Posts Tagged ‘Hezbollah’

Hezbollah chief claims terror group stronger than Israeli military, ready for war

August 15, 2018

In speech marking 12 years since Second Lebanon War, Hassan Nasrallah also says Iran sanctions won’t affect support for his organization

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah delivers a broadcast speech through a giant screen, during a rally marking the 12th anniversary of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, in Beirut, Lebanon, on August 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah delivers a broadcast speech through a giant screen, during a rally marking the 12th anniversary of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, in Beirut, Lebanon, on August 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

BEIRUT — The leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement said Tuesday that US sanctions against Iran and his Iran-backed group will not have major effects on them and will not lead to regime change in Tehran.

In a televised address marking the 12th anniversary of the end of the 34-day Second Lebanon War with Israel in 2006, Hassan Nasrallah also boasted that his forces were stronger than the Israeli army and prepared for a fresh war with Israel.

Nasrallah claimed that the Trump administration was “mistaken” in thinking sanctions would lead to riots in Iran that would topple the regime, or even force Iran to reduce support for activity abroad.

Last week the US began restoring sanctions that had been lifted under the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which President Donald Trump withdrew from in May. The administration says the renewed sanctions are meant to pressure Tehran to halt its support for international terrorism, its military activity in the Middle East and its ballistic missile programs.

“Iran has been facing sanctions since the victory of the Islamic Revolution in 1979,” Nasrallah said. “He (Trump) is strengthening the sanctions but they have been there since 1979 and Iran stayed and will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the victory of its revolution.”

The Hezbollah leader spoke to thousands of supporters gathered at a rally south of Beirut, where they watched his speech on giant screens as it was broadcast from a secret location.

Iran has been backing Hezbollah financially and militarily since the terror group was established after Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

Iranian protesters in central Tehran on June 25, 2018. (AFP Photo/Atta Kenare)

A number of protests have broken out against the Iranian regime for the country’s precarious economic situation, with demonstrators calling for an end to military adventurism and financial support for terror groups abroad.

According to the US, Iran sends Hezbollah an estimated $700 million a year.

Speaking about the restoration of the sanctions by Washington, Nasrallah said: “I can tell you and I have accurate information they are building dreams, strategies and projects that Iran will head toward chaos and the regime will fall. This is illusion, this is imagination and has nothing to do with reality.”

He added that Hezbollah is not scared of a possible war with Israel.

“No one should threaten us with war and no one should scare us by war,” he said, adding: “We are not scared or worried about war and we are ready for it and we will be victorious.”

A picture taken on July 26, 2017 during a tour guided by the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah movement shows members of the group manning an anti-aircraft gun mounted on a pick-up truck in a mountainous area around the Lebanese town of Arsal along the border with Syria. (AFP PHOTO / ANWAR AMRO)

“Hezbollah might not be the strongest army in the Middle East but it is certainly stronger than the Israeli army,” Nasrallah said, according to Lebanese news outlet Naharnet. “Because we have more faith in our cause and greater willingness to sacrifice.”

“The resistance in Lebanon — with its arms, personnel, expertise and capabilities — is stronger than ever,” Nasrallah said.

Most analysts believe Hezbollah has been significantly weakened by years of fighting in Syria to bolster President Bashar Assad. However, Israeli officials say the terror group still has a massive missile arsenal that can threaten much of the country, and that a war will be incredibly damaging to both sides of the Lebanese border.

Nasrallah said Israel would fail to force Hezbollah away from the Syrian Golan border, where Jerusalem fears it and other Iranian proxy groups will set up bases to use for attacks against the Jewish state, and has pushed for Russia to enforce a buffer zone.

“The Israeli enemy, which has been defeated in Syria, is insolently seeking to impose its conditions in Syria, but this will not happen,” he said.


Israel’s Military Prepares to Fight Hezbollah

August 13, 2018

Recognizing unique threats posed by terror groups, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) drills for reorganization that would dissolve established units into unified fighting force; anti-drone laser also tested

August 13, 2018
Israeli troops take part in an exercise on the Golan Heights in August 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israeli troops take part in an exercise on the Golan Heights in August 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The military has field-tested a new fighting method combining infantry, tanks and combat engineering into one unified force, as part of a major military reform meant to streamline the Israel Defense Forces, the army said Sunday.

The method was tested during a drill simulating war in the north against the Hezbollah terrorist group, during which the military also tried out new technologies, including an anti-mortar laser and more accurate artillery.

The restructured unit type was dubbed Tzakach Gideon, a Hebrew acronym that stands for Gideon brigade combat team, named after the Israel Defense Force’s multi-year Gideon Plan, a streamlining effort that the army began rolling out in 2016.

The details of this new organizational style were revealed earlier this year, and it saw its first trial during an exercise on the Golan Heights last week.

The drill saw infantry soldiers from the Golani Brigade, tanks from the 7th Armored Brigade and combat engineering troops from the 603rd Battalion working together, under one unified command. Currently, those different types of units can cooperate with one another, but with a far greater degree of independence.

The proposed change is designed to make the military’s ground forces more efficient and better suited to the types of fighting they are liable to encounter, specifically battles against terrorist groups, as opposed to national armies, officers involved in the project told reporters in February.

Chief among those terrorist groups is Hezbollah, a powerful Iran-backed proxy based in Lebanon that has been fighting in Syria in support of dictator Bashar Assad.

Israel considers the Shiite group to be its primary military threat in the region, and the IDF treats its readiness to face Hezbollah as the metric by which it determines how prepared it is for war.

Israeli tanks take part in an exercise on the Golan Heights in August 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

In addition to the new unit structure, last week’s exercise also tested a number of recently developed technologies, some of which are not yet fully operational.

According to the military, this included: a high-powered laser capable of shooting down incoming mortar shells or drones, known as Gideon’s Shield, or Magen Gidon; a “smart” trigger, which only allows a weapon to be fired when it is locked on its target; an improved night vision system; a powerful radar detection system; communication equipment that gives commander access to up-to-date intelligence; and a number of drones and autonomous vehicles.


Soldiers also tested a new model of precision-guided artillery shells, which are far more accurate than the varieties currently in the IDF’s arsenals.

“There is a tremendous improvement in our capabilities. If we don’t invest in technology, the battlefield will remain a kingdom of uncertainty,” IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said during a visit to the exercise.

The military’s underlying understanding is that fighting more nimble non-state actors hiding among civilians, as with the Hezbollah terrorist group in southern Lebanon, is fundamentally different than squaring off against formal militaries on a deserted battlefield, and requires the IDF to be more flexible and more precise to avoid civilian casualties.

In addition, new technologies, like drones, require the military to develop techniques and systems to counter these emerging threats.

“We are aware of and monitoring the enemy’s changes, capabilities and developments, and against these things we are taking care to set up capabilties that will always put us two steps ahead of them,” said Col. Roman Gofman, commander of the 7th Armored Division.

“This is the first time that we are seeing a combined brigade fighting team. This is a battle in which tanks, infantry and combat engineering are coming together in a coordinated and synchronized way, where our forces are squaring off against the enemy,” he said.

The new Tzakach Gideon organizational style would have a ground forces brigade made up of at least six battalions, three infantry or armored battalions, one combat engineering battalion, a reconnaissance battalion and an administrative battalion, the IDF said Sunday.

It is expected to take several years before this reorganization is implemented throughout the military, and it will likely face opposition as old units, with decades of history, are dismantled.

“The heritage issue is a headache in and of itself,” a senior IDF Ground Forces officer said earlier this year.

Palestinian flags at Israel nation-state law protest — Plot to kill Hamas leaders?

August 12, 2018

The appearance of Palestinian flags at a protest against the nation-state law has those on the right crowing and those in the center shaking their heads

August 12, 2018
Israeli Arabs and Jews protest against the nation-state law' in Tel Aviv on August 11, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Israeli Arabs and Jews protest against the nation-state law’ in Tel Aviv on August 11, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

1.Anti-flag: Israelis on the left and right saw the same protest at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square against the nation-state law Saturday night, but are drawing very different conclusions.

  • On the right, the appearance of Palestinian flags at the rally proves their point about the need for legislation enshrining the country’s Jewish character, including it’s Star of David flag, in law.
  • “Wrong flag,” reads a headline in Israel Hayom.
  • “With a protest like this, who needs to explain the law,” writes Zvi Hauser, a former aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the same paper, reflecting the view of many in the government (including the prime minister) who spoke out against the flags as exposing the real face of opposition to the law.
  • The nationalist Israel National News website leads its news section with the headline “PLO flags in the heart of Tel Aviv,” and the fact that it doesn’t even mention the flags in the story reflects how it takes for granted that its readers will gather all they need from just those few words.

2. Flag-flogged: And it was not even just the hard right incensed by the flags’ appearance. The populist Yedioth Ahronoth tabloid cover features a picture of a flag and the headline “Palestinians flags in the heart of Tel Aviv,” and the Walla website also notes them in its top headline.

  • Yedioth notes that while there were some Israeli flags, they were outstripped by the number of Palestinian ones. “This is my flag … I have no connection to the Israeli flag,” one protester is quoted saying.
  • The protest also says that some at the protest chanted “with blood and fire we will redeem Palestine.”
  • Mohammed Barakeh, among the organizers of the protest, told ToI’s Adam Rasgon that protesters had been asked not to bring the flags, but had not listened.
  • What results is a tongue-lashing from critics of the law who now feel their protest has been tarred by the Palestinian national symbols.
  • “Organizers made a big mistake by allowing the flags,” former prime minister Ehud Barak wrote on Twitter. He called the flags and chants a “free service” for those backing the nation-state law.
  • “They shot themselves in the flag,” Yoaz Hendel, another former Netanyahu aide, quips in Yedioth. “Those waving Palestinian flags … are not demanding equality or coexistence, but the erasure of the Jewish right of self determination in the state of Israel,” he writes.

3. Identity crisis: What these analyses are missing is the nuance needed to understand the place of the Palestinian flag and other Palestinian national symbols among Israel’s Arabs, many of whom self-identify as Palestinians, even if they are not necessarily Palestinian nationalists.

  • As a Kafr Qassem teacher told the Christian Science Monitor in 2016, “We don’t have an identity. We are the real refugees. We have a conflict between the national side and civilian side.”
  • A reflection of this unease is the lack of outcry over a protest against the law last week that saw just as many, if not more Druze flags, since Israelis don’t fear any national aspirations by the Druze. Palestinian flags, on the other hand, are viewed with deep distrust because there is a Palestinian movement, thus the reduction of the waving of a flag to a desire to subsume Israel.

4Who’s afraid of the Arabs: “The law sparked an unprecedented mass demonstration of Israeli Arabs in the heart of Tel Aviv, known as the first Hebrew city, but it also exposed the lingering duality of the Palestinian community, as it defines itself. Their show of force also demonstrated their isolation,” Chemi Shalev writes in Haaretz.

  • Shalev notes the fact that mainstream Israelis showed up to the Druze protest but shunned this one shows how they are viewed within Israeli society.
  • Addressing those like Labor head Avi Gabbay who refused to show up because of Palestinian national symbols, Meretz head Tamar Zandberg wrote on Facebook: “So there will be a flag or sign you don’t agree with. So fucking what.”
  • One person who was not afraid was Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken, who spoke at the rally, and whose broadsheet, the flagship paper of the Israeli left, reflects his view of the importance of the Arab-led rally.
  • The paper’s lead editorial chastises Gabbay and other members of Zionist Union for failing to show up, saying they earned a “badge of shame.”
  • “Those who rightly demonstrated against the law together with the Druze in that same square just a week earlier, yet decided to boycott a similar demonstration organized by the Arab community’s Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, missed an important opportunity to expand the protest. No excuse can obscure this,” the editorial reads.

5Swimming with sharks: The weekend saw mostly quiet on the Gaza border for a change, though Friday did see some protests and a massive fire kite managed to get tangled in the power lines of a kibbutz.

  • A picture of kids playing in a pool is used in Yedioth to represent the weekend of calm after a tense couple of days (though some may find the picture insensitive given the dire humanitarian situation and lack of clean drinking water just across the border.)
  • The calm is the fruits of Israel’s decision to reach yet another ceasefire with Hamas, despite loud protests from politicians and those on the right who see Israel as weak.
  • “Nothing has actually changed. Short of some sharp turn, which does not seem to be on the horizon, the shooting will return soon, and with it the chances for a wide operation,” writes Yoav Limor in Israel Hayom.
  • However, in Yedioth, Shimrit Meir, editor of the Arab-language al-Masdar, praises Netanyahu (a rare feat for that paper) for restraining himself rather than going to war: “One assumes we’ll have a traditional round of fighting for a few days or weeks and find ourselves picking up the phone for the Egyptian or Qatari mediator to scribble out a ceasefire. So why not just skip the days in the bomb shelters and billions spent on fighting and go straight to a long-term deal with Hamas?”

6Kill ’em all: In what may be a planned leak meant as a scare tactic to push Hamas to the table, or an actual leak of battle plans, Haaretz reports that Israel has put together a plot to assassinate Hamas’s leaders.

  • The paper writes that the army and Shin Bet see killing the top of the terror group as preferable to launching an all out-war, but notes that doing so could end up launching another round of fighting in any case, which is the understatement of the century.

7Cold Turkey: Though it has no horse in the race, Israel’s press is taking an interest in the Turkey-US spat.

  • Israel Hayom calls the words of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “empty threats” precipitated by the crash of the lira.
  • In Yedioth, Nadav Eyal calls Erdogan’s decision to threaten US President Donald Trump that he’ll start looking for new allies “the worst thing he could have done.”
  • “Those around Erdogan are trying to explain to him the terrible situation Turkey is in, and what unpopular steps he needs to take,” he writes.
  • Haaretz’s Zvi Bar’el, meanwhile, doesn’t see much smart policy or strategy from either leader: “The fraught relations may resemble a chess game, but the two primary players, Trump and Erdogan, don’t have the patience or the temperament required of chess players. At the same time, they still have critical shared interests that could force a reconciliation.”


Iran To Blame for Attacks on Saudi Oil Tankers, Unceasing War In Yemen, Saudis say

August 11, 2018

Prince Khalid bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US, has reiterated his condemnation of the Iranian regime’s “menacing role” in Yemen.

Image result for Prince Khalid bin Salman, photos

Prince Khalid bin Salman

His remarks on Twitter on Friday came days after Saudi Arabia resumed shipping through the Bab Al-Mandeb.

Maritime activity had been temporarily halted following Houthi attacks on two of the Kingdom’s oil tankers.

Image result for Nasser Shabani, photos, Iran, IRGC

Nasser Shabani

“There should be no doubt about the Iranian regime’s ‘menacing role’ in Yemen,” the prince said, referring to Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Commander Nasser Shabani’s admission that the regime was behind recent attacks on the two oil tankers.

Khalid bin Salman خالد بن سلمان


IRGC General Shabani admits his regime was behind the July 25th attack on Saudi oil tankers in the Red Sea saying “We told the Yemenis to hit Saudi tankers, and they did it, Lebanese Hezbollah and Yemeni Ansar Allah [Houthis] are our followers.” The post was later deleted.

Image result for saudi oil tankers, photos

According to the Iranian news agency Fars, Shabani said: “We asked the Yemenis to attack the two Saudi oil tankers, and they did.

The article has since been removed from the agency’s website.


Main pillars

Shabani has also said that Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen were Iran’s main pillars in the region.

“There should be no further doubt of the Iranian regime’s menacing role in Yemen and its disregard for human suffering and the environment,” Prince Khalid tweeted.

He attached a screenshot of the original article in which Shabani made the statements to another of his own tweets: “IRGC General Shabani admits his regime was behind the July 25 attack on Saudi oil tankers in the Red Sea saying ‘We told the Yemenis to hit Saudi tankers, and they did. Lebanese Hezbollah and Yemeni Ansar Allah (Houthis) are our followers.’”

The Iranian post was later deleted.

The Arab coalition announced on July 25 it had prevented a Houthi attack targeting two Saudi oil tankers in the Bab Al-Mandeb, off Yemen’s west coast. One of the tankers suffered minor damage.



Meanwhile, experts said the US was bracing for cyberattacks Iran might launch in retaliation for the reimposition of sanctions by President Donald Trump. Concern over a possible cyber threat has been growing since May when Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal.

Experts said the threat would intensify following Washington’s move on Tuesday to reimpose economic sanctions on Tehran.

“We have seen an increase in chatter related to Iranian threat activity over the past several weeks,” said Priscilla Moriuchi, director of strategic threat development at Recorded Future, a global cyber threat intelligence company.

The US says it re-imposed sanctions on Iran to prevent its aggression — denying it the funds it needs to finance terrorism, its missile program and forces in conflicts in Yemen and Syria.

US sanctions “may undermine Iran regime in the long run”

August 9, 2018

The United States’ sanctions on Tehran came into effect on August 7 amid Iranian fury over the deteriorating economy of their country. But will pressure from the street be enough to destabilize the Ayatollah’s regime?

Inflation, economic instability, currency in freefall and jobs at risk — a sense of despair and outrage is growing in the streets of Iran after the first round of US sanctions came into effect on August 7, as a result of US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the July 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

But can the US sanctions lead to regime change in Tehran?

Such is the intention often attributed to Trump’s administration, about which hawks in his entourage, such as national security adviser John Bolton, have spoken openly.

© Website of Iran’s Supreme Leader / AFP | Iran’s Supreme leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rohani on June 15, 2018 in Tehran. 

However, opinions differ on the chances of destabilizing the regime by accentuating economic pressure on a country already in crisis.

‘I cannot see Iranians agreeing to continue to suffer’

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John Bolton

“Consequences of the sanctions will cause Iranians to eventually question the legitimacy of the regime. Sanctions will heavily weigh in the balance perhaps to the point of undermining the regime in the long run,” Jean-François Seznec, professor of international relations at Johns Hopkins University, told FRANCE 24.

In this photo released by official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani attends a meeting with a group of foreign ministry officials in Tehran, Iran. Sunday, July 22, 2018. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

In this photo released by official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani attends a meeting with a group of foreign ministry officials in Tehran, Iran. Sunday, July 22, 2018. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Seznec thinks that sanctions could have consequences on Iran’s regional expansionist policy that is often criticized by the West. “I cannot see the Iranians agreeing to continue to suffer while Tehran continues to finance foreign movements like Hezbollah in Lebanon or the Houthis in Yemen,” he said.

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Houthis rebels in Yemen launch an Iranian made ballistic missile into Saudi Arabia

“So, if the economy collapses, Iran will no longer be able to afford its regional ambitions. That is the goal pursued by the US administration and unless the leaders of the Islamic Republic can convince or even force the people to agree to make sacrifices, it is obvious that sooner or later, they will be forced into negotiating again with the Americans,” Seznec added.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani finds himself between a rock and a hard place. In Iran, it’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last word regarding everything; even if the Islamic Republic’s moderate president wants to negotiate, he cannot do so without the approval of Khamenei. Hence, “if ever the regime’s hardliners take advantage of the situation to dismiss Rouhani, they will find themselves facing discontent and pressure from the streets. This can be dangerous for the survival of the regime,” Seznec told FRANCE 24.

Eventually, due to economic sanctions and street pressure, the Iranian regime will find itself with its back against the wall, Behnam Taleblu of the American conservative think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) told FRANCE 24. “Leaders in Iran should take protests, organized in the provinces, since the end of 2017, with all seriousness. In fact, these provinces which include the religious, the disadvantaged, and the poor, are the regime’s social base for whom Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini founded the Islamic Republic,” Taleblu said.

‘Tehran wasn’t weakened by previous waves of sanctions’

Few believe that sanctions aren’t effective against the Iranian regime. One of those is Azadeh Kian, an Iran specialist and professor of political science. “The Iranians didn’t wait for the American sanctions to come into effect to understand the gravity of the economic situation and the risk it poses to the regime,” Kian told FRANCE 24.

While the regime fears the devastating effect of sanctions on the purchasing power of Iranians, it is important to note that these measures, which endanger nearly one million jobs, come at the expense of civil society, the middle and popular classes. “Iran’s regime wasn’t weakened by previous sanctions that were in place before the signing of the nuclear deal. They even challenged them and enriched Uranium up to 20 percent,” Kian said. The US sanctions will mainly benefit smugglers and powerful politicians that will seize the opportunity to run illicit businesses.

“Even though economic difficulties have instigated widespread anger in the country, disorganized opposition forces with a clear lack of leadership will not likely want to cooperate openly with the United States to overthrow the regime. These forces know that such an initiative would be brutally repressed by the Iranian security forces, something reminiscent of the 2009 protests against the reelection of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that were met by extreme brutality,” Massoumeh Torfeh, professor at the London School of Economics, told FRANCE 24.

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Iran’s Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

With alarm bells sounding in Tehran, as well as in Moscow and Beijing over the deteriorating economic situation of their ally, President Rouhani has called on the Iranians to come together in support of the government’s attempt to restore economic stability, before the second round of even harsher sanctions hit the country in November.

It remains to be seen if Rouhani’s calls will be heard.



“China’s commercial cooperation with Iran is open and transparent, reasonable, fair and lawful, not violating any United Nations Security Council resolutions.”

China Will Disregard US Sanctions On Iran

Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi meets Iranian FM Mohammad Javad Zarif

Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi meets Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at Diaoyutai state guesthouse in Beijing, China May 13, 2018. (photo credit: THOMAS PETER/REUTERS)

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Colin Powell assistant: Trump is sitting with devil by working with Saudi Arabia

August 9, 2018

Former chief of staff to Ret. Gen. Colin Powell, Lawrence Wilkerson, said on Tuesday that President Trump is sitting with the devil by working with Saudi Arabia, referring to the country as “the greatest state sponsor of terrorism in the world.”

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Lawrence Wilkerson

“Donald Trump has apparently made a decision to sit with the devil,” Wilkerson told Hill.TV’s Krystal Ball and Buck Sexton on “Rising.”

“You can say there are two devils, Tehran and Riyadh, but look what Tehran supports, for example, in the realm of terrorism: Hezbollah and Hamas. Both irate against Israel, not against any global targets or against the United States. What does Saudi Arabia support and what is Saudi Arabia doing right now in Yemen, with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen? Probably the strongest and most capable element of al Qaeda left in the world,” he continued.

“[Ayman] Zawahiri is probably there or close by,” he added, referring to al Qaeda’s current leader. “They’re helping them. They’re leaving them with their arms. They’re paying them. Anytime al Qaeda will help Saudi Arabia against the Houthi rebels, al Qaeda is welcomed into Saudi arms.”

“Remember, 15 of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi. [9/11 mastermind Osama] Bin Laden was a Saudi contractor. So, we’re aligned with the devil right now against a lesser devil,” he said. “They are the greatest state sponsor of terrorism in the world.”

Wilkerson’s former boss, Powell, as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff helped oversee U.S. involvement during the Gulf War in the early 1990s, in which the U.S. and Saudi Arabia were part of a military coalition.

The Trump administration has engaged in arms deals with Saudi Arabia and has teamed up with the country to intervene in Yemen’s civil war.

Wilkerson’s comments come after The Associated Press reported on Monday that the U.S.-backed military coalition led by Saudi Arabia in Yemen paid al Qaeda fighters in the area to leave key battle areas and that the payments supported the terror organization maintaining its numbers and resources in the region.

Simultaneously, the Trump administration reimposed sanctions on Saudi Arabia’s rival Iran on Tuesday as a result of President Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. from the multinational Iran nuclear deal.

— Julia Manchester

Israel minister welcomes Syria scientist killing — “He was engaged in developing chemical weapons and longer-range missiles capable of hitting Israel”

August 7, 2018

“People that talk of destroying Israel can expect that Israel will hear them.”

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Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz on Tuesday welcomed the killing of a leading Syrian weapons scientist but declined to comment on reports his government was behind the fatal bombing.

General Aziz Asbar, head of a Syrian government weapons research centre, was killed along with his driver when the bomb hit his car on Saturday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The pro-government Al-Watan newspaper confirmed the killing in the central province of Hama.

Asbar headed the Maysaf research centre in Hama, which was hit by Israeli air strikes last month and in September last year, the Observatory said.

The New York Times on Monday quoted “a senior official from a Middle Eastern intelligence agency” as saying that Israel was behind the assassination.

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“We don’t of course comment on reports of this kind and I’m not going to comment now,” Katz told Israeli army radio.

“I can say that assuming the details of this man’s activities are correct and he was engaged in developing chemical weapons and longer-range missiles capable of hitting Israel, I certainly welcome his demise.”

An Israeli air strike targeted the research centre on July 22, Syrian state media and the Observatory reported. An Israeli military spokesman declined to comment.

A September 2017 strike caused damage to the centre, when fire broke out at a warehouse where missiles were being stored, the Observatory said.

Israel has carried out numerous strikes inside Syria since 2017, according to the Observatory, targeting government forces and their allies from Iran and Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

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Hezbollah fighters

Early 2017 marked the low point for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his country’s now seven-year-old civil war with his authority confined to just 17 percent of national territory.

A succession of victories since then over both the Islamic State group and various rebel factions has extended government control to nearly two-thirds of the country.



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Syrian children being treated for exposure to chemical weapons

U.S. Pushes Europe to Abandon Iran Over Terror Plots—but Meets Resistance

August 3, 2018

European officials, some skeptical that Iran is behind the plots, say the nuclear deal benefits the region


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U foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini, left, and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif at a ministerial meeting on Iran’s nuclear program in Vienna on July 6. PHOTO: SHCHERBAK ALEXANDER/ZUMA PRESS



A slate of investigations into alleged terror plots and killings sponsored by Iran has opened a new front in U.S. efforts to persuade European governments to cut ties with Tehran following President Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal in May.

Washington, Israel and Iranian dissident groups say the alleged recent operations show that Iran has ended years of caution about hunting its enemies in Europe. They are urging European governments to withdraw support for Iran and ban Iranian officials from the region.

But European officials, some skeptical that Iran’s government is behind the plots, are reluctant to adopt a harder line.

In late June, police in three European countries arrested an Iranian diplomat and three others in an alleged plot to bomb an Iranian opposition meeting outside Paris, marking a rare public confrontation between European security services and Iran.

In July, Dutch authorities said they had expelled two Iranian diplomats whom foreign officials say were linked to the assassinations of at least one Iranian dissident, Ahmad Mola Nissi. He was gunned down in November by a masked assassin in The Hague. U.S. officials believe Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security was involved. Dutch authorities are investigating.

“Europe isn’t immune to Iran-backed terrorism,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Twitter last month. “At the same time the regime is trying to convince Europe to stay in the Iran Deal, it’s plotting terrorist attacks in Europe.”

However, European officials have declined to rescind their support for the nuclear deal although they are following the investigations. Some say they could be the work of a faction within the Iranian government, without sanction from its top leaders.

Iran’s leadership “isn’t a pyramid,” said one French security official. “We can imagine an ultranationalist faction carrying out an operation to raise tensions.”

Top Iranian officials continue to travel to Europe, and European governments remain committed to the Iran nuclear deal as long as Tehran complies with its terms.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attends a meeting with a group of foreign ministry officials in Tehran on July 22.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attends a meeting with a group of foreign ministry officials in Tehran on July 22. PHOTO: IRANIAN PRESIDENCY OFFICE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Britain, France and Germany are seeking to help Iran weather the impact of the reimposition of U.S. sanctions on companies doing business with Iran. The first set of measures take effect Monday, leading many large Western companies to halt investments and trade.

European officials stress differences with Tehran on many issues but say the nuclear deal benefits European security. Europeans say dialogue and diplomatic contacts best address Iran’s interference in the Middle East and other points of contention, like Tehran’s missile program. Few European capitals cut ties with Iran after the 1979 revolution.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Western officials blamed Iran for a spate of killings of opposition figures in Europe and supporting terrorist acts in Europe by Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah. U.S. and other Western governments blame Hezbollah for the 2012 killing of five Israelis and a local driver in Bulgaria, but they didn’t tie the attack directly to Iran.

The EU sanctions the military wing of Hezbollah, but has dealings with government officials and others from what the bloc calls the political wing in Lebanon.

How Trump Is Tightening His Squeeze on Iran

With the U.S out of the Iran nuclear agreement, the Trump administration is clamping down on the Iranian regime. The Wall Street Journal’s Gerald F. Seib explains the sources of pressure. Photo: Reuters (Originally Published July 1, 2018)

From the mid-1990s, Iran seemed to be steering clear of using violence in Europe. But last month, French, Belgian and German authorities arrested four people, including an Iranian diplomat based in Vienna, for allegedly planning to bomb a gathering of the National Council of Resistance, an umbrella group of Iranian dissidents, outside Paris on June 30.

Rudy Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal attorney, was one of several high-profile U.S. critics of Tehran who spoke at the meeting, whose main backer is the opposition group Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MeK.  MeK has waged a decadeslong, sometimes violent campaign against Iran’s Islamist government. An alliance with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and a history of bombings prompted the U.S. government to list MeK as a terror group in 1997, but the listing was lifted in 2012.

The arrests came days before Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visited Europe to rally support for the nuclear deal. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said the allegation was a “false flag” setup and Iranian officials have repeatedly denied any involvement.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized European authorities for not canceling Mr. Rouhani’s visit. He said he told Europeans to stop “funding the very regime that is sponsoring terrorism against you and against so many others.”

Similarly, Mr. Pompeo has called on Tehran to stop backing terror groups in Yemen, Afghanistan and elsewhere. The U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, a government agency, has provided a four-decade timeline of Iran-backed terror incidents in Europe, including the arrest of two Iranian operatives in March on charges of terrorism by Albanian authorities.

A Western diplomat said the arrests were linked to a prior attempted attack by Iran in Albania on MeK.

The U.S. list also cites the conviction of a Pakistani man in Germany last year for spying on a pro-Israeli politician and people close to him under direction from the Quds Force, an arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. In 2012, the U.S. alleges, four Iranian operatives entered Turkey intending to attack Israeli targets.

Some of Iran’s opponents have alleged Iran was behind a spate of other killings and disappearances of Iranian dissidents since 2015 in Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey. No hard evidence has emerged of Iran’s involvement.

Write to Laurence Norman at and Matthew Dalton at

U.S. Mideast Peace Plan (Almost) Ready For Rollout

August 3, 2018

Jared Kushner is seen at the Royal Court after US President Donald Trump received the Order of Abdulaziz al-Saud medal in Riyadh on May 20, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. officials say the Trump administration is staffing up a Middle East policy team at the White House in anticipation of unveiling its long awaited but largely mysterious Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.


The National Security Council last week began approaching other agencies seeking volunteers to join the team, which will work for President Donald Trump’s Mideast peace pointmen Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, according to the officials. The team, which is being set up to organize the peace plan’s public presentation and any negotiations that may ensue, will comprise three units: one concentrating on its political and security details, one on its significant economic focus and one on strategic communications, the officials said.

The creation of a White House team is the first evidence in months that a plan is advancing. Although Trump officials have long promised the most comprehensive package ever put forward toward resolving the conflict, the emerging plan has not been described with even a small amount of detail by Kushner, Greenblatt or any other official.

 Palestinian protesters gather in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip.
Negotiating tool? Palestinian “protester” on the Gaza side of Israel’s border fence.

Timing on the release of the plan remains undecided. The State Department, Pentagon, intelligence agencies and Congress have been asked to detail personnel to the team for six months to a year, according to the officials, who were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The agencies declined to comment but an NSC official said that Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, and Greenblatt, Trump’s special envoy for international negotiations, “are expanding their team and the resources available as they finalize the details and rollout strategy of the peace initiative.”

White House officials say the plan will focus on pragmatic details, rather than top-line concepts, that will be able to easier win public support.

Yet the Palestinian leadership has been openly hostile to any proposal from the Trump administration, citing what it says is a pro-Israel bias, notably after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December and moved the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv in May. Since the Palestinian Authority and its President Mahmoud Abbas broke off contact after the Jerusalem announcement, the U.S. negotiating team has been talking to independent Palestinian experts.

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President Mahmoud Abbas

The White House expects that the Palestinian Authority will engage on the plan and has been resisting congressional demands to fully close the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington because Greenblatt and Kushner want to keep that channel open. But officials have offered little evidence to back that up.

Palestinian alienation has continued to grow as millions of dollars in U.S. assistance remains on hold and appears likely to be cut entirely. With just two months left in the current budget year, less than half of the planned $251 million in U.S. aid planned for the Palestinians in 2018 — $92.8 million — has been released, according to the government’s online tracker,

The remaining amount is still on hold as is an additional $65 million in frozen U.S. assistance to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which provides services to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan and Lebanon.

Yahya Sinwar, leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, speaks during a protest east of Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip on April 6, 2018. (AFP/Said Khatib)

In addition, Israel’s response to the plan is far from certain. Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is one of Trump’s top foreign allies, it remains unclear if he will back massive investment in Gaza, which is run by the militant Hamas movement.

For the plan to succeed or even survive the starting gate, it will need at least initial buy-in from both Israel and the Palestinians as well as from the Gulf Arab states, which officials say will be asked to substantially bankroll its economic portion. Arab officials have thus far adopted a wait-and-see approach.

Officials say there will never be a perfect time for the roll-out, but that they are laying the groundwork now for when an opportune time becomes apparent. The plan is not done, but is being finalized, including an economic development proposal for the Palestinian people that foresees major infrastructure and industrial work, particularly in Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd from right) meets at his Jerusalem office with the ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer (right); White House adviser Jared Kushner (center); US Ambassador David Friedman (second left); and special envoy Jason Greenblatt, on June 22, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The officials believe that the hope of a better economic future for the Palestinians coupled with progress on that front, the Palestinians may be willing to delay or modify what have been intractable and to-date unresolvable demands from Israel. Those include the right for Palestinian refugees to return to lands they abandoned or were forced from, the recognition of east Jerusalem as the capital of an independent Palestine.

And, they plan to appeal to all sides of the conflict not to let the disagreements of the past hold back their children’s futures, according to the officials.

The Associated Press



See also:

Palestinian Leaders Are Rejecting A Peace Plan They Have Never Seen


Russia to deploy military police on Golan Heights

August 2, 2018

Russia will deploy military police on the Golan Heights frontier between Syria and Israel and set up eight observation posts, Interfax news agency reported on Thursday, citing the Russian Defence Ministry.

“With the aim of preventing possible provocations against UN posts along the ‘Bravo’ line, the deployment is planned of eight observation posts of Russia’s armed forces’ military police,” Sergei Rudskoi, a senior Defence Ministry official was quoted as saying by Interfax.

Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and their Russian and Iranian allies have largely defeated anti-government rebels in south-west Syria, bringing pro-government forces closer to the frontier with Israel.

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Russian Military Police

The prospect that Iranian forces, and members of the Shi’ite Hezbollah militia, are in proximity with the border in the area of the Golan Heights has prompted warnings from Israel, which sees Iran as a threat to its national security.

Iranian forces have withdrawn their heavy weapons in Syria to a distance of 85 km (53 miles) from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, TASS quoted a Russian envoy as saying on Wednesday, but Israel deemed the pullback inadequate.

Rudskoi was also quoted as saying that a UN peacekeeping force on the Golan Heights between Israel and Syria that was stopped in 2012 could be resumed.

UN peacekeepers accompanied by Russian military police patrolled the area for the first time in six years on Thursday, Rudskoi said.

Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Christian Lowe