Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

Israel reopens Gaza crossings as relative calm holds

October 21, 2018

Defense minister says he will consider allowing Qatari-bought fuel into Strip in the coming days, following decrease in border clashes

Protesters near the Gaza Strip border with Israel east of Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, Friday, October 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Protesters near the Gaza Strip border with Israel east of Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, Friday, October 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Israel reopened the crossings into the Gaza Strip on Sunday morning, allowing people and goods in and out of the coastal enclave, following a decrease in the amount of violence along the border

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s office said the decision was made in consultation with officials from the Israel Defense Forces, the Shin Bet security service and the liaison unit to the Palestinians, known as the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.

The defense minister’s office said a decision had yet to be made about allowing a supply of fuel that was purchased by Qatar into the coastal enclave.

“The decision… was postponed at this time and will be considered in a few days, depending on incidents [along the border],” Liberman’s office said.

Israeli trucks carrying diesel fuel enter Kerem Shalom cargo crossing on the Israel-Gaza border, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

The defense minister ordered the pedestrian Erez Crossing and Kerem Shalom goods crossing closed last Wednesday, after a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip exploded outside a home in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba and another landed in the sea off the coast of the greater Tel Aviv area.

In response to the rocket strike, the Israeli military launched a wave of air raids, bombing some 20 targets in the coastal enclave, including a border-crossing attack tunnel, the army said.

In the following days, Egypt and the United Nations were said to broker a ceasefire between Israel and the terror group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip — one that neither side officially acknowledged.

However, the past weekend saw a significant decrease in the amount of violence along the Gaza security fence compared to previous weeks, both in terms of the number of people participating in border riots and the intensity of the clashes.

The IDF said a number of explosives and grenades were set off during clashes on Friday and that Palestinians broke through the fence in three locations before immediately returning to the coastal enclave, with soldiers opening fire at the suspects in one case.

However, Israeli defense officials described the demonstrations as some of the quietest since the wave of protests dubbed the “March of Return” began on March 30.

Israeli soldiers taking position during clashes with Palestinian protesters across the Gaza border on October 19, 2018 in Nahal Oz (Jack Guez/AFP)

“Unlike past weeks, most of the rioters remained at a distance and did not try to reach the fence. Hamas acted for restraint on the ground,” the military said.

On Friday and Saturday, Israeli military aircraft also fired warning shots at two groups of Palestinians who were launching incendiary balloons into Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip, sparking a number of blazes in the area near the coastal enclave.

On Thursday and Friday, leaders of the border protests had told participants to keep away from the security fence and to not behave violently — statements not released in previous weeks.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said 130 Palestinians were hurt in the clashes, including 77 by live fire.

The IDF said some 10,000 people took part in the protests. It sent text messages on Friday to residents of the coastal enclave, warning them not to approach the fence, Palestinians said.

Israeli officials believe Hamas has changed its policies regarding the clashes and was working toward curbing violence at the rallies, which have become a near-daily occurrence, Hadashot TV news reported Friday.

Jerusalem believes the terror group is moderating the demonstrations in order to allow Egyptian mediators a chance to strike a deal between Hamas and Israel for a long-term truce in Gaza, the report said.

From L to R: National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman and IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi hold a situational assessment near the Gaza border on October 17, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have participated in a series of protests and riots that have mostly involved the burning of tires and rock-throwing along the security fence, but have also seen shooting attacks and bombings as well as the sending of incendiary balloons and kites into Israel.

Some 156 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more have been injured in the clashes with IDF troops, according to AP figures. Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, has acknowledged that dozens of the dead were its members. One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a sniper on the border earlier this year.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/israel-reopens-gaza-crossings-as-relative-calm-holds/

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Iran sends Hezbollah GPS parts to turn rockets into precision missiles — report

October 20, 2018

Most recent shipment arrived in Beirut on Tuesday; Lebanon has previously denied Netanyahu’s claim that Iran operates weapons factories on its soil

In this April 1996 photo, two fighters from the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah stand near Katyusha rockets in the southern village of Ein Qana, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)

In this April 1996 photo, two fighters from the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah stand near Katyusha rockets in the southern village of Ein Qana, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)

Iran has delivered advanced GPS components to Hezbollah which will allow the terrorist group to make previously unguided rockets into precision guided-missiles, thus increasing the threat to Israel, Fox News reported Friday.

According to the media outlet, American and western intelligence services believe Iran has been increasing its shipments to Hezbollah, with one flight arriving in Beirut as recently as three days ago with the parts to convert weaponry at Iranian factories in Lebanon.

The existence of these factories was revealed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his speech at the United Nations General Assembly last month. The Israeli military later released satellite images of three sites in Beirut that it said were being used by the Iran-backed terror group to hide underground precision missile production facilities.

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun has said Netanyahu’s allegations are “baseless.”

Screen capture from video of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showing a diagram of what he said was Hezbollah terror group sites near Beirut during his address to the 73rd UN General Assembly in New York, September 27, 2018. (United Nations)

Fox News tracked Iran’s Fars Air Qeshm flight number QFZ-9950, which departed Tehran International Airport on Tuesday at 9:33 a.m. before flying to an unknown destination, according to flight data. Later that same day, the Boeing 747 jet reportedly landed in Damascus before its final leg to Beirut.

On Wednesday evening the plane reportedly took off from Beirut to Doha before returning to Tehran.

Illustrative: A Qeshm Fars Air cargo plane (Wikimedia commons)

Western intelligence sources said the plane was carrying weapons components, including GPS technology, to make precision-guided missiles in the Iranian factories located near the airport in Beirut.

Institute for National Security Studies Chairman Amos Yadlin attends the Annual International Conference of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv January 23, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“Israel is determined not to let it happen,” for Israeli military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin told Fox News. “This is a source of concern because if the Iranians, on the one hand, are determined to build this precision project with ballistic missiles, and the Israelis are determined not to let it happen—this is a recipe for collision.”

“The Iranians are building a formidable military presence in Syria with ballistic missiles, precise ballistic missiles, UAV, air defense. Israel is not going to allow Iran to duplicate Hezbollah in Syria,” Yadlin said.

The target of the Israeli airstrike last month, in which a Russian spy plane was inadvertently shot down by Syrian air defenses, was machinery used in the production of precision missiles, which was en route to Hezbollah, The Times of Israel learned.

In response to that incident, Russia delivered the advanced S-300 missile defense system to Syria. Netanyahu has said he has told Russia that Israel must continue to hit hostile targets in Syria, despite Moscow’s decision. There have been no reports of Israeli strikes in Syria since the downing of the Russian plane.

According to Netanyahu, these precision missiles are capable of striking with 10 meters (32 feet) of their given target. Hezbollah is believed to have an arsenal of between 100,000 and 150,000 rockets and missiles, though the vast majority are thought to lack precision technology.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, Hezbollah began working on these surface-to-surface missile facilities last year.

Reports that Iran was constructing underground missile conversion factories in Lebanon first emerged in March 2017. Since then, Israeli officials have repeatedly said that Israel would not abide such facilities.

In January, Netanyahu said Lebanon “is becoming a factory for precision-guided missiles that threaten Israel. These missiles pose a grave threat to Israel, and we will cannot accept this threat.”

One of the alleged sites is located under a soccer field used by a Hezbollah-sponsored team; another is just north of the Rafik Hariri International Airport; and the third is underneath the Beirut port and less than 500 meters from the airport’s tarmac.

A satellite image released by the Israel Defense Forces showing a site near Beirut’s international airport that the army says is being used by Hezbollah to convert regular missiles into precision-guided munitions, on September 27, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

These three are not the only facilities that the IDF believes are being used by Hezbollah for the manufacturing and storage of precision missiles.

In May, Netanyahu said Israel was “operating against the transfer of deadly weapons from Syria to Lebanon or their manufacture in Lebanon.”

In recent years, Israel has acknowledged conducting hundreds of airstrikes in Syria, which it says were aimed at both preventing Iran from establishing a permanent military presence in Syria and blocking the transfer of advanced munitions to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The Israeli Air Force has largely abstained from conducting raids inside Lebanon itself, though it has indicated that it was prepared to do so.

Earlier this year, IAF chief Amiram Norkin showed visiting generals a picture of an Israeli F-35 stealth fighter flying next to Beirut’s airport, in what was seen as a direct message to Hezbollah.

Israel fought a punishing war with Hezbollah in 2006. Jerusalem believes the group has since re-armed with tens of thousands of missiles that can threaten all of Israel.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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Israel, Gaza brace for Friday protests as region lurches between war and calm

October 19, 2018

Strip’s Hamas rulers said to be attempting to tamp down on weekly border riots, after Jerusalem says it will step up response to renewed violence following Wednesday rocket attack

Palestinian protestors place their national flag on a metal structure during a demonstration on the beach near the maritime border with Israel, in the northern Gaza Strip, on October 8, 2018. ( Said KHATIB / AFP)

Palestinian protestors place their national flag on a metal structure during a demonstration on the beach near the maritime border with Israel, in the northern Gaza Strip, on October 8, 2018. ( Said KHATIB / AFP)

Israel and Gaza were girding for a possible return to violence Friday, amid fears that renewed border protests could push the sides back to the brink of war after a brief violent flareup days earlier.

Israeli troops were readying for weekly border protests Friday that have turned deadly in the past, with the day being seen as a key test in whether the sides can continue negotiating a long-term ceasefire deal as part of an Egyptian-led effort.

Israel has demanded an end to the weekly confrontations, as well as the frequent launches of incendiary balloons into Israeli territory.

Daoud Shehab, a member of the organizing committee of the marches, said officials were encouraging protesters to stay away from the border fence. But he said he was not sure to what extent they would succeed in “restraining the public mood.”

“There will be attempts to prevent them from approaching the fence. There might be a reduction of balloons,” he said. “We hope there will be no human losses tomorrow. We are giving a chance to the Egyptian efforts.”

According to reports, Egypt had warned Hamas that renewed protests would bring a heavy Israeli response.

On Thursday, Israel’s top-level security cabinet instructed the army to take a wait-and-see approach to allow mediation efforts to succeed, but also ordered the military to step up reprisal attacks should there be border violence.

Ministers said the IDF should ultimately adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward rocket attacks, arson balloons and rioting along the Israeli border, according to reports in Hebrew-language media.

The army may also look to tamp down on border riots by entering areas where it previously stayed away from, according to Israel’s Channel 10 news.

Israeli army jeeps patrol on the border with the Gaza Strip on October 17, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Gaza’s Hamas rulers on Thursday warned Israeli leaders not to make a mistake, while ordering a probe into how a missile was launched from the Strip at the Israeli city of Beersheba Wednesday.

The Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror groups have denied responsibility for the early morning attack, which destroyed a house but did not cause any injuries, saying it was meant to sabotage ceasefire talks.

Damage to a Beersheba home hit by a rocket on October 17, 2018. (Flash90)

Israel contends the two groups are the only ones with the ability to launch rockets capable of reaching the northern Negev city. Experts have surmised a freak lightning strike may also be to blame for launch, including a rocket shot at the same time that landed in the sea off the coast of the Tel Aviv area.

Israel struck back Wednesday with some 20 airstrikes and threatened more in response to continued violence, but the area has remained calm since.

On Thursday, a team of Egyptian mediators shuttled between Israel and Hamas in a stepped-up effort to forge a cease-fire between the two enemies.

The four Egyptian intelligence officials entered Gaza from Israel on Thursday afternoon, and then returned to Israel after meeting with Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’s top leader. The group did not include Cairo’s spy chief Abbas Kamel, who on Wednesday canceled a planned trip to Gaza, the West Bank and Israel.

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المركز الفلسطيني للإعلام

@PalinfoAr

.. لقاء رئيس المكتب السياسي لحركة حماس إسماعيل هنية مع الوفد المصري في مكتبه بمدينة غزة

Khalil al-Haya, a top Hamas official, said the Egyptians had discussed cease-fire efforts, as well as on-and-off attempts at reconciliation with the rival Palestinian Authority. The talks were ongoing.

Arabic media reports have said that if achieved, a ceasefire would include at least a partial lifting of Israel’s restrictions on the movement of goods and people into and out of Gaza.

Even before the rocket attack, tensions along the border had been rising, with increasing calls within Israel for military action to stop incessant balloon attacks and border riots.

A Palestinian man walks on debris following a retaliatory Israeli air strike near the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah after a rocket struck a home in the Israeli city of Beersheba on October 17, 2018. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Last week, some 14,000 Palestinians thronged to the perimeter fence, burning tires and throwing rocks, firebombs and grenades at soldiers on the other side.

A Palestinian protester runs by burning tires at the Israel-Gaza border, east of Gaza city, on October 12, 2018. (Said KHATIB / AFP)

Some 20 Palestinians breached the border during the riots, and seven Palestinians were killed, including four who the military said had entered Israel and approached a military position. Israel responded by cutting off Qatari-funded fuel shipments meant to ease a chronic electricity shortage.

There has been increasing pressure on politicians and the military to launch a broad offensive to put an end to the weekly protests, arson balloons and occasional rocket fire.

An Israeli policeman watches a fire started by a balloon with attached burning cloth launched by Palestinians from Gaza Strip in Karmia nature reserve park near Israel and Gaza border, Thursday, October 11, 2018. (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)

The cabinet’s decision not to launch a military operation against Gaza’s Hamas rulers and other terror groups in the Strip was met with condemnation by local government leaders in southern Israel.

“We had every reason to deliver a serious response in a way that they would understand the message,” Eshkol Regional Council head Gadi Yarkoni told Channel 10 Thursday. “We should have taken advantage of what happened in Beersheba to restore deterrence, but unfortunately that did not happen.”

At the UN Thursday, envoy Nickolay Mladenov urged all friends of Israel and the Palestinians to push for all sides “to step back from the brink” of war, calling Gaza a “powder keg.”

Israeli trucks carrying diesel fuel enter Kerem Shalom cargo crossing on the Israel-Gaza border, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

“We remain on the brink of another potentially devastating conflict, a conflict that nobody claims to want, but a conflict that needs much more than just words to prevent,” he told the UN Security Council in a video briefing from Jerusalem.

“I am afraid that there is no more time for words,” Mladenov said. “Now is the time for action. And we must see very clear actions on all sides that de-escalate the situation. Otherwise, the consequences will be terrible for everyone.”

He said all parties must maintain their commitment under a cease-fire that ended a 2014 war — the third between the sides since the Hamas takeover.

Mladenov said Hamas and other terror groups must immediately stop “all provocations and attacks,” attempts to breach the border fence, end the use of incendiary balloons and kites, and halt tunnel construction.

“Israel must restore the delivery of critical supplies to Gaza and improve the movement and access of goods and people,” he said. “And Israeli security forces must exercise maximum restraint in the use of live ammunition.”

Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have participated in a series of protests and riots dubbed the “Great March of Return,” which have mostly involved the burning of tires and rock-throwing along the security fence, but have also seen shooting attacks and bombings as well as the sending of incendiary balloons and kites into Israel.

Palestinians react as tear gas canisters fired by Israeli forces rain down during clashes along the Israeli border fence, east of Gaza City on September 28, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

There have also been several flareups that took Israel and Hamas to the brink of war, with Palestinians firing rockets into Israel and the IDF responding with airstrikes.

Some 155 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more have been injured in the clashes with IDF troops, according to AP figures; Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of the dead were its members. One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a sniper on the border.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/israel-gaza-brace-for-friday-protests-as-region-lurches-between-war-and-calm/

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Khashoggi Crisis Widens Trump Rift With Congress on Saudi Arabia

October 18, 2018

Distrust of Riyadh in Washington dates to Sept. 11 attacks

Lawmakers warn they may act over president’s objections
.

President Donald Trump is facing increased pressure from Congress over his handling of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance, exposing a widening rift between the White House and Capitol Hill over the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia.

Image result for Lindsey Graham, photos

Lawmakers from Trump’s own party, including the president’s ally Senator Lindsey Graham, are openly voicing their discontent and threatening to sanction the Saudi government over the objections of the president, who has sought to build a closer relationship with Riyadh.

The stark differences underscore that Saudi Arabia enjoys far greater respect in the Oval Office than in the Capitol. Many lawmakers harbor a distrust of the kingdom dating back to its connection to the Sept. 11 attacks. Its bloody involvement in Yemen’s civil war and interference in Lebanese politics have cost it further U.S. support.

The Trump administration, meanwhile — led by the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner — has drawn ever closer to the Saudis as it fashions a strategy in the Mideast that revolves around the kingdom.

“There are a number of constituencies in Congress that are hostile to Saudi Arabia,” said Jon Alterman, a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. U.S. lawmakers have complained about the kingdom’s egregious human rights record, its suppression of religious freedom and civilian deaths in the Yemen war.

QuickTake: All About the Saudi Prince Now Being Called Brutal

“The Khashoggi case provides a central rallying point for all of these people to criticize the Saudis and the president’s relationship with them,” he said.

Should Congress act against Saudi Arabia despite Trump’s reservations, it would mark yet another defeat in Washington for the kingdom. Just two years ago, Congress passed legislation allowing Saudi Arabia to be sued for its involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks. Though the Saudi government wasn’t found to have had a formal role in the attacks, 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens, a fact not forgotten by lawmakers or the American public.

Tortured, Dismembered

Turkish officials have said that Khashoggi was tortured, murdered and dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Instanbul shortly after he arrived Oct. 2 to retrieve a document related to his wedding. A team of 15 Saudi agents arrived in Instanbul and left the same day of Khashoggi’s visit, according to reports by the New York Times and Washington Post.

John Kennedy  Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The U.S. can condemn Saudi Arabia’s conduct “without blowing up the Middle East and without destroying our ability to talk with them,” Senator John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican, said Wednesday. “Our foreign policy has to be anchored in values.”

U.S. options include expelling Saudi diplomats, securing a United Nations resolution criticizing the kingdom’s behavior, curtailing arms sales or enacting sanctions on Saudi officials, Kennedy said. Trump opposes canceling a $110 billion arms deal with the kingdom that he said Wednesday would create 500,000 U.S. jobs.

Graham, a South Carolina Republican who is one of Trump’s most stalwart allies in Congress, called Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, “toxic” and a “wrecking ball” in an interview on “Fox and Friends” on Tuesday.

“Nothing happens in Saudi Arabia without MBS knowing it,” Graham said.

Middle East Linchpin

Trump chose Saudi Arabia for his first overseas trip as president and he has rejected the idea of reassessing the U.S.-Saudi relationship over Khashoggi’s disappearance. The Trump administration has made Saudi Arabia a linchpin of its Middle East policy, which seeks to isolate Iran financially and diplomatically. The Saudis have been a key partner in that effort, and Trump has defended the kingdom even as it engaged in a crackdown on members of the royal family and pursued the war in Yemen.

Trump and his Secretary of State Michael Pompeo have placed inordinate weight on Saudi Arabian denials that the kingdom is responsible for Khashoggi’s disappearance, and the president has sought to downplay the affair. Trump has repeatedly noted that Khashoggi was not a U.S. citizen and on Monday floated the notion that “rogue killers” may have murdered him. Trump admitted in an interview with the Associated Press on Tuesday that the idea had been suggested to him by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman.

Trump lamented in the same interview that the Saudis were considered “guilty until proven innocent.” On Wednesday, he called them a U.S. “ally.”

“They are a tremendous purchaser of not only military equipment but other things,” he said.

After meeting with Saudi Arabian leaders including Prince Mohammed in Riyadh on Tuesday, Pompeo issued a statement underscoring their denials.

“My assessment from these meetings is that there is serious commitment to determine all the facts and ensure accountability, including accountability for Saudi Arabia’s senior leaders or senior officials,” Pompeo said.

“It’s important that everyone keep in their mind that we have lots of important relationships — financial relationships between U.S. and Saudi companies, governmental relationships, things we work on together all across the world,” Pompeo told reporters aboard his plane Wednesday after it left Turkey. “The Saudis have been great partners in working alongside us.”

Not Buying It

Congress isn’t buying it, and Trump may soon face a second overwhelming vote to impose sanctions on a country with which the president has sought to improve relations. Last year, veto-proof majorities in Congress approved sanctions on Russia to punish its 2016 election interference, over Trump’s objections.

“This is not rogue killers,” Graham said Tuesday on Fox News radio. “This is a rogue crown prince.”

Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said last week that “there will have to be significant sanctions placed at the highest levels” if Khashoggi was killed in the consulate. Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, has said he’ll seek a vote to block future arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Senator Todd Young, an Indiana Republican, tweeted Wednesday “The Khashoggi murder and actions in Yemen are both part of a pattern of immoral and reckless behavior by Saudi Arabia.” Young penned an op-ed with Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen in the Washington Post last month to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for contributing to the war in Yemen.

A bipartisan group of senators also invoked the 2016 Magnitsky Act in a letter to Trump, giving the administration 120 days to respond to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with a decision on potential sanctions against officials responsible for human rights violations.

Read more: What is the Magnitsky act? : QuickTake

Senator Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, called Wednesday for an international investigation of Khashoggi’s disappearance and criticized Trump for focusing on arms sales to Riyadh.

“It’s always important to see arms sales as a means to a larger end, not as the end in themselves,” he said on CNN.

Democrats have been even more direct in their criticism, with some insinuating that Trump’s approach to the Saudis is driven by his financial interests. Trump said in a Twitter post on Tuesday that he has no holdings in Saudi Arabia.

Chuck Schumer

@SenSchumer

Fascinating to watch what @realDonaldTrump will allow the Saudis to do. Whether it’s killing Yemeni school children, or ‘accidentally’ murdering a reporter in their own consulate, it seems like they can do no wrong. I wonder why?

— With assistance by Steven T. Dennis, and Jennifer Epstein

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-10-18/khashoggi-crisis-widens-trump-rift-with-congress-on-saudi-arabia

Missing journalist has made Trump’s Saudi bet much riskier

October 18, 2018

US president has leaned heavily on kingdom for his Middle East policy, but ties now face bipartisan scrutiny over Jamal Khashoggi affair

The Associated Press
In this photo from May 20, 2017, US President Donald Trump holds a sword and dances with traditional dancers during a welcome ceremony at Murabba Palace, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

In this photo from May 20, 2017, US President Donald Trump holds a sword and dances with traditional dancers during a welcome ceremony at Murabba Palace, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — US President Donald Trump put a big and risky bet on Saudi Arabia and its 33-year-old crown prince. It’s now become much riskier.

From the early days of his presidency, Trump and his foreign policy team embraced the kingdom and Mohammed bin Salman as the anchors of their entire Middle East strategy. From Iran and Iraq to Syria, Yemen and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the administration gambled that Saudi Arabia, effectively run by the prince, could credibly lead, and willingly pay for, a “Pax Arabica” in a part of the world from which Trump is keen to disengage.

For nearly two years, through an ongoing crisis with Qatar and international outrage over civilian casualties in the Saudi-led campaign against Yemeni rebels, the prince has managed to keep Washington’s confidence. But now, the tide is turning amid growing outrage over the disappearance and likely death of a US-based journalist inside a Saudi Consulate in Turkey, and that confidence appears to be waning. The Trump administration’s grand strategy may be upended with far-reaching ramifications that extend well outside the region.

Even if an investigation into what happened to Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul exonerates the prince and the top Saudi leadership, the administration’s deep reliance on him will be severely tested not least because of broad bipartisan revulsion in Congress to as-yet unconfirmed accounts of Khashoggi’s fate. Already, prominent lawmakers from both parties are questioning his fitness to lead the country and suggesting it might be time to re-think US-Saudi relations and sharply curb arms sales.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at the Pentagon in Washington, on March 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Trump ally Senator Lindsey Graham (Republican-South Carolina) and other influential politicians warned of dire consequences on Tuesday, saying the prince, often known as MBS for short, should be removed from his post.

“This guy is a wrecking ball, he had this guy murdered in a consulate in Turkey, and to expect me to ignore it, I feel used and abused,” Graham said on “Fox and Friends.” “Saudi Arabia, if you’re listening, there are a lot of good people you could choose, but MBS has tainted your country and tainted himself.”

Trump foe Senator Chris Murphy (Democrat-Connecticut) said the Khashoggi case “should trigger a fundamental review of the nature of the United States’ alliance with the Saudis.”

“As the new crown prince engages in increasingly reckless behavior, more and more of us are wondering whether our ally’s actions are in our own best interests,” he wrote in The Washington Post.

And Trump ally Senator Marco Rubio (Republican-Florida) called the situation a “catastrophe” for the Saudis that will “alter the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia for the foreseeable future.”

“This is a fear we’ve had for a long time is that the crown prince is a young and aggressive guy that would overestimate how much room he had to do things, would get over aggressive and overestimate his own capabilities and create a problem such as this,” he said. He added that the situation was one that “would really blow apart our Middle Eastern strategy.”

In this photo from February 1, 2015, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks at a press conference in Manama, Bahrain. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali, File)

The impact of a US-Saudi rift, however remote the possibility, could send shockwaves around the world, destabilizing oil markets and the global investment climate, not to mention dealing a blow to the Trump administration’s own plans in the Middle East.

Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner has made Saudi Arabia a centerpiece of his yet to be revealed Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, which is expected to call for massive Saudi and Gulf Arab contributions to fund reconstruction and development projects in the West Bank and Gaza.

Saudi support will also be key to the political elements of the plan that Israel insists put its security on par with Palestinian statehood. That means that Israel will likely seek assurances that any deal with the Palestinians be followed by a broader agreement that normalizes its relations with the rest of the Arab world, particularly Saudi Arabia.

In Syria, the administration relied almost entirely on Saudi Arabia, along with the closely allied United Arab Emirates, to make up for steep cuts in US stabilization assistance to areas liberated from Islamic militants. Next door in Iraq, the current secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and his predecessor, Rex Tillerson, have leaned heavily on the Saudis to make large financial pledges for reconstruction of war-shattered communities.

But it is the administration’s policy of isolating Iran that may suffer the most from Saudi-US estrangement.

US President Donald Trump, left and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud gesture during a signing ceremony at the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh on May 20, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)

Trump is counting on the Saudis to shore up and complement its Iran policy on several fronts.

In Yemen, where the US-backed Saudi-led coalition is fighting Iran-backed Houthi Shiite rebel insurgency, the effort to blunt Tehran’s increasing assertiveness would be hurt by any reduction in American help.

In Syria, where Saudi stabilization funds are being used in part to prevent Iranian proxies from encroaching on communities previously held by the Islamic State group, a reduction in Saudi cooperation would allow Iran a freer hand. The same holds true in Iraq, where Saudi investment is seen as critical to prevent Iran from gaining more of a foothold than it has in the Shia majority state.

More importantly, the administration has been counting on Saudi Arabia to step in to prevent oil prices from skyrocketing once it re-imposes energy-related sanctions on Iran that had been lifted under the 2015 nuclear deal from which Trump withdrew. Those sanctions require countries to halt Iranian oil imports unless they receive a waiver or face penalties. Frosty relations with Washington may tempt Riyadh to cut back on any increase in oil supply to make up for the loss of Iranian crude.

Of course, Trump’s bet could still pay off in the event the Khashoggi investigation is found to be credible and those responsible for his fate are held accountable, as Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Pompeo have all demanded. But with anti-Saudi sentiment running high in the corridors of power, Trump may find that going all in on the prince was a loser.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/missing-journalist-has-made-trumps-saudi-bet-much-riskier/

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Israel Strikes Gaza After a Rocket Is Fired, in a Sharp Escalation of Tensions

October 17, 2018

Israeli fighter jets attacked targets in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, the military said, hours after a rocket fired overnight by militants in the territory struck a house in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, a sharp escalation after months of simmering tensions along the Israel-Gaza border.

The residents of the house — a woman and her three young children — were treated for shock, according to the Israeli emergency services, and the Israeli military said a second rocket fell into the sea after it was fired overnight toward the crowded coastal area of central Israel.

Members of the Hamas terror group’s military wing attend the funeral of six of its fighters at a cemetery in the Deir al-Balah refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip on May 6, 2018. (Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The Israeli military said it had struck 20 targets in the Gaza Strip, including Hamas sites, but Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the other main militant group in Gaza, issued a joint statement soon after the first Israeli strikes denying responsibility for the rocket fire against Israel.

It would be unusual for a smaller, rogue group to fire longer-range rockets that can reach the central coastal area and, in any case, Israeli officials said they held Hamas responsible for the attacks.

By  Isabel Kershner
The New York Times

Smoke billowed from the Gaza city of Rafah on Wednesday after an Israeli airstrike. Credit Said Khatib/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Hamas controls Gaza, and Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said only Hamas and Islamic Jihad possessed the midrange, locally produced rockets that were used overnight, “which narrows it down.”

Israel has fought three wars against Palestinian militant groups in Gaza over the last decade, with deadly and devastating consequences. The most recent was in 2014, a 50-day war in which thousands of rockets were fired out of Gaza at Israel and that ended only after widespread destruction to the territory.

Tensions have burst out in brief bouts of fierce, cross-border fighting at least twice in recent months but international mediators were able to quickly restore the fragile cease-fire.

The house in Beersheba, Israel, that was hit by a rocket fired overnight from the Gaza Strip. Credit Abir Sultan/EPA, via Shutterstock

Israel also said it had targeted a squad of militants who were trying to launch more rockets into southern Israel. One Palestinian militant was killed, according to Gaza health officials, and three Palestinians were injured in earlier airstrikes on militant targets in Rafah, in southern Gaza.

The overnight exchange came after seven Palestinians were killed on Friday by Israeli fire during a particularly stormy day of protests. Four of the dead had crossed the fence that separates Gaza from Israeli territory and tried to reach an army sniper’s post, and one was armed with a knife, according to Israeli forces at the scene.

In recent weeks, the Palestinians have also resumed flying incendiary balloons from Gaza, some rigged with small explosive devices and others designed to set fires in Israel.

The Israeli defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, warned during a visit to the Gaza Division of the Israeli military on Tuesday, “We have all come to the understanding that the situation as it is today cannot continue.”

Mr. Lieberman, who is known for taking a hard-line stance toward the Palestinians, said Israel had tried using peaceful means to reduce tensions in the area, which have risen since border protests began in late March, including cooperating with international mediation efforts to restore and stabilize the cease-fire that ended the war in 2014.

“We have exhausted all the options, all the possibilities,” he said. “Now is the time for decisions.”

Israel needed to “deal Hamas a strong blow,” Mr. Lieberman added, referring to the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza.

Read the rest:

NYT:https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/17/world/middleeast/israel-gaza-rocket-hamas.html

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Arabian Game Of Thrones Heats Up

October 17, 2018

The reported torture, murder, and dismemberment of Washington-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate-general in Istanbul reminded the world that an intense power play is now taking place within the monarchies of the Arabian Peninsula and between them.

Image result for saudi crown prince, photos

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

In November 2017, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) ordered the arrest and detention at the Riyadh Ritz Carlton Hotel of over 200 members of the Saudi royal family, including eleven rival princes, as well as government ministers and influential businessmen. That came after an October 2017 meeting in Riyadh between MBS and Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, conclave that lasted well into the early morning hours. At the meeting, Kushner is said to have turned over to MBS a list of the names of the Crown Prince’s opponents: leading figures of the Saudi royal house, government, and major businesses.

Investors may want to look at the hedge potential of gold when dealing with global inflation. While gold has had a rough first-half, the metal may rally in the latter half of the year.

The list may have also contained the name “Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi.”

The list of Saudi names was, reportedly, compiled by Kushner from top secret special code word documents he had specifically requested from the National Security Agency (NSA) and Central Intelligence Agency. The documents were specifically requested by Kushner, not because he was an expert in communications intercepts, but because he likely had a control officer who told him what files to obtain. The Kushner family have longstanding ties to the Israeli Likud Party, as well as the Mossad intelligence service. The Mossad enjoys a close working relationship with the Saudi General Intelligence Directorate, which is now firmly committed to MBS after a previous purge of its upper ranks following MBS’s rise to the heir apparent position in the House of Saud.

Those on the list handed over to MBS by Kushner were all subjects of NSA and CIA communications intercepts of phone calls, video conferences, and emails.Kushner is said to have had a phone conversation with MBS a day before Khashoggi was murdered.

Reports from U.S. intelligence sources report that the NSA had intercepted high-level communications between the Saudi government in Riyadh and the Saudi consulate-general in Istanbul indicating thatthere was a plot afoot to either kidnap Khashoggi and fly him back to Riyadh or murder him on the spot.Kidnapping and detention is definitely part of MBS’s playbook as seen with his kidnapping and detention in Riyadh on November 3, 2017 of arriving Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. No sooner had Hariri’s plane touched down in Riyadh, was his cell phone confiscated by the Saudis and he was detained. Hariri was forced to resign in a forced statement read by him on a Saudi television network. MBS was hoping to replace Hariri with his older estranged brother, Bahaa Hariri, someone that MBS had in his pocket.

MBS had bragged to close advisers that he also had Jared Kushner “in his pocket.” Lebanese President Michel Aoun demanded Hariri’s immediate release by the Saudi regime and his return to Beirut. Just as Riyadh denied it had murdered Khashoggi, it refused to admit that it was holding Hariri against his will. MBS ordered Hariri flown to Abu Dhabi to meet with MBS’s on-and-off-again ally, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ), the heir apparent to the presidency of the United Arab EmiratesAt the age of 57, MBZ is not as brash as the young and impetuous MBS. This has been witnessed by MBZ’s willingness to work with Jordanian King Abdullah II to seek an accommodation with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. MBS is reportedly furious with MBZ and Abdullah, the latter a member of the Hashemite family, who were ejected from their rule over Mecca and Medina by the British and Sauds, following World War I. Ever since the Hashemites’ loss of the Hejaz region of Arabia to the radical Wahhabist Sauds, there has been bad blood between Riyadh and Amman.

MBS is also upset over MBZ’s support for rival claimants to power in South Yemen. MBS is supporting the rump Yemeni government, much of it in exile in Saudi Arabia, against the Iranian-supported Houthi government ruling from Sana’a in north Yemen in a bloody and genocidal war being orchestrated by Riyadh, with the support of the Trump adminstration and the Israeli regime.

The UAE has been supporting the Southern Transition Council (STC), which strives for South Yemen’s reversion to an independent state, a status it enjoyed before a forced merger with north Yemen in 1990. Caught in the middle are forces loyal to Sheikh Abdullah bin Issa al Aafrar, the Sultan of the Mahra State, which was disestablished when South Yemen achieved independence in 1967. The Mahra Sultan, who is living in the neighboring Sultanate of Oman, under Sultan Qabus bin Said’s protection, is also in the gun sights of MBS, who does not want any competition for Saudi control of all of Yemen.

Oman is reportedly backing the Al-Mahra and Socotra People’s General Council, which is composed of the Mahra Sultan and Mahri tribal elders. This rival governing authority wants to be free of any control by the Saudi, Emirati, Houthi, and the pro-Saudi Yemen government. Through the offices of Oman’s mission to the United Nations, the General Council has been in direct contact with the UN Security Council. The STC also includes members of the tribes and royal families of other former states of the British colonial era Federation of Arab Emirates of the South and Protectorate of South Arabia. These include the Kathiri State, Sultanate of Lahej, the Qu’aiti State of Hadhramaut, and the Emirates of Dhala and Beihan.

MBS is known to be angling to select the successor to Qabus, who has no children and has been a thorn in Riyadh’s side. Under Qabus, Oman has been friendly to Iran and the Assad government in Syria, as well as Qatar, where the 36-year old Emir, Tamim bin Hamad, has infuriated MBS by maintaining relations with Iran. In 2013, Tamim’s father, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, formally abdicated the throne in favor of his son. However, it is well known that Hamad still pulls the strings in Doha. In 1995, Hamad deposed his father, Khalifa BIN Hamad al Thani, who was undergoing medical treatment in Geneva. In 1972, Khalifa ousted his cousin, Ahmad, while he was on a hunting trip in Iran. Ahmad settled in Dubai, where he married the daughter of the Emir of Dubai. MBS and MBZ are anxious to prop up a rival to the current Qatari emir from the ranks of potential claimants to the throne in Doha, including two rival al-Thani clan members who the Saudis have claimed have rightful claims to the Qatari throne – Abdulla bin Ali Al Thani and Sultan bin Suhaim Al Thani.

MBS, along with all the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, have instituted a punishing economic and diplomatic embargo on Qatar.There is some speculation in the Middle East that MBS is quietly backing to succeed Qabus, Taimur bin Assad, the 37-year old son of Qabus’s cousin, Said Assad bin Tariq. As the deputy prime minister for international cooperation, Said Assad bin Tariq was designated as the official heir to the ailing Qabus.

In this Arabian “Game of Thrones,” MBZ may have his own favorites among other claimants to the sultan’s throne in Muscat.These include Said Assad bin Tariq’s half-brothers, Haitham bin Tariq, currently the culture minister, and Shihab bin Tariq, a former commander of the Omani navy. MBZ is reportedly running a network of spies within the Omani royal court to influence the succession to Qabus. There is another, non-Arabian prince, who could also have a great deal of influence in the Omani royal succession. He is the Prince of Wales, Charles, the future King of England, who has been a longtime friend and confidante of Sultan Qabus.

Oman and Qatar have their own agents of influence within the royal families of the seven emirates that make up the UAE. In July, Sheikh Rashid bin Hamad al-Sharqi, the second-in-line for the throne in Fujairah, the UAE emirate that borders Oman, turned up in Qatar to ask for asylum. He said that MBZ’s government was using extortion to eke out transfers of large sums of cash by Emirati royal families to unknown parties around the world, including those in Ukraine, India, Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and Syria. The UAE, along with the Saudis, are major financial supporters of jihadist elements around the world. Sheikh Rashid has also provided Qatari intelligence with details of discontent among the emirates of the dictatorial policies of MBZ in Abu Dhabi. The other emirs are also critical of the UAE’s involvement in the genocidal civil war in Yemen, one in which troops from Fujairah, Umm al Quwain, Ajman, Sharjah, and Ras al Khaimah, are used for cannon fodder, while those from the wealthier Abu Dhabi and Dubai avoid frontline combat.

Recently, the Saudis have pressured their puppet king in Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, to fire his uncle, Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa.Prince Khalifa is the world’s longest-serving prime minister. However, he has apparently irritated MBS with his work to protect the rights of foreign workers, including those from the Philippines and south Asia, in Bahrain and the wider Gulf region.

MBS and Kushner are known to view Iran as the chief threat to peace in the Middle East. MBZ shares in their view of Iran,something that is, apparently, not shared by the emirates of the northern Gulf region, including Fujairah. From their actions, MBS and MBZ are, along with their Israeli and American allies, the major threat to peace in the region. The assassination of a journalist resident in the United States in a third country, Turkey, and the kidnapping and house arrest of a sitting prime minister of another nation is unprecedented behavior in the Middle East. The Saudis are only matched by Israel in their total disregard for international norms of behavior in the Middle Eastern region as they and their cohorts engage in their bloody “Game of Thrones.”

https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2018-10-16/arabian-game-thrones-heats

Israeli jets strike Gaza after rocket lands in Beersheba

October 17, 2018

Israeli jets struck targets in the Gaza Strip early on Wednesday after a rocket fired by militants in the coastal enclave struck a house in the major Israeli city of Beersheba, the Israeli military said.

Israeli jets had targeted three locations in the Gaza Strip on early Wednesday, but there were no initial reports of casualties. (AFP)

A medical official told Israel Radio that three people were taken to hospital with injuries after the rocket struck the house. Residents in the Gaza Strip said jets had targeted three locations but there were no initial reports of casualties.

Reuters

Writing by Ori Lewis; editing by Darren Schuettler

****************************************

Rocket fired from Gaza hits house in Beersheba; no injuries

IDF says it identified two launches from the Strip; one projectile lands in courtyard of home; five people, including a mother and three children, treated for anxiety

Illustrative: Flames from rockets fired by Palestinians are seen over Gaza Strip heading toward Israel, in the early morning of May 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

Illustrative: Flames from rockets fired by Palestinians are seen over Gaza Strip heading toward Israel, in the early morning of May 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired a rocket at the southern city of Beersheba early Wednesday that landed and exploded in the courtyard of a house, causing serious damage, but no injuries.

The Israel Defense Forces said it had identified two launches from Gaza. One targeted Beersheba located some 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Strip. A second rocket was fired out to sea.

Rocket attacks on the city are rare and considered a major escalation. The attack came after Israel’s defense minister warned the military was gearing up for a major strike on Gaza to stop ongoing violence.

Rocket warning sirens blared at 03:40 am and residents reported hearing a loud blast. The rocket landed in the courtyard of a private house. No one was hurt in the explosion but five people were being treated for anxiety.

A Magen David Adom medic said among those treated were a mother and her three children. The woman had lightly hurt her head when she fell running to the bomb shelter when the siren went off, he said, adding that they were taken to hospital.

Emanuel Miller@emanumiller

The site of a strike from which landed in a residential area of Beersheba, . Iron Dome isn’t totally impenetrable. pic.twitter.com/vUBkXJqwep

View image on Twitter

Emanuel Miller@emanumiller

A woman and three children were inside this home in when the rocket from slammed into their home. pic.twitter.com/1210PdqRxF

View image on Twitter

This was only the second rocket fired at Beersheba since the 2014 Gaza war. Another rocket struck a field north of Beersheba on August 9 and came as Palestinians fired dozens of projectiles at Israeli communities along the Gaza border.

Most of those attacks are carried out with mortars or short-range Qassam rockets, however, Palestinian terror groups can only reach Beersheba with longer-range rockets, notably the Grad.

Israel Radio said that even though the sirens went off, the rocket was not intercepted by the Iron Dome system because there were no batteries deployed in the area at the time.

Following the attack, the Beersheba municipality announced that schools in the city would be closed for the day.

In an initial response,  Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman ordered the crossings into Gaza closed. Media reports said IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot was cutting short his visit to the US, following the attack,

The attack come as Liberman on Tuesday urged the cabinet to authorize large-scale military campaign against the Hamas terror group in Gaza in light of ongoing riots and violence along the Strip’s security fence.

Joe@Jtruzmah

Sirens wail across Beersheva as Red Alert is activated for an incoming rocket from .

“I’ve held a series of meetings with the head of the Southern Command, the head of the [Gaza] Division, the brigade commanders, the battalion commanders, also with soldiers. My impression is that they all have reached the understanding that the situation as it is today cannot continue,” Liberman said.

According to the defense minister’s assessment, a “serious blow” to Hamas would result in four to five years of calm along the Gaza border — akin to the quiet that persisted from the end of the 2014 Gaza war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge, until the start of the current round of clashes in late March, a few limited skirmishes notwithstanding.

Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have participated in a series of protests and riots dubbed the “Great March of Return,” which have mostly involved the burning of tires and rock-throwing along the security fence, but have also seen shooting attacks and bombings as well as the sending of incendiary balloons and kites into Israel.

There have also been several flareups that took Israel and Hamas to the brink of war with Palestinians firing rockets into Israel and the IDF responding with airstrikes.

Some 155 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more have been injured in the clashes with IDF troops, according to AP figures; Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of the dead were its members. One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a sniper on the border.

Palestinian demonstrators burn tires as they demonstrate during the “Great March of Return” on the Gaza-Israel border in Rafah, Gaza on October 12, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The riots began as weekly events, but in recent weeks — due to both an internal Palestinian conflict and failed indirect negotiations with Israel — the clashes have become a daily event.

The defense minister said the “straw that broke the camel’s back” and convinced him that a full-scale military action was necessary in Gaza was the rioting that took place along the border last Friday evening, after Israel allowed additional fuel into the Strip that had been purchased by Qatar.

“We have exhausted all other options in Gaza,” Liberman said during a visit to the Israel Defense Forces’ Gaza Division headquarters near the Strip.

“Now is the time to make decisions,” he added.

The security cabinet, which approves such military campaigns, met Sunday to discuss the possibility of an attack against Hamas, but ultimately decided to wait until the week’s end in order to give negotiators a chance to convince the group to abandon its current violent tactics.

On Wednesday, the cabinet is due to meet again.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/rocket-sirens-blare-in-beersheba-southern-israel/

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Israel’s Defense Minister Signals War

October 16, 2018

Seeks a strong blow against Hamas — Defense minister says daily riots along security fence cannot continue, believes large military campaign could bring 4-5 years of calm

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Tuesday called on his fellow ministers to approve a large-scale military campaign against the Hamas terror group in Gaza in light of ongoing riots and violence along the Strip’s security fence.

“I’ve held a series of meetings with the head of the Southern Command, the head of the [Gaza] Division, the brigade commanders, the battalion commanders, also with soldiers. My impression is that they all have reached the understanding that the situation as it is today cannot continue,” Liberman said.

Image result for Avigdor Liberman, photos

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman

According to the defense minister’s assessment, a “serious blow” to Hamas would result in four to five years of calm along the Gaza border — akin to the quiet that persisted from the end of the 2014 Gaza war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge, until the start of the current round of clashes in late March, a few limited skirmishes notwithstanding.

Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have participated in a series of protests and riots dubbed the “Great March of Return,” which have mostly involved the burning of tires and rock-throwing along the security fence, but have also seen shooting attacks and bombings as well as the sending of incendiary balloons and kites into Israel.

Some 155 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more have been injured in the clashes with IDF troops, according to AP figures; Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of the dead were its members. One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a sniper on the border.

Palestinian protesters carry tires as smoke billows from burning tires at the Israel-Gaza border, east of Gaza city, on October 12, 2018 (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)

The riots began as weekly events, but in recent weeks — due to both an internal Palestinian conflict and failed indirect negotiations with Israel — the clashes have become a daily event.

The defense minister said the “straw that broke the camel’s back” and convinced him that a full-scale military action was necessary in Gaza was the rioting that took place along the border last Friday evening, after Israel allowed additional fuel into the Strip that had been purchased by Qatar.

“We have exhausted all other options in Gaza,” Liberman said during a visit to the Israel Defense Forces’ Gaza Division headquarters near the Strip.

“Now is the time to make decisions,” he added.

Liberman said “persuasions and international cooperations” have failed to bring about a negotiated armistice with the Hamas terror group, leaving only the possibility of military action.

“We need to strike a serious blow at Hamas,” he said. “That’s the only way to bring back quiet.”

The security cabinet, which approves such military campaigns, met Sunday to discuss the possibility of an attack against Hamas, but ultimately decided to wait until the week’s end in order to give negotiators a chance to convince the group to abandon its current violent tactics.

An Egyptian military intelligence delegation reportedly arrived in Gaza on Tuesday to meet with Hamas officials in an attempt to calm the situation.

On Wednesday, the cabinet is due to meet again.

“[A strike on Hamas] must be the decision of the security cabinet,” Liberman told reporters following his meetings with senior IDF officers.

The defense minister said he was taking Hamas at its word that what it sought to achieve with the riots was an end to the blockade that Israel and Egypt have imposed on Gaza since Hamas took control of the Strip in 2007 — a measure that Jerusalem and Cairo say is in place to prevent arms and hostile forces from entering the coastal enclave.

“When Hamas says that it’s going to continue rioting on the border until there’s an end to the blockade, we need to accept that as it is, without interpretations,” Liberman said.

“Getting rid of the blockade has one meaning… allowing Hezbollah members and Iranians into Gaza,” he said, referring to the powerful Lebanon-based terror group.

A Palestinian uses a slingshot to hurl a stone during clashes at the Erez border crossing with Israel in the northern Gaza Strip on October 3, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

Asked if the government was seeking to ensure lasting quiet for southern Israelis — beyond the four or five years that Liberman said a campaign would bring — the defense minister said that for now he was “only looking at the short term.”

“But if we get four or five years of quiet, we need to take advantage of it,” he said.

Liberman acknowledged that such a campaign would come at a cost to the IDF, as Hamas’s weapons have become more powerful and more accurate.

The defense minister also briefly discussed the criticism he has faced from within the security cabinet, notably from Education Minister Naftali Bennett, over the violence in Gaza.

Bennett has accused the defense minister of failing to address the problem and holding back the military from attacking Hamas.

Liberman brushed off Bennett’s critiques, saying he had “deleted” him from his life.

“I don’t know a Minister Bennett,” Liberman told reporters with a smirk.

Asked about the disappearance and alleged murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudi government, the defense minister refused to comment.

“I’ll leave that to the international community. We have enough problems here,” he said

https://www.timesofisrael.com/signaling-war-liberman-urges-cabinet-to-okay-serious-blow-to-hamas-in-gaza/

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Australian PM faces backlash over surprise shift in Israel policy

October 16, 2018

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, whose government faces a crucial by-election that could weaken its grip on power, said on Tuesday Canberra was open to recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and shifting its embassy there.

Image result for Scott Morrison, photos

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison

Such a move, which would follow U.S. President Donald Trump’s controversial decision in December to do just that, would reverse decades of foreign policy and inflame tension with some of Australia’s Asian neighbors.

Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, and Australia are due to sign a trade deal this year.

Indonesia’s trade minister, Enggartiasto Lukita, denied Australian media reports on Tuesday that Jakarta was considering putting the pact on hold over the possibility of Canberra changing its stance on Israel.

Morrison’s openness to recognizing Jerusalem and moving Australia’s embassy there comes four days before a by-election in Sydney where his center-right coalition faces the risk of losing its tenuous hold on power.

The by-election is in the Sydney harbourside seat of Wentworth vacated by former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who was ousted in a party-room coup by members of Morrison’s Liberal party, the senior partner in a Liberal-National coalition, in August.

Census figures show 12.5 percent of people in Wentworth are Jewish, a significantly larger proportion than the rest of the country. The Liberal candidate contesting the by-election on Saturday is Dave Sharma, a former Australian ambassador to Israel who has floated the idea in the past.

Morrison will have to negotiate with independent lawmakers in order to continue governing in minority if the coalition loses Saturday’s by-election.

The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper described Morrison’s apparent change of heart as “unprincipled and craven” and he faced a torrid question time in parliament.

“The orthodoxy that’s driven this debate which says issues like considering the question of the capital are taboo. I think we have to challenge that,” Morrison said earlier in Canberra.

“No decision has been made regarding the recognition of a capital or the movement of an embassy … but at the same time, what we are simply doing is being open to that suggestion,” Morrison said.

The status of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest obstacles to a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel regards all of the city, including the eastern sector that it annexed after the 1967 Middle East war, as its capital.

Australia refused to follow Trump’s decision in December, which enraged Palestinians and upset the Arab world and Western allies, and has so far kept its mission in Tel Aviv.

The apparent change of policy was welcomed by Israel but swiftly criticized by Palestinian representatives.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom Morrison had telephoned to explain his shift, said on Twitter he was “very thankful” Morrison was considering the move.

Palestinians, with broad international backing, want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state they hope to establish in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Peace talks between the parties broke down in 2014.

In a statement, Palestine’s embassy in Australia called Morrison’s announcement “deeply disturbing”. It said short-term political gain “would surely be outweighed by the detriment both to Australia’s international standing and in its relations with Arab and Muslim-majority countries”.

The U.S. Embassy became the only foreign embassy in Jerusalem in May, but Netanyahu has attempted to persuade others to follow suit.

University of Sydney political analyst Rod Tiffen said the shifting position was being driven by local politics.

“It’s a big change, it is out of step with everyone, except America,” said Tiffen.

“But three days out from the Wentworth by-election, it’s pretty blatant … to the extent that there is a Jewish vote there, it probably helps.”

Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Additional reporting by Ori Lewis in JERUSALEM; Editing by Paul Tait

Reuters