Archive for February 10, 2019

Netanyahu to meet Pence, Pompeo at Polish Middle East summit 

February 10, 2019

Source: Netanyahu to meet Pence, Pompeo at Polish Middle East summit | The Times of Israel

Various aspects of Iranian aggression to be the ‘first issue on the agenda,’ PM says about Warsaw conference starting Wednesday

US Vice President Mike Pence (left) is welcomed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on January 22, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to meet US Vice President Mike Pence and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a Middle East conference in Warsaw later this week.

“The first issue on the agenda is Iran — how to continue preventing it from entrenching in Syria, how to thwart its aggression in the region and, above all, how to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said Sunday in his weekly cabinet meeting.

Netanyahu is set to take off for the Polish capital on Tuesday to address the so-called “Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East,” held jointly by Poland and the US on February 13-14.

The prime minister is set to meet with other world leaders as well, he said Sunday, but would not provide more details about his plans.

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

Efforts to thwart Iran’s aggression in the region, including its efforts to entrench itself militarily, its recent attempts to upgrade its ballistic missile arsenal and its nuclear ambitions are expected to take center stage at the summit, even though organizers said the conference’s objective is not to bash Iran.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict may be another topic discussed in Warsaw, although senior Palestinian officials said last week they would boycott the event.

“Regarding statements that we have been invited, we can say that only today there was some contact from the Polish side,” Palestine Liberation Organization secretary-general Saeb Erekat wrote on Twitter Friday.

“Our position remains clear: We are not going to attend this conference and reiterate that we have not mandated anyone to talk on behalf of #Palestine,” he added.

Erekat’s statement came after a White House official told reporters the Palestinians had been invited to the conference.

“The Warsaw Conference is an attempt at bypassing the Arab Peace Initiative and destroying the Palestinian National project,” said Erekat, referring to a Saudi proposal to extend Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for a pullout to the pre-1967 armistice lines and a “just solution” for Palestinian refugees.

In this photo from July 17, 2018, Palestinian protesters hold portraits of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and US President Donald Trump during a rally in support of the Fatah party in the West Bank city of Nablus. (AFP Photo/Jaafar Ashtiyeh)

His statement came a day after the Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Ministry called the conference an “American conspiracy.”

The PA has boycotted the American administration since President Donald Trump’s 2017 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a move it said meant the US could no longer serve as a mediator in peace talks.

Ties between the sides have continued to fray since then, with the US moving to end aid it provides to Palestinians and cut funding to PA President Mahmoud Abbas over his refusal to enter negotiations and Ramallah’s payments to terror convicts and their families.

According to a US official, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner will discuss the White House’s peace efforts during the conference and take questions from the audience.

“We would very much welcome the Palestinian Authority’s perspectives during the discussion, but I do want to emphasize this is not a negotiation but a discussion, and we look forward to fostering a constructive conversation in Warsaw,” the official was quoted saying by Reuters.

In this Thursday, June 21, 2018 photo, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, center, meets with US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, second left, and Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt on the latest stop in a regional tour to discuss a blueprint for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, in Cairo, Egypt. (MENA via AP)

Kushner will be accompanied in Warsaw by Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s envoy for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Along with US envoy on Iran Brian Hook and other administration officials, the two are headed to the Middle East later this month to brief diplomats in at least five countries on the economic section of the US peace proposal.

Stops are confirmed in Oman, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Other stops could be added to the trip, according to a White House official.

The US peace plan reportedly includes an economic development proposal for Palestinians that foresees major infrastructure and industrial work, particularly in Gaza. For the plan to succeed or even pass the starting gate, it will need at least initial buy-in from both Israel and the Palestinians as well as from the Gulf Arab states, which officials say will be asked to substantially bankroll the economic portion.

A senior US official told The Times of Israel this week that a date for the peace plan’s rollout has not yet been decided and there are “numerous considerations” that may play a role and push its release back to mid-May at the earliest. These include the Israeli elections (April 9) and subsequent coalition building process, the Passover holiday (April 19-26), Ramadan (May 5-June 4), and Israeli Memorial and Independence Days (May 7-9).

Agencies and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.


US-backed fighters commence final push to defeat ISIS in Syria 

February 10, 2019

Source: US-backed fighters commence final push to defeat ISIS in Syria – Israel Hayom


Iran’s Islamic Revolution inspired, divided militants 

February 10, 2019

Source: Iran’s Islamic Revolution inspired, divided militants – Israel Hayom


US pushing Lebanon toward war with Israel, Russian envoy says 

February 10, 2019

Source: US pushing Lebanon toward war with Israel, Russian envoy says – Israel Hayom


Report: Israel spying on Iran from US air base in Afghanistan 

February 10, 2019

Source: Report: Israel spying on Iran from US air base in Afghanistan – Israel Hayom


Tehran eyes Israel’s elections

February 10, 2019

Source: Tehran eyes Israel’s elections – Israel Hayom

Prof. Eyal Zisser

Recent reports that the Iranians have removed their personnel from southern Syria and have transferred their main activity hub from Damascus International Airport to the T-4 airbase in the heart of the Syrian Desert, indicate that the first round of the Iranian-Israeli conflict in Syria has ended in resounding defeat for Tehran.

Some in Israel voiced concern and criticized the government’s decision – which the defense establishment had encouraged – to wage a campaign against Iranian entrenchment in Syria. It is a fact, however, that the determination displayed by Israel bore fruit and its objectives were met, without sparking a war on the northern border and while avoiding a diplomatic crisis with Russia.

The important takeaway from the first round is that those who dare, win. Iran blinked first and chose to duck a fight with Israel. It’s also possible it didn’t want to push its luck in terms of its relations with Bashar Assad and with Vladimir Putin, the patron of the Damascus regime.

This further evidences the limitations of Iran’s power and certainly that of its Quds Force, the foreign arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, in Syria. The Quds Force couldn’t establish a solid foothold in Syria once Israel began pummelling it and therefore its ability to retaliate, threaten and mainly deter Israel is still limited.

It’s not for nothing that Quds Force chief Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani wants the current government in Israel to fall. He even believes, according to media leaks, that a strong Iranian response to Israeli attacks in Syria could influence the outcome of the upcoming election in Israel. Iran is possibly behind Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s recent attempts in Gaza to spark another clash with Israel on the southern front. The Iranians want to influence the election results in Israel and at the very least deter Israel’s leadership from continuing the campaign against them in Syria. In the meantime, this hasn’t been working.

As stated, however, this is only the first round. The Iranians won’t throw in the towel so easily. Their presence in Syria, alongside their entrenchment in Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen, is a strategic goal for which they have spilled blood and spent billions of dollars. We can assume Iran will persist with efforts to establish a presence in Syria, even if in the country’s north, in the hope that the Russians will curb Israel’s attempts to uproot them from there as well. After all, in contrast to Israel, Russia doesn’t view Tehran’s presence in Syria as a threat and believes it can curtail the Iranians.

Meanwhile, Iran last week celebrated the 40-year anniversary of its Islamic Revolution. On February 1, 1979, exactly 40 years ago, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned to Iran riding the wave of protests against the Shah’s regime and wrested control of the country for him and his cohort of clerics. These have been 40 years of uncompromising fanaticism, increasing international isolation, unrelenting subversion in the region and beyond and burning hatred for the United States and Israel. But more importantly for the citizens of Iran, it has been 40 years of corrupt and violent dictatorial rule that has led the country to the brink of social and economic ruin.

Iran’s only dubious achievements over this time, not coincidentally, pertain mostly to its ballistic missiles, which it touts day and night and the latest of which – a cruise missile with a range of 1,300 kilometers (around 800 miles) – was unveiled last week to mark the anniversary of the Islamic revolution. It isn’t clear, by the way, if the reports from Tehran are accurate. To be sure, the Iranians tend to distort and exaggerate such accomplishments even when their missiles are far from being operational. What is pertinent, however, is Iran’s trend and ongoing intention of manufacturing missiles capable of reaching not just Israel but Europe and in the future the U.S. as well.

The price for these missiles, as we all know, is being paid by the people of Iran; mainly the country’s youth who have essentially been sentenced to a life of economic hardship, poverty and ignorance and mostly a lack of hope for a better future. The gap between the Iranian people and their leaders has never been larger and another revolution to topple the regime is undoubtedly only a matter of time. This is still quite a few years away, however, because the ayatollahs, similar to their ally Assad, are willing to kill millions before bidding adieu to the global stage.

Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.

Moscow backs Hizballah ahead of Netanyahu visit, eyes Lebanon’s gas – DEBKAfile

February 10, 2019

Source: Moscow backs Hizballah ahead of Netanyahu visit, eyes Lebanon’s gas – DEBKAfile

The Russians have switched their focus to Lebanon and are hailing Hizballah as a “force for stability and security” ahead of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s visit to Moscow on Feb. 21 for talks with President Vladimir Putin.

Russian diplomacy and media are for the first time coming out with high praise for Hizballah, giving Netanyahu to understand that Putin has no interest in hearing about the Shiite terrorist movement’s misdeeds or Israel’s operations against its tunnels.

On Saturday, Feb. 9, Russian Ambassador to Beirut Alexander Zasypkin said in an interview with Sputnik that a new conflict could erupt between Israel and Lebanon “as a result of the United States’ actions aimed at sowing discord in the region, as well as Washington’s campaign against Tehran and the Lebanese Hizballah movement.”

When events started unfolding in Syria, Hizballah “sided with the lawful authorities in the fight against terrorists as its duty, ” he said. “Hizballah became directly involved in military operation at Syria’s request, alongside Russia and Iran and took a responsible approach.”

Turning to Washington, the Russian ambassador said, “Instead of trying to deal with tensions in the region together with Russia and other countries, the United States has launched a campaign against Iran and Hizballah, making the situation in the region even more volatile.”

Zasypkin went on to say: “As for a conflict between Israel and Lebanon, nothing can be predicted with certainty because the region is at a crossroads.”

Moscow’s compliments for Hizballah as a “positive and responsible” force in Syria and the region, may come as a surprise to many Israelis given some of the stories appearing in local media in the past month. DEBKAfile’s military sources offer three striking examples:

  1. The S-300 air defense missiles Russia delivered to Syria last October were wrongly reported as having become operational. Our sources stressed that the missiles are not operational.
  2. Iran was misreported as having completed and started production at a factory for manufacturing precise ballistic missiles in northern Syria. This story was shown with depictions of large chambers filled with machinery and it was presented to support an purported Israeli threat to strike the plant unless it is dismantled. DEBKAfile: In reality, the factory was built, but its halls stand empty and no precise ballistic missiles are as yet being produced.
  3. Tehran was said to have acceded to a Russian demand to evacuate from Damascus international airport the “Glass House” – by which Iran’s headquarters are known – to ward off Israeli attacks. DEBKAfile: There is no sign of the Iranians moving out of this building.

The Kremlin appears to believe that these unfounded stories were planted by the Americans and Israelis to drive a wedge between Moscow and Tehran/Beirut and decided to nip this campaign in the bud ahead of Netanyahu’s arrival in Moscow.

DEBKAfile accounts for Moscow’s changed attitude towards Hizballah on two grounds:

  • Next Thursday, Feb. 14, Presidents Vladimir Putin, Hassan Rouhani and Tayyip Erdogan meet at the Black Sea resort of Sochi for a thorough airing of the Syrian issue. This time, unlike previous summits, Putin realizes that his Iranian and Turkish guests will expect to hear him lay out a clear, substantive policy for the next chapter of Russian involvement in Syria. A decision to recognize Hizballah’s regional standing and forge ties with the pro-Iranian Lebanese group is one of its main ingredients.
  • Rosneft, the Russian energy giant, has planted a foot in Lebanon’s gas and oil industry, having recently signed a 20-year accord for the management of the oil and gas facilities in the northern town of Tripoli. Moscow may well swing its support behind Hizballah’s claim that Israel’s Leviathan gas field has commandeered some of the offshore Mediterranean gas that it says belongs to Lebanon. A dispute over control of this energy resource, with Beirut backed by Moscow, could become the pretext for an outbreak of hostilities, rather than the causes outlined by the Russian ambassador.