Posts Tagged ‘Hamas’

U.S. ambassador to Israel says Trump’s Middle East peace plan is months away

May 24, 2018

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Friedman speaks at the embassy ceremony. Photo: Menahem Kahana/AFP

U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman told me today that it will be another few months before the White House launches its long awaited Middle East peace plan.

interviewed Friedman today for Channel 10 News in his new office at the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. Here are the key points from the interview (full transcript below):

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  • On the Jerusalem embassy move: Friedman said Trump made the decision to move the embassy at a November Oval Office meeting in which he said, “lets do the right thing.” Friedman denied that Trump’s decision was the result of political pressure.
  • On the U.S. peace plan: Friedman said Trump remains optimistic about the chances of a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, but will not force it on the parties. He said the peace plan will be presented “within months,” and the White House is still “listening” to comments from different parties and thinking about the timing and the presentation.
“We have confidence that if we are able to propose something that is in the best interest of the Palestinian people, the leadership will ultimately rise to the occasion or they will be forced to rise to the occasion. I think anything that we propose will be something that it’s obvious that the Palestinians will be better off with it than without it.”
  • On the Iranian presence in Syria: Friedman said he doesn’t feel the Israeli government is concerned about U.S. policies in Syria — including the possible removal of U.S. forces. He stressed that while Israel discusses Syria with the Russians, Netanyahu speaks more with Trump than with Vladimir Putin. He said, “the Israelis have been doing a very significant job trying to contain Iranian behavior in Syria.”
  • On Israel becoming a wedge issue in U.S. politics: Friedman said he was very concerned that no Democrats attended the embassy opening, and stressed that there had been an open invitation. Friedman told me: “From my perspective, American support for Israel needs to be bipartisan and I am going to do everything I can to support visits from legislators — blue or red.”

Full transcript

Q: Ambassador David Friedman, thank you for having us here in your new office at the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. When people get married people ask them the day after, ‘how does it feel?’ So, does it feel any different?

A: It feels great and I am happy to welcome you as the first reporter from Israel to visit, and you should visit many more times.

Q: You were one of the leading Trump administration officials who pushed for moving the embassy to Jerusalem. The President considered doing it on day one, then he decided to wait, then he signed the waiver in June. What happened in November-December that got him to change course?

A: I don’t think anybody pushed the president. I think it was the president’s decision and we were coming to this six-month cycle, and I think the president is fundamentally uncomfortable not keeping promises. He is not a traditional politician. As this cycle reemerged I think he very much wanted to keep his promise. He thought it was the right thing to do and that it was in the interest of the U.S. As you know, it has been in the law of the U.S. since 1995. Even then when the law was passed people were lamenting why did it take us so long in 1995 to get to this point. So he saw this as something he is committed to do and should do and that’s how it came about.

Q: Did this also have to do with political pressure – from people in the evangelical community who supported the President or pro-Israel figures like Sheldon Adelson?

A: Not that I am aware of. I was with him in November in the Oval Office. I am not aware of any discussions where political considerations came into it at all. In fact I remember specifically the president saying lets do the right thing and I don’t think he cared about the politics.

Q: So tell us about this meeting in November, because there were members of the administration who were against this move.

A: I don’t want to speak for others. It was a very robust debate. All the issues were raised. The conversation was at a high level and respectful. People made their points and the President decided. It was clear from the discussions that he asked all the right questions and analyzed it correctly. Ultimately he has decided it was in the best interest of the U.S. and something had to be done at that point.

Q: Moving the embassy was one of the president’s campaign promises. He fulfilled that promise. Another campaign promise was to get the “ultimate deal” between Israel and the Palestinians. Don’t you think that at the end of the day, when you look at what happened in the last few months, by fulfilling one campaign promise he made the other campaign promise impossible to fulfill?

A: First of all, give him time. He hasn’t failed on the ultimate deal. He is working on the ultimate deal and it is certainly too soon to write the postmortem on that. We believe this will in the long run facilitate a peace deal because it is a policy which is based on truth and reality. Those are the pillars upon which a deal will have to be made. Jared Kushner said something very intelligent at the ceremony. He said peace will come and when it comes people will look upon this day, May 14, the opening of the embassy as the day the peace process really began. A process in which the U..S. was committed to strength and to the truth.

Q: But how will that take place? Since the president’s announcement on December 6th the Palestinians are boycotting the White House.

A: There have been bumps in the road.

Q: That’s the understatement of the century Mr. Ambassador.

A: I was going to finish my sentence. There have been bumps in the road over the last 50 years. There have been ups and downs. We are still optimistic. At the end of the day, the peace deal will rise and fall on its merits, not on the basis of people’s emotions. There is too much at stake and we have confidence that if we are able to propose something that is in the best interest of the Palestinian people, the leadership will ultimately rise to the occasion or they will be forced to rise to the occasion.

Q: What do you mean they will be forced to?

A: I believe in democracy. I believe in the will of the people. I think if you propose something that gains popular support I think the leadership ultimately has no choice but to move in that direction.

Q: So you think the Palestinian people look at your peace plan, say it’s not bad, and push the leadership to say yes?

A: I think anything that we propose will be something that its obvious that the Palestinians will be better off with it than without it. That’s certainly in the core of our thinking. Why bother if it doesn’t create a better life and a better opportunity to both parties?

Q: Prime Minister Netanyahu gave an interview to Vice News and said the embassy is in West Jerusalem. Do you think that part of the peace plan does lead to two capitals in Jerusalem – for Israel in West Jerusalem and for the Palestinians in East Jerusalem?

A: I am very reluctant to get into specific terms of what we are talking about. I think on specifics people will have to wait. The President made it clear the U.S. isn’t reaching any determinations regarding sovereignty, but beyond that you will have to wait with everybody else for the terms of the proposal.

Q: So in any future negotiations, Jerusalem’s borders will have to be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians?

A: It’s a final status issue and all final status issues are subject to ongoing negotiations.

Q: The peace plan is practically already drafted — do you see it being launched in the near future?

A: I think within months. I can’t give you a specific date. It is not finalized. There is a lot of listening going on. Mostly in Washington but here as well. We are continuing to think about it and it is not just the substance but also the timing and the presentation. So all those things are being factored into the calculus. But I would measure it in months.

Q: So it is not going to be in the next few weeks?

A: I don’t think so. We would certainly wait out of respect until Ramadan concludes, and beyond that I would be speculating.

Q: What if the Palestinians say no? For now it seems obvious they will say no because they are saying your peace plan is Netanyahu’s peace plan in U.S. disguise.

A: Lets wait and see how it plays out. People say no for all kinds of reasons. Sometime they say no because they mean no and sometimes they say no because they want to negotiate something better. I have been doing this for a long time in different contexts. If I took no for an answer I wouldn’t have gone very far in my profession.

Q: So you think that even if the Palestinians say no the President is not going to say, ‘I am moving to another issue,’ but he will try to see if a way can be found to promote this thing?

A: I think if they say no, the question will be why they say no — try to understand their positions and see if there is a place to get to the right point.

Q: Most Israelis and Palestinians say we do want a peace deal but on both sides there is very little belief that such a thing is possible. So why does the president believe such a deal can be found?

A: He has always been an optimist. He has better powers of negotiation and persuasion than anybody else I have ever met. I think primarily he is looking for that win-win structure where everybody looks at it and says, ‘we are better off than before.’ It has to be presented as a circumstance where everybody is better off. It is not a punishment for anybody. So if people look at this and say we are being pulled or pushed it won’t work.

Q: So if the parties say no the president is not going to force them to take it.

A: No.

Q: Lets move on to the Iranian issue and the President’s decision to withdraw from the Iran deal. Secretary Pompeo made a speech laying out 12 demands from the Iranians. But both President Trump and Secretary Pompeo basically said ‘we are going to do it through pressure and sanctions’ and didn’t mention a military option against the Iranian nuclear program. Is the military option also on the table for the U.S. to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon?

A: You are going to have to ask them. This is not something I am given responsibility for so I will be very reluctant to get ahead of the administration on this.

Q: The Obama administration said it prefers diplomacy but that the military option is on the table.

A: All I can tell you is that between the president and Secretary Pompeo you have two of the best and smartest negotiators I have ever met. I have confidence in them but I will leave it to them to discuss the strategy.

Q: So lets talk about the strategy and those 12 demands. It is pretty obvious it will be very hard for the Iranians to accept it, and then the question is whether the U.S. strategy is to change the Iranian behavior or to change the Iranian regime.

A: The strategy is to protect American citizens and to protect the world. Sanctions were working before the JCPOA was in place. The U.S. economy is a juggernaut. It is tremendously important globally. I think most nations will choose to do business with the U.S. rather than do business with the Iranian regime. I think it’s a very sensible strategy that has a good chance to succeed.

Q: So the U.S. doesn’t look for regime change in Iran?

A: I think the U.S. sides with the Iranian people and will support the Iranian people. Our fight is not with the Iranian people but with the regime. I think the goal is to end all the rogue behavior not only on the nuclear issue but also on ballistic missiles, the encroachment through Yemen, Iraq and Syria, the financing of terrorism. That’s the goal of the U.S.

Q: Lets talk about this rogue behavior. The president said he wants U.S. forces out of Syria. The Israeli government was very concerned by that and the prime minister spoke about it with the president. How can you stop the Iranians from establishing themselves militarily in Syria and create a land corridor to the Mediterranean while getting U.S. forces out of Syria?

A: I have spent a fair amount of time with the Israeli government trying to understand whether they have any issues about U.S. policies (In Syria) — they haven’t. The Israelis have been doing a very significant job trying to contain Iranian behavior in Syria. So I am not aware this is a problem. I haven’t witnessed it on the Israeli side and I spend a lot of time with them.

Q: But when Netanyahu wants to discuss Syria he is not going to the White House — he is going to the Kremlin. Does this bother you?

A: I think he is speaking to both leaders. I guarantee you he speaks more with the president of the U.S. than with the leadership of Russia. It’s an important relationship on both sides and things need to be coordinated there [in Syria]. I think the Prime Minister is taking appropriate action.

Q: So you are not concerned by the fact there is a feeling the U.S. is going out of the region and Russia is going in?

A: No. I think that is an oversimplification of what’s happening.

Q: Lets go back to the opening of the embassy – when I came in you were giving out  red and blue baseball caps.

A: I hope you got one.

Q: Of course. I got a red one. But when I got in the ceremony itself was mainly red and felt very Republican. Weren’t you concerned that this ceremony was another proof that Israel is becoming a partisan issue in the U.S.?

A: I was very concerned that no Democrats showed up. This was not our intent. We would have been delighted to host as many Democratic congressmen and senators as would have come. The invitation was open to all, or I should actually say we made it clear that everybody was welcome. We didn’t specifically invite anyone. The Republican congressmen and senators who came did not come on the basis of a specific invitation. They reached out and they came. I would have been more than happy to host Democratic leaders and I hope they come in the future. From my perspective, American support for Israel needs to be bipartisan and I am going to do everything I can to support visits from legislators — blue or red.

Q: Yesterday you went to the city of Bnei Brak to meet the community there and someone shoved into your hand a picture of the Temple Mount with the Jewish temple instead of the Dome of the Rock

A: I went to this event yesterday — it was a completely apolitical event. It was a facility that treats disabled children. You cant get more apolitical than that. I was walking out the door and somebody rushes with a poster. I think it took a second. A picture gets taken and this is on the internet. I was mortified. I thought it was disrespectful and very stupid thing to do and I spent a lot of the last 24 hours to make it clear this does not represent my views and that the U.S. respect for the status quo at the Haram A-Sharif, the Temple Mount is still there, it is intact. Look, people do stupid things. I will have to be more careful the next time someone rushes at me with a picture. I have no idea what was in this person’s head.

https://www.axios.com/interview-with-ambassador-david-friedman-israel-trump-b4da6726-bfc0-4ac3-99a8-adfa6802cc2d.html

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NY Times’ Friedman: Netanyahu ‘too cowardly’ to take steps necessary for peace

May 24, 2018

Top columnist also pans Hamas for its disastrous policies in Gaza since Israel pulled out; says environmental issues may soon force sides out of their corners

Times of Israel
May 24, 2018, 6:19 am

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset on May 21, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset on May 21, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “too cowardly” to take the necessary actions for peace with the Palestinians, while Hamas has proved a disaster for the residents of the Gaza Strip, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote on Tuesday.

In a piece titled “Hamas, Netanyahu and Mother Nature,” the veteran Times writer lamented the intransigence he felt was exhibited by both the Israeli government and Gaza’s Hamas rulers, and said environmental and humanitarian dangers could soon force both Israelis and Palestinians to look beyond their differences to increased cooperation.

Friedman said the Netanyahu government’s settlement expansion policies have made “separating Israelis and Palestinians increasingly impossible and therefore an apartheidlike situation increasingly likely.”

Netanyahu, Freidman, asserted, “wants it all,” unable to accept any significant concessions to Palestinians that a peace accord would require. “And with President Trump and the US Congress writing him blank checks, [he] thinks he can have it all. So why bother making any concessions for peace?”

He added: “I get why Israel has no choice but to defend its border with Gaza with brute force. But I find it a travesty that a country with so much imagination in computing, medicine and agriculture shows so little imagination in searching for secure ways to separate from the Palestinians in the West Bank to preserve its Jewish democracy.”

New York Times columnist, Thomas L. Friedman. (Rebecca Zeffert/Flash90)

Meanwhile in Gaza, Hamas, in Friedman’s estimation, was eligible for “an anti-Nobel Peace Prize — that is, the Nobel Prize for Cynicism and Reckless Disregard for One’s Own People in Pursuit of a Political Fantasy.”

Israel, he said, “ended its occupation of Gaza in 2005. If Hamas had chosen to recognize Israel and build a Palestinian state in Gaza modeled on Singapore, the world would have showered it with aid and it would have served as a positive test case for the West Bank. Hamas chose otherwise.”

The terror group that rules the Strip instead chose violence, using the recent marches in Gaza “to disguise its utter failure to produce any kind of decent life for the Palestinians there.”

Palestinians wave their national flag as they demonstrate near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, east of Jabaliya, on May 14, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABED)

He said the world, including Arab nations, is “fed up” with Palestinians’ demand to return to ancestral lands which today are part of Israel. “History is full of such injustices and of refugees who have reconciled with them and moved on — not passed on their refugee status to their kids and their kids’ kids.

Notably, Friedman did not criticize the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, which Israeli leaders have accused of repeatedly rejecting generous peace offers and of an unwillingness to truly accept a Jewish state.

The columnist warned that “Mother Nature” could soon “batter” both sides, noting that the ongoing blockade of Gaza and severe electricity shortages had led to sewage treatment in the Strip being virtually non-existent, and Palestinians dumping “about 100 million liters of raw sewage into the Mediterranean daily.” The sewage was now flowing north and damaging Israeli desalination plants.

View of the security fence surrounding the Gaza Strip from Israel. (Doron Horowitz/Flash90)

Meanwhile Gaza was quickly running out of clean drinking water, and Israel could soon have a true humanitarian disaster on its hands.

Friedman concluded: “If there were ever a time for Israel to take a few calculated risks to try to nurture a different pathway with Palestinians in the West Bank, it’s now. Unfortunately, its prime minister is too cowardly, and America is too slavishly supportive, for that to happen. Over to you, Mother Nature.”

https://www.timesofisrael.com/ny-times-columnist-netanyahu-too-cowardly-to-take-steps-necessary-for-peace/

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US under pressure to recognise Israeli-occupied Golan Heights

May 24, 2018

Israel is pressing the Trump administration to recognise its sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights, an Israeli cabinet minister said on Wednesday, predicting U.S. assent could come within months.

Interviewed by Reuters, Intelligence Minister Israel Katz described endorsement of Israel’s 51-year-old hold on the Golan as the proposal now “topping the agenda” in bilateral diplomatic talks with the United States.

Any such move would be seen as a follow-up on the U.S. exit from the international nuclear deal with Iran, and President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the opening of a new U.S. embassy there this month.

Trump’s moves were hailed by Israel and caused deep concern among major European allies of Washington.

© Jalaa Marey, AFP | An Israeli flag is seen placed on Mount Bental in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on May 10, 2018

There was no immediate comment from the White House on Katz’s remarks.

The Golan Heights form a strategic plateau between Israel and Syria of about 1,200 square kilometers (460 square miles).

It was part of Syria until Israel captured it in the 1967 Middle East war. It moved Israeli settlers into the area that it occupied, and annexed the territory in 1981 in a move not recognized internationally.

Once willing to consider returning the Golan for peace with Syria, the Israelis have in recent years argued that the civil war in Syria and the presence there of an Iranian garrison backing Damascus show they need to keep the strategic plateau.

Katz, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet, cast the Golan proposal as a potential extension of the Trump administration’s confrontational tack against perceived regional expansion and aggression by Iran, Israel’s arch-enemy.

“This is the perfect time to make such a move. The most painful response you can give the Iranians is to recognise Israel’s Golan sovereignty – with an American statement, a presidential proclamation, enshrined (in law),” he said.

The message to Tehran, Katz said, would be: “You want to destroy (U.S.-ally Israel), to generate attacks (against it)? Look, you got exactly the opposite.”

The matter, raised by Netanyahu in his first White House meeting with President Donald Trump in February 2017, is now under discussion at various levels of the U.S. administration and Congress, Katz said.

“I reckon there is great ripeness and a high probability this will happen,” he said. Asked if such a decision could be made this year, he added: “Yes, give or take a few months.”

Asked about Katz’s comments, a U.S. Embassy official in Israel said: “We don’t as a general policy discuss our diplomatic communications.”

Russia, Damascus’s big-power ally, has long insisted that Syria’s territorial integrity should be restored – a position implicitly requiring an eventual return of the part of the Golan occupied by Israel.

Katz, however, played down any prospect of a blow-up between Moscow and Washington, casting the proposed U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan as a piece of a larger Syria mosaic.

Opportunity

With Syrian President Bashar al-Assad beating back the insurgency against him, now could be the opportunity for Assad and Russia to show the Iranians out, Katz said.

He described the Iranian presence next door as the Netanyahu government’s main concern, by implication offering Assad a chance for immunity from Israel.

“This is a moment of truth for Assad. Does he want to be an Iranian proxy, or not?” Katz said. “If he becomes an Iranian proxy, then sooner or later he’s condemning himself, because Israel is acting against Iran in Syria … If not, then we have always said we have no interest in getting involved there.”

Russia, Katz said, would respond to a U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty on the Golan with declarations that “they won’t do the same and they do not have to support this”.

“But in actuality, from their perspective, if it gives

Israel something in the wider Syrian context, what do they care? Assad’s survival is more important to them, as Syria is so weak,” he said. “They want a new, overall re-arrangement.”

Katz suggested that a U.S. move on the Golan could also prod the Palestinians – who have shunned the Trump administration since it announced in December that it would relocate the embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv – to revive peace talks.

The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their own state, along with the West Bank, also occupied by Israel in the 1967 war – among the geographical disputes that have dogged their diplomatic contacts with Israel.

“They should hurry up and sit down with Israel, because where Israel says it is determined to be, it will be, and it won’t give up, and history is working in our favour,” he said.

Syria tried to regain the Israeli-occupied Golan in the 1973 Middle East war, but the assault was thwarted. The two signed an armistice in 1974 and the land frontier has been relatively quiet since.

Since 1967, about 20,000 Israeli settlers have moved to the Golan, which also borders Jordan. Some 20,000 Druze Muslims also live there. Israel gave the Druze the option of citizenship, though most rejected it.

In 2000, Israel and Syria held their highest-level talks over a possible return of the Golan and a peace agreement. But the negotiations collapsed and subsequent talks, mediated by Turkey, also failed.

(REUTERS)

After Gaza strikes, Israel’s Liberman says Hamas’ military project has been a ‘failure’

May 23, 2018

Defense minister says attempts to attack Israel will be ‘blocked with an iron wall,’ after IDF destroys tunnel in response to infiltration

Times of Israel
May 23, 2018

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman gives a statement to the media during his visit in Katzrin, May 11, 2018. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman gives a statement to the media during his visit in Katzrin, May 11, 2018. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Wednesday called on the Hamas terror group to recognize that its military project has been a “failure,” several hours after Israeli planes bombed several sites throughout the Gaza Strip, including a seaport west of Gaza City and a tunnel.

“Tonight the IDF destroyed another tunnel built by terror group Hamas,” Liberman wrote on Twitter. “The attempts to attack the State of Israel from the air, at the [border] fence and underground will be blocked with an iron wall and with the IDF’s might.”

“It would be better if Hamas leaders understood that their military project is a failure and rather invest the resources on improving the life for Gaza residents,” the defense minister added.

The military said the overnight strikes were carried out in response to an incident on Tuesday in which Gazans sneaked across the border and destroyed an Israeli sniper’s nest.

“A few minutes ago, our warplanes struck underground terror infrastructure used by Hamas in the north of the Gaza Strip and two targets belonging to Hamas’s naval forces,” the army said in a statement at 4:30 a.m.

Palestinians had reported on explosions at Hamas sites in the central and northern Strip.

A news site affiliated with Hamas said six missiles hit a facility belonging to the terror group in Jabaliya in the northern Strip.

Palestinians also said Gaza’s small seaport was targeted, with at least two fishing boats destroyed and parts of the facility on fire.

Palestinian fishing boats are seen at the sea port in Gaza City on April 1, 2016. (AFP/Mohammed Abed)

Sources claimed three missiles targeted the site, two from the east and one from off the coast.

There was no immediate word on casualties.

The raid came hours after an Israeli tank fired on a Hamas observation post in response to a cross-border raid in which Gazans cut through the fence and set an IDF tent used by snipers on fire.

Video from the Tuesday incident aired by al-Jazeera and apparently filmed by one of the infiltrators with a body cam showed approximately 10 people taking part in the raid before sneaking back undetected.

With few exceptions, Israel holds the Hamas terrorist group, which rules Gaza, responsible for all violence that emanates from the coastal enclave, regardless of who carries it out.

Tensions along the Gaza border have been high since March 30, which marked the start of a series of violent protests along the security fence, known collectively as the “March of Return.”

They reached their peak last Monday, when over 40,000 Palestinians took part in an “unprecedentedly” violent riot along the border, according to the army.

Thousands of demonstrators burned tires, threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at Israeli troops across the fence and, in a few cases, engaged in armed battles with the IDF.

According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, at least 60 people were killed on Monday and hundreds were wounded by live fire. Hamas later acknowledged 50 of the dead were its members.

Though the past weekend was the quietest since the weekly riots began eight weeks ago, the military has remained on high alert in the area out of concern the situation.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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Erdogan congratulates Maduro after controversial election win — Erdogan sees himself as Champion to terrorists and tyrants and a thorn in the side of the Western establishment

May 23, 2018

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has congratulated his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro on winning a new term in office, the Turkish presidency said Wednesday, after an election widely condemned by the international community.

© TURKISH PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE/AFP/File | Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro shake hands in December

Erdogan, along with Russian President Vladimir Putin, is among very few prominent world leaders to have congratulated Maduro on his victory in a poll that the United States has denounced as a “sham”.

He phoned Maduro during the night to pass on his congratulations, a Turkish presidential source was quoted as saying by state-run Anadolu news agency.

Erdogan, who himself faces elections at home on June 24, also expressed his determination to develop relations between Turkey and Venezuela in all areas, the report added.

The US has already tightened sanctions against Venezuela after the poll, which Maduro won with 68 percent of the vote but was boycotted by the main opposition parties and had a record abstention rate.

In response Caracas ordered the expulsion of the top two US diplomats in Venezuela, charging it was the victim of a “political and financial lynching”.

The European Union said it was also weighing new sanctions after the election was marred by “irregularities” and failed to meet international standards.

The 14 countries of the Lima Group — which includes Argentina, Brazil and Canada — are also refusing to recognise the election result.

But at a time of growing strains between Turkey and the West, Erdogan and Maduro have been forging an increasingly strong alliance.

On a state visit to Ankara in October, Maduro hailed a “new era” in relations with Turkey, saying both countries believed in a different, multi-polar world.

He was also a surprise non-Muslim guest at a summit of Islamic leaders organised by Erdogan in December 2017 to denounce the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Image result for Maduro wearing a medieval hat and a giant ring from the popular Turkish historical television drama Dirilis Ertugrul

Earlier this month, photographs were published on social media of Maduro wearing a medieval hat and a giant ring from the popular Turkish historical television drama Dirilis Ertugrul about the origins of the Ottoman Empire.

Israel hits more Hamas targets after cross-border raid

May 23, 2018

Israeli warplanes blasted Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip early Wednesday in a fresh round of retaliation after a Palestinian cross-border raid the day before, the army said.

“Israel Air Force aircraft struck an underground terror infrastructure belonging to the Hamas terror organisation in the northern Gaza Strip, and two additional military targets belonging to the Hamas terror organisation’s naval force,” a military statement said in English.

“The strikes were conducted in response to the event that took place yesterday morning, during which a number of terrorists infiltrated into Israel and set a military post on fire,” it said.

An Israeli tank fired at a Hamas position Tuesday after Gazans broke through the border fence and torched an unmanned military position.

Palestinians carry a demonstrator injured during clashes with Israeli forces near the border between the Gaza strip and Israel east of Gaza City. (AFP)

There were no reports of casualties from Wednesday’s strikes, one of which set a boat alight in the Gaza City fishing port.

Tensions between Israel and Gaza have spiralled since March 30, when Palestinians began protesting for the right to return to the homes their families fled or were expelled from in 1948, during the war surrounding the creation of Israel.

A total of at least 118 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since then, according to authorities in Gaza, which is run by the Islamist movement Hamas.

No Israelis have been killed during that time.

The protests peaked on May 14, the day the United States moved its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Tens of thousands protested on the Gaza border that day, with 62 killed by Israeli gunfire.

Israel says its actions are necessary to defend the border and stop mass infiltrations from the territory.

It accuses Hamas, with whom it has fought three wars since 2008, of seeking to use the protests as cover to carry out violence.

AFP

Iran, Get Ready for the Battle Rial

May 22, 2018

The Trump administration has declared financial war on the regime. It’s a good bet America will win.

Iran, Get Ready for the Battle Rial
PHOTO: ISTOCK/GETTY IMAGES

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday presented the Islamic Republic of Iran with a stark choice: Either change or face “unprecedented financial pressure” in the form of “the strongest sanctions in history when we are complete.” The Trump administration has declared financial war on the Iranian regime. Given the seriousness of its currency emergency, it’s a good bet America will win.

Iran’s economy is in crisis. Inflation is skyrocketing, banks are in turmoil, and Iranians protest daily against the regime’s ineptitude, corruption and foreign adventurism. The currency is collapsing. In 1979, just before the Islamic revolution, Iran’s official exchange rate was 70 rial to the dollar. Today’s official rate, 42,000 to 1, is only available to those with regime connections. Most Iranians have to accept less favorable terms on the black market.

The rial experienced several waves of devaluation, including during the last ramp-up in U.S. sanctions. The black-market rate per dollar went from around 11,000 in early 2011 to close to 37,000 in 2013, immediately before the June election of President Hassan Rouhani. The latest deterioration signals a worse crisis. It was triggered by Mr. Trump’s decision in October to decertify the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, indicating his intention to reimpose sanctions. The black-market rate has settled at 63,500, a nearly 40% loss of value since October. It dipped to 70,000 in the 24 hours after Mr. Trump announced on May 8 America’s official withdrawal from the nuclear deal. The regime is so desperate to avoid further collapse, it is taking extreme measures like criminalizing private currency trading and severely restricting the amount of currency Iranian travelers can take out of the country.

With the impending reimposition of sanctions, the pressure on Tehran is growing every day. Any bank that lets Iran draw on its foreign-held reserves will face total cutoff from the U.S. financial system. Trade and investment in major Iranian economic sectors will grind to a halt. Insurers will walk away from Iran-related projects. Importers of Iranian oil will reduce their purchases. Providing Iran with precious metals, which the regime might use in place of cash, will be off-limits, too. Already major European energy, insurance and shipping companies have signaled their intention to cut ties with the Islamic Republic unless their governments can negotiate sanctions waivers.

Mr. Pompeo made clear Monday that’s unlikely—and also that the administration will tighten the screws further, targeting every aspect of the regime’s finances.

What are the options? The Treasury Department has the authority to target companies owned or controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iran’s defense industry. These represent around 20% of total market capitalization of the Tehran Stock Exchange. The Treasury could impose sanctions on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s $200 billion corporate conglomerate, including the charitable trusts, or bonyads, where regime officials stash their money. Mr. Trump could use his executive powers to target companies of which the IRGC owns a minority share, vastly expanding Treasury’s list. He could broaden sanctions to cover Iran’s mining, construction and engineering industries, and any other sector of strategic importance.

Another top target will be Hezbollah, Iran’s largest terrorist proxy. The administration should cut off Hezbollah’s companies and bankers, especially in Lebanon, from the international financial system, while cracking down on the group’s fundraising, recruitment, narcotics trafficking and other transnational criminal activities.

America’s new strategy also presents European leaders with a choice: Either help curb all of Iran’s malign activities in exchange for major American economic and diplomatic concessions, or cast their lots with the repressive theocracy responsible for a 2012 terror attack in Bulgaria, and for the bloodshed in Syria that created a refugee crisis in Europe.

The Europeans have several important roles to play in a maximum-pressure strategy. The Swift financial-messaging service, based in Brussels, would disconnect the Central Bank of Iran, as well as other designated Iranian banks. The European Central Bank would stop clearing euro-based Iranian transactions through its Target2 settlement system, whose bylaws explicitly forbid activity with banks engaged in illicit financing schemes. Central banks in European countries would stop trying to evade U.S. oil sanctions by making direct payments to Iran’s central bank. Europe would designate the IRGC and Hezbollah in their entirety as terror groups.

The Europeans could refuse to do these things if they want to play hardball and undermine the U.S. strategy. But Mr. Trump would have options to respond. American law authorizes him to impose sanctions on Swift and its directors if they refuse to disconnect Iranian banks. The president could use his executive powers to put on the sanctions list board members and senior officials at the ECB, European Investment Bank and national central banks.

That sort of showdown may seem appealing to some Europeans. But the democratic ties that bind America with Europe are far stronger than any commercial relationship between Europe and the Islamic Republic.

Just last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron ruled out any trade war with the U.S. over Iran. Other European leaders should follow their lead. Mr. Pompeo has opened the door for renewed trans-Atlantic dialogue. Brussels may be slow to warm up to America’s new, no-holds-barred financial war on the Iranian regime. But European banks and businesses ought to keep one thing in mind: In a Battle rial, anything goes.

Mr. Dubowitz is chief executive and Mr. Goldberg a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/iran-get-ready-for-the-battle-rial-1526941983

Turkey will not give up Jerusalem: Erdoğan

May 22, 2018

 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on May 21 expressed Turkey’s resolve to not give up on Jerusalem.

“We are determined to not give up on our rights on Jerusalem. We will never leave our first qiblah [direction towards which Muslims pray] to the mercy of a state which has been feeding on blood, tears and occupation for decades,” Erdoğan said during an iftar (fast-breaking) dinner with ambassadors in the capital Ankara.

“We will continue our fight until Jerusalem becomes a home of peace, tranquility and dignity for all three monotheistic religions,” he said.

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About the U.S. move to shift its embassy to Jerusalem, the president said the hands of the U.S. are “covered in the blood of Palestinian children.”

ANKARA – Anadolu Agency

U.S. President Donald Trump sparked an international outcry last December when he unilaterally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and vowed to relocate Washington’s embassy to the city.

The embassy was officially relocated May 14, prompting thousands of Palestinians to stage demonstrations near the security fence separating Gaza from Israel.

Scores of Palestinians were killed — and hundreds more injured — when Israeli troops responded to the demonstrations with heavy gunfire.

“The American administration no longer has the right to talk on human rights, democracy and peace anymore,” he added.

Referring to the current regional tensions, Erdoğan pointed out that diplomacy as a means of solving crises has been eroding.

Nuclear weapons

About nuclear energy, Erdoğan said Turkey is of the opinion that nuclear energy should be used for peaceful purposes.

“The main threats against our country and region are nuclear weapons,” he said.

He called for clearing the whole world of nuclear weapons.

“Those with at least 15,000 nuclear warheads now threaten the world,” he added.

Speaking at the same event, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım vowed Turkey’s continued support to people in need around the world.

“It is time to act jointly against global problems such as terrorism, hatred, injustice, migration, discrimination and hunger. Turkey has been advocating this for a long time,” he said.

On Israel’s attacks against Gaza, Yıldırım said “the slaughter of the defenseless, unarmed people is cruel and brutal violence.”

“The decision of the American administration to move the embassy to Jerusalem is a big mistake and it has a great share in the escalation of tensions of these events [in Gaza],” he added.

Addressing ambassadors of different countries, Yıldırım said it is time to take a stance over the current situation in the region.

Israel not invited

In a statement, the presidency said the ambassadors of all countries, except Israel, were invited to the iftar at the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) headquarters.

Israeli ambassador in Ankara Eitan Naeh left Turkey on May 16 at Turkey’s request following indiscriminate violence and killings of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers along the Gaza-Israel fence.

On May 14, at least 65 Palestinians were killed by Israeli gunfire during protests in eastern Gaza. Thousands more were injured.

http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkey-will-not-give-up-jerusalem-erdogan-132166

The Truth About Hamas and Israel

May 22, 2018

Dozens of Palestinians died to further the terror group’s lies—and the Western media ate it up.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri addresses the media in Gaza City, 2015.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri addresses the media in Gaza City, 2015. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Sami Abu Zuhri is the spokesman for the extremist group Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist organization funded by Iran. Hamas controls Gaza and has killed innocent Israeli, American, Brazilian, Kenyan, British, French and Chinese civilians. As chief intelligence officer of the Israel Defense Forces’ Gaza division from 2012-14, I came to know Mr. Abu Zuhri and other Hamas spokesmen from a distance. Their modus operandi is simple: Lie. Their lies support the stated goal of Hamas: the delegitimization and destruction of Israel.

For weeks the international media has reported on violence on the border between Gaza and Israel. Hamas has continued to lie to the world, which is why their rare acknowledgments of truth are especially revealing. Hamas spokesmen raced to the press last week to lament the death of innocent civilians. But a senior Hamas leader, Salah Bardawil, said in a May 16 interview with a Palestinian TV station: “In the last round of confrontations, if 62 people were martyred, 50 of them were Hamas.”

Hamas itself has confirmed that 80% of those killed in their violent riots last Monday were members of a terrorist group, not innocent civilians. Several more of the fatalities were claimed by Palestinian Islamic Jihad. On May 13, Mahmoud Al-Zahar, a co-founder of Hamas, said in an interview with Al Jazeera: “When we talk about ‘peaceful resistance,’ we are deceiving the public.” You can trust Hamas only when they admit to their lies.

The Hamas spokesmen orchestrated a well-funded terrorist propaganda operation. Behind the theatrics was a plan that threatened Israel’s border and civilians. Hamas provided free transportation from throughout the Gaza Strip to the border for innocent civilians, including women and children. Hamas hired them as extras, paying $14 a person or $100 a family for attendance—and $500 if they managed to get injured. Hamas forced all of their commanders and operatives to go to the border dressed as civilians, each serving as a director of an area—as if to direct their own stage of the operation.

The audience was the international media. Hamas gave anyone with a video camera front-row access to the show and free Wi-Fi. The IDF had precise intelligence that the violent riots were masking a plan of mass infiltration into Israel in order to carry out a massacre against Israeli civilians. Hamas called it a “peaceful protest,” and much of the world simply fell for it.

The idea that this was a peaceful protest is the biggest lie of all, because the basic tenets required for a protest in a democracy like the U.S. or Israel do not exist in Gaza. Under Hamas’s control, there is no freedom of speech, no freedom of assembly, no freedom of religion, no freedom of the press. There can be no such thing as a peaceful protest in Gaza, only gatherings organized, sanctioned and funded by Hamas. Calling this a protest isn’t fake news, just fake.

In multiple assaults on the border this spring, Hamas has used machine guns, Molotov cocktails, airborne improvised explosive devices and grenades. Hundreds of Gazans have tried to blow up or tear down the fence between Gaza and Israel, with the intention of infiltrating our sovereign territory and reaching innocent Israelis who live minutes from the border.

On April 6 the Hamas political leader, Yahya Sinwar, stated: “We will take down the border [with Israel] and we will tear their hearts from their bodies.” On Facebook Hamas posted maps for their operatives showing the quickest routes from the border with Israel to Israelis’ homes, schools, and day-care centers near the border. Does that sound like a peaceful protest to you?

Facing the dangers posed by cowardly terrorists who disguise themselves as civilians, IDF soldiers acted with courage and restraint, following strict rules of engagement to ensure minimum civilian injury and loss of life while still protecting the border. As part of Hamas’s propaganda operation, hundreds of Gazans were injured last week and several dozen died, most of whom were Hamas operatives. None of this violence had to occur, but it was the violence that Hamas instigated and orchestrated so that the headlines and pictures would reinforce the lies that the Hamas spokesmen had planned.

Hamas can lie—to the world, to Palestinians and to their own commanders and operatives—but I am proud that the IDF will never lie or use Israeli civilians or soldiers as pawns. Some of Israel’s greatest friends might have preferred that we had looked better in the media this past week, but between vanity and truth, the IDF always chooses truth. It is that morality that sustains the IDF. The uniformed professional soldiers of the IDF may not photograph well compared with terrorists disguised as civilians—but we are honest about what we are and what we say. As the IDF spokesman, if I cannot source and cite material, I will not allow it to be published. I will not release any statement if the facts are in doubt.

Some in the media helped Hamas by publishing its lies rather than the facts. Hamas achieved negative media coverage about Israel after their first violent riot, on March 30, the first day of this propaganda operation. Hamas could have then claimed a propaganda victory, stopped the violence, and prevented many deaths. But for Hamas, lies are more important than lives.

If in order to win the international propaganda war I need to lie like Hamas, then I prefer to tell the truth and lose. The IDF will win where it matters—protecting our civilians in the face of terror. The soldiers of the IDF won this week by keeping Israeli families safe and by stopping Hamas from accomplishing its stated goals.

Even more than the lying, the true difference between Mr. Abu Zuhri and me is that he goes to sleep every night wishing for the destruction of my country and the death of my children. I go to sleep at night hoping for a better life for his children as well as mine. And that’s the truth.

Brig. Gen. Manelis is the spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-truth-about-hamas-and-israel-1526841445

As Health Worsens, Israeli Intelligence Sees the Beginning of the End of Abbas’ Rule

May 22, 2018

Claims that the Palestinian president was suffering from pneumonia have been rejected, but Israel believes the 82-year-old’s time in charge is drawing to an end

.Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reads a newspaper inside the hospital in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank May 21, 2018. Palestinian President Office (PPO)/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reads a newspaper inside the hospital in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank May 21, 2018.\ HANDOUT/ REUTERS

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ hospitalization this past week has led to conflicting reports about his health. Senior Palestinian Authority officials have downplayed the seriousness of his condition. But according to rumors in Ramallah over the weekend, the true information is being kept under wraps.

What is known for sure is that Abbas has been in and out of hospital for a week now – first for ear surgery and later for tests. During this period, Abbas has communicated with those around him and spoken to a few people by phone.

On Sunday, close associates told journalists and interlocutors on the Israeli side that his situation was much improved. On Saturday, it was said that he had pneumonia and was even on a respirator. Abbas’ associates say his illness is due to the tremendous pressure on him in recent weeks and his many trips abroad during this time.

Abbas, 82, has suffered from various ailments in recent years and remains a heavy smoker. Although he still frequently travels abroad, the word in Ramallah is that when he’s in the West Bank, his daily schedule has been curtailed and he frequently shows signs of impatience and behavior described as capricious and angry.

Abbas’ advanced age and health may have also contributed to some of his recent actions. In April, he hinted that the Jews were partially responsible for what happened to them in the Holocaust (after which he issued a semi-apology). Before that, he insisted on cutting assistance to the Gaza Strip as part of the ongoing conflict with Hamas.

Israeli security officials see this as the beginning of the end of Abbas’ rule, although it is not clear how long the whole process will take.

In the frenzied atmosphere that has taken hold on the Israeli right – given the Netanyahu government’s recent string of political and security successes – there will probably be calls to take advantage of the situation and make unilateral changes to the relationship with the PA in the West Bank. But leading security officials say that, on the contrary, security coordination with Abbas and his people is a strategic asset that must be carefully maintained with Abbas’ successor (or successors).

Absent a permanent solution or any diplomatic talks on the horizon, security connections with the PA help prevent deterioration on the ground. Witness the dozens of cases in which PA security operatives have, in keeping with Abbas’ policy, returned Israeli citizens who mistakenly entered Palestinian towns or cities. The PA also continues, for its own reasons, to arrest Hamas activists, some of whom are involved in planning terror attacks against Israel.

Even when Abbas decides to retire, or his heath forces him to do so, the identity of his heir is not apparent.

Abbas holds three different offices: chairman of the PA, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and head of Fatah. The legal situation of the Palestinian institutions is complicated; the enmity between Fatah and Hamas – and the fact that Abbas has not clearly declared an heir – will seemingly complicate succession plans.

There is, of course, the possibility that the matter will be decided democratically – though the last elections in the territories were for the Palestinian parliament back in 2006.

The Israeli intelligence community believes it is more likely that Abbas will be replaced, at least temporarily, by a group that could include senior Fatah leaders, officials with diplomatic experience and representatives of the security agencies.

Names mentioned include Jibril Rajoub, the former head of the PA’s Preventive Security who in recent years has headed the Palestinian Football Association. Rajoub has returned to intensive political activity in recent times and could play a major role after Abbas leaves. Another contender is Mahmoud al-Aloul, the former governor of Nablus who is now Abbas’ deputy in Fatah. Majid Faraj, the West Bank intelligence chief, is considered a strong man who is close to Abbas, but without much chance to succeed him.

A quiet weekend in Gaza

Meanwhile, the Gaza Strip saw the quietest weekend since demonstrations began along the border with Israel on March 30. This might be due to the impact of the clashes that took place last Monday, when 62 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire. The health system in Gaza was hugely overstretched due to the thousands of people also wounded in the protests.

A Palestinian protester wearing a Guy Fawkes mask and holding a slingshot during clashes with Israeli soldiers along the border with the Gaza Strip, May 18, 2018.
A Palestinian protester wearing a Guy Fawkes mask and holding a slingshot during clashes with Israeli soldiers along the border with the Gaza Strip, May 18, 2018.MAHMUD HAMS/AFP

The relative calm might also be connected to the main change that followed the deaths: Egypt’s announcement that it was opening the Rafah Crossing. Two possibilities for the move came from Cairo. According to one, the crossing would be open throughout the month of Ramadan. According to the other, the crossing will open 10 days a month, instead of only a few days. Either way, this is Hamas’ first major achievement as a result of the protests, along with renewed debate about Gaza’s distress in the international media.

Considering this relative success, the Friday demonstrations are likely to persist. Hamas has already announced plans for a major protest on June 5 – the 51st anniversary of the Six-Day War.

Israel Defense Forces Spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis has continued the propaganda war between the IDF and Hamas. In an article published Sunday in the Wall Street Journal, he accused Hamas of lying to the international community. According to Manelis, Hamas paid $14 to each Gazan who attended the demonstrations, $100 to each family and $500 to any person injured during the clashes.