Archive for February 15, 2019

Juniper Falcon: Brothers in Arms 

February 15, 2019



Israeli, US troops wrap up annual joint missile defense war games

February 15, 2019

Source: Israeli, US troops wrap up annual joint missile defense war games | The Times of Israel

700 American and Israeli soldiers take part in week-long Juniper Falcon drill to prepare for deployment of US troops in Israel

IDF and American troops unload a US Air Force cargo plane at an Israeli military base during the Juniper Falcon joint military exercise, February 2019. (US Army photo)

IDF and American troops unload a US Air Force cargo plane at an Israeli military base during the Juniper Falcon joint military exercise, February 2019. (US Army photo)

Three hundred American soldiers on Thursday wrapped up an week-long joint military exercise with the Israel Defense Forces.

The IDF said in a statement that US troops worked with 400 IDF soldiers as the armies rehearsed scenarios in which US troops were deployed to Israel to aid in missile defense operations, including against “high trajectory fire on the State of Israel.”

The military drill, dubbed Juniper Falcon, is part of the ongoing strategic cooperation between the IDF and the US Army. The IDF branches involved included the air force, logistics units and medical forces. It was last held in 2017.

“The objectives of the joint exercise were to increase the coordination between the armies, to practice orders and procedures in times of emergency and to deepen the familiarity between the forces,” said Brig. Gen. Ran Kochav, commander of the Israel Air Force’s Air Defense Division.

Israeli and American soldiers at the annual Juniper Falcon joint military exercise held in Israel. 300 American and 400 IDF troops participated. (US Army photo)

The American commander of the exercise, Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian of the the US Air Force, said it was a “great opportunity for US forces to work once again with our Israeli partners to improve our combined missile defense capability.”

“It has always been a challenging exercise, but the lessons learned will help the two armies continue to strengthen relations between us and our combined capabilities in ballistic missile defense,” said Harrigian.

Israel and the US also hold the five-day Juniper Cobra combined air force drill every two years. Last year’s drill simulated a massive ballistic missile attack and culminated with live-fire tests of two air defense systems over the skies of central Israel.


Netanyahu in Warsaw: For Arab leaders, Iran threat more urgent than Palestinians

February 15, 2019

Source: Netanyahu in Warsaw: For Arab leaders, Iran threat more urgent than Palestinians | The Times of Israel

At end of summit, PM says 4 Arab foreign ministers spoke out to back Israel’s right to defend itself against Iranian aggression; Arab states ‘half open’ to warmer ties with Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, arrives for a session at the conference on Peace and Security in the Middle East in Warsaw, Poland, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

WARSAW, Poland — Four Arab foreign ministers who spoke at the Warsaw Middle East summit affirmed Israel’s right to defend itself against Iranian aggression, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday.

Speaking to reporters shortly after he left the event, most of which was closed to the press, the prime minister hailed the very fact that 10 Arab foreign ministers agreed to share a conference stage with an Israeli leader as the “breaking of a taboo.”

“Four out of five Arab foreign ministers who addressed the conference [on Thursday] spoke strongly and clearly against Iran, saying exactly what I’ve been saying for years,” Netanyahu said. “They were as clear as possible about the issue, and Israel’s right to defend itself against Iranian aggression.”

Netanyahu did not specify which four Arab foreign ministers spoke out.

Asked when and how further Arab states would fully normalize relations with Israel, which has peace treaties only with Jordan and Egypt, Netanyahu replied that what happened in Warsaw over the last 24 hours shows that they are already “half-open.”

“Here you have Arab foreign ministers, who say that Israelis have the right to defense themselves, and don’t say it in secret but on a stage with 60 other countries present,” he said.

“It was a very important meeting and I don’t think we exaggerate its importance,” he added. “There is great importance in that they sit in one room, full of cameras” to discuss the Middle East, he said, noting that it was clear to the Arab representatives that, even though most of the conference proceedings were held behind closed doors, it would become public knowledge that they sat together with the Israeli prime minister.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) greets Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah at the sidelines of a regional conference on the Middle East in Warsaw, February 13, 2018 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

The Palestinian issue came up during the conference, Netanyahu said, but added that the Arab officials preferred to focus their remarks on Iran.

“Once the Palestinian issue took center stage. Now they say that first and foremost the Iranian issue needs to be dealt with,” Netanyahu said. In fact, the Arab officials who addressed the summit all agreed that an Israeli-Palestinian peace cannot be achieved as long as the Iranian problem is not addressed, he said.

Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud with Channel 13’s Barak Ravid, February 2019 (Twitter screenshot)

In an unprecedented interview with Israeli television on Wednesday night, the former senior Saudi official, Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud, said Netanyahu was deceiving the Israeli public when claiming that Israeli ties with the wider Arab world can be warmed without the Palestinian issue being solved. On the sidelines of the conference on Thursday, meanwhile, Bahrain’s foreign minister told The Times of Israel that Israel-Bahrain relations would be established “eventually.”

On Wednesday here, Netanyahu met with Oman’s foreign minister. At the opening session of the conference on Thursday he was seated next to the foreign minister of Yemen, and interacted briefly with him.

Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, attends the Arab Economic and Social Development Summit, in Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Netanyahu himself delivered remarks at the opening ceremony at Warsaw’s historic Royal Castle on Wednesday evening. The fact that the Arab delegates did not walk out symbolized “the breaking of a taboo,” the prime minister said.

Secret meetings between Israeli leaders and Arab have been going on for years, he told reporters in a briefing at the city’s new Jewish museum, where earlier in the day he laid a wreath at a monument honoring the victims of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

United States Vice President Mike Pence with his wife Karen, Prime Minister of Poland Mateusz Morawiecki with his wife Iwona and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with his wife Sara, from left, stand at the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes during a wreath laying ceremony in Warsaw, Poland, February 14, 2019. (Michael Sohn/AP)

“Today, 60 foreign minister were at the conference, and they all knew what this conference was about,” he said. “And this wasn’t a conference about decertification. There is a change here. It expressed itself in things that were said, and things that will be done. This is not happening by chance. Rather, it’s the result of a clear policy that I have been leading for years.”

Officials from 60 countries attended the so-called Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East, including foreign ministers and deputy foreign ministers from Oman, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait and Jordan.

Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz, US Vice President Mike Pence, Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pose for a family photo at the conference on Peace and Security in the Middle east in Warsaw, on February 13, 2019. (Janek SKARZYNSKI/AFP)

“They all spoke about Iran. They mentioned the Palestinian issue, saying it needs to be solved, but also said that it won’t be solved as long as Iranian aggression continues,” Netanyahu said.

“I don’t want to call it the ‘New Middle East.’ But something amazing is happening here,” he said.

During the briefing, Netanyahu also addressed other topics, including the US administration’s much anticipated peace plan.

He said that senior adviser to US President Donald Trump, Jared Kushner, said that he would not reveal the plan before Israel’s April 9 elections, and that Kushner rejects the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative as a blueprint for an Israel-Palestinian peace accord.

White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner attends a conference on Peace and Security in the Middle East in Warsaw, Poland, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

“He said the Arab Peace Initiative was important at the time, but is no longer appropriate for today [because] reality has changed,” Netanyahu said of Kushner’s response.

Regarding the April Knesset elections, Netanyahu reiterated that he considers Benny Gantz, his former army chief and currently his main political rival, to be a political leftist, despite the fact that Gantz’s Israel Resilience party ticket includes several known hawks, including two men (Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel) who used to work for Netanyahu.

“The elections are far from being decided. There is close fight, it’s not a done deal,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu refused to provide a substantive answer to The Times of Israel’s questions about last year’s controversial joint Israeli-Polish declaration on Poland’s role in the Holocaust, merely saying that the issue came up during his meeting earlier on Thursday with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.

Leading Israeli historians harshly criticized the joint statement, arguing it inaccurately adopts the Polish narrative of the Holocaust, overstating Polish efforts to rescue Jews and understating anti-Jewish atrocities committed by Poles.

Last July, Netanyahu said he had taken note of the criticism and would address it at a later time, but he has not done so.

“Since then I heard that some of the historians have changed their mind,” he said Thursday, refusing to elaborate.

Asked about the Polish law that prohibits accusing the Polish nation of complicity in Holocaust crimes, Netanyahu replied: “Poles cooperated with the Nazis and I don’t know one person who was sued for saying that.”

The law initially made it a criminal offense, punishable by prison, to accuse the Polish nation of Holocaust complicity. After the joint declaration, Poland amended the law, removing the criminal sanctions, though it is still illegal to make such claims.

Editor’s note: This piece has been updated to reflect Netanyahu’s comments on Poland and the Holocaust according to a recording of the briefing provided by the Prime Minister’s Office. 


In clip leaked by PMO, Arab ministers seen defending Israel, attacking Iran

February 15, 2019

Source: In clip leaked by PMO, Arab ministers seen defending Israel, attacking Iran | The Times of Israel

At Warsaw Mideast summit, Bahraini FM says confronting Tehran more urgent than solving Palestinian issue; UAE top diplomat says Israel has right to attack Iranian targets in Syria

Former US Middle East peace negotiator Dennis Ross and Arab officials on stage during a panel at the Warsaw summit on February 14, 2019. (YouTube screenshot)

WARSAW, Poland — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office on Thursday leaked a video in which the foreign ministers of three Arab countries can be seen harshly attacking Iran and defending Israel, and in one case saying that confronting the Islamic Republic is more pressing than solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The 25-minute YouTube clip, a link that the PMO sent to several Israeli reporters, showed a segment from a panel discussion at the opening gala of the Warsaw Middle East conference, which was closed to the press.

The comments made by the foreign ministers widely confirmed what Netanyahu told Israeli reporters during a briefing earlier in the day, when he described at considerable length the Arab ministers’ positions.

Less than 30 minutes after reporters published the clip, the PMO removed the video from its YouTube channel.

In the clip, the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan indicated that Israel was justified in attacking Iranian targets in Syria.

“Every nation has the right to defend itself, when it’s challenged by another nation, yes,” he answered in response to a question by the panel’s moderator, former US Middle East peace negotiator Dennis Ross, about Israeli strikes intended to prevent Iran from entrenching itself militarily in Syria.

Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa said that the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians would have been at a much better place if not for Iran’s malign behavior.

“We grew up talking about the Israel-Palestine issue as the most important issue” that has to be “solved, one way or another.” he said. “But then, at a later stage, we saw a bigger challenge, we saw a more toxic one — in fact the more toxic one in our history — that came from the Islamic Republic.”

If it wasn’t for Iran’s regional aggression, “we would have been much closer today in solving this issue with Israel,” Khalifa continued on, with Netanyahu, and other delegates from 60 countries looking on.

“But this is a serious challenge that is preventing us now from moving forward anywhere, be it Syria, be it Yemen, be it Iraq, be it anywhere,” the Bahraini foreign minister said.

“So this is the challenge we have to face in order to deal with other challenges,” he said, referring to Iran.

“When we come to Israel-Palestine, we had the Camp David agreement [between Israel and Egypt in 1978]. There was [the 1991] Madrid [Conference]. There were many other ways of solving it, and had we stayed on the same path, and if it wasn’t for the … guns and foot soldiers of the Islamic Republic, I think we would have been much closer today in solving this issue with Israel. But this is a serious challenge that is preventing us now from moving forward anywhere, be it Syria, be it Yemen, be it Iraq, be it anywhere,” he concluded.

Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir, who served as the country’s foreign minister until December 2018, argued that Iran’s belligerent activities destabilize the region, thus making Israeli-Palestinian peace impossible to achieve.

“Look at the Palestinians: Who is supporting Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and undercutting the Palestinian Authority? Iran,” he said, going on to cite several conflicts in the wider Middle East where Iran plays a destabilizing role.

“We cannot stabilize the region without peace between Israelis and Palestinians [but] wherever we go we find Iran’s evil behavior,” he said.

He also had some harsh words for the Iran-backed Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah.

“One of the biggest jokes is when you say Hezbollah has a political wing and a military wing. There is no such thing,” he said.

But Jubeir reserved the lion’s share of his remarks for a fundamental criticism of the Iran nuclear deal, which he said will enable Iran to acquire nuclear weapons and terrorize its neighbors within a decade, due to its controversial sunset clauses.

“When the JCPOA was signed, everyone thought everything would be fine,” he said, referring to the 2015 nuclear pact by its technical name.

“Meanwhile, we in the region are in the brunt, for us 10 years is the blink of an eye,” he went on, “So, Iran ends up with a nuclear weapon — it is theoretically capable of doing one very quickly because no limits on enrichment — who is going to suffer? We are.”

“Iran gives ballistic missiles to the Houthis [in Yemen] and Hezbollah. Who’s going to suffer? We do, in the region. And so people have to be serious about how to deal with the problem of Iran.”

Jubeir said he wished for Iran to change and become a “normal country.”

“That would be the best for all of us,” he said. “But they’re not there yet. Any attempt to be nice to them, if anything, encourages them, rather than discourages them.”

Ambassador Dennis Ross, a veteran US official, later tweeted of the event: “Same room, same views of Iran’s aggressive, threatening posture in the Middle East, and unmistakable convergence of what should be done to counter it.”

Dennis Ross@AmbDennisRoss

Hatnua party leader Tzipi Livni, a former foreign minister, was critical of the PMO leaking the clip, saying Netanyahu was endangering relations with Arab states for political purposes.

“Relations between nations are based, among other things, on trust between leaders. The filming and leaking by [Netanyahu] of statements made in a closed room, for internal election politics, is unconscionable.

“For years I have had quiet contact with Arab leaders with whom we do not share diplomatic relations, and I never publicized anything from those meetings.”

She called for “external diplomacy, not internal politics.”


At Warsaw parley, Israel’s anti-Iran front is stretched to Yemen, Iraq – DEBKAfile

February 15, 2019

Source: At Warsaw parley, Israel’s anti-Iran front is stretched to Yemen, Iraq – DEBKAfile

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, while seated next to Yemen’s Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani on Feb. 14, hailed the Warsaw conference as “historic” – if only for the unprecedented seating arrangements.

The US, which co-hosted the Conference for Middle East Peace and Security as a major vehicle for the Trump administration’s campaign against Iran, most likely engineered those arrangements.  The event targeted the opponents of the anti-Iran campaign, at home and in Europe. It was also intended to boost Saudi Arabia, whose armed forces have been battling Iran-backed Yemeni Houthi insurgents for four years, and the United Arab Emirate, whose army is fighting alongside the Saudis in Yemen.

For Israel, the event served as a huge campaign boon for Prime Minister Netanyahu whose Likud is campaigning for re-election on April 9. He was shown easily hobnobbing with world leaders on an international stage, notably in amicable first-time encounters with Arab rulers. His seating alongside the Yemeni foreign minister flashed around the media, the day after he met with Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah.

That juxtaposition also carries a price. Secretary of State Pompeo used it as a symbol of the US administration’s expectations of Israel for a larger military role alongside the US, Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the Yemeni war. The Houthi insurgents are supported not only by Iran but also by Hizballah, Israel’s arch-enemies. Until now Israeli assistance to the Yemeni government went through Saudi Arabia.

In his speech to the Warsaw gathering, Pompeo stressed that the Middle East would not achieve peace and stability without confronting Iran. “It’s just not possible,” he said. They are operating in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq; they support the Houthis in Yemen, as well as Hamas and Hizballah, all of whom pose real threats. The Iranians must be pushed out of those places,” said Pompeo. For the IDF and its intelligence army, the penny has dropped. Netanyahu returns from Warsaw with new Israeli war fronts outside its borders, following on his praise of Arab foreign ministers for speaking with “exceptional power, clarity and unity against the shared threat posed by the Iranian regime.”

In Washington, President Donald Trump faced a hostile front to the campaign he is leading internationally against Iran when the House Democratic majority passed a resolution on Thursday for ending US military support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen. The measure passed 248 to 177, and was supported by 230 Democrats and 18 Republicans.