Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Pompeo blasts Iran after satellite launch

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday condemned Iran’s launching of a satellitein defiance of US warnings against doing so.
“In defiance of the international community & UNSCR 2231, Iran’s regime fired off a space launch vehicle today. The launch yet again shows that Iran is pursuing enhanced missile capabilities that threaten Europe and the Middle East,” tweeted Pompeo.

Iran’s Telecommunications Minister, Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, said on Tuesday morning that the Islamic Republic launched a satellite into space but that it failed to reach orbit.
The Minister explained that the rocket carrying the satellite failed to reach the “necessary speed” required to go into orbit, but promised that scientists would continue their work on the technology.
The launch came despite Pompeo’s warning to Iran earlier this month to cease its efforts to develop ballistic missiles. Pompeo demanded that Iran drop its plans for a space launch, saying such actions would defy UN Security Council Resolution 2231.
UN Security Council resolution 2231, which the US says Iran violates with its ballistic missile tests, enshrined Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.
The resolution says Iran is “called upon” to refrain for up to eight years from work on ballistic missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons.
Iran, however, denies its ballistic missile tests violate this resolution. President Hassan Rouhani has stressed that Iran will continue to produce missiles for its defense and does not consider that a violation of international agreements.
Zarif last week rejected Pompeo’s warnings, saying the US “is in material breach” of Resolution 2231 “and as such it is in no position to lecture anyone on it.”
He later said that Iran will continue with its aerospace program despite US warnings to stop, adding there was no international law prohibiting such a program.

Israeli general warns US withdrawal from Syria is a red flag

Last week, the American Jewish Congress hosted a special Executive Briefing Call with Major General (ret.) Yaakov Amidror, former National Security Advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. This exclusive phone conversation, made available to the public, addressed such topics as President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, the role of Iran in the region, and Hezbollah activity on Israel’s northern borders. The call was hosted by American Jewish Congress President Jack Rosen.
During his 36 years serving in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), Major General Yaakov Amidror also served as Director of the Intelligence Analysis Division and as the Military Secretary for the Minister of Defense. Today, Amidror is a Senior Fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies (JISS) and a Distinguished Fellow of the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA).
The American Jewish Congress hosts its Executive Briefing Calls in order to connect its audience with significant players in U.S. and Israeli politics, the American Jewish community, and beyond. Previous briefings have featured Members of Congress, journalists, and diplomats, including U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.
The discussion focused largely on President Trump’s recent decision to withdraw American troops from Syria and the implications this policy move might have on Israel. Major General Amidror highlighted the complexity of the power balance in Syria, and how a withdrawal of American forces may be in Iran’s favor.
“The decision of the Americans to pull out means that the whole Kurdish area will be under threat from Turkey,” General Amidror explained. “And the question is: Is it good for the Middle East or is it bad for the Middle East? The more the Turks will be inside Syria, the less willing Assad will be to get rid of or to contain or to limit the Iranians, because it is a balance between these forces, and we don’t know what the reaction of the Russians will be.”
He added that the withdrawal will likely throw off U.S. allies who were not prepared to be left on their own. “It’s very bad for allies who cannot defend themselves,” he said. “Israel is in a unique situation because we decided in ’48 that Israel would build its capability to defend itself, by itself…Other allies who did not make this decision or cannot make this decision, or found themselves in a different situation like the Kurds and some Arab countries, they are hesitating, and they don’t know how to react to this decision.” READ MORE

PA to seek full UN membership

The Palestinian Authority (PA) will launch a bid to become a full member of the United Nations even though such a move will be blocked by the United States, the PA’s “foreign minister” said Tuesday, according to AFP.
In 2012, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly approved the de facto recognition of the “state of Palestine” when it upgraded the PA’s UN observer status to non-member state.
Full membership would amount to international recognition of Palestinian statehood.
Any request to become a UN member-state must first be approved by the Security Council, where the United States has veto power, before it is endorsed by the General Assembly.
"We know that we are going to face a US veto but that won't prevent us from presenting our application" for full UN membership, PA “foreign minister” Riyad al-Maliki was quoted as having told journalists.
The PA will begin lobbying Security Council members with a view to presenting the application for UN membership in "a few weeks," said Maliki.
The comments came as the PA assumed chairmanship of the Group of 77 bloc of developing countries at the UN. In October, the United Nations General Assembly voted in favor of allowing the PA to chair the group in 2019, thus allowing the PA to act more like a full UN member state during meetings in 2019.
PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas addressed a ceremony at the UN marking the start of the PA’s chairmanship of the Group of 77 in which he leveled accusations at Israel.
Abbas charged that Israel was hampering development in the Middle East and renewed his commitment to a two-state solution.
"Israel's continued colonization and occupation of the state of Palestine undermines our development and capacity for cooperation, coordination and obstructs the cohesive future development of all peoples of the region," Abbas told the gathering, according to AFP.
Abbas claimed he was committed to a "peaceful solution that brings an end to the occupation and the realization of the independence of the state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital, living side-by-side in peace and security with the state of Israel."
The PA has unilaterally joined international organizations in recent years as part of the diplomatic war it has been waging against Israel and its attempts to achieve international recognition as a state while bypassing peace talks.
Abbas has continuously rejected Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s call to sit down for peace negotiations, and has instead chosen to impose preconditions on talks with Israel.
While the US is working on a peace plan for Israel and the PA, Abbas has rejected the planbefore it has even been unveiled. The PA chairman has been boycotting the US ever since Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last December.

Iran to Netanyahu: We're not going anywhere

The Iranian government on Wednesday rebuffed ‘advice’ offered by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who suggested Tuesday that the regime ought to withdraw its forces from Syria before Israel intensifies its air campaign.
Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, chief of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, told ISNA Wednesday that Iranian forces would remain in Syria.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran will keep its military advisers, revolutionary forces and its weapons in Syria,” Jafari said, calling Netanyahu’s threats “a joke”.
“You should be afraid of the day that our precision-guided missiles roar and fall on your head.”
On Monday, Iran denied it was maintaining an armed force in Syria, claiming that it had merely deployed military “advisers” to Syria to assist the Assad regime.
“Iran does not have a military base and military presence in Syria and was present at the request of the Syrian government for advisory mission and fighting the terrorists,” said Bahrem Qasemi, a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry.
A day later, Netanyahu offered his ‘advice’ to Iranian forces in Syria, suggesting they leave immediately, warning Israel would intensify its air campaign if they did not.
"Yesterday I heard the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman saying 'Iran has no military presence in Syria, we only advise them',” said the Israeli premier.
"So let me advise them -- get out of there fast, because we'll continue our forceful policy of attacking, as we promised and are doing, fearlessly and relentlessly," Netanyahu continued.
On Friday, Israeli warplanes bombed Iranian weapons depots in Syria. Prime Minister Netanyahu confirmed the attacks over the weekend, a rare admission by Israel, which usually maintains a policy of ambiguity regarding strikes on Syrian targets.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Pastor Forced to Resign over ‘Homosexuality Is a Sin’ Church Sign

A pastor is no longer the head of a California Presbyterian church after receiving backlash from within his congregation and the outside community over a sign stating that “homosexuality is a sin.”

Pastor Justin Hoke, who led Trinity Bible Presbyterian Church in Weed, California, is without a job after he posted a sign outside his church on December 31 stating, “Bruce Jenner is still a man. Homosexuality is still a sin. The culture may change. The Bible does not”:
Hoke told The Daily Wire that he created the sign after reading a news story where a biological male who identifies as female lashed out at a store clerk who “had accidentally referred to him with the masculine gender [pronoun].”
The sign led to multiple protests from LGBTQ activists, with one community organizer noting he was not there to “debate” the church members at their most recent demonstration on Sunday:
We are there to support the LGBTQ+ community in a positive way. Debating with any church members isn’t the goal. We are not there for them. Some of us on our side of the street still are also religious. All of us are capable of treating everyone with respect, even if we disagree. Do not engage anyone trying to escalate the situation to violence.
Some people resorted to vandalism, damaging the sign and the power box next to it, according to Hoke’s Facebook post on Wednesday:
Not too long after the protests and the vandalism incident, Hoke announced Saturday that he was stepping down as pastor of Trinity Bible Presbyterian Church due to internal conflicts with church leaders:
Despite the pushback from the community, hundreds of people commented on Hoke’s post in support of him for preaching the Gospel.
“I am sorry the church doesn’t support your stance. God bless you for being faithful to the Word of God, and not the ungodly secular culture,” one person commented.
“Brother, I am speechless but not surprised. You preach the true Gospel of Jesus Christ and that is hard to handle for most. I am praying for you and the family right now. God bless you and keep you,” another commenter remarked.
Although Hoke said he wishes he could return to the pulpit, he called those who protested against him “sincere” but wrong.
“I believe they’re sincere — sincerely wrong, but sincere. I believe that it is hypocritical that their position is taught in schools and pushed on children, while our position is asked to be kept within the walls of the church,” he said.


Iran fails to launch satellite into orbit after ignoring warnings from US

Iran, which considers its space programme a matter of national pride, has said its space vehicle launches and missile tests were not violations and would continue.
Payam was intended to be used for imaging and communications purposes and was mounted with four cameras, according to a report on the telecommunications ministry’s website.
It was intended to stay at an altitude of 500km for approximately three years.
It is one of two satellites Iran plans to send into orbit, the other named Doosti. Payam means “message” in Farsi, while Doosti means “friendship”.
Over the past decade, Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit and in 2013 launched a monkey into space. 
Iran usually displays space achievements in February during the anniversary of its 1979 Islamic Revolution. This year will mark the 40th anniversary of the revolution amid Iran facing increasing pressure from the US under Donald Trump’s administration.

Aviv Kochavi assumes command of IDF. PM: Iran is paramount foe

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu outlined their shared 2030 vision when he welcomed Aviv Kochavi as the 22nd Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff at a ceremony on Tuesday, Jan. 15 at IDF HQ in Tel Aviv. Pointing to Iran as Israel’s paramount foe, he termed its failed attempt to put a satellite into orbit that morning as part of Tehran’s nuclear-capable ICBM program and therefore an “act of aggression.” He went on to say: “Israel’s economic achievements are impressive, but the time has come for major investment in developing the means for defending those achievements and assets. All parts of the country must be made safe and all the borders fortified,” he stressed. The prime minister added that Israel will continue to invest in innovative cyber war, robotics and artificial intelligence, “but victory in war ultimately depends on the resolve and patriotism of the human fighter.”
He went on to say in answer to critics: “Superfluous wars must be avoided, but if an all-out war becomes necessary, we will fight to win.”
DEBKAfile: When Netanyahu, who also serves as defense minister, spoke of the need to defend Israel’s economic assets, he most certainly had in mind the preparations Hizballah is making to attack Israel’s economic infrastructure, especially its off-shore gas rigs. This is one of the main challenges facing the new chief of staff.

Netanyahu advised the Iranians to make haste and leave Syria before the IDF drives them out, spelling out another of Lt. Gen. Kochavi’s toughest missions. Thus far, despite hundreds of Israeli air strikes, Iran’s military resources in Syria are still firmly in place.
The prime minister in his address reiterated the need for victory and the IDF fighting to win. He was clearly trying to debunk the pervasive military doctrine which asserts that there are no victories in modern warfare. Given the formidable missions ahead of him, the new chief of staff will need to instill the opposite mindset in the IDF’s high command.
He comes from the right background.
Kochavi joined up as a former paratrooper, who achieved command of the Paratrooper Brigade after leading the prestigious 101st Battalion. His career included heading the Military Intelligence Directorate (AMAN), OC Northern Command, and finally, deputy chief of staff. Kochavi has a bachelor’s degree from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a master’s from Harvard University. The newly-promoted, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, 55, proceeded to Jerusalem after the ceremony in Tel Aviv. There, he paid his respects at the national monuments of the Western Wall and Mt. Herzl.

US official criticizes Hezbollah

The US State Department on Monday criticized the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terrorist group for digging tunnels into Israel and stockpiling rockets, Reuters reported.
"While Lebanon has the right to defend itself, that is the right of the Lebanese state alone," said David Hale, US under secretary of state for political affairs, after meeting Lebanese Prime Minister designate Saad al-Hariri in Beirut.
"It is unacceptable to have a militia outside the control of the state, and unanswerable to all people of Lebanon digging attack tunnels across the blue line to Israel or assembling an arsenal of over 100,000 missiles with which to threaten regional stability," he added, according to Reuters.
In December, the IDF launched Operation Northern Shield in order to dismantle terrorist tunnels dug by Hezbollah from Lebanon into Israeli territory.
On Sunday, the end of the operation was announced after Israeli troops discovered six tunnels dug by Hezbollah into Israeli territory.
Hezbollah, in addition to its military wing, also has a strong political presence in Lebanon. Hezbollah and its allies gained more than half the seats of the 128-member Lebanese parliament in election last May. Hariri was tasked with forming the next coalition despite his party’s significant losses in the vote.
Hezbollah is expected to get three ministries in the upcoming cabinet for the first time.
Hariri, who is backed by Saudi Arabia, included Iranian-backed Hezbollah in his last cabinetas well.
Hezbollah is blacklisted as a terrorist organization by the West and even by some Arab countries, but some of those designations, most notably in the EU and in Britain, make a distinction between Hezbollah’s “military wing” and its political arm.
Hale's visit to Beirut comes as Lebanese politicians continue to jostle over the formation of a new coalition government more than eight months after an election.
Lebanon's failure to form a new government was dragging down the economy and "endangering the country", Hale said, according to Reuters. He urged the caretaker government to move forward on the economy to maintain international confidence.