Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Erdogan seeks to extend his Libya gains into a foothold in Algeria

Turkey is cajoling Algeria into signing a defense pact with the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli after capturing the strategic Watiya air base from Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s (LNA) forces, DEBKAfile’s Mid East sources report. On Sunday, the 1,200-1,500 Russian mercenaries fighting for Haftar were flown to Jufra in southern Libya to regroup and chart their next steps, after the GNA and Turkish-backed troops destroyed the LNA’s air defenses in Watiya, including the Russian Pantsir-1 battery posted there.
 
Russia, which supports the general’s yearlong battle to conquer Tripoli, responded by transferring half a dozen warplanes from Syria to Libya to enable the LNA to keep on bombing GNA forces and Turkish assets. Erdogan countered with a threat to bring Turkish Air Force warplanes over to bomb Haftar’s troops. The Turks have hitherto used drones.
 
GNA control of al-Watiya not only puts a stop to Haftar’s use of the facility to mount air raids on GNA forces in Tripoli. It also provides Turkey with a strategic base for building up a military presence in Libya and its Mediterranean coastline. Haftar’s backers, Russia, Egypt and the UAE may have second thoughts about helping the Libyan general’s thrust from his eastern stronghold to seize the capital.
 
In December, Erdogan signed a military cooperation pact with the UN-recognized Tripoli government’s prime minister Fayez al-Sarraj for countering the offensive mounted by Gen. Haftar.
 
Algeria has consistently fought shy of foreign adventures and stood aloof from the troubles in Libya – even when Muammar Qadhafi was overthrown, thereby setting off the still-raging civil war.
 
The Turkish president saw an opportunity in the new Algerian president Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s apparent openness for abandoning its traditional doctrine of non-intervention under the late Boutefliqa. Article 95 of new constitutional reform bill that Tebboune’s instituted earlier this month allows the Algerian army to intervene for the first time outside its borders. Threats to this huge, largely desert, oil-rich country’s stability abound from its volatile Sahel neighbors, on the one hand, and Libya on the other.
 
If Erdogan succeeds in harnessing Algeria to the Libyan GNA, which is already tied to the Turkish chariot, he will be able to shift the balance of power in a broad, volatile region. His military gains in Libya already bring him into position to impact the security of its North African neighbors – not least, Egypt – as well as Mediterranean navigation between that continent and southern Europe and the offshore oil projects in between.
 
The Turkish president is in serious need of success in his foreign adventures to boost his failing fortunes at home. The economy is in free fall, and his former cronies have been able to establish an opposition grouping that could seriously challenge his party at next year’s election. When he talked by phone with President Donald Trump last week, Erdogan boasted that the Libyan conflict was no longer small potatoes among local forces and minor parties like the UAE, but a game led by the big players like Vladimir Putin, his off-and-on ally, and himself.

Hezbollah commandos’ video threatens Israel, warns of ‘disaster from the north’

The Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group on Monday released a video showing members of its elite commando unit in training and firing weapons at targets representing Israel, in a pointed warning to the Jewish state.
In the video clip, members of the Lebanese group’s Radwan Unit are shown demonstrating their shooting and unarmed combat skills. Some of the shooting targets have a Star of David printed on them, the traditional symbol of the Jewish people and the icon at the center of the Israeli national flag.
The video was shared on social media accounts associated with Iran and its proxies, the Ynet website reported. It was also posted on YouTube, but later removed for violating its standards.
At the end of the video, text in Hebrew and English appears with a quote from Surah 9:5 of the Quran reading: “Then kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them. And sit and wait for them in every place of ambush.”
The quote is followed by another, from the Bible, also in Hebrew and English, from Jeremiah 1:14, reading, “From the north disaster will be poured out on all who live in the land.”
Approximately eight years ago, Hezbollah created its special forces Radwan Unit which was specifically tasked with crossing into Israel in future conflicts and causing as much mayhem and destruction as possible, both for the sake of the destruction itself and for the “symbolism” of having troops carry out attacks inside the Jewish state.
In December 2018, the IDF launched Operation Northern Shield, an effort to locate and destroy tunnels dug by Hezbollah into northern Israel from southern Lebanon, apparently for this purpose. In total, the military said it found six such passages and rendered them inoperable — either using explosives or filling them with concrete — last year.
This week also marked 20 years since Israel’s withdrawal from its self-declared security zone in southern Lebanon.
On Friday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said that all Jews must leave Israel, saying the whole region, “from the river to the sea,” is the property of the Palestinians.
“While we never said we wanted to throw anyone into the sea, those who flocked to Palestine must leave,” the head of the Lebanese terror organization said in a speech to mark Quds Day.
Quds Day, which Iran has marked since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, is usually commemorated with regime-orchestrated demonstrations across Iran and the Arab world against Israel and expressing support for the Palestinians. It is held on the last Friday of Ramadan, which this year is May 22. This year the Iranian and Israeli commemorations of Jerusalem Day, which celebrates the capture of the eastern part of the capital during the 1967 Six Day War, fell on the same day.
Due to coronavirus outbreak there were no major parades, as is usually the case, in either country.

Turkey: We will not agree to annexation in Judea and Samaria

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is warning Israel of the consequences of annexing territories in Judea and Samaria, emphasizing that Turkey will not permit “Palestinian land” to be granted to anyone.
 
In a video message to Muslims in the US on the occasion of the holiday of Eid Al-Fitr, Erdogan said Turkey is monitoring Israel's plan to annex land while ignoring Palestinian sovereignty and international law.
 
Erdogan also said that in the eyes of Turkey, the city of Al-Quds (Jerusalem) is a red line for Muslims worldwide.
 
According to a report by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and State, Turkey has been increasing its presence in eastern Jerusalem, as can be seen from the appearance of the Turkish flags flying there. Its influence can also be seen in restaurants and local clothing stores.
 
The report also notes that Turkish support for Hamas in Gaza also explains the emergence of Turkish flags among Palestinian Arab protesters on the Gaza border, and that Turkey uses the guise of Muslim "tourism" to gain a foothold on the Temple Mount and other holy sites, possibly with the goal of taking over them.
 
The coalition agreement between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz, which stipulates that the government can apply sovereignty over Judea and Samaria this coming July, has caused an uproar in the Arab world.
 
The plan has been condemned by the Palestinian Authority, which says that an application of sovereignty by Israel would be “illegal”.
 
The PA has received the backing of the Arab League, which said several weeks ago that an Israeli proposal to apply sovereignty over parts of Judea and Samaria constituted a "new war crime" against the Palestinian Arabs.
 
Saudi Arabia last week denounced Israel’s plans to apply sovereignty over parts of Judea and Samaria, saying it “denounces any unilateral actions, and any violations of internationally- sanctioned resolutions or any measures that might undermine the chances of resuming the peace process to achieve security and stability in the region.”
 
Jordan has threatened to review its relationship with Israel if the Jewish state goes ahead with plans to apply sovereignty over Judea and Samaria.

PA: We've applied sovereignty over Area C

Palestinian Authority (PA) cabinet leader Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Monday that the PA is acting to prevent Israel from applying sovereignty over Judea and Samaria.
 
Speaking at a press conference in Ramallah, Shtayyeh said the PA has renounced the agreements it signed with Israel, and as a result the PA sees no difference between Areas A, B and C of Judea and Samaria.
 
He also claimed that during the period of the coronavirus crisis, the PA applied Palestinian sovereignty in all these areas without exception.
 
PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas last week declared an end to the agreements and understandings signed with Israel and the United States in response to Israel’s plans to declare sovereignty over Judea and Samaria.
 
"The Israeli occupation authority, as of today, has to shoulder all responsibilities and obligations in front of the international community as an occupying power over the territory of the occupied state of Palestine, with all its consequences and repercussions based on international law and international humanitarian law,” he said.
 
He announced that the PA “will complete the signing of agreements to accede to international agreements and conventions that we have not yet joined.”
 
The PA is outraged over the coalition agreement between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, which stipulates that the government can apply sovereignty over Judea and Samaria this coming July.
 
The PA has also condemned the perceived US support for the sovereignty move. The PA “justice minister” recently threatened the US with lawsuits for supporting it.

Welfare Minister: 'We'll foil sovereignty plan from inside the government'

Labor and Welfare Minister Itzik Shmuli (Labor) said Tuesday morning he will oppose efforts by the Netanyahu government to apply Israeli sovereignty over parts of Judea and Samaria, vowing to block the sovereignty plan from moving forward.
 
Speaking with Reshet Bet Tuesday morning, Shmuli said the Labor party’s inclusion in the government would empower it to resist the implementation of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s sovereignty plan.
 
“Unilateral annexation is contradictory to our national interests,” said Shmuli. “There is no question that right now there is a great motivation for the Prime Minister to push this process, but I will not back it. And our ability to hamper this process is much greater when we’re in the government.”
 
Shmuli said he would only back the application of Israeli sovereignty over parts of Judea and Samaria if Israel reached an agreement with the Palestinian Authority, securing the PA’s support for such a move.
 
On the other hand, coalition chairman Miki Zohar (Likud) said the Likud party plans to bring a measure applying Israeli sovereignty to the entirety of Judea and Samaria to a government vote by July 1st.
 
When asked how these plans square with the Trump administration’s Middle East peace plan, which only provide for the application of sovereignty over less than a third of Judea and Samaria and which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the remaining two-thirds, Zohar said the Likud still opposes Palestinian statehood.
 
“We’re opposed to a Palestinian state, and I rely on Netanyahu to know how to apply sovereignty on all of the territories, without the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

Monday, May 25, 2020

20 years after Lebanon pullout, IDF faces a stronger Hezbollah – in Syria too

Twenty years after Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon, the enemy it fought there — the Iran-backed Hezbollah — is stronger than ever, battle-hardened from its time in Syria backing the regime, expanding its operations to the Syrian Golan border, and constantly amassing more powerful weapons for a future war with the Jewish state.
At the same time, the once-small guerrilla fighting force, now a major player in Lebanese politics, is burdened with a yoke of major responsibilities to the country and faces an economic crisis as well as the ire of a population that is being crushed by that financial collapse, caused by decades of government mismanagement and greed. The American assassination of Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian general behind much of the Islamic Republic’s expansionist activities, has also shaken Tehran and its proxies, including Hezbollah, as they seek a replacement for a nigh-irreplaceable figure.
The military this week also confirmed, in part, claims by an Israeli defense official earlier this month that Iran was beginning to pull its troops out of Syria in light of Israeli strikes against it. The army said that while Iranian forces and proxies were moving out of the country, this was not necessarily due to Israeli efforts, but rather to a more general lull in the fighting in the civil war, as well as to domestic Iranian pressure in light of the country’s growing economic crisis and the aftermath of a massive coronavirus outbreak that has killed thousands.
The upshot is that the Israeli military does not believe Hezbollah is interested in a war at this time (nor is Jerusalem), but if or, more likely, when that conflict comes, it will be catastrophic, both for Israel — which will face cross-border attacks and massive rocket barrages the likes of which the country has never seen — and for Lebanon, particularly the parts being used by Hezbollah as cover for its attacks and operations, which will be leveled by Israeli aircraft, artillery and ground forces.
In the interim, Israel has not been sitting by idly while Hezbollah grows stronger. In what the IDF calls its “war between wars,” the military has been carrying out strikes in Syria to counter Iranian efforts to transfer advanced weapons; exposing and attacking the group’s operations in the Syrian Golan Heights; and working diplomatically and, reportedly, militarily to prevent the terrorist army’s efforts to manufacture precision-guided missiles within Lebanon. READ MORE 

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Trial by ire: 7 things to know for May 24

1. Prime defendant: The Israeli press has one thing on its mind Sunday morning, and it’s not the mercifully cooler weather. After years of investigations, leaks, smear campaigns, the end of democracy, drastically overblown hyperbole and more, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu becomes prime defendant Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday afternoon.
  • That goes for both the Netanyahu-supporting press, like Israel Hayom, and those that are more critical of the prime minister.
  • “The trial,” reads the top headline of Israel Hayom.
  • “On the defendant’s bench,” says Yedioth Ahronoth, referring not to its publisher Arnon Mozes, who will also be standing trial, but — you guessed it —  Netanyahu.
  • “Many refused to believe that we would get to this sad moment, but this afternoon, it will indeed happen: For the first time in the nation’s history the serving prime minister will go to court to defend himself on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust,” writes the paper. “The hearing will be short, but the trial is expected to be long, exhausting and divisive.”
  • Notably, a number of columns in the paper urge going into the trial with an open mind.
  • “No pre-conviction and no pre-exoneration. No hate and no admiration,” writes Ben-Dror Yemini. “The evidence gathered against Netanyahu points to problematic behavior and corruption. This does not mean he is guilty. The other side has more than enough justifiable claims.”
  • The Walla news site, whose owner Shaul Elovitch is also on trial, can’t help but play up the case given its historic proportions.
  • The site reads into the fact that Netanyahu was not allowed to skip out on the hearing as a sign that “the judges are treating Netanyahu just like any other defendant.”
  • Channel 12 news has the same takeaway, adding in that given “the decision to not allow the trial to be broadcast live, in order to allow witnesses to give testimony freely and without feeling pressure… the judges have sent a message that Netanyahu won’t have any extra rights when he’s sitting on the defendant’s bench.”
2. So how long will this thing take? A while apparently. Haaretz’s top headline previews what it says are the defense’s plans to “battle over every step,” atop a picture of the modest looking Jerusalem District Courtroom, forebodingly shaded in shadow, which may be ground zero for the case for years to come.
  • The paper notes that the two-man defense team is still working on getting up to speed, and is meanwhile taking a more confrontational approach thanks to the addition of attorney Micha Fettman.
  • “The defense team intends to file a large number of motions seeking disclosure of confidential material from the investigation against the prime minister,” the paper reports, quoting a source saying that “this time, there won’t be concessions.”
  • Channel 13 news also throws cold water on anyone hoping for a speedy trial: “Justice officials estimate that preliminary arguments will take six months to a year, meaning it will be many months before we hear the opening statement of prosecutor Liat Ben-Ari and until witnesses take the stand.”
  • Former deputy state prosecutor Yehoshua Reznik decries the expected glacial pace of the trial: “The judges should require two to three hearings a week. Otherwise this could take two years.”
3. Is justice blind to elections or something? Israel Hayom, a tabloid seen as a mouthpiece for Netanyahu (despite being on the losing end of an alleged quid pro quo deal with Yedioth’s publisher that is one of the cases being tried), runs a front page picture of Netanyahu, but the paper makes clear that it does not think it is the prime minister on trial, but rather the judges. READ MORE

Iran prohibits talking to Israelis

A new law passed in the Iranian parliament could lead to the imprisonment of any Iranian citizen who speaks on any issue with a person holding Israeli citizenship.

The radical law, whereby any dialogue with an Israeli citizen is prohibited, was passed last week. The sentence for violating the law is up to five years in prison, Besheva journalist Dvir Amar reported on Twitter.

A senior official in the Jewish community in Iran told Amar: "Last week, they passed a law here in the parliament that anyone who speaks with someone with Israeli citizenship would be sentenced to five years in prison."

He added, "Most people haven't heard of this law yet. I'm sorry but we can't talk anymore and I have to leave all groups."

Hamas leader al-'Aruri warns of 'intifada' in response to Israel crossing 'red lines'

In an interview on radio 103FM, journalist Erel Segal and former director of Peace Now, Yariv Oppenheimer, spoke to Maj. Gen. (Res.) Gershon HaCohen of the right-wing "Bitchonistim" movement. Gershon explained why the application of Israeli sovereignty made sense from both the political and security standpoint and voiced his optimism about the possibility, stating that the Jewish people are "here to stay" and that "Trump's plan allows us to put a foot in the door." In the meantime, Oppenheimer objected to the idea, saying: "It's a political move that doesn't have anything to do with [state] security."
 
Also today, Salah al-'Aruri, Hamas's second in command, warned that Israel's annexing parts of Judea and Samaria would result in the outbreak of another intifada.
 
In an interview with Hezbollah-affiliated al-Mayadeen, Aruri said the intifada would erupt in response to the "Zionist occupation" and that Hamas had already taken steps to set off such a reaction.
 
'Aruri warned that a return to Arab terrorism in Judea and Samaria was a distinct possibility and that it could begin afresh sooner than people expected.
 

The man linked to a number of terrorist attacks claiming the lives of IDF soldiers and Israeli civilians said that Israel's encroachment of "red lines" in Jerusalem would inflame the region similar to the way Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount had prior to the Second Intifada in 2000. "Jerusalem cannot become a Jewish city. It is the heart of Islam and Arabism and the heart of our dilemma," he stated.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Quest for ‘super-duper’ missiles at heart of US rivalry with China, Russia

WASHINGTON (AP) — They fly at speeds of a mile a second or faster and maneuver in ways that make them extra difficult to detect and destroy in flight.
US President Donald Trump calls them “super-duper” missiles though they’re better known as hypersonic weapons. And they are at the heart of Trump administration worries about China and Russia.
For decades the United States has searched for ways to get ultra-fast flight right. But it has done so in fits and starts. Now, with China and Russia arguably ahead in this chase, the Trump administration is pouring billions of dollars a year into hypersonic offense and defense.
The Pentagon makes no bones about their purpose.
“Our ultimate goal is, simply, we want to dominate future battlefields,” Mark Lewis, the Pentagon’s director of defense research and engineering for modernization, told reporters in March.
Critics argue that hypersonic weapons would add little to the United States’ ability to deter war. Some think they could ignite a new, destabilizing arms race.
A look at hypersonic weapons:

What’s special about hypersonic?

Two things make these weapons special: speed and maneuverability. Speed brings surprise, and maneuverability creates elusiveness. Together, those qualities could mean trouble for missile defenses.
By generally agreed definition, a hypersonic weapon is one that flies at speeds in excess of Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound. Most American missiles, such as those launched from aircraft to hit other aircraft or ground targets, travel between Mach 1 and Mach 5. READ MORE

Nasrallah: Palestine must be liberated

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah on Friday gave a speech in honor of the Iranian Al-Quds Day, during which he called for the destruction of Israel and the “liberation of Palestine”.
 
"Israel is cautious and examines Hezbollah's reactions," Nasrallah said, adding that "the very fact that Israel is deterred by us is an achievement."
 
He further said that "Palestine belongs to the Palestinian people, it must be restored. Soon we will pray in Jerusalem, we are as close as possible to its liberation. Jerusalem is holy to us. Anyone who believes he can change our position through wars, sanctions or eliminations- is wrong."
 
Nasrallah continued, "The resistance operations are the only way to liberate the occupied land, and any other way is a waste of time. Liberation will not be achieved in two or three years, but will take many years of fighting. We must not despair.”
 
He denounced Israel’s plans to apply sovereignty over Judea and Samaria, claiming that "Israel strives for full control and annexation of all occupied lands. It is fueled by the United States which supports it in a security, military, economic and political way. It strengthens and stabilizes Israel, and therefore our real battle is against the US as well."
 
Regarding Iran, the Hezbollah leader said that Iran is the center of the axis of resistance, and therefore it is regularly targeted by Israel and the US.
 
“President Trump's withdrawal from the nuclear deal and the imposition of sanctions on the Islamic Republic are aimed at putting pressure on Iran, but their pressures have failed,” he claimed.
 
Al-Quds Day was declared in 1979 by Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of the Iranian Revolution. It is marked throughout the Middle East and in countries around the world, including the United States.
 
During Al-Quds Day, rallies are held around the world and are used to incite against Israelis and Jews.
 
Earlier on Friday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei spoke on the occasion of Al-Quds Day and said that "Israel is a cancerous growth in the Middle East."
 
Khamenei also threatened that "the Zionist virus will not last long and the Zionist regime will not survive - and will be destroyed.”
 
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu later responded to Khamenei’s statement and said, "We say again - those who threaten Israel with extermination place themselves in similar danger.”
 
Defense Minister Benny Gantz also replied to Khamenei’s threats and said, "I do not suggest that anyone test us. The State of Israel and the Zionist dream are a fact on the ground, in contrast to the Iranian satellites that are trying to establish themselves and undermine stability."