Wednesday, December 26, 2018

From Ian:

US official says top Hezbollah brass hit in alleged Israeli strikes in Syria
An alleged Israeli airstrike in Syria Tuesday night hit several senior Hezbollah officials as they boarded a plane bound for Iran, Newsweek reported Wednesday morning, citing a Defense Department source.

The unnamed source told the magazine he had received the information from top Israeli military brass.

He said strategic Iranian munitions were also targeted, including advanced GPS components for weaponry.

Syrian state media said the strikes, beginning at about 10 p.m., were carried out from Lebanon and that a number of targets were intercepted. It said its own air defenses had opened fire on “enemy targets,” shooting them down.

Syrian TV quoted a military source saying weapons warehouses were hit, and three Syrian soldiers wounded.
A screenshot from video purporting to show a Syrian surface-to-air missile being fired near Damascus on December 25, 2018. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Syrian media said Wednesday morning that Israel hit a base used by Hezbollah in Al-Dimas, a weapons depot at a base belonging to the Syrian army’s 4th division in Sabura and the military’s 10th Division command in Qatana.

Additionally, Syrian air defenses in Attal and the 68th Brigade and 137th Battalion in Khan-al-Sheikh were also reportedly attacked, Hadashot reported.

Netanyahu vows to keep hitting Iran in Syria: ‘We stand firmly on our red lines’
Brushing aside Russian criticism of a reported Israeli airstrike in Syria overnight, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday doubled down on Israel’s policy of attacking Iranian-linked targets in Syria.

“We will not abide an Iranian entrenchment in Syria,” Netanyahu, who is also the defense minister, said at a graduation ceremony for fresh Israeli Air Force pilots at the Hatzerim air base in the south.

“We are taking action against it aggressively and powerfully, including in these very days,” he said.

US President Donald Trump’s “decision to pullout American soldiers from Syria does not change our policy,” Netanyahu said. “We stand firmly on our red lines in Syria and everywhere else.”

The Israeli air force’s capabilities are unmatched, and can reach arenas “near and far, very far,” he added.

US President Donald Trump surprised the world and many of his own officials by announcing last week that he would pull all 2,000 US soldiers in Syria out of the warn-torn country. Israel is concerned that Iran will take advantage of the military vacuum to expand its entrenchment in Syria.

Israel fires at missile from Syria; IDF jets said to pound Damascus arms depots
Israel said Tuesday night it had deployed its air defenses against a missile shot from Syria as Damascus attempted to repel an alleged Israeli airstrike against Hezbollah or Iranian targets near the capital.

The Israel Defense Forces said there was no damage or injuries from the surface-to-air missile fired from Syria at Israel.

“An IDF aerial defense system activated in response to an anti-aircraft missile launched from Syria,” the army said in a statement.

It did not say where or even if the missile was successfully intercepted.

Pictures shared on social media showed an air defense missile being fired near Hadera, a city some 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of the Syrian border where residents had earlier reported hearing a loud explosion.

Assad’s Victory and Hamas’s New Tactics Have Changed Israel’s Strategic Reality
Since the 1979 treaty with Egypt ended the threat of a major military invasion from the south, the IDF has seen the northern front as posing the greatest strategic threat to Israel’s security. Yet just as Syria has become more dangerous than ever on that front, the Gaza Strip has itself reemerged as a strategic problem. In considering these developments, Gershon Hacohen warns against exacerbating them by withdrawing from the West Bank:

The recovery of the Assad regime and the reassertion of its control over most of the country brought the Syrian army back to the Golan Heights, where it was joined by Iranian and Hizballah forces as well as by Tehran-backed Shiite militias. The situation was further complicated by the Russian military presence in Syria and the constraints it imposed on Israel’s operational freedom, especially after the September 2018 downing of the Russian plane by Syrian air-defense forces.

[Meanwhile], Hamas initiated a months-long confrontation along the Gaza-Israel border, in which the Islamist terror group reverted to calculated and well-executed brinksmanship tactics (including massive missile attacks on Israel’s population centers) that tested the continued relevance of Israel’s military superiority vis-à-vis the organization. . . . Hamas exploited Israel’s overwhelming preoccupation with the northern front to escalate the situation to the brink of war while keenly recognizing the constraints that would prevent an Israeli decision in favor of a large-scale operation. In doing so, Hamas successfully changed the strategic equation with Israel in its favor.

This (temporary?) strategic shift becomes all the more relevant given the dogged insistence of most former members of Israel’s military and security establishment on the need for complete IDF withdrawal from the West Bank as part of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. . . . This [position] couldn’t be farther from the truth. Since the onset of the Oslo process in 1993, the balance of power between Israel and the Palestinians has substantially changed in the latter’s favor, as starkly demonstrated by Hamas’s above-noted successes.

No less important, the nature of warfare has undergone substantial changes in recent decades, notably through the relocation of fighting to civilian urban areas with the active participation of the local population, which makes conventional military operations far more difficult and complex. . . . If it took the U.S.-led coalition forces nine months of fighting to clear Mosul of Islamic State forces, how realistic is it to expect the IDF to capture a heavily militarized Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza within days?
Russia: ‘Provocative’ Israeli strikes in Syria endangered 2 civilian flights
Russia on Wednesday accused Israel of endangering two civilian flights during airstrikes near an airport in Syria on Tuesday night, calling it a “provocative act” and a violation of Syrian sovereignty.

According to Syrian state media, the strikes began at about 10 p.m. and were carried out by Israel from Lebanon. It said Syria’s air defenses had opened fire on “enemy targets,” shooting them down.

“We are very concerned by the attacks and how they were made. This is a gross violation of the sovereignty of Syria,” the Russian ministry of foreign affairs said in a statement.

The Russian defense ministry said earlier that two non-Russian passenger planes had been landing at the time of the strike — one in Damascus and the other in Beirut. The Syrian military didn’t fully deploy its defense systems as this could risk the safety of the flights, it added.
Russia calls for Syrian government to retake areas where US troops withdraw
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that Moscow expects the Syrian government to take over the areas where the US troops are currently deployed following their withdrawal.

Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova emphasized that the territories in eastern Syria should be handed over to the Syrian government in line with international law. She said Moscow is unaware of any details of the planned US withdrawal from Syria, but added that the move would help peaceful settlement in Syria if implemented.

“If the troop withdrawal happens, it would have a positive impact on the situation,” Zakharova said at a briefing.

US President Donald Trump abruptly announced the pullout from Syria last week, surprising allies and sparking the resignation of two of his top aides. The US backed Kurdish-led forces in the oil-rich eastern Syria for four years, and its withdrawal will leave the area up for grabs.

Turkey said Tuesday it is working with the United States to coordinate the withdrawal of American forces but remains “determined” to clear US-allied Kurdish fighters from Manbij in northeastern Syria.
Palestinians: The Real "Crimes"
Last week, Abbas's ruling Fatah faction endorsed a statement issued by a group called the Islamic and National Forces that called for boycotting an Israeli-Palestinian shopping mall in east Jerusalem and warning Palestinians that "economic normalization" with Israel was a "crime" and an act of "intentional treason."

Abbas's Fatah also considers real estate transactions with Jews as a "crime." For Abbas and his representatives, any Palestinian involved in selling properties to Jews is a "criminal" and "traitor." This "crime" carries a death sentence.

Hence, we see that Abbas and his friends consider everything related to Israel and Jews as a "crime." They do not want Palestinians to do business with Jews; they do not want Palestinians to sell properties to Jews, and they do not want Arabs who believe in coexistence and peace to visit Israel. All these actions, according to the Palestinian leadership and its supporters, are "crimes" for which people should be punished.

When it comes to the actions of the Palestinian leaders themselves, however, they see utter innocence. For them, the daily incitement against Israel and Jews is not a "crime." For them, the glorification of terrorists and paying salaries to their families is not a "crime." For them, the shooting of a pregnant woman at a bus stop is not a "crime." For them depriving their people of international aid and cracking down on public freedoms under Abbas in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip is not a "crime."

The daily use of the word "crime" to condemn Israel comes in the context of the Palestinians' continued effort to delegitimize Israel and demonize Jews. This is not a new policy. Abbas and his cohorts have long been waging a campaign of hate and incitement against Israel -- one that aims at depicting Israelis and Jews as "criminals" and "murderers." That is the main reason it has become almost impossible to find one Palestinian who is ready to accept any form of concussions or compromise with Israel. This campaign is also the main reason why Hamas has become highly popular among Palestinians, as the latest public opinion poll published last week showed.

Palestinian leaders bombard their people with the following message: All Israelis are criminals. All Israelis are guilty until proven otherwise. The establishment of Israel is a crime. Israel's anti-terrorism measures are a crime. The hands of Palestinians, by contrast, are lily white.

Such messages are driving Palestinians into the open arms of Hamas. If you are telling your people that Israel and the Jews are criminals whose hands drip with blood, and that anyone who does business with them or visits them is guilty of a "crime," you are telling them that Hamas has got it right: Palestinians should be seeking the destruction of Israel, and not peace with it.
German foreign ministry slams Palestinian Mission for support of PFLP terror
In a highly unusual rebuke of the Palestinian Mission in Berlin on Tuesday, Germany's foreign ministry blasted the Mission for glorifying terrorism.

The Palestinian Mission posted on its Facebook page an illustration of convicted Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terrorist Leila Khaled, with the statement: “Resistance is not terrorism.”

“We have made it clear to the Palestinian Mission that we need clarification on the Facebook post, and the glorification of terrorism and a glorification of Lufthansa kidnapper Leila Khaled are completely unacceptable,” a spokesperson for the ministry wrote to The Jerusalem Post.

The mission eventually deleted the pro-PFLP Facebook post.

A Post press query to the Palestinian Mission in Berlin was not immediately returned.

Bild reporter Filipp Piatov first broke the story on Monday about the Palestinian Mission in Berlin promoting Khaled from the PFLP terrorist organization.

The EU and the US both classify the PFLP as a terrorist entity. The Palestinian Mission uses a Berlin Sparkasse bank account. It is unclear if the bank plans to terminate the account due to possible issues of terror finance.
Khaled Abu Toameh: Is Mahmoud Abbas trying to reach out to Donald Trump in his Christmas message?
The Palestinian Authority leadership’s position toward the US administration has not changed, a PA official in Ramallah said on Tuesday.

His statement came after President Mahmoud Abbas’s remarks during Christmas Eve Mass in Bethlehem sparked a wave of speculation about a possible change in the authority’s position toward US President Donald Trump and his administration.

The PA leadership has been boycotting the administration since December 2017, when Trump announced his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

That announcement, together with the subsequent decisions to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv and cut financial aid to the PA and the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), have drawn strong condemnations from Abbas and many of his senior officials.

Abbas and the PA have since hardly missed an opportunity to lash out at Trump and his senior representatives, especially US Ambassador David Friedman and presidential advisers Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner.

Moreover, Palestinian officials have used every available platform to denounce and reject Trump’s yet-to-be-announced plan for peace in the Middle East, which is also known as the “deal of the century.” In their eyes, Trump’s upcoming but as yet unseen plan is part of an Israeli-American “conspiracy” to liquidate the Palestinian cause and pave the way for the establishment of a separate Hamas-controlled Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip.

Just last week, Abbas again reaffirmed his rejection of the “deal of the century” and called it the “slap of the century.”
Abbas: Palestinians ready to enter peace process based on UN resolutions
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said late Tuesday that the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership is prepared to enter a peace process based on international law and United Nations Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, the official PA news site Wafa reported.

Abbas made the comments hours after Pope Francis said in a Christmas message he hoped Israelis and Palestinians would “resume dialogue and undertake a journey of peace that can put an end to a conflict that for over 70 years has rent the land chosen by the Lord to show his face of love.”

Since shortly after US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017 and initiated the relocation of the US embassy in the Jewish state to the city, Abbas declared the Palestinians will no longer work with an American-dominated peace process and called for the establishment of a multilateral mechanism for it.

In the past year, he has invited a number of countries around the world to take part in a multilateral mechanism for the peace process.

Asked about the pope’s comments, an Israeli government official, who requested anonymity, said in a phone call: “Israel has repeatedly expressed its readiness to enter a diplomatic process with the Palestinians without preconditions.”

The last round of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which were sponsored by the US, collapsed in May 2014.
Tehran Regime Walks Back Zarif Claim That Iranian Leaders Have Never Called for Israel’s Destruction
Iranian leaders have never called for Israel’s destruction, the Tehran regime’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, claimed in an interview this past weekend.

Speaking with the French newspaper Le Point, Zarif — the so-called “moderate” face of the regime during the talks that led to the 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers — stated, “When did we say we want to annihilate Israel? Find one person that has said so. Nobody has said that.”

On Monday, however, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi asserted that Zarif had been responding to a “trick question” and that his words were in line with the Islamic Republic’s policies, the semi-official state news agency Mehr reported.

According to Ghasemi, “What Zarif said in his interview with Le Point about the Zionist regime’s annihilation was the repeat and exact utterance of the remarks” made by late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, as well as his successor, Ali Khamenei, who predicted that Israel “would cease to exist in 25 years.”

A number of Iranian officials — including Khamenei, current President Hassan Rouhani and Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — have described Israel as a “cancerous tumor” that must be removed from the Middle East.
Palestinian attempts West Bank car-ramming attack outside Nablus
A Palestinian attempted to carry out a car-ramming attack against a group of Israeli soldiers and civilians in the northern West Bank on Wednesday afternoon, authorities said, with IDF troops opening fire and injuring the attacker.

The suspect attempted to run over a group of people waiting at a bus stop at a junction outside Nablus, near a military base, according to the military and the Samaria Regional Council.

Soldiers at the scene shot at the assailant — named later by the official Palestinian Authority news agency Wafa as 35-year-old Raed Dhiab from Kafr Qallil — who was taken to hospital in moderate condition.

No Israelis were physically hurt in the attempted attack, although the Samaria Regional Council spokesperson said three people — two women and a man — suffered panic attacks and underwent treatment.

“He was driving slowly and suddenly sped up toward us,” said eyewitness Emunah Mevorach, 23, who said the car had tried to maneuver between columns placed next to the bus stop to prevent such attacks. “The soldier shot many bullets and we ran behind a concrete block. The soldier’s reaction saved us.”
Knesset passes law to prevent early release for terrorists
The Knesset passed a law to prevent the early release of convicted terrorists on Tuesdays night.

"A reduced sentence is a privilege that terrorists are not worthy of receiving," said MK Anat Berko, one of the Knesset members who proposed the legislation.

The legislation will stop terrorists from being released after two-thirds of their sentences, a privilege given to other inmates who demonstrate remorse during their time served.

The law was proposed in response to a Defense Ministry attempt to reduce the sentences for terrorists by one-third for good behavior, according to a Yediot Ahronot exposé.

"This is an important precedent in the fight against terror and the effort to increase deterrence. Now every terrorist knows that he has no hope of being released early," MK Oded Forer, the other main Knesset member to push for this new law, said.
Will Israel's chief U.N. envoy Danon quit to run with Likud?
In 2015, Danny Danon, a longtime and popular member of the Likud Party, resigned from the government and flew to New York to take up the prestigious post of Israel's ambassador to the United Nations. It was a job once held by his boss, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu whose service at the UN in the 1980s helped catapult his political career.

On Wednesday, media reports circulated that Danon, who served as science minister for a brief period in the beginning of this government's term, was planning to quite his ambassadorship and return to Israel to compete for a spot on the Likud Party's list.

His office refuted the report. “On behalf of Ambassador Danon, the recent reports of his resignation are incorrect. After a decision is reached in the Knesset, he will announce his intentions.” Danon's Office reported.

Danon, a popular Likud politician with a keen eye for international relations, is known for being a strong supporter of the settlement movement and was a frequent visitor to Judea and Samaria prior to his arrival in New York to take up the post in August 2015.

In the absence of a foreign minister, he has been the face and voice of Israel’s foreign policy at the UN.

During his tenure, the UN Security Council passed the infamous anti-settlement resolution 2334 during the last month of the Obama administration.
Former Jerusalem mayor Barkat formally announces he's running with Likud
Former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat formally launched his national election campaign on Wednesday, announcing he will be running for a spot on the Likud primaries list.

His campaign slogan, "A Force for Likud," was disseminated with his picture to media outlets across the country.

After completing his term as Jerusalem's mayor in mid-November, Barkat emphasized to Likud officials his experiences as the commander of a paratrooper unit, a high-tech pioneer and in bringing positive changes to Jerusalem.

In a statement to the media, Barkat said that he supported Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud in the last election, and brought thousands of new members into the movement.

Netanyahu praised Barkat's decision, saying that the former mayor would be "an important addition to Likud."

"Our mission is to build a team that will bring a new force and the wider public to the Likud movement," Barkat said. "Only a large Likud, led by Netanyahu as leader of the national camp, will ensure Israel's security and economic stability."
Israel green-lights plans for 1,300 settlement homes, hundreds more pending
The Defense Ministry committee responsible for authorizing settlement construction on Tuesday advanced plans for over 1,300 homes in the West Bank, with some 800 more slated for approval in an additional session scheduled for Wednesday.

Of the 1,352 homes green-lighted by the Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee in 23 different projects, 807 gained final approval for construction while 545 homes had their plans cleared ahead of being considered for a final okay.

On Wednesday, 839 homes are slated to be okayed by the High Planning Subcommittee, with 352 gaining final approval for construction and 487 clearing the earlier planning stage.

In total 2,191 settlement homes are expected to be advanced this week, of which 1,038 will gain final building approval.
Rivlin honors Rambo the dog for aiding in Barkan terrorist capture
President Reuven Rivlin and First Lady Nechama Rivlin honored the Police counter-terrorism unit and Rambo the dog for the capture and killing of Ashraf Walid Suleiman Na’alwa, 23, the Barkan terrorist.

"Outstanding soldiers are invited to Beit HaNasi. From time to time, it’s a real pleasure to meet outstanding dogs here, too," Rivlin said. "Look after yourselves. You do vital work and we all thank you for it.”

Rambo was injured in the operation, but it set to recover and return to active duty. The nearly five-year-old Belgian Shepherd was born into the Police counter-terrorism unit and has participated in operations since he was one and half years old.

In early October, Na’alwa killed Kim Levengrond-Yehezkel, 29, of Rosh Ha’ayin, and Ziv Hajbi, 35, from Rishon Lezion in the Barkan Industrial Park in the Samaria region of the West Bank. A third Israeli was also moderately wounded.
PA foils Hamas attempt to convene Palestinian parliament
In yet another sign of mounting tensions between the two parties, the Palestinian Authority on Wednesday foiled an attempt by Hamas officials to hold a press conference in Ramallah to protest against PA Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to dissolve the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC).

PA security officers sealed off the building of the PLC in the morning to stop the Hamas officials from holding the press conference. The officers also prevented journalists from approaching the building.

Some of the Hamas officials were stopped at checkpoints set up by the PA security forces in their villages and cities.
One of the officials banned from arriving in Ramallah is Aziz Dweik, the Hamas speaker of the PLC. He was stopped at a PA checkpoint east of Bethlehem and told to report to the Palestinian security forces in his city of Hebron.

“I received a phone call from the [PA] General Intelligence Service, and they told me to come to their headquarters in Hebron and to bring with me two personal photos,” Dweik said. “I told the officer: I’m sorry, I don’t know who you are. I told him I will come to only if they send me an official summons.”

Dweik said that the PA security forces who stopped him and his friends treated them with “rudeness and disrespect.”
A PA official told The Jerusalem Post that Hamas was planning to challenge and embarrass Abbas by convening the PLC in violation of the law.

“Hamas claims that its representatives were only planning to hold a press conference, and this claim is not true,” the official said. “They were planning to hold a session of the council in Ramallah to challenge us.”
Anti-Semitic Economics Could Drive Turkey into a Financial Crisis
Like many of his fellow Islamists, the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a committed believer in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, which he sometimes alludes to by speaking of Zionists or, in a favorite locution, the “interest-rate lobby.” With this phrase, Erdogan combines familiar European canards about nefarious Jewish financiers with the traditional Islamic prohibition on usury. Aykan Erdemir and John Lechner argue that Erdogan’s fanciful notions about Jewish malfeasance could push his country’s fragile economy over the brink:

Many in the West assumed that when Erdogan blamed the [mass anti-government protests of] 2013 on an “interest-rate lobby,” he intended it as a jibe against bankers. However, to a Turk, “interest-rate lobby” invokes the familiar conspiracy theory that Jews, as [the scholar] Svante Cornell put it, control nations by “driving countries into economic crises and then lending their governments money at exorbitant interest rates.” . . . Such rhetoric, when combined with the state-sanctioned anti-Semitism purveyed by pro-government media, has led to a spike in everyday anti-Semitism. According to the Anti-Defamation League’s Anti-Semitism Index, Turkey ranks 17th among 102 countries, with an even higher incidence of anti-Semitism than Iran. . . .

Erdogan . . . insists that high interest rates lead to higher inflation. Economists know that raising interest rates tends to bring down inflation, but Erdogan’s willful ignorance of this axiom cannot fully explain his hostility. . . . While the president is a pragmatic politician, capable of making unexpected U-turns on other issues, his deeply ingrained prejudices animate his financial policy, which is not likely to change.

Until economic sanity prevails in Turkish politics, Erdogan will continue to perceive and present currency devaluations, bankruptcies, and potential International Monetary Fund bailouts as a Jewish plot to undermine his vision for Turkey. Every decision regarding whether to hike or to lower interest rates will be colored by the president’s perception that he is submitting to the Jewish cabal or George Soros. As he faces challenging municipal elections next year, finding scapegoats for Turkey’s flailing economy appears to be his main campaign strategy. By letting his anti-Semitism drive his economic policy agenda, however, Erdogan may himself bring about precisely the sort of crisis he blames on the Jews.

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