Thursday, January 20, 2022

Be prepared to bury the two-state solution, Palestinian FM warns

Prepare to eulogize the two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, warned Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad Malki on Wednesday as he called on the international community to force Israel to withdraw to the pre-1967 lines.

"There is urgency because this conflict has a solution that may still be available today and that will no longer be viable tomorrow," Malki told the United Nations Security Council during its monthly meeting on the conflict. 
"The two-state solution … does not need you by its bedside to share comforting words. It needs you to save it," he said. "Absent this sense of urgency, prepare yourself to attend the funeral of this solution with all the consequences of such a death for the lives of millions of people, Palestinians and others." READ MORE

Biden says Iran nuclear talks advancing, not time to call it quits

WASHINGTON — US President Joe Biden said Wednesday that it is “not time to give up” on talks with Iran aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal.

“It’s not time to give up,” Biden said at a press conference to mark his first year in the White House.

“There is some progress being made,” he said.

“P5+1 are on the same page but it remains to be seen,” Biden said in a reference to the nations taking part in the negotiations in Vienna.

Talks to restore the 2015 accord between Tehran and world powers — United States, France, Britain, Russia, China, and Germany — began last year but stopped in June as Iran elected ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi.

The talks resumed in November.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week that there were only “a few weeks left” to save the Iran nuclear deal, and the United States is ready to look at “other options” if the talks fail.

The 2015 deal offered Iran much-needed relief from sanctions that have crippled its economy, in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

Then-president Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the deal in 2018 prompted Tehran to walk back on its commitments.

Officials in Israel, which is seeking significantly more robust curbs on Iranian activities backed by the credible threat of military action, have said the country is not bound by the agreement and will act as it sees fit to protect its citizens.

China, Russia and Iran to launch joint naval drill on Friday

China, Russia and Iran will hold a maritime joint exercise on Friday, a public relations official from Iran’s armed forces told the semi-official ISNA news agency on Thursday.

The wargame will take place in the northern Indian Ocean, Mostafa Tajoldin said, and is the third joint naval drill between the three countries, with the previous one taking place last February.

Preparations for the latest maneuvers came as Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart, Ebrahim Raisi, met in Moscow Wednesday, as pressure mounts for a decision on the Iran nuclear deal.

Raisi said he had presented Moscow with draft documents on strategic ties that would cement joint collaboration for the next two decades.

Putin praised the countries’ “close cooperation” on the international stage and said: “It is very important for me to know your opinion on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.” READ MORE

M Gantz: 'Iran double-dealing must be brought to negotiating table'

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz (Blue and Wihte) on Thursday delivered remarks in a joint press conference with Greek Minister of National Defense Nikos Panagiotopoulos.

Speaking at the conference, Gantz said: "The bond between our countries is strategic in nature – with shared interests and wide defense cooperation. Our bond is also a moral one – the young democracy of Israel sharing values with the ancient democracy of Greece. Lastly, our bond is one of friendship – when summer fires break out in Greece, or when tragedy strikes the Israeli Air Force, you and I Minister, are the first to pick up the phone."

"The State of Israel views Greece as a strong regional partner. As a NATO member, Greece plays a big role in maintaining security and stability in the eastern Mediterranean and beyond."

"We value both our bilateral defense relations as well as our work in the trilateral framework, together with Cyprus. Our cooperation in the areas of industry, force build-up and R&D contribute to the operational advantage and safety of both our countries. Our joint military training and strategic dialogue deepen both our professional and personal bonds. This relationship is an asset, and I am committed to further deepening and expanding our cooperation, in any scenario and regional developments." READ MORE

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Israeli Upgraded Arrow-3 Has Kinetic KILL Iranian Ballistic Missile

Gravitas: The UAE hits back after Houthi drone attack

Iran sees ties with Russia as 'new Middle East' - analysis

Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi is in Moscow on January 19 to meet President Vladimir Putin. This is happening as the US is concerned about a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Moscow has backed Tehran at the Vienna nuke talks with the West. This comes as Russia may also take part in another naval drill with Iran and China.  

These are important talks. Russia is calling on the US not to supply weapons to Ukraine, and Turkey is offering to host Russia-Ukraine talks. This means that Iran’s visit is part of a larger Russian policy that stretches from Europe to the Middle East. Tehran sees Moscow as a key partner along with Beijing in its quest for more power.  
Russian media is reporting on the trip. "The visit may become a turning point in political, economic and trade relations between Iran and Russia and it may also be effective in ensuring security, economic and trade relations in the region," an Iranian news agency quoted the Iranian president as telling journalists at Tehran’s Mehrabad International Airport. READ MORE

Despite deadly oil field strike by Iranian proxy, UAE careful not to escalate

Monday’s fatal drone attack on oil facilities in  Abu Dhabi and the Gulf state’s reticence to directly blame Tehran lays bare Emirati vulnerabilities in the face of Iran and its proxies.

The proximate cause of the attack, claimed by Houthi rebels in Yemen, is no mystery.

The civil war in Yemen escalated over the past two weeks, as the Saudi-led coalition undertook a major offensive to capture strategic provinces in central Yemen. The UAE-backed Giants Brigades militia played a central role in the capture of the oil-rich Shabwa Governate.

Since they revealed their drone capabilities in 2017, the Houthis have focused their attacks on the Saudis, not the UAE. Still, they made sure to caution the Emiratis against escalation.

“Targeting the UAE depends on military developments on the western front,” said a Houthi-allied journalist in 2019. “There is an understanding with Abu Dhabi not to escalate the situation in western Yemen through their allies. Otherwise, Houthis will have a strong response and will come after Abu Dhabi’s ports and airports.” READ MORE

‘Bennett is a danger’: Thousands of right-wing protesters rally against government

Thousands of right-wing protesters rallied around the country on Tuesday to demonstrate against the government and air various grievances, amid reports that former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering a plea deal in his corruption cases.

Many protesters decried the possibility of the plea deal between Netanyahu and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, calling for Netanyahu to continue fighting the charges in court.

Hundreds of protesters gathered at Jerusalem’s Chords Bridge, and smaller rallies took place at traffic intersections around the country.

Organizers estimated that around 20,000 people protested in total, although protest organizers regularly inflate attendance at events.

Organizers also held an online gathering for people in quarantine. READ MORE

Hezbollah: Not your everyday terror militia

Lebanon’s Hezbollah has proven that it is more than a terror militia to dread. It has become a time bomb that threatens to rupture relations between states and aspires to play the role of an uncontrollable regional troublemaker. Hassan Nasrallah has crossed all the red lines on which the actions of this militia, which challenges the national sovereignty of the Lebanese state, can be based.

He is overriding the sovereignty of a Lebanese state that is afraid of its cross-border mercenaries and unable to restrain his readiness to support those who back him with money, weapons and also ideas. I will not argue with Nasrallah’s latest speech and his accusing Saudi Arabia of terrorism. Everyone knows exactly who is running terrorism and who is financing it. READ MORE

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Law enforcement warns faith-based communities they are likely targets

Faith-based communities have been and will “likely” be the target of violence “by both domestic violent extremists and those inspired by foreign terrorists," according to a note sent nationwide to law enforcement officials and houses of worship by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security.

“Given the volatile environment, we encourage our partners to maintain strong operational security and situational awareness on events that could be exploited by violent extremists to further their ideological causes,” said Monday's message, obtained by ABC News and written by FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate and senior DHS official John Cohen.

The warning from federal officials comes after a tense situation at a Colleyville, Texas, synagogue in which an armed man held the synagogue's rabbi and three others hostage while demanding the release of a convicted terrorist. (Read More / Watch Video)

Iran-backed Houthis aim to redraw map of Middle East with attack on UAE - analysis

The attack on the United Arab Emirates on Monday was meant to be a major warning from Iran to the UAE. It was an unprecedented attack on the UAE, although not an unprecedented attack in the region. Iran attack Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq facility in September 2019 in a similar attack which was seen in the region as a major wake-up call. Iran has used drones and ballistic missiles increasingly in the region and trafficked the same technology to the Houthis, Hamas, Hezbollah and Hashd al-Shaabi militias in Iraq. The attack on the UAE killed three people. This is a major escalation by Iran and its Houthi proxies. However, the UAE will have to weigh its response because the message from Iran is that it has impunity to murder civilians in the UAE and knows it will face no consequences.

The attack by the Houthis is openly aimed at changing the “equation,” the Houthis said Monday. Iranian media emphasized this point. That means the Houthis are now saying they can strike at the Gulf state and move beyond their attacks on Saudi Arabia. The UAE may be more vulnerable because of their large expat population and the fact they are a major tourist destination. READ MORE

Putin to host Iran’s Raisi in Moscow amid nuclear talks

Russian President Vladimir Putin will host his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi in Moscow on Wednesday, the Kremlin said, amid talks aimed at reviving the Iran nuclear deal.

The meeting will be Raisi’s most important official visit abroad since he took office in August, and the first visit by an Iranian president to Russia since 2017.

The leaders will discuss the “whole range of issues of bilateral cooperation,” including the 2015 deal that offered Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, the Kremlin said in a statement.

In 2018, Washington announced its unilateral withdrawal from the agreement under former president Donald Trump, prompting Iran to walk back its commitments.

Since last year, Iran has been in talks with the signatories of the accord — the United States, France, Britain, Russia, China and Germany — to restore the deal, but negotiations stopped in June after Raisi’s election. They resumed in November. READ MORE

Israel, US test 'Arrow 3' space missile capable of downing satellites

On Tuesday, the Israel Missile Defense Organization (IMDO) of the Directorate of Defense Research and Development (DDR&D) in Israel’s Ministry of Defense, together with the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and the Israeli Defense Forces, conducted a successful flight test of the Arrow Weapon System (AWS) and the Arrow 3 interceptor, which is designed to intercept ballistic missiles outside of the earth’s atmosphere. Experts have suggested the missile could also be used to destroy satellites in orbit.

The test was performed at a test site in central Israel, and led by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).

AWS operational radars array detected the target and transferred data to the battle management control (BMC), which analyzed the data and established a defense plan. After the defense plan was established, two Arrow-3 interceptors were launched toward the target and successfully completed the mission. READ MORE

Monday, January 17, 2022

Netanyahu may use plea bargain promoted by retired Justice Barak as launchpad for comeback

In a race against the clock, Attorney General Amihai Mandelblit has less than two weeks before he steps down to approve a plea bargain for releasing opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu from a bribery charge and jail time, leaving only the lesser charges of breach of faith and fraud and community service. The charge of moral turpitude that would bar Netanyahu from public office for up to seven years remains to be thrashed out in negotiations for a deal, before the prosecution presents it to the district court.

But meanwhile, Mandelblit suddenly finds himself overwhelmed and outclassed by two extremely high-profile figures who are acting in concert. None other than Aharon Barak, highly esteemed as former chief justice, attorney general and state prosecutor, has entered the scene out of the blue to sponsor a plea bargain deal for the opposition leader, in the middle of the dragging Netanyahu corruption trial before the Jerusalem District Court.

The Netanyahu-Barak partnership has hit the political scene with the force of a thunderclap. Each has something to gain from a deal to cut short the ex-prime minister’s trial. Netanyahu, who has proclaimed his innocence long and loud, can’t foretell the court’s verdict. The legal fees of a drawn-out process could leave him financially ruined. He may decide that shortening the process is the lesser gamble. READ MORE

Killing of Jordanian soldier puts Amman, Damascus in a bind - analysis

A Jordanian soldier was killed and several soldiers wounded on Sunday, according to reports. The killing took place due to drug smuggling from Syria. The smugglers fled back to Syria, leaving behind a large cache of drugs, an army statement said, according to Reuters.

“The army will respond with all strength and resolve [against] any infiltration attempt to protect our borders and prevent anyone who dares to violate our national security,” the statement said.
This puts Amman in a bind. Jordan is in the news because the US has apparently encouraged Jordan and Egypt to be involved in supplying Lebanon’s energy needs. This could go through Syria, since that’s the most logical land corridor to Lebanon.
Jordan has been trying to stabilize relations with Syria for several years, and the king of Jordan received a call from Syrian regime leader Bashar Assad for the first time last October after many years of silence.
Jordan’s position is complex not only because it is on the border with Syria, with the Syrian Civil War about to spill over for many years. It has also hosted hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. Jordan welcomed them as brothers, and many of them even had tribal or family connections because southern Syria and northern Jordan have histories in common. READ MORE

French ambassador: Every passing day jeopardizes chances of Iran deal

Time is running out to reach a nuclear deal with Iran, Eric Danon, the French ambassador to Israel, told The Times of Israel.

“Together with the EU and other involved parties, France is making every effort in the ongoing talks to reach a deal that prevents Iran from becoming a threshold State and restores a non-proliferation environment,” he declared. “But time is running out, and every passing day jeopardizes the chance of finding a solution that respects the interests of all sides.”

Danon’s comments echoed those of French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

Danon said that France was also determined to address “Iran’s actions in the region.”

Israel and its Arab peace partners have been vocal about their concerns around Iran’s support for terrorists and armed proxy groups in the Middle East. The 2015 deal under discussion in Vienna deals strictly with Iran’s nuclear program, and not with its missile programs or proxy networks. READ MORE

Explosions reported on oil tankers in UAE

Multiple explosions have been reported in the United Arab Emirates Monday morning.

At least three explosions were heard in the Abu Dhabi area, with explosions reported on three oil tankers near Abu Dhabi National Oil Company storage tanks in the Mussafah district near Abu Dhabi and a fire at the site of the UAE’s new airport, which is still under construction, the UAE’s WAM news outlet said.

Local authorities said no significant damage was caused and emphasized that the fires caused by the explosions were contained.

Iranian-backed Houthi rebels from Yemen claimed responsibility for the explosions, Reuters reported, which were apparently the result of drone attacks.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Explosive boom shakes western Iran, officials blame lightning 10 hours later

Residents throughout a large area in western Iran reported hearing loud explosions strong enough to shake windows on Saturday night, with Iranian state media reporting hours after the incident that it was caused by lightning.

Some of the cities where the blasts were heard are located over 100 miles away from each other.
Earlier, Saeed Ketabi, governor of the city of Asadabad, had told Iranian media that the possibility that the explosion was the sound of thunderstorms had been ruled out. Additional statements made earlier in the evening by local officials added that the cause of the explosion was unclear.

The Tasnim News Agency, associated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, reported on Sunday morning that the explosion sound was caused by lightning and that it had "nothing to do with the activities of the armed forces or the testing of defense systems."
Deputy interior minister Majid Mirahmadi told the Iranian Fars News Agency as well that the explosion was caused by lightning. READ MORE

Algeria prepares for war with Morocco, panics due to Israel - report

Algeria is in a state of acute anxiety and paranoia over the growing military cooperation between Israel and the Moroccan military.

“The tension rises every day a little more between Algeria and Morocco, to the point that we are now talking about war between the two Maghreb countries,” according to a recent report in the Paris-based newspaper L’Opinion.
The news outlet quoted sources close to the Algerian military who said, “Algeria does not want war with Morocco, but it is ready to do so.”

A self-described “hawkish” source close to Algeria’s military told the French paper that, “if it has to be done, it is today, because we are militarily superior at all levels and this may not be the case in a few years.”
What is upsetting the Algerian regime “is Israel’s support for Morocco,” the source said. “This will change the situation, within an estimated three-year period.” READ MORE

Texas synagogue hostages rescued unhurt. Assailant killed

Three hostages were freed unharmed from the Colleyville Beth Israel synagogue in Texas early Sunday, Jan. 16 when the FBI and local police breached the building and ended their 12-hour ordeal. A fourth hostage was released earlier. The hostage taker was killed. He had claimed he had explosives when he broke into the synagogue during a livestream Shabbat prayer. Local police have not confirmed finding any weapons. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted that all the hostages, including the congregation’s rabbi, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, were safe and out of the synagogue after a loud bang and gunfire were heard. US Rep. Beth Van Duyne first told a Star-Telegram reporter in a text that the hostage-taker was dead. It was not clear if he was killed by law enforcement or his own hand.

The man, whom local police say they have identified but not named, released one hostage during negotiations. ABC reported that he had claimed that the Pakistan terrorist Aafia Siddiqui was his sister and demanded her release from 86 years in prison for attacking US troops and officials in Afghanistan ten years ago. Her family denies any relationship with the hostage taker.

US authorities say Siddiqui is a dangerous terrorist with ties to the ringleader of 9/11. Counter-terrorism groups have dubbed her “Lady al-Qaeda,” and US officials once described her as “the most wanted woman in the world.” The US government has refused to trade her for American hostages many times, including for journalist James Foley prior to his execution by ISIS.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned the hostage-taking incident in a statement.

DEBKAfile reported earlier:

A man has apparently taken possibly six people, including the rabbi, hostage at the Beth Israel synagogue at Colleyville, NE of Fort Worth in Texas during a livestream Shabbat service taking place on Jan. 15. He has mentioned Islam, his sister and his children, said he is willing to die, but didn’t want anyone hurt. He was heard ranting on the livestream, “If anyone tries to enter this building, I’m telling you… everyone will die.” It is unclear if anyone is injured and how the man is armed. Police appear to have begun negotiations with him. SWAT operations are in progress in the streets around the synagogue and residents in the immediate area are being evacuated.

It is unclear how many people were in the synagogue. Commenters on the livestream are offering prayers for Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker.

The FBI joined the local authorities Coleyville. The Israeli consul in Houston has been alerted and is heading for the synagogue to render all assistance possible to the hostages.

Nuclear negotiators head home for consultations, as Iran talks hit critical stage

TEHRAN, Iran — Chief negotiators from Iran and Europe returned home for consultations as talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal reached a critical stage, state media in the Islamic Republic said Saturday.

“The negotiators will return to Vienna in two days” but expert-level discussions at the eighth round of talks would continue on Saturday and Sunday, IRNA news agency said.

The talks between Tehran and world powers resumed in late November after they were suspended for around five months as Iran elected a new, ultra-conservative government.

Iran signed the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), with Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States.

It offered the Islamic Republic sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program. READ MORE

China, Iran begin implementation of broad strategic deal signed last year

BEIJING — China said Saturday it would begin implementing a strategic agreement with Iran, strengthening economic and political cooperation between the two countries as Beijing blasted Washington’s sanctions on Tehran.

China and Iran signed the agreement last year after years of talks, with the wide-ranging partnership set to span areas including energy, security, infrastructure, and communications.

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi and Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian announced the start of the partnership’s implementation at a meeting in east China’s Wuxi on Friday, Beijing’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

Few details of the secretive deal have been published, but The New York Times reported in 2020 that it would secure a regular supply of oil for China, citing a draft of the agreement leaked to the paper.

China is Iran’s leading trade partner and was one of the biggest buyers of the country’s oil before then-United States president Donald Trump reimposed sweeping unilateral sanctions in 2018. READ MORE

Israel said to secretly ink unprecedented deal to supply gas to Lebanon, via Jordan

Israel has signed an agreement to indirectly pump natural gas to Lebanon to aid the crisis-hit nation, an unsourced television report claimed on Saturday.

Channel 12 news reported that the deal was brokered by Amos Hochstein, Washington’s special envoy and coordinator for international energy affairs, and signed in secret over the weekend.

It will see Israel transfer gas from the offshore Leviathan field to Jordan, the report said. From there it will be transferred to Syria and on to Lebanon.

However, the network said, the move will require repairing and extending a gas line that flows from Syria to Lebanon, which could take several years.

The agreement was approved by the United States and was also coordinated with Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to the report. READ MORE