Archive for June 4, 2018

Iran’s Khamenei: Those who attack Tehran will be struck 10 times harder

June 4, 2018

Khamenei said Iran had no intention of curbing its influence in the Middle East.

By REUTERS June 4, 2018

Source Link: Iran’s Khamenei: Those who attack Tehran will be struck 10 times harder

Bonus Link: AYATOLLAH KHAMENEI Threatens to ‘Eradicate’ Israel, Orders Atomic Agency to Ramp Up Uranium Levels ‘Without Any Delay’

{Battle lines are being drawn. – LS}

ANKARA – Iran’s top leader said on Monday it would respond harshly to any attack and that Western demands for limits on its ballistic missile program are a “dream that will never come true.”

“Tehran will attack 10 times more if attacked by enemies… The enemies don’t want an independent Iran in the region… We will continue our support for oppressed nations,” he said.

Khamenei said Iran had no intention of curbing its influence in the Middle East and urged Arab youth to stand up to US pressure.

“Young Arabs, you should take action and the initiative to control your own future … Some regional countries act like their own people’s enemies,” he said in an allusion to US-allied Gulf Arab states who have supported rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a close ally of Tehran.

Tensions between Iran and the West have resurged since President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of world powers’ 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran, calling it deeply flawed.

European signatories are scrambling to save the accord, which they see as crucial to forestalling an Iranian nuclear weapons, by protecting trade with Iran against the reimposition of US sanctions to dissuade Tehran from quitting the deal.

Under the deal, the Islamic Republic curbed its disputed nuclear energy program and in return won a lifting of most international sanctions that had hobbled its economy.

One of Trump’s demands – which European allies back in principle – is negotiations to rein in Iran’s ballistic missile program, which was not covered by the nuclear deal.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei again said this was non-negotiable. “Some Europeans are talking about limiting our defensive missile program. I am telling the Europeans, ‘Limiting our missile work is a dream that will never come true,” he said in a televised speech.

Trump also objected that the 2015 deal did not address Iran’s nuclear work beyond 2025 or its role in conflicts in Yemen and Syria. Though committed to the deal, European powers share Trump’s concerns and want broader talks with Iran to address the issues.

“Our enemies have staged economic and psychological… warfare against us and new American sanctions are part of it,” Khamenei told a gathering to mark the 29th anniversary of the death of Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Khamenei: Israel a ‘cancerous tumor’ that ‘must be eradicated’

June 4, 2018

Iran’s supreme leader says destruction of Jewish state is ‘possible and will happen,’ slams ‘traitorous countries’ for not defending Palestinians

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a speech during Labor Day at a workers’ meeting, April 30, 2018. (AFP Photo/Iranian Supreme Leader’s Website /HO)

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday lashed out at Israel, calling the Jewish state the “cancerous tumor” of the region that must be “removed and eradicated.”

In a series of tweets Sunday, Khamenei leveled harsh criticism at Israel for its handling of the violent Hamas-orchestrated “March of Return” protests along the Gaza border.

Beyond kites: ‘Fire balloons’ increasingly used to set southern Israel ablaze

June 4, 2018

Source: Beyond kites: ‘Fire balloons’ increasingly used to set southern Israel ablaze | The Times of Israel

Total of at least 17,500 dunams – nearly 7 square miles – of land burned as Palestinians repeatedly send airborne incendiary devices across border

More recently, however, a new arson tactic has been gaining popularity along the Gaza border. Instead of kites, a different children’s toy is being flown into Israel: helium balloons.

The concept is the same: Launch the airborne incendiary devices into the air and rely on the breeze from the coast to push them into Israeli territory, where they can start a fire.

The balloon tactic has been in use for at least a month and a half, but it has picked up in recent weeks.

In total, approximately 17,500 dunams (4,300 acres, or nearly seven square miles) of land have been burned in more than 250 fires over the past two months, more than half of it in nature reserves, according to initial assessments.

Israeli firefighters extinguish a fire in a wheat field caused from kites flown by Palestinian protesters, near the border with the Gaza Strip, May 30, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Authorities have yet to determine how many of the fires were started by kites and how many by balloons. “Kite terror” has become a catch-all term for the phenomenon.

As of Monday, there have been no injuries caused by the fires, but the cost of the damage is high and expected to increase, as there’s no sign that Palestinians in Gaza are giving up on the arson tactic.

The blazes, specifically those in nature reserves, have also wreaked havoc on local wildlife, ecologists say. And there are more fires every day.

The balloons themselves do not cause the fires — helium is an inert gas — but they carry flaming material attached to a long string. In some cases, just a few party balloons are used. In others, it is a larger cluster of latex balloons, capable of carrying far more substantial incendiary devices.

As with the kites, the Israeli military has yet to come up with a response to this threat. A pilot program using drones to take down the incoming kites and balloons was deemed a failure, Israel’s Kan TV reported Saturday night.

For now, Israel’s primary means of combating these airborne firebombs remains preparedness and a rapid response when blazes do break out.

Authorities, as well as individual farmers, monitor the area and when an incoming kite or balloon is spotted, they rush to the scene in order to put out the fire before it spreads.

Farmers use tractors to dig up the area around the fire in order to starve out the flames until firefighters can arrive to put out the blaze entirely.

They are not always successful.

Drone images show the massive destruction caused by fire kites to the Be’eri Nature Reserve, adjacent to Gaza. (Credit: DRONEIMAGEBANK)

Some 10,000 dunams (2,470 acres) of parks and nature reserves have been burned in recent weeks, according to a spokesperson for the Nature and Parks Authority, who stressed that the authority did not yet have definitive evidence that all of the fires were caused by kites or balloons.

Just on Saturday, some 300 dunams (74 acres) of the Carmia nature reserve — approximately a third of the park’s total land area — went up in flames in one of the largest individual blazes since the start of the “fire kite” phenomenon. Israel’s Hadashot news reported that there were suspicions the Carmia fire may have been started by a “fire balloon” that spread the flames as it blew through the area, but this could not be immediately confirmed. Authorities said they were still investigating the cause of the fire.

Over 5,000 dunams (1,235 acres) of farmland has been burned, most of it wheat fields, according to the Tax Authority, which is processing compensation requests from area farmers.

Driving through the area, it is rare to see a field or patch of trees that does not have at least one blotch of scorched earth from one of the fires sparked by a kite or balloon.

An Israeli farmer puts out a fire in his wheat field that was started by an incendiary kite from Gaza, outside Kibbutz Nahal Oz in southern Israel, on May 14, 2018. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

In addition, approximately 2,500 dunams (620 acres) of Jewish National Fund forests was burned, a spokesperson for the organization said, adding that the JNF would complete its final assessment of the damage on Tuesday.

The Tax Authority said there have been no requests for compensation made by the JNF or the Nature and Parks Authority yet.

An Israel soldier extinguishes a fire started by a kite with attached burning cloth launched by Palestinians from Gaza on June 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

The Tax Authority estimates that the damage to farmland alone will cost at least NIS 5 million ($1.4 million), to be paid from the government’s fund for damage caused by terrorist activity.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that in order to cover the cost the government would withhold funds from the Palestinian Authority.

The decision raised eyebrows among Israeli analysts, who pointed out that the PA does not control the Gaza Strip. Indeed, the Authority’s primary rival, the Hamas terror group, has ruled the enclave since ousting the PA in 2007.

Penalizing the PA for Hamas actions would almost certainly not encourage Hamas to stop the kite arson and would probably have the opposite effect.

WWII-era weapon

The tactic of using “fire balloons” might be a new one in Gaza, but its history goes back decades.

In World War II, Japan used such “fire balloons” against the United States, sending 9,000 huge hydrogen-filled balloons into the Pacific jet stream where the air currents could push them toward American territory.

Approximately 300 of these balloons reached North America, causing relatively little damage. However, one of them was responsible for the only casualties of World War II in the mainland United States.

On May 5, 1945, an incendiary bomb that had been carried into America by a Japanese balloon exploded in the rural town of Bly, Oregon, killing six people.

Merkel backs Israel’s demand that Iranian troops be removed from Syria

June 4, 2018

Source: Merkel backs Israel’s demand that Iranian troops be removed from Syria | The Times of Israel

Meeting with Netanyahu in Berlin, chancellor says Iran’s regional influence is ‘worrying’; PM warns of ‘new religious war’ in Mideast

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrive at a press conference after a meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin on June 4, 2018. (Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrive at a press conference after a meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin on June 4, 2018. (Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that she agreed with Israel’s demand that Iranian troops be removed from Syria, especially the area close to the Israeli border.

“Iran’s regional influence is worrying,” she said.

Announcing at a joint press conference in Berlin that she and other government representatives planned to visit Israel in early October, Merkel said that “one has to discuss” Tehran’s presence in Syria. She also condemned the Islamic Republic’s heavily anti-Israel tweets.

On Sunday, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the Jewish state the “cancerous tumor” of the region that must be “removed and eradicated.”

Still, Merkel defended the nuclear deal signed in 2015 by Iran and world powers — and opposed all along by Israel — arguing that it made the world a better place.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu address a press conference after a meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin on June 4, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Tobias SCHWARZ)

US President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal on May 8, with Netanyahu’s enthusiastic encouragement and support.

Both the US and Israel hope that Trump’s withdrawal can lead all sides into addressing what they say are the deal’s shortcomings — including “sunset” provisions that eventually end restrictions on Iranian nuclear activities, such as enriching uranium, as well as permitting Iran to continue to develop long-range missiles.

Merkel, like other European leaders with whom Netanyahu is set to meet later this week, has urged Trump to remain in the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

As he took off for Berlin on Monday, the first leg of a series of visits with European leaders, Netanyahu indicated that Iran would be the first and only subject on his agenda.

Intent on winning support for amending the nuclear deal with Iran and getting Iranian troops out of Syria, the prime minister will also meet with French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May, both of whose countries are signatories to the deal.

At Monday’s press conference, the two leaders agreed that it was important for the International Atomic Energy Agency to review a secret Iranian nuclear archive that Israel smuggled out of Tehran earlier this year and which Netanyahu announced to the world with great fanfare at the end of April.

Netanyahu warned Merkel that Iran’s presence in Syria should also worry Germany, given that Shiite militias there were intent on converting Sunni Muslims to their creed, with the result that a “new religious war” would break out in the Middle East and send further waves of refugees to Europe.

Israel fears that as the Syrian civil war winds down, Iran, whose forces and Shiite proxies have backed President Bashar Assad, will turn its focus to Israel.

The Israeli Air Force is believed to have carried out a number of airstrikes on Iranian positions in Syria. Last month, the bitter enemies openly clashed when Iran fired dozens of rockets at Israeli positions in the Golan Heights, and Israel responded by striking several Iranian targets in Syria.

Lebanese soldiers inspect remains of a Syrian surface-to-air missile that had apparently been fired at Israeli jets during an extensive air campaign against Iranian targets in Syria, which landed in the southern Lebanese village of Hebarieh, on May 10, 2018. (Ali Dia/AFP)

Last week, it was reported that Israel and Russia had reached a deal to remove Iranian forces from southern Syria, while also giving Israel a green light to strike Iranian targets in Syria.

The reported agreement would see Iranian forces leave southwestern Syria, while allowing Israel to strike Iranian assets deep in the country. Israel agreed not to attack Syrian regime targets, a report in the Arabic Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper said.

Turning to the issue of long-dormant peace talks with the Palestinians, Netanyahu said, “Our hand is always extended in peace,” while arguing that Israel’s improving relationships with Arab states were “most promising route.”

Merkel said, “There isn’t agreement on all points. But we’re partners, we’re friends.”

While the German leader reiterated the need for a two-state solution, Netanyahu said there would be no progress until the Palestinians recognized the right of the Jewish state to exist.

WATCH: Trump’s pivot toward Israel felt in Judea and Samaria

June 4, 2018


The Trump Administration has been very tolerant regarding the building of new homes for Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria. Will the current building plan cause Washington to object?

Russia Constrains Iran

June 4, 2018

Poster showing Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Syrian President Bashar Assad, and Russian President Vladimir Putin
(ABNA News – Iran)

BY Amb. Dore Gold June 3, 2018 VIA Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

Source Link: Russia Constrains Iran

{Iran is like the house guest who never leaves, only worse. – LS}

In an astounding series of statements, Russia has made it clear that it expects all foreign forces to withdraw from Syria. Alexander Lavrentiev, President Putin’s envoy to Syria, specified on May 18, 2018, that all “foreign forces” meant those forces belonging to Iran, Turkey, the United States, and Hizbullah.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov added this week that only Syrian troops should have a presence on the country’s southern border, close to Jordan and Israel. Previously, Russia had been a party to the establishment of a “de-escalation zone” in southwestern Syria along with the United States and Jordan. Now, Russian policy was becoming more ambitious.  Lavrov added that a pullback of all non-Syrian forces from the de-escalation zone had to be fast.

The regime in Tehran got the message and issued a sharp rebuke of its Russian ally. The Iranians did not see their deployment in Syria as temporary. Five years ago, a leading religious figure associated with the Revolutionary Guards declared that Syria was the 35th province of Iran. Besides such ideological statements, on a practical level, Syria hosts the logistical network for Iranian resupply of its most critical Middle Eastern proxy force, Hizbullah, which has acquired significance beyond the struggle for Lebanon.

Over the years, Hizbullah has become involved in military operations in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and elsewhere. Without Syria, Iran’s ability to project power and influence in an assortment of Middle Eastern conflicts would be far more constrained. Syria has become pivotal for Tehran’s quest for a land corridor linking Iran’s western border to the Mediterranean. The fact that Iran was operating ten military bases in Syria made its presence appear to be anything but temporary.

Already in February 2018, the first public signs of discord between Russia and Iran became visible. At the Valdai Conference in Moscow, attended by both Lavrov and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (and by this author), the Russian Foreign Minister articulated his strong differences with the Iranians over their pronouncements regarding Israel: “We have stated many times that we won’t accept the statements that Israel, as a Zionist state, should be destroyed and wiped off the map. I believe this is an absolutely wrong way to advance one’s own interests.”

Iran was hardly a perfect partner for Russia. True, some Russian specialists argued that Moscow’s problems with Islamic militancy emanated from the jihadists of Sunni Islam, but not from Shiite Islam, which had been dominant in Iran since the 16th century. But that was a superficial assessment. Iran was also backing Palestinian Sunni militants like Islamic Jihad and Hamas. This May, Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, told a pro-Hizbullah television channel that he had regular contacts with Tehran.

Iran Supports both Shiites and Sunnis

Iran was also supporting other Sunni organizations like the Taliban and the Haqqani network in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It harbored senior leaders from al-Qaeda. Indeed, when the founder of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, sought a regional sanctuary after the fall of Afghanistan to the United States, he did not flee to Pakistan, but instead, he moved to Iran. There is no reason why Iran could not provide critical backing for Russia’s adversaries in the future.

But that was not the perception in Moscow when Russia gave its initial backing for the Iranian intervention in Syria. In the spring of 2015, Moscow noted that the security situation in Central Asia was deteriorating, as internal threats to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan were increasing. On top of all this, the Islamic State (IS) was making its debut in Afghanistan. An IS victory in Syria would have implications for the security of the Muslim-populated areas of Russia itself.

It was in this context that Russia dramatically increased arms shipments to its allies in Syria. It also coordinated with Iran the deployment of thousands of Shiite fighters from Iraq and Afghanistan under the command of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). That also meant the construction of an expanded military infrastructure on Syrian soil for this Shiite foreign legion.

At the same time, Russia maintained and upgraded a naval base at the Syrian city of Tartus and an air facility at the Khmeimim Air Base near Latakia. Moscow also had access to other Syrian facilities as well.

Russia Achieved Its Main Goal and Changed Its Policy

What changed in Moscow? It appears that the Kremlin began to understand that Iran handicapped Russia’s ability to realize its interests in the Middle East. The Russians had secured many achievements with their Syrian policy since 2015. They had constructed a considerable military presence that included air and sea ports under their control in Syria. They had demonstrated across the Middle East that they were not prepared to sell out their client, President Bashar Assad, no matter how repugnant his military policies had become – including the repeated use of chemical weapons against his own civilian population. The Russians successfully converted their political reliability into a diplomatic asset, which the Arabs contrasted with the Obama administration’s poor treatment of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt at the beginning of the Arab Spring in 2011. However, now Iran was putting Russia’s achievements at risk through a policy of escalation with Israel.

The Russian security establishment appeared to understand from the start that Israel’s strategy in Syria was essentially defensive. For example, Israel wanted to prevent the delivery of weapons to Hizbullah that could alter the military balance in its favor. One feature of Russian military policy at a very early stage was the carte blanche Moscow appeared to give Israel to strike at these weapons deliveries and later at Iranian facilities across Syria.

According to one report, a Moscow think tank, closely identified with President Putin, published a commentary blaming Iran for the deteriorating situation between Iran and Israel in the Syrian theater. The Sunni Arab states, which Russia was courting, were also voicing their concerns with growing Iranian activism. Undoubtedly, the Russians noticed the complaints that came from Tajikistan this year that Iran was seeking to destabilize the country by funding militant Islamists.

Russian President Putin meets with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Mohammed Khatami in 2015 (Kremlin)

Putin seemed to have growing reservations about Iran’s policy of exporting the Islamic revolution from the soil of Syria. Now, with IS fundamentally vanquished, Iranian military activity in Syria lost its primary justification. And if Moscow was considering to more closely coordinate its Middle Eastern policy with Washington in the future, it needed to adjust its approach to Iran.

On May 22, 2018, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listed aspects of Iranian activism which the United States was now demanding that Iran halt. It was not surprising to see in Pompeo’s list the demand that “Iran must withdraw all forces under Iranian command throughout the entirety [of] Syria.”

Russia is not cutting its ties with Iran. But it is clearly cutting back Iran’s freedom of action in Syria. The idea that Russia would back Iran’s use of Syria as a platform for operations against Israel or Jordan is not tenable. Still, Russia would remain the primary supplier of Bashar Assad’s army in Syria as well as his strategic partner. Unquestionably, Iran would need to reassess its Middle Eastern strategy after Moscow’s pronouncements calling for it to leave Syria and not continue to be perceived as the force that put at risk all that Russia had achieved as a result of the Syrian civil war.

Iran urges Europe to stand up to US, save nuclear deal

June 4, 2018

Source: Iran urges Europe to stand up to US, save nuclear deal – Israel Hayom