Monday, January 28, 2019

From Ian:

The Palestinian Jihad Against Peace
Mohammed Shtayyeh, another senior Fatah official and former member of the Palestinian negotiating team with Israel, said that the Palestinians were frustrated and saddened by the normalization of relations between the Arabs and Israel. In an interview with the Palestinian Authority's Voice of Palestine radio station, Shtayyeh attributed the apparent rapprochement between Israel and some Arabs to the "state of decline" in the Arab and Islamic countries.

Three Palestinian groups — the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), and Hamas — have also called on the Arabs to resist any attempt by their leaders to make peace with Israel, and said that the time has come to take "serious measures to confront the dangers of normalization with Israel."

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah also joined the chorus, by urging the Arabs to refrain from any form of normalization with Israel. In a speech before an Arab economic conference in Lebanon on January 20, Hamdallah said that Arab normalization with Israel should not happen before the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, with east Jerusalem as its capital, on the pre-1967 lines. He called on all Arab institutions and companies to abide by Arab League instructions to boycott Israel.

It is, at the very least, pure hypocrisy for the Palestinian Authority and its leaders to demand that Arabs boycott Israel when they themselves are speaking and working with Israel. The same Hamdallah who is calling on Arabs to boycott Israel, holds regular meetings with Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon in Jerusalem. Another Palestinian minister who holds regular meetings with Israeli officials is Hussein al-Sheikh, who is also a senior Fatah official.

The Palestinian strategy is now based on inciting Arabs against their leaders. This is the message that Abbas and his officials are sending to the Arabs: "You need to join us in our campaign to stop Arab leaders from making peace with Israel. You must condemn any leader who seeks normalization with Israel as a traitor."

The Palestinians' "anti-normalization" campaign is also part of their effort to thwart Trump's "deal of the century," which, according to some reports, will call for normalization between the Arabs and Israel. The Palestinians say that they are determined to foil Trump's unseen peace plan and its attempt to normalize relations between the Arab countries and Israel. This, then, is what Palestinian "diplomacy" boils down to these days: foiling peace plans and Israeli-Arab normalization. That is what happens when Mahmoud Abbas and his officials have nothing good to offer their people. It now remains to be seen whether the Arab countries will surrender to the latest campaign of Palestinian incitement and intimidation.

Ben-Dror Yemini: The new Arab boycott
A major economic conference was supposed to take place last week. There was no international clamor, there were no demonstrations on campuses, the BDS anti-Israel brigade were nowhere in sight, but the conference still failed due to a boycott.

Surprisingly, this wasn't a conference that was supposed to be held in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem—it was the Fourth Arab Economic and Social Development Summit, held in Beirut and boycotted by the leaders of the Arab countries, with the exception of Qatar and Mauritania.

Is the Arab world boycotting Lebanon? Officially, no. In practice, yes. Like so many problems in the Middle East, Iran was the reason this time as well. Lebanon could have been the most prosperous country in the Arab world, wrote Abdulrahman al-Rashed, former editor of the Asharq Al-Awsat daily and current director-general of Al-Arabiya, but that will never happen because Iran controls Lebanon.

Al-Rashed wrote: "The region is experiencing a series of crises, whose common denominator is a connection to Iran. Unfortunately Lebanon will not be stable, the Palestinians will achieve neither statehood nor normal life, in Yemen, Iraq and Syria there is no hope for a better future for as long as Iran continues with its policy of causing chaos there," he said.

As opposed to former US president Jimmy Carter and Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom, who subscribe to the belief that everything wrong in the region is down to "the oppression of the Palestinians by Israel," courageous elements in the Arab world, such as al-Rashid, are pointing the finger at Iran.
Dr. Mordechai Kedar: The Palestinian Civil War
The tension between the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas Organization in Gaza is approaching the boiling point, as a result of several factors:

The dire economic situation in Gaza, the unbridgeable chasm between Hamas and Fatah's outlook, a stalemate in Israel-PLO negotiations, the postponement of any attempts at progress between Israel and the Palestinians during the election period, the approaching date for announcing the US government's "deal of the century" - and the constant leaks about its content - the strengthening of relations between Israel and several Arab states and, of course, the lack of any chance on the political horizon that Israel will pack its bags and return to the 1949 lines.

Hamas is in financial straits because its flow of Iranian support has dried up as a result of the economic sanctions on Iran, while the economic crisis in Turkey casts a shadow on Sultan Erdogan's proteges, the heads of Hamas in Gaza. Hamas members in Judea and Samaria are being hunted down by Israeli and PA security forces, who work hand in hand 24/7 against the terror organization.

The article I have brought below (in translation), with my clarifications in parentheses, appeared on a pro-Hamas site n early January 2019.

What lies behind Mahmoud Abbas' hysteria



Getting Smart about America's Middle East Policy
I deeply appreciate the generosity of Elliott Abrams, Martin Kramer, and Steven Cook in providing thoughtful responses to “The Strategy Washington Is Pursuing in the Middle East Is the Only Strategy Worth Pursuing.” I’ll offer my reactions to their arguments—with each of which I respectfully disagree—one by one.

In my essay, I describe what I see as a coherent strategy toward the Middle East taking shape in the Trump administration. Elliott Abrams, for his part, sees no common worldview or sense of collective purpose at all. “[T]he decisions of the past two years,” he writes,

may instead reflect the many individuals who have affected decision-making (Rex Tillerson, John Kelly, James Mattis, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, and for that matter Mohammed bin Salman, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Benjamin Netanyahu, etc.), not to mention the president’s own changes of mind.

For the sake of discussion, let’s assume Abrams is entirely correct. But will he concede that the administration has at least exhibited clear inclinations, and that these inclinations are unlikely to evaporate? Particularly relevant are five:
(1) The administration has an aversion to deploying troops on the ground.
(2) It has nevertheless displayed a willingness to use force to deter adversaries—as it did, for example, in response to the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime.
(3) It is much more favorably disposed toward traditional American allies—Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey— than the Obama administration preceding it or the current Democratic leadership.
(4) It rejects the fashionable cant, on the American left and among Europeans, about the supposed centrality of the Israel-Palestinian conflict to Middle East international politics.
(5) It is very hostile to Iran and its ambitions, both in the nuclear arena and in regional politics.
Iran Is Determined to Use Syria as a Springboard to Hit Israel
In recent weeks, Iran has been accelerating its efforts to use Syria to build up its capability to hit targets in Israel, both by its own forces or through supporting its surrogates - Hizbullah and other militias - in Syria and Lebanon. This accelerated after the Americans announced they are going to leave Syria soon.

Iran's actions were followed very closely by Israel, which responded by resuming its attacks against Iranian military targets in Syria. Iran tried again to hit targets in Israel with rockets, as it had already done twice last year, but its effort was foiled by Israel.

What we should learn from these events is that Iran remains committed to building a military base in Syria from where it can threaten Israel. Iran is not going to give up easily and Israel will have to go on with its policy to deny Iran its goal.

Israel can still rely on its intelligence dominance and its military advantage to make it very costly for Iran to make progress on its plan.

Russia has a role to play and it can advise the Iranians to stop the military buildup in Syria beyond what is necessary to keep Assad in power.

In the eyes of the pragmatic Arab states, Israel's stature as the only country that is ready to stand against Iran militarily keeps growing and should be translated into closer relations with Israel.

Israel also serves as a model (for Arab states and Europe) of a regional force that is ready and capable of defending itself by itself based on American support. This is what the U.S. expects from American allies.
Russian Statement a Positive Development for Israel
On Friday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Rybakov announced that Russia is not exactly an ally of the Iranians and that Israel's security must also be taken into account. Such a statement can be seen as a diplomatic turning point. Curious as it sounds, Russia needs Israel more than it needs Iran.

The Russians have recently come to the realization that Israel is willing to go to the wire to thwart Iranian consolidation in Syria, the plan to improve Hizbullah's precision missiles in Lebanon, and the Iranian forces in Syria. The Israeli decision to end its veil of ambiguity over its Syria strikes definitely contributed to this realization. The Russians have apparently come to the conclusion that the Iranians are dragging Israel into attacks in Syria, which could hamper Russia in fulfilling its strategic goal of stabilizing Assad's regime.

The Kremlin thinks that the Iranians have behaved badly of late. Reports that Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, was spotted on a tour in southern Syria, 40 km. from the Israel-Syria border, meant a blatant violation of Iran's commitment to Russia and Putin's public declaration that the Iranians and their proxies would keep 80 km. from the Israeli border. Israel gave Russia public proof that the Iranians had broken their promise. Putin apparently decided to let the Iranians know that they had to meet their commitments.
U.S. Considering Staying in Syrian Base to Counter Iran
Despite President Trump's December pledge to withdraw all U.S. forces from Syria, the U.S. government is considering a plan to keep some troops at the al-Tanf garrison in southeastern Syria to counter Iranian activity, sources tell Foreign Policy. "Al-Tanf is a critical element in the effort to prevent Iran from establishing a ground line of communications from Iran through Iraq, through Syria, to southern Lebanon in support of Lebanese Hizbullah," said one former senior U.S. military commander.

Under the current withdrawal plan, the 200 U.S. troops who have been advising local Syrian fighters out of al-Tanf will be the last to leave the country, officials say. But given the garrison's strategic importance, sources said the U.S. government is considering a plan to keep at least some forces there. The significance is in the 55-km. (34-mile) exclusion zone around al-Tanf that allows U.S. troops to claim self-defense in striking Iranian or other forces moving through the area.
Iran: Russia prevented Syrians from using S-300 against Israel
A senior Iranian lawmaker on Sunday condemned the Kremlin for allegedly preventing the Syrian army from using its Russian-supplied S-300 surface-to-air missile systems against Israeli warplanes earlier this month.

Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, the chairman of the Iranian Parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said the Russians had made sure to disable the advanced S-300 systems during an Israeli airstrike.

"There appears to be a strange type of correlation between the Zionist regime's airstrikes and the Russian air defenses not working," he said.

Falahatpisheh also said Israeli reports of destroyed Iranian infrastructure in Syria were completely false.

"The Zionists aspire to undermine the stability of the regime in Syria, with the aim of causing Iran to respond and to push into a corner," Falahatpisheh remarked, adding that he had visited the sites bombed by Israel.

Last week, Iran's state-run news network reported that Russian air defenses had failed to function during an Israeli airstrike on Damascus. Russia and Iran have clashed in the past over Moscow's refusal to transfer more advanced models of the S-300 to Syria.
Netanyahu: 'I will never uproot settlements' in a peace deal
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged Monday to never uproot settlers or settlements in Judea and Samaria in the framework of a peace deal with the Palestinians. He made the comment during a campaign stop in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc on Monday afternoon.

“As long as it depends on me, no one will be uprooted from their home,” Netanyahu said as he visited both the Elazar settlement and the seminary in Migdal Oz.

In Elazar, he visited with representatives of the 15 families which security forces evacuated from the Netiv Ha’avot outpost earlier this year, on order from the High Court of Justice.

He explained that demolition of the Netiv Ha'avot homes occurred in the context of the High Court order.

“There are those who think that the way to achieve peace with the Arabs is to uproot us from our homes, but as long as it is up to me, it will never happen," he said. To underscore the point, he planted a tree near the modular homes which had been set up for the Netiv Ha'avot families on the outskirts of Elazar.
Knesset cancels delegation to Ireland over anti-settlement boycott bill
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein canceled a Knesset delegation’s trip to Dublin on Monday, in light of an Irish bill criminalizing business with Israelis over the Green Line.

“It’s not surprising that Ireland is once again looking to hurt and boycott Israel,” Edelstein said. “The law to boycott Judea and Samaria has serious repercussions for relations between the countries. Therefore, I instructed to cancel the MK delegation to Ireland that was meant to take place in March.”

Edelstein said many countries seek to visit the Knesset and invite Israeli lawmakers to their legislatures.

“We are happy to take the time to go to a country that wants to cooperate with all of Israel and not just parts of it, instead of wasting our time in a country that obsessively looks for ways to hurt us,” he stated.

If the Irish bill becomes law, it could fine merchants in Ireland that sell products from the West Bank, Golan Heights or east Jerusalem for up to 250,000 euros, or sentence them to up to five years in jail.

Edelstein’s decision came after the Foreign Ministry rebuked Irish Ambassador to Israel Alison Kelly over the bill’s advancement in Ireland’s lower house of parliament last week. The ministry called the legislation “hypocritical and antisemitic,” calling on Ireland to focus on “dark dictatorships and terrorist movements, instead of Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East.”

Kelly told the Foreign Ministry that her government opposes the bill. The legislation moved forward in defiance of Ireland’s minority government, which said it must follow EU trade policies, as a member of its single market.
When Israel prepared to conquer Baghdad
During the First Gulf War, Israeli political and military leaders found themselves on a steep learning curve as the country was pounded by Saddam Hussein's Scuds; the lessons from that experience — and the demands of the Americans —still resonate, in particular regarding a devious Iranian plan to strike the Jewish state from Iraq.

The picture painted by the intelligence gathered by Israel and by the United States Central Command is very worrying. The Iranians, it transpired, have started sending surface-to-surface missiles to Shiite militias in Iraq. The missiles are meant to be aimed, among other things, at Israel, to deter it from further attacks on Iranian facilities in Syria.

It is a cunning Iranian move: missile fire from Iraq would not give Israel just cause to attack Syria or Lebanon, and it would put the Jewish state in a dilemma. Furthermore, an attack on Iraq requires coordination with the US, who has already informed Israel that any military action it takes in Iraq would endanger the lives of Americans protecting the Baghdad regime. It would also require coordination with neighboring countries such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia to allow the Israel Air Force warplanes to fly in their airspace. It's obvious these countries will not openly cooperate with Israel in attacking a neighboring Arab nation.

This has happened over the past year, and caused the IDF to raise its level of alert. The Iranians didn't send the missiles as a mere threat, they also intend to use them for a strike in retaliation or for deterrence.

On February 10, 2018, the IAF attacked the T-4 Air Base in northern Syria, destroying a command and control trailer for an Iranian drone after it infiltrated Israel. During that same incident, an IAF F-16 fighter jet was downed over Israeli territory by a Syrian anti-aircraft missile. Iranian military personnel were killed in the Israeli strike, and Tehran prepared to retaliate through the Shiite militias it has at its beck and call. It seems that it was only due to heavy diplomatic pressure that the missile threat from Iraq was lifted. Instead, the Iranians on May 10 launched more than 20 rockets towards the Israeli Golan Heights, which didn't cause any damage or create a new balance of deterrence. On the contrary, they only gave Israel cause to strike the Iranians again where it's convenient for the IDF — in Syria.
Top Saudi official: Barack Obama lied, set Middle East back 20 years
Former US president Barack Obama lied to Saudi Arabia when violating the redlines he famously declared regarding Syria’s use of chemical weapons and then not acting when they were used, a former senior Saudi official said in an interview with Independent Arabia.

Bandar bin Sultan served for years as head of Saudi intelligence as well as the Saudi ambassador to the United States. In the interview, he recalled a last phone call between the late Saudi King Abdullah and Obama, during which the Saudi leader told the US president: “I did not expect that [after] this long life, I would see [the day] when an American president lies to me.”

Obama, bin Sultan said, “would promise something and do the opposite.” He said that the president took the Middle East back 20 years and also spoke critically of the Iran nuclear deal and how the former president spoke publicly about curbing Iran’s activities, but then went behind Saudi Arabia’s back and negotiated the nuclear deal.

These policies by Obama, he said, emboldened Russia and Iran and paved the way for them to enter Syria and interfere in the civil war that has raged there since 2011.

Syrian President Bashar Assad, he said, was a “kid” and that while his late father Hafez was capable of making decisions, Bashar could not.

Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, bin Sultan said that the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat committed a “crime” against his people by rejecting the peace plan proposed by former president Bill Clinton.
Experts, images indicate Saudis are at work on a ballistic missile program
A military base deep inside Saudi Arabia appears to be testing and possibly manufacturing ballistic missiles, experts and satellite images suggest, evidence of the type of weapons program it has long criticized its arch-rival Iran for possessing.

Further raising the stakes for any such program are comments by Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who said last year the kingdom wouldn’t hesitate to develop nuclear weapons if Iran does. Ballistic missiles can carry nuclear warheads to targets thousands of kilometers (miles) away.

Officials in Riyadh and the Saudi Embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment.

Having such a program could further strain relations with the US, the kingdom’s longtime security partner, at a time when ties already are being tested by the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

Jeffrey Lewis, a missile expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California, said heavy investment in missiles often correlates with an interest in nuclear weapons. “I would be a little worried that we’re underestimating the Saudis’ ambitions here,” said Lewis, who has studied the satellite images.
Invoking Auschwitz liberation, Venezuela ‘president’ welcomes Israel recognition
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido thanked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu late Sunday for recognizing his government earlier that day, while linking his political struggle with the end of the Holocaust.

“Seventy-four years ago, the Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated, and today, just as our country is also fighting for its freedom, we thank the Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu for the recognition and the support,” Guaido tweeted.

A few hours earlier, Netanyahu had issued a statement declaring Israel’s recognition as Guaido as interim president of the Latin American country.

“Israel joins the United States, Canada, most of the countries of Latin America and countries in Europe in recognizing the new leadership in Venezuela,” his statement read.

Sunday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which annually commemorates the liberation of Auschwitz on January 27, 1945, by Soviet troops.
Abbott, McDonnell and Owen Jones Rally to Maduro's Support Alongside Red Ken
Perhaps the only thing more predictable about a socialist government than brutal crackdowns on civil liberties and economic collapse is the UK’s hard left coming out in solidarity with it. Sure enough, the usual suspects are out in force in the Guardian, with numerous senior Labour MPs including John McDonnell, Diane Abbott, Richard Burgon, Chris Williamson and Clive Lewis co-signing a letter along with Owen Jones condemning the “US attempt at regime change” in Venezuela and instead calling for “dialogue”. Classic…

Never mind the fact that it’s millions of ordinary Venezuelans who are taking to the streets to demand regime change after seeing their lives ruined by the crippling socialist policies of successive dictators Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro – obviously they’re just part of a grand “far right” US conspiracy which must be resisted to keep Maduro in place.

At least they’ve got some renowned moral authorities on their side, the letter was also signed by antisemitism scandal-ridden Pete Willsman and the disgraced Ken Livingstone. When you’re on Ken Livingstone’s side of history you know you’re on the wrong one…
PMW: PA supports Venezuelan president Maduro, condemns US for “supporting coup attempt”
While European leaders have given Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro an ultimatum that unless he holds democratic elections they will recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s legitimate leader, the Palestinian Authority is emphasizing its support for Maduro.

Maduro won the presidential elections in May 2018, but the election was determined to be fraudulent and many countries have not recognized his presidency. Nevertheless, Maduro embarked on his second term, enjoying the support of Russia, China, Mexico, Syria, Iran, and Turkey, while the US, Canada, the EU, Israel, and some countries in Latin America back the leadership of Guaidó. Guaidó proclaimed himself acting president last week, but Maduro has refused to step down. Meanwhile, Venezuelans continue to suffer under food and medicine shortages and dozens have been killed in nationwide protests against Maduro and his government.

Palestinian Media Watch has found that the PA has unequivocally put itself behind the corrupt Maduro in direct opposition to the US, Canada, the EU and others. The following are some examples of the PA’s support for Maduro’s presidency in Venezuela:

PA Minister of Foreign Affairs Riyad Al-Malki participated in Maduro’s inauguration ceremony and also brought Maduro congratulations from PA Chairman Abbas:
“Al-Malki congratulated President Maduro on receiving the presidency, wished him success in his service of the Venezuelan people, and conveyed to him the congratulations and wishes of [PA President] Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian leadership that always stands by Venezuela and its people, as Palestine does not forget its friends."
[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Jan. 12, 2019]

The PA Foreign Ministry emphasized that it considers Maduro "legally elected" and “condemned several states” for their “interference” and “support of the coup attempt” against him:
Defense Ministry: NIS 40 million spent on countering Gaza border riots in 2018
The Israeli military in 2018 spent an additional NIS 40 million ($10.9 million) in expenses related to the riots and protests along the Gaza border, the Defense Ministry said Monday.

On March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip launched weekly “Great March of Return” protests along the border, which regularly devolved into violent clashes with Israeli troops and the launching of airborne incendiary devices into southern Israel.

Revealing spending figures from last year, the ministry said the NIS 40 million was a special fund separate from the military’s annual budget. It does not include compensation payments to residents of the area around Gaza whose farmlands were burned in arson attacks by Palestinians from the enclave.

According to the ministry, most of the additional funds were spent on riot control weapons and drones, which were used extensively in response to the regular border protests and clashes.

In an effort to counter the at times constant flow of incendiary devices and explosives being flown into Israel on kites and helium balloons from the Gaza Strip, the government handed over millions of shekels to defense contractors, both state-controlled and private, to varying degrees of success.

In addition, the Defense Ministry said it spent NIS 45 billion ($12.23 billion) on Israeli-made weapons and materiel. Of that, NIS 11.6 billion ($3.15 billion) was paid to Israel Aerospace Industries, the ministry said.


Settlers not questioned as suspects in shooting death of Palestinian — report
Residents of the West Bank outpost of Adei Ad on Sunday said they gave police testimony over a fatal clash over the weekend in which a Palestinian man was shot dead, but were not hauled in as criminal suspects.

Both the Israel Defense Forces and the Israel Police said they opened investigations into the incident and summoned all 20 members of Adei Ad’s local security team on Sunday to hear their account of the deadly altercation, the Haaretz daily reported on Monday.

No members of the group were questioned under caution and their weapons were not examined by investigators, the report said.

Hamdi Na’asan, 38, was killed Saturday near the Ramallah-area village of Mughayyir. There were conflicting claims as to how the deadly incident unfolded. Local Palestinians say the settlers fatally shot Na’asan during a clash, but Adei Ad residents claim their security guards fired shots in the air to chase away Palestinians attackers who stabbed a Jewish man.

“I really felt the hate, they really came to hurt me,” the unnamed wounded settler said in an interview on Hadashot news, relating that he was attacked by several Palestinians but managed to escape.

As the clash developed, loudspeakers on the village mosque announced that “the village of Mughayyir is being attacked by settlers. Everyone come to defend the village,” according to the television report.
Palestinians, IDF clash in second day of violence near al-Mughayer
Palestinians and IDF forces clashed on the outskirts of the West Bank village of al-Mughayer on Sunday, as Palestinian anger continued to rise over the shooting death of Hamdi Taleb Na’san, 38, the day before.

The IDF has alleged that settlers killed Na’san, a father of four, during clashes on Saturday that followed an attack on an Israeli hiker next to the nearby Adei Ad outpost. Villagers held a funeral procession for Na’san, in which they held his body aloft on a gurney and shouted out that he had become a martyr.

The IDF said that about 100 Palestinians on Sunday rioted and threw stones at their forces, who responded with riot dispersal, means including tear gas.

Saturday’s incident began when an Israeli hiker was attacked by three Palestinians and was stabbed in the hand, but he managed to escape to the Adei Ad outpost.

The community’s volunteer security team and others such teams from the Shiloh area, where the outpost is located, went in search of the suspects and were ambushed near al-Mughayer, according to Binyamin Regional Council head Israel Ganz.

Ganz said that the security team had to defend itself by firing. The IDF similarly fired when it arrived to rescue the security team. Na’san was killed during those clashes and, according to Palestinian reports, 30 others were wounded.

Ganz said security members fired because they felt their lives were in danger.
Reports: Abbas to reshuffle government, appoint new PM
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has decided to shake up his government, Palestinian officials say.

Sources told Israel Hayom that incumbent Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah is unlikely to head the new government. Abbas is expected to meet with Hamdallah on Monday to inform him of his decision.

The move is the latest sign of failure in more than a decade of attempts to reconcile with the rival Hamas movement. The officials say Abbas appointed a four-member committee from his Fatah movement on Sunday to consult with political factions about forming a new government.

The official Wafa news agency said Fatah had decided to form a political government to replace the current cabinet of technocrats.

Hamdallah's government was formed in 2013 following a power-sharing agreement with Hamas. But the government couldn't assume its responsibilities in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip due to deep disputes.
Israel alerts UN to more Hezbollah tunnels in Lebanon, heading toward Israel
The Israeli government has passed information to the United Nations detailing the existence of additional “underground infrastructure” belonging to Hezbollah along the Israeli-Lebanese border, The Times of Israel has learned, including tunnels headed toward Israeli territory that were not destroyed in the IDF’s recent Operation Northern Shield.

Hezbollah’s construction work on these additional tunnels ceased last month when the terror organization realized its plans were known by the Israeli side. None of the new tunnels had reached the Israeli border, unlike the six tunnels that have been destroyed by Israel.

The additional tunnels, all of which are in Lebanese territory, are known to Israeli intelligence and are within Israel’s operational reach, an Israeli official said.

The official confirmed a similar claim to this effect made by the Israeli military earlier this month.

“The IDF is monitoring and is in possession of a number of sites where Hezbollah is digging underground infrastructure that has yet to cross into Israeli territory,” the army said on January 13.
With his smug tunnel talk, Nasrallah tries to bury Hezbollah’s defects
After weeks, it has finally happened: Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has confirmed the existence of cross-border attack tunnels from Lebanon into Israel — though he didn’t explicitly take responsibility — despite the terror group’s initial attempts to deny that a subterranean network was being built across the border for military purposes.

But as is his wont, Nasrallah quickly turned an event that is supposed to embarrass Hezbollah into a propaganda and deterrence tool against Israel, by directly addressing, and threatening, the attentive public in the Jewish state.

In his interview Saturday evening with his home TV channel, Al-Mayadeen, Nasrallah explained that the tunnels have existed for a long time, some predating the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Israel suffered an embarrassing failure in having taken so long to uncover them, he insisted.

Nasrallah knew that after his prolonged absence from the public eye and a wave of rumors regarding his health, Israeli news outlets would be closely following his every word. And he made full use of the situation to try to intimidate the average Israeli, saying Hezbollah has precision-guided missiles, more tunnels, the ability to conquer northern Israel, bomb the entire country and disrupt the lives of Tel Aviv residents, and more.

He even jokingly told his interviewers that Hezbollah’s possession of precision-guided missiles was to Israel’s advantage, since it would prevent innocents from being harmed.
MEMRI: Pro-Hizbullah Lebanese Daily Warns France Against Military Cooperation With Israel In Syria
A January 25, 2019 article in the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which is close to Hizbullah, protested against what it described as emerging security cooperation between France and Israel in Syria. The article claimed, citing "knowledgeable" French sources, that during the recent visit of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in France, he and his French counterpart, President Emmanuel Macron, discussed the possibility of French-Israeli military cooperation on the ground in Syria. The article stated that such a step would cross the French government's own red lines, and wondered what justification France has for remaining in Syria when ISIS has been defeated. It speculated that the French president may be trying to improve his popular image at home in light of his domestic troubles, and also to persuade U.S. President Donald Trump not to withdraw his forces from Syria. Finally, the article warned that clashing with the resistance axis could have dire consequences for France's role and interests in the region.

The following are excerpts from it:
"According to information that has reached Al-Akhbar, France is no longer settling for the role of the mailman who delivers Israel's threats to Lebanon. In their meeting during the Israeli president's [recent] visit to France, he and his French counterpart [discussed] possible cooperation between the two countries on the ground in Syria, on the intelligence and logistical levels, following the U.S. withdrawal [from that country]. There are many speculations about the background for this, but there is no disagreement that the implications for the future of France's role in the region will be dire.

"According to the information that has reached Al-Akhbar from Paris, during the meeting between Macron and Israeli [President] Rivlin, who was accompanied on this visit by the commander of the Israeli Air Force, Amikam Norkin, complaints were made that Hizbullah is developing accurate missiles in Lebanon, and [the two presidents] also discussed cooperation between [Israel and France] in Syria. Israel trying to use France as a mailman to deliver its threats to Lebanon is nothing new. French security officials have conveyed such threats more than once during the last two years. The new element is the discussion of possible cooperation on the ground in Syria, on the information and logistical levels. According to a French source knowledgeable in this matter, this 'crosses the red lines that the French government itself set up due to the possible political and security consequences that could ensue.' The French and Israeli security apparatuses have cooperated in the past by sharing intelligence... but if there is [actual] cooperation on the ground in Syria, that will be a significant turning-point in the process of Israeli-French rapprochement... Will Macron take this significant [step] despite the effects it will have on his country's interests and its military presence and role in the region?

Iran general says Tehran aims to wipe Israel off the ‘global political map’
The deputy head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said Monday that Tehran’s strategy was to eventually wipe Israel off the “global political map.”

Asked by a reporter in Tehran about Israeli threats to strike Iranian forces deployed in Syria, Brig. Gen. Hossein Salami was quoted by Iranian news outlets as saying, “Our strategy is to erase Israel from the global political map. And it seems that, considering the evil that Israel is doing, it is bringing itself closer to that.”

He added: “We announce that if Israel does anything to start a new war, it will obviously be the war that will end with its elimination, and the occupied territories will be returned. The Israelis will not have even a cemetery in Palestine to bury their own corpses.”

Salami’s comments followed a series of reciprocal taunts by Israeli and Iranian leaders in recent weeks as tensions have risen on the Israeli-Syrian border between IDF and Iranian forces.
Iran denies guardsmen were killed in Israel strike in Syria
A spokesman for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has denied reports that 12 guardsmen were killed last week during an Israeli airstrike on sites in Syria, labeling them “lies,” Iranian reports said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based group that monitors the violence in Syria, said that in the predawn hours of Monday last week, 21 people, 12 of them Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guardsmen, were killed in the Israeli airstrike. Six more were Syrian military fighters and the other three were other non-Syrian nationals, the Observatory said.

Last Sunday, Israel reportedly conducted a rare daylight missile attack on Iranian targets in Syria. In response, Iran fired a surface-to-surface missile from Syria at the northern Golan Heights that was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system over the Mount Hermon ski slope, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

The Israeli Air Force then launched overnight retaliatory strikes on Iranian targets near Damascus and on Syrian air defense batteries that fired at the attacking Israeli fighter jets, the IDF said.

The Iranian spokesman, Ramadan Sharif, said Monday that if 12 members of the group had been killed, it would have been visible. “If there had been fatalities, we would have held funerals.”
Trump warns Europeans not to try to evade Iran sanctions
The Trump administration is closely eyeing efforts in Europe to set up an alternative money payment channel to ease doing business with Iran and avoid running afoul of sanctions the US has levied on the Islamic Republic.

The White House is putting the Europeans on notice, saying that if they try to do an end-run around US sanctions on Iran, they will be subject to stiff fines and penalties. Unfazed, the European Union is marching forward with the plan, which, if implemented, could further strain trans-Atlantic relations.

A spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said preparations for the alternative system were “at an advanced stage.”

“I hope that we can announce the launch very soon,” Maja Kocijancic told reporters late last week in Brussels.

Getting out ahead of a possible announcement, a senior administration official told The Associated Press on Friday that the US will fully enforce its sanctions and hold individuals and entities accountable for undermining them. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the issue.

“The choice is whether to do business with Iran or the United States,” Sen. Tom Cotton (Republican-Arkansas), told the AP. “I hope our European allies choose wisely.”








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