Archive for March 14, 2019

50 Iranian drones conduct massive ‘way to Jerusalem’ exercise – report

March 14, 2019

Source: 50 Iranian drones conduct massive ‘way to Jerusalem’ exercise – report – Middle East – Jerusalem Post

The point of the drill is to showcase Iran’s military prowess. It comes in the wake of a large naval drill in February and frequent new tests of ballistic missiles.

BY SETH J. FRANTZMAN
 MARCH 14, 2019 12:29
A military vehicle carrying Iranian Zoobin smart bomb (L) and Sagheb missile under pictures of Iran'

Named “Beit al-Maqdis,” a reference to Jerusalem, the operation was attended by the commander of the IRGC, Hossein Salami, and IRGC Aerospace Force commander Amir Ali Hajizadeh. Fars News and Tasnim News both reported details of the operation, noting that, “for the first time, 50 Iranian drones on the RQ-170 [US Sentinel] model operated with a number of assault and combat drones.”

It was the first time, Iran says, that so many drones operated simultaneously in an “offensive operation” at distances of more than 1,000 km away from each other. They trained to strike predetermined targets with “high precision.” IRGC Ground Force commander Maj.-Gen. Golam Ali Rashid boasted that while the US has said Iran is failing 40 years after the Islamic Revolution, in fact “today we are witnessing the strongest maneuvers of the IRGC’s Aerospace Forces.” Enemies would be “humiliated and feel shame,” according to the statement.

Salami said he appreciated the power of the IRGC’s air arm and that it shows that despite US sanctions, Iran is achieving success. Tehran says that it has created an indigenous and advanced copy of the Sentinel. Iran has showcased two versions of these copies since 2016, but video from the “Jerusalem” operation on Thursday showed them being lashed to trucks for the exercise. It wasn’t clear why a drone needs to be launched from a pick-up truck, if it is an “advanced” drone. Claiming that the IRGC is at the forefront of modern UAVs seemed to be in contrast to the photos from the operation, photos that the IRGC itself had released. However, Hajizadeh also pointed to drones that look like the US Predator MQ-1 as evidence that Iran has achieved results. The Shahed 129, first flown in 2012, is Iran’s copy of the Predator.

The point of the drill is to showcase Iran’s military prowess. It comes in the wake of a large naval drill in February and frequent new tests of ballistic missiles. Last year, Iran fired ballistic missiles at Kurdish opposition groups in Iraq and also at ISIS in Syria. It is flexing its muscles in the Persian Gulf and has allegedly supplied Houthi rebels in Yemen with advanced missile and drone technology.

Hajizadeh said that: “One of the features of this exercise is the power to design and plan co-flying UAVs in a very small geographic area that has brought about the rise of a new air power in Islamic Iran.” According to the reports, the drones operated in several provinces in Iran.

 

Defying Trump, Senate votes to end US support for Saudi-led Yemen war 

March 14, 2019

Source: Defying Trump, Senate votes to end US support for Saudi-led Yemen war | The Times of Israel

Republican-controlled chamber approves historic curtailment of presidential war powers, ahead of House vote; White House threatens a veto

A soldier allied to Yemen's internationally recognized government stands guard at the fish market in Aden, Yemen, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018 (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

A soldier allied to Yemen’s internationally recognized government stands guard at the fish market in Aden, Yemen, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018 (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

WASHINGTON (AFP) — The US Senate on Wednesday dealt a stinging bipartisan rebuke to Donald Trump’s foreign policy and his alliance with Riyadh, voting to end support for the bloody Saudi-led war effort in Yemen.

Lawmakers in the Republican-controlled chamber approved a historic curtailment of presidential war powers that directs Trump “to remove United States Armed Forces from hostilities in or affecting the Republic of Yemen” within 30 days.

The Senate vote was 54 to 46, with seven Republicans defying the president and aligning with Democrats.

The text now heads to the Democrat-led House of Representatives, which approved a similar measure that stalled earlier this year, and which is likely to pass the latest effort.

Armored vehicles of the Yemeni pro-government forces are seen driving past destruction in an industrial district in the eastern outskirts of the port city of Hodeida on November 18, 2018. (STRINGER/AFP)

The White House has threatened a veto, calling the measure “flawed” and saying it would harm bilateral relationships in the region and hurt Washington’s ability to fight extremism.

But its full passage would set a historic marker. It would be the first measure passed by Congress to invoke the 1973 War Powers Resolution to directly curtail a president’s use of military powers.

“Today, we begin the process of reclaiming our constitutional power by ending US involvement in a war that has not been authorized by Congress and is clearly unconstitutional,” Senator Bernie Sanders, who is running for president in 2020 and is a sponsor of the measure, said on the Senate floor.

Republican Senator Mike Lee concurred, saying Saudi Arabia “is not an ally that deserves our support or our military intervention.”

US President Donald Trump speaks to the press before boarding Marine One at the White House on March 8, 2019, in Washington. (Mandel Ngan/AFP)

The Saudis, he said, “are likely using our own weapons… to commit these atrocities of war. That’s not OK.”

The war in Yemen is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with an estimated 14 million people at risk of famine.

The World Health Organization says about 10,000 people have been killed in the war between forces loyal to the Yemeni government, backed by the Saudi-led coalition, and the Iran-aligned Huthi rebels. Rights groups say the death toll is far higher.

The United States provides weapons and refueling to the Saudi coalition.

The resolution is a reminder that Congress has the legal ability to compel the removal of US military forces, absent a formal declaration of war.

Soldiers allied to Yemen’s internationally recognized government stand guard at the port of Aden in Aden, Yemen, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018 (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

Should it pass Congress, it could force Trump to issue the first veto of his tenure.

The vote may well be the first of two congressional rebukes of Trump in as many days.

On Thursday, the Senate is expected to vote on a resolution — already passed by the House — to reverse Trump’s emergency declaration on border security, after the president went around Congress in a bid to secure more funding for his wall between the United States and Mexico.

In that case too, he has promised to use his veto.

Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 29, 2011. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, File)

Wednesday’s Yemen vote, and the rare bipartisanship at the heart of it, came as US lawmakers have escalated their opposition to Saudi Arabia after the October murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.

Republicans and Democrats alike have bristled over the White House’s apparent embrace of the kingdom and its leadership.

Some members of Congress have publicly stated that they suspect that powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was directly responsible for the killing, based on the CIA’s conclusions.

Sanders, using unusually blunt language about an American ally, said the United States should not “simply follow the despotic lead of a government in Saudi Arabia.”

“We will determine our military and foreign pol and not be led around by a murderous regime,” he said.

 

US aims to cut Iran oil exports by 20% starting in May 

March 14, 2019

Source: US aims to cut Iran oil exports by 20% starting in May – Israel Hayom

 

Netanyahu: Turkey’s Erdoğan a dictator who commits genocide 

March 14, 2019

Source: Netanyahu: Turkey’s Erdoğan a dictator who commits genocide – Israel Hayom

After Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan calls Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “thief,” Netanyahu says Erdoğan “sends tens of thousands of political opponents to prison, commits genocide against the Kurds, and occupies Northern Cyprus.”

Ariel Kahana, Associated Press and Israel Hayom Staff // published on 14/03/2019
   
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan addresses the supporters of his ruling Justice and Development Party during a rally in Ankara, Wednesday 


The latest quarrel between the leaders of Turkey and Israel continued for a second day Wednesday as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan labeled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “thief” and a “tyrant.”

Speaking at an election campaign rally, Erdoğan called Netanyahu “the thief who heads Israel” in a reference to corruption allegations against the long-seated prime minister.

Erdoğan also criticized Israel’s closure of a Jerusalem holy site Tuesday after Palestinian suspects hurled a firebomb at a police station.

“You are a tyrant,” Erdoğan said, addressing Netanyahu at the rally. “You are a tyrant who slaughters 7-year-old Palestinian kids.”

Netanyahu fired back on Twitter, describing the Turkish president as a “dictator who sends tens of thousands of political opponents to prison, commits genocide against the Kurds, and occupies Northern Cyprus.”

Erdoğan, Netanyahu said, was preaching to him, “to Israel, and to the Israel Defense Forces about democracy and the ethics of war. A joke.”

“It’s best that he doesn’t get involved with Jerusalem, our capital for 3,000 years,” Netanyahu quipped. “Erdoğan can only learn from us how to respect every religion and protect human rights.”

Netanyahu’s son, Yair, also waded into the fray, tweeting: “I would also remind him [Erdoğan] of the genocides Turkey committed against the Greeks, the Assyrians, and the Armenians. They carried out ethnic cleansing against all the Christians in Asia Minor.”

 

U.S. report does not refer to Golan, West Bank, Gaza as occupied territories 

March 14, 2019

Source: U.S. report does not refer to Golan, West Bank, Gaza as occupied territories – Israel News – Jerusalem Post

The US State Department changed its usual description of the Golan Heights from “Israeli-occupied” to “Israeli-controlled” in an annual global human rights report released on Wednesday.

BY TOVAH LAZAROFF
 MARCH 14, 2019 00:00
An old military vehicle can be seen positioned on the Israeli side of the border with Syria, near th

The US State Department has erased the word “occupation” from its description of the Golan Heights and the Palestinian territories in its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, which it published on Wednesday.

Last year, it referred to the areas as “occupied” by Israel; now, it speaks of them as under Israeli “control.”

The change began gradually two years ago, when the State Department replaced the country designation of “Israel and the occupied territories” with “Israel, Golan Heights, West Bank and Gaza.”

Within the 2017 report itself, however, the State Department last year still used the word “occupation” but much more sparingly. In 2016, the report referred to the occupied territories, and in 2017 it spoke of the Palestinian territories.

This year, the 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices made no mention of the word “occupation” at all.

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria during the Six-Day War and annexed it in 1981. The United States and the international community have never recognized that act. Since the Six-Day War, Israel has never annexed the West Bank, and it withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

Right-wing politicians have pressured Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to apply Israeli sovereignty to the West Bank, which they refer to as Judea and Samaria.

The shift on the Golan comes as US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham promised Netanyahu that he would work to sway the Trump administration to recognize Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights.

U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016 and 2018 (Credit: screenshot)
U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016 and 2018 (Credit: screenshot)

At a Wednesday State Department press conference in Washington about the report, Michael Kozak from the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor downplayed the move.

“My understanding is that there is no change in our outlook or our policy vis-à-vis the territories and the need for a negotiated settlement there,” Kozak said.

A reporter pressed him on the point: “You no longer consider the West Bank to be occupied?”

“No. I said that our policy on the status has not changed. That is my understanding. We decided not to use the term in the reports because it is not a human rights term and it was distracting,” Kozak said.

The linguistic change was made by the regional bureau of the Office of the Legal Adviser, Kozak said.

“What we’re trying to do is report on the human rights situation in those territories…. You’re just trying to find a way of describing the place that you are reporting on. ‘Occupied territory’ has a legal meaning to it. What they tried to do was shift more to just a geographic description. So we said Israel, Golan, West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem.”

“It’s a complicated report because there are sometimes multiple authorities who have authority over people in particular parts of that territory. So it’s a very complicated one to write,” Kozak said.

ISRAELI POLITICIANS took the linguistic shift as an affirmative nod from the Trump administration on the acceptance of the Golan as part of sovereign Israel and support for the annexation of the West Bank.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said, “The nation has long been with the Golan, now [US President Donald] Trump is also. Thank you, President Trump, for another important step on the path of truth and justice – for the Golan Heights and for Judea and Samaria. The next step: the application of sovereignty [in Judea and Samaria]!” Edelstein said.

MK Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi) called on Netanyahu to take action, explaining that the State Department shift in language provided a “window of opportunity” for such a step.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) thanked Israel’s “great friend” the United States, which “continues to stand for historical truth.

“The fact that the term ‘occupied territory’ is absent from an official [US] State Department document is an important step for Israel’s foreign relations and the future of the [West Bank] settlements,” Hotovely said.

She credited both Netanyahu and the Foreign Ministry for the State Department’s linguistic shift.

“I welcome the move. I’m confident that in the future, other countries will also stand by Israel,” Hotovely said.

Yesha Council foreign envoy and Efrat Council head Oded Revivi said it was a “welcome and courageous act by the US administration that has consistently resisted the standard international consensus when it diverged with reality, just like the US government’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”

Prof. Eugene Kontorovich, director of international law at the Jerusalem-based Kohelet Policy Forum said, “This is a massive change in how America relates to the conflict. It is coming to understand that while Israel and the Palestinians have a dispute, international law does not provide the answers to that dispute. The report, also for the first time, expresses skepticism at the claims and submissions of anti-Israel groups, whose poorly documented allegations have previously been accepted as gospel.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

 

Intel firm: Satellite images back report of new Iranian missile plant in Syria

March 14, 2019

Source: Intel firm: Satellite images back report of new Iranian missile plant in Syria | The Times of Israel

Compound’s location, construction patterns and observed activity are compatible with a missile manufacturing site, ImageSat International says

A satellite photo provided by ImageSat international (ISI) shows a suspected Syrian missile production facility (Courtesy ISI)

A satellite photo provided byImageSat international (ISI) shows a suspected Syrian missile production facility (Courtesy ISI)

New satellite images give credence to reports that a new factory in Syria’s northwest is a facility for the production of surface-to-surface (SSM) missiles, an Israeli intelligence-gathering firm said Wednesday.

The plant near the city of Safita was first reported upon last month by Channel 12 news, which said Israeli officials believe it is a precision missile factory being constructed by Iran in cooperation with the Syrian government and Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.

ImageSat International (ISI) on Wednesday said satellite photos of the compound supported the report.

“The construction patterns, the compound’s location and the signs of activity at the compound and its [surrounding area] increase the probability that this is a missiles manufacturing site,” said the company, which interprets visual intelligence.

It noted that “The compound contains three main hangars which are reminiscent of large industrial buildings. If this site is indeed related to SSM manufacturing, it is possible that two hangars include production lines, and the third is for manufacture or assembly.”

It also said that vehicle activity at the site, particularly the use of buses and vans by workers, followed the pattern of operations at military facilities.

And tracks seen in a nearby area were compatible with those made by SSM launcher vehicles, ISI said.

A satellite photo provided by ImageSat international (ISI) shows a suspected Syrian missile production facility (Courtesy ISI)

However, the company noted that “there is probably no manufacturing [or] assembly of missile engines and warheads in this complex, since protected
structures weren’t detected. Also, no missiles or launchers were identified within the compound.”

The Channel 12 report said the factory was intended to focus on producing precision missiles, dramatically upgrading the threat to Israel from the vast arsenal of rockets and missiles deployed against it in southern Lebanon by Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah.

To build it, Channel 12 reported, Iran had to bypass international sanctions on its missile program via a series of straw companies established by Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), a government agency that manufactures weaponry and whose facilities have repeatedly been targeted by Israel in the past.

Those companies — established specifically for that purpose — ordered missile parts from Italy, China and other countries in eastern Asia, the report said. The companies are named the Organization of Technological Industries (OTI) and ANAS Group, according to the report.

Israel has nevertheless discovered, tracked and uncovered the facility, the network said, as part of its effort to thwart Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria.

Israel says it has carried out hundreds of airstrikes on Iranian-linked targets as part of a campaign to prevent Tehran from establishing a military presence in Syria.

 

IDF exposes covert Hezbollah activities along Israel-Syria border – TV7 Israel News 13.03.19 

March 14, 2019