Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Iran again breaches nuclear deal

Iran has breached another limit of its 2015 nuclear deal with major powers by accumulating slightly more than 130 tons of heavy water, a substance used in a type of reactor it is developing, the UN nuclear watchdog said in a report seen by Reuters on Monday.
 
Heavy water is not as sensitive as uranium, which Iran is enriching in a quantity and to a level of purity beyond limits in the deal. However, the 2015 deal says Iran should not have more heavy water than it needs, specifying this is estimated to be 130 metric tons.
 
“On 16 November 2019, Iran informed the Agency that its stock of heavy water had exceeded 130 metric tons,” the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a report to member states obtained by Reuters.
 
“On 17 November 2019, the Agency verified that the Heavy Water Production Plant (HWPP) was in operation and that Iran’s stock of heavy water was 131.5 metric tons,” added the agency.
 
Heavy water is, among other things, used as a moderator to slow down reactions in the core of nuclear reactors like one Iran has been developing at Arak.
 
Iran has gradually scaled back its compliance with the 2015 deal in response to US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement last May.
 
Most recently, the Islamic Republic restarted uranium enrichment at the underground Fordow facility in violation of the deal.
 
Britain, France and Germany have been trying to save the nuclear deal and have vowed to help Iran evade the economic sanctions imposed by the US, shielding companies doing business with the rogue state in an effort to preserve the Iran nuclear deal.
 
The chief of Iran's atomic agency recently blamed Europe for his country scaling back its commitments under the deal, saying their broken promises gave the Islamic Republic little choice.

'This is a great day for Israel'

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu praised the Trump administration Tuesday, hailing as a ‘great day for Israel’ the US State Department’s declaration that it does not view Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria as illegal under international law.
 
Speaking during a visit to Israeli towns in Gush Etzion, south of Jerusalem, Tuesday afternoon, Prime Minister Netanyahu called Secertary of State Mike Pompeo’s Monday announcement regarding Judea and Samaria a “great day for the State of Israel”.
“This is a very great day for the State of Israel, and an achievement that will last through the ages.”
 
“I admit that I am very excited,” Netanyahu continued. “We are here, in Gush Etzion, the place where we were expelled from during the War of Independence, and yet here we are on this historic day with another amazing achievement for the State of Israel, something we worked hard for.”
 
“The Trump administration has now rectified a historic injustice, and promoted truth and justice. I thank President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. This is a very great day for the State of Israel.”
On Monday, Pompeo announced that the US will not consider Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria as illegal under international law, adding that the legality of the settlement enterprise or of individual settlements is up to Israeli courts to determine.
 
The move marked a drastic shift from the previous administration, which allowed the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution castigating Israeli towns in Judea and Samaria as “illegal”.
 
Pompeo cited the Reagan administration’s refusal to characterize Israeli towns in Judea and Samaria as illegal, a departure from the Carter administration’s policy.
 
"In 1978, the Carter administration categorically concluded that Israel's establishment of civilian settlements was inconsistent with international law. However, in 1981, President Reagan disagreed with that conclusion and stated that he didn't believe that the settlements were inherently illegal. Subsequent administrations recognized that unrestrained settlement activity could be an obstacle to peace, but they wisely and prudently recognized that dwelling on legal positions didn't advance peace," Pompeo explained.

4 rockets fired at Israel from Syria, shot down by Iron Dome, IDF says

Four projectiles were fired at northern Israel from Syria in the predawn hours of Tuesday morning, the Israel Defense Forces said. All four were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.
The Israeli military believes the rockets were fired by Iran or one of its proxies.
“Four launches were seen from Syrian territory toward Israeli territory that were shot down by soldiers operating the Iron Dome missile defense system,” the military said in a statement.
The army said it was unlikely that any projectiles had landed inside Israel’s borders. The apparent attack triggered sirens in the northern Golan Heights and Galilee region at 4:52 a.m., sending residents rushing to bomb shelters.
The use of the Iron Dome, as opposed to Israel’s other longer-range defense systems, indicated that the incoming projectiles were short-range rockets. This could not be immediately confirmed.
Minutes later, Syrian official news agency SANA reported that explosions were heard near the Damascus airport. The state media outlet did not elaborate on what caused the blasts.
Some Syrian outlets speculated that this was an Israeli airstrike, while others said this may have been the sound of the rockets being launched at Israel.
Israel refuses to comment on the specifics of its operations against Iran in Syria.
The early morning rocket attack came after the Israeli military warned that it believed Iran intended to take more aggressive actions in the region.
After the incident, the Golan Regional Council said no special safety precautions would be put in place, following consultations with the military. The authorities urged residents to keep to their routines.
On November 12, Akram al-Ajouri, a senior member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group, was targeted in Damascus in an attack that was blamed by some on Israel. Islamic Jihad said Ajouri survived the attack, but his son was killed.
Two rockets targeted the home of al-Ajouri, “killing his son Muadh and another person,” SANA said. Ajouri’s bodyguard was the other man killed, Hebrew media reported. Six others were said injured.
That incident came less than an hour after Israel announced it had killed Baha Abu al-Ata, a top commander of the Iran-aligned Islamic Jihad in Gaza. Subsequently, the IDF and the Gaza-based Islamic Jihad terror group engaged in 48 hours of heavy fighting that saw some 450 rockets and mortar shells fired at Israel, which responded with many retaliatory strikes in Gaza. READ MORE

Monday, November 18, 2019

Iran’s top leader warns ‘thugs’ as protests reach 100 cities

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran’s 
supreme leader on Sunday cautiously backed 
the government’s decision to raise gasoline 
prices by 50% after days of widespread 
protests, calling those who attacked public 
property during demonstrations “thugs” and 
signaling that a potential crackdown loomed.
The government shut down internet 
access across the nation of 80 million 
people to staunch demonstrations that 
took place in a reported 100 cities and towns. That made it increasingly difficult 
to gauge whether unrest continued. Images published by state and semiofficial 
media showed the scale of the damage in images of burned gas stations and banks, 
torched vehicles and roadways littered with debris.
Since the price hike, demonstrators have abandoned cars along major highways 
and joined mass protests in the capital, Tehran, and elsewhere. Some protests 
turned violent, with demonstrators setting fires as gunfire rang out.
It remains to be seen how many people were arrested, injured or killed. Videos 
from the protests have shown people gravely wounded.
Iranian authorities on Sunday raised the official death toll in the violence to at 
least three. Attackers targeting a police station in the western city of Kermanshah 
on Saturday killed an officer, the state-run IRNA news agency reported Sunday. A lawmaker said another person was killed in a suburb of Tehran. Earlier, one man 
was reported killed Friday in Sirjan, a city some 800 kilometers (500 miles) 
southeast of Tehran. READ MORE

'Gantz wants to be prime minister - at any cost'

Senior officials close to Blue and White leader MK Benny Gantz on Monday afternoon said the chairman is set on forming a government before his mandate to do so expires Wednesday night - no matter what the price.
 
In an interview with Arutz Sheva, the officials said Gantz is willing to pay even an outrageous price, and the bloc is determined "not to repeat the mistake made by Tzipi Livni in 2008, when she missed the chance to become prime minister."
 
"Gantz looks like a pushover, but he's not. Our goal is first of all that Gantz should take the position of prime minister - at any price, even if that means being dependent on the Arabs' support," they said.
 
"After [Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu leaves the office, we'll bring in other parties and it'll become a Zionist government. But first of all we need to bring down Netanyahu's rule."
 
The officials also said that the hopes that Netanyahu and those close to him that Yisrael Beytenu Chairman MK Avigdor Liberman will allow them to form a right-wing government at the last minute are false hopes. "Liberman is putting Netanyahu to sleep," they explained.
Neither Gantz nor Liberman is afraid of the price of forming a government supported by the Arabs: "After Netanyahu is out of office and the government is more Zionist, no one will remember that Liberman and Gantz received support from the Arabs."
 
Gantz does not see a third round of elections as an option, they said, emphasizing that he "doesn't want additional elections."

Trump said ‘frustrated’ with Netanyahu as deadlock delays peace plan

Senior Israeli officials believe US President Donald Trump is “very disappointed” with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and frustrated that the ongoing political stalemate has significantly delayed the unveiling of Washington’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan, according to a report Sunday.
Israel has been stuck in a political deadlock for some seven months, after two successive rounds of elections failed to produce a clear winner. US officials, who were reportedly readying to roll out the plan earlier this year, have said they are waiting until an Israeli government is formed to release the peace proposal.
The Americans “are frustrated and in despair due to Israeli politics and the political crisis, which has been preventing them for many months from presenting the diplomatic part of the ‘deal of the century,'” an Israeli official who has been in contact with senior members of the Trump administration told the Ynet news website.
The official added that the current situation “is creating frustration, bewilderment and anger” in Washington.
On Tuesday, Trump jokingly ranted about Israel’s political chaos in a speech to an Orthodox Jewish group.
“What kind of a system is it over there, right, with Bibi and…? They are all fighting and fighting,” Trump said in New York City. ”
“We have different kinds of fights. At least we know who the boss is. They keep having elections and nobody is elected,” he quipped, eliciting laughter.
Behind the laughter, Trump was described as “very disappointed with Netanyahu and is speaking negatively about him,” the official said.
Though the two were once close allies who touted their friendship to their respective bases, ties between Netanyahu and Trump have been seen as cooling in recent months as the Israeli premier has struggled to cling to power.
According to unnamed officials cited in the report, Trump decided to distance himself from Netanyahu after the latter failed to form a government in the aftermath of the April elections, and refrained from helping him on the campaign trail of the September election.
Shortly before the April vote Trump invited Netanyahu to the White House, where he recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and also declared Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terror organization, in moves widely believed to be designed to boost the incumbent leader. READ MORE

Iran shuts down nearly all internet access in response to fuel protests

Iran is trying an all-too-familiar tactic to hinder protests: cut the lines of communication. The Iranian government has shut down nearly all internet access in the country amidst mounting protests that began over a 50 percent hike in fuel prices and now encompass wider dissent. There are pockets of access that have let people show what's happening on the ground, but they're rare. Phone calls abroad still work, but those are also closely monitored.
The government hasn't formally acknowledged the internet shutdown.
As in past instances of country-wide internet blackouts, Iran is attempting to control both the protests themselves and the world's impression of what's going on. In theory, this reduces the chances of protesters organizing and posing a greater threat to the country's rulers. At the same time, it becomes that much harder to share news and illustrate the scope of the protests.
Unfortunately, this appears to be part of a larger trend around the world. Both India and Pakistan have shut down internet access in the hotly disputed territory of Kashmir in recent months, while Russia recently gave itself the power to shut down the internet at will. Internet shutdowns are quickly becoming weaponized, and that's unlikely to change as long as the leadership remains the same.

Protests In Iran Continue Despite Use Of Lethal Force - Dozens Reported Killed

The spokesman for President Hassan Rouhani’s administration claimed in a news conference on Monday morning that compared to the previous day there have been less protest demonstrations in Iran on Monday.
Meanwhile he claimed some demonstrators have used weapons during the previous days. Ali Rabiee, a former Intelligence Ministry operative, spoke as if he was reporting about a full war between the government and those who protest a sudden hike in the price of gasoline.
He also said that protesters took some security officers hostage but did not elaborate further. Meanwhile he declined to give away information on the casualty toll of the first three days of the protests.
The Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) issued its first statement on the protests Monday, echoing what other senior officials have said about protests being fueled by the United States and Iranian opposition abroad. IRGC also vowed to use all means to restore order.
Demonstrations have been going on in Iran for the fourth day after the Iranian government increased the price of gasoline Friday morning. Security forces have used lethal force, with tens of people killed.
Despite an all-out clampdown on information, it appeared on Monday that the government's use of lethal force has so far failed to deter protesters. READ MORE

Iran Fuel Protests Videos (Some Graphic Images)

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Russia sets up air base in Qamishli, challenges US/Israeli air force control of northeast Syria

The arrival this week in Qamishli of 50 Russian military trucks, 300 troops and hardware confirmed the revised US intelligence regarding Moscow’s military intentions in Syria, as DEBKA Weekly 869 first revealed on Nov. 8.
 
Until recently, US strategic experts estimated that Moscow’s interests focused on expanding its Mediterranean coastal footholds up to Libya, for which the Khmeimim air base was designed. This US assessment changed abruptly two weeks ago, when the first Russian military delegation arrived in Qamishli, capital of the Kurdish cantons in northern Syria.
The delegation was first thought to be looking for accommodation for the Russian troops taking part in joint patrols with Turkey along a 10-km deep strip on the Syrian-Turkish border.  But when Russian officials were photographed closely examining Qamishli airport and asking Syrian and Kurdish officials technical questions, warning signals flashed. Moscow was now seen to be eying Qamishli airport for conversion into a major military airfield to compete with expanding US military involvement in the region.
The Russians were then discovered negotiating a 49-year lease for Qamishli airfield with local Kurdish authorities. That contract was to keep part of the area in civil aviation use, while a large section was to be closed off as a Russian military facility.
 
The deal is evidently now in the bag. DEBKAfile’s military sources report. Substantial Russian military forces have since arrived at Qamishli: 50 trucks with 300 soldiers, consisting of a combat contingent for securing the new Russian air base and an engineering unit to build it; Mi-35 and Mi-8 assault helicopters have also landed, as well as Pantsir-S air defense systems for stationing around the facility.
 
Loud explosions emanating from the site in the last few days indicate that construction work has begun for expanding the small Qamishli airport into a large air base able to accommodate the landings of Russian fighter jets and large air freights. Moscow has clearly decided against allowing the US military to play unchallenged on the strategic playing field of northeastern Syrian and negotiated a counter-bid with America’s own Kurdish allies.   

Turkey: We'll use S-400 despite US threats

Turkey will use the S-400 missile defense system it has bought from Russia despite the US threat of sanctions, a senior defense official said Saturday, according to AFP.
 
Ankara and Washington have been at loggerheads over Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 system, which the United States says is not compatible with NATO defenses and poses a threat to Lockheed Martin’s F-35 “stealth” fighter jet.
 
The first parts of the S-400 air defense system were delivered to Turkey in July. Russia then delivered a second battery of S-400s in August.
 
US has threatened Turkey with sanctions, but said it would be spared from these measures under a 2017 law if the S-400 system is not turned on.
 
"It is not a correct approach to say 'we will not use for someone else's sake' a system we had purchased out of our need and we paid that amount of money," Ismail Demir, the head of the Defense Industry Directorate, a government body, told private CNN Turk broadcaster on Saturday.
 
"We will do our duty and (the system) will become usable. How it will be used is a decision to be made later," he added.
 
"We should respect the agreement we signed and that's what suits us as a country."
The issue was raised in talks in Washington this week between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US President Donald Trump.
 
Trump said that Turkey's controversial acquisition created "serious challenges" for Washington as he added officials would "immediately" get to work on resolving the issue.
Washington reacted to Turkey's purchase of the S-400 by removing the country off its F-35 fighter jet program.
 
Turkish officials insist that the deal to purchase the S-400 does not affect the security of the US and have repeatedly stressed that they will go ahead with the deal despite Washington’s objections.

Khameni blames fuel protests on 'Iran's enemies'

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday supported recent increases in gas and fuel protests which have sparked protests across Iran.
 
“Some people are no doubt worried by this decision ... but sabotage and arson is done by hooligans not our people. The counter-revolution and Iran’s enemies have always supported sabotage and breaches of security and continue to do so,” Khameini said on Iranian state television.
 
“Unfortunately some problems were caused, a number of people lost their lives and some centers were destroyed,” he added.
 
Protests erupted Saturday after the Iranian government raised the cost of regular gasoline to 15,000 rials ($0.13) a liter from 10,000 rials and instituted fuel rations. Additional liters would cost 30,000 rials.
 
One death was confirmed in the southeastern city of Sirjan. Several other deaths were reported on social media.
 
The increase in fuel prices was done in response the economic crisis Iran faces as a result of the renewed sanctions imposed by the United States.

Netanyahu: "We will attack all those who attack us"

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu opened today's (Sunday) government meeting, concluding the two days of fighting in Gaza.
 
"I wish to, firstly, praise the security forces who took part in operation 'Black Belt.' I also would like to thank the members of the cabinet who agreed, as one, to authorize this operation. All goals were achieved."
 
"Again, I would like to stress, Israel has not obligated itself to anything. Security policy has not changed. We are keeping open all possible operational possibilities. We will attack those who try to attack us."
 
Netanyahu responded to the rocket fire on Saturday night, "on Saturday night, Hamas fired at Be'er Sheva, I have directed the IDF to fire on Hamas positions."
 
"We are prepared for every situation, we will do everything to protect the state of Israel and ensure its' security."

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Beersheba comes under rocket attack. IDF hits back at Hamas in widening cycle of Gaza conflict

Israeli aircraft struck Hamas positions in Gaza before dawn Saturday, Nov. 16, after Beersheba came under rocket attack Friday night. It was the first time the IDF had targeted Hamas for reprisals in the ongoing clash with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.  The two large Grad rockets that shook Beersheba’s population of quarter of a million were intercepted by Iron Dome. Nine people suffered minor injuries or shock as they ran for shelter in response to the rocket sirens.
The Islamic Jihad was making a point: Its rocket war on Israel was not over, although the IDF’s Home Command insisted on ending the war emergency after an agreed ceasefire went into force early Thursday to end the 450-rocket blitz that had shut down the towns and villages of the South for 48 hours. The IDF hailed its Operation Black Belt, launched with the killing of the Jihad senior commander Baha Abu Al-Atta, and the wrecking of its terrorist infrastructure in Gaza as a victory. Israel’s leaders refused to accept that the war was still ongoing – even when Jihad fired three salvos after the ceasefire. The IDF Home Command insisted that the local councils reopen schools and return to their normal routines. After disobeying the order on Friday, they agreed to restart classes on Sunday.
 
On Friday too, Hamas cancelled its regular weekly mass disturbance on the Gaza-Israel border, for the first time since it instituted the violent “March of Return” demonstration eighteen months ago, so as deny its smaller rival, the Islamic Jihad,  a pretext for violating the ceasefire brokered by the UN and Egypt.

DEBKAfile’s military sources note the Islamic Jihad did not need a pretext. On Friday night, after a quiet day, it attacked the major Israeli town nearest to the Gaza Strip, Beersheba, capital of the Negev. By persisting in their denials of the ongoing conflict, Israel’s strategists triggered its escalation.
 
Aside from the single attack on Tel Aviv, Islamic Jihad had hitherto avoided using its long-range rockets to reach Israeli populations at a distance from the Gaza Strip, and Hamas refrained from intervening in the contest. But when on Friday night, the Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh phoned his Islamic Jihad counterpart Zeyad al-Nakhala at his Beirut base with condolences for the death of Abu Al-Atta, the two Palestinians agreed to join forces to fight Israel. It is therefore possible that Hamas was responsible for the rocket fire on Beersheba, although this is not confirmed.
 
Israel returned to attacking Hamas early Saturday in response to is leaders’ decision to throw its support behind the Islamic Jihad once again. This decision scuttled the most hopeful outcome of the contest with Jihad: Hamas’ neutral stance. Israel reacted by reverting to the dead-end, tit-for-tat routine in the Gaza Strip, which presages constantly deteriorating security for the southern regions within range of terrorist aggression.