- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 17, 2008

IRAN

Guards to defend Persian Gulf

TEHRAN | Iran announced Tuesday that it has put the elite Revolutionary Guards in charge of defending the country’s territorial Persian Gulf waters in what appeared to be a hardening of its stance in the vital oil route.

U.S. commanders in the Gulf have in the past said they find Guards’ ships more confrontational than the regular Iranian navy, which until the new order was responsible for Iranian defenses in the Gulf.

Iran has warned repeatedly that it will close the narrow Hormuz Strait at the mouth of the Gulf if the United States or Israel attacks it amid tensions over Iran’s nuclear program. About 40 percent of the world’s oil passes through Hormuz. Last winter, Iranian and U.S. ships patrolling the Gulf had a several small confrontations in Hormuz that the Americans blamed on provocations by Guards ships.

Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, the top military adviser of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, announced that “responsibility to defend the Persian Gulf” has been delegated to the Guards’ navy, while the regular navy would operate in the Oman Sea, outside the Gulf and in the landlocked Caspian Sea.

SYRIA

New ambassador to Iraq named

DAMASCUS | The Syrian government has named an ambassador to Iraq for the first time since the 1980s, the state-run SANA news agency reported Tuesday.

It said Nawaf Fares, who has been the governor of the southeastern Quneitra province, was sworn in before Syrian President Bashar Assad on Tuesday.

His appointment follows similar moves by the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain and Kuwait, reflecting the improvement of security in Iraq and the decrease in tension between the Shi’ite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Iraq’s predominantly Sunni Arab neighbors.

SANA did not say when Mr. Fares will travel to Baghdad.

Syria is home to hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees.

EGYPT

Smuggled goods found in tunnel

EL-ARISH | Egyptian police discovered a smuggling tunnel on Monday filled with electrical equipment including TV sets and washing machines, a security official said.

He said the tunnel was discovered in a field in the Salaheddine region near the Rafah border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.

Inside the tunnel, authorities found “95 television sets, seven washing machines, VHS tapes, computer equipment as well as a large quantity of clothes,” he said. A man suspected to be a smuggler managed to escape.

Israel and the United States have repeatedly accused Cairo of not doing enough about the problem of underground tunnels linking Gaza and Egypt used to smuggle weapons, food, fuel and cigarettes into the impoverished territory.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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