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Friday, April 20, 2018

Russia sends warship through the English Channel as tensions mount...

Yaroslav Mudry measures 129m long and is complete with anti-ship missiles, guns and torpedoes. But HMS St Albans, a Portsmouth-based Type 23 frigate, wasn't far away, having been activated earlier this week and was keeping a close eye on the Russian warship. The frigate is the Royal Navy's very high readiness ship, charged with guarding UK waters.
The vessel is equipped with a Merlin helicopter from Culdrose-based 829 Naval Air Squadron and state-of-the-art radar. Commander John Cromie, the Commanding Officer of HMS St Albans, said: "As the Royal Navy’s high readiness unit in UK waters, we are the first responders to any potential incursion into UK waters and are highly trained in this role.
"Our activation today in response to the passage of a Russian warship close to the UK resulted in a cordial interaction between professional sailors based on the recognised conventions at sea.
"We are always standing ready, as is the rest of the fleet, to defend UK waters and UK sovereignty 24 hours a day, 365 days a year."
It is not the first time that the HMS St Albans has been called in to watch over a Russian warship.
She was dispatched on December 23 to intercept the Admiral Gorshkov as it passed close to UK territorial waters.
At the time, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “I will not hesitate in defending our waters or tolerate any form of aggression. (Read More)

Iranian general: Our hands on the trigger, your airbases within reach. Netanyahu: We are ready

Iran’s leaders used their Friday sermons to double down on their threatening invective against Israel, the day after its April 19 Independence Day celebrations. They chose a particularly hardline Revolutionary Guards general, vice commander Hossein Salami, to indicate that they meant business:  The promised military punishment was on the way for Israel’s air strike on the Syrian T-4 base on April 9, the deaths of seven Guards officers and the knocking out of their airspace command in Syria.
 
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu replied: We hear the threats from Iran. The IDF and the security forces are ready for any development.”  Addressing a festive post-Independence Day cabinet meeting, he said: “We will fight whoever tries to harm us. We are not put off by the price and will exact a cost from those who want to harm us…  the people will stand strong.”

Since Iran stepped up its bellicose rhetoric, Israel’s defense deployments on the Syrian and Lebanon borders were substantially beefed up and its air force placed on alert to meet a possible Iranian reprisal for its T-4 attack. Intelligence analysts have advised the government that the threats are to be taken seriously. Although the national holidays of Memorial Day and the 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence passed without security incidents, the military maintained a high level of preparedness.
 
By his two Twitter messages, the Iranian general Friday brought the threating rhetoric to a new level: “Don’t have hope in US and UK; when they arrive, you won’t be there… Smallest goal will be your existence. You can’t bear. When you escape, you’ll have no way but to the sea.” In an earlier tweet Salami warned, “Hands are on the trigger and missiles are ready and will be launched at any moment that enemy has a sinister plot… North and west of Israel are at the intersection of fire; you will not escape. You live in the dragon’s mouth.”

Iran warns of 'unpleasant' response if U.S. leaves nuclear deal

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned the United States on Thursday of “unpleasant” consequences if it pulls out of the 2015 nuclear deal, Reuters reported.
 
“Iran has several options if the United States leaves the nuclear deal. Tehran’s reaction to America’s withdrawal of the deal will be unpleasant,” Zarif said upon his arrival in New York.
President Donald Trump, who has blasted the 2015 nuclear deal as “the worst deal ever negotiated”, in January decided to extend a waiver on nuclear sanctions that were imposed on Iran.
 
However, he made clear it was the last time he would extend the waiver and has given the European signatories a May 12 deadline to “fix the terrible flaws” of the deal.
 
Trump sees three defects in the deal: a failure to address Iran’s ballistic missile program; the terms under which international inspectors can visit suspect Iranian nuclear sites; and “sunset” clauses under which limits on the Iranian nuclear program start to expire after 10 years. Trump wants all three strengthened if the United States is to stay in the deal.
The EU is eager to safeguard the pact, under which Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear ambitions for at least a decade.
 
Seeking to respond to Trump’s criticism of the nuclear accord and Tehran more broadly, France, Britain and Germany proposed directing sanctions at Iranian “militias and commanders” fighting on behalf of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, but have failed to convince their partners to agree to the move.
 
Iran has said it will stick to the accord as long as the other parties respect it, but threatened to “shred” the deal if Washington pulls out.

Netanyahu on Israel’s 70th Anniversary: Jewish State Becoming World Power

The Times of Israel reports: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a fiery address at a torch-lighting ceremony marking Israel’s 70th Independence Day, declared that the Jewish state is becoming a “world power” and said its light will overcome its enemies’ “darkness.”
“We’re turning Israel into a rising world power,” Netanyahu said at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem before lighting a torch on behalf of all the governments of Israel since the founding of the state.
The prime minister thanked US President Donald Trump for his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move its embassy to the holy city next month. Alluding to unprecedentedly bellicose rhetoric from Iran, the prime minister vowed that no one would “extinguish” Israel’s “light.”

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Iran Warns of New 'War' As It Boosts Ties With Syria, Iraq and Lebanon

Iran's supreme leader warned top officials Wednesday that their country was facing threats of espionage and subversion from foreign foes who sought to undermine the Islamic Republic and its increasingly large sphere of influence in the Middle East.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Iranian Ministry of Intelligence officials to be ready to fight an "intelligence war" over public opinion and the integrity of the country's ruling ideology that required both offensive and defensive strategies to win. Without naming any specific foes, Khamenei praised his spies for thwarting the plots of "the intelligence systems of the opposition" and recommended forming a united front at a time when tensions were rising with the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia.
"We are now placed in the middle of this great, big battlefield; one side of it being the System of the Islamic Revolution; the other side is the huge, powerful front of the enemies," Khamenei said, according to his official website. "We have to resist during this war, against the plans of the adverse front; to overcome the enemy, we have to develop offensive strategies besides defensive ones, so that a strategical blueprint on playing field is laid out by our intelligence services."
The Iranian Foreign Ministry came out strongly Tuesday against Israeli airstrikes that killed Iranian personnel on a Syrian air base last week, warning that "Tel Aviv will be punished for its aggressive action." The attack was followed by a trilateral U.S., French and U.K. cruise missile strike Friday on three Syrian government research centers allegedly involved in a chemical weapons attack in rebel territory the previous weekend. Iran is a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and, along with Russia, has helped him overcome a seven-year uprising supported by the West, Turkey and Gulf Arab states. READ MORE

Heartsick Boy Asks If Atheist Dad Is In Heaven. Pope Francis Reveals The Answer With A Hug.

A tearful little boy grappling with big existential questions after the death of his father received some touching words of consolation from Pope Francis. 
The poignant moment between the pontiff and the child on Sunday highlighted Francis’ enduring emphasis on prioritizing mercy.
The child, whom Francis referred to as Emanuele, met the pope during a papal visit to the St. Paul of the Cross parish on the outskirts of Rome. During a question-and-answer session with children of the parish, Emanuele approached the microphone to ask Francis a question. 
But the child froze before he could get his words out. He can be seen sobbing into his hands in videorecordings of the encounter.
Francis encouraged the boy to come forward and whisper the question into his ear. The pope gave the boy a hug and the pair had a quiet chat before Emanuele returned to his seat.
Francis then addressed the crowd, saying that Emanuele had granted permission to share the conversation.
He revealed that Emanuele was crying for his father, who had recently died. The boy told the pontiff that his dad was an atheist, but a good man who had all four of his children baptized.
“Is Dad in heaven?’” the boy asked the pope.
“A boy that inherited the strength of his father also had the courage to cry in front of all of us,” the pope said. “If this man was able to create children like this, it’s true that he is a good man.”
“That man did not have the [gift] of faith, wasn’t a believer. But he had his children baptized. He had a good heart,” Francis added.
The pope said that God decides who goes to heaven, and that God has “the heart of a father.” He asked the young girls and boys in the audience if they thought God would abandon a father like Emanuele’s, who was a good man.
“No,” the children shouted back.
“There, Emanuele, that is the answer,” the pope said, according to a translation provided by the Catholic News Service. “God surely was proud of your father, because it is easier as a believer to baptize your children than to baptize them when you are not a believer. Surely this pleased God very much.”
This isn’t the first time Francis has acknowledged that atheists can work for good.
In a 2013 homily, the pope reiterated the Christian belief that eternal salvation is attained through Jesus Christ. But he declared that all humans are created in the image of God, and that all have a duty to do good. This principle of doing good to others is one that unites all of humanity, the pope said, including atheists. 
“Just do good and we’ll find a meeting point,” the pope said in that sermon.

Israel on High Alert for Direct Iranian Attack

TEL AVIV — As Israelis prepare to celebrate the country’s 70th anniversary starting at sundown tonight, the Israel Defense Forces are on high alert for the possibility of direct Iranian retaliation for a reported Israeli strike in Syria that targeted an Iran-operated airbase.
In an unusual move, Iran’s state-run media admitted that seven of its “soldiers” were killed in the April 9 strike.
Iranian officials have repeatedly vowed retaliation. On Tuesday, Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior advisor to Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warned that Israel’s “crimes will not remain unanswered.” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi further stated, “The Israeli regime’s aggression against Syria is a breach of this country’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity and runs counter to all international regulations and principles.”
Neither Velayati nor Qassemi mentioned that Israel allegedly struck the T-4 airbase near Homs after it was brazenly used by Iran to send an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) into Israeli territory in February before it was quickly shot down by the Israeli military. The IDF revealed on Friday that its investigation concluded the Iranian drone sent from T-4 was carrying explosives and was seemingly deployed to attack an Israeli target.
On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported the T-4 base housed an advanced Iranian air defense system and drone hangar, underscoring Iran’s military expansionism in Syria as Tehran helps to lead Bashar al-Assad’s successful counterinsurgency against the rebels targeting his regime.
The Jerusalem Post reported that Israel believes that Iranian retaliation could come in the form of direct missile or drone attacks launched from Syria. READ MORE

Experts: Iran, Hezbollah Have ‘Radicalized Thousands of Latin Americans

WASHINGTON, DC — Iran has “converted and radicalized thousands of Latin Americans” throughout the years by dispatching imams to the region and establishing mosques and “cultural centers” that Hezbollah used as recruiting tools, an expert on the Islamic Republic indicated while testifying before a House panel.
On Tuesday, Emanuele Ottolenghi of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) think tank told a House panel via written testimony:
Since its establishment, the Islamic Republic of Iran has viewed Latin America as a fertile ground for the export of its revolution. Tehran wants the Western Hemisphere to become a hotbed of anti-Americanism and a forward operating base for Iran.
To this end, over nearly four decades, Tehran has built a network of mosques and cultural centers across the region. It aggressively expanded its base of supporters and sympathizers by dispatching itinerant preachers, who have successfully converted and radicalized thousands of Latin Americans to Iran’s version of Shi’a Islam.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, recently revealed that the number of Iranian “cultural centers” have proliferated in recent years, nearly tripling from 36 in 2012 to “more than 100” today.
The U.S. military believes Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) are using the centers to recruit locals.
While testifying alongside former intelligence and White House officials before the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism Tuesday, Ottolenghi went on to note that Iran has helped Lebanese ally Hezbollah to establish a “dominant” footprint in Latin America. READ MORE

Israel marks 70 years as a nation as new and old challenges lurk

Jerusalem (AFP) - Israel celebrated 70 years since the country's foundation on Wednesday, lauding its improbable economic success and military prowess, but facing a range of political and security challenges.
The anniversary of the proclamation of the state of Israel by founding father David Ben-Gurion began at sundown on Wednesday under the Hebrew calendar, but falls on May 14 according to the Western calendar.
At the traditional Jerusalem torch-lighting ceremony kicking off what Israelis call Independence Day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed what he called "real seeds of peace" he said were beginning to sprout among some of Israel's Arab neighbours.
He did not elaborate, but there have been signs of warming ties, particularly with Saudi Arabia which -- like Israel -- sees Iran as a growing threat.
"Our hand is outstretched in peace to all of our neighbours who want peace," Netanyahu said in Hebrew.
"And to our enemies who think that we are a passing phenomenon, I have news for you: In 70 years from now you fill find here a country seven times stronger than what we have done so far. This is just the beginning!"
The ceremony will be followed throughout the evening by open-air concerts, public dancing and fireworks across Israel. READ MORE