Archive for November 17, 2019

Mike Pompeo: Iran behind Islamic Jihad rocket attacks against Israel 

November 17, 2019

Source: Mike Pompeo: Iran behind Islamic Jihad rocket attacks against Israel – Middle East – Jerusalem Post

“Iran uses its terrorist proxy Palestinian Islamic Jihad to strike our great ally Israel. Iran does not want peace in the region.”

A ROCKET fired from Gaza by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad heads toward Israel this week (photo credit: MOHAMMED SALEM/REUTERS)
A ROCKET fired from Gaza by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad heads toward Israel this week
(photo credit: MOHAMMED SALEM/REUTERS)
Iran is behind the latest round of Israeli-Gaza violence, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted on Saturday, as the fragile ceasefire understanding held for its third day in spite of sporadic rocket fire.

“Iran uses its terrorist proxy Palestinian Islamic Jihad to strike our great ally Israel. Iran does not want peace in the region. It does not want the Palestinian people to prosper. It wants more conflict. Until we address Iran’s threats, the cycle of violence will continue,” Pompeo tweeted.

It’s actions proves that international pressure is needed to curb Tehran’s  aggression, he said.

“The way forward is clear: continued pressure until Iran negotiates a comprehensive agreement that includes halting its support to terror groups like PIJ. Nations around the world can no longer claim to want peace in the region yet allow Iran’s threats to go unchallenged,” Pompeo wrote.

He spoke out one day after US sanctions against Iran forced its government to introduce gasoline rationing and price hikes of at least 50 percent, drawing sporadic protests and widespread worries over rising inflation despite official promises that the revenue would be used to help needy families. One person was killed and several people were wounded in the city of Sirjan in Kerman province on Friday, the ISNA news agency quoted a local official as saying on Saturday.

Riot police and security forces clashed with demonstrators in Tehran and dozens of cities across Iran on Saturday, Iranian news agencies and social media said. Reuters contributed to this report.

 

Russia sets up air base in Qamishli, challenges US/Israeli air force control of northeast Syria – DEBKAfile

November 17, 2019

Source: Russia sets up air base in Qamishli, challenges US/Israeli air force control of northeast Syria – DEBKAfile

The arrival this week in Qamishli of 50 Russian military trucks, 300 troops and hardware confirmed the revised US intelligence regarding Moscow’s military intentions in Syria, as DEBKA Weekly 869 first revealed on Nov. 8.

Until recently, US strategic experts estimated that Moscow’s interests focused on expanding its Mediterranean coastal footholds up to Libya, for which the Khmeimim air base was designed. This US assessment changed abruptly two weeks ago, when the first Russian military delegation arrived in Qamishli, capital of the Kurdish cantons in northern Syria.

The delegation was first thought to be looking for accommodation for the Russian troops taking part in joint patrols with Turkey along a 10-km deep strip on the Syrian-Turkish border.  But when Russian officials were photographed closely examining Qamishli airport and asking Syrian and Kurdish officials technical questions, warning signals flashed. Moscow was now seen to be eying Qamishli airport for conversion into a major military airfield to compete with expanding US military involvement in the region.

The Russians were then discovered negotiating a 49-year lease for Qamishli airfield with local Kurdish authorities. That contract was to keep part of the area in civil aviation use, while a large section was to be closed off as a Russian military facility.

The deal is evidently now in the bag. DEBKAfile’s military sources report. Substantial Russian military forces have since arrived at Qamishli: 50 trucks with 300 soldiers, consisting of a combat contingent for securing the new Russian air base and an engineering unit to build it; Mi-35 and Mi-8 assault helicopters have also landed, as well as Pantsir-S air defense systems for stationing around the facility.

Loud explosions emanating from the site in the last few days indicate that construction work has begun for expanding the small Qamishli airport into a large air base able to accommodate the landings of Russian fighter jets and large air freights. Moscow has clearly decided against allowing the US military to play unchallenged on the strategic playing field of northeastern Syrian and negotiated a counter-bid with America’s own Kurdish allies.

 

Pompeo says US stands with Iranian protesters

November 17, 2019

Source: Pompeo says US stands with Iranian protesters | The Times of Israel

Secretary of state retweets message stating support for ‘the proud Iranian people’ amid demonstrations over hikes in gas prices

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers remarks at the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS Small Group Ministerial, at the State Department in Washington, November 14, 2019. (Olivier Douliery/AFP)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers remarks at the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS Small Group Ministerial, at the State Department in Washington, November 14, 2019. (Olivier Douliery/AFP)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday signaled his support for protesters in Iran, who have put renewed pressure on their government as it struggles to overcome the sanctions strangling the country after US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.

“As I said to the people of Iran almost a year and a half ago: The United States is with you,” Pompeo said, retweeting a Persian-language tweet he sent out in July 2018 that referenced a speech he made that directly addressed the Iranian people.

“After 40 years of tyranny, the proud Iranian people are not staying silent about their government’s abuses,” Pompeo wrote in the original Persian tweet. “We will not stay silent either. I have a message for the people of Iran: The United States hears you. The United States supports you. The United States is with you.”

Though largely peaceful, demonstrations Saturday devolved into violence in several instances, with online videos purporting to show police officers firing tear gas at protesters and mobs setting fires.

While representing a political risk for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani ahead of February parliamentary elections, it also shows the widespread anger among the country’s 80 million people, who have seen their savings evaporate amid scarce jobs and the national rial currency’s collapse.

The demonstrations took place in over a dozen cities in the hours following Rouhani’s decision at midnight Friday to cut gasoline subsidies to fund handouts for Iran’s poor.

Gasoline in the country still remains among the cheapest in the world, with the new prices jumping up to a minimum of 15,000 rials per liter of gas — 50% up from the day before. That’s 13 cents a liter, or about 50 cents a gallon. A gallon of regular gasoline in the US costs $2.60 by comparison.

Violence broke out Friday night in Sirjan, a city some 800 kilometers (500 miles) southeast of Tehran.

The state-run IRNA news agency said “protesters tried to set fire to the oil depot, but they were stopped by police.” It did not elaborate, but online videos circulating on Iranian social media purported to show a fire at the depot as sirens wailed in the background. Another showed a large crowd shouting: “Rouhani, shame on you! Leave the country alone!”

Mohammad Mahmoudabadi, an Interior Ministry official in Sirjan, later told state television that police and demonstrators exchanged gunfire, wounding several. He said many protesters were peaceful, but later masked men armed with guns and knives infiltrated the demonstration.

“They insisted on reaching the oil depot and creating crises,” Mahmoudabadi said.

The semi-official ISNA news agency later quoted Mahmoudabadi as saying the violence killed one person.

 

Iran says it will increase range of cruise missiles, add laser air defense

November 17, 2019

Source: Iran says it will increase range of cruise missiles, add laser air defense | The Times of Israel

Deputy defense minister states Tehran working on project to increase scope and precision of ammunition; says research for home-grown laser defense system has finished

Visitors look at a Hoveizeh 8 cruise missile at a military show marking the 40th anniversary of Iran's Islamic Revolution in Tehran, Iran, February 3, 2019.  (AP/Vahid Salemi)

Visitors look at a Hoveizeh 8 cruise missile at a military show marking the 40th anniversary of Iran’s Islamic Revolution in Tehran, Iran, February 3, 2019. (AP/Vahid Salemi)

Iranian Deputy Defense Minister Qassem Taqizadeh said Saturday that Tehran was working to expand the range of its cruise missiles and that it will soon be adding a home-grown laser air defense system to its arsenal.

Taqizadeh said that Iran’s Defense Ministry was working on a new cruise missile prototype that will have “longer operational range and higher precision with the use of advanced digital and mapping technologies,” according to the semi-official Fars News Agency. He said the prototype would pass the testing stage in the near future.

Taqizadeh also said that a project to produce a laser air defense system had recently been successfully completed and that Tehran was working to mass-produce the new weapon, Fars News reported.

Last month, Israeli Air Force chief Amikam Norkin said the military’s multi-tiered network of air defense systems was “on alert” amid a general threat of attack by Iran.

Illustrative: Iran says it successfully tested the Hoveizeh cruise missile on February 2, 2019. (Screen grab via Tasnim)

In recent months, the military has begun to believe that Tehran intends to eventually retaliate against Israel’s regular airstrikes against its forces and proxies in the region.

The Israel Defense Forces believes this could take the form of a large-scale attack involving cruise missiles and attack drones, similar to the strike on Saudi Arabia’s Aramco petroleum facility that was attributed to Iran.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last month that Iran intends to attack Israel from Yemen, which may make intercepting such a strike more difficult as the IDF’s intermediate and long-range air defenses are better positioned to shoot down incoming attacks from Israel’s north, rather than from the south.

Unlike ballistic missiles, which usually fly through a high arc on the way to the target, cruise missiles and drones fly at low altitude, making them harder to detect and intercept.

Iran appears to have been building up its drone activities and attacks in recent months. In August, Israeli fighter jets carried out airstrikes in Syria to thwart a planned attack on Israel by Iran-backed fighters using armed drones, the IDF said at the time.

The Israeli military said its strike targeted operatives from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force as well as Shiite militias, including the Hezbollah terror group, who had been planning on sending “kamikaze” attack drones into Israel armed with explosives.

Israel has vowed to prevent Iran’s regional proxy militias from obtaining advanced weapons to use against the Jewish state and has carried out numerous airstrikes in Syria that it says were to prevent delivery of weapons and to stop Iranian military entrenchment in that country.

 

Khamenei backs government gas price hikes as protests rock Iran 

November 17, 2019

Source: Khamenei backs government gas price hikes as protests rock Iran | The Times of Israel

Supreme leader said to call demonstrators protesting 50% increase in fuel costs ‘thugs’ who are backed by Tehran’s foreign enemies, urges security forces to ‘implement their tasks’

In this picture released by an official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, right, reviews armed forces with Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces Gen. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, during a graduation ceremony at Iran's Air Defense Academy, in Tehran, Iran, October 30, 2019. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

In this picture released by an official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, right, reviews armed forces with Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces Gen. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, during a graduation ceremony at Iran’s Air Defense Academy, in Tehran, Iran, October 30, 2019. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran’s supreme leader on Sunday backed the government’s decision to raise gasoline prices and called angry protesters who have been setting fire to public property over the hike “thugs,” signaling a potential crackdown on the demonstrations.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s comments came as authorities apparently shut down the internet across Iran to smother the protests in some two dozen cities and towns over the rise of government-set prices by 50% as of Friday.

Since the hike, demonstrators have abandoned their cars along major highways and joined mass protests in the capital, Tehran, and elsewhere. Some protests turned violent, with demonstrators setting fires and there was also gunfire.

It remains to be seen how many people have been injured, killed or arrested. Authorities on Saturday said only one person was killed, though other videos from the protests have shown people gravely wounded.

In an address aired by state television Sunday, Khamenei said “some people had died and some centers destroyed,” without elaborating. He called violent protesters “thugs” who had been pushed into violence by counterrevolutionaries and foreign enemies of Iran.

“Setting a bank on fire is not an act done by the people. This is what thugs do,” Khamenei said.

Iranians fill their vehicles at a gas station in Tehran, on November 15, 2019. (STR / AFP)

However, he made a point to back the decision of Iran’s relatively moderate President Hassan Rouhani and others to raise gasoline prices. Gasoline in the country still remains among the cheapest in the world, with the new prices jumping up to a minimum of 15,000 rials per liter of gas — 50% up from the day before. That’s 13 cents a liter, or about 50 cents a gallon. A gallon of regular gasoline in the US costs $2.60 by comparison.

Khamenei ordered security forces “to implement their tasks” and for Iran’s citizens to keep clear of violent demonstrators.

That seemed to indicate a possible crackdown could be looming. Economic protests in late 2017 into 2018 were met by a heavy reaction by the police and the Basij, the all-volunteer force of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.

“Such illegal actions would not solve any problem but add insecurity on top of other problems,” Khamenei said. “Lack of security is the biggest calamity for any country and society. That is what they are looking for.”

The protests have put renewed pressure on Iran’s government as it struggles to overcome US sanctions strangling the country’s economy since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers over a year ago.

Though largely peaceful, the latest demonstrations devolved into violence in several instances, with online videos purporting to show police officers firing tear gas at protesters and mobs setting fires.

Protesters attend a demonstration after authorities raised gasoline prices, in the northern city of Sari, Iran, November 16, 2019. (Mostafa Shanechi/ ISNA via AP)

While representing a political risk for Rouhani ahead of February parliamentary elections, they also show widespread anger among Iran’s 80 million people who have seen their savings evaporate amid scarce jobs and the collapse of the national currency, the rial.

Cheap gasoline is practically considered a birthright in Iran, home to the world’s fourth-largest crude oil reserves.

Rouhani had been pushing for higher prices to offer payments to the poor for months.

While the hike was eventually expected, the decision to raise gasoline prices still caught many by surprise and sparked immediate demonstrations overnight.

Jordanian police stand guard during the FIFA World Cup 2022 and the 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifying soccer match between Iraq and Iran in the Jordanian capital Amman on November 14, 2019. (Khalil MAZRAAWI/AFP)

Iranian internet access meanwhile saw disruptions and outages Friday night into Saturday, according to the group NetBlocks, which monitors worldwide internet access. By Saturday night, “real-time network data show connectivity has fallen to just 7% of ordinary levels following 12 hours of progressive network disconnections as public protests have continued across the country,” NetBlocks said.

“The ongoing disruption is the most severe recorded in Iran since President Rouhani came to power, and the most severe disconnection tracked by NetBlocks in any country in terms of its technical complexity and breadth,” the group said. The websites of state media outlets appeared affected by the outage early Sunday.

Protester chants seen in online videos mirrored many from the economic protests in late 2017, which resulted in nearly 5,000 reported arrests and at least 25 people killed. Some criticized Iran’s spending abroad on Palestinians and others while the country’s people remain poor.

Persian Reuters@PersianReuters

Embedded video

One video showed demonstrators calling: “No Gaza, no Lebanon, I give my life for Iran” — an apparent reference to the Islamic Republic’s funds being spent abroad instead of at home.

The tensions in Iran came as weeks of anti-government protests have engulfed Iraq and Lebanon, two Mideast nations that are home to Iranian proxies and crucial to Tehran’s influence abroad.

Iran long has suffered economic problems since its 1979 Islamic Revolution cut off the country’s decades-long relationship with the U.S. Iran’s eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s followed, further straining its economy.

The collapse of the nuclear deal has exacerbated those problems. The Iranian rial, which traded at 32,000 to $1 at the time of the accord, fell to 122,600 to $1 in trading on Saturday. Iran has since begun breaking terms of the deal as it tries to force Europe to come up with a way to allow it to sell crude oil abroad despite American sanctions.

 

On the Lighter Side…

November 17, 2019