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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

'Ending Iran nuclear deal will lead to war'

The Middle East will be plunged into a devastating new war if the Trump administration withdraws the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, German Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly warned Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Tuesday.
The Israeli premier spoke with Merkel on Tuesday and congratulated her on the formation of a new governing coalition.
During the phone call, Merkel and Netanyahu also discussed the future of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known as the Iran nuclear agreement.
While President Donald Trump has indicated his willingness to withdraw from the agreement if America’s European allies are unwilling or unable to alter key components of the deal – a position strongly supported by the Israeli leader – Merkel warned Netanyahu that the collapse of the JCPOA would likely lead to a major regional conflict, Channel 10 reported Tuesday night.
According to the report, during a meeting between the two leaders in Davos, Switzerland this January, the chancellor pressed Netanyahu on the subject, telling him if the US does leave the JCPOA, it would divide Western allies, asking Netanyahu rhetorically “Do you want that to happen?”
The European signatories to the JCPOA, Merkel is also quoted as saying, are unwilling to push for the kinds of fundamental changes to the deal sought by the Trump administration and the Israeli government.
Pushing for significant changes to the deal nearly three years after its signing would destroy America’s credibility in future negotiating, Merkel added.
President Trump, a long-time critic of the JCPOA, fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson earlier this month in large part because of Tillerson’s support for maintaining the Iran nuclear deal. Trump has tapped CIA chief Mike Pompeo, an opponent of the JCPOA, to replace Tillerson.
“Rex and I have been talking about this for a long time. We got along, actually, quite well, but we disagreed on things. When you look at the Iran deal, I think it’s terrible. I guess he thinks it was okay. I wanted to either break it or do something, and he felt a little bit differently. So we were not really thinking the same. With Mike Pompeo, we have a very similar thought process. I think it’s going to go very well.”

Iran's Foreign Minister fires back at Trump

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif fired back at U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday, after the president blasted the Iranian regime in a statement on Nowruz, the Persian New Year.
“With millennia of civilization, Iranians have the historical depth to ignore the absurd insults of an arriviste leader; one whose entire command of history, politics and diplomacy can be condensed into 280 characters - but even so, still superior to his juvenile royal stooge,” tweeted Zarif.
In his statement on Monday, Trump wished Iranians a happy Nowruz but also blasted the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), describing it as “a hostile army that brutalizes and steals from the Iranian people to fund terrorism abroad.”
Trump accused the group of “corruption and mismanagement” and said that the “regime employs propaganda and censorship to hide the fact that the Iranian regime plunders Iran’s wealth and abuses its people.”
“Despite the oppression they face, Iranians are fighting to reclaim their rights. They long for a springtime of hope, and the United States stands with the Iranian people in their aspirations to connect to the wider world and have a responsible and accountable government that truly serves their nation’s interests,” Trump added.
The words “juvenile royal stooge” in Zarif’s comment appeared to be a reference to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who is visiting Washington and has issued harsh statements of his about Iran.
In an interview with CBS television last week, the Saudi Crown Prince lashed out at Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and compared him to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
Khamenei "wants to create his own project in the Middle East, very much like Hitler who wanted to expand at the time," said the 32-year-old heir to the throne.
Iran later fired back, saying the Saudi Crown Prince’s remarks are “worthless ... because they come from a simple-mind full of illusions who speaks only bitterness and lies.”

Activists: Turkey-Allied Jihadists Slaughtering Christians, Yazidis in Syria’s Besieged Afrin

Turkey-linked jihadists from the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) and al-Qaeda are taking advantage of the Ankara offensive in the besieged Afrin region in northwestern Syria to slaughter Christians and Yazidis, caution several activists.
The warnings come as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced over the weekend that his allied forces conquered the center of the Kurdish-held city of Afrin.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s State Department has expressed “a serious and growing concern” over the situation in the Syrian city, but maintains, “We remain committed to our NATO ally Turkey, to include their legitimate security concerns.”
Khalid Haider, a U.S.-based Yazidi (or Yezidi) activist with ground sources in Syria, told Breitbart News the Turkish military is working alongside ISIS in Afrin, noting:
Time and time again the indigenous people of Syria are suffering, but this time is at the hands of members of the Turkish military who have been incubating ISIS terrorists. ISIS militants and their leaders are embedded with the Turkish military, and they are annihilating religious minorities. The world needs to wake up and stop this from happening.
Haider went on to say that Turkey-linked ISIS jihadists are killing Christians and Yazidis for not knowing how to behave like proper Muslims, telling Breitbart News:
Please be advised that any Christian or Yazidi who is captured by those ISIS militants is asked how many times do Muslims bow during prayers and how many times do Muslims pray. And if the Christians and Yazidis don’t have the correct answer, they are killed.
Haider’s comments echo activists who recently told the Catholic News Service (CNS) that Turkey-affiliated members of al-Qaeda and ISIS are targeting Christians and Yazidis. READ MORE

China and Russia are 'aggressively pursuing' hypersonic weapons, and the US can't defend against them, top nuclear commander says

America's top nuclear commander described a grim scenario for U.S. forces facing off against a new breed of high-speed weapons that Russia and China are developing.
"We don't have any defense that could deny the employment of such a weapon against us," Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. This means that, as of now, the U.S. has to rely on deterrence against these so-called hypersonic weapons, he said.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., then asked the general to explain what a hypersonic weapon is and what it does.
"A hypersonic threat is a system that starts out ballistic, so you'll see it like a ballistic missile, but then it depresses the trajectory and flies more like a cruise missile or airplane," Hyten said. "It goes up into the lower reaches of space and turns immediately back down and then levels out."
At that point, Hyten said, the weapon will fly at very high speed, which is where the term hypersonic comes from.
"Both Russia and China are aggressively pursuing hypersonic capabilities," Hyten told Inhofe. "We've watched them test those capabilities."
While the Defense Department's latest budget request of $686 billion emphasizes a plan to offset emerging threats from Russia and China, it is clear that the U.S. lacks the means to combat hypersonics.  READ MORE

‘I Can Only Imagine’ Might Not Be March’s Only Faith-Based Box Office Surprise Hit

Faith-based filmmaking isn’t dead. While the genre has struggled recently to turn out crossover hits (and nothing has topped the $611M take of Mel Gibson’s controversial smash hit “The Passion of the Christ,” still the top earner in the genre 14 years after its release), brothers Andrew and Jon Erwin’s latest film, “I Can Only Imagine,” surprised this weekend’s box officewith a $17 million opening take, good enough to push it to third place in a crowded field. Among contemporary Christian community titles, only “Heaven Is for Real” had a better opening, scoring $22 million when it opened in 2014.
Other faith-based movies have recently faltered at the box office, making the success of “I Can Only Imagine” as a bit of an outlier in a struggling — and often independently made — genre. The last big Christian-leaning hit to crack $100 million at the domestic box office was 2010’s “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” the third film in the series and its lowest-grossing entry (the film made $104.3 million when it hit theaters in December of that year, less than half of what the first film made five years earlier). Other offerings have posted respectable box office takes, including “Heaven Is for Real,” “War Room,” and “The Shack,” but there hasn’t been a box office hit for quite some time.

Until now. In just one weekend, “I Can Only Imagine” has nearly cracked the top 20 of all Christian films released since 1980. It may soon have some other competition, though. In the lead-up to Easter Sunday, the box office will play home to another pair of faith-based features, marking March as the month for such films (there are just five “Christian” films on the docket so far this year, and only two of them didn’t make grab Easter-adjacent release dates).

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Trump, Saudi Prince & UAE to set up action group against Iran

Ahead of their White House talks on Tuesday, March 20, President Donald Trump and the Saudi Crown Prince agree on a new Supreme Committee to coordinate military and diplomatic efforts for curbing Iranian expansion. The United Arab Emirate is the third member. This committee, to focus on coordinated operations, will consist of the three governments’ national security advisers. For final decisions, they will call in President Trump, Saudi Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman (MbS) and the UAE Emir Sheikh Muhammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (MbZ). White House sources reported that the new group would be ceremonially launched in Washington this week. The Emirates national security adviser Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan will come over to join the event. The emir himself is expected in Washington soon.
US and Saudi officials confirmed Tuesday that the new Supreme Committee’s mission would be to execute the goal shared by the three governments, namely, to stall Iran’s expansionist designs across the oil-rich Gulf and the Middle East.
DEBKAfile’s sources report that this move is consistent with the decision which President Trump is widely believed to have reached for taking the United States out of the 2015 nuclear with Iran. Intensive discussions are taking place in the White house on timing; whether Trump should make the announcement when the next deadline for re-certificating the accord comes up in mid-May or jump the gun in March or early April. The US, the Saudis and the UAE are meanwhile checking to make sure that their military assets are in sync and ready for potential repercussions.

The new Supreme Committee will fill the cohesion void left in the Gulf Cooperation Council by the refusal of two of its members, Qatar and Oman, to go along with the tough policies pursued by Saudi Arabia and the UAE since MbS took over the reins of government in Riyadh three years ago.

'Iran stands behind every one of Hamas' actions'

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) on Monday spoke with with foreign ambassadors to Israel about the Hamas terror tunnels recently destroyed by the IDF.
Speaking to the ambassadors, Hotovely said, "The tunnel destroyed by the IDF last week...led to the town of Kerem Shalom, where we visited two weeks ago. Hamas has thrown Gaza residents to the wind, and is using [humanitarian] funds to carry out terror attacks against Israeli citizens."
"It's important to remember that behind each of Hamas' actions is Iran. The Iranian regime transfers $100 million annually to Hamas, and every cent of it is used against Israel. It does not help Gaza residents at all.
"We cannot support Hamas' provocations. The only purpose their violent marches have is to undermine Israel's sovereignty, and they should not receive international support. We cannot help Gaza residents without fighting Hamas and Iran."
Head of International Media at the IDF Spokesperson's Office, Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus explained to the ambassadors how events had unfolded from a security standpoint, and how the IDF had prepared for the Gazans' planned march, funded by Hamas, towards the Israeli border.
"Hamas understands that the IDF is destroying the terror tunnels, and they are using Gazan residents in order to escalate the conflict with the IDF," he said. "We will not allow any harm to befall Israel's security infrastructure or IDF soldiers."

ZUMWALT: Saudi Crown Prince Visit: Will Trump Reveal Evolved Middle East Doctrine?

Extremist Islamic groups in the Middle East come and go. When they go — as has the Islamic State (ISIS) — the regional void left quickly fills. Most often, and usually through proxies, the “filler” is Iran.
Its leaders have forewarned us of their goals: initial rule of the region; ultimate rule of an Islamic-dominated world.
A recent Middle East trip by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) confirmed for him that Tehran is not idly boasting. And the upcoming U.S. visit by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), 32, suggests Graham is not alone in concerns about Iranian mullahs’ increasingly long reach.
Graham criticizes both President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump for creating an environment favorable to Iranian manipulation. While Obama spent eight years playing nice with the mullahs, suggesting other regional players learn to “share the neighborhood” and opening doors for ISIS, Tehran made significant advances. Though Trump recognizes the mullahs’ objectives, Graham fears a coherent strategy for combating Iran’s growing influence in post-ISIS Iraq and Syria is lacking. Meanwhile, Iran — obviously helped by Obama’s nuclear deal giving it billions of dollars in cash — helps fund its proxies: Hezbollah in Lebanon for a war with Israel and Houthi rebels in Yemen — where Saudi military involvement seeks to contain them.
This year, the U.S.-Saudi Arabia alliance turns 75 years old — representing a period of ups and downs. But whenever both nations perceived a common threat — such as Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, leading to the Persian Gulf War — they united to successfully end it. The Saudis helped form an Arab coalition to support U.S. efforts to free Kuwait, pursuant to a UN resolution, when Hussein refused to withdraw after invading in 1990. A 40-day air bombardment followed by a four-day ground war generated a decisive coalition victory. READ MORE

Saudi Crown Prince: Anti-Corruption Crackdown Was ‘Extremely Necessary’

The year 1979 was a watershed for the Middle East. Iranian revolutionaries overthrew the shah, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, and Sunni Islamic extremists tried to take over the Grand Mosque of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, Islam’s holiest shrine. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman hadn’t been born, but he is fighting the ghosts of 1979 as he dramatically reforms the kingdom.
The attempted takeover of Mecca was a defining event in my country, mainly because of what happened next. Saudi rulers, fearing Iran’s revolutionary example, decided to give more space to the Salafi clerical establishment in hope of countering the radicals. Traditional Salafi preachers are neither violent nor political, but they hold a rigid view of Islam. Their legal rulings and attempts to police morals made the kingdom increasingly intolerant, setting back the gradual opening up that had occurred in the 1960s and ’70s.
In Saudi schools, education was largely in the hands of foreign nationals, many with Muslim Brotherhood backgrounds. In the 1960s and ’70s, Saudi Arabia was more concerned with Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Arab nationalism than with Islamist radicalism. Thus the Muslim Brotherhood wasn’t much of a worry. But the combination of the brotherhood’s political outlook and the rigid Salafi doctrine injected a virus into the Saudi education system. That virus allowed Osama bin Laden to recruit 15 Saudis to take part in that terrible deed on Sept. 11, 2001. We Saudis failed those young men, and that failure had global implications. READ MORE

Monday, March 19, 2018

Republican Senator expects Trump to pull out of Iran deal

Republican U.S. Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Sunday that he expects President Donald Trump to pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement in May.
“The Iran deal will be another issue that’s coming up in May, and right now it doesn’t feel like it’s gonna be extended,” Corker was quoted by Reuters as having told CBS’ “Face the Nation” in an interview.
“I think the president likely will move away from it unless my, our European counterparts really come together on a framework. And it doesn’t feel to me that they are,” he added.
Trump, who has blasted the 2015 nuclear deal as “the worst deal ever negotiated”, recently decided to extend a waiver on nuclear sanctions that were imposed on Iran but made clear it would be the last time he will do so and ordered European allies and Congress to work with him to fix “the disastrous flaws” in the 2015 deal or Washington would withdraw.
The president is considered about the deal’s “sunset clauses” as well as about Iran’s ballistic missile program which concerns the West.
Western countries say Iran’s ballistic missile tests are a violation of the UN resolutionenshrining the 2015 nuclear deal. Iran denies it is in violation of any UN resolutions and categorically rules out any negotiations on its missile program.
On Friday it was reported that Britain, France and Germany have proposed fresh EU sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missiles program and its role in Syria’s war in a bid to persuade Washington to preserve the deal.
Asked if he believed Trump would pull out on May 12, the deadline for the president to issue a new waiver to suspend Iran sanctions as part of the deal, Corker responded, “I do. I do.”
Corker had previously urged Trump’s administration to work closely with European allies as it develops its new Iran policy.

Twin perils for Israel: Iranian nuclear weapons and "Palestine"

"I think, therefore I am." - René Descartes, Discourse on Method
Although difficult to calibrate or measure, Iranian nuclearization and Palestinian statehood  are likely progressing at roughly the same pace. To be sure, this coincident or near- simultaneous progression is proceeding without any dint of conscious intent or coordinated design. Still, the cumulative security impact upon Israel could sometime prove substantial, even overwhelming.
The whole can be greater than the sum of its parts
World politics is not geometry. Within this most comprehensive sphere of possible human activity, the tangible "whole" of any expected impact could be effectively greater than the simple sum of its myriad "parts." This means, in consideration of any specific Israeli case focus, that such singly unique threats as Iranian nuclear weapons and "Palestine" should also be treated analytically with respect to their foreseeable conjunctions.
Contrary to longstanding conventional wisdom among strategists and military planners, these two converging threats do not present meaningfully separate, discrete or unconnected hazards to Israel. Instead, they portend intersecting, mutually reinforcing and potentially existential perils. Jerusalem, it follows, must do whatever is possible to remove or diminish the correlated dangers on both adversarial fronts, and at more-or-less the same time.
There is more. In this collectively "Cartesian" matter, Israel's extended "being" will be contingent upon prior and markedly capable strategic thinking. "It remains true," says F.E. Adcock in his classic The Greek and Macedonian Art of War (1962), "that the highest achievements of the art of war are more to be found in the triumph of mind over mind than in the triumphs of mind over matter." (p. 63) This observation remains true even today, perhaps even especially so, in particular regard to Israeli nuclear deterrence and corollary nuclear war planning. READ MORE

Israeli Planes Strike Gaza After Terror Explosion

JERUSALEM (AFP) –  Israeli military aircraft carried out a raid against a Hamas target in the Gaza Strip overnight after an explosive device detonated near the border with Israel, the military said Sunday.
“The Hamas terror organisation is held accountable for all occurrences in and from the Gaza Strip,” the Israel Defence Forces said.
Hamas is the main Palestinian Islamist movement controlling the Gaza Strip.
“The IDF will continue to operate for the safety of Israeli civilians, by all means at its disposal,” the Israeli military said, without giving further details.
According to Palestinian sources, the raid did not cause any casualties.
An explosive device went off late Saturday in the northern Gaza Strip near Israel’s border fence, the army said in an earlier statement, with no casualties reported.
Israel had already retaliated, with tanks targeting a Hamas observation post.
According to Palestinian sources, the retaliatory fire slightly injured one person.
Two explosive devices were detonated Thursday along the border, which had already provoked Israeli attacks on Hamas positions.
No group has claimed responsibility for the blasts, but Israel held Hamas responsible as the de facto power in the Palestinian enclave.
Israel, Hamas and its allies are observing a ceasefire since the 2014 war, the third in the enclave in six years.
On February 17, four Israeli soldiers were wounded by an improvised explosive device on the border, sparking intense military retaliation.
Israel warplanes attacked 18 “terror targets belonging to Hamas” in Gaza in response to the blast, which severely wounded two of the soldiers, and a subsequent Palestinian rocket attack on southern Israel.