-30 09:17:40

WMD Intercept Exercise Set to Begin in the Gulf
Guy Dinmore, Roula Khalaf & Najmeh Bozorgmehr / The Financial Times

WASHINGTON, LONDON & TEHRAN (October 29 2006) — War games designed to intercept ships carrying weapons of mass destruction will take place for the first time today in the Gulf opposite Iran.

The naval exercise — organised under the US’s 2003 Proliferation Security Initiative — will include Bahrain, one of the regional states and host to a US naval base.
Although the US says the move is not specifically aimed at Iran, the PSI exercise comes amid heightened concerns over Tehran’s nuclear programme.

The US and European states are pushing for a United Nations Security Council resolution that would restrict, through sanctions, Tehran’s ability to procure material for its ballistic missile and nuclear programmes.

Iran has refused to heed international calls for a halt to the most sensitive parts of its nuclear programme and has stepped up uranium enrichment research in recent days.

Bahrain’s participation is a first for an Arab country. Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are sending observers. Australia, France, Italy, the UK, the US and Bahrain are providing vessels and other assets.

Mohammad Ali Hosseini, foreign ministry spokesman in Tehran, refused on Sunday to describe the exercise as a threat to Iran but called for security co-operation between the states of the region without the participation of foreign forces.

Monday’s exercise comes as the US seeks to counter Iran’s growing influence in the region by promoting a new “strategic partnership” with the oil-rich Arab Gulf states. This partnership is aimed at bolstering the states‚ air defences in the face of security threats, whether from terrorism or a possible military conflict with Iran.

US officials suggest Gulf Arab states have a keen interest in closer security co-operation and that all, except Saudi Arabia, had “formally endorsed” PSI, motivated by concerns over Iran’s nuclear intentions.

But analysts in the region played down Gulf states’ enthusiasm and said Saudi Arabia, in particular, was worried that US efforts would lead to further strain on relations with Tehran.

In the year to April 2006, PSI participants had carried out “roughly two dozen” interceptions, according to a US official. However, of strategically significant countries, China has not signed up for the initiative and South Korea is taking part as an observer.

The legal basis of the interceptions of ships also remains unclear. A senior US official told reporters that UN Security Council resolution 1718, passed this month imposing sanctions on North Korea, does not give any new legal authority to the US or other states to intercept ships in international waters.

The legal component is an integral part of Monday’s “Leading Edge” exercise as PSI participants try to work out on what grounds they can board the target vessel. If, for example, the ship is flagged by Cyprus or Panama, which have signed on to the PSI commitments, then other PSI participants would have the right to intercept.

In parallel, the US-led Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism on Monday holds its inaugural meeting in Rabat, Morocco. It is expected to endorse a statement of principles aimed at preventing nuclear materials from falling into the wrong hands; development of detection capabilities and co-operation on tracing the source of any nuclear material used in an attack.

Those taking part comprise the G8 nations, China, Kazakhstan, Australia and Italy.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006

Olmert Apologizes for Incident with Germany
Ronny Sofer / Ynet

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday evening called German Chancellor Angela Merkel and expressed his regret over the incident that took place between the Israel Defense Forces and the German navy in Lebanon last week.

He promised that Israel would do everything in order to prevent such incidents from recurring. Olmert updated Merkel on developments in the region and said he would accept her invitation to visit her country in the coming weeks.

Earlier Sunday, Olmert apologizes to a German parliamentary delegation for the misunderstandings between the IDF and German naval forces off the Lebanon coast.

Olmert spoke during a 40-minute meeting in Jerusalem with a senior parliamentary delegation from the party of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Earlier Sunday, Germany said its navy, which is patrolling the Lebanese coast as part of an international peacekeeping force, had been involved in a second incident involving Israeli fighter planes.

The Defense Ministry said it occurred on Thursday and involved a German navy helicopter and Israeli F-16 fighters.

Previous Incident
Peretz: Israel Didn’t fire at German Ship

Efrat Weiss /big>

Defense Minister Amir Peretz denies report that two IAF jets fired shots towards German vessel off shores of Lebanon. Peretz speaks with his German counterpart, guarantees him Israel will not attack country’s ships

“We are aware of the episode, but it was not menacing,” The spokesman said, after the Bild am Sonntag newspaper reported the Israeli planes had “dangerously badgered” The helicopter.

The spokesman said the area was used by the Israeli air force for training, adding: “Perhaps other standards apply for them than for us.”

On Wednesday, Israel denied a German newspaper report that two of its air force planes had fired twice as they flew over a German navy ship patrolling the Lebanon coast. But it did say jets had been scrambled when a helicopter took off from a German aircraft carrier without identifying itself.

Germany confirmed at the time that that an incident had occurred, but gave no details. It subsequently received assurances from Defense Minister Amir Peretz that the air force would not carry out any hostile fire or maneuvers around German vessels.

German defense minister to visit Israel, Lebanon
Germany assumed command of a UN naval force off Lebanon this month, and has sent eight ships and 1,000 service personnel to join the international peace operation in the region.

The naval force is charged with preventing weapons smuggling and helping maintain a ceasefire between Israel and Lebanese Hizbullah guerrillas.

Meanwhile, the German Defense Minister said Sunday that Germany’s Defense Minister Franz Joseph Jung will go to Israel and Lebanon this week, a trip that follows last week’s incident involving a German ship off the Lebanese coast and Israeli fighter jets.

German officials said the Israeli jets fired in the air over a German intelligence-gathering ship in international waters. Israel denies that shots were fired and said the planes approached a helicopter after it took off Tuesday from a German ship without notifying Israeli forces.

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