By: Michael Bachner; The Times of Israel – timesofisrael.com
Netanyahu hints at Mossad involvement in operations that have thwarted the transfer of weaponry to the Iran-backed terror group
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed Thursday evening that Hezbollah currently has only several dozen precision-guided missiles, with Israeli security forces — including the Mossad spying agency — having stopped the Lebanese terror group obtaining thousands of such projectiles.
Netanyahu spoke several days after Israel launched an operation to find and destroy Hezbollah tunnels, with two such passages said uncovered so far.
The Israeli military has said it believes the tunnels were meant to be used by Hezbollah as a surprise component of an opening salvo in a future war, alongside the mass infiltration of operatives above ground and the launching of rockets, missiles, and mortar shells at northern Israel.
“Hezbollah has two tools [of attack],” Netanyahu said at an award ceremony for exceptional Mossad operatives at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem. “One tool is tunnels, and we are depriving them of that.
“The other weapon is rockets, an imprecise weapon, but they also want precision weapons,” he added. “This radically changes the balance of power.”
“According to Hezbollah’s plans, they were already supposed to be equipped with thousands of missiles, but right now they only have a few dozen. The reason that they only have a few dozen is, among others, sitting here in this room,” Netanyahu told the Mossad servicemen and women.
“It is the combination of the Mossad, the IDF, and our entire security system. We are depriving them of that weapon as well, not absolutely, but to a very impressive extent,” he boasted.
“As someone who approves countless operations of yours, I want to tell you that I am proud of you and believe in you and [to tell you] how proud the people of Israel are of you,” he concluded. “The Mossad is fantastic and you are fantastic.”
Many shipments of advanced missiles are said to have been bombed by Israel on the way from Iran to Lebanon, mostly through Syria.
During his September speech at the UN, Netanyahu revealed the existence of what he said were three sites in Beirut that were being used by the Iran-backed terror group to hide underground precision missile production facilities.
The Israeli military on Thursday said it had located a second Hezbollah cross-border attack tunnel in the western Galilee, after uncovering an underground passage two days earlier in the eastern part of the region.
The tunnel originated in the Lebanese village of Ramyeh underneath a number of homes and crossed into Israeli territory near the village of Zarit, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
The first tunnel was discovered south of the Israeli village of Metulla in the northern tip of the Galilee panhandle.
A senior Israeli official on Thursday said the tunnels discovered inside Israel were large enough to be used by “entire battalions” to enter Israeli territory in order to “carry out killing sprees and kidnappings and to capture Israeli towns and villages.”
Netanyahu elaborated, in a briefing to foreign envoys at the northern border: “If you look at the Hamas tunnels, they’re very narrow, basically for one person. The Hezbollah tunnels are broad. They enable several people to come at one and also to put motorcycles, I’m pretty sure tractors and so on.
This, Netanyahu said, was “in order to bring in many forces, simultaneously, which means several battalions into our territory, with the purpose of cutting off communities here, towns, kibbutzim, and then going into a campaign of murder and kidnapping, which could happen simultaneously.”
The number of tunnels the IDF believes the Lebanese terror group has dug into Israel, as well as other information connected to the army’s tunnel-busting operation, cannot be published by order of the military censor.
Earlier on Thursday, a senior Israeli official threatened that the IDF may be forced to extend its current tunnel-busting operation across the border and into Lebanese territory.
“It is possible that we will be required to act inside Lebanon,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Operation Northern Shield was launched earlier this week due to the fear that the details of the operation would be leaked and revealed to Hezbollah, the senior official said.
“If Hezbollah knew that we knew [about the existence of the tunnels] then this would accelerate their kidnapping efforts, and we did not want to get to a situation where the kidnappers infiltrate into Israel and abduct a soldier or a civilian, and no one would know anything about it,” the senior official said.
The decision to embark on the operation was made on November 7, and was one of the reasons the cabinet decided not to launch a major military campaign against Hamas in Gaza, the official added. “There were other reasons, too, but that was one of them,” he said.
By: Lilach Shoval, Associated Press and Israel Hayom Staff – israelhayom.com
IDF says it has lined the tunnel with explosives • Tunnel, in an undisclosed location, exposed as part of Operation Northern Shield, launched Dec. 4 • Israel urges international community to impose sanctions on Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy, over the tunnels.
A fourth Hezbollah terror tunnel breaching Israeli territory from Lebanon has been exposed, the IDF said Sunday.
“Imagine terrorists digging an attack tunnel like this toward your home, hacking away, inch by inch, underground, in order to kill you and your family. Israelis don’t need to imagine. It’s our job to protect them,” the IDF posted on its English-language Twitter page.
The IDF did not disclose the tunnel’s location, saying only that it has lined it with explosives.
The IDF said any Lebanese soldiers or Hezbollah operatives approaching the tunnel on the Lebanese side of the border would do so at their own peril.
Israel has called on the international community to impose new sanctions on Hezbollah, Iran’s regional proxy, in the wake of the tunnels’ discovery.
The IDF said Operation Northern Shield would continue until all Hezbollah tunnels are exposed and neutralized.
The Shiite terrorist group has yet to issue any comment on the operation, but Lebanese President Michel Aoun said that as long as the Israeli operation does not infringe on his country’s sovereignty, it is unlikely to threaten the calm on the border.
”We take this issue – the presence of tunnels at the border – seriously and Israel informed us via the United States that its intentions are not aggressive,” said Aoun, a Hezbollah ally. He added that Israel has pledged to “continue to work” on its territory.
By: Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz; breakingisraelnews.com
A conference on Wednesday brought together religious Jews and Christians to discuss a topic that had never before been addressed in a multi-faith forum: the past and the future of the Temple Mount as it related to their respective religions.
As participants entered the conference, they were greeted by the sight of a 20-foot model of the Second Temple and much of the discussion focused on the subject of the Third Temple. Though the conference was a religious forum, avoiding politics, the political implications of any discussion about the future of the Temple Mount, a location frequently described in mainstream media as a “flashpoint,” bears dire political consequences.
Doron Keidar, one of the conference organizers and founder of Cry for Zion, an NGO advocating for Jewish rights on the Temple Mount, was aware that he would likely be accused of incitement when he set out. This point was driven home during the press conference when Keidar was confronted by reporters who asked him several times if speaking about a Third Temple implied an agenda to destroy the Muslim sites on the Temple Mount.
Keidar rejected that claim, telling reporters that Cry for Zion’s main goal was to bring Jewish sovereignty to the Temple Mount.
“Our main goal is not to build the Temple and we are not a Temple organization,” he said. “We are advocating for Jewish sovereignty on the Temple Mount, petitioning the government to express stewardship of the site.”
This raised concerns among journalists who asked if sovereignty meant oppressing the Muslims or restricting them religiously.
“Jewish sovereignty on the Temple Mount would benefit everyone,” Keidar replied. “At the Western Wall, there is total freedom of worship for all religions. Muslims are free to pray at the Kotel (Western Wall) as are Christians. Jewish sovereignty on the Temple Mount would bring equality of religion to the site.”
Keidar pointed out that the peace agreement between Jordan and Israel ensured freedom of religion for all faiths at the holy sites.
“Freedom of worship is also established in international law as described by the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights,” Keidar said. “The right for all faiths to pray on the Temple Mount was upheld by the Israeli Magistrate’s court. Right now there is illegal discrimination taking place where only Muslims can pray.”
John Enarson, the organization’s Christian Relations and Creative Director, echoed this assertion.
“Allowing the Jewish flag on the Temple Mount would guarantee that this freedom of religion will exist, just as it does at every other holy site that is under Israeli sovereignty,” Enarson said. “Many Christians believe that there will be a Third Temple but that is not relevant to what our organization or this conference do. We want equality of religion on the Temple Mount, plain and simple. How the Third Temple comes about and what form it takes is in God’s hand.”
“I would prefer that the Muslims would welcome other religions and encourage this, but in any case, it should not be tolerated by the international community or by the Israeli government,’ Enarson declared.
Keidar compared their initiative to the civil rights movement in America, petitioning for equality for blacks.
“Christians can’t take their Bibles with them or pray or wear crosses on the Temple Mount,” Keidar pointed out. “Anywhere else in the world, that would be religious oppression and not tolerated.”
“We are trying to educate the Christian world about the Jewish perspective on their holiest site,” Enarson said. “There has been a lot of mistrust between the Jews and the Christians. This will increase peace, not lead to war.”
The main focus of the conference was on theories that the Jewish Temples stood in an area identified as the City of David.
“There is a mistaken belief that this would enable a peaceable solution in which the Jews could build a Temple in another location, a small distance from the Temple Mount,” Keidar said. Keidar, who works in security in the Old City, rejected that perception. “That area, referred to in the Bible as Shiloah, is known as Silwan. It is a hotbed of hatred and some of the most hotly contested territory in Jerusalem.”
By: Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz; breakingisraelnews.com
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced this week that they will be firing half of their employees in Judea and Samaria in the near future and plan to shut down operations entirely in early 2019.
USAID is an independent agency of the U.S. federal government that is primarily responsible for administering civilian foreign aid and development assistance. USAID is one of the largest official aid agencies in the world, operating in more than 100 countries, and accounts for more than half of all U.S. foreign assistance. USAID has been operating in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza since 1994, investing approximately $5.5 billion in infrastructure, medical services, and education.
The decision to end funding came from the State Department which directed USAID last week to present a list of 60 percent of its employees that can be fired immediately. USAID was also directed to shut down its operations in 2019. USAID was slated to have invested $250 million in helping the Palestinians over the next year. $35 million of that would have gone to the Palestinian Authority security services.
This is the final stage of a series of cutbacks in U.S aid benefiting the Palestinians since President Trump took office. In January, Trump announced that the US would withhold $65 million in aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). In July and August, President Trump ordered a $200 million in cuts to Palestinian aid initiatives while ending the U.S. contribution to UNRWA entirely. In September, the U.S. government removed $10 million in funding for USAID programs promoting coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians. The cutback was in response to the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to engage the Trump Administration to initiate direct negotiations with the Israeli government.
USAID officials told Haaretz news that the cutbacks are meant to put pressure on PA President Mahmoud Abbas to renew talks with the and Israel ahead of the peace plan the U.S. government is expected to present soon.
This is consistent with what President Trump has said. In a dialogue with Jewish leaders in September, President Trump said, “I stopped massive amounts of money that we were paying to the Palestinians and the Palestinian leaders. We were – the United States was paying them tremendous amounts of money,” he said. “And I’d say, you’ll get money, but we’re not paying you until we make a deal. If we don’t make a deal, we’re not paying.”
Asia Bibi, the Christian mother of five who’s on death row in Pakistan for “blasphemy,” has asked Christians worldwide to pray for her as her nine-year ordeal continues.
On Monday, Pakistan’s Supreme Court decided to reserve judgment on her final appeal against execution on the charges of blasphemy.
Her husband, Ashiq Bibi, told Premier while traveling to the U.K. that she has a message for fellow Christians.
“She told [me] that the community must remember her in their prayers because this is an international country … [I] need international pressure for the release of Asia Bib,” the husband said through an interpreter.
“She always has said that Jesus is her life and she is living in the name of Jesus, and [trusting] that Jesus will help her,” he added.
He said that the family is suffering without Bibi.
“As the husband, I am missing Asia and the daughters are also missing Asia,” he attested.
Eisham, one of Bibi’s daughters, also traveled with her father with the aim of raising international attention for her mother’s case.
“[Eisham is] praying that her mother is with her as soon as possible and she is also requesting that you also pray for their family and especially for Asia,” a translator relayed.
“The family of Asia Bibi is always under threat and when Asia Bibi would be [sic] released from the jail she will never, ever be living in Pakistan [again].”
“Although the judges didn’t give a judgement, this has happened in many cases of this kind in the past — and they still ended positively,” Father Emmanuel Yousaf said on behalf of Ashiq Bibi.
“We will have to wait a few days but we are confident that things will go well.”
Bibi was sentenced to death in 2010, but has been held since 2009 after she was accused of blaspheming the Islamic prophet Muhammad during an argument with Muslim farmworkers.
She has denied the charges, and her plight has drawn the attention of several human rights and persecution watchdog groups around the world.
Yousaf noted that uncertainty over the mother-of-five’s fate remains, but also said that there is good reason to hope for good news.
“There is no decision — we are hanging in the air — but God willing it will soon be over and [Asia Bibi] will be back home with the family,” he said.
“We have prayed 10 years now for our sister, Asia, and I am confident that our prayers will be heard, and the judgement will go in favor of Asia, her family and the entire Pakistani Christian community.”
By: Shane Harris, Souad Mekhennet and Joby Warrick; washingtonpost.com
On the evening of July 1, police in Germany surrounded the rented van of an Iranian diplomat after he pulled over at a gas station on the autobahn. Fearing he might be transporting explosives, the authorities summoned the bomb squad.
The diplomat, based at Iran’s embassy in Vienna, had been under surveillance for some time and was suspected of involvement in a plot to bomb a rally of Iranian dissidents in Paris. Despite his diplomatic status, he was arrested and extradited to Belgium, where two others, suspected of planning to carry out the attack in France, were detained.
The foiled plot has sparked growing anxiety in France, Germany and several other countries, including the United States and Israel, that Iran is planning audacious terrorist attacks and has stepped up its intelligence operations around the world.
Iranian leaders — under pressure from domestic protesters, Israeli intelligence operatives and the Trump administration, which is reimposing economic sanctions lifted under President Barack Obama — are making contingency plans to strike at the country’s adversaries in the event of open conflict, according to American, European, Middle Eastern and Israeli officials and analysts who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence.
Iran has assigned different units and organizations to conduct surveillance of opposition figures, as well as Jewish and Israeli organizations, in the United States and Europe, the officials said. The Iranians are preparing what one Israeli official called“target files” of specific people or groups that Iran could attack.
One Middle Eastern intelligence official, speaking on the condition that his name and nationality be withheld, cited a “definite uptick” in the level of activity by Iranian operatives in recent months, adding that the Iranians are “preparing themselves for the possibility of conflict.”
Iran’s reach extends to the United States. In August, the Justice Department arrested two Iranian men, one a dual national with U.S. and Iranian citizenship and the other an Iranian who is a legal U.S. resident, on suspicion of spying on behalf of Iran. The pair are accused of conducting surveillance on a Jewish organization in Chicago and rallies in New York and Washington that were organized by the Mujahideen-e Khalq, or MEK, a dissident group that seeks regime change in Iran.
But the case of the Iranian diplomat is the most alarming, officials and analysts said, and has strained Iran’s diplomatic relations with Germany and France. Both countries are trying to hold together a landmark 2015 agreement meant to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons program, which the Trump administration has abandoned.
The diplomat, Assadollah Assadi, has been a high-ranking official in Iran’s embassy in Vienna since 2014 but is also suspected of being the station chief of the Ministry of Intelligence, or MOIS, according to officials from the United States and Europe.
In late June, European intelligence services tracked Assadi as he met with a married couple of Iranian descent living in Belgium and — according to the couple, who spoke to police after their arrest — gave them about a pound of explosive material and a detonator, the officials said.
French, German and Belgian officials say the couple, Nasimeh Naami and Amir Saadouni, who were both born in Iran, planned to bomb a huge MEK rally in Paris, attended by thousands of people, including Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer and a vocal defender of the group.
European officials said the couple, who are cooperating with authorities, identified Assadi as their longtime handler. Assadi professes not to know them, according to German officials, who said Iranian authorities have claimed he was set up. The Iranian government has said publicly that the plot was fabricated to falsely implicate the regime in terrorism.
A spokesman for the Iranian mission to the United Nations denied that Iran had planned to attack the rally in Paris, calling the allegations “categorically false.” And he accused the MEK and Israel of staging the plot “to sabotage Iran-E.U. relations.”
“The MEK had long been listed as a terrorist group by the E.U. and the U.S.; it also has a long history of propaganda and false-flag operations,” said the spokesman, Alireza Miryousefi.
The U.S. State Department removed the MEK from a list of designated terrorist organizations in 2012. The group has publicly denied any involvement in the attempted attack in Paris.
Authorities said that Belgium would take the lead in the case for now, since the couple were arrested and have citizenship there.
French officials have publicly accused Iran’s Intelligence Ministry of planning the attack and have frozen the assets of two suspected intelligence operatives. “This extremely serious act envisaged on our territory could not go without a response,” France’s interior, foreign and economy ministers said in a joint statement. “In taking this decision, France underlines its determination to fight against terrorism in all its forms, particularly on its own territory.”
French police also raided the headquarters of one of the largest Shiite Muslim centers in France, which has links to Iran, according to European officials, and arrested three people.
Belgian officials contend that Assadi, who was surrounded at the gas station while traveling with his wife and two sons, is not protected by diplomatic immunity from prosecution because he was arrested outside Austria.
The case has been closely watched by the Trump administration. Assadi’s arrest “tells you, I think, everything you need to know about how the government of Iran views its responsibilities in connection with diplomatic relations,” White House national security adviser John Bolton told reporters this month. Bolton, a prominent Iran hawk, has been leading Trump administration efforts to place new sanctions on Iran, which he called “the central banker of international terrorism.”
The MOIS has a long history of conducting surveillance operations in Europe, but an attack at a major public gathering in Paris, attended by Trump’s lawyer, would invite massive retaliation from the French and the Americans, prompting some experts to wonder why Iran would take such a risk.
Iran has in the past targeted Iranian dissidents abroad, and Tehran has previously been linked to numerous plots involving Israeli, Jewish and Arab interests in the West. The level of Iranian activity ebbs and flows, sometimes without a discernible reason, according to former U.S. officials and Iran experts.
In the first 15 years after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini came to power as supreme ruler in 1979, Iranian agents assassinated at least 60 people in four European countries. The most notorious single attack was the 1992 assassination of a Kurdish Iranian dissident leader and three of his colleagues, all shot inside a Berlin restaurant.
Some experts now fear a return to those kinds of bloody operations.
In Germany last year, a Pakistani man was sentenced to four years in prison for scouting out potential targets with links to Israel and Jewish organizations on behalf of the Quds Force, the external operations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. According to court documents, he had been in touch with his Iranian handlers since at least 2011. But the “contact intensified” in the middle of 2015, around the same time that authorities believe the couple planning to attack the MEK rally were first contacted by Assadi.
Officials said that Iran has recruited people from Pakistan, as well as from Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, North Africa and Afghanistan, in order to obscure the country’s role in overseas spying.
A high-level German official said Iran’s aggression inside Europe calls for a tougher response.
“There are clear indications for calling this a case of state terrorism,” the official said of the thwarted Paris attack. But leaders in Germany and France, the official said, “would rather play the danger and level of interference down,” in order to hold together the nuclear deal.
Norman Roule, who served 34 years in the CIA and retired last year as the national intelligence manager for Iran, said the lack of a tougher European response, especially in the wake of Iran’s support of terrorism on the continent, has likely sent a message to Tehran: “You can get away with pretty much anything.”
Roule said that Iran has been testing the limits of European and American resolve for decades. The regime has launched cyberattacks, supported terrorist groups, and, in 2013, plotted to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States at a fashionable restaurant in Washington — an attack Roule said would probably have inflicted civilian casualties. All those events saw little tangible response, he said.
“My fear is that Iran may well believe they have yet to reach our red line, and this is a recipe for further attacks,” Roule said.
While U.S. officials have accused Iran’s top leaders of being behind the biggest plots, Iranian intelligence factions have sometimes acted in competition with one another, with little apparent coordination with the country’s ruling clerics, former U.S. officials said. Some think that pattern may be repeating now.
“It is not always the case that a senior [Iranian] official says, ‘Go and do this,’ ” said Matthew Levitt, a former counterterrorism official with the Treasury Department and the FBI. “Sometimes initiative — even stupid initiative, even initiative that fails — is smiled upon within this system.”
In light of the operations in Europe and the United States, it’s not clear that the Iranian leadership is in control of its own operatives, said intelligence officials in multiple countries.
One German official said that based on his government’s discussions with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s leaders understand that an attack in the heart of Europe could do irreparable damage to their country’s relationship with the remaining signatories to the nuclear deal.
But there is also a parallel power structure in Iran, and as domestic unrest grows and more Iranians die fighting in Iraq and Syria, Iranian hard-liners elsewhere in the government could push for a show of force against the West, the German official said.
The regime has also been humiliated by recent Israeli spying operations that laid bare huge troves of documents about Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly crowed about his spies’ prowess and has pressed for a tougher international response to Iran.
In a speech last month at the United Nations General Assembly, Netanyahu cited the arrest of the two operatives in the U.S. and the foiled Paris attack as evidence of Iran’s continued support of terrorism in the West, despite the election of more moderate leaders and the nuclear deal.
“If you think that Iran’s aggression has been confined to the Middle East, think again,” Netanyahu said.
An Israeli official said that there is a directive from the top levels of the Iranian government to develop targets quickly, and that the Intelligence Ministry has pushed its operatives to work too fast, leading to mistakes and arrests.
The two Iranian men arrested on suspicion of spying inside the United States were under surveillance by the FBI for an extended period of time, with their travel inside and outside the country tracked, according to a criminal complaint filed in the case.
The two men also appeared to be pressed for time. The alleged agent with dual Iranian and American citizenship urged his associate, who lived in California, to hand over photographs and other material he’d been gathering for target packages. But the California man “expressed some frustration,” according to the complaint, because he wanted more time to get the materials in order.
“I don’t like to do it this way . . . I like to have a complete package, meaning that there is no gap in information,” he said.
Israel has signaled that it would not tolerate this new Iranian front in Iraq, as it has done with hundreds of airstrikes on Iranian military assets in Syria during its seven-year civil war.
Situated in the cradle of human civilization, modern-day Iraq has been no stranger to gruesome bloodshed and violence in recent years. With the scourge of the Islamic State largely defeated, many hope that Iraq can now turn a page on its bloody recent past and start building for a new future. However, Iraq’s Persian neighbor, Iran, has different plans. As one of the region’s major powers, Iran has been focused on taking advantage of the chaos to its west to fulfill one of the core tenants of theocratic regime: Shi’ite Muslim expansionism and revolution.
While modern Iran’s involvement in Iraq goes back decades—from the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the bloody Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s to support insurgent groups in the years following the U.S. invasion—more recently, Iran has sought to leverage Iraq’s majority Shi’ite Muslim population as the final piece in its corridor of control, dubbed the “Shi’ite Crescent” from Tehran to Beirut in Lebanon.
“Currently, Iran has control over numerous Iraqi [mostly Shia] political and militia organizations,” Phillip Smyth, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told JNS.
“These groups generally follow the same organizational and ideological model as Lebanese Hezbollah,” he explained. “Their creation and growth are part of a longer-term Iranian strategy that follows the successes they’ve built when it comes to influencing Lebanon. They wish to construct groups that push their ideologies, policies, and whose armed groups can be utilized.”
Indeed, Iraq’s diversity has been its downfall in recent decades. Stitched together by former colonial powers the British and French following World War I, Iraq is torn between three dominant groups—the Kurds, Sunni Arab Muslims and Shi’ite Muslims, who make up about 65 percent of the population. Iran, which is also Shi’ite Muslim, has had long and complicated ties with its neighboring Iraqi Shi’ite Muslims, but has grown to fill the political vacuum left behind by recent wars to extend its domination over the community.
“Iran is deeply insinuated into Iraq’s political and security apparatuses. It used the Islamic State invasion of Iraq as a pretext to establish an IRGC [Iran Revolutionary Guards Corp] military presence in the country and expand its funding, training and equipping of Iraq’s major Shi’ite militias, which have since been incorporated into the Iraqi government as a direct conduit for Iranian influence over Iraq’s security policy,” Jonathan Ruhe, associate director of JINSA’s Gemunder Center for Defense and Strategy, told JNS.
As such, domination over Iraq is seen as one of the last pieces extend its “land bridge” of Shi’ite Muslim communities from Iran to Lebanon in order to directly threaten Israel.
“Control of this land bridge would expand Tehran’s ability to proliferate advanced weapons to Hezbollah, establish a second front against Israel in the Golan, and threaten U.S. and Israeli partner Jordan,” said Ruhe.
“More geostrategically, it would also bolster Iranian hegemony in the heart of the Middle East, which is critical to its objective of replacing the United States as the preeminent power in the region.”
Iranian build-up in Iraq
Earlier this month, it was reported that Iran had transferred ballistic missile to its Shi’ite proxies in Iraq.
According to three Iranian officials, two Iraqi intelligence sources and two Western intelligence sources, Iran has transferred short-range ballistic missiles to allies in Iraq over the last few months. Five of the officials said it was helping those groups to start making their own,” Reuters reported.
Among the missiles transferred include the Zelzal, Fateh-110 and Zolfaqar, which have ranges of about 200 kilometers (125 miles) to 700 kilometers (435 miles), putting both regional foes of Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel within striking distance.
“If these reports are indeed true, it represents the next logical step in Iran’s efforts to replicate and expand the threat posed to Israel from Hezbollah’s Iranian-made missile arsenal in Lebanon,” said Ruhe. “Iran is pursuing a similar project in Syria, which has prompted Israeli airstrikes to prevent Syria becoming a second front for threatening Israel with precision missiles.”
“In putting new missiles in Iraq capable of reaching Israel, Iran would be presenting Israel with a dilemma: escalate its preventive campaign against Iranian proliferation of strategic weaponry by forcing Israel to expand its strikes to another country, or allow Tehran to establish yet another way to threaten Israel?” he asked.
Will Israel attack Iraq?
Already, Israel has signaled that it would not tolerate this new Iranian front in Iraq, as it has done with hundreds of airstrikes on Iranian military assets in Syria during its seven-year civil war.
“We are certainly monitoring everything that is happening in Syria, and regarding Iranian threats, we are not limiting ourselves just to Syrian territory. This also needs to be clear,” Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in reference to Iran’s buildup in Iraq earlier this month.
“I am saying that we will contend with any Iranian threat, and it doesn’t matter from where it comes … Israel’s freedom is total. We retain this freedom of action,” he added.
Israel, of course, is no stranger to carrying out an attack on Iraqi soil. In 1981 Israel’s air force destroyed the Osirak Iraqi nuclear reaction near Baghdad.
However, the United States, which has about 5,200 troops in Iraq as part of its mission to stabilize the country and defeat the Islamic State, reportedly warned Israel not to carry out any airstrikes in Iraq.
American officials were reported to have told Israeli defense officials to “please leave Iraq to us,” Israel public broadcaster KAN reported.
Yet Ruhe remains unconvinced that America would target Iran or Iranian-backed militias in Iraq.
“To date, the United States has demonstrated a desire to coexist, however uneasily, alongside Iranian-backed forces in Iraq as part of the overarching goal of restoring a semblance of political and military stability to Iraq, and minimizing risks and burdens to U.S. forces operating there,” he said.
For Smyth, an attack by Israel in Iraq would be a “major escalation” from how the Jewish state has targeted these groups in the past.
“The farthest strike [likely launched by the Israelis] was near the Syrian-Iraq border some weeks ago. Of course, this may have been a signal by Israel to the militias that as soon as they enter Syria, they will be subject to Israeli attacks.
“However, going directly into Iraq would be a move in the direction of saying that all of these targets on the table, and it could have much harsher repercussions for U.S. forces.”
As such, Ruhe sees any Israel attack on Iranian proxies in Iraq as part of a broader campaign.
“It seems more realistic to envisions Israeli forces attacking Iranian proxies in Iraq—either as an expanded part of its counter-missile campaign against Iran in Syria, or as part of a major conflict between Israel on the one hand and Iran and it proxies [including Hezbollah] on the other,” Ruhe said.
“Indeed, Israel has made clear at least since Netanyahu’s Munich speech in February that if attacked, it would address the Iranian threat in its totality—regionwide, and not just from Syria.”
The Palestinian exception involves giving the Palestinians and their supporters a pass for actions that would otherwise be illegal, simply because they are Palestinians and pro-Palestinian activists.
When Rosh Hashanah ended on Tuesday evening, Jews discovered that over the holiday, the Trump administration had enacted two policies – one foreign and one domestic – that on their face, don’t appear to be connected. But actually, they stem from the same rationale. And both together and separately, these two policies give Jews much to be thankful for.
First, the administration announced it is closing the Palestine Liberation Organization’s office in Washington, DC. US National Security Advisor John Bolton explained Monday that the administration decided to close the PLO office due to the PLO’s refusal to carry out substantive negotiations towards the achievement of a peace agreement with Israel. Then too, by working to prosecute Israeli nationals at the International Criminal Court, the PLO is violating the conditions Congress set as law for the continued operation of its Washington office.
Second, Kenneth Marcus, Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights determined that from now on, the US Department of Education will use the State Department’s definition of antisemitism in adjudicating all complaints regarding alleged acts of antisemitism in US educational institutions.
The State Department’s definition of antisemitism is based on the definition drafted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. The IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism explicitly states that anti-Israel activities which among other things reject Israel’s right to exist and the Jewish people’s right to self-determination; compare contemporary policies of the State of Israel to policies of Nazi Germany; and apply a standard for judging Israel’s policies and actions that is not applied to other nations and states, are all acts of antisemitism. As such, they are prohibited under the civil rights statutes that protect Americans against discrimination based on their group identity.
The common phenomenon both policies address can be referred to as “the Palestinian exception.”
The Palestinian exception was born with the Oslo process, whose 25th anniversary was marked on September 13. Ironically, the more the process failed, the more entrenched the Palestinian exception became.
The Palestinian exception involves giving the Palestinians and their supporters a pass for actions that would otherwise be illegal, simply because they are Palestinians and pro-Palestinian activists.
For instance, the Palestinian exception has afforded the PLO and its Palestinian Authority the right to enjoy US political and financial support even as they undercut the US interest of achieving peace between the Palestinians and Israel. The Palestinians have been given a pass for rejecting Israeli peace proposals. They have been given a pass for waging an unrelenting war against Israel by cultivating, encouraging and carrying out terrorist attacks against Israel; prosecuting a political war against Israel whose goal is to delegitimize its right to exist; and disseminating and cultivating hatred of Israel and the Jewish people.
Since the dawn of the peace process, every secretary of state has at one point or another said that the PLO and PA must stop abetting terrorism and supporting terrorism.
Likewise, every secretary of state has at some point paid lip service to the notion that the PLO and the Palestinian Authority must cease indoctrinating Palestinians to hate Jews and seek Israel’s destruction.
But until President Donald Trump took office, no administration took substantive action against the PA or the PLO for their destructive, racist behavior. On the contrary, until Trump’s inauguration, three successive administrations responded to aggressive behavior by the Palestinians by expanding US financial and political support for the PLO, the PA and UNRWA. The Obama administration upgraded the diplomatic status of the PLO’s office in Washington.
As for the Palestinians’ supporters in the US, successive administrations have failed to call them to task for their ever-escalating efforts to discriminate against Israel’s supporters on campuses. This repeated failure has empowered hate groups like Students for Justice in Palestine, the Muslim Students Association, Jewish Voice for Peace and hundreds of aligned groups on college campuses to escalate their anti-Jewish activities.
Trump explained the basic rationale of his decision to defund UNRWA and slash funding to the PA and other Palestinian institutions in a conference call with Jewish leaders last week ahead of Rosh Hashanah. This rationale also holds for Trump’s decision to close the PLO’s Washington office, which Bolton announced four days after the call.
Trump explained: “I stopped massive amounts of money that we were paying to the Palestinians and the Palestinian leaders… I’d say, ‘You’ll get the money, but we’re not paying you until we make a deal. If we don’t make a deal, we’re not paying.”
Trump said that he discussed conditioning US aid to the Palestinians on Palestinian actions on behalf of peace in conversations with former US peace negotiators.
“I said to some of the past negotiators, ‘Did you ever do that before? Did you ever use the money angle?’ “They said, ‘No, sir. We thought it would be disrespectful.’
“I said, ‘I don’t think it’s disrespectful at all. I think it’s disrespectful when people don’t come to the table.’” In other words, Trump’s policy is not to extend exceptional treatment to the Palestinians. Just as he expects allied states that the US supports to support the US, so he expects the Palestinians to act in conformance with the US interest of forging peace between them and Israel.
In this vein, it is important to note that US financial support for the Palestinians, like the US decision to allow the PLO to operate a representative office in Washington, were both initiated in 1994 on the basis of the PLO’s formal commitment to work toward peace with Israel. Over the years, as Palestinian bad faith toward Israel became inarguable, Congress passed laws conditioning continued US assistance of the Palestinians on their behavior.
Yet the three previous administrations opted to ignore the law and operate instead in conformance with the Palestinian exception that gives the PA and the PLO a pass for everything – including breaking American laws.
As for the Palestinians’ supporters on US campuses, the Palestinian exception enabled them to wage a war against American Jews on campuses the likes of which the US has arguably never seen.
Over the years, as antisemitic assaults on Jewish students expanded under the headline of pro-Palestinian activism, Jewish students and groups repeatedly sought redress and corrective action from university authorities. In the many cases where those authorities refused to intervene to protect Jewish students, the students and Jewish advocacy groups turned to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) for protection, but to little or no avail.
In one notable instance, in 2011 the Zionist Organization of America filed a complaint against Rutgers University for failing to protect the civil rights of Jewish students, and the Department of Education rejected their complaint by arguing that it couldn’t prove the assault in question was antisemitic.
That year, a student group named BAKA, (Belief Awareness Kindness Action) organized a campus event that was to be “free and open to the public.” It was titled, “Never Again for Anyone.”
The title of the event made clear that its intent was to compare Israel to Nazi Germany. That is, it was on its face designed to be an antisemitic event.
As the ZOA noted in a statement this week, “When the event organizers saw how many ‘Zionists’ (aka Jews) showed up at the event, they… selectively enforced an admission fee against students who were, or were perceived to be Jewish. Jewish students reported this outrageous and painful and hurtful antisemitic discrimination to the University, which failed to address it.”
Despite the strong evidence that BAKA held an antisemitic event and then deliberately targeted Jewish students for discriminatory treatment, the OCR closed the case claiming that it lacked evidence of discrimination. The ZOA’s appeal languished unaddressed for nearly four years.
The Obama administration’s decision to turn a blind eye to anti-Jewish discrimination undertaken in the name of the Palestinians was part of a general policy of applying the Palestinian exception to pro-Palestinian activists.
This policy was made official in 2013. As Politico reported on Tuesday, in response to pressure from Kenneth Marcus, who then served as head of the Louis Brandeis Center for Human Rights and other civil rights groups, the Obama Education Department’s OCR outlined what it believed constituted actionable discrimination against Jewish students.
The OCR drew a distinction between antisemitism and political views about Israel. It released a statement stipulating that distinction. “OCR is careful to differentiate between harassment based on an individual’s real or perceived national origin, which is prohibited… as compared to offensive conduct based on an individual’s support for or opposition to the policies of a particular nation, which is not,” the OCR explained.
In other words, in the Obama administration’s view, while it is illegal to say that Jews are murderers and carrying out genocide, it is permissible to hold an event accusing Israel of carrying out genocide against the Palestinians and then discriminating against Jewish students who try to defend Israel from slander.
Needless to say, this position enabled antisemitic assaults against Jewish students to massively expand in recent years. “Israeli Apartheid Weeks” and BDS drives spread throughout the country – even though the basic conflation of Israel with apartheid South Africa and attempts to boycott Israel are both defined as forms of antisemitism under the IHRA definition adopted by the State Department.
Now serving as head of OCR as the Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights, Marcus is ending the Palestinian exception in the US education system. Marcus announced that the OCR will use the State Department’s definition of antisemitism when considering allegations of antisemitic acts on campuses in a letter to the ZOA.
The actual purpose of Marcus’s letter was to inform the organization that the OCR is considering the ZOA’s four-year-old appeal of the OCR’s decision not to take action against Rutgers for its refusal to protect Jewish students from discrimination. Trump’s opponents insist that ending the Palestinian exception in relation to the PLO diminishes the already miniscule hope of reaching an accord between Israel and the PLO. Former peace negotiator Aaron David Miller excoriated the Trump administration’s policy in a column in USA Today on Wednesday.
Anti-Israel and far left groups like Students for Justice in Palestine and the American Civil Liberties Union argue that Marcus’s policy harms the free speech rights of pro-Palestinian groups.
These criticisms are disingenuous.
The only way that peace will ever be achieved is if the Palestinians stop their efforts to destroy Israel and embrace the cause of peace – either with the PLO or without it.
Discrimination and bigotry are not free speech issues. Allowing pro-Palestinian groups to intimidate Jewish students into silence is not about guaranteeing free speech, it is about blocking free speech and trampling the civil rights of Jews.
The Palestinian exception has made peace less likely and it has made antisemitism the only form of bigotry permitted – indeed supported – by US universities today.
The Trump administration should be thanked, not attacked, for finally discarding it.
A call to vote follows the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education report that analyzed new Palestinian textbooks, proving that they “encourage Palestinian children to sacrifice their lives in the name of religion,” and “glorified martyrdom and violent resistance.”
The European Parliament’s Budgetary Control Committee will vote on whether to freeze more than 15 million euros ($17 million) in aid to the Palestinian Authority unless it removes incitement to violence against Israel in its school textbooks.
The Budgetary Committee’s bill is an amendment to the European Union’s draft budget, which will go to a plenary vote in late October. If the budget passes, the E.U. will withhold the money from the Palestinian Authority until it commits to reforming its textbooks.
“The funds will be released when the Palestinian Authority has committed to reform its school curriculum and textbooks to bring them in line with UNESCO standards for peace and tolerance in school education,” writes the resolution voted by the European parliament committee.
“The textbooks published by the P.A. in 2017, which are financed by the E.U. … contain, across all subjects, numerous examples of violent depictions, hate speech—in particular against Israel—and glorifications of jihad and martyrdom,” the resolution adds.
The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education, or IMPACT-se, which has analyzed the new Palestinian textbooks, presented a report to the European Parliament which says that they “encourage Palestinian children to sacrifice their lives in the name of religion” and “glorified martyrdom and violent resistance.”
“There was only a vision of one state from the river to the sea, which is not E.U. policy,” said IMPACT-se CEO Marcus Sheff.
The committee text is expected to go for a vote in the plenary session of the European Parliament later this month. If the resolution is adopted, the E.U. will withhold more than 15 million euros until the Palestinian Authority changes its textbooks.
The E.U. is the largest financial donor of the Palestinian Authority.
The radicalization of the Palestinian school curriculum has already led to an international review by donor countries. Last month Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander De Croo stated that “as long Palestinian schools are named to glorify terrorism, Belgium can no longer cooperate with the Palestinian Education Ministry and will not contribute to budgets for the construction of schools.”
Advocacy group European Coalition for Israel (ECI) welcomed the EP Budgetary Committee vote. In a statement on Monday, ECI Founding Director Tomas Sandell said he thinks the vote may be a “too little too late.”
“As the members of the European Parliament prepare for new elections in less than eight months, they can be assured that the on-going mismanagement of E.U. funds will become a major theme in the election campaigns. If the European Parliament is to regain its moral authority with the E.U. electorate, it will have to show a genuine will to reform throughout the next five-year term and not only in the closing months of the five-year electoral cycle,” said Sandell.
“Very little has been done to reform E.U. aid to the Palestinian Authority over the last four years,” he added.
According to ECI, the European External Action Service (EEAS)—the E.U. institution responsible for the distribution and oversight of funds to the Palestinian Authority—“has kept a low profile.”
The official EEAS position is that the glorification of violence and martyrdom in Palestinian school textbooks and payments to convicted terrorists do not amount to institutionalized incitement or radicalization.
“This position was reaffirmed when ECI last met with EEAS despite the presentation of numerous pieces of evidence and sample copies of schoolbooks at the meeting,” the pro-Israel group said. “Now the pressure for reform is mounting on EEAS both from the European Parliament and from E.U. member state governments.”
By: The Editorial Board; Wall Street Journal – wsj.com
Optimists who think Vladimir Putin is going to work with Israel and the U.S. to push Iran out of Syria may have to think again. On Monday Russia announced that it plans to send its highly capable S-300 missile system to its client regime in Syria within two weeks.
Kremlin justified the decision after Syrian air defenses shot down a Russian
reconnaissance plane last week, killing 15 Russians on board. The Syrian
missiles were defending against Israeli planes that were bombing Iranian
targets in Syria. The S-300 system is less likely to target Russian aircraft by
mistake, but it is also far more lethal and will be a major threat to Israeli
is frequently sending planes into Syrian airspace to slow Iran’s relentless
efforts to establish a military presence. Bashar Assad’s regime doesn’t object
because Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and Russia helped turn the tide of the
Syrian civil war. Iran wants permanent bases for weapons and militia fighters
to extend its imperial reach and directly threaten Israel when the next
inevitable war begins. Israel can’t tolerate that buildup, especially with
Hezbollah in nearby Lebanon having an arsenal of missiles estimated to be as
large as 150,000.
The U.S. and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu have been trying to persuade Mr. Putin to distance the country from
Iran, to little effect. Israel will no doubt try to avoid accidents that harm
Russian forces, but the Jewish state has no choice but to prevent a
Revolutionary Guard beachhead on its border. The S-300 sale is one more
indication that Mr. Putin wants to make trouble for the U.S. and its allies.