Hassan Nasrallah, the Secretary General of the Iranian terrorist proxy Hezbollah, reaffirmed his commitment to the Bashar al-Assad regime on Tuesday, saying that if Assad falls, so too does Hezbollah. Last Thursday, Fahad Jassim al-Freij, the Syrian Defense Minister, visited Tehran to discuss military coordination and cooperation between the two countries. Meanwhile, emerging reports indicate that the Assad regime has killed more than 11,000 civilians through the use of barrel bombs throughout the country since 2012. The current civil war in Syria has killed more than 220,000 people and displaced more than 11 million. The latter number represents half of the country’s population. Part of Bashar al-Assad’s strategy has reportedly been to purposely displace residents of opposition-held territory through such acts as barrel bombing and the use of chlorine gas, forcing them to flee to regime-held territory, so that Assad can claim that he has legitimate control over the bulk of Syria’s populace. Iran has offered staunch support to Assad: Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations envoy to Syria, recently said that Iran has been sending as much as $35 billion a year to prop up the Assad regime.
Recent reports have indicated that momentum may be shifting against the regime. Opposition forces launched an attack on Monday against Hezbollah in the Qalamoun area to preempt an expected offensive. A Hezbollah commander was reportedly killed in the clashes. This area is strategically important because the highway connecting Damascus to the coast runs through it and because it contains logistical routes connecting Syria and Lebanon that are crucial to both the regime and the opposition. Gains have been reported in key points in the south of the country as well as the northern cities of Idlib and Jisr al-Shughur. The capture of these two cities threatens the territorial continuity between Damascus and the coastal heartland of the Alawis, the minority group from which the Assad family comes and from which the regime receives much of its support.
The seizure of the ship Maersk Tigris by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) last week was a “flagrant breach of international law,” Northwestern University law professor Eugene Kontorovich wrote Sunday in The Washington Post.
Iran has claimed that the ship was seized in order to settle a lien against the Maersk shipping line imposed by an Iranian court. Kontorovich noted that although there is a doctrine of seizing a “sister ship” to satisfy a claim, the case of the Maersk Tigris is not governed by that doctrine, since such seizures are only allowed when the ship is in port.
Iran’s claims clearly do not satisfy any version of the “sister ship” rule. The Tigris is owned by Oak Tree Capital, and merely chartered by Maersk. The Iranian court judgement is apparently against Maersk itself, regarding the operation of a vessel with totally different owners. Instead, they are at most “associated ships.” Such vessels cannot be arrested under the Brussels Convention, or apparently under Iranian maritime law. To be sure, many countries now apply modern corporate veil-piercing doctrines to allow the attachment of vessels with a common “real” owner, but again, the common party here appears to only be the time-charterer.
The discussion of sister ships is quite arcane, and ultimately besides the point. The arrest of vessels applies typically to those that have come into port. There is no right to arrest for prior or collateral obligations during an innocent passage through territorial waters. That is, in waters where ships have an international right to transit – such as the Gulf – they may not be molested at all by coastal states for the enforcement of outstanding maritime liens. Kontorovich punctuated his analysis by observing:
Iran’s seizure clearly violates international law, and one might add, a branch of international law that is ordinarily well-respected, and quite fundamental for global commerce. Moreover, no maritime lien gives Iran any authority to detain the crew.
Kontorovich also wondered why Iran’s seizure of the cargo ship hasn’t provoked more outrage: “Given the flagrant breach of international law, there seems to be a surprising silence from the ‘international community’ and proponents of global governance.”
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew suggested last week that the White House is leaning towards lifting sanctions on most of the IRGC.
Iranian Foreign Minister and chief nuclear negotiator Mohammad Javad Zarif attempted to justify the seizure of the Maersk Tigris in a talk at New York University. While in New York, Zarif also claimed that Iran did not imprison people for their beliefs, earning the derision of Iranian rights advocates. (via The Tower)
After reports citing Tel Aviv as the first testing ground for the futuristic aerial cable car pilot, the Herzliya Municipality recently announced its collaboration with the SkyTran company for the country’s first rapid transport system. “Right now we are talking about a vision, a dream, and we want to make it a reality. There are other processes and objections, and we are only at the planning stage,” Herzliya Municipality Spokesperson Dorit Basman told Geektime. The SkyTran system, designed by NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, uses two-person modules that drive along a guide rail suspended from existing power lines. With congestion a major problem in major cities everywhere, this futuristic space-like gliding vehicle could be the solution to traffic issues. According to the Geektime report, the pilot route would run from the industrial area between the Herzliya train station and the marina. It is said to be able to transport 12,000 people every hour. Moreover, the transit system – although not yet a reality – has been dubbed environmentally friendly because it uses little energy and could eventually be powered by solar panels. (via Israel21c)