Archive for January 8, 2019

Israel continues to confront Iranian aspirations in Syria – TV7 Israel News 08.01.19 

January 8, 2019

Fresh Turkish-US crisis: Erdogan refuses to see visiting US adviser, again threatens Kurds – DEBKAfile

January 8, 2019

Source: Fresh Turkish-US crisis: Erdogan refuses to see visiting US adviser, again threatens Kurds – DEBKAfile

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan waited for John Bolton, US national security adviser, to land in Ankara on Tuesday, Jan 8, before refusing to see him and casting relations into a fresh crisis.  Bolton arrived in the company of Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the US Chiefs of Staff and James Jeffrey, Trump’s special adviser on Syria and the war on ISIS.

He came from talks in Jerusalem. The high-ranking US officials had to make do with meeting only presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin, while Erdogan used a speech in parliament to rebuff any American proposals for the US-backed Kurdish group to play a key role in Syria after the US withdrawal.

According to DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources, Bolton had planned to inform the Turkish president of Washington’s consent for the Turkish army which invaded Syria to stay in areas outside the Kurdish-ruled cantons. This would have averted a Turkish military takeover of the regions evacuated by US forces. Erdogan has already slammed a recent statement by Bolton as a “serious mistake” and reiterated that Turkey could never compromise on the issue of the Kurdish YPG militia.

Erdogan then announced that his army “will very soon mobilize to eliminate terrorist organizations in Syria,” in a transparent reference both to ISIS and Syrian Kurdish fighters, whom he refers to as “terrorists” and plans to push out of their lands along the Turkish border. This declaration, say our sources, will make it difficult for the Trump administration to go through with the withdrawal of the US army from northern Syria, given the repeated US commitment to the safety of its Kurdish allies.

 

Pompeo lands in Jordan, kicking off Mideast tour ramping up pressure on Iran 

January 8, 2019

Source: Pompeo lands in Jordan, kicking off Mideast tour ramping up pressure on Iran | The Times of Israel

US secretary of state to visit eight Arab capitals, make a speech in Egypt, seeking to reassure allies — including Israel — that Syria pullout won’t endanger their security

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife Susan Pompeo walk to the plane prior to departing from Joint Base Andrews on January 7, 2019. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool Photo via AP)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife Susan Pompeo walk to the plane prior to departing from Joint Base Andrews on January 7, 2019. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool Photo via AP)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday began a Middle East visit to talk to regional leaders about ramping up pressure on Iran.

Pompeo’s first stop is pro-West Jordan, followed by visits to Egypt and Gulf nations.

He told reporters he plans to talk to allies about “modalities by which we may continue to apply pressure” on Iran, branded by Washington a sponsor of terrorism.

Pompeo will likely face questions about last month’s surprise announcement that US troops would soon leave northeastern Syria, where they help battle remnants of the Islamic State terror group.

He didn’t give a timeline. Asked about confusion among allies, he said: “I’ve actually spoken to them all.”

Leaving on his trip to eight Arab capitals on Monday, Pompeo vowed that IS would not be allowed to regroup and told reporters he would show that “the United States is still committed to all the missions that we’ve signed up for with them over the past two years.”

The trip comes weeks after US President Donald Trump announced that the United States would quickly pull its 2,000 soldiers out of Syria, declaring that IS had been defeated.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) with the US National Security Adviser John Bolton, during a statement to the media follow their meeting in Jerusalem, on January 6, 2019. (Matty Stern/US Embassy, Jerusalem)

His advisers have since been walking back his timeline, with national security adviser John Bolton tellingPrime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Monday that the United States would verify that the group is truly defeated before withdrawing.

Highlighting that IS — also known as ISIS — emerged during the tenure of Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, Pompeo said the campaign to destroy the movement’s self-styled caliphate in war-battered Syria has been “enormously successful.”

“And I am confident that we will continue to ensure that the kind of rise that ISIS had under the Obama administration doesn’t occur again,” he said on his plane as he started his longest trip since taking over as top US diplomat last year.

Pompeo opens his trip in Jordan and will deliver an address on Middle East policy in Egypt, whose military ruler turned president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, has been a key partner of Trump.

Politico reported Monday that Pompeo may also visit Israel and Iraq, although last week the State Department said Jerusalem was not on his schedule.

The trip comes a week after the top American diplomat met with Netanyahu in Brazil and assured him that the planned pullout from Syria will not alter Washington’s commitment to countering Iranian aggression and maintaining Israel’s security.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Brasilia on January 1, 2019 (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Israeli officials are concerned that the withdrawal of the 2,000 US military personnel from Syria will create a military vacuum enabling Iran to increase its foothold in the country, where it is supporting the Syrian regime in ending the country’s civil war. The US forces have been assisting local militias in defeating the Islamic State terror group in the country.

Another major focus of the tour will be sustaining a regional coalition to counter Iran, the main enemy of US allies Saudi Arabia and Israel.

“This is a coalition that understands that the largest threats — terrorism and the Islamic Republic of Iran — are things that we ought to work on jointly and we will be marshaling all of the resources, theirs and ours, to achieve them,” Pompeo said.

Last year, Trump pulled out of an international accord negotiated under Obama on ending Iran’s nuclear program and has instead reimposed biting sanctions.

Pompeo repeatedly has called Iran “the world’s largest state sponsor of terror,” pointing to its targeting of domestic rivals in Europe and support of militant movements such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

The Trump administration has cited Iran as a reason for maintaining a strong alliance with Saudi Arabia, which Pompeo also will visit, despite the killing and dismemberment of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate in October.

In this file photo taken on July 11, 2018, US President Donald Trump (L) speaks with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) as they arrive for a NATO summit at NATO headquarters in Brussels. (AFP Photo/Pool/Tatyana Zenkovich)

One of the rare US partners to support the US withdrawal from Syria has been Turkey, whose president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, spoke to Trump before the US leader’s December 19 decision.

Pompeo, in an interview before his departure, said that Erdogan has given assurances to Trump not to attack US-allied Kurdish forces who fought IS in Syria.

“President Erdogan made a commitment to President Trump as the two of them were discussing what this ought to look like — that the Turks would continue the counter-ISIS campaign after our departure and that the Turks would ensure that the folks that we’d fought with, that had assisted us in the counter-ISIS campaign, would be protected,” Pompeo told CNBC television.

Pompeo was elaborating on his remark last week that the United States was working to ensure that “the Turks don’t slaughter the Kurds” — a choice of words that angered Turkey, which said the top US diplomat had a “worrying lack of knowledge.”

The US-backed Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units form the backbone of the opposition Syrian Democratic Forces, but Erdogan considers them linked to the PKK, which has waged a bloody insurgency inside Turkey in the name of the Kurdish minority.

Bolton, meanwhile, is set to hold talks Tuesday in Turkey after meetings in Israel, which has privately worried that Trump’s withdrawal would empower Iran, which along with Russia offers military backing to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

 

Off Topic:  Progressive groups rage against Rubio’s anti-BDS bill

January 8, 2019

Source: Progressive groups rage against Rubio’s anti-BDS bill | The Times of Israel

( “Progressives” are becoming more and more antisemitic, both in th UK and the US.  J Street is a group of self-hating progressives who function as a Jewish 5th column. – JW )

As US senator tries to push legislation through during shutdown, J Street and ACLU cast bill as ‘outrageous’ and unconstitutional

J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami addressing the group’s conference in Washington, March 21, 2015. (Courtesy JTA/J Street)

J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami addressing the group’s conference in Washington, March 21, 2015. (Courtesy JTA/J Street)

WASHINGTON — Progressive advocacy groups have railed against an attempt by US senators to push through a bill that would protect states that penalize Israel boycotters, with one Jewish organization labeling it a “farce.”

Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Idaho Senator James Risch, both Republicans, introduced the first bill last week to be considered in the GOP-controlled Senate, which combined several bills that died in the last Congress.

One of those is the Combatting BDS Act, legislation that would grant federal protections to states that target the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, including states that ban contracts with individuals and entities who partake in Israel boycotts.

The bill has been fiercely criticized by progressive activists and civil libertarians who say these laws infringe on Americans’ constitutionally protected rights to engage in political boycotts, with liberal Mideast advocacy group J Street excoriating the measure.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks with reporters on his way to the senate chamber, as the Senate takes up a House-passed bill that would pay for President Donald Trump’s border wall and avert a partial government shutdown, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Dec. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

“While millions of Americans suffer from the effects of the ongoing government shutdown, it’s outrageous that Senate Republican leaders are prioritizing legislation that tramples on the First Amendment and advances the interests of the Israeli settlement movement,” said the organization’s president, Jeremy Ben-Ami. “Not a single Democrat should vote to enable this farce.”

The Rubio-Risch bill also included the Ileana Ros-Lehtinen United States-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act, named for the Republican Florida congresswoman who just retired, to codify into law $38 billion in defense assistance for Israel over the next year, based on a deal struck during the Obama years.

But the anti-BDS rider in the bill has been far more controversial. Over the weekend, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted that it was “absurd that the first bill during the shutdown is legislation which punishes Americans who exercise their constitutional right to engage in political activity.”

Students protest at an anti-Israel demonstration at the University of California, Irvine. (Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images/JTA)

He linked to a story in The Interceptthat quoted a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, which has been vociferously opposed to this and similar legislation.

“The legislation, like the unconstitutional state anti-boycott laws it condones, sends a message to Americans that they will be penalized if they dare to disagree with their government,” said ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Kathleen Ruane. “We therefore urge senators to vote no on the Combatting BDS Act next week.”

More than 25 states have passed measures that target BDS adherents. Those laws have already been challenged in the courts. In September, an Arizona judge ruled that the state’s law that required state contractors to certify that they are not participating in boycotts of Israel didn’t hold constitutional muster.

“A restriction of one’s ability to participate in collective calls to oppose Israel unquestionably burdens the protected expression of companies wishing to engage in such a boycott,” US District Court Judge Diane Humetewa wrote in her decision.

A Kansas judge also struck down a similar law in January.

Illustrative image of demonstrators outside the offices of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo protesting his executive order calling for New York companies to divest from organizations that support the BDS movement, June 9, 2016. (Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images)

The vast majority of American Jewish organizations have supported anti-BDS laws at the state level, including the American Jewish Committee, the Israel Project, and StandWithUs.

AJC filed an amicus brief supporting the Arizona law that was eventually overturned, arguing that the law “advances Arizona’s legitimate interest in protecting its commerce with Israel and insuring that Arizona can take full advantage of what Israel has to offer in its contracting.”

The law did not “infringe on private citizens’ rights,” to take actions against Israel, the group asserted, because “contractors can choose to boycott Israel in their private capacities as long as those private activities do not affect their contracting activities.”

The bill was fiercely criticized over the weekend by freshman Democrat Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American member of Congress.

Rashida Tlaib, US Democratic Rep. for Michigan’s 13th congressional district, listens during a rally in Dearborn, Michigan, October 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

“They forgot what country they represent,” the Michigan Democrat said in her tweet, referring to lawmakers’ attempts to pass the Combatting BDS Act. “This is the US where boycotting is a right & part of our historical fight for freedom & equality.”

Rubio, who introduced the bill, castigated Tlaib’s attacks as anti-Semitic.

“This ‘dual loyalty’ canard is a typical anti-Semitic line,” Rubio tweeted. “#BDS isn’t about freedom & equality, it’s about destroying #Israel.

“And if boycotting #Israel is constitutionally protected, then boycotting companies that boycott #Israel is also constitutionally protected.”

 

Off Topic:  Senate Republicans’ 1st bill on Israel boycotts divides Democrats

January 8, 2019

Source: Senate Republicans’ 1st bill on Israel boycotts divides Democrats | The Times of Israel

Critics say Sen. Marco Rubio’s measure to combat BDS impinges on freedom of speech

Sen. Marco Rubio (Republican, Florida), center, arrives for a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, March 7, 2018. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Sen. Marco Rubio (Republican, Florida), center, arrives for a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, March 7, 2018. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republicans’ first bill of the new Congress aims to insert the legislative branch into US President Donald Trump’s Middle East policy — but also tries to drive a wedge between centrist and liberal Democrats over attitudes toward Israel.

The bipartisan package backed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Republican, Kentucky), had initially drawn widespread support ahead of Tuesday’s vote. It includes measures supporting Israel and Jordan and slapping sanctions on Syrians involved in war crimes. But Democrats are split over the addition of Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s “Combating BDS Act,” which seeks to counter the global Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement against Israel.

For now, the package will almost certainly stall. The bill comes amid the partial government shutdown, and Democrats say they will block it until government is reopened.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer will oppose proceeding to the legislation, according to a senior aide who was unauthorized to speak publicly about the vote and spoke on condition of anonymity. Other Democratic senators who also support the bills will likely follow suit.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 3, 2019. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Sen. Ben Cardin (Democrat, Maryland), tweeted that the Senate “should not take up any bills unrelated to reopening the government” until the shutdown is resolved.

But Republicans see an opening to focus on newly elected House Democrats, including the country’s first Palestinian American woman in Congress, Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who has spoken about the rights of Americans to support the BDS issue.

“This is the US where boycotting is a right & part of our historical fight for freedom & equality,” Tlaib said in a weekend tweet. “Maybe a refresher on our US Constitution is in order, then get back to opening up our government instead of taking our rights away.”

Israel sees a growing threat from the BDS movement, which has led to increased boycotts of the Jewish state in support of the Palestinians. A Woodstock-style concert was canceled and some companies stopped offering services in the West Bank settlements. That has led to a “boycott of the boycotts” as Israel pushes back against those aligned with BDS.

US Sen. Bernie Sanders (Independent, Vermont) arrives at a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, DC, March 7, 2018. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

In support of Israel, Rubio’s bills would affirm the legal authority of state and local governments to restrict contracts and take other actions against those “engaged in BDS conduct.” Several states are facing lawsuits after taking action against workers supporting BDS boycotts of Israel.

Opponents say Rubio’s measure infringes on free speech. Sen. Bernie Sanders (independent, Vermont), tweeted, “It’s absurd that the first bill during the shutdown is legislation which punishes Americans who exercise their constitutional right to engage in political activity. Democrats must block consideration of any bills that don’t reopen the government. Let’s get our priorities right.”

But Rubio’s office says the bill allows the governments “to counter economic warfare against Israel.”

Rubio, a Florida senator, said Monday in a series of tweets, including one pointed at Sanders and Tlaib: “The shutdown is not the reason Senate Democrats don’t want to move to Middle East Security Bill…. A significant # of Senate Democrats now support #BDS & Dem leaders want to avoid a floor vote that reveals that.”

US House Representative Rashida Tlaib participates in a ceremonial swearing-in at the start of the 116th Congress at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, January 3, 2019. (SAUL LOEB/AFP)

Both sides are squaring off ahead of Tuesday’s votes. A coalition of civil liberties and liberal Jewish groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and J Street, is working to defeat the legislation, while the influential pro-Israel AIPAC supports it.

“Any contention that the bill infringes upon First Amendment rights is simply wrong,” said AIPAC’s Marshall Wittman by email. “It ensures Israel has the means necessary to defend itself-by itself-against growing threats and helps protect the right of states to counter boycotts against Israel.”

J Street’s President Jeremy Ben-Ami said in a statement: “While millions of Americans suffer from the effects of the ongoing government shutdown, it’s outrageous that Senate Republican leaders are prioritizing legislation that tramples on the First Amendment and advances the interests of the Israeli settlement movement. Not a single Democrat should vote to enable this farce.”

Republicans hold a slim majority in the Senate and would need Democratic votes to advance the measure over the 60-vote threshold.

 

Advocate of harsh Iran sanctions joins Trump national security team

January 8, 2019

Source: Advocate of harsh Iran sanctions joins Trump national security team – American Politics – Jerusalem Post

He has called for Tehran to be cut off from international financial transaction networks such as SWIFT.

BY MICHAEL WILNER
 JANUARY 7, 2019 19:02
Members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards march during a parade to commemorate the anniversary of

WASHINGTON – One of Washington’s most vocal critics of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal has joined the Trump administration in a senior policy role, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

Richard Goldberg, who has called on US President Donald Trump to bring Iran’s economy “to its knees,” will become Director for Countering Iranian Weapons of Mass Destruction at the National Security Council.

It is his first role in the federal government. Goldberg previously worked for former Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), before serving the state’s governor, where he led an effort to pass first-in-the-nation legislation to target the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

Since then he has been with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based think tank, advocating for a campaign of maximum pressure on the Islamic Republic. Privately, he promoted an exit from the nuclear deal to White House officials during a period of the administration when the US secretary of state and national security adviser, then Rex Tillerson and H. R. McMaster, were working to keep the president within the agreement.

He has called for Tehran to be cut off from international financial transaction networks such as SWIFT and for the Trump team to deny any and all sanctions exemptions to foreign companies, who are engaged in business in Iran. He is considered an expert on constructing sanctions from his experience drafting legislation on the matter in Congress.

Goldberg is expected to work closely with Brian Hook, the administration’s special representative on Iran policy at the US State Department.