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Friday, June 23, 2017

First Russian base for SE Syria - near US garrison

The Russian engineering corps has started building a new base in southeastern Syria at a small village called Khirbet Ras Al-Wa’r in the Bir al-Qasab district. Until now, Moscow adhered to a policy of restricting its military presence to the western part of the country along the Mediterranean coast; no Russian troops were based further east than Palmyra.
 
The new facility is the first to be established since Moscow’s initial military intervention in the Syrian war in September, 2015. DEBKAfile’s military sources say it will provide Russia with a lever of control over the volatile Syrian southeast and its borders, where US-backed and Iranian-backed forces are fighting for dominance. . Russian forces will also stand closer than ever before to the Israeli border - 85 kilometers from central Golan and 110 kilometers from southern Golan, not far from IDF military positions.

The new Russian foothold will be located strategically 96 kilometers from northern Jordan and 185 kilometers from the American and Jordanian special forces garrison at the al-Tanf crossing inside the Syrian, Jordanian and Iraqi border triangle.

Placing the new base just 50 kilometers from Damascus serves another primary function, that of securing  the strategic crossroads leading from eastern and southern Syria to the capital - in other words, propping up the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. 
 
Our intelligence sources note that construction on the new Russian base began concurrently with the resumption his week of secret US-Russian talks in the Jordanian capital, Amman. They are led by Michael Ratney, the special US envoy for Syrian affairs and Aleksandr Lavrentiev, for Moscow. READ MORE

Sunni states present demands to Qatar

Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni Arab states which cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar presented a list of demands to end the diplomatic crisis Thursday.
 
Five Sunni states, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, cut off all diplomatic contact with Qatar earlier this month, accusing the Gulf state of supporting terrorist organizations. The nations were also angered by Qatar's relationship with Shiite regional rival Iran.
 
The 13 point list of demands for the resumption of relations between Qatar and the rest of the Sunni world includes the closing of the Qatari news station Al Jazeera, the closure of Turkish military base on Qatari soil, and the severing of all ties with terrorist organizations - including the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS, Al Qaeda, and Hezbollah.
 
They also demanded that Qatar end all diplomatic relations with Iran, including the expulsion of all members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards and the end of all trade with Iran that does not comply with the US sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
 
Qatar was told that it must hand over all individuals who are wanted by the five nations for terrorism, and that it must halt all funding for groups which are designated as terrorist organizations by the US - a category which includes Hamas.
 
The list of demands stated that Qatar has 10 days to comply. Should Qatar agree, it would be audited once a month for a year to ensure compliance. During the second year Qatar would be audited every quarter. Finally, Qatar would be audited annually for the next 10 years.

Iran holds annual anti-Israel rallies, displays missiles

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran staged anti-Israel rallies across the country on Friday, with protesters condemning Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories and chanting “Death to Israel” as the powerful Revolutionary Guard displayed its ballistic missiles, including the type used this week in Syria.
 
Marchers in Tehran headed from various points of the city toward the Friday prayer ceremony at Tehran University campus grounds. Protesters burned the Israeli and the American flag, as well as effigies of Israeli leaders.
 
President Hassan Rouhani and other Iranian officials, including Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, attended the demonstration. State media reported that similar rallies were underway in other cities and towns in Iran.
 
The anti-Israel rallies are an annual event marking al-Quds Day, a historic Arabic name for Jerusalem. Iran sees it as an occasion to express support for the Palestinians and emphasize the importance of Jerusalem for Muslims.
 
Iran doesn’t recognize Israel and staunchly backs militant groups that are opposed to it, including the Palestinian Hamas that runs the Gaza Strip and the Lebanese Shiite militant Hezbollah group.
 
Rouhani told reporters that the rally was Iran’s response to the U.S. violations of the “rights of people” of Iran after the Senate last week approved new sanctions on Tehran over its missile program, something Congress is expected to decide on soon.
 
Rohani, in remarks carried by the official IRNA news agency, said Israel supports “terrorists in the region.” READ MORE

30 GOP Congressmen Have Been Attacked or Threatened Since May

A total of 30 Republican members of Congress have either been attacked or revealed that they were the victim of a death threat since the beginning of May.
May 8: Wendi Wright, 35, was arrested after stalking Rep. David Kustoff (Tenn.) and trying to run him off the road. After pulling over, Wright "began to scream and strike the windows on Kustoff's car and even reached inside the vehicle."
May 9: Virginia Rep. Tom Garrett needed heavy security at a town hall after receiving a series of death threats in May that police "deemed to be credible and real."
"This is how we're going to kill your wife," one message said. Others detailed how they would kill his children, and even his dog.
May 12: A town hall participant accosted North Dakota Rep. Kevin Cramer, shoving fake dollar bills into his suit jacket. A Kramer supporter grabbed the same man by the neck. Both men were ejected by law enforcement, but neither were charged.
May 12: A Tucson, Ariz. school district employee was arrested by the FBI for sending several death threats to Arizona Rep. Martha McSally. The man threatened to shoot McSally and told her to "be careful" because her days "were numbered."
May 21: Florida Rep. Ted Yoho described his office getting vandalized by protesters. One female constituent left a voicemail on an office answering machine, promising, "Next time I see you, I'm going to beat your f**king ass."
June 14: Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.), and Reps. Steve Scalise (La.), Kevin Brady (Texas), Jack Bergman (Mich.), Mike Bishop (Mich.), Mike Conaway (Texas), Roger Williams (Texas), John Moolenaar (Mich.), Gary Palmer (Ala.), Chuck Fleischmann (Tenn.), Ron DeSantis (Fla.), Barry Loudermilk (Ga.), Mark Walker (N.C.), Steve Pearce (N.M.), Brad Wenstrup (Ohio), Rodney Davis (Ill.), Jeff Duncan (S.C.), Trent Kelly (Miss.), Mo Brooks (Ala.), and Joe Barton (Texas) were attacked by a gunman during a baseball practice in Alexandria, Va.
Scalise, the House majority whip, was shot in the hip, and remains in the hospital. Four others were injured, including a staffer for Williams and two Capitol Police officers assigned to Scalise.
The same day, New York Rep. Claudia Tenney received an email reading, "One down, 216 to go." READ MORE

Thursday, June 22, 2017

US officials: Achieving peace will take time

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met with US President Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, Middle East special envoy Jason Greenblatt, and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman Wednesday to discuss the peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
 
The American side reported that the meeting was "positive and fruitful" and that both sides reaffirmed their commitment to advancing the goal set by US President Donald Trump to achieve a real and stable peace between Israel and the PA.
 
The three senior US officials discussed the Israeli position on key issues in the political process and on the next steps that Israel and the United States see as necessary, in recognition of Israel's important role in ensuring the security and stability of the region.
American officials stressed during the meeting that achieving peace will take time, and that it is important to do everything possible to create an atmosphere conducive to peacemaking.
Kushner and Greenblatt were to meet before leaving the region with Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
 
At the end of the week, they are to return to Washington and bring their summary of meetings in the region to President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
After that, discussions will be held about the next steps the administration intends to take, while the American side makes it clear that the desire is to bring about a meeting between Netanyahu and Abbas in the near future.

Tillerson calls on China to pressure North Korea

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday urged Chinese officials to apply greater diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea to force Pyongyang to rein in its nuclear weapons program, AFP reports.
 
Tillerson's remarks came after he and Defense Secretary chief Jim Mattis met with the Chinese visitors at the State Department, where Mattis said he saw scope for an improved defense relationship.
 
The Trump administration's policy hinges on pressuring North Korea through China, but the President on Tuesday offered a grim assessment of China's role in restraining North Korea, writing on Twitter, "While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi & China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried!"
 
On Wednesday, calling North Korea the "top security threat" to the United States, Tillerson said China has a "diplomatic responsibility to exert much greater economic and diplomatic pressure on the regime if they want to prevent further escalation in the region."
 
Tillerson said the U.S. and Chinese officials had agreed that companies from both countries should not do business with any UN-designated North Korean entities.
 
North Korea has continuously carried out nuclear tests and ballistic missile tests in violation of UN resolutions.
 
The West is concerned that North Korea may be on a path to developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
 
On Tuesday, it was reported that U.S. spy satellites had detected new activity at North Korea's underground nuclear test site.
 
The activity appears to involve some modifications around one of the tunnel entrances to an underground test area, officials said.

Israel cuts electricity supply to Gaza for 3rd day

Israel cut the electricity it supplies to the Gaza Strip for the third day, honoring a request by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
 
The cuts to Gaza City and southern Gaza were made Wednesday, amounting to a 30 percent cut over the past three days.
 
Gaza residents are getting two to three hours of electricity per every 24 hours, the Palestinian Maan news agency reported Wednesday.
 
Israel’s security cabinet decided last week to agree to the Abbas request.
 
Also Wednesday, the Egyptian government began trucking in industrial-use diesel fuel via the Rafah border crossing to run the Gaza’s one power plant, which had been idle after electricity officials said they could not afford a PA-imposed tax on diesel that doubled the price of operating the plant, according to Maan.
 
Abbas said he would reduce the amount of money the PA pays Israel to supply the electricity by 40 percent, with a concurrent reduction in the amount of electricity delivered. He reportedly made the decision in order to put pressure on Hamas in Gaza.

Kushner and Abbas hold 'productive' meeting

U.S. President Donald Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, his Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt and U.S. Consul General in Jerusalem Donald Blome, met on Wednesday night with Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.
In a statement summarizing the meeting, the White House described it as “productive”.
 
The sides “reaffirmed their commitment to advancing President Trump's goal of a genuine and lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians that enhances stability in the region,” said the statement.
 
Kushner, Greenblatt and Abbas discussed “priorities for the Palestinians and potential next steps, acknowledging the need for economic opportunities for Palestinians and major investments in the Palestinian economy.”
 
Kushner, who was in the region for one day to advance Trump's peace plan, also met on Wednesday with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
 
Following that meeting, the American side reported that it was "positive and fruitful" and that both sides reaffirmed their commitment to advancing the goal set by Trump to achieve a real and stable peace between Israel and the PA.
 
American officials stressed during the meeting that achieving peace will take time, and that it is important to do everything possible to create an atmosphere conducive to peacemaking.
While in Israel, Kushner and the U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman paid a condolence visit to the family of Hadas Malka, the Border Policewoman who was murdered in last Friday's terrorist attack in Jerusalem.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Saudi king appoints son successor in major royal shakeup

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Wednesday appointed his 31-year-old son Mohammed bin Salman as crown prince, placing him firmly as first-in-line to the throne and removing the country’s counterterrorism czar and a figure well-known to Washington from the royal line of succession.

In a series of royal decrees carried on the state-run Saudi Press Agency, the monarch stripped Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who had been positioned to inherit the throne, from his title as crown prince and from his powerful position as the country’s interior minister overseeing security.
The newly announced Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman already oversees a vast portfolio as defense minister and head of an economic council tasked with overhauling the country’s economy. He had previously been the second-in-line to the throne as deputy crown prince, though royal watchers had long suspected his rise to power under his father’s reign might also accelerate his ascension to the throne. READ MORE

Air Force chief boasts of ‘unimaginable’ power in future Lebanon war

The head of Israel’s air force said Wednesday that in any future conflict with Lebanon the Jewish state will have “unimaginable” military power at its disposal.

Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel told a security conference that Israel’s armed forces now have far more punch than they did in the 2006 war against Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah.
        
“What the air force was able to do quantitatively in the… Lebanon war over the course of 34 days we can do today in 48-60 hours,” he told the conference at Herzliya, near Tel Aviv.
 
“This is potential power unimaginable in its scope, much different to what we have seen in the past and far greater than people estimate.”
 
The Shiite terror group sparked the Second Lebanon War when it assaulted an IDF patrol in a deadly cross-border raid on July 12, 2006, killing several soldiers and seizing two. The ensuing conflict killed more than 1,200 Lebanese and more than 160 Israelis. Most of the Israeli dead were soldiers. READ MORE

U.S. detects activity at North Korea nuclear site

U.S. spy satellites have detected new activity at North Korea's underground nuclear test site for the first time in several weeks, two American officials told CNN on Tuesday.
 
The activity appears to involve some modifications around one of the tunnel entrances to an underground test area, according to the officials.
 
They said it is not yet clear if the activity indicates a sixth nuclear test is imminent, but noted there is concern that North Korea could set off a test during Wednesday's visit to Washington by top Chinese diplomats and military officials.
 
U.S. officials have known that the site is ready to conduct an underground test for some time, according to CNN.
 
Two senior officials with direct knowledge also told the network that military options for North Korea have recently been updated, and will be presented to President Donald Trump for a decision to act if there is a nuclear test.
 
North Korea has continuously carried out nuclear tests and ballistic missile tests in violation of UN resolutions.
 
The West is concerned that North Korea may be on a path to developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). READ MORE

Haley: Time to say 'enough is enough' to Hamas

Nikki Haley, the United States Ambassador to the UN, on Tuesday urged the global body to take action against the Hamas terrorist organization as well as countries that support it.
 
“A few weeks ago, UN officials discovered a tunnel underneath two schools run by the UN in Gaza. It was the exact type of tunnel that Hamas has used for years. These tunnels are what Hamas uses to smuggle in the materials they need to make rockets. Or to sneak into Israel to attack civilians or kidnap them in the dead of night,” Haley told a UN Security Council briefing on the situation in the Middle East.
 
“Imagine children playing in their schoolyard while Hamas moved explosives underneath their feet. Imagine children trying to learn, while a few feet below, terrorists might have been crawling toward Israel. All of this happening under a building flying the flag of the United Nations. It’s an outrage,” she added.
 
Haley noted that Gaza “is prime real estate on the Mediterranean Sea” and has “enormous potential”, but that potential “is being squandered by the terrorists who govern it.”
 
The humanitarian crisis in Gaza “rests squarely with the one group that actually controls Gaza: Hamas,” she continued. READ MORE

German Defence Commissioner Vows: ‘In the End There Will Be a European Army’

As negotiations between Britain and the EU over Brexit get underway, a senior German politician has declared that a “European Army” is inevitable.
Hans-Peter Bartels, the parliamentary commissioner for the Armed Forces, insisted: “In the end, there will be a European Army.”
Bartel alleged the age-old system of national armies accountable to national governments was “disorganised, technically fragmented and duplicate structures unnecessarily”.
He claimed Europe’s peoples “do not want to go down the solitary national path anymore. Not in Germany, not in the Netherlands, not in the Czech Republic and not in Italy.”
He added: “Every step in the right direction [towards an EU army] is important.”
Bartel’s comments follow European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announcing a European Defence Action Plan, amongst other measures to deepen EU military integration.
Eurosceptic groups such as Veterans for Britain, which campaigned for Brexit under the chairmanship of Falklands War hero Major Julian Thompson, has repeatedly warned against the dangers of Britain becoming embroiled in these plans despite its formal departure from the bloc.
Towards the end of 2016, Maj-Gen Thompson warned that Government officials were signing Britain up to military integration schemes so ambitious that he considered it tantamount to “the UK joining the single currency in its last two years of EU membership”.
“The plans use all means at the EU’s disposal to encroach on every single area of UK defence planning,” he said.
“Policy, procurement, funding, intelligence services, command structure and defence research are all appropriated by these EU plans.” READ MORE

Trump's son-in-law Kushner begins peace push with Middle East talks

JERUSALEM, June 21 (Reuters) - Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, will meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday, beginning a new U.S. effort to revive Middle East peace efforts.
Kushner, a 36-year-old real estate developer with little experience of international diplomacy and peace negotiations, arrived in Israel early on Wednesday and will spend barely 20 hours on the ground - he departs shortly after midnight.
During his stopover, he will meet Netanyahu for their first formal discussions on peace, before travelling to Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, for talks with Abbas after Iftar, the evening meal that breaks the Ramadan fast.
U.S. officials are calling the trip part of an effort to keep the conversation going rather than the launching of a new phase in the peace process, saying that Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, the president's special representative for international negotiations, are likely to return repeatedly.
Greenblatt arrived in Israel on Monday for preliminary discussions in both Jerusalem and Ramallah, and will remain for follow-up talks after Kushner has departed, officials said.
Trump has described a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians as "the ultimate deal" and made it a priority since taking office: he's received both Netanyahu and Abbas in the White House and visited the region last month.
But it remains unclear what approach Trump, via Kushner and Greenblatt, plans to take on resolving one of the world's most intractable conflicts. READ MORE