Archive for June 2018

Fatah warns Hamas of making deals with Israel on Gaza port

June 30, 2018

Source: Fatah warns Hamas of making deals with Israel on Gaza port

Amid reports Israel is examining possibility of building sea port for the strip in Cyprus, Hamas, Islamic Jihad officials say they’ve yet to see any concrete plans, while PA official asserts Trump using Gaza crisis as excuse to reach ‘deal of the century.’

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman is pushing for the plan, which is contingent on Hamas returning to Israel the bodies of two soldiers killed during the 2014 Operation Protective Edge, in addition to three living Israelis being held captive by Hamas.

The proposal is believed to have been discussed in meetings between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and senior White adviser Jared Kushner and Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, who just finished a regional tour focused on improving the situation in Gaza.

 (Photo: EPA)

(Photo: EPA)

“I can’t confirm or deny the deal,” Abdl Al-lateef Qanou, a Hamas spokesperson, told The Media Line. “We were informed about it from the media, but I need an official offer from the (Israeli) government to reveal my official position. If that happens, we have to first study and then reply.”Dahoud Shihab, an Islamic Jihad spokesperson, revealed to The Media Line that “up until now, what has been presented isn’t clear or specific. But in general, ending the terrorist aggression in the form of the siege is a Palestinian demand and legitimate right of the Palestinian people.”

Shihab also stated that if Israel insists on discussing the fate of its missing soldiers and citizens in Gaza, it must keep in mind that there are “a huge number of members of the Palestinian resistance in Israeli jails.”

When asked whether Gaza-based Palestinian factions would circumvent the Palestinian Authority by forging an agreement directly with Israel, Shihab explained that “Palestinian unity is the key to accomplishing national achievements, but the (PA) doesn’t abide by its obligation to ease the sanctions on Gaza in order to end the suffering and achieve reconciliation.”

 (Photo: EPA)

(Photo: EPA)

For its part, the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank immediately came out against the purported initiative, with a Fatah spokesperson telling The Media Line that, “we warn Hamas not to deal with these American and Israeli ideas as they are just an illusion of helping the humanitarian situation in the strip.”Osama Qwasme further contended that the Trump administration is responsible for the conditions in Gaza as the White House cut off aid to both the PA and the United Nations Relief and Work Agency, which supports Palestinian refugees in Gaza along with the West Bank, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.

“(Trump) is trying to pass the ‘deal of the century,’ which was calculated to serve Israel,” Qwasme asserted, “and he is using Gaza’s crisis as an excuse by which to achieve this. The aim of this deal is to manipulate the Palestinian national position to benefit Israeli interests.”

The PA already rejected out of hand the Trump administration’s yet-unveiled peace plan, and has, in fact, been boycotting American officials for the past six months in the wake of Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Hani al-Masri, a Palestinian political analyst who met with Hamas and Islamic Jihad representatives in Gaza this week, explained that the ability to finalize a deal depends largely on Israel’s demands.

“Israel wants to disarm the resistance groups in the strip and have them recognize Israel as a state,” he noted to The Media Line, adding that these are absolute non-starters for Gaza’s rulers and therefore any proposal based on such conditions is not worth discussing.

Al-Masri also stressed that “the collapse of the situation in Gaza will impact negatively on Israel, Egypt, Europe and the United States.” He thus believes that it is in the interest of all parties to arrive at a compromise.

Article written by Dima Abumaria

Reprinted with permission from The Media Line .

U.S. intel believes N.Korea making more nuclear bomb fuel despite talks

June 30, 2018

Source: U.S. intel believes N.Korea making more nuclear bomb fuel despite talks – International news – Jerusalem Post

( Scary stuff.  Possibly false – unnamed sources and the ultra-anti-Trump NBC… – JW )

“There is absolutely unequivocal evidence that they are trying to deceive the US,” NBC quoted one official as saying.

 JUNE 30, 2018 06:44

U.S. intel believes N.Korea making more nuclear bomb fuel despite talks

WASHINGTON – US intelligence agencies believe North Korea has increased production of fuel for nuclear weapons at multiple secret sites in recent months and may try to hide these while seeking concessions in nuclear talks with the United States, NBC news quoted US officials as saying.

In a report on Friday, the network said what it described as the latest US intelligence assessment appeared to go counter to sentiments expressed by President Donald Trump, who tweeted after an unprecedented June 12 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that “there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.”

NBC quoted five unidentified US officials as saying that in recent months North Korea had stepped up production of enriched uranium for nuclear weapons, even as it engaged in diplomacy with the United States.

The network cited US officials as saying that the intelligence assessment concludes that North Korea has more than one secret nuclear site in addition to its known nuclear fuel production facility at Yongbyon.

“There is absolutely unequivocal evidence that they are trying to deceive the US,” NBC quoted one official as saying.

The CIA declined to comment on the NBC report. The State Department said it could not confirm it and did not comment on matters of intelligence. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

The NBC report raises further questions about North Korea’s readiness to enter serious negotiations about giving up a weapons program that now threatens the United States, in spite of Trump’s enthusiastic portrayal of the summit outcome.

NBC quoted one senior US intelligence official as saying that North Korea’s decision ahead of the summit to suspend nuclear and missile tests was unexpected and the fact that the two sides were talking was a positive step.

However, he added: “Work is ongoing to deceive us on the number of facilities, the number of weapons, the number of missiles … We are watching closely.”

Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at California’s Middlebury Institute of International Studies, said there were two “bombshells” in the NBC report.

He said it had long been understood that North Korea had at least one undeclared facility to enrich nuclear fuel aside from Yongbyon.

“This assessment says there is more than one secret site. That means there are at least three, if not more sites,” he said.

Lewis said the report also implied that US intelligence had reporting to suggest North Korea did not intend to disclose one or more of the enrichment sites.

“Together, these two things would imply that North Korea intended to disclose some sites as part of the denuclearization process, while retaining others,” he said.

North Korea agreed at the summit to “work toward denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” but the joint statement signed by Kim and Trump gave no details on how or when Pyongyang might surrender its nuclear weapons.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week he would likely go back to North Korea before long to try to flesh out commitments made at the Trump-Kim meeting.

On Thursday, the Financial Times quoted US officials as saying that Pompeo plans to travel to North Korea next week, but the State Department has declined to confirm this.

Ahead of the summit, North Korea rejected unilaterally abandoning an arsenal it has called an essential deterrent against US aggression.

Trump said last week North Korea was blowing up four of its big test sites and that a process of “total denuclearization … has already started,” but officials said there had been no such evidence since the summit.

Khamenei: U.S. sanctions aim to turn Iranians against government

June 30, 2018

Source: Khamenei: U.S. sanctions aim to turn Iranians against government – Arab-Israeli Conflict – Jerusalem Post

( Really?  How terrible… – JW )

Khamenei was speaking after three days of protests in Tehran and other cities.

 JUNE 30, 2018 15:47

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

US economic pressure on Iran is intended to turn Iranians against their government, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was quoted as saying on Saturday by his website.

The country’s rial currency has lost up to 40 per cent of its value since last month, when US President Donald Trump pulled out of Iran’s 2015 nuclear accord and said he would reimpose sanctions and try to curb Iranian oil exports.

“They bring to bear economic pressure to separate the nation from the system … but six US presidents before him tried this and had to give up,” Khamenei was quoted as saying by, referring to Trump.

Speaking to graduating Revolutionary Guards officers, Khamenei accused the United States and Sunni Muslim Gulf Arab states that regard Shi’ite Muslim Iran as their main regional foe of trying to destabilize the government in Tehran.

“If America was able to act against Iran, it would not need to form coalitions with notorious and reactionary states in the region and ask their help in fomenting unrest and instability (in Iran),” Khamenei said in remarks carried by state TV.

Khamenei was speaking after three days of protests in Tehran and other cities in which hundreds of traders in the bazaar closed their shops to voice anger at the rial’s plunge. Such merchants have mostly been loyal to the leadership since the 1979 Islamic Revolution overthrew the monarchy.

Some of the graduating Guards officers had drawn the flag of Israel, Iran’s arch-enemy, on the soles of their boots, pictures from the military ceremony carried by semi-official news agency Tasnim showed.

State news agency IRNA reported that top government officials including President Hassan Rouhani and the heads of parliament and the judiciary had met to discuss the prospective US sanctions.

“Various scenarios of threats to the Iranian economy by the U.S. government were examined and appropriate measures were taken to prepare for any probable U.S. sanctions, and to prevent their negative impact,” IRNA said.

Measures to achieve self-reliance in gasoline production were among issues discussed, IRNA said.

The United States has told allies to cut all imports of Iranian oil from November and is unlikely to offer exemptions, a senior State Department official said on Tuesday as the Trump administration seeks to cut off funding to Iran.

‘Post-West world order’ being shaped as we speak – Lavrov to Channel 4

June 30, 2018

Published time: 29 Jun, 2018 19:46

Russian FM Sergey Lavrov © Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters

A new multipolar order, driven by economics and history, is emerging in the world and Western attempts to stop or to slow it down are unlikely to succeed, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told UK’s Channel 4.

“I think that we are in the post-West world order,” Lavrov told the British Channel 4 in an interview on Friday. “It is a historical epoch, if you want. Certainly, after five or so centuries of domination of the collective West, as it were, it is not very easy to adjust to new realities that there are other powerhouses economically, financially and politically,” he added, pointing to China, India and Brazil.

Asked if Russia was shaping this world order, Lavrov replied it was rather the product of history and “development itself.”

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Edward Snowden speaks via video link during a conference at University of Buenos Aires Law School. © Marcos Brindicci

“You cannot really hope to contain [these] new powerful, economically and financially, countries. You cannot really ignore their role in world trade and world economy,” despite attempts to slow down the process with sanctions and tariffs, the top Russian diplomat said.

The European Union is “certainly a very important pillar of any world order,” Lavrov added, but it needs to decide whether to remain reliant on the US or become more self-sufficient. By way of illustration, Lavrov brought up the migrant crisis, which the EU is currently struggling with.

“NATO bombed Libya, turned Libya into a black hole through which waves of migrants, illegal migrants, rushed to Europe. Now EU is cleaning the broken china for NATO,” Lavrov said.

Russia’s relations with the West, which have soured dramatically since the 2014 US-backed coup in Ukraine, will be among the topics discussed at the July summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump in Finland.

During the interview, Lavrov brushed off Channel 4 speculation that Russia could offer to hand over NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, whom it granted political asylum, in exchange for the lifting of US and EU sanctions.


GOP Senator: Longstanding U.S. Alliance With Turkey ‘Slipping Away’

June 29, 2018

Turkish President Erdogan pivoting to Russia

Sen. James Lankford (R., Okla.) warned Wednesday the longstanding alliance between the United States and Turkey is crumbling amid President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s pivot to Russia and ongoing detention of an American pastor.

In a nod to Erdogan’s crackdown on civil society in the wake of the country’s failed military coup in 2016, Lankford said the NATO ally can no longer be considered open or free as its government trends toward authoritarianism.

“We have an ally that we no longer know and we no longer recognize—we’d like to have our friend and our ally back,” Lankford said during a panel hosted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies on Capitol Hill. “This is a long-term alliance that’s slipping away from us and we hope for a reengagement with the Erdogan government.”

Lankford, alongside Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D., N.H.) and Thom Tillis (R., N.C.), earlier this month inserted an amendment into the National Defense Authorization Act that would prohibit the sale of F-35 join strike fighter jets to Turkey if Ankara moves forward with plans to purchase Russia’s S-400 air defense system.

Though U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin transported the first F-35 to Turkish officials in Texas last week, Assistant Secretary of State Wess Mitchell told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday that the plan to transfer dozens of the aircraft could still be put on hold.

Lankford said Turkey’s attempt to acquire F-35s from the United States while it reaches out to Russia for its S-400 system, which is not interoperable with NATO and American missile defense systems, “violates the most basic part of the NATO relationship.”

The 2016 jailing of U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson on charges of terrorism has also inflamed tensions between Ankara and Washington. Brunson, who has served in Turkey as a Christian missionary for 23 years, was accused of having ties to Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric living in Pennsylvania who Erdogan claims masterminded the coup attempt.

Lankford accused Turkey of holding Brunson “hostage” as leverage for the United States to extradite Gulen. Still, he offered a conciliatory approach to the long-time U.S. ally, saying that above all he would like to see relations mended between the two NATO members.

“Our first challenge though is not to push Turkey away, it is to try to figure out who they are and to be able to work together,” he said. “They have very complicated issues and we acknowledge that. The threats to terrorism to them are on their border all the time everyday, we understand that completely and want to be able to partner with Turkey, to be able to resolve that for their national security and for our national security and the stability of the region.”

Tens of thousands of refugees fleeing Syrian offensive 

June 29, 2018

Source: Tens of thousands of refugees fleeing Syrian offensive – Middle East – Jerusalem Post

As the Syrian regime keeps up its bombardment of rebels in the south there are concerns that the refugees and spillover from the fighting will pressure Israel to intervene.

 JUNE 29, 2018 02:05
Tens of thousands of refugees fleeing Syrian offensive

Thousands of Syrian refugees have begun to crowd near Israel’s Golan Heights border in the Syrian town of Rafid near the historic cease-fire line between Syria and Israel. As the Syrian regime keeps up its bombardment of rebels in the south there are concerns that the refugees and spillover from the fighting will pressure Israel to intervene.

Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, an expert who did extensive research on the border area and is familiar with relations between Israel and the Syrian rebels, presents several scenarios as the crisis unfolds.

“I think the Syrian military operation will grow and a deal will be struck… Some [rebels will be] deported to the north… others will stay and some who stay may become enforcers for the Syrian government,” says Tamimi, a Research Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

The Syrian regime has been pounding rebel positions and overrunning villages and towns in southern Syria for a week. An estimated 45,000 people have fled, with as many as 5,000 or more fleeing toward the Israeli border, seeking shelter in an area they know the regime is loathe to bomb.

The Russian air force has also been active in southern Syria, claiming to be targeting extremist groups that are not party to a cease-fire it signed with Jordan and the US last July. With US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin scheduled to meet in July, the crisis in southern Syria could throw a wrench into discussions between their two countries. For Israel, the central concern is keeping Iranian-backed militias away from the Golan and managing the crisis.

“It is still early… and there is a sense that the Jordanians may pressure the rebels into negotiations,” says Tamimi. In other places in Syria the regime has signed reconciliation deals with local rebels and left them to run their own affairs even after the government reasserted control. This “soft” deal could be in store for the small rebel groups on Israel’s border.

However, another option is that the factions surrender and then end up being paid to be part of the regime’s government structures, such as military intelligence. A third, “harsher” deal would envision the rebels being deported and their supporters being shipped north to Idlib province, which is still controlled by rebels.

The problem for the villages near the Golan is that some are run by a single group – such as Fursan al-Jawlan, the “Knights of the Golan” – while other areas might have numerous rebel groups, including more extreme factions among them. “If there is a multiplicity of factions there could be problems with law and order,” Tamimi says. The more extreme groups such as the ISIS-affiliate Jaysh Khalid bin-Walid in the southern Golan will want to fight the regime, and Damascus will not want to reconcile with them. Instead they could be bused to the eastern desert where the regime has sent other ISIS members.

The rebels’ fate on the Golan is likely sealed, Tamimi argues. After the US made it clear they would not intervene, it is only a matter of time until they are defeated. “The outcome is predetermined and the rebels and their cause will lose one way or another.”

Russia has provided crucial support for Damascus in its drive to reconquer the country since 2015. The regime and Russia have sought deescalation agreements, like they had in the south, until they were ready to retake them. Through these salami tactics they have focused on defeating first one group and then another.

“Some in the US thought that Russia was interested in deescalation for its own sake rather than the actual goal, which is bringing back the government to the south,” Tamimi says. “They thought this agreement would hold due to Trump’s relations with Putin, but you see how Russia does these deals to game the system and advance the interests of their main ally.”

For those closest to Israel the expert predicts that some might try to cross over, but that Israel will not open the border. “I think the regime will be careful there near the border. If they bomb an area and a bomb or missile or mortar shell goes into Israeli territory accidentally then Israel will respond and hold the Syrian government responsible.”

Some of the rebels have been accused of working with Israel but Tamimi says that Syrian leader Bashar Assad has put on a magnanimous face, appearing ready to reconcile. He points to the example in Beit Jann near the Hermon where the former rebel commander had been in touch with Israel and was allowed to remain after the regime returned. He even gets a government salary today.

Some of the Syrians in the south, after seven years of war, are also ready to go back to regime control. The question is what the rebels think will happen. “They do talk a lot about the Iranian militias targeting them and they play that up because whether it is true or not, they want someone to intervene and say this is crossing a redline.”

The reality is that the Iranian-backed militias are more concentrated in the Euphrates Valley in Syria, not near the Golan, he says. However, there are elements of Hezbollah located in an area several kilometers from the Golan called the “triangle of death.” Hezbollah, like the Iranians, likely knows that if they approach the border, Israel may respond.

Economic pressure on Iran is bearing fruit, Netanyahu says

June 29, 2018

Source: Economic pressure on Iran is bearing fruit, Netanyahu says – Israel Hayom