Archive for March 29, 2019

US in the Middle East -Jerusalem Studio 409 

March 29, 2019

 

 

The Netanyahu-Putin entente 

March 29, 2019

Source: The Netanyahu-Putin entente – Opinion – Jerusalem Post

Russian-Israeli relations in the Putin era greatly differ from those in the Cold War period, when Israel and Syria were mainly pawns on the chess board of the East-West confrontation.

BY ZALMAN SHOVAL
 MARCH 29, 2019 03:04
RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meetin

Because of the approaching elections, most Israeli newspapers these days resemble election pamphlets, not always in the best of taste, more than they do channels of information – with the result that they barely covered, for instance, this month’s important meeting in Moscow between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Vladimir Putin. As reported, the main topic on the agenda was Iran’s extensive activity in Syria. Given that Russia’s establishing itself in the region has become what looks like a permanent or at least long-term reality (where the czars and the Soviets failed, Putin succeeded), while America’s presence, like the face of the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland, is gradually disappearing – Moscow is now a central player in any scenario in this respect.

Nuclear-going and missile-developing Iran, actively pursuing its goal of creating a strategic corridor toward the Mediterranean, and enhancing the capabilities and activities of its proxies such as Hezbollah, is Israel’s principal and immediate security threat. In response, the Netanyahu government has taken, over the last few months, multi-faceted actions to prevent the formation of an Iranian front in Syria. These actions, in militarily terms, have had considerable success at this stage, forcing Tehran to withdraw the Revolutionary Guard’s al-Quds units from their main headquarters at Damascus International Airport, and according to the media, also the supply centers there that Iran used to reinforce Hezbollah and other Shi’ite groups in Syria and Lebanon.

This, however, is not the end of the story, and Russia’s potential role in the follow-up cannot be ignored. Thus it may be assumed that the issues addressed by Netanyahu during his meeting with the president of Russia were not just referring to the Golan front, but also to Syria as a whole. Relations between Russia and Iran with regard to Syria are based on shared, not necessarily long-range, interests – which both see as mutually beneficial for the moment. But there are also opposing interests, e.g., relations with the Assad regime and the part which Moscow and Tehran respectively intend to play in Syria’s economic reconstruction.
Russia’s attitude toward Israel’s strategic aims, and specifically its military operations in Syria, is therefore affected by different and sometimes conflicting factors. Like Iran, it wants to strengthen the Assad regime, but not as an exclusive client of Iran. According to some sources, Moscow may not even be unhappy with the Israeli operations against Iran, provided they don’t jeopardize its direct interests or endanger Russian forces there. This was the case with the downing of the Russian spy plane by Syrian anti-craft missiles, for which Israel had been wrongly blamed by the Russian military, and which led to a temporary cooling of Russian-Israeli relations, which, as both sides agreed, is now behind us.
Russian-Israeli relations in the Putin era greatly differ from those in the Cold War period, when Israel and Syria were mainly pawns on the chess board of the East-West confrontation. Putin’s Russia strives to establish its standing in the Middle East, not at Israel’s expense, but rather by including Israel. This received tangible expression in the Moscow meeting was evidenced not only by the friendly atmosphere, but reportedly also by agreeing in principle to form a joint team to advance the goal of removing Iranian forces from Syria, as well as establishing practical agreements of coordination between the IDF and Russian forces in the Syrian arena, so as to prevent a recurrence of mishaps such as the one mentioned above.  
That the news about the Netanyahu-Putin meeting aroused some nervousness in Iran was borne out by the fact that its Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi went out of his way to insist that Tehran’s ties with Moscow were strong. He shrugged off the report of Russian-Israeli coordination on a withdrawal of foreign (i.e., Iranian) forces from Syria as “psychological warfare.” Nor can it be ruled out that Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad Zarif’s on-again-off-again resignation was also related to the above development.
Diplomatic history is sure to mark Netanyahu’s act of balancing Israel’s fundamental relations with America – with its pragmatic coordination with Russia on Syria, without the latter being perceived by Washington as negatively affecting its global interests – as major diplomatic achievements. And Israel is acting wisely in operating with full transparency toward the US in this and other respects, keeping in mind that the US is Israel’s long-term strategic and value-based ally, while Russia is an important and practical partner in dealing with certain particular issues.
The writer is a former Israeli ambassador. 

 

Iran to ‘resist’ Trump decision on Golan Heights 

March 29, 2019

Source: Iran to ‘resist’ Trump decision on Golan Heights | The Times of Israel

President Rouhani joins condemnation of US president’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over strategic plateau, says shift in policy ‘tramples international regulations’

US President Donald Trump (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold up a Golan Heights proclamation outside the West Wing after a meeting at the White House on March 25, 2019, in Washington. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)

US President Donald Trump (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold up a Golan Heights proclamation outside the West Wing after a meeting at the White House on March 25, 2019, in Washington. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)
TEHRAN — Iran’s president said Friday that Iranians would “resist” the Trump administration’s acceptance of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, adding his voice to many Arab nations, including a number of US allies, who have denounced the US decision.

Hassan Rouhani said the US move is “trampling on international regulations about the Golan.” Iranians too “should resist and that way gain victory” over the US and Israel, he said.

Israel captured the strategic plateau from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War and in 1981 effectively annexed the area, in a move never recognized by the international community, which considers the Golan Heights to be occupied Syrian territory.

US President Donald Trump’s formal recognition last week of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan sparked widespread international condemnation. The announcement was a major shift in American policy and gave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a needed political boost ahead of April elections.

Syria and many other Arab states slammed Trump’s move.

President Hassan Rouhani, center, speaks during a media briefing after a cabinet meeting, as senior Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, left, and Defense Minister Gen. Amir Hatami listen, in Tehran, Iran, March 18, 2019. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Meeting in the Turkish Mediterranean coastal city of Antalya on Friday, the Turkish and Russian foreign ministers also denounced the decision.

“I feel this is the conscious, deliberate demonstration of permissiveness,” Russia’s Sergei Lavrov told reporters at a joint news conference. “Such demonstration of permissiveness, along with intimidations, ultimatums and sanctions, are basically the toolkit which the US use in foreign policy. It is sad.”

Turkey’s top diplomat, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said the decision “does not add to the region’s peace and stability, on the contrary, it creates unrest and chaos in the region.”

“It is out of the question for us to accept and recognize such a decision,” he added.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Thursday the decision is a reminder to Arab and Muslim countries that US and Israel “will steal your lands.”

A member of the Syrian security forces walks near the border post with Israel in the Syrian town of Quneitra on the Golan Heights on March 26, 2019. (Louai Beshara/AFP)

Iran doesn’t recognize Israel and supports terrorist groups sworn to its destruction, like Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

 

IDF issues clear warning to Gazans as it draws up battle plans for mass protest 

March 29, 2019

Source: IDF issues clear warning to Gazans as it draws up battle plans for mass protest | The Times of Israel

Army makes direct appeal to residents of Hamas-run Strip in bid to avoid provoking troops deployed to area into using deadly force to stop feared border breach

In this file photo taken on March 30, 2018 Israeli soldiers keep position as they lie prone over an earth barrier along the border with the Gaza Strip in the southern Israeli kibbutz of Nahal Oz as Palestinians demonstrate on the other side commemorating Land Day. (Jack Guez/AFP)

In this file photo taken on March 30, 2018 Israeli soldiers keep position as they lie prone over an earth barrier along the border with the Gaza Strip in the southern Israeli kibbutz of Nahal Oz as Palestinians demonstrate on the other side commemorating Land Day. (Jack Guez/AFP)

As the Israeli military prepares for mass Land Day protests planned for the Gaza border on Saturday and for the potential that these demonstrations could spark a bloody conflict in the coastal enclave, it has begun warning Palestinians — on pain of death — not to cross its “red line”: approaching or breaching the security fence.

Through phone calls, messages, public statements and pamphlets dropped from aircraft, the Israel Defense Forces has told Palestinians in the Strip that any attempts to break through the border fence will be met with live fire.

“The IDF will not accept attempts to harm (Israeli) civilians, soldiers or the security fence,” Col. Iyad Sarhan, the Head of the IDF Coordination and Liaison Administration for Gaza, said in an Arabic-language video directed at Gaza residents on Friday, telling them that if they abide by the rules they could end the weekend “safe with your families.”

“It’s all up to you,” Sarhan said.

“I repeat. Keep away from the border and don’t approach the fence, stay at least 300 meters (320 yards) away,” he said. “Israel is determined to protect our citizens and will not tolerate any rocket fire or terrorist acts. Any such violations will draw a harsh response. Save your selves, keep innocents away from points of conflict and from terror instigators in the Strip,” he said.

The Israeli military’s primary concern in these March of Return protests is that large groups of people will break through the fence, armed with guns, grenades and knives, and either enter one of the Israeli communities located a few hundred meters from the border and attack those inside, or kidnap soldiers stationed along the security fence.

This year’s Land Day, which marks the 1976 expropriation of Arab land by Israel, also marks a year since the start of weekly violent protests along the Israel-Gaza border, known as the “March of Return,” which at times have escalated into full-blown exchanges of fire between Israel and Palestinian terror groups in the coastal enclave, most recently earlier this week.

Israel maintains that Hamas appropriated the campaign for nefarious purposes, using the civilian protesters as cover for violent military activities.

According to reports, Hamas is planning a mass transportation operation for Saturday, picking up protesters from 38 locations in the enclave and shuttling them to five sites along the border. Field hospitals have been set up at various points, and medical facilities in the Strip are on an emergency footing.

Palestinians wave Palestinian flags as they try to climb the security fence on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, east of Gaza City, on March 22, 2019. (Said Khatib/AFP)

An Egyptian military intelligence delegation has been working to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas ahead of the Land Day protest — shuttling back and forth between Tel Aviv and Gaza — amid fears that clashes along the border could snowball into a larger conflagration.

Hamas is looking for a victory as after 11 years into its rule over the Gaza Strip, the majority of young people in the Strip — approximately 70 percent — are unemployed, electricity is available for just a few hours per day and potable water is scarce.

Hamas is hoping for Israel and Egypt to lift their blockade of the Strip, which the two countries maintain is necessary to prevent terror groups from importing weapons into the coastal enclave.

Israel wants an end not only to rocket fire but to all violence along the border, including the riots along the security fence and the airborne incendiary and explosive devices that are regularly flown into Israel — while also denying Hamas a victory.

A ball of fire lights the sky above a building believed to house the offices of Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of the Hamas terror group, during Israeli strikes on Gaza City, March 25, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

The result of these negotiation efforts will only likely be seen Saturday. If successful, the demonstrations may still be large, but should be comparatively tame. If not, then mayhem and carnage will be the order of the day.

On Friday, the IDF said that Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi toured the region again Friday and “authorized the plans drawn up.”

Hundreds of snipers, from both the IDF and Border Police, will be positioned along the Gaza border in order to ensure that such a mass breach does not occur. The military refuses to provide an exact number, but estimates range from 200 to 300.

The IDF also refuses to publicize the specific rules of engagement that these snipers will abide by — as this information would be useful for terrorists — but generally, the military has said that people protesting at least 300 meters (980 feet) away from the security fence will not be targeted. Those who attempt to breach the fence or damage it can be targeted, along with anyone who presents an immediate threat to the troops serving along the border.

The IDF believes that by shooting individuals before they breach the fence it can prevent these mass infiltrations and the subsequent need to shoot large numbers of people rushing toward Israeli civilians and soldiers and presenting an immediate threat.

These have largely been the Israel’s rules of engagement throughout the past year of regular riots along the border, in which nearly 200 Palestinians have been killed, along with one Israeli soldier, according to a recent United Nations report.

While setting and abiding by firm red lines, the Israeli military will also attempt to avoid large numbers of Palestinian casualties on Saturday, while still preventing border breaches and threats to the Israeli communities nearby. Beyond the moral considerations and potential for international blowback, the more Gazans that are killed and wounded by the IDF, the more terror groups in the Strip will feel they must retaliate with rocket and mortar fire — one of several potential scenarios that could lead to a wider conflict.

To prepare for that, the few hundreds snipers on the fence will be supported by four brigades — normally there are two in this role during border riots — along with tanks, an artillery battalion, fleets of drones and field intelligence units. Additional Border Police units have also been deployed throughout the Israeli communities close to the Gaza border.

Israeli troops take up positions near the Gaza border on March 26, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF says it is preparing for a variety of scenarios on Saturday, including those in which ground forces must enter the Gaza Strip — something that Israel has not done throughout the past year of riots and clashes.

The three most likely scenarios that would lead to a dramatic Israeli retaliation are: shots fired at Israeli soldiers during the protests; a rocket or mortar shell fired at Israel during the march; and a rocket or mortar attack later in the evening in response to large numbers of Palestinian casualties.

Throughout the past year of border riots and sporadic one- or two-day battles, the Israeli military has maintained that neither it nor the Hamas terror group is interested in a large-scale war, and this continues to be the prevailing opinion in the lead-up to Saturday.

However, a breakdown in negotiations, a “mistake” by Hamas or unexpected violence during the Land Day protests could see both sides barreling towards a war that neither wants.

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report

 

Off Topic: Trump comes out swinging at his first rally since Mueller report

March 29, 2019

 

 

IDF Chief of Staff, troops prepare for escalations on Gaza border 

March 29, 2019

Source: IDF Chief of Staff, troops prepare for escalations on Gaza border – Arab-Israeli Conflict – Jerusalem Post

BY ANNA AHRONHEIM, TAMAR BEERI
 MARCH 29, 2019 18:41
IDF soldiers prepare for expected escalation along the Gaza border, March 29, 2019.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi examined the readiness of troops ahead of expected violent riots on the Gaza border fence, the military said Friday evening.

“The Chief of Staff examined the preparedness in the Gaza Division area along the border fence and the main centers of disturbances in the area,” the IDF said in a statement, adding that during his visit Kochavi was presented with assessments of the troops and their response to various scenarios which could occur during the Land Day on Saturday.

Kochavi, who visited the Gaza Division met with the Head of the Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Hertzi Halevi, Commander of the Gaza Division Brig.-Gen. Eliezer Toledano, Brig.-Gen. Oded Basiok Commander of the 162nd Division , Commander of the Ga’ash Formation Brig.-Gen. Avi Gil, as well as other brigade commanders.

Basik, the IDF said, presented Kochavi with the readiness of the troops who had been deployed as part of reinforcements earlier in the week and with various operational plans for various scenarios of escalation.

Kochavi spoke with the commanders of the brigades and other commanders ahead of the events while observing the possible developments during and after them and the IDF’s plans to confront these events.

“IDF troops continue to prepare for an escalation with a wide range of operational plans and are prepared for all events,” the IDF said.

The IDF said Thursday that troops had completed their operational preparations for the “Land Day” events and that a Division Headquarters, three infantry Brigades and an artillery unit were deployed to enhance the Southern Command.

In addition, the military said that the leave of all combat units that are currently assigned to the Southern Command has been cancelled.

“The forces are conducting briefings, readiness checks and training for a variety of possible scenarios,” read the IDF statement.

Israel’s security establishment is bracing for thousands of Palestinians to riot across the West Bank and Gaza Strip, marking Land Day and the one year anniversary of The Great Return March demonstrations along the Gaza front.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh called on “our Palestinian people in Gaza, the occupied West Bank, and abroad to participate in Land Day (March 30) and take part in the million-man march.”

Land Day commemorates the Israeli government’s expropriation of Arab-owned land in the Galilee on March 30 1976. Six unarmed Arab citizens were killed and hundreds wounded and arrested in the ensuing riots and confrontations with the IDF and police.

Last year on Land Day, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip began The Great Return Marches with  thousands of Gazans violently demonstrating along the security fence with Israel demanding an end to the 12-year long blockade of the coastal enclave.

Head of IDF District Coordination and Liaison (DCL) to Gaza Iyad Sarhan commented on the expected escalations, saying that “the IDF will not stand for attempts at harming citizens, soldiers and the security fence. Any such violation will result in a severe response.”

Sarhan was addressing the citizens of Gaza directly through Elmonsk, the Arabic-language Facebook page of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.

Sarhan made a point to mention that Hamas wasted their money on violent disturbances and pointless marches on the fence every Friday. He explained that the marches “did not advance or contribute” to the citizens of Gaza, “but only caused deaths and injuries as a result of the violent nature and terrorist acts of the demonstrations, which are completely absent from the definition of ‘nonviolence.'”

“Your blood is more precious than all these marches,” he wrote to the Gaza residents.

“The State of Israel is determined to continue to defend its citizens and will not tolerate rocket fire and terrorist acts,” Sarhan continued. “Any such violation would provoke a harsh response. Protect your souls, keep away and keep innocent people away from the points of friction and terror in the Gaza Strip.”

 

Iran is declaring war on Israel – from Gaza

March 29, 2019

Source: Iran is declaring war on Israel – from Gaza – Middle East News – Haaretz.com

Iran is doubling down on its explosive investment in Gaza: Islamic Jihad. An impoverished Hamas faces a militant, rejectionist and increasingly untamable rival, flush with cash and determined to trigger war with Israel

Islamic Jihad militants attend the funeral of Palestinian Jehad Hararah who was killed at the Israeli-Gaza border fence, in Gaza City. March 23, 2019
\ MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS

As the dust settles after the last week of escalation between Israel and Gaza, neither Hamas nor Netanyahu have managed to score a substantial victory or breakthrough. However, another political faction in Gaza is steadily ascending to stardom on the back of those latest events: Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Although some local commentators, and Hamas itself, have suggested the rocket launched at Tel Aviv last Monday that triggered this round was an accident, Islamic Jihad refused to disclaim the rocket attack, instead opting to aggravate the situation in the hope of making political capital. Its newly appointed leader, Ziad Nakhala, declared: “We will respond harshly” if Israel retaliated.

As the Israeli bombardment of Gaza was nearing, the Egyptian intelligence conveyed a message to Hamas that Israel’s retaliation wouldn’t be serious if militant groups in Gaza didn’t respond to Israel’s first round of airstrikes. They warned that firing more projectiles on Israel would likely ignite a war.

Hamas got the message and bit its tongue. But again Islamic Jihad abandoned Gaza’s factional consensus and launched a barrage of primitive projectiles on Israel’s south that it filmed with great delight and almost instantly released to the public.

An emergency responder inspecting a damaged house after it was hit by a rocket in the village of Mishmeret, north of Tel Aviv on March 25, 2019
AFP

This certainly wasn’t the first time the Islamic Jihad knowingly embarrassed Hamas and decidedly challenged its red lines at the risk of blowing everything up in Gaza. Two weeks previously, two similar primitive projectiles were also “accidentally” launched on Tel Aviv by Hamas members. The latter, being keen to maintain its indirect negotiations for cease-fire with Israel undisturbed, not only apologized for the incident immediately, but also arrested those of its own operatives it considered responsible.

Islamic Jihad wasted no time, and issued an statement intending to intimidate: “Despite the Egyptian efforts…we raise our readiness and state of alert to fight against the occupation.” 

Hamas leader Musa Abu Marzouq publicly denounced the IJ’s “escalatory statement” and called out its “politicized rockets” that “must be stopped.” That came after top Hamas leader Ismael Haniya met with Nakhala a few weeks before in Cairo, and asked him to respect the cease-fire arrangements in Gaza, in the wake of Islamic Jihad launching two projectiles on Israel during the same month to retaliate against Israeli airstrikes in Syria that hit Iranian targets.

This one-upmanship between Hamas – determined to assert rigid control over Gaza – and Islamic Jihad – determined to disobey and defy orders -follows a clear pattern that has been forming ever since the mediated talks between Israel and Hamas had begun to bear limited fruit: Israel had allowed the physical transfer of cash from Qatar to fund Hamas employees, and allowed fuel to enter the besieged enclave.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh visits his office that was targeted in an Israeli air strike, in Gaza City March 27, 2019
\ HANDOUT/ REUTERS

That tension is built-in to the wildly diverging ideologies espoused by Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. Hamas is an extension of the Muslim Brotherhood school of thought, Islamic Jihad embraces the Islamic revolution of Iran.

Hamas believes in the importance of the PLO and is desperate to wrest the Palestinian Authority out of Fatah’s control; Islamic Jihad doesn’t recognize the PLO at all as the sole representative of the Palestinian people, rejects the Palestinian Authority and the peace process, and rejects Hamas’ pursuit of a permanent cease-fire in Gaza.

As former IJ leader Ramadan Shalah stated, such a ceasefire would “exclude Gaza from the conflict and boost Israel’s efforts to swallow the West Bank undisrupted.”

Both armed groups have managed to coexist, and even operating from the same command and control room ( the “Palestinian factions’ operation room”) for more than a decade, by sharing the privileges of dominating Gaza’s ruling class.

They co-operate according to a quid pro quo. In return for compliance, cooperation and support, Hamas granted Islamic Jihad personnel a superior status over the rest of Gaza’s population, including putting IJ leaders above the law, and allowing their movement to operate, recruit and parade freely and develop its military capacity unconstrained.

Members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement march during a military parade, Gaza City, Gaza, October 4, 2018.
AFP

As a result, both groups have endeavored to act in consensus in regard to decisions to confront Israel, though Hamas retained superior power and dominance over Islamic Jihad. This balance was maintained thanks to the relatively moderate leadership of Ramadan Shalah.

However, this all changed when Shalah suddenly went AWOL from the political scene in April 2018, and was succeeded by an uneducated, stubborn and militaristic leader, Ziad Nakhallah, best known for pledging blind and eternal loyalty to Iran, and in particular to the Revolutionary Gurads’ Quds Force.

Nakhallah has speeded up the transformation of his group into a more or less an Iranian proxy, operated by an on/off switch by Tehran to stir up trouble in Gaza whenever Iran needs to create a distraction, retaliation or send a message.

In recent months, Iran has expressed its disapproval of a possible long-term Hamas-Israeli cease-fire. That’s not a scenario that plays to Tehran’s interests: An Israel that no longer needs to deal with Gaza would allow it more time, energy and resources to fight the Iranian presence in Syria.

Its wholehearted opposition to both Palestinian reconciliation and to an Israeli-Hamas truce has meant that Iran’s embrace of Hamas has loosened. That led Tehran no option but to inflate Islamic Jihad to the point where it would engage in a battle of equal strength with Hamas. That boost is intended to push Islamic Jihad towards stealing the right to decide about war or peace away from Hamas.

A ball of fire billows above buildings in Gaza City during reported Israeli strikes on March 25, 2019
AFP

While Iran’s financial support for Hamas has dramatically decreased over the last decade, its support to the Islamic Jihad has dramatically increased, to an almost insane extent.

Hamas militants haven’t received any salaries for several months, thanks to the movement’s financial hardships. The movement now relies almost purely on funding generated from taxes and smuggling tunnel revenue. In contrast, Islamic Jihad is so flush with cash that it handed out increases to the $250 monthly stipends of its members.

This has evoked so much jealousy inside Hamas that a few of its young members have even defected to join Islamic Jihad for the superior financial comfort it offers.

As Islamic Jihad thrives financially, the longstanding status quo with Hamas is breaking down. Hamas is used to buying Islamic Jihad’s compliance – but that’s no longer paying off. In other words, Islamic Jihad is becoming increasingly untamable.

Joining forces with Hamas, and fueled by concern about Islamic Jihad’s unpredictability, Egypt is exerting enormous pressure on the Islamic Jihad for it to step back into line. For now, that seems like an unattainable goal. Islamic Jihad is running to exploit every opportunity, big or small, to keep Gaza on track to another war against Israel.

Islamic Jihad’s leaders, and their puppet-masters in Tehran, still think that’s the best chance they have of shaking up the cosy Hamas-Israel status quo and to forcibly liberate Gaza from the blockade, while proudly and uncompromisingly replacing Hamas as the vanguard of the Palestinian “armed resistance.”

Muhammad Shehada is a writer and civil society activist from the Gaza Strip and a student of Development Studies at Lund University, Sweden. He was the PR officer for the Gaza office of the Euro-Med Monitor for Human Rights. Twitter: @muhammadshehad2

 

Trump’s Iran sanctions have hit terrorists hard

March 29, 2019

Source: Trump’s Iran sanctions have hit terrorists hard – Israel Hayom

If the president is to finish the job, he can’t be held back by what may be an illusory threat of gas-price hikes and let the ayatollahs off the hook now that he has their backs to the wall. Tehran, as well as its satellites, are getting desperate.

Jonathan S. Tobin // published on 29/03/2019
   
U.S. President Donald Trump at a White House event marking the 35th anniversary of the Hezbollah attack that killed 241 U.S. Marines, last October 


With weeks to go until the deadline to make a decision, the debate inside the Trump administration is heating up. The choice involves whether to continue to allow eight foreign nations to go on selling oil to Iran via waivers that allow them to legally evade the sanctions the United States reimposed when U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal with Tehran.

But ironically the argument for ending the waivers got a boost this week from a source that is hostile to Trump’s tough policy towards Iran: The New York Times. In an article filed by Beirut bureau chief Ben Hubbard, the Times reported that, contrary to the predictions of Trump’s critics, the sanctions that have been enforced in the last year have had a discernible impact on the Iranians. Among those most feeling the pinch from the austerity imposed by American restrictions on commerce with Iran are the terrorist groups that it funds.

According to the article, the sanctions have created an economic crisis for Tehran that has caused it to cut down on the money it spends on funding terrorists, as well as the barbarous Bashar Assad regime that it has helped prop up via military intervention in the Syrian civil war.

As Hubbard wrote: “The golden days are gone and will never return,” said a fighter with an Iranian-backed militia in Syria who recently lost a third of his salary and other benefits. “Iran doesn’t have enough money to give us.”

Even Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah conceded the impact U.S. sanctions have been having on the ability of his Iranian masters to fund his group’s misdeeds. He lamented that the sanctions are “a form of war” and implored members of his group tasked with “fundraising” – a term that has a very different meaning for the Shiite terror group than for charitable organizations that don’t consider kidnapping and extortion an essential element of their appeals – to redouble their efforts.

The Obama administration lifted sanctions and gave thousands of waivers to companies and countries to do business with Iran, despite U.S. laws that forbade such conduct. The Trump administration has tried to shut down both legal methods of commerce with the ayatollah’s regime, as well as ferreting out illegal scams. Just this week the Treasury Department announced that it had disrupted a billion-dollar currency trading scheme that Tehran used to help fund its military adventures on the part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

But so long as Iran still is able to count on countries like China, India, Japan, Turkey, Italy, Greece, South Korea and Taiwan to buy its oil, it will retain the ability to go on funding terror and military efforts aimed at achieving regional hegemony. That money also enables these brutal theocrats to help keep the restive Iranian people from threatening the regime.

With the Iranian economy tanking, this would seem to be exactly the right moment for the United States to tighten the noose around Tehran to the point where even countries like France and Germany, which have put their own financial interests above that of the collective security of the West, will understand that they must stop trying to prop up their Iranian business partners.

But in spite of the success, the U.S. sanctions have achieved, the Trump administration is reportedly split on the issue of ending the oil-sale waivers. According to one report published in Bloomberg, the argument has pitted National Security Adviser John Bolton against the State Department.

The argument against ending the waivers is a matter of economics and politics. Those who are counseling Trump to leave them in place say that cutting off the final sources of Iranian crude could cause a spike in global prices. That threat is made credible by the economic collapse of Venezuela and the sanctions that are being imposed on Nicolás Maduro’s illegitimate socialist regime. The combination of the two could lead to an increase in U.S. gas prices this summer. That would render Trump vulnerable to charges from Democrats that the heretofore-strong economic performance he has presided over is about to take a turn for the worse.

That’s why some of his advisers are cautioning him to show patience and slowly build the sanctions under the assumption that he has six years to squeeze the Iranians, rather than just two.

Against that are arrayed the arguments of both the National Security Council and chief economic advisor Larry Kudlow. They say that with oil now at rock-bottom prices due to the glut on the market, there will never be a better moment to pressure Iran.

The question of whether Trump really has only until January 2021 to accomplish his mission of rolling back Obama’s appeasement of Iran is not one that can be answered now. But the notion that the United States can carry out a policy aimed at isolating the regime in a half-hearted fashion is not one that makes sense. The goal of the administration is to force Iran to cease its ballistic-missile tests, end its support for terrorism, roll back its effort to create a land bridge to the Mediterranean and be dragged back to the table to renegotiate the disastrous nuclear deal that gave it a legal path to a bomb. None of that is possible while the waivers stand.

Obama enriched Iran by unfreezing assets and ending sanctions. That put weapons and money in the hands of Hezbollah and the IRGC. That also helped other terror groups, such as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Houthis in Yemen, create more grave threats to regional security.

As Hezbollah’s complaints prove, the first stage of sanctions has begun to work. If Trump is to finish the job, he can’t be held back by what may be an illusory threat of gas-price hikes and let the ayatollahs off the hook now that he has their backs to the wall.

This article is reprinted with permission from JNS.org.

 

Hamas: Coming hours will decide if conflict continues 

March 29, 2019

Source: Hamas: Coming hours will decide if conflict continues – Israel National News

Hamas says ‘marathon of talks’ with Egypt continue and coming hours crucial, as Egypt demands Hamas take ‘active steps’ to prevent conflict.

Chana Roberts, 29/03/19 15:20

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh

Flash 90

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh hinted that if talks do not succeed soon, war may break out.

“We are continuing the marathon of talks with Egypt in order to reach serious understandings that Israel will honor,” Haniyeh said. “We are at a crossroads, and the coming hours will decide which direction we’ll take.”

Earlier this week, Hamas claimed that Israel “refused” to come to an agreement.

On Thursday night, Egyptian intelligence officials warned Hamas that “any mistakes on your part on Saturday may lead to war with Israel.”

According to Mako, the Egyptians told Hamas that it was their efforts which prevented a war from breaking out a few days ago. Now, they said, Hamas needs to take active and significant steps in order to prevent conflict.

Egypt’s demands from Hamas included, among other things, stationing Hamas members along the border fence in order to prevent masses of Gazans from infiltrating Israel and to prevent weapons from reaching the border area.

On Monday, a rocket hit a home in the Sharon region, injuring seven members of the Wolf family. Hamas initially claimed that the rocket was fired by mistake, later changing their story to say that “bad weather” caused the launch.

However, on Tuesday Hamas admitted that the launch had indeed been intentional, and was carried out at Iran’s behest.

The IDF responded to the attack – which was followed by additional rockets – by striking at Hamas military targets in Gaza.

Iran threatens Israel, US over Golan recognition

March 29, 2019

Source: Iran threatens Israel, US over Golan recognition

Hassan Rouhani vowed on Friday that Iran would challenge Trump’s decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which the Jewish state gained control over 52 years ago.

By Associated Press and World Israel News Staff

Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani said Friday that Iranians would “resist” the Trump administration’s recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, territory the Jewish state won in battle during the 1967 Six-Day War.

During that conflict, Israel staved off an onslaught of four Arab armies, defeating them all and gaining control of the Golan Heights to prevent Syria from continuing to use the strategically important territory to attack Israel.

Rouhani said cryptically that Iranians “should resist” U.S. recognition and “that way gain victory” over the U.S. and Israel. Among political Islamists such as Iran and its terror proxies, the term “resistance” is frequently a code-word for violence.

President Donald Trump’s formal recognition last week of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan sparked condemnation from Syria and several other states in the region, but Mideast experts such as Ahmed Abd Rabou predicted that leaders attending the Arab Summit this Sunday would pay no more than lip service to the situation.

“It will be just a very strong, theatrical, nice, maybe strong statement,” said Rabou, a visiting professor of international affairs at the University of Denver. “But I doubt that this will have a true political effect.”

Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif claimed on Thursday the decision is a reminder to Arab and Muslim countries that U.S. and Israel “will steal your lands.”

The Iranian regime is sworn to Israel’s destruction, supporting Syria’s brutal dictator and Islamic terror groups like Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.