Sunday, July 15, 2018

Netanyahu, Trump discuss Syria, Iran ahead of Helsinki summit

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that he discussed Syria and Iran with U.S. President Donald Trump ahead of the latter's meeting in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Moscow is the big-power ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose advances against rebel areas close to the Israeli frontier worry the Netanyahu government. The Russians are also regular interlocutors with Iran, an adversary of Israel and the United States that has forces fighting alongside Assad in Syria.
In remarks to the Israeli cabinet, Netanyahu said that in a phone conversation on Saturday he and Trump discussed "security and diplomatic issues arising from regional developments, chiefmost among them, of course, Syria and Iran".
Netanyahu said he thanked Trump for his tough stance against Iran. The U.S. president, Netanyahu said, "reiterated with sharp clarity his commitment to the security of Israel and his willingness to help Israel in various realms".
Trump meets Putin in the Finnish capital on Monday.
Last week, Netanyahu flew out to Moscow for talks with Putin that focused on Israel's demand that Iranian forces leave Syria.

Defense Minister: We will neither 'contain' rockets nor kites

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman spoke at the start of a cabinet meeting about the latest escalation in the Gaza Strip and the possibility of continued kite terrorism under the auspices of the ceasefire reported last night.

"There is no intention to contain rockets or kites and anything," Liberman said. "I hope that Hamas will draw conclusions, and if they do not, they will have to pay a heavy price."

This morning, Sunday, ministers Naftali Bennett and Yisrael Katz criticized the government's policy vis-à-vis the Hamas terrorist organization that controls the Gaza Strip.
Minister Bennett said at the cabinet meeting, "For three months, we have been witness to incendiary terror of about 1,000 balloons on residents of the Gaza vicinity. In recent days alone, the residents of the south absorbed about 200 rockets. In timing that is convenient for it, Hamas dictates that there will now be a ceasefire.”

"Let it be clear: a ceasefire without stopping terror is not a deterrent - it is surrender. I and the justice minister [Ayelet Shaked] will oppose any ceasefire that allows Hamas to rearm and continue to fire balloons at the residents of the south. The time has come to act,” he added.
Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud) added that he expects Defense Minister Liberman to present the cabinet with a proposal for a clear policy vis-a-vis Gaza.

"The collapse of Hamas and the elimination of terror, or separation from all civilian responsibility and the creation of a boundary line with full deterrence - as with Syria and Lebanon. There is no option of continuing in the current situation. It is not fair to the residents of the Gaza vicinity and harms the security of the State of Israel," Katz said.

Netanyahu Vows to ‘Hit Hamas with the Harshest Blow’ Since 2014 War After Rocket Attacks

The Times of Israel reports: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Saturday that Israel would step up its strikes on Gaza until the Palestinian terror groups halt all violence coming out of the coastal enclave.
Netanyahu said that after consultations with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and the IDF chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot it was decided to take “powerful action against Hamas terror.”
“The IDF hit Hamas with the harshest blow since Operation Protective Edge and we will intensify our reaction as much as necessary,” Netanyahu said Saturday evening, after the IDF attacked dozens of targets in the Strip on Saturday, amid relentless rocket fire from Gaza, in the most extensive daytime assault since the 2014 conflict. “If Hamas does not understand the message today, it will understand tomorrow,” Netanyahu said in a video statement.

Israeli forces exchange intense fire with Hamas militants in Gaza

Two Palestinian teens were killed by Israeli airstrikes, and four Israelis were wounded by rocket fire on Saturday in a continual escalation of the conflict between Israel and Palestinian militias in Gaza.
The Israeli army bombed more than 40 Hamas targets in the past 24 hours, and almost 100 rockets were launched at southern Israeli communities where some 200,000 residents have sought safety in air-raid shelters.
Hamas, a Palestinian Islamist militia that has ruled the Gaza Strip for more than 10 years, operates under an Israeli and Egyptian blockade.
Blasts and alarms warning of incoming rockets and missiles sounded throughout the day and night in Gaza. On the Israeli side of the border, the Israeli army said air-raid sirens sounded 160 times in the past 24 hours.
Brig. Gen. Tzvika Haimovic of the Israeli air forces said that Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad had launched 100 mortars and rockets and that Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepted 20 incoming projectiles. As evening fell, police bomb-disposal units were disarming rockets that had fallen at four sites in the western Negev desert city of Sderot.
In a statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel would intensity its response as necessary.
“If Hamas doesn’t understand the message today, it will understand it tomorrow,” he said.
Hazem Qassem, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, accused Israel of starting the aggression and said the Palestinians were merely responding to attacks.
“The occupation must stop this aggression first to reach a truce with the Palestinian factions in Gaza,” he said. READ MORE

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Massive Syrian-Hizballah Golan war preparations tie IDF down from reining in Gaza terror

“The countdown has started for the battle of Quneitra,” Syrian and Iranian propaganda machines trumpeted on Friday, July 13. Since Thursday, DEBKAfile reports, troops have been pouring out of Daraa towards the Quneitra region opposite Israel’s Golan border. They consist of the Syrian army and National Defense Forces (NDF) which are composed of Hizballah and Iraqi and Afghan Shiite militias commanded by Revolutionary Guards officers. On Friday, Syrian air defense units in Quneitra and Damascus were placed on war alert against potential Israeli aerial bombardment.

Friday night, Hamas shot 31 rockets into Israel amid two Israeli Air Force strikes in Gaza
Another straw in the winds of war came on Friday from Ali Akbar Velayati, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s adviser on external affairs. After meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, he said: “We will immediately leave if the Iraqi and Syrian governments want it, not because of Israel’s and American pressure.” Tehran has therefore welded together its Syrian and Iraqi policies and made them interdependent.
He went on to say: “We will counter the Americans powerfully… We will help Syria counter…US aggression. If the US does not want to leave our region, we will force it to do that. For the Iranian regime. the US and Israel are interchangeable.”

Velayati’s words are significant in three respects:
  1. Since Iraqi militias are fighting with the Syrian army in the southwestern province of Daraa – and are scheduled to move with them on to the Quneitra region – a decision to oust Iran and its proxies from Syria rests not only with Damascus and Tehran, but also with Baghdad.
  2. By this step, Iran has blocked projected deals for the removal of the Iranian military and proxy presence from Syria that Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin may seek to transact at their Helsinki summit on July 16.
  3. Israel faces an increasingly heavy price for failing to disrupt Hizballah’s insertion in the Syrian war in 2013.This action opened the door to Iran. The price was compounded when the Netanyahu government refrained from preventing the influx of Iraqi Shiite militias for boosting Syrian and Iranian military strength in Syria. The IDF will have to take on this powerful force in Quneitra to hold it back from the Golan border.
All these moves portend the launching of the Quneitra offensive in the next 48 hours – before or during the Trump-Putin summit. Syrian, Iranian and Hizballah leaders will not hang around and wait for its outcome like Israel. As a result of the Israeli government’s passive stance, the IDF is facing active warfare on two major fronts, the Golan and the Gaza Strip.
 
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman committed a disastrous mistake when they did not resist Hamas’ latest bomb-for-bomb ultimatum. This gave the Palestinian terrorists parity with the IDF and the freedom to call the shots on whether the Israeli communities living next door live in peace. The Hamas example has given Iran, Syria and Hizballah ideas about how to dictate the terms of war in Quneitra. Israeli leaders have maintained that their hands are tied for crushing the Hamas terror machine operating out of the Gaza Strip by the more substantial threat from the north. By this inaction, they have condemned the IDF to fight on two simultaneous fronts.

Israel launches widest Gaza daytime assault since 2014 war

JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli military carried out its largest daytime airstrike campaign in Gaza since the 2014 war Saturday as Hamas militants fired dozens of rockets into Israel, threatening to spark a wider conflagration after weeks of tensions along the volatile border.
No casualties or major damage was reported on either side, and Israel said it was focused on hitting military targets and was warning Gaza civilians to keep their distance from certain sites. But it still marked a significant flare-up after a long period of a generally low-level, simmering conflict.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said the latest Israeli sortie, the third of the day, struck some 40 Hamas targets including tunnels, logistical centers and a Hamas battalion headquarters. He said the escalation was the result of the sustained Hamas rocket attacks, its fomenting of violence along the border and its campaign of launching incendiary kites and balloons that have devastated Israeli farmlands and nature reserves.
"Our message to Hamas is that we can and will enhance the intensity of our effort if needed," he said. "What Hamas is doing is pushing them ever closer to the edge of the abyss ... Hamas will have to understand that there is a price to be paid."
Israel has been warning Hamas in recent weeks that while it has no interest in engaging in the kind of conflict that led to the sides fighting three wars over the past decade, it would not tolerate Gaza militants' continued efforts to breach the border and its campaign to devastate Israeli border communities with incendiary attacks.
On Friday, thousands of Palestinians gathered near the Gaza border for their near-weekly protest. A 15-year-old Palestinian who tried to climb over the fence into Israel was shot dead. Later the military said an Israeli officer was moderately wounded by a grenade thrown at him.
Gaza's health ministry said Saturday that a 20-year-old struck by gunfire Friday during the protests in the southern Gaza Strip had also died of his wounds. READ MORE

Pompeo urges Europe to take action on Iran

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday urged European powers to get behind American measures to cut Iran off from world energy markets, AFP reported.
 
His comments came during talks with European leaders in Brussels, on the sidelines of the NATO summit.
 
Pompeo joined Energy Secretary Rick Perry and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini at the EU-U.S. energy council.
 
Pompeo made no statement going into the talks, but his Twitter account showed what was on his mind.
"Iran continues to send weapons across the Middle East, in blatant violation of UN Security Council resolutions," he wrote.
 
"Iran's regime wants to start trouble wherever it can. It's our responsibility to stop it."
Then, just before the talks started, he added, "We ask our allies and partners to join our economic pressure campaign against Iran's regime. We must cut off all funding the regime uses to fund terrorism and proxy wars.”
 
"There's no telling when Iran may try to foment terrorism, violence and instability in one of our countries next," warned Pompeo.
 
Alongside the tweet he posted a map of Europe purporting to show the locations of 11 "terror attacks" U.S. officials believe Iran or its proxy Hezbollah have carried out since 1979.
In May, U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the 2015 deal under which sanctions on Iran were lifted in return for curbs to its nuclear program. Washington has since told countries they must stop buying Iranian oil from November 4 or face financial measures.
The European signatories to the deal, however, did not agree with Trump’s move and are trying to save the accord, which they see as crucial to forestalling an Iranian nuclear weapon.
 
Tehran has demanded that Europe come up with an economic package to offset the effects of the U.S. withdrawal but so far has found Europe’s proposals to be unsatisfactory.
Earlier this week, Iranian vice president Eshaq Jahangiri said that U.S. sanctions would hurt the economy but also promised to “sell as much oil as we can” and protect Iran’s banking system.
 
He added that it would be a mistake to think the U.S. “economic war” against Iran will have no impact, but also stressed: “We will make Americans understand this year that they cannot stop Iranian oil sales.”

Sirens heard in southern Israel

A series of sirens were sounded overnight Friday in southern Israel.
 
The sirens began at around 1:30 a.m. Israel time and were heard in the Sdot Hanegev, Eshkol, Shaar Hanegev and Hof Ashkelon Regional Councils, as well as in the city of Sderot.
 
Unconfirmed reports said the Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepted several rockets that were fired from Gaza towards Israeli territory.
 
The IDF confirmed that sirens were sounded in southern Israel but did not provide further details.
 
Meanwhile, Palestinian Arab media reported on Friday night that the IDF attacked targets east of al-Bureij in Gaza, as well as in the north and south of the Gaza Strip.
 
The IDF has not confirmed the reports.
 
Earlier on Friday, an IDF officer was moderately injured by a grenade that terrorists from Gaza threw at him during violent riots along the security fence.
 
The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said that troops responded by firing towards the terrorists. A hit was identified.
 
The injured officer was evacuated for medical treatment at a hospital. His family has been notified.
 
Meanwhile, the weekly violent “March of the Return” riots along the Gaza border continued on Friday. According to the IDF, thousands of Palestinian Arabs violently rioted along the Gaza border, hurling grenades, explosive devices, and firebombs at the security fence and IDF troops.

IDF pounds Gaza in widest day of strikes since 2014 war

Israeli aircraft on Saturday attacked more than 40 targets in the Gaza Strip in the most extensive daytime assault since 2014’s Operation Protective Edge as Palestinian terror groups fired repeated salvos of rockets and mortars into Israel.
The surge in violence started after midnight Saturday as the Israel Defense Forces hit an attack tunnel and Hamas training bases in Gaza in response to the wounding of an IDF officer by a hand grenade thrown during a border riot on Friday.
During the night Palestinians fired more than 30 projectiles into Israel and kept up the attacks on Saturday, firing a further 60 rockets and mortars. Residents of Israeli border communities spent the night in bomb shelters and were cautioned to remain close to the shelters during the day.
The primary target of the strikes Saturday was the Hamas battalion headquarters in Beit Lahia, in the north of the Strip, the army said.The IDF published video of its air strikes. (Read More) (Watch Video of strikes in the article)
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Kremlin says Iran’s presence in Syria a top issue at Trump-Putin meeting


Russian President Vladimir Putin’s foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov said Friday that Syria and the Iranian presence there will feature high on the agenda of the summit between Putin and US President Donald Trump in Helsinki on Monday.
Israel and Russia have long been rumored to be hammering out a deal on the status of Iran’s forces in Syria, as the civil war in the nation winds down and President Bashar Assad regains much of the territory he lost to rebel forces during seven years of fighting.
An unnamed senior Israeli official told Reuters Thursday that Moscow was seeking to push Iranians forces 80 kilometers (50 miles) away from the Israeli border. But he said Israel wanted Tehran and its proxies to completely pull out of the country.
After years of ruinous civil war, Iran and its proxy militias, including the Lebanese Hezbollah, have built up a formidable presence stretching from the Iraqi border through central Syria to Lebanon. (Read More)

Days before Putin-Trump summit, US charges 12 Russians in Clinton election hack

Twelve Russian military intelligence officers hacked into the Clinton presidential campaign and Democratic Party, releasing tens of thousands of stolen communications, in a sweeping effort by a foreign government to meddle in the 2016 US election, according to a grand jury indictment announced days before President Donald Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The indictment stands as the clearest Justice Department allegation yet of Russian efforts to interfere, through illegal hacking, in the US presidential election before Americans went to the polls — and the first to implicate the Russian government directly. It had been sought by special counsel Robert Mueller.
The Kremlin denied anew that it tried to sway the election. “The Russian state has never interfered and has no intention of interfering in the US elections,” Putin’s foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov, said Friday. (Read More)

Israel-Gaza Border Violence Flares With Mortars, Airstrikes

Violence flared along the volatile Israel-Gaza Strip border on Saturday, with the Israeli air force striking sites inside the Hamas-ruled enclave including two tunnels designed for attacks, and Palestinian militants firing volleys of mortars and rockets.
No serious casualties were reported on either side. The military said it struck overnight in response to arson attacks from Gaza and assaults against soldiers in the area the day before. Targets hit overnight and in another round at midday include the underground passages, designed so militants can infiltrate Israel to conduct assaults, and a site used to prepare kites and balloons for airborne arson attacks, Israel’s military said.
Hamas security officials said at least 15 sites were struck, and the Israeli military said more than 30 projectiles were fired at southern Israel. (Read More)

Friday, July 13, 2018

Top official says Tehran has no intention of leaving Syria

MOSCOW (AP) — Iran has no intention of leaving Syria regardless of U.S. and Israeli pressure, a senior envoy to Iran's leader said Friday, reaffirming a tough stance on the issue expected to top the agenda of the upcoming U.S.-Russian summit.
The statement from Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, came in the wake of his meeting in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin. A day earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Putin that Israel wants Iran to leave Syria.
The high-level talks precede Monday's summit in Helsinki between Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump, who are set to discuss the Iranian presence in Syria.
Both the U.S. and Israel want Iran to pull out of Syria, while Russia has warned it would be unrealistic to expect Iran to fully withdraw from the country.
A possible deal could see Syrian troops replacing Iranian forces and its proxy Hezbollah militia in the areas near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Velayati reaffirmed Iran's firm intention to maintain its presence in Syria, but skirted a question about a possible pullback from the border, saying only that Tehran won't bow to U.S. and Israeli coercion.
"We coordinate the Iranian presence in Syria with Russia and Syria," Velayati said during a meeting at Moscow's Valdai Club discussion platform. "We will be present there the way we consider necessary. Sometimes we will play our role in Syria open-handed, sometimes we will do it with our hands hidden."
While Velayati maintained a combative tone, his careful response reflected the intense diplomatic maneuvering ahead of the Helsinki summit.
 
He expressed skepticism about the outcome of the meeting, repeating tough criticism of the U.S. and saying he didn't expect Trump to make any positive contribution to stabilizing the Middle East.
Velayati argued that Iran along with Russia helped stem fighting in Syria and prevented the country from falling to the Islamic State group and other militants, scoffing at the U.S. demands to leave.
"We have come there without the Americans' permission and we won't heed their demands to leave," he said.
Velayati also strongly warned Russia against listening to the U.S. arguments about the Iranian presence in Syria.
"I told the Russian officials: Now the Americans are telling you that the Iranians must leave Syria and tomorrow they will ask you what you are doing in Syria," he said. "They are trying to split our alliance."

New US-Israeli “Project Iran” is headed by IDF’s Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon

Project Iran” was set up during Israel’s Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gady Eisenkott’s talks with top US brass in Washington on June 29 for coordinated US-Israeli military operations against Iran.
IDF Operations Chief Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon was named to head it. He was with the chief of staff when he sat down with Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the US Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Joseph Votel, head of CENTCOM in Washington. At 53, Alon accepted the post although he was ready to retire from the service after an impressive career spanning 34 years. It included valuable experience as commander of special operations forces and oversight of the integration of special undercover units in the intelligence corps for action behind enemy lines. He led several combat divisions before being promoted to OC Central Command. In 2015, he took over the General Staff’s Operations Branch. Eisenkott persuaded him to stay on as the first holder of a job just created of Director of the “Iran Project” – the IDF codename for a newly-established US-Israeli task force for executing potential decisions to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, ballistic missiles and/or military bases in the Middle East.
DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report that Eisenkott lost no time in filling this job when he saw US-Russian relations sinking into impasse over the Iranian issue, and Iranian, Hizballah and Shiite forces spearheading the Syrian operation as it blasted its way through southern Syria toward the Israeli and Jordanian borders. The outbreak of full-fledged war with Iran was looming larger day by day.
On the wider front, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Middle East warfronts, informed President Hassan Rouhani on July 4 that he stood ready to implement Rouhani’s threat to disrupt Gulf oil exports once the US ban on Iranian oil sales goes into effect on Nov. 4. Since President Donald Trump is unlikely to back down, the specter of Iranian hostile acts was growing larger, including the blockage of the Strait of Hormuz to Arab oil exports – or even attacks on their oil fields and terminals.
To meet the multiple Iranian threats, four US-Israeli command groups were secretly established and are revealed here: READ MORE