Thursday, March 28, 2019

From Ian:

Israel’s Sovereignty Over the Golan Heights Is Legal and Justified
The spoils of the aggressed against.

There is no question that Syria attacked Israel in 1967 (and again in 1973). And there is no question that, by the end of both conflicts, Israel was firmly in control of the Golan Heights. In fact, following legendary tank battles on the Heights in ‘73 (which are studied at West Point), the Syrian army had collapsed, and Israel was primed to push on and capture Damascus. A ceasefire agreement was in everyone’s best interests.

Since 2011, Syria has been ravaged by civil war, in which President Bashar al-Assad attacked his own citizens with chemical weapons on several occasions. Large swathes of Syria were controlled by ISIS until very recently, including areas directly abutting the Golan Heights’ border with Israel. Today, the Syrian state barely exists. It is an utterly dysfunctional, violent tinderbox of some of the most brutal regimes and movements on Earth. Syria can no more reclaim sovereignty over the Golan than it can the Eastern Bank of the Euphrates River. Even if it could, it isn’t in the interests of any responsible nation to see such an outcome.

Syria violated international law in 1967, 1973, and many other occasions by attacking Israel without provocation and pledging to destroy the country. Not only did Syria fail to accomplish its bellicose goal but it was forced to agree to a ceasefire to avoid total humiliation: an Israeli conquest of Damascus.

Welcome to the Middle East.

There are consequences to military attacks, particularly when the attacker loses. International law is silent on this point, and for good reason. Because it was, on a logical basis, incomprehensible.

People may hate president Trump and PM Netanyahu. They may be contemptuous of the timing of America’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. But it is not contrary to international law. And it does not impact the outcome of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict one iota.
Douglas Murray: Donald Trump is right about Israel and the Golan Heights
Since Syria lost control of the Golan Heights the area itself has blossomed with vineyards and much more. But Israel is not holding the territory simply to make wine. It is holding it because since 1967 it has not been possible for Syria to rain down rockets and other munitions onto the Galilee, as it could – and did – before.

But as of this decade the third and equally powerful reason for Israel to hold onto the Golan has become irrefutable. For the last eight years the British Foreign Office and others have continued to claim that Israel should hand the Golan back. But to whom? As the civil war in Syria has raged, and up to half a million civilians have lost their lives there is something preposterous about the British government and others continuing to insist that Bashar al-Assad should be gifted the Golan Heights. Of all the territory over which the Assad dynasty aspires to rule, the Golan is the only place which it and its allies have not been able to barrel bomb, mortar and otherwise decimate with impunity. As the Syrian nation has fallen apart – largely aided by Iran, Turkey, Russia and the Gulf States – it should be a source of international relief that the Golan is being carefully looked after by the Israelis. There is something not just belligerent but perverse in this pretence that despite everything in Syria the Assad family should still be given the Golan Heights in order to further extend their apparently inadequate slaughter of recent years.

If the Israelis were ever going to return the Golan – and there has been no reason since 1967 why they should have done – then there is infinitely less reason now. Who knows what the workings of President Trump’s mind are? But his actions this week show that he is doing no more than recognising reality, while all the wise heads in the chancelleries of Europe continue to pursue a fool’s goal.

Khaled Abu Toameh: Palestinian Leaders Punish Gaza, Blame Israel
Rather than demanding that Hamas cease and desist from endangering the lives of Palestinians by sending them to clash with Israeli soldiers, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and its leaders are condemning Israel for perpetrating "crimes" against Palestinians. According to the logic of the PA, the conflict started when Israel fired back.

Abbas and his officials have apparently not heard of the arson kites and booby-trapped balloons that have been launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israeli towns on nearly a daily basis over the past few months. They also apparently have not have not heard of the rockets and mortars that are fired from the Gaza Strip at Israel almost every day. The PA further appears unaware that Hamas has been sending thousands of Palestinians to attack Israeli soldiers with explosive devices, firebombs and rocks.

Abbas and the PA are simply doing the one thing they are good at: trying to frame Israel for Palestinian crimes against their own people. Clearly, the PA leaders are afraid to condemn the rocket attacks on Israel. They evidently do not want to be accused by their people of betraying the Palestinian "resistance" against Israel.

Israel's blessings and curses
Most of the Israeli public is aware that Netanyahu is not to blame for the asymmetric warfare imposed on the Jewish state by immoral forces bent on its destruction. Whether this is reflected at the ballot box on April 9 remains to be seen.

What is certain, however, is that when his key challenger, Blue and White party chairman Benny Gantz, was asked on Monday by Channel 12's Yonit Levi how he would confront the Gaza problem differently from Netanyahu, he stammered incomprehensibly. This is because the only policies he has been promoting are ones that Netanyahu has already adopted and implemented. You know, such as forging friendships with regional and international powers.

Which brings us to Egypt – one of a growing number of former enemy states with which Netanyahu has developed a strong working relationship.

Hamas knows full well that, unlike Israel, Egypt is not governed or constrained by democratic principles, and its military does not proudly aim for "purity of arms." Its leadership understands that if a Palestinian rocket were to land near Cairo, Gaza would be pummeled to a heap.

At the moment, then, the best hope for quiet along the Gaza-Israel border – aside from a necessary new round of IDF airstrikes on Gaza, hopefully against key Hamas leaders – is Egyptian intervention.

Recently, Cairo not only has been pressuring Hamas to cease all of its anti-Israel activities, but earlier this month expressed a loss of patience with the terrorist organization's "double game."

A temporary truce is not a long-term solution, of course. But as Netanyahu has shown, buying time in a Middle East beset with shifting alliances has been the wisest course of Israeli action.
Meretz nixes campaign ad that used Auschwitz gate to portray occupation
The left-wing Meretz party on Thursday hastily removed an election campaign clip in Arabic that included a drawing of the infamous gate of Auschwitz, saying it was posted without its authorization or consent.

The animation depicting the entrance to the Nazi death camp and adjacent fence was accompanied by Arabic text in which Meretz calls for an end to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

“This was not done with our blessing, we are checking to see whether it was an innocent mistake or sabotage,” a party official said.

The clip, produced by an Arab advertising company that was retained by Meretz for the election campaign, aired briefly on social media but was taken down as soon as the offending content was discovered, a party official said.

“The moment we saw the clip, we removed it from all social media platforms and from Meretz’s website and we have suspended work with the agency,” the official said. (h/t Elder of Lobby)
Top UAE minister urges strategic shift in Arab-Israel ties; boycott was mistake
A senior United Arab Emirates minister on Wednesday called for a “strategic shift” in Israel-Arab ties, saying that Arab world’s decades-old decision to boycott the Jewish state had been a mistake.

“Many, many years ago, when there was an Arab decision not to have contact with Israel, that was a very, very wrong decision, looking back,” UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash told the UAE-based newspaper The National in an interview.

“Because clearly, you have to really dissect and divide between having a political issue and keeping your lines of communication open.”

The Arab boycott has complicated efforts to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he argued, speaking to the paper onstage at the Ideas Abu Dhabi forum, which is taking place this week.

Gargash, who has held his current position since 2016, predicted “increased contact between Arab countries and Israel,” including “small bilateral deals and visits by politicians and sports players,” according to the paper.

WSJ: Trump's Golan Strategy
President Trump's decision to recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights puts the Palestinians on notice. The fear is that if a U.S. president can tell Syria to forget returning to the pre-1967 borders, he can tell the Palestinians the same thing: Shape up and cease your intransigence, or America could let Israel annex parts of the West Bank, too.

The pre-1967 lines are no longer sacrosanct, and they never should have been. They merely reflect where armies stopped in 1949, when the Arab states failed to smother Israel in its infancy. The armistice established the borders "without prejudice to future territorial settlements or boundary lines."

The Trump strategy has been to back Israel and pressure the Palestinians into moderating their maximalist objectives. Palestinian leaders have long assumed time was on their side. The longer they held out and refused to make peace, the more the international community marginalized Israel and pressured it for further concessions. But if the Palestinians don't face reality, their own dreams of a state could be swept away.
Syria Forfeited Its Claims to the Golan Heights When It Used Them to Attack Israel
To Western opponents of the White House’s official recognition of the Golan Heights—seized from Syria during the Six-Day War—as part of Israel, the move rewards the acquisition of territory by force and needlessly angers Arab and Muslim allies. Nothing could be farther from the truth, writes Jeff Jacoby:

Those angrily denouncing [the announcement] include the dictators and terror-sponsors who rule Iran, Turkey, Russia, Syria, and the Palestinian Authority. Tellingly, though, there was barely any protest from most Arab governments, which in recent years have come to value Israel as an ally against Iran and its proxies. . . .

Syria’s implosion in 2011 plunged the country into a hellish civil war that eventually included Iran, Russia, Islamic State (IS), and Hizballah. If Israel hadn’t retained the Golan Heights, the plateau would likely have been captured by Iran or IS, and Israel might well have faced an unspeakable existential nightmare. Instead, the Golan Heights remained an oasis of stability and decency amid the savagery of the Syrian war. Israel even made use of the territory to provide free medical care to thousands of Syrian civilians.

If Israel had seized the Golan Heights as an act of aggression, it would arguably have no right to keep the land even after all these years. But in 1967, Israel was the target. It seized the Heights in a defensive war against an enemy explicitly bent on “annihilation.” Syria forfeited its sovereign right to the territory when it was defeated by its intended victim. To claim otherwise is to claim that a belligerent aggressor should lose nothing for waging an unlawful war. That would be folly.

By endorsing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, the Trump administration is sending a message of deterrence to would-be warmongers. It’s a message that should have been sent years ago.
Pompeo: US Recognition of Golan Heights as Israeli Will Help Peace Process With Palestinians
The Trump administration’s decision to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights will help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by removing uncertainty, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday.

“We believe this increases the likelihood that we get resolution of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians,” Pompeo told a congressional hearing. “We think it speaks with the clarity that takes this away from any uncertainty about how we’ll proceed.”
US redrawing official maps to include Golan as part of Israel – report
The Trump administration is preparing to update all US government maps to include the Golan Heights as part of Israel, after the president formally recognized Israeli sovereignty over the territory.

A State Department spokesperson told VOA’s Persian service that the map changes would be “consistent” with the shift in longstanding American foreign policy that now “recognizes that the Golan Heights are part of the State of Israel.”

In the emailed statement Wednesday, the spokesperson declined to answer whether the US sees the Israel-Syria border as along the 1974 ceasefire line or along the western edge of the demilitarized zone that is patrolled by a UN observer force.

In a separate interview, Brian Hook, US special representative for Iran, confirmed to VOA this week that the State Department would “redraw” its official maps and release them “as soon as they are ready.” He said the changes will reflect the “need for Israel to have secure and defensible borders.”

As of Thursday, the State Department’s map of Israel had not yet been updated, and still showed the Golan as Syrian territory. The map of Israel on the CIA’s World Factbook website and the one published by the Library of Congress were also unchanged, with the territory marked as “Israeli occupied.”
US says Golan recognition doesn’t apply to other cases
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended Washington’s recognition of Israel’s claim to the Golan Heights Tuesday, but called it an “incredibly unique situation” that doesn’t set a precedent for other areas or conflicts.

At a press briefing, Pompeo was asked by a reporter whether US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Monday sets “a precedent that powerful countries can actually overtake land over international law?”

“The answer is absolutely not,” Pompeo replied. “This is an incredibly unique situation. Israel was fighting a defensive battle to save its nation [when it conquered the plateau in 1967], and it cannot be the case that a UN resolution is a suicide pact.”

International law prohibits the annexation of territories captured in war except in cases of mutual agreements. The law was designed to keep nations from launching wars to grab land.

Analysts have expressed fears that Trump’s recognition could open the way for recognition of other territories captured in war, including Russia’s recent takeover of Crimea.
US envoy says Trump understands why Israel needs to hold West Bank
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman warned American Jews on Tuesday that a future administration won’t understand Israel’s need to maintain security control over the West Bank, suggesting that US President Donald Trump won’t force Israel to relinquish the territory that Palestinians envision as their own in a future state.

The Trump White House will continue to pursue a Middle East peace accord, Friedman told a crowd of 18,000 at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual confab, because the president’s successor won’t be sensitive to Israel’s security challenges.

Such an administration, he said, won’t recognize “the existential risk to Israel if Judea and Samaria are overcome by terrorists,” using the biblical terms for the West Bank. He emphasized Hamas’s seizure of the Gaza Strip after Israel’s withdrawal in 2005.

What’s more, he added, it won’t internalize that “in the Middle East peace comes through strength, not just through words on a paper.”

While he didn’t explicitly refer to a Democratic alternative to Trump, Friedman said that a future administration could be “potentially willing to penalize Israel for having the audacity to survive in a dangerous neighborhood.”
Did Netanyahu just endorse the acquisition of territory by force?
Celebrating the US administration’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday made a dramatic statement that not only appeared to contradict a core tenet of international law, but also could foreshadow a potential Israeli annexation of the West Bank.

“There is a very important principle in international life: When you start wars of aggression, you lose territory; do not come and claim it afterwards. It belongs to us,” he said, referring to the 1967 Six Day War, during which Israel captured the Golan from Syria.

The subtext was clear: States are allowed to annex territory gained in defensive wars.

A few hours later, a senior Israeli official reaffirmed that point, hinting that US President Donald Trump’s Golan recognition supports Israeli claims to other territories Israel captured in defensive wars — such as the West Bank.

Everyone insists that “it’s impossible to hold onto occupied territory, and behold — it is possible,” the senior official said. “If it was captured in a defensive war, it is ours.” The speaker was identified by The New York Times as Netanyahu himself.

Golan in Israeli hands furthers US interests, too
In 2019, the Israeli "life-insurance agent" is increasingly more critical for the survival of Jordan's pro-U.S. Hashemite regime, which is more vulnerable than it was in 1970. Israel's posture of deterrence has been enhanced in value in view of the Iranian ayatollahs' entrenchment in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon; the potentially explosive 1.5 million Syrian refugees in northern Syria; the Palestinian majority in Jordan and its subversive track record; the high domestic profile of the subversive, terroristic Muslim Brotherhood; and the intensifying fragmentation among Jordan's Bedouin tribes, some of which consider the Hashemite family "carpetbaggers" from the Arabian Peninsula.

Israel's retreat from the Golan Heights would have severely eroded Israel's posture of deterrence, transforming the Jewish state from a national security producer/asset (for the United States) to a national security consumer/liability. This would have generated a tailwind to rogue Arab/Muslim regimes, taxing vital U.S. national security interests, bringing Islamic terrorism closer to American shores and rewarding enemies and adversaries of the United States.

On June 29, 1967, the late Gen. Earl Wheeler, then the U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, handed President Lyndon Johnson a map of Israel's minimal security requirements, which included the Golan Heights and the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria. He was aware that Israel's sovereignty on the Golan Heights secures Israel's survival while advancing vital U.S. interests in the tectonic Middle East.
US slammed at UN Security Council for recognizing Golan as Israeli
The United States came under sharp criticism from the 14 other Security Council nations Wednesday for its decision to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights in violation of council resolutions.

Speaker after speaker at the open meeting supported Syria’s sovereignty over the strategic plateau and opposed Israel’s de facto annexation of the Golan Heights and US President Donald Trump’s proclamation earlier this week.

As South Africa’s UN Ambassador Jerry Matjila said, “this unilateral action does nothing to assist in finding a long-term peaceful solution to the conflict in the Middle East.”

He and others pointed to resolutions calling for Israel to end its occupation of the Golan Heights, including a December 1981 Security Council resolution that called Israel’s extension of Israeli law over the strategic area “null and void and without international legal effect.”

Syria’s closest ally Russia urged governments to continue to view the Golan Heights as Israeli-occupied territory.

“If anybody feels any temptation to follow this poor example, we would urge them to refrain from this aggressive revision of international law,” Russia’s deputy ambassador Vladimir Safronkov said.
Israeli politicians to EU: Shame on you for opposing Golan sovereignty
Israeli right-wing politicians lashed back at the European Union for its “shameful” rejection of Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights, calling its 28 nations “peace refuseniks.”

“Minutes ago the EU announced that it would not recognize the Golan Heights as part of the state of Israel,” Far Right Party head and Education Minister Naftali Bennett said in a video message he posted on Twitter.

“We could add to that the fact that the EU does not recognize Jerusalem as our capital,” he wrote, adding “Shame on you.”

“The Golan heights and Jerusalem and the Land of Israel has been the home of the Jewish people thousands of years before France was the home of the French and the United Kingdom the home of the British,” Bennett said.

“So we will continue building our amazing country. We will continue defending the free world from radical Islam, even though you do not deserve it,” Bennett said.

Slamming Golan recognition, Hezbollah chief predicts West Bank is next
The leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah terrorist group on Tuesday condemned US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, saying an American shift on the its stance regarding the West Bank could follow.

“After a period of time, we must expect that Trump will come out and say he recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank,” Hassan Nasrallah said in comments broadcast on Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Manar TV.

Trump formally recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights on Monday in a ceremony at the White House attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after announcing the policy shift last week.

Israel captured the strategic plateau in the 1967 Six Day War and in 1981 applied Israeli law to the territory, a step tantamount to annexation. The move was never recognized by the international community, which considers the area to be occupied.
Syrian Army Says Israeli Strikes Hit Northern City of Aleppo
The Syrian military said Israel on Wednesday launched raids on an industrial zone in the northern city of Aleppo, causing damage only to materials, while opposition sources said the strikes hit Iranian ammunitions stores and a military airport used by Tehran’s forces.

“The Israeli aggression targeted some positions in Sheikh Najjar industrial zone and a number of enemy missiles were brought down,” an army statement said.

There was no immediate comment from Israel.

The blasts caused an electrical blackout in Aleppo, the country’s second largest city and a major industrial hub that bore the brunt of years of fighting and heavy Russian and Syrian aerial bombardment on its former rebel-held areas.

Military experts say Aleppo is one of the main areas where Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have a strong military presence supporting local militias that have for years been fighting alongside the Syrian army to defeat insurgents.

Two opposition sources familiar with Tehran’s military presence in the area said large ammunitions depot and a logistics hub that belonged to Iranian-backed militias inside the industrial zone received direct hits.

Other strikes hit the vicinity of Nairab military airport on the outskirts of Aleppo in the second such strike on the installation used by Iranian troops in less than a year, they added.
'Paramedic' caught on film attacking IDF soldiers during riot - watch
A Palestinian paramedic was one of the rioters throwing rocks and molotov cocktails in a riot near Bethlehem on Wednesday, according to a video released by Avichay Adraee, the head of the Arab media division of the IDF Spokesperson's Unit.

The video shows the paramedic taking off his paramedic vest and then throwing rocks at IDF soldiers.

A Palestinian paramedic was reportedly killed earlier Wednesday by IDF forces in a riot near Bethlehem.
Israel says over 2,000 violent incidents originated in Gaza in past year
Israel said on Wednesday that more than 2,000 violent incidents have emanated from the Gaza Strip since Hamas-orchestrated weekly border demonstrations erupted a year ago.

A statistical review found that Palestinians launched 1,233 rockets from Gaza, hurled 94 explosive devices and 600 Molotov cocktails across the security fence and committed 152 acts of arson against Israeli forces.

The report said rocket fire killed one Israeli and injured 126. Palestinian attacks on the security fence killed one Israeli soldier and wounded 16.

It said incendiary kites have torched thousands of acres of Israeli farmland, causing over $9.5 million in damage.

Israel has been accused internationally for using disproportionate force against unarmed protesters, but the military says troops only open fire after they come under attack and their lives are in danger. Over the past year, nearly 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire. Hamas has claimed dozens of them as members.
Netanyahu: Israel’s preparing for a broad campaign in Gaza
Israel is preparing for a broad campaign in Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday after he visited southern Israel.

“I have ordered the strengthening of our troop so we can be prepared for a broad campaign. The citizens of Israel should know, that if we must embark on a broad campaign, we will hit them [Hamas] very hard, but only after all other options have been exhausted.”

He spoke in advance of an anticipated increase in violence in Gaza over the weekend, as Palestinians prepare to mark the one-year anniversary of the Hamas-led Great March of Return.

The event, which has focused on weekly violent Palestinian protests along the Gaza border, has kept the potential of a renewed IDF-Hamas conflict simmering for the last year.

Rocket fire toward central Israel in the last few weeks, including the attack earlier this week that destroyed a home and injured a family of seven, has made such an outbreak more likely.
Is the IDF prepared for Palestinian violence this weekend?
With a violent week behind it, Israel’s security establishment is bracing for thousands of Palestinians to riot across the West Bank and Gaza Strip, marking Land Day and the one year anniversary of The Great Return March demonstrations along the Gaza front.

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

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

Last year on Land Day, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip began The Great Return Marches with thousands of Gazans violently demonstrating along the security fence with Israel demanding an end to the 12-year long blockade of the coastal enclave.
'You lost,' Sderot mayor tells Hamas leader in Arabic open letter
After years of air raid sirens, rockets and mortar fire, the mayor of a southern Israel city has hit back at one of Hamas' leaders in the Gaza Strip, writing an open letter in Arabic in which he highlights the differences between his own thriving community and the desolation of the coastal enclave run by the terror group for more than a decade.

In his open letter to Ismail Haniyeh published on Facebook, Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi included two photos — one showing Sderot’s newly built neighborhoods, while the second shows Haniyeh’s destroyed office, bombed by the IDF on Monday during the current clashes between Israel and Hamas. "You lost," Davidi told Haniyeh in the accompanying missive.

“Good morning, ya Haniyeh,” says Davidi, in a somewhat mocking tone. “I wanted to send you an email or a fax, but it seems your offices no longer exist.”

“Usually, I address the residents of Sderot. Now it’s time to address the other side,” he says.

“Ismail Haniyeh — can you not see that you’re losing? You take all the money you get from the Arab world and instead of using it for food, a functioning economy and a future for Gaza's residents, you waste it on your imaginary attempts to beat us.”

“It’s true Haniyeh, things aren’t simple (here). Sometimes it’s rough and I’ll go as far as to say we’re suffering. But look at the results of your behavior… How does Gaza look in comparison to Sderot?
The Israeli Response to Recent Rocket Attacks Marks a Strategic Shift
For the past several years, Jerusalem’s approach to Hamas—as well as to Islamic State and other jihadist groups—can be summed up in the phrase “quiet will be met with quiet.” In other words, the IDF will retaliate swiftly after any attacks, but refrain from action so long as its enemies do the same. Israel seems to have changed its tune, however, in responding to Monday’s rocket attacks by continuing to strike targets in Gaza even after Hamas declared a ceasefire and de-escalated. Ron Ben-Yishai writes:

[It] appears that the IDF has a new strategy: attrition will be met with attrition; escalation will be met with escalation. . . . Hamas thought that by limiting its response, it would—as with previous rounds of fighting—be able to turn to Egypt for a ceasefire, and that Israel, even if it did not explicitly say so, would follow the “quiet will be met with quiet” formula. This did not happen. . . . Israel for the first time in a year refused to play the game, and IDF aircraft, as well as tanks and naval ships, continued to hit targets within the Strip even after the Hamas-declared ceasefire went into effect.

Hamas then tried to return again to the formula of quiet for quiet and at 3 a.m. [Tuesday morning] halted fire. By that point it had fired about 60 rockets at Israel, a relatively small number compared to previous rounds. But even though Hamas had stopped firing, the IDF attacked again three hours later. Hamas could see that the IDF’s pattern had changed, and despite [Israel’s] 6 a.m. strikes, it has since refrained from launching any rockets at all.

As part of this new modus operandi, the IDF is in no hurry. It is attacking targets slowly and systematically in the Gaza Strip with two main goals in mind: hurting Hamas’s military capabilities and infrastructure, and making the terrorist group aware that Israel will not hesitate to harm its regime and its political power bases.
Israel said to offer Hamas numerous concessions in return for curbing violence
A delegation of Egyptian mediators and intelligence officials reportedly met Wednesday night and early Thursday morning with the leadership of the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip, conveying an Israeli truce offer after days of violence and ahead of massive rallies planned for the weekend.

This week saw a spike in tensions after a rocket fired from Gaza hit a house in the agricultural community of Mishmeret in central Israel and destroyed it completely, wounding seven people. Israel responded with airstrikes on scores of Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip, and Palestinian terror groups launched many more rocket at Israeli communities in the Gaza periphery.

Throughout the recent violence, Egyptian military intelligence officials have been working to broker a ceasefire. Violence is expected to soar again over the weekend as large-scale protests are expected along the Israel-Gaza border to mark the one-year anniversary of the so-called March of Return weekly rallies, which started on March 30, 2018.

The Egyptian delegation entered the Gaza Strip via the Erez crossing on Wednesday evening, after meeting with Israeli defense officials who laid out the government’s demands for a ceasefire, according to multiple reports.
Hamas says no ceasefire deal until after massive weekend protests
Hamas officials said Thursday that their group will only agree to an Egypt-mediated ceasefire with Israel after massive protests planned on the Gaza Strip border with Israel this weekend to mark a year since weekly disturbances started.

The reported condition came as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had instructed the army to be ready for an “extensive campaign” in the Gaza Strip and Egyptian mediators headed to Israel to discuss a potential ceasefire plan to end the recent flareup in hostilities.

Three Hamas officials familiar with the negotiations said that the Egyptians had offered Hamas a series of measures to ease the blockade on Gaza. In exchange, Hamas would have to pledge to halt rocket fire and keep protests along the Israeli border under control.

The officials said the deal would only take effect after the planned mass demonstration along the Israeli border. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the negotiations were ongoing. One of the officials described the atmosphere as positive.

Another official said the Egyptians were discussing the proposal with Israel on Thursday afternoon.

There was no immediate Israeli comment.
IDF strikes Gazans launching airborne arson devices into Israel, injuring 3
An Israeli drone fired at a group of Palestinians launching balloon-borne incendiary devices into Israel from the northern Gaza Strip on Thursday, injuring four of them, according to local media reports.

The Israel Defense Forces later confirmed the strike.

“A short while ago, an IDF aircraft attacked a group of terrorists who were launching incendiary balloons from the northern Gaza Strip into Israeli territory,” the army said in a statement.

The arson attacks and Israeli retaliatory strike came as an Egyptian military intelligence delegation was working to broker a ceasefire between Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group, amid spiking tensions in the region.

Throughout the day, several incendiary devices attached to balloons landed in the Eshkol and Sha’ar Hanegev regions of southern Israel.

In most cases, police sappers were called to defuse and remove the objects before they could spark fires.

Malaysia Becoming Iranian Hotspot for Training Proxies?
Could it be that Malaysia is turning into a proxy-training ground for Iran? The prime minister's anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric in the past is one sign of evidence among others. Our Emily Rose has the story. Story: Malaysia — one of the few countries Iranians can visit without a visa. The Muslim-majority country also continues to support Iran commercially, despite crippling sanctions from the US. And now some claim it has become a hotbed for training Iranian backed militias, like Hamas. Experts say Iran has historic ties to Malaysia, but not diplomatic ones. ‘Iran and Malaysia have historical and financial links, but they don’t really have a political relationship,’ former Malay Mail Newspaper editor Kazi Mahmoud. But officials refute any claims that these ties are being used as fertile ground for Iranian military activity.

Iran’s New Long Game: Outlast Trump
Iranian leaders are running out of options as President Donald Trump tightens the economic noose on the already ailing hardline regime, which is now intent on outlasting the Trump administration in hopes that a friendlier U.S. politician can beat him in the 2020 election, according to U.S. officials and regional experts.

Iran has made no secret of its distaste for Trump, and is now making moves to grow closer with traditional American foes such as China and Russia. However, it has become increasingly clear that Iran is feeling the pain as the Trump administration continues to sanction a range of entities and individuals tied to the country's contested nuclear program and oil sector.

As the sanctions continue to squeeze the regime—prompting protests that have threatened to topple Islamic theocracy—Iranian leaders have been left with only one long-term option: Outlast Trump and bet on a more friendly U.S. leader who will restore the landmark nuclear agreement that provided Tehran with billions in cash windfalls.

It now remains to be seen how far the Trump administration will go in its sanctions policy. While a range of efforts have choked off Tehran's revenue streams, the United States continues to issue waivers permitting Iran to engage in sensitive nuclear research, as well as the sale of crude oil. Iran hawks on Capitol Hill want the administration to keep up the pressure and not back down before elements of the administration that favor rewarding Iran in a bid to keep the nuclear deal on life-support through the next election cycle.
U.S. Treasury Says it Broke Up Network that Transferred More than $1 Billion to IRGC
The United States Treasury Department said that it broke up a network of front companies that transferred more than $1 billion to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in violation of U.S. sanctions, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Tuesday.

According to the statement from Treasury, the firms acting as front companies for the IRGC and Iran’s Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL) are based in Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and Iran. The goal of naming these front companies is to maintain the “maximum pressure campaign” being conducted by the U.S. that “severely constricts the regime’s sources of revenue.”

The naming of the front companies “exposes an extensive sanctions evasion network established by the Iranian regime.”

Ansar Bank — which is controlled by the IRGC — was at the center of the network. Other companies named by Treasury were Ansar Exchange, Atlas Company, Atlas Exchange, the Ansar Bank Brokerage Company, and Ansar Information Technology.

In addition, Treasury named Zagros Pardis Kish for its role in shipping hundreds of vehicles to Iran from the UAE.
MEMRI: Senior Former Hashd Al-Sha'bi Official To Saudi Iraqi Central Bank Governor Is Collaborating With Iran In Counterfeiting, Money-Laundering – As Part Of Iran's Efforts To Circumvent U.S. Sanctions
On March 11, 2019, the Saudi news outlet, which is known for its anti-Iran views, published a report that quoted a former senior Hashd Al-Sha'bi and Badr Organization official as stating that officials in Iraq's financial system, headed by Central Bank of Iraq governor Ali Al-'Alaq, were operating in service of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and participating in counterfeiting money and money-laundering for the IRGC and Hizbullah in Lebanon.

The former Hashd Al-Sha'bi and Badr Organization official told the website, in an anonymous interview, that Al-'Alaq had met many times with Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, Hashd Al-Sha'bi deputy leader and right-hand man of IRGC Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani. He added that "individuals blacklisted by the U.S.," among them Imam Ali Brigades commander Shibl Al-Zaydi, arrive frequently at Beirut's international airport to transfer the funds to the IRGC and Hizbullah.

According to the report, Iran is circumventing the U.S. sanctions in a number of ways. One is by counterfeiting Iraqi dinars in Iran and having Iranian pilgrims bring them into Iraq, where they are converted into U.S. dollars that are then smuggled into Lebanon via Rafic Hariri International Airport in Beirut and from there transferred to the IRGC forces there and to Hizbullah. Another is with the Central Bank of Iraq's involvement; it sells foreign currency to banks under Iranian ownership at an exchange rate lower than market rate, and the Shi'ite banks rake in profits which are used to fund IRGC activity.

It should be noted that in recent months Iran has been locking down its control of the Iraqi banking system in order to circumvent the U.S. sanctions.[1]As part of these efforts, Iranian President Hassan Rohani visited Iraq earlier this month, on March 11-13, 2019, and signed several memoranda of understandings for trade, oil, and transportation.
A Key Border Crossing between Iraq and Syria Is about to Fall into Iranian Hands
In November 2017, Iran-backed militias drove Islamic State forces from the Syrian town of Abu Kamal, which lies on the west bank of the Euphrates near the border with Iraq. Since then, Iran and its proxies have used back roads in the area to send military equipment into Syria. Iraq now plans to open the official border crossing at the adjacent Iraqi city of al-Qaim, which, however, according to Andrew Gabel and David Adesnik, will allow the Islamic Republic to make far more efficient its “land bridge” for sending troops and weapons to Israel’s borders:

Kataib Hizballah, [one of the most important Iran-backed militias in Iraq], has [already] established a presence on the Iraqi side of the border. Although the population of western Iraq near the Syrian border is overwhelmingly Sunni, [Shiite] Kataib Hizballah participated in operations to reclaim the area from Islamic State. Residents of al-Qaim say the militia has kept them from returning to the town’s 1,500 farms by declaring the land part of a security zone. It also controls the roads in and out of al-Qaim. . . .

If Iran secures this improved land bridge running through al-Qaim and Abu Kamal, it could move greater volumes of cargo at a lower cost per unit. At present, Iran’s “air bridge” relies on a very limited supply of commercial aircraft, each with a limited carrying capacity. Sea vessels can accommodate more goods than trucks or planes, but the U.S. has interdicted weapons shipments and is enforcing sanctions on illicit shipments of crude oil as well.

The U.S. should press firmly for the Iraqi government to put al-Qaim and its border crossing in the hands of security-force units loyal to Baghdad, not Tehran. It may also be necessary to step up surveillance of the area. Al-Qaim’s position astride Iran’s emerging land corridor to the Mediterranean makes it too important for the U.S. to ignore. While American policymakers must be sensitive to Iraq’s domestic political pressures—especially with the Iraqi parliament set to consider two bills that could jeopardize the status of American troops in Iraq—the administration must deny Iran access to a gateway for weapons, fighters, and other illicit goods.
Afghan Peace Talks: U.S. Faces Taliban 5 Formerly Held at Gitmo
The five high-risk Taliban commanders released from the U.S. military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, by the previous administration in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl who was captured by the terrorist group after deserting his post in Afghanistan are now reportedly negotiating peace in the war-ravaged country with their former captors.

“During our time in Guantánamo, the feeling was with us that we had been brought there unjustly and that we would be freed,” Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa, one of the Taliban Five, as the former Gitmo prisoners are now known, told the New York Times (NYT) in an article published Tuesday. “But it never occurred to me that one day there would be negotiations with them, and I would be sitting there with them on one side and us on the other.”

In December 2015, a report issued by the Republican-led House Armed Services Committee and congressional testimony by a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel revealed that multiple alternatives were on the table for former President Barack Obama’s administration despite his Pentagon chief’s assertion that releasing the terrorists was the only option to free the American prisoner.

Bergdahl was later convicted of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, dishonorably discharged, and demoted to private.

Obama’s own Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) deemed each one of the Taliban five as a “high” risk to the United States and its allies.

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Elder of Ziyon - حـكـيـم صـهـيـون

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