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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Putin and Netanyahu focus on Kurdistan crisis after Iran’s successful maneuver in Kirkuk

Gen. Sergey Shoigu had no sooner flown out of Israel on Wednesday, Oct. 18, than Iranian and Syrian army chiefs talked in Damascus, and Netanyahu was on the phone to Putin.

Russian President Vladimir Putin held a telephone conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the Kremlin press service said in a statement, Wednesday. “There was a thorough discussion of ways to resolve the Syrian crisis, the situation surrounding Iran’s nuclear program and the results of the referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan,” the statement read.

DEBKAfile’s sources report that Netanyahu made the call after Russian Defense Minister Gen. Sergey Shoigu, during his two days of talks with Israel’s government and military heads, showed no inclination to answer Israel’s questions on those pressing topics.

The Russian general quickly grasped that his visit to Israel was strongly disapproved in Damascus and Tehran and both had taken action to disrupt it – first by shooting an SA-5 missile at Israeli aircraft over Lebanon, and then with the unscheduled trip made by the Iranian Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen Mohammad Bagheri to Damascus for talks with his Syrian counterpart Gen. Ali Abdullah Ayoub.

Those moves were meant to warn the Russian minister that the Israeli enemy must not be allowed to attack targets in Syria whenever it sees fit, and it was up to him to stand up for Iranian and Syrian interests in his talks in Tel Aviv and not give in to Israeli pressure.

To avoid falling into this trap, the Russian minister told his Israeli hosts that his visit was only intended to make the acquaintance of professional colleagues in Israel and had no political agenda. He is reported to have elegantly dodged Israeli questions, indicating that they should be addressed to the Kremlin. READ MORE

Iran: We will intensify our missile program because of Trump

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard announced this morning that, due to pressure from the US and the West, Iran’s efforts to build its ballistic missile program will intensify.
 
“We will continue with the program, in response to the growing hostility from Trump to the Revolutionary Guard,” the group said according to Channel 10, citing Iran’s Tasnim news agency.
 
The statements came after The United States Treasury announced last week that it would impose sanctions on Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard. That move came as Trump officially decertified Iran's compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal and vowed to implement “tough sanctions” on the Revolutionary Guard Corps. He vowed to end Iran's support for terrorism around the world, calling the sanctions "long overdue."
 
In the meantime, Iranian Chief of Staff Mohammad Hossein Baqeri is meeting with Syrian leader Bashar Al Assad in Damascus, where the Iranian “congratulated Syria on its military victories against terrorist groups, and expressed the hope that terrorism will eradicated in all Syrian territories soon,” according to Tasnim.
 
Bageri, who arrived in Damascus on Tuesday, said upon his arrival that the purpose of his trip was coordinate the struggle against the "Zionist enemy."
 
"We arrived in Damascus in order to coordinate and cooperate to confront our common enemies: the Zionists and the terrorists," Iranian General Mohammad Baqeri told Syria's state television channel. He added that in his opinion, it is "not acceptable for the Zionist regime to violate Syria anytime it wants."

Hamas: 'The occupation cannot force conditions'

Senior Hamas official Izzat al-Risheq rejected Israel's conditions for a peace agreement between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas.
 
The PA is led by Fatah official Mahmoud Abbas.
"The occupation cannot force any conditions on the PA," al-Risheq tweeted. "The PA must react harshly to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's conditions. The agreement is quickly gaining strength and the occupation's terror will not stop it."
 
Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar said that Hamas will implement the Cairo deal on their own schedule. According to him, the reconciliation is a strategical agreement which cannot be rescinded, and Hamas must show responsibility by not returning to the previously divisive situation.
 
PA leader Rami Hamdallah said the PA will continue to work to extricate Gaza from its current situation, borne of years of disagreements, siege, and attacks. He also expressed determination to renew unity and hope, and said the PA would work to resolve current issues, and take responsibility for Gaza's borders and security.
 
On Tuesday, Israel's Diplomatic-Security Cabinet said the Israeli government will not conduct diplomatic negotiations with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas, a terrorist organization which calls for the destruction of Israel.
 
On Wednesday, US Special Envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt issued a statement saying that "any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognize the State of Israel, accept previous agreements and obligations between the parties – including to disarm terrorists – and commit to peaceful negotiations. If Hamas is to play any role in a Palestinian government, it must accept these basic requirements."

Iran’s Khamenei Threatens to ‘Shred’ Nuclear Deal, Blasts ‘Foul-Mouthed’ Trump

(UPI) — Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Wednesday that Tehran will ditch the landmark 2015 nuclear agreement if the United States decertifies it, as President Donald Trump has promised to do.
“If [the] U.S. rips up the deal, Iran will tear it into shreds,” Khamenei told an audience of of young scholars and Olympics competitors Wednesday.
Khamenei also touted Iran’s progress in the face of what he called U.S. aggression.
“We managed to stop the dominance of the U.S. Furthermore, despite animosity of the U.S., we became powerful, and progressed.”
The ayatollah called the United States an “international Zionist agent,” a reference to Washington’s defense of Israel, and blamed the U.S. government for the rise of the Islamic State terrorist network.
Referring to the nuclear deal — known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and brokered among Iran and six Western powers — Khamenei said the deal “serves their interests, but we will not tear up the deal before the other party does. If they tear up JCPOA, we shred it.”
Khamenei was particularly critical of President Donald Trump, who last week threatened to junk the agreement if Congress and U.S. allies do not agree to strengthen it.
“I do not want to send time to answer the foul-mouthed president of the U.S. It is a waste of time,” Khamenei said.

State Department: U.S. Not Supporting Iraq or Kurds in Ongoing Dispute

State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert gave an update Tuesday on the difficult situation in which American diplomats find themselves in Iraq as two of their putative allies settle into an armed face-off that threatens to escalate into yet another chapter in the country’s 14-year civil war.
“As we watch the situation unfold in Iraq, we continue to call for calm, to call for calm on the part of the Kurds, on the part of the government in Baghdad as well. We have made no bones about that,” Nauert told reporters asking about the developing military situation around the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk.
Home to a diverse ethnic mix of Kurds, Turkmen, and Arabs, Kirkuk is the staging point for much of Iraq’s vital oil industry. The autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) held a successful independence referendum last month, much to the chagrin of Iraq’s largely Shiite Arab national government. Although the Kurds have yet to formally declare independence, the very possibility the region might take Kirkuk with it prompted the Baghdad regime to issue an ultimatum demanding the Kurdish Peshmerga forces evacuate the city.
Kurdish Peshmerga forces withdrew from Kirkuk as Iraqi soldiers, aided by the mostly-Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) militias, approached the city, which the Kurds had held since driving out the Islamic State (ISIS) in 2014. Allegedly, the effort was led, in part, by Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, the leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ shadowy Quds Force special operations group, which is linked to Iranian meddling and terrorism throughout the Middle East. READ MORE

Frank Gaffney: Abandoning Kurds in Iraq Is a ‘Strategic Mistake of Epic Proportions’

Center for Security Policy President Frank Gaffney joined SiriusXM host Alex Marlow on Wednesday’s Breitbart News Daily to talk about Kurdish independence in Iraq, the Iran nuclear deal’s continued survival after decertification, and the rising strategic threat of China.
Marlow began by asking if the controversy surrounding President Donald Trump’s allegedly insensitive remarks to the widow of U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed in a terrorist ambush in Nigeria last week, and President Trump’s assertion that his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, was delinquent in making condolence calls to the families of fallen soldiers, was a manufactured media distraction.
“Any time you’re talking about the fallen and their loved ones, it’s serious, of course,” Gaffney replied. “It is also the case that I think what we’ve watched is now an information warfare operation run by the mainstream media against this presidency, along with an awful lot of other folks, of course – and to some extent, in fairness, run by the President of the United States against the mainstream media.”
“You’ve got distractions being introduced on both sides,” he continued, indicating that he would prefer to “stay with the things that really matter.”
Marlow turned to the conflict between independence-seeking Kurds and the Iraqi government, which launched military operations against Kurdish positions this week with the assistance of Iran-backed Shiite militia forces. Marlow expressed concern that the Trump administration is remaining neutral while the Kurds, a vital U.S. battlefield ally in the successful war against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, are assaulted by Baghdad and Tehran.
Gaffney said it was “tragic” and a “strategic mistake of great proportions” for President Trump to withhold his support from the Kurds.
“Their enemies are our enemies, virtually without exception,” he noted. “The Kurds are surrounded by nations that are not just hostile to them, but hostile to us.” READ MORE

Report: Shiite Militias Hang Photo of Ayatollah Khamenei in Kirkuk Following Invasion

The Kurdish outlet Rudaw has published a video allegedly showing a member of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a coalition of mostly Shiite Iran-backed militias, hanging a photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei in the Kirkuk, Iraq, governorate’s building.
The PMF and Iraqi military invaded Kirkuk this week, wresting it out of Kurdish control, in retaliation for the decision by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to hold a non-binding referendum asking KRG residents whether they would support the creation of a sovereign Kurdish state. Over 90 percent of voters said “yes” to independence.
According to Rudaw, the video they have published shows a PMF fighter displaying a photo of Khamenei. “We hung our pictures. What more are you waiting for? I am now in Kirkuk. We are now inside the governorate’s building,” Rudaw translates the fighter as stating.
The report claims he then “derides the Kurdish forces and nation calling to drag them into a fight over the city.”
“We reclaimed Kirkuk. Are you not ashamed? Where are the men? Did you not say ‘we are men coming from Erbil and Sulaimani to preserve Kirkuk and Kirkuk is ours’? Where are you?,” he reportedly asks. READ MORE

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Israel tries to balance Iran strategy between Trump and Putin

Israel’s leaders stressed to Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu the importance of thwarting Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria. But can’t expect much from Moscow – any more than Washington.  

Visiting Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu heard Tuesday, Oct. 17, from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his counterpart, Avigdor Lieberman that Israel would not stand for Iran and Hizballah making Syria their forward operational base against Israel, and would act to prevent their military entrenchment along the Syrian-Israeli border.

This was not news to the Russian minister, on his first visit to Israel since his appointment five years ago. The Kremlin has heard this mantra time and time and again and the visitor must have wondered what his Israeli hosts expected him to do. Both Shoigu and his boss, President Vladimir Putin, would also prefer not to see Iran dug deep militarily in Syria. So oddly enough, Moscow and Jerusalem could find a sliver of common ground for cooperating in both Syria and Iraq, but for their different viewpoints. While the Russians are practical enough to live with a strong Iranian military presence in Syria so long as it serves their interests, Israel is flatly against Iran or its proxies’ proximity to its borders as a grave peril to its national security.

The Israeli defense minister is due to fly to Washington Wednesday, Oct. 18, for talks with US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Netanyahu’s National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabat goes on ahead to meet his US counterpart Gen. H.R. McMaster. READ MORE

WH: Neither Jewish building nor building freeze will bring peace

The White House stated that neither Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria nor a freeze on such construction would bring peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, the Times of Israel reported.
 
“President Trump has publicly and privately expressed his concerns regarding settlements and the Administration has made clear that unrestrained settlement activity does not advance the prospect for peace,” the White House said in a statement Tuesday. “At the same time the Administration recognizes that past demands for a settlement freeze have not helped advance peace talks.”
 
The White House statement follows the advancement of 1,292 housing units for Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria Tuesday, including the long-awaited 296 housing units in Beit El. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu first promised to construct the units in Beit El five years ago. However, the approval of the project has been subject to repeated delays.

Iran warns Europe: No new conditions on nuclear deal

Tuesday Iran warned European governments against imposing new conditions on the nuclear deal.

"To say that they accept the JCPOA (nuclear deal) but should negotiate on Iran's regional presence or talk about Iran's missile defenses is to set conditions on the JCPOA, and this is not at all acceptable," said Ali Akbar Velayati, senior foreign policy advisor to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, according to the AFP news agency.

"This is not Europeans' right. The JCPOA has no conditions and it must be implemented according to what was signed," he added.

Velayati's comments follow a call between French President Emmanuel Macron and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani last Friday. In the phone call, Macron said talks on regional security and Iran's ballistic missile program were necessary to ensure the survival of the 2015 nuclear deal.

Without referring directly to Macron, Velayati said on Tuesday that European leaders "should take more care in their remarks and demands".
Despite calling for further talks, Macron has staunchly backed the nuclear deal in the wake of U.S. President Donald Trump's threats to terminate it.

European countries have expressed their support for the Iran deal even as Trump has criticized it.

Last week, Trump announced he will not certify Iran's compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal and announced that the U.S. would level new sanctions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.

"Trump's criticism of the nuclear deal has urged Europe to stick to the deal and defy any U.S. reimposition of sanctions on the Islamic Republic," angered Iranian officials. (Read Article)

'No negotiations until Hamas disarms'

Ministers in the Diplomatic-Security Cabinet met to discuss the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation agreement for the second time in 24 hours Tuesday.

"In accordance with previous decisions, the Israeli government will not conduct diplomatic negotiations with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas, a terrorist organization which calls for the destruction of Israel," the Cabinet said in a statement.

"As long as the following conditions are not met, [there will be negotiations]:
* Hamas will recognize Israel and desist from terrorism, as per the Quartet conditions;
* Hamas must be disarmed;
* IDF fallen and Israeli civilians held by Hamas must be returned;
* The Palestinian Authority (PA) must exercise full security control in Gaza, including at the crossings, and prevent smuggling;
* The PA will continue to act against Hamas terror infrastructures in Judea and Samaria;
* Hamas will sever its ties with Iran; and
* Funds and humanitarian equipment will continue to flow into Gaza only via the PA and the mechanisms that have been established for this purpose. READ MORE