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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Moscow brokers provisional Turkish-Syrian truce in Afrin

An armed clash between the Turkish and Syrian armies over the disputed Afrin enclave was narrowly averted this week by Russian intervention. The US was in the picture. DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources reveal that  Moscow established a special command center for orchestrating the truce at its Khmeimim Airbase in Latakia.
 
The military steps taken up until Wednesday, Feb. 21, the north Syrian enclave were less an escalation than maneuvers to ascertain that neither side gave ground to the opposite side before the accord went into effect. Hence. the troop movements by the Turkish, Kurdish and Syrian armies and the pro-Assad Afghan Shiite and Shabiha Alawite militias after a day of Turkish artillery pounding to block those movements.
 
The Kurdish YPG chiefs’ consent to Syrian forces entering Afrin was part of the deal. It was granted against a guarantee from Moscow that the Syrians would not remain there or interfere with Kurdish local government. Kurdish leaders decided to take a chance on the Moscow-mediated truce deal in preference to  challenging Turkish tanks in street battles. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, for his part, chose acquiescence in the face of Moscow’s unbending threat to shoot down any Turkish warplanes entering airspace over the enclave. The Russians did not relent, even after the Turkish president made the gesture of sending Turkish MIT intelligence Direct Hakan Fidan to talk to the Russian generals at the Khmeimim air base, the first NATO official ever to set foot there. But without air cover. Turkish troops could not hope to beat the Kurdish defenders, and so the Turkish president bowed to the truce, even though his month-long Operation Olive Branch operation for driving the Kurdish militia out of Afrin was a total loss. His army had scarcely covered a few kilometers when it ended up face to face not just with the Kurds, but with Bashar Assad’s army to boot.
 
The Syria ruler in contrast believed he was the winner. Without firing a shot, his army had regained a presence in a territory over which his regime lost control at the outset of the civil war.
 
DEBKAfile’s military sources report that the special Afrin command at the Russian air base is still operating, since nothing has been solved and tension in Afrin remains high. The contestants can’t tell how long the truce will hold and each remains in place and braced ready for a fresh outbreak of hostilities.

Michigan Church Faces Death Threats, State Investigation for Holding Biblical Sexuality Workshop

From the moment Metro City Church announced a workshop for teenage girls struggling from peer pressure and questions about sexual identity, Jeremy Schossau, the lead pastor for the church with campuses in Riverview and Taylor, Michigan, said he and the congregation had faced “unbridled” hate and vitriol.
“Every kind of threat imaginable, from killing my family to burning down our church, has been leveled against us,” Schossau said at a press conference at the state capitol last week with other pastors and supporters.
The latest threat came from a man who was arrested after threatening that Antifa would show up at the church. Brian Carl Begin II was arraigned Feb. 15 on misdemeanor charges.
“In the middle of the voicemail the male states if the church goes through with the gay conversion therapy class in the state of Michigan, I promise every member of the Antifa will show up ‘armed and ready. This is not a joke,’” the police told the News-Herald.
Protesters gathered at the church on the occasions of the six-week workshop — which has since been canceled — and the church has received a continuous stream of emails and voicemail claiming the aim of the course was “conversion therapy.”
The complaints and protest led two state legislators to speak out against the church, introduce a bill to make conversation therapy illegal in the state, and called on the attorney general’s office to investigate the congregation. READ MORE

Haley to Abbas: We Will Not ‘Chase After You’ for Peace Deal

WASHINGTON — US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Tuesday said Washington would not “chase” the Palestinians to the negotiating table with Israel, following Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s speech to the UN Security Council.
Speaking in front of US President Donald Trump’s top two Middle East peace negotiators — Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt — Abbas excoriated the US president’s decision last year to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and set in motion plans to move the the US embassy there, characterizing it as “an unlawful decision.”
Abbas then called for a multilateral international effort to secure Palestinian statehood, thus removing the US from its traditional role as the key mediator in negotiations.
The White House, however, said shortly after his remarks that it still planned to push ahead with finalizing its peace plan and presenting it at a later date.
Washington “will continue working on our plan, which is designed to benefit both the Israeli and Palestinian people,” said Josh Raffel, an administration spokesman. “We will present it when it is done and the time is right.” READ MORE

Middle East military heavyweights Israel, Iran on collision course over Syria

Iran and Israel are on a collision course over Tehran’s expanding footprint in Syria, raising the odds of a direct clash between the region’s two military heavyweights that could quickly draw in other combatants.
With Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, Iran’s most potent military ally, emboldened by their success in upholding Syrian President Bashar Assad, Israel is growing more and more wary of being attacked by missiles not just from southern Lebanon but also from inside Syria.
Israel has been sporadically bombing Hezbollah positions in Syria for the past three years. But the situation reached new heights this month when what Israel said was an Iranian armed stealth drone was intercepted and downed over Israel and an Israeli F-16 fighter jet was in turn shot down by anti-aircraft fire from inside Syria during a retaliatory airstrike.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif traded belligerent taunts at a major security conference in Munich this week, with the hard-line Mr. Netanyahu brandishing a piece of the downed drone and warning that Tehran “should not test Israel’s resolve.”
“Israel will not allow the regime to put a noose of terror around our neck,” he said. “We will act if necessary not just against Iran’s proxies but against Iran itself.” READ MORE

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Fallen PTL preacher Jim Bakker is back with a new message about the Apocalypse

Three decades after his PTL empire near Charlotte crumbled amid financial and sex scandals, Jim Bakker is back on TV with a different, darker message:
The Apocalypse is coming and you better get ready.
Ready to be judged by God, sure. But the main mission of “The Jim Bakker Show” – broadcast from a Christian compound deep in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri – appears to be to sell you fuel-less generators, doomsday guidebooks and freeze-dried food with a shelf-life of up to 30 years.
Bakker, whose co-host is second wife Lori, says stocking up on such survivalist merchandise could keep you alive amid the catastrophes – earthquakes, hurricanes, war, famine – that some Christians believe are signs that End Times are near.
“Stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive, ah, ah, ah, ah,” Bakker’s daughter, Tammy Sue, now 47, sang on one show as her dad promoted buckets of long-lasting emergency food. That day’s “Staying Alive” special: Ten buckets, with 2,410 servings, for a $600 donation plus shipping.
“We are in the final days” is Bakker’s refrain as he points a warning finger at Hurricanes Harvey and Maria and to recent talk of nuclear war with North Korea.
Now 78, with a white beard, Bakker is no longer the sunny, baby-faced preacher who co-hosted “The PTL Club” in the 1970s and ’80s with then-wife Tammy. She did the singing back then, often while shedding happy, mascara-tinged tears about Jesus.
Together, Jim and Tammy built Heritage USA, a 2,300-acre Christian theme park and resort that drew nearly 6 million visitors at its peak in 1986. Their flock came to the Fort Mill, S.C., campus to splash in the water park, pray in a stone-faced Upper Room meant to suggest the site of Jesus’ Last Supper, and cheer on televangelism’s most famous couple as they taped their TV talk show.
Everything came tumbling down in 1987, amid revelations that Bakker had had a 15-minute tryst and paid hush money to a young church secretary named Jessica Hahn. He later served in federal prison for nearly five years for PTL-related fraud. (Read More)

Billy Graham, America's pastor, has died at age 99

The world's best-known evangelist, the Rev. Billy Graham, died Wednesday. He was 99. From the gangly 16-year-old baseball-loving teen who found Christ at a tent revival, Graham went on to become an international media darling, a preacher to a dozen presidents and the voice of solace in times of national heartbreak. He was America's pastor. Graham retired to his mountain home in Montreat, N.C., in 2005 after nearly six decades on the road calling people to Christ at 417 all-out preaching and musical events from Miami to Moscow. 

His final New York City crusade in 2005 was sponsored by 1,400 regional churches from 82 denominations. In recent years, he was plagued by various ailments, including cancer and pnemonia. He took his Bible to the ends of the Earth in preaching tours he called "crusades." Presidents called on Graham in their dark hours, and uncounted millions say he showed them the light. "The GREAT Billy Graham is dead," President Trump tweeted Wednesday. "There was nobody like him! He will be missed by Christians and all religions. A very special man." (Read More)

PM confidant’s plea bargain shakes the ground under Netanyahu’s feet

The corruption probes and “revelations” swirling around the prime minister are becoming a political threat – even without indictments. The signing of a plea bargain  by former Communications Ministry Director General Shlomo Filber early Wednesday, Feb. 21 – for testimony against the prime minister in Dossier 4000 – tops the critical mass building up politically against Netanyahu. Filber’s testimony may or may not confirm police suspicion that in 2015, he supplied insider information to a friend of the prime minister, Shaul Elovitch, a tycoon whose businesses included the big telecom company Bezeq. Netanyahu then held Communications portfolio. Filber’s consent to the plea bargain is in itself a political blow for the prime minister. He shot back with a denial of involvement in this case, explaining that when he held that portfolio, all decision-making for Bezeq regularly passed through and required the approval of all the relevant professional and legal channels.

While the content of Filber’s testimony is still an unknown factor, what is known is that two former dossiers, 1000 and 2000, which were treated as major bribe scandals for more than a year, are languishing for insufficient evidence, although then too a plea bargain was signed with a suspect. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is still not satisfied with the police case of graft against the prime minister and is considering reducing the charge to breach of trust or fraud, or even closure.
 
As for Dossier 4000, which comes up to fill the empty space, Filber will be asked if he acted for prime minister in allegedly promoting Elovitch’s multimillion business interests, in return for favorable coverage for Netanyahu and members of his family by the Internet news site Walla! which is owned by the tycoon. The flimsiness of this charge derives from the site’s negligible standing and influence.
 
Yet the buildup of “revelations” has driven Netanyahu, who withstood a mainly hostile media for 12 years, to use Facebook for a video in which he points out that none of the police probes have so far  proved any cases against him. “Every two hours, someone invents a new case,” he claims. “They will soon accuse me of murdering Arlozorov” (The reference is to the never-solved political murder that shook the Jewish community in pre-state Israel of 1933). READ MORE

How the IDF is preparing for multi-front war

An Israel Defense Forces (IDF) plan designed to get it prepared for the challenge of multiple-front warfare is entering its third year.
 
The ability to operate effectively on multiple battle fronts simultaneously will be crucial for Israel’s ability to deal with unpredictable, explosive events that can begin on one front but quickly spread to others. According to Israeli intelligence assessments, none of Israel’s enemies wants a full-scale war any time soon (and neither does Israel), but the growing tension in the region means incidents can quickly escalate.
 
During a speech given to the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya at the start of January, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot identified the five fronts that pose threats to Israel’s security.
 
He noted that a “big, strong Iranian umbrella is hovering” over all five of these sectors. The first is Lebanon, where Hezbollah, with Iranian assistance, has built up a major capability. Based on a relatively simple concept, Hezbollah’s assets in Lebanon are designed with strong layers of defense around them, combined with an ability to heavily strike the Israeli home front with projectiles. This is a model the Iranian Republican Guards Corps (IRGC) and Hezbollah believe can challenge Israel’s military superiority.
 
Eisenkot named the second front as Syria, which has undergone drastic changes over the past year. Members of a Russian-led coalition, consisting of Iran, the Assad regime, Hezbollah, and Shiite militias, view themselves as the victors in Syria’s conflict and seek a presence on the Golan Heights. Iran has plans to establish an air, ground, and naval presence in Syria. “The danger to us is significant,” Eisenkot said.
 
The West Bank forms the third threatening sector. Hamas seeks to orchestrate terror attacks from there and divert “fire” away from Gaza, which it rules. Unorganized terrorism and ISIS-inspired lone attackers remain threats here too. READ MORE

Report: Iran Uses Syria to Expand Persian ‘Axis of Resistance’

The Islamic Republic of Iran is reportedly acting more visibly within what it refers to as “the axis of resistance” by mobilizing its growing network of terrorist proxies throughout multiple Middle Eastern countries, particularly in Syria, in light of a recent incident between Iran and Israel.
Last week, Israel shot down an Iranian drone that flew into Israel from Syria and conducted airstrikes on Syrian and Iranian bases within Syria in response. Syria downed an Israeli F16 fighter jet during the incident. The events have exacerbated the possibility of a new conflict between Israel and Iran.
Amir Toumaj, a research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) who studies Iran, told the New York Times this week, “The ultimate goal is, in the case of another war, to make Syria a new front between Israel, Hezbollah, and Iran. They are making that not just a goal, but a reality.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned the world for years that Iran is seeking to expand its hegemony throughout the Middle East and has noted that Israel is a prime target.
The Iranian axis of resistance includes Hamas, Hezbollah, the Syrian government, Iraq, and the Houthis in Yemen. READ MORE

Study: Transgender Ideology Powered by $400 Million from Business and Advocates

The transgender ideology is being covertly funded by a network of wealthy transgender donors and a variety of investors in the drug, surgery and healthcare industries, says Jenifer Bilek, a New York-based feminist.
Bilek tracked the flow of pro-transgender funding via donors and business groups, and she argues more than $400 million has been spent to promote the claim that men can switch their “gender” to become legal women whenever they want to do so.
That gender-trumps-biology demand requires government to silence women when men who claim they are women parade into women’s’ bathrooms and showers, sports contests and civic groups, or into fashion and status displays or into feminist advocacy groups.
The ideology also requires that men keep quiet when women claim they are men, and demands that parents and doctors, reporters, researchers and surgeons all stay silent in face of growing evidence that the ideology and associated medical treatments are hazardous to the subjects’ lifetime physical health and to personal stability. READ MORE

Palestinian leader Abbas calls for international role in seeking peace

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas made a rare appearance before the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday and called for an international peace conference by mid-year — something especially needed, he said, since the U.S. can no longer be counted on as the lone mediator.
It is “essential,” Abbas said, that a “multilateral international mechanism” be established to broker peace.
The Palestinians have lost faith in the United States as an honest mediator after President Trump reversed decades of policy and recognized the disputed holy city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Abbas said he hoped a conference in mid-2018 would set a timeline to resolve all issues with Israel tied to the two-state solution, the internationally recognized arrangement that calls for an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.
The Trump administration has also refused to fully embrace the two-state solution, another reversal of long-standing U.S. policy.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Abbas’ remarks were “constructive” but that participation of other countries in the peace process was something for future consideration. She said the administration remained “willing to listen to both sides.”

JPOST EXCLUSIVE: TRUMP TEAM BRIEFS SECURITY COUNCIL ON MIDEAST PEACE PLAN

WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace team briefed members of the UN Security Council on their plan to jumpstart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on Tuesday.

Two sources familiar with the briefing told The Jerusalem Post that Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law leading the diplomatic effort, Jason Greenblatt, his special representative for international negotiations, and Nikki Haley, US envoy to the UN, fielded questions from diplomats for roughly an hour after a public session of the council concluded.

The briefing by senior Trump administration officials followed a speech to the council by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who asked UN members to come up with an international mechanism that would replace any US-led peace effort.

Kushner, Greenblatt and Haley — who sat in attendance for Abbas’s speech — dismissed that proposal in the briefing, the sources said, noting that it would take perhaps a year to organize yet another conference on Middle East peace bound to fail. Instead they plan on rolling out their peace plan in short time, they added, while declining to specify their timeframe.

According to the diplomatic sources, Kushner and Greenblatt said of the plan that “both sides are going to love some of it, and hate some of it.” 

The US team underscored their belief that Israeli settlement activity is unhelpful to the pursuit of peace, but told council members that past US demands for freezes had proven counterproductive. They declined to say whether such a demand would be included in their forthcoming plan. READ MORE

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

U.S. Strikes Killed Scores of Russia Fighters in Syria, Sources Say

 ...
U.S. forces killed scores of Russian mercenaries in Syria last week in what may be the deadliest clash between citizens of the former foes since the Cold War, according to one U.S. official and three Russians familiar with the matter. More than 200 contract soldiers,
mostly Russians fighting on behalf of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, died in a failed attack on a base held by U.S. and mainly Kurdish forces in the oil-rich Deir Ezzor region, two of the Russians said. The U.S. official put the death toll in the fighting at about 100, with 200 to 300 injured, but was unable to say how many were Russians. (Read article)

Sanhedrin Mints Coin With Images of Trump and Cyrus To Promote Rebuilding Temple

In gratitude to US President Donald Trump for recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Jerusalem, the nascent Sanhedrin and the Mikdash (Temple) Educational Center are minting a replica of the silver half-shekel Biblically mandated to be donated by every Jewish male to the Temple.

Rabbi Hillel Weiss, Chairman of the Mikdash & Tsion Association that initiates the Temple reenactments and represents all the Temple movements, explained that the initial motivation for the putting the image of the US president on the coin was in gratitude for his support of Israel.

"Gratitude is an important and holy trait," Rabbi Weiss, who is also spokesman of the nascent Sanhedrin, told Breaking Israel News. "He did a great and historical deed that the Jewish People are grateful for."

An image of President Trump will be engraved alongside an image of the ancient Persian King Cyrus, who facilitated the building of the Second Temple that ended the Babylonian Exile in 538 BCE. (Read More)

*(The image is a proposed design. The actual coin may be slightly different.)

Hamas leaders in disarray, split over mixed signals from Tehran

It turns out that Al Qods chief Qassem Soleimani quietly directed Hamas leaders to hold their fire against Israel. Khaled Meshaal says:  Line up behind Mahmoud Abbas.

When Saleh Arouri, commander of the Hamas military arm, along with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Ziyad Nahalah, visited Tehran on Feb. 14, they heard Gen. Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Middle East operations declaring in a fiery speech that “launching missiles at Israel is not enough.” But at a quiet meeting, the Iranian general secretly issued the reverse directive, DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources reveal. It was substantially, “Don’t pull the trigger until we are ready.” In other words, save your resources and strength for later; wait until Iran’s operations in Syria with its Shiite militias and Hizballah are ready to go for a military showdown with Israel.


The two Palestinian terrorist chiefs met with Soleimani twice last week. Nevertheless, on Friday, 16, a Hamas bomb was planted on the Gaza border on Friday. It exploded the next day injuring four Israeli soldiers – a provocation against Israel that held the potential of sparking a major confrontation. 
Hamas leaders are evidently divided on where to go next.
They were further confused when their former leader Khaled Meshaal strongly advised Hamas terrorist chiefs to exercise restraint in their attacks on Israel – much like the Iranian general, but for the opposite reason. In their secret confabulations, Meshaal maintained that the Palestinians must now appreciate that their most dangerous foe is no longer Israel, but US President Donald Trump and his policy for the Palestinian-Israel dispute. He warned that Trump’s alliance with key Arab leaders, Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh el-Sisi and Saudi Crown Prince Muhammed Bin Salman, could lead to the eclipse of the entire Palestinian national movement. Therefore, he urged Hamas to line up behind its rival, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, regardless of the consequences, because he is spearheading a campaign against the US president. READ MORE

Iran threatens to ‘level Tel Aviv,’ kill Netanyahu if Israel attacks

Tel Aviv will be “leveled to the ground” if Israel attacks Iran, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not escape with his life, a senior official in the Islamic republic’s regime threatened.
His comments came in response to Netanyahu’s speech on Sunday at the Munich Security Conference, in which the prime minister brandished a piece of an Iranian drone downed in Israeli airspace and threatened direct military action against Iran.
“About Netanyahu’s unwise words, I should say that if they carry out the slightest unwise move against Iran, we will level Tel Aviv to the ground,” Mohsen Rezaei, secretary of Iran’s Expediency Council and former chief of the country’s Revolutionary Guards, told the Hezbollah-affiliated Arabic-language al-Manar TV channel Monday.
Adding a personal threat to the Israeli leader’s life, Rezaei added that Tehran “will not give Netanyahu any opportunity to flee,” Fars News reported.
Netanyahu singled out Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in his speech at the security conference, as he lifted up a piece of the drone’s wreckage. READ MORE