Archive for March 4, 2019

Iran’s top leader warns against trusting Europe on nuclear deal 

March 4, 2019

Source: Iran’s top leader warns against trusting Europe on nuclear deal | The Times of Israel

As world powers face US pressure to pull out of pact, Khameini says the 2015 agreement cannot fix country’s economic problems

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attends a meeting with a group of the air force staff in Tehran, Iran, February 8, 2019. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Iran’s supreme leader cautioned the country’s government on Monday not to pin its hopes on Europe as Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers founders under US pressure.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s website quoted him as saying the landmark 2015 nuclear deal “could not fix our economic problems.”

Khamenei’s comments came as the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said Iran is complying with the deal. Yukiya Amano made his assessment in a regular update to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors, confirming a confidential report distributed to member states last month.

He said that “Iran is implementing its nuclear-related commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” referencing the official name of the deal. Amano added that “it is essential that Iran continues to fully implement those commitments.”

The US and the European Union disagree over several issues, including Iran.

The nuclear deal was aimed at preventing Tehran from building atomic weapons. The US pulled out of the agreement in May 2018 and has been urging the remaining signatories — the UK, France, Germany, Russia, and China — to abandon it as well. Washington also reimposed severe economic sanctions and is demanding the deal be renegotiated to put stricter limits on Iran’s nuclear program and its missile research.

Iran’s economy has suffered with inflation climbing and the local rial currency plunging in the wake of the US pullout.

The remaining signatories to the Iran deal, along with the European Union, have so far shown no inclination to abandon it, and instead have tried to provide Iran with enough economic incentives to keep it alive.

Last month, Britain, France and Germany established a barter-type system known as INSTEX that is designed to allow their businesses to skirt direct financial transactions with Iran and thereby evade possible US sanctions. Plans call for the payment system to be run from Germany as a financial institution.

The plan has angered Washington, despite reassurances from the Europeans that their initiative would concentrate on products not currently subject to US sanctions, such as medicine, medical supplies, and agricultural goods, rather than on broader trade.

In an interview published last month with the Swiss newspaper Basler Zeitung, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said that should other countries bow to US pressure and refuse to buy Iranian oil, Tehran has “other options” at its disposal.

Iranian officials have intimated that should the deal fall apart, it will resume its enrichment activities at a higher pace than before the agreement.

 

IDF helicopters pound Hamas positions in response to explosive balloon 

March 4, 2019

Source: IDF helicopters pound Hamas positions in response to explosive balloon | The Times of Israel

Army says two posts hit after incendiary lands in southern community; no injuries or damage reported from device, which lands between two buildings

A balloon carrying a suspected explosive device from the Gaza Strip touches down in southern Israel on February 20, 2019. (Eshkol Security)

A balloon carrying a suspected explosive device from the Gaza Strip touches down in southern Israel on February 20, 2019. (Eshkol Security)

IDF attack helicopters hit two positions of the Hamas terror group in the southern Gaza Strip on Monday in response to an explosive device that was carried into Israel by balloons launched from the Palestinian enclave, the army said.

It was Israel’s fourth retaliatory airstrike against the terror group in the past three days.

It came after a bunch of balloons carrying explosives came down between two buildings in the Eshkol Regional Council, the council said in a statement. The bomb exploded but caused neither injuries nor damage.

On Sunday night an Israeli military drone bombed a Hamas position in the northern Gaza Strip in response to a violent riot along the border nearby, according to Palestinian media.

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter
Members of a so-called “confusion unit” held a violent demonstration along the security fence in the northern Gaza Strip, east of Beit Hanoun, burning tires and setting off many explosive devices near the border.

“An Israel Defense Forces aircraft attacked a Hamas post in response to the throwing of explosive devices across the security fence in the northern Gaza Strip,” the army said at the time.

It appeared to be the military’s first time conducting such an attack in response to riots along the security fence itself, rather than to cross-border violence directed toward Israeli civilian communities.

After halting their activities for several months, the Palestinian “confusion units” recently returned to the Gaza border, holding riots at various locations along the security fence each night in an effort to maintain pressure on Israel by tormenting civilians living nearby and troops serving on the border.

On Saturday evening, the Israeli army said its aircraft fired at targets in the southern Gaza Strip in response to a cluster of balloons attached to an incendiary device that was launched from the Strip toward Israel.

The explosive balloons did not cause any injuries or damage.

The border riots are part of the March of Return protests, which have taken place weekly along the border since last March and have periodically escalated into major flare-ups between the Israeli military and Gaza-based terror groups.

Israel has accused Hamas, the terror organization that rules the Strip, of orchestrating the clashes and using them as cover to breach the border fence and carry out attacks.

Recent weeks have seen a dramatic increase in the level of violence along the Gaza border, with near nightly riots and a return of airborne arson attacks, which had waned in light of a de facto ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas at the end of last year.

The latest riots came after the release last week of a report commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council on Israel’s handling of the clashes that alleged there is evidence Israeli soldiers committed crimes again humanity.

The inquiry investigated possible violations from the start of the protests on March 30, 2018, through December 31.

Israeli leaders angrily rejected the findings of the UN probe, calling it “hostile, deceitful and biased.”

 

IDF helicopters pound Hamas positions in response to explosive balloon

March 4, 2019

Source: IDF helicopters pound Hamas positions in response to explosive balloon | The Times of Israel

Army says two posts hit after incendiary lands in southern community; no injuries or damage reported from device, which lands between two buildings

A balloon carrying a suspected explosive device from the Gaza Strip touches down in southern Israel on February 20, 2019. (Eshkol Security)

A balloon carrying a suspected explosive device from the Gaza Strip touches down in southern Israel on February 20, 2019. (Eshkol Security)

IDF attack helicopters hit two positions of the Hamas terror group in the southern Gaza Strip on Monday in response to an explosive device that was carried into Israel by balloons launched from the Palestinian enclave, the army said.

It was Israel’s fourth retaliatory airstrike against the terror group in the past three days.

It came after a bunch of balloons carrying explosives came down between two buildings in the Eshkol Regional Council, the council said in a statement. The bomb exploded but caused neither injuries nor damage.

On Sunday night an Israeli military drone bombed a Hamas position in the northern Gaza Strip in response to a violent riot along the border nearby, according to Palestinian media.

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter
Members of a so-called “confusion unit” held a violent demonstration along the security fence in the northern Gaza Strip, east of Beit Hanoun, burning tires and setting off many explosive devices near the border.

“An Israel Defense Forces aircraft attacked a Hamas post in response to the throwing of explosive devices across the security fence in the northern Gaza Strip,” the army said at the time.

It appeared to be the military’s first time conducting such an attack in response to riots along the security fence itself, rather than to cross-border violence directed toward Israeli civilian communities.

After halting their activities for several months, the Palestinian “confusion units” recently returned to the Gaza border, holding riots at various locations along the security fence each night in an effort to maintain pressure on Israel by tormenting civilians living nearby and troops serving on the border.

On Saturday evening, the Israeli army said its aircraft fired at targets in the southern Gaza Strip in response to a cluster of balloons attached to an incendiary device that was launched from the Strip toward Israel.

The explosive balloons did not cause any injuries or damage.

The border riots are part of the March of Return protests, which have taken place weekly along the border since last March and have periodically escalated into major flare-ups between the Israeli military and Gaza-based terror groups.

Israel has accused Hamas, the terror organization that rules the Strip, of orchestrating the clashes and using them as cover to breach the border fence and carry out attacks.

Recent weeks have seen a dramatic increase in the level of violence along the Gaza border, with near nightly riots and a return of airborne arson attacks, which had waned in light of a de facto ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas at the end of last year.

The latest riots came after the release last week of a report commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council on Israel’s handling of the clashes that alleged there is evidence Israeli soldiers committed crimes again humanity.

The inquiry investigated possible violations from the start of the protests on March 30, 2018, through December 31.

Israeli leaders angrily rejected the findings of the UN probe, calling it “hostile, deceitful and biased.”

 

PM: Israel, Russia to cooperate on foreign troop exit from Syria 

March 4, 2019

Source: PM: Israel, Russia to cooperate on foreign troop exit from Syria – Israel Hayom

“President Putin and I agreed on a shared goal – the removal from Syria of the foreign forces that came in after the civil war erupted,” Netanyahu tells cabinet • “We agreed to set up a joint task force which… will work to advance towards this goal.”

Reuters and Israel Hayom Staff // published on 04/03/2019
   
PM Netanyahu with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in Moscow, February 27 


Israel and Russia will work together on securing an exit of foreign forces from Syria, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday after visiting Moscow to advocate against the Iranian presence in the country.

As Syrian President Bashar Assad beats back an eight-year-old insurgency, Israel worries that his reinforcements from Iran and the Tehran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah terrorist organization will stay on to form a new front against it.

Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes against suspected Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syria. These operations have been largely ignored by Russia, which intervened militarily on Assad’s behalf in 2015, turning the tide of the war.

Netanyahu said he had made it “unequivocally clear” to Russian President Vladimir Putin last week that such strikes would continue, with an Israeli-Russian military hotline continuing to prevent accidental clashes between the countries.

“President Putin and I also agreed on a shared goal – the removal from Syria of the foreign forces that came in after the civil war erupted,” Netanyahu told his cabinet. “We agreed to set up a joint task force which, together with others, will work to advance towards this goal.”

He did not elaborate. Moscow had no immediate comment. In the past, Russia has spoken in favor of other forces leaving Syria, though it plans to keep a long-term garrison there.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in an interview with Kuwait News Agency published on Sunday, said the situation in Syria had visibly stabilized after operations by Syrian government forces with Russian aerial support.

But Lavrov said it was too early to declare the “terrorist threat” in Syria – a reference to Islamist-led rebels – eliminated. The United States has been drawing down its own forces in Syria as Islamic State insurgents appear to be near defeat.

 

Envoy slams PA after mouthpiece uses slurs against administration 

March 4, 2019

Source: Envoy slams PA after mouthpiece uses slurs against administration – Israel Hayom

President Trump’s peace envoy lashes out on twitter at PA daily after official newspaper runs column comparing him to mongoloid • “The comments are disgusting and demonstrate a complete disregard for the dignity of every human life,” Greenblatt says.

Israel Hayom Staff // published on 04/03/2019
   
U.S. Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason D. Greenblatt

U.S. Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt lambasted the Palestinian Authority on Sunday after an opinion piece in its official outlet, the daily Al-Hayat al-Jadida, compared  him to a mongoloid.

The opinion piece was written by Omar Hilmi Al-Ghoul, who used to be an adviser to former PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. The piece was laden with derogatory descriptions of Greenblatt and other senior officials in the White House who are part of its Mideast peace team.

“The comments of Omar Hilmi Al-Ghoul are disgusting & demonstrate a complete disregard for the dignity of every human life,” Greenblatt attacked on twitter shortly after the piece was published. “Terms like mongoloid & retarded, have no place in a civilized world.  Persons with Down syndrome deserve our utmost respect & love. Shame on you Omar!”

According to a translation on the site Palestinian Media Watch, al-Ghoul wrote: “Anyone who follows the prattle of Jason Greenblatt, President Trump’s envoy in the matter of the deal of the century, sees that his condition is very similar to Down Syndrome… Anyone who looks at the American envoy [Greenblatt] discovers that he has external and inner characteristics similar to those suffering from Down Syndrome: He is short, his eyes are similar to mongoloid eyes, he prattles unrestrainedly, and is politically retarded.”

Al-Ghoul also attacked White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who are both, along with Greenblatt, part of the team working on the U.S. peace plan, set to be unveiled after the April 9 election in Israel.

 

The deal of the last century

March 4, 2019

Source: The deal of the last century – Israel Hayom

Prof. Eyal Zisser

Last week, a Nobel Peace Prize seemed within reach; the only thing missing was a small step by the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un, after which U.S. President Donald Trump could have ended the 60-year conflict on the Korean Peninsula.

At the moment of truth, however, North Korea’s young leader refused to repeat the mistake made by former Libyan tyrant Muammar Gaddafi, who under Western pressure gave up his nuclear program in exchange for Western promises that proved useless the moment the revolution in Libya erupted.

The failure on the Korean Peninsula is insufficient to infer about the Middle East, where things are more complex and murky. And yet, even in our neighborhood, anticipation is building as the Trump administration prepares to unveil its “Deal of the Century,” as if the American peace proposal can resolve a conflict that is over a century old.

History teaches us that compromise proposals, presented by foreign mediators, have not enjoyed success in the Israeli-Palestinian arena. Efforts by the international community to force an agreement have also failed – starting with the United Nation’s partition plan in 1947, which was nothing but a futile attempt to force a solution on the sides. On the other hand, diplomatic breakthroughs and even peace have only been achieved when the warring sides themselves have come together to hash out a deal. Such was the case with the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty and the peace accord between Israel and Jordan.

The basic assumption at the heart of the American proposal is that it’s possible to force upon the Palestinians a peace deal that doesn’t come close to meeting their expectations and demands. It is a faulty assumption that won’t pass the reality test. Indeed, Arab countries will do all in their power to support a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, because they view such a deal as a vital interest. Arab rulers will put heavy pressure on the Palestinians, but won’t dare make concessions on their behalf or in their name, because they don’t want these concessions attributed to them in the annals of history.

Hence the Palestinians will always have the last word, and they are either incapable or unwilling to make the historical decision to end the conflict. First, Palestinian leaders have always assumed that time is on their side, and that by delaying the Trump proposal a better deal will be offered – whether by Trump’s successor or the international community, Russia or the European Union, which have openly told the Palestinians to shun Trump’s offer.

Second, the sense of despair on the Palestinian street is insufficient to prod the leadership toward a deal. The Americans, similar to the Arab rulers, don’t have the bargaining chips to pressure Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his cohort, who prefer a sputtering, teetering PA in Ramallah over a quasi-state that far from meets their minimum demands. It’s interesting to note, incidentally, that the notion of a quasi-Palestinian state doesn’t thrill younger Palestinians in the least, and many of them see the single-state solution – that is to say receiving Israeli citizenship – as the only solution capable of meeting their needs and advancing the Palestinian interest, certainly in the long term.

Finally, the Palestinian leadership’s weakness and the splits within its ranks certainly aren’t conducive to any courageous decisions, let alone concessions.

The American deal of the century, therefore, will most likely join the long list of peace plans to end in a thud. With that, when the dust settles, Israel must not be perceived as the side that scuttled Trump’s efforts, and it must seek to exploit the momentum the American plan could provide to bolster its relations with the Arab world. Either way, long-awaited peace isn’t around the corner.

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

Making news – ignoring real problems 

March 4, 2019

Source: Making news – ignoring real problems – Israel Hayom

Fiamma Nirenstein

Israel is shaken and wounded. On Thursday, the country’s top prosecutor, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, with 57 pages of allegations, announced his intention to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust, thereby not only undermining a great leader – a key political figure both at home and abroad – but also clearly trying to heavily influence the outcome of the upcoming general election to be held on April 9.

Now that the judicial machine has been launched, it is quite realistic to think that Likud’s predominance will be put at risk in the coming days. According to the polls, it is already expected to lose four Knesset seats, thereby leading to a standoff with the opposing force, the Blue and White party, which was formed between Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience Party and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid. It’s not surprising that the timing of Mendelblit’s decision has people talking about a political putsch.

The chill of the situation – the embarrassment of a country – is also accompanied by overt expressions of satisfaction, even of crazy joy by a broad array of detractors, particularly the world’s media, almost all hostile towards Netanyahu. For years now, they have made Bibi their designated target, and on Thursday, the TV screens were home to scandalous parties of collective satisfaction. In the hours following Mendelblit’s announcement, the delight in which the media networks took in covering has certainly been an event in itself.

Netanyahu faced the harsh reality upon returning from a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, where he obtained a silent assent vis-à-vis Israel’s absolute determination to fight Iran’s presence in Syria. It’s one more achievement in the frame of a glorious foreign policy that has brought the Jewish state to make friends with so much of the world, as well as to overcome the freeze with the United States and have its capital, Jerusalem, become home to the U.S. embassy, and obtain the cancellation of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

Netanyahu had tried to petition Israel’s High Court of Justice in order to postpone the announcement of the attorney general’s decision until after the election. But he wasn’t successful.

So now, the accusations concern three cases: Case 1,000, in which Netanyahu is accused of having received numerous gifts of champagne and cigars – up to tens of thousands of dollars in gifts – and of having perhaps in exchange undertook actions that favored the donor. Yet apart from a phone call to facilitate the granting of an American visa, it doesn’t seem that any political benefits were given. Case 2,000 delves into an apparent quid pro quo deal between the premier and Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper. In Case 4,000, he is accused of orchestrating a deal that favored the telecommunications company Bezeq while pushing for more favorable coverage from its website Walla.

But there has been neither favorable coverage nor funding, and it’s difficult to see him attempting such a crime. Moreover, name a politician who doesn’t try to obtain favorable coverage from the press; it’s something that happens every day, even part of the politician’s job. Here, even if now the accusations are now very detailed as to episodes, events, meetings, receipts – a real chat for the town – there is no evidence, it seems, of any actual case of corruption. Therefore, the judicial move can only be seen as a political maneuver with intent to back Netanyahu into a corner.

It should take months before Mendelblit’s request is granted, yet it comes just 40 days before the elections. Meanwhile, Israel has a new, even if recurrent, problem. The U.N. Human Rights Council, which the United States left due to its anti-Israel animus (in the past 12 years, among 311 specific resolutions, 76 have been taken against Israel, while only 27 have been posed against Syria!) announced the results of a so-called inquiry – a commission composed of well-known anti-Israeli officials investigating whether Israel has committed war crimes in Gaza.

This after thousands of missiles and hundreds of thousands of demonstrators largely armed or used as human shields by Hamas and Hamas-allied organizers stormed the Israeli border. Last year, 189 Palestinians – many of who were often armed – were killed during the “March of Return” weekly assaults organized by Hamas along the Gaza-Israel border on Fridays since March 30, 2018. Now, we have again a repetition of the Goldstone Report, which Mendelblit himself picked apart back in 2011, admitting, as is also true today, that the so-called Gazan “civilians” are Hamas terrorists used in the asymmetric war while dressed in civilian clothing.

It’s one of the problems – one of the real ones – that Israel has to manage while dealing with the attempt to destroy the career of the best Israeli prime minister since the days of founding father David Ben-Gurion.

This article is reprinted with permission from JNS.org.

Translation by Amy Rosenthal.

Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-2013), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies, served in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg and established and chaired the Committee for the Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism. A founding member of the international Friends of Israel Initiative, she has written 13 books, including “Israel Is Us” (2009). Currently she is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.