Thursday, December 5, 2019

Iran Is Secretly Moving Missiles Into Iraq, U.S. Officials Say

WASHINGTON — Iran has used the continuing chaos in Iraq to build up a hidden arsenal of short-range ballistic missiles in Iraq, part of a widening effort to try to intimidate the Middle East and assert its power, according to American intelligence and military officials.

The buildup comes as the United States has rebuilt its military presence in the Middle East to counter emerging threats to American interests, including attacks on oil tankers and facilities that intelligence officials have blamed on Iran. Since May, the Trump administration has sent roughly 14,000 additional troops to the region, primarily to staff Navy ships and missile defense systems.
But new intelligence about Iran’s stockpiling of missiles in Iraq is the latest sign that the Trump administration’s efforts to deter Tehran by increasing the American military presence in the Middle East has largely failed.
The missiles pose a threat to American allies and partners in the region, including Israel and Saudi Arabia, and could endanger American troops, the intelligence officials said.
Both Iran and Iraq have been gripped in recent weeks by sometimes violent public protests. In Iraq, some are protesting against Iranian influence. READ MORE

Iran reinforces Bushehr, Abu Musa, as Netanyahu & Pompeo talk in Lisbon

Iran has poured reinforcements armed with missiles and air defense weapons into Bushehr on its central Gulf shore and the offshore island of Abu Musa, DEBKAfile’s military sources report.  In Lisbon, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday, Dec. 4, discussed the threats coming from Iran, as US officials reported increasing intelligence of potential Iranian aggression.
 
Addressing reporters, Pompeo hailed US-Israeli bipartisan relationship against Iran’s “destabilizing influence in the region,” while Netanyahu noted: “Iran is increasing its aggression as we speak. We are actively engaged in encountering that aggression,” he said.
As they spoke, unidentified aircraft struck a large Iranian weapons depot and base holding forces of the Revolutionary Guards’ Al Qods, Iraqi militias and Hizballah, near the Syrian-Iraqi border town of Abu Kamal. The nearby border crossing serves Tehran as a land corridor for transporting advanced weapons to Hizballah and other allies. Foreign sources report that this base has been repeatedly attacked by Israel in the past.
 
Our military sources note it just so happens that whenever the Israeli prime minister an US Secretary of State get together, an Iranian military target is usually is attacked either before, during or after their meeting.

Another of Iran’s arms routes to its proxies ran into trouble on Wednesday, when a US Navy destroyer for the first time intercepted a stateless ship in the Gulf of Oman found to be carrying a “significant amount of advanced missile components,” evidently being smuggled from Iran to the Yemeni Houthi insurgents. Tehran halted those consignments some months ago, our sources reported; this incident indicates they have been resumed.
At the same time, DEBKAfile’s military sources disclose Iran is heavily ramping up its military strength at Bushehr on its Gulf coast, including a large supply of ballistic missiles – in apparent expectation of an American attack or counterattack. Last week, the USS Abraham Lincoln strike group entered the Gulf from the Arabian Sea and docked at Bahrain opposite central Iran.

Also reinforced in the last few days is the strategic Iranian island of Abu Musa, the site of a large IRGC military command post. This island is situated opposite the United Arab Emirates and the Strait of Hormuz. The reinforcements had come with large array of missiles, including sea-to-sea, surface and air defense batteries.
 
US intelligence officials also refer to “a possible Iranian arsenal” in Iraq (as DEBKAfile has more than once reported).  It was said to contain short-range missiles with a range of nearly 1,000km, close enough to reach Israel from Baghdad’s outskirts.
 
US Under Secretary of Defense for Policy John Rood said on Wednesday that there are indications that Iranian “aggression” could take place in the future amid “aggravating relations between Tehran and Washington.” Other US officials spoke of “consistent intelligence in several weeks” indicating a possible Iranian threat against US forces and interests in the Middle East. They referred to movements of Iranian troops and weapons that “could be put in place for a potential attack if ordered by the regime.”

US warship seizes suspected Iran missile parts set for Yemen

WASHINGTON (AP) — A US Navy warship has seized a “significant cache” of suspected Iranian guided missile parts headed to rebels in Yemen, US officials said Wednesday, marking the first time that such sophisticated components have been taken en route to the war there.
The seizure from a small boat by the US Navy and a US Coast Guard boarding team happened last Wednesday in the northern Arabian Sea, and the weapons have been linked to Iran.
Officials said the incident illustrates the continuing illegal smuggling of weapons to Houthi rebels and comes as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in Portugal Wednesday, with Iran as the main topic of discussion.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to describe a sensitive military mission.
The US has consistently accused Iran of illegally smuggling arms to Houthi rebels battling the Yemeni government and has seized smaller and less sophisticated weapons in transit.
According to officials, the USS Forrest Sherman was conducting routine maritime operations when sailors noticed a small wooden boat that was not displaying a country flag.
The Navy and Coast Guard personnel stopped, boarded the boat for inspection and found the w
Officials did not provide the exact number of missiles or parts but did describe it as a significant cache. They said the small boat was towed into port, and the people on the boat were transferred to the Yemeni Coast Guard. The weapons are still on board the US ship.
Smuggling weapons into Yemen is a violation of a UN Security Council resolution.
 

Iran said exploiting Iraqi unrest to place missiles that could hit Israel

Iran is taking advantage of unrest in neighboring Iraq to stockpile short-range ballistic missiles there, according to a report Wednesday.
Quoting American intelligence and military officials, the New York Times reported the missile buildup was part of an Iranian effort to project power in the Middle East as the United States increases its military forces in the region following a series of attacks blamed on Iran.
The intelligence officials said the missiles threaten US allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, as well as American troops stationed in the area.
The officials would not comment on the type of missiles Iran is secreting into Iraq, but the report noted a short-range missile with a range of 600 miles (965 kilometers) could strike Jerusalem from Baghdad.
Representative Elissa Slotkin of Michigan leaves a House Democratic Caucus meeting at the Capitol in Washington, September 24, 2019 (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Democratic Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, who recently visited Iraq, told the newspaper Iran’s placement of missiles in its western neighbor was being overlooked.
“People are not paying enough attention to the fact that ballistic missiles in the last year have been placed in Iraq by Iran with the ability to project violence on the region,” she said. READ MORE
She added that though Iraqis “do not want to be led around on a leash by the Iranians,” Iran was best positioned to exploit the anti-government protests in Iraq.

ANALYSIS: Why is Jordan's increasingly hostile to Israel?

A serious incident on the Jordanian Israeli border near Eilat on Tuesday once again showed how Jordan has become a hostile entity for Israel and information provided by two members of the Jordanian opposition in exile sheds new light on the behavior of King Abdullah II.
 
The incident at the Jordanian-Israeli border near Eilat involved a large group of Israeli deputy-mayors who wanted to travel to the ancient city of Petra in Jordan but were humiliated by Jordanian border guards.
 
The Jordanians ordered the group to remove their yarmulkes, Tzitzit (fringed religious garments) and other Jewish symbols after which they confiscated them.
 
Most delegates refused to take the items off, however, after which the whole group decided to cancel the trip and to return to a hotel in Eilat.
 
This wasn’t the first time Jordanian border guards demanded Jews remove religious items but the timing of this incident indicated that relations with Jordan indeed hit an all-time low as King Abdullah II recently said during a visit to the United States.
 
Last week the Jordanian army conducted a large-scale drill involving F-16 warplanes and helicopters and the aim of the drill was simulating a war with Israel as became apparent from a report by the official Jordanian news agency Petra.
 
The aim of the exercise was “destroying the vanguard of the enemy and the bridges that can be used as crossing points,” according to Abdullah’s mouthpiece. READ MORE

Report: Fighter jets attack Iranian weapons depots in Syria


The Al-Arabiya network reported on Wednesday evening that an explosion occurred in an Iranian Revolutionary Guards weapons depot located near an airport near the Syrian city of Al Bukamal on the Syria-Iraq border.
Prior to that, loud explosions were heard in the same area.
 
A website affiliated with the Syrian opposition reported that the attack occurred after Iranian militants operating in the area fired anti-aircraft missiles at fighter jets that were flying near the airport in Deir ez-Zor. It is not clear to who the jets belong.
 
Last month, the IDF attacked dozens of targets in Syria belonging to the Iranian Quds Force and the Syrian army in response to four rockets launched the day before at the Golan Heights.
 
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu commented the air strike in Syria and said, "I made it clear that whoever harms us - we will harm him. This is what we did tonight against military targets of the Iranian Quds force and Syrian military targets in Syria. We will continue to maintain Israel's security firmly.”
 
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett added, "The rules have changed. Anyone who shoots at the State of Israel during the day does not sleep at night. So it was last week and so it was this week. Our message to Iranian leaders is simple - you are no longer immune. Wherever you send your octopus arms - we will cut them off. The IDF will continue to provide a protective wall for Israeli citizens."

Are the US and Israel on the verge of confronting Iran?

The Iranian issue has long since become a major axis of Israeli-US relations.

Both countries want to intensify pressure on the regime in Tehran, which continues to violently violate the nuclear agreement.

Are we on our way to the point of no return and an American-Israeli military attack? Do Americans prefer that only Israel be active in this war?

American experts believe we are still far from a military offensive, but for now all options are open and the sanctions are only getting worse. LISTEN

A multi-front war would bring ‘doomsday’ - but for whom?

What would happen if Israel were, G-d forbid, attacked by Iran and its proxies in a multi-front war? Would Israel be able to fend off the missiles, or would its cities be devastated? And what would Israel do to Iran if indeed, its existence was at the crossroads? Would it be a real doomsday for Iran?
 
Tamar speaks with Aaron Braunstein, a former US Foreign Service Officer who now heads the Jewish Covenant Alliance. LISTEN

One million Syrian refugees have returned to Syria

Roughly one million Syrian refugees have returned to Syria, a senior government official said Thursday.
 
According to a report by Al-Watan, Syrian Minister of Local Administration and Environment Hussein Makhlouf said that approximately one million refugees have returned home to Syria, mostly from neighboring Lebanon.
 
In a statement to Al-Watan, Makhlouf said that Syrian embassies around the world were offering assistance to any Syrian nationals looking to return home, offering them travel documents and even plane tickets, if necessary.
 
A source in Syria’s Department of Immigration and Passport Control said that there has been an elevated level of travel through Syria’s border crossings, due largely to the growing number of returning Syrian nationals.
 
Some six million Syrian refugees fled the country since the civil war broke out in 2011, with more than half currently residing in Turkey, and roughly one million listed in Lebanon and another 600,000 in Jordan.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Pope Francis Declares That Christian Fundamentalists Are "A Scourge"

Why does it seem like virtually everyone wants to attack Christian fundamentalists these days?  Two weeks ago, Pope Francis made some extremely controversial remarks, but those remarks really didn't get much attention from the mainstream media.  Of course if the Pope had targeted the LGBTQ community or some other favored group, it would have instantly made headlines all over the globe.  
 
But he didn't.  Instead, Pope Francis specifically attacked fundamentalists, and in today's world that is considered to be perfectly okay.  The following comes from the official transcript of the remarks that the Pope made on the 18th of November...
 
Beware of the fundamentalist groups: everyone has his own. In Argentina too there is a little fundamentalist corner. And let us try, with fraternity, to go forward. Fundamentalism is a scourge and all religions have some kind of fundamentalist first cousin there, which forms a group.
 
Ostensibly, these remarks apply to fundamentalists from all religions.  But by mentioning Argentina, the Pope made it exceedingly clear who his real target was.
 
There aren't any "Muslim fundamentalists" or "Hindu fundamentalists" in Argentina.  The fundamentalists that he was referring to are the Christian fundamentalists in Argentina, and in the very next sentence he denounced such people as "a scourge". READ MORE

Iran announces joint naval exercise with China, Russia

Iran will hold joint naval drills with China and Russia starting on December 27, the head of Iran’s navy said on Tuesday.
Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi made the comments on the exercise, called Marine Security Belt, during a meeting with a Chinese military official in Tehran, Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency reported.
Khanzadi called for further military cooperation with China, including collaboration on the production of destroyers and submarines.
Last week, Khanzadi said that the drill would take place in the northern Indian Ocean, without announcing the date, Iran’s official IRNA news agency reported.
Iran, China and Russia are all rivals of the US, which last month launched a naval operation in Bahrain to protect shipping in the troubled waters of the Persian Gulf.
The launching of the US-led international effort followed a string of attacks on oil tankers and Saudi oil facilities in the region that Washington and its allies blamed on Iran, a charge it denies. Australia and the UK are the main countries participating in the US-led coalition.
Most European governments have declined to participate, fearful of undermining their efforts to save the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, which was badly weakened by Washington’s withdrawal last year.
The Trump administration, with its close ties with Israel and Saudi Arabia, adversaries of Iran, has put a priority on curbing Tehran’s regional influence including by imposing sweeping sanctions, plunging the Islamic Republic into an economic crisis.
Recent mass protests sparked by a hike in fuel prices in Iran have killed over 200 people, according to Amnesty International. Iran has accused the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia of engineering the demonstrations.

Steinitz: Iran could soon start a war in the Middle East

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) spoke on Tuesday with Ben Caspit and Arieh Eldad on Radio 103FM following the meeting between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz, in which no progress was made towards a unity government.
 
"I think there must be a unity government for two reasons. There are historical decision-making moments here, especially regarding Iran, and also because the bitterness and tensions between the sections of the people, which have reached new heights, must be reduced following two election campaigns," said Steinitz.
 
Netanyahu cannot start a campaign in Iran without the Chief of Staff holding his hand? What do you mean by a decision on the issue of Iran?
 
"Iran is under tremendous pressure. Its economy is crashing and we have seen the riots in the streets. France is mostly trying to mediate. My guess is that either Iran will explode in a powerful war in the Middle East or Iran will want and agree to make concessions. In both cases, Netanyahu has to be there and we have to keep our finger on the pulse. This will affect our future."
 
I can already hear Steinitz saying that the next six months are going to be crucial, so Netanyahu should not go into incapacitation.
 
"In my opinion, there is no real crisis of trust [with Blue and White]. If an agreement is signed, I have no doubt that it will be fulfilled."
 
The president's outline is a different outline. The President has made it clear that incapacitation, as far as he’s concerned, is either after the decision on an indictment or after the filing of the indictment. You've already turned the five months into a year.
"I talked about dividing the time served as Prime Minster into one year, then two years, then one year. I wish for Netanyahu with all my heart, like most citizens of the State of Israel do, that he will not to go to prison. I think what is happening to him is a tragedy for most of Israel’s citizens and not only for Netanyahu. I hope we don’t get there. As for the political issue, I have no doubt that there are ways to reach agreements for a rotation with a clear date for incapacitation. This agreement will be fulfilled. The distrust that people talk about is just an excuse for those who want to advance the option of another election."
 
Since Blue and White won more seats and got more votes than the Likud, why not tell the Prime Minister that the proposal of Blue and White makes more sense? That the Likud will remain in power but simply wait two years before a representative on its behalf serves as Prime Minister.
 
"I think this is an unreasonable and illogical proposal. Gantz has never been a minister or deputy minister in the government. He has no ministerial experience, so it would be better for him to join the government, understand how it functions during those first six months and then take office. During those six months, a decision could be made on the Iranian issue. Netanyahu’s influence on Trump and on American public opinion is irreplaceable. Even if Netanyahu goes to trial, that can also take a few years, so even if we go to an election, Netanyahu will serve for six months in any case."
 
Even if he goes into incapacitation, I believe he would turn to the global media to defend Israel and go to the United States to garner support. He, by the way, did not have any overlap [before becoming Prime Minister].
 
"He was also the leader of the opposition and came with more experience. I am not invalidating Gantz, but logic and fairness require that Netanyahu serve [as Prime Minister] first."

Netanyahu: Europe supporting the tyrants of Iran

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu praised President Donald Trump for imposing “tremendous” sanctions on Tehran, while chastised European leaders for joining efforts to help Iran avoid US sanctions.
 
Speaking with reporters just before departing for Lisbon to meet with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Netanyahu blasted European powers for joining a trade mechanism aimed at circumventing US sanctions on Iran.
 
“President Trump has placed tremendous pressures and sanctions on Iran,” Netanyahu told reporters.
 
“We’re seeing the Iranian empire totter. We see demonstrations in Tehran, demonstrations in Baghdad, demonstrations in Beirut, and I think that it is important to increase pressure against Iranian aggression. We also see that Iran wants to march forward with nuclear bomb development and ballistic missile development.”
 
Netanyahu went on to condemn the addition of six more European nations to the Paris-based Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), a system created by European powers looking to bring Iran back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal by providing a mechanism to avoid US sanctions on Tehran.
 
Last week, Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway, Finland and Sweden announced that they would be joining INSTEX, further weakening US sanctions on Tehran.
 
“The way to counter this is more pressure. I spoke out against six European countries that, instead of supporting American sanctions, lessened American sanctions. That is wrong,” continued Netanyahu.
 
“They should be ashamed of themselves,” the Israeli premier said of the six EU states which recently joined INSTEX. “While people are risking their lives and dying in the streets of Tehran, they are giving support to this tyrannical regime. The tyrants of Tehran should not be supported, they should be pressured.”
 
Netanyahu also told reporters that, aside from Iran, he would also use his upcoming meeting with Pompeo to discuss plans to apply Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and the possibility of signing a US-Israel defense treaty.
 
“I want to advance an American-Israel defense treaty, which I think will add to our national security in a fundamental way, and I also want to discuss the creation of a permanent border, Israel’s permanent eastern security border, in the Jordan Valley.”