IRAN’S Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif suddenly arrived in the French city of Biarritz on Friday, where the G7 meeting of the seven top economic powers of the world is underway, to discuss with French officials the recent initiatives offered by the two countries’ presidents.
The spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, Abbas Mousavi, said in a tweet on Sunday that the country’s top diplomat had landed in the French city at the official invitation of his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, to continue consultations on the recent initiatives proposed by Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron.
‘There will be no talks with the American delegation to the G7 summit in this trip,’ Mousavi said.
A French presidency official was quoted as saying that Zarif is in talks with his French counterpart on the sidelines of the G7 summit to discuss what conditions would de-escalate tensions between Washington and Tehran.
‘Zarif came to Paris on Friday with Iranian propositions which obviously must be refined,’ the French official said, adding, ‘Yesterday there was a substantial discussion between G7 leaders and it is important to now update Zarif in order to keep closing the gap … on the conditions with which we could de-escalate the tensions and create a breathing space for negotiations.’
The unnamed French official also emphasised that no discussions have been planned between Iranian and American officials – at this stage.
Following a tour of Scandinavian countries, Zarif met with the French president on Friday after which he said he’d had ‘constructive’ negotiations with Macron on ways to salvage the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) international nuclear deal signed between Iran and the then P5+1 countries back in 2015.
The P5+1 refers to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – US, France, UK, Russia and China, plus Germany.
‘France has offered proposals to Iran about ways to implement the JCPOA (the nuclear accord, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) and steps that the sides are required to take (to save the deal),’ Zarif said.
He added that Iran has also presented proposals so that the JCPOA would be implemented completely.
Iran’s top diplomat noted that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his French counterpart have held telephone conversations over recent weeks and said his meeting with Macron was held in continuation of talks between the two presidents.
- A new report has criticised foreigners’ enlistment in the Israeli military, raising alarm at the spike in the number of lone soldiers committing suicide.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on Saturday that close to 3,500 lone soldiers – those without immediate family – in the occupied territories are serving in the Israeli army. About 1,200 of them come from North America, a similar number from the former Soviet Union and the remainder from other countries.
Foreigners make up a small percentage of Israeli army personnel, but the suicide rate is high among them, according to the report.
‘Although soldiers whose parents do not live in Israel comprise only two percent of all recruits to the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) they accounted for a disproportionately high share of military suicides in the past year,’ it said.
In 2018, the number of overall suicides in the Israeli army dropped by nearly half to nine, compared with the previous year. However, among those nine suicides, two were lone soldiers.
In the first six months of 2019, there were another two self-murders by lone soldiers, with a third death under investigation as a possible suicide.
Last week, Major General Moti Almoz, head of the Israeli army’s manpower directorate, sent out a letter to all senior commanders headlined ‘Preventing Suicide in the IDF’ including a part referring specifically to lone soldiers.
A Haaretz investigation has revealed failings in the lone soldier programme, which continues to be nurtured and encouraged because so many fundraising organisations and regime-funded initiatives have a vested interest in keeping it going.
‘By the time many of them join the army, it is often too late to address their problems. It shows that Israel does not undertake adequate background checks before putting these young men and women in harm’s way; that many of the young recruits do not sufficiently comprehend what military life in Israel entails; that large numbers lack the proficiency in Hebrew and familiarity with Israeli culture required for successful adaptation; and that many see the army as a form of escape from difficulties and challenges they face back home,’ it said.
A former high-ranking officer, who had close interaction with many lone soldiers, said there are problems is the vetting system, noting: ‘The holes in the filter are way too big.’
Arthur Lenk, ex-Israeli ambassador to South Africa and a former lone soldier himself, stressed that in addition to serious holes in the vetting system, foreign volunteers lack information about the army.
‘The IDF is not the French Foreign Legion. We are not a volunteer army, nor need we be in 2019,’ he said. ‘We draft lots of our own kids, and there’s no reason we should be taking in mercenaries.’
‘A’, a former lone soldier from Canada, admitted that he had lied about his history of opioid abuse when he joined the Israeli army.
‘They just asked if I took drugs in the past and I said that I hadn’t,’ he said. ‘The army didn’t even ask if my parents knew I was enlisting, or try to contact them.’
A recent report has revealed that drug addiction is increasing among serving Israeli soldiers.
Shifra Shahar, CEO of the NGO ‘A Warm Home for Every Soldier’ described ‘Machal’ – a shorter volunteer service – as totally irrelevant and unnecessary.
‘Most of them (lone soldiers) come here to escape problems back home. They can’t find work, they have no inclination to study, they’re the black sheep of their families. Many come from broken homes. Some even have criminal records. And someone out there has somehow succeeded in convincing them or their parents that the Israeli army will straighten them out. Unfortunately, in most cases the army only aggravates whatever problems they already have,’ she said.
Yagil Levy, a political sociology and public policy professor at the Open University of Israel, said he did not anticipate any major rethinking of the lone soldier project despite its problems.
‘There is definitely a big interest on the part of Diaspora Jewry – especially in the United States – in keeping it going as part of the greater Zionist project,’ he said.
- Lebanon’s president and prime minister have denounced the recent Israeli drone attack as a ‘threat to regional stability,’ which was deliberately meant to fuel tensions.
Speaking on Sunday, Lebanese President Michel Aoun slammed Israel’s drone attack as the ‘latest in a string of repeated Israeli breaches of UN resolution 1701 and a clear indication of Israeli aggressive acts aimed at undermining peace and stability in Lebanon and the region.’
Aoun added: ‘Lebanon, which strongly condemns this aggression, will take the appropriate measures after consulting with the relevant authorities.’
Prime Minister Saad Hariri also said that the incident was an open attack on Lebanon’s sovereignty and a blatant violation of United Nations Resolution 1701.
The Lebanese army said on Sunday that two Israeli drones had crashed in a stronghold of the Hezbollah resistance movement in the south of the capital, Beirut.
‘Two drones belonging to the Israeli enemy violated Lebanese airspace (at dawn) … over the southern suburbs of Beirut. The first fell while the second exploded in the air causing material damage,’ it said in a statement.
The Lebanese army also said that it had sealed off the area and that military police had opened an investigation into the incident.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah spokesman Mohammed Afif said that the first drone had fallen on a building housing Hezbollah’s media office in the Moawwad neighbourhood of Beirut’s Dahieh suburb.
The second drone, which appeared to have been sent by Israel to search for the first one, had crashed in an empty plot nearby after being detonated in the air, he added.
‘The first drone fell without causing damage while the second one was laden with explosives and exploded causing huge damage to the media centre,’ Afif told the National News Agency.
The Palestinian Hamas resistance movement has also denounced the ‘blatant’ Israeli aggression on Beirut’s, and voiced support for Hezbollah.
The incursion came just hours after Israeli forces attempted to hit targets in Damascus in neighbouring Syria. The Syrian military said the attacks were unsuccessful and that its air defence systems had intercepted the Israeli missiles.
The Israeli regime claimed the attacks had inflicted damage on targets related to Iran and allied groups – an apparent reference to Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
Hezbollah has been assisting the Syrian government in its years-long fight against terrorism in the country.
However, it has denied claims it is fighting for Iran in Syria, saying the mission is meant to prevent a spillover of militancy into Lebanon.
The Tel Aviv regime has been cautious over the past years in its military encounters with Hezbollah, a group which seeks a total eviction of Israel from the occupied Palestinian territories.
It was not also clear whether Hezbollah’s downing of the Israeli drones was a swift attempt to respond to Israeli attacks in southern Damascus late on Saturday.
Hezbollah has previously accused Israel of supporting terrorist groups fighting against the Syrian government.
The Lebanese group has provided evidence that the Zionist regime in the occupied Palestinian territories has transferred weapons to the terrorists in Syria.