Is Tehran spying on Southern California?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE LOS ANGELES TIMES)

 

Is Tehran spying on Southern California? Feds say O.C. waiter and ‘Chubby’ from Long Beach were agents of Iran

Is Tehran spying on Southern California? Feds say O.C. waiter and ‘Chubby’ from Long Beach were agents of Iran
Authorities allege that two Iranians were operating in Orange County as spies on behalf of Iran. One of the men, Majid Ghorbani, worked at Darya, a popular Persian restaurant in Sana Ana, for more than 20 years. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

They seemed an unlikely pair of spies.

The older man, Majid Ghorbani, worked at a posh Persian restaurant in Santa Ana’s South Coast Village Plaza. At 59, he wore a thick gray mustache and the weary expression of a man who had served up countless plates of rice and kebab.

The younger man, Ahmadreza Mohammadi Doostdar, was a Long Beach native who held dual U.S.-Iranian citizenship. Round-faced and bespectacled, the 38-year-old answered to the Farsi nickname “Topol,” or “Chubby.”

Yet even as the men sipped coffee at a Costa Mesa Starbucks, chatted outside an Irvine market, or made trips to Macy’s at South Coast Plaza, they were doggedly trailed by federal agents.

Despite the pair’s disarming appearance, U.S. authorities allege they were operating in Orange County as agents of the Islamic Republic of Iran — an accusation that has alarmed many in the local Persian community because it suggests tensions between the U.S. and Iran have spilled over into Southern California.

The men’s goal, authorities say, was to conduct surveillance on Israeli and Jewish facilities in the U.S., and to collect information on members of the Mujahedin Khalq, MEK, an Iranian exile group that has long sought to topple the regime in Tehran and enjoys newfound support among members of the Trump administration.

Within the span of a year — from the summer of 2017 to the spring of 2018 — authorities say the men crisscrossed Orange County and the United States, videotaping participants at MEK rallies in New York and Washington, D.C., and photographing Jewish centers in Chicago.

During that time, the men also flew back and forth between Iran and Los Angeles International Airport, and appeared to be assembling “target packages” — dossiers that would “enable an intelligence or military unit to find, fix, track and neutralize a threat,” according to documents filed in Washington, D.C., federal court.

In at least one instance, the pair were recorded by an FBI listening device as Ghorbani briefed Doostdar on a New York MEK event in September 2017, according to court documents.

“I took some pictures and collected some information of them and some senators that they are working with,” the waiter said, according to court documents. “I have prepared a package, but it is not complete.”

::

The target of the alleged spying, the MEK, is a shadowy organization with a militant past. Up until 2012, it was deemed a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. Although few Americans have heard of it, the group has vexed the Iranian government since the revolution of 1979, when members helped to overthrow the shah.

Led by a husband-and-wife power couple — Massoud and Maryam Rajavi — the group was sheltered and armed by Saddam Hussein for nearly 20 years. Known for its female-led military units, the MEK was disarmed after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Massoud Rajavi went missing that same year and is believed to be dead.

Despite a long history of lobbying U.S. lawmakers and officials for support, few have taken the group seriously — up until now, that is.

President Trump’s national security advisor, John Bolton, is not only a prominent hawk on Iran, he has championed the MEK. Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, has also supported the group.

“The MEK in recent years has spent time and money building political capital,” said Daniel Benjamin, director of Dartmouth College’s Center for International Understanding. “Bolton has been the MEK’s most dedicated long marcher.”

Although the Trump administration has not explicitly stated that it seeks regime change in Iran, it has reimposed tough economic sanctions and pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal. These actions, as well as new, cozier relations with the MEK, have apparently worried Iran enough to act against the group.

In a case similar to the one in Orange County, two Iranians in Albania were arrested in March after allegedly surveilling the MEK. In July, an Iranian diplomat in Germany was arrested on suspicion of plotting to bomb a MEK rally in Paris.

“This is escalation of Iran attempting to attack us,” said Alireza Jafarzadeh, the U.S. deputy director of the National Council of Resistance of Iran — an MEK-linked organization.

::

It is unclear how Ghorbani and Doostdar first came into contact, but investigators believe their first physical meeting occurred behind Darya, the Persian restaurant where Ghorbani had worked for more than 20 years.

Doostdar was born in Long Beach but left at a young age to move to Canada and then Iran. An energy tech consultant, Doostdar had visited the U.S. on only a few occasions, court documents say. His wife gave birth to a baby girl in late August and was hoping to bring her to the U.S.

Ghorbani, whom neighbors and co-workers described as quiet and easygoing, was born in Iran but immigrated to the U.S. in 1995. He kept mostly to himself and lived with his brother and a Pomeranian dog in a quiet Costa Mesa apartment complex not far from the restaurant.

A fellow employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she wasn’t authorized to speak on behalf of the restaurant, said Ghorbani was well-liked and generous. On one occasion, Ghorbani lent money to a co-worker who was struggling, the employee said.

Investigators said Ghorbani also infiltrated meetings the MEK held at Darya. During one meetup in early August, Ghorbani met with MEK members as they discussed sending three American senators to evaluate the group’s base in Albania, according to the indictment.

Rene Redjaian, a spokeswoman for Darya, said the restaurant owners had no idea that Ghorbani was allegedly involved in spying. “Our owners love America and knew nothing about the events that took place at Darya,” Redjaian said.

As time went on, the men continued their alleged covert operation, unaware that federal agents were closing in.

In December 2017, Doostdar returned to Iran allegedly to hand over the intelligence Ghorbani had collected. Unbeknownst to him, FBI agents searched his checked luggage at LAX and found an orange and white CVS pharmacy envelope. Inside the envelope, FBI agents found photos of Ghorbani standing next to people who were at the New York City MEK rally from September 2017. Many of the photographs had names and positions of the individuals written on the back, including one photograph that had “Dr. Ahmad Rajavi, the brother of Massoud,” written on it, prosecutors said in court documents.

In March 2018, Ghorbani traveled to Iran to conduct an in-person briefing about ways to take photos for an upcoming conference supported by the MEK, prosecutors allege.

When he returned April 17, authorities found tucked in his luggage a list written in Farsi that detailed his future tasks, including deeper infiltration into the MEK and recruiting a second person, according to court documents.

The pair never succeeded in allegedly recruiting another operative, however.

On Aug. 9, FBI agents swarmed Darya restaurant and arrested Ghorbani in front of stunned co-workers.

Doostdar was arrested the same day in Chicago.

Both men have been accused of acting as agents of a foreign government without prior notification of the U.S. attorney general and with providing services to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. Both men have pleaded not guilty and remain in custody.

Ghorbani’s lawyer has declined to comment on the case. Doostdar’s attorney, Thomas Durkin, said he’s suspicious about the timing of his client’s arrest considering it comes on the heels of Trump reimposing sanctions against Iran.

“There’s political machinations going on between the Trump administration and Iran. Why did the government all of a sudden decide to arrest these people?” he said.

::

The arrests of Ghorbani and Doostdar have left many in Orange County’s Persian community shaken.

“There is a sense of fear in the Iranian community that the regime in Iran are sending people to USA and keeping track of movements,” said Mike Kazemi, an Irvine immigration lawyer.

For those in the Persian community who are against the Islamic Republic but also disagree with the Trump administration’s policies toward Iran, the escalation in tensions has been disconcerting. They say it serves as a reminder of how both American and Iranian officials view members of the Iranian diaspora with suspicion.

“We are in the middle of two hard places,” Kazemi said.

Yet others in the community say they are refusing to allow geopolitics to interfere with their day-to-day lives.

Nasrin Rahimieh, a professor of humanities at UC Irvine, said she understands how recent developments might cause some Persians to feel scared of being too visible.

Throughout her career, Rahimieh said, she has been chastised for either appearing pro-Islamic Republic or anti-Islamic Republic.

But those experiences have left Rahimieh emboldened to speak out against what she said is the fear-mongering rhetoric present in today’s political environment.

“There is such rabid desire to show Iranians as bad actors and as bad agents that it’s had the opposite effect on me,” Rahimieh said. “To paint all Iranians with the same brush is something that needs to be protested.”

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We’re Cracking Apart From The Inside, With Missiles Aimed At Our Back

We’re Cracking Apart From The Inside, With Missiles Aimed At Our Back

 

I’m sorry, but I don’t exactly like the Title either. Here in our Country we are acting like it is back in the 20’s or something ignorant like that. We have our HollyWood and our Politics, the never-ending battle between the Dems and the GOP and we pick Our Country apart. We have several outside State Players and other well-funded hate groups who are actually in the Chess Possession to make this play. Folks, I hope they do not push the ‘ignite’ button. This would be the end of the world as we all know it all because of a couple of dozen people from around whom have some Power in this world who hate us and hate everything’ the West’ stands for. Attacking us from the inside while we bicker among ourselves is a sure Cancer to our Cells.

 

Our current Government has weakened Us with our long-standing Allies and gotten off to a bad start with several other ‘not so friendly States.’ There is always the issue of other ‘unfriendliness’ such as Hezbollah, Hamas and many others. I pray for our Children, and Theirs. Hate, it is such a disgusting thing when we direct it at each other. Our System has many errors within it but it could be very much better. We need to address these things quickly before there is no tomorrow in which to be concerned about.

 

 

 

Israel Said Set To Seek $250b Compensation From Arab Countries Plus Iran

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Israel said set to seek $250b compensation for Jews forced out of Arab countries

After 18 months of research, first claims being finalized for reported $35b from Tunisia, $15b from Libya, for assets Jews left behind when kicked out after establishment of Israel

Jews of Aden, Yemen, awaiting evacuation to Israel on November 1, 1949. (GPO/Public domain)

Jews of Aden, Yemen, awaiting evacuation to Israel on November 1, 1949. (GPO/Public domain)

Israel is preparing to demand compensation totaling a reported $250 billion from seven Arab countries and Iran for property and assets left behind by Jews who were forced to flee those countries following the establishment of the State of Israel.

“The time has come to correct the historic injustice of the pogroms (against Jews) in seven Arab countries and Iran, and to restore, to hundreds of thousands of Jews who lost their property, what is rightfully theirs,” Israel’s Minister for Social Equality, Gila Gamliel, who is coordinating the Israeli government’s handling of the issue, said Saturday.

According to figures cited Saturday night by Israel’s Hadashot TV news, compensation demands are now being finalized with regards to the first two of the eight countries involved, with Israel set to seek $35 billion dollars in compensation for lost Jewish assets from Tunisia, and $15 billion dollars from Libya.

In total, the TV report said Israel will seek over $250 billion from those two countries plus Morocco, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Yemen and Iran.

Yemenite Jews walking to Aden, the site of a reception camp, ahead of their emigration to Israel, 1949. (Kluger Zoltan/Israeli National Photo Archive/public domain)

Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC), an international umbrella group of Jewish community organizations, has estimated that some 856,000 Jews from 10 Arab countries — the other two were Algeria and Lebanon — fled or were expelled in 1948 and after, while violent Arab riots left many Jews dead or injured.

For the past 18 months, utilizing the services of an international accountancy firm, the Israeli government has quietly been researching the value of property and assets that these Jews were forced to leave behind, the TV report said.

Immigrants from Iraq soon after landing at Lod Airport, summer 1951 (Teddy Brauner, GPO)

It is now moving toward finalizing claims as the Trump Administration prepares for the possible unveiling of its much-anticipated Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal. A 2010 Israeli law provides that any peace deal must provide for compensation for assets of Jewish communities and individual Jews forced out of Arab countries and Iran.

Yemeni Jews aboard a plane to Israel in operation Magic Carpet, 1949 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Yemeni Jews aboard a plane to Israel in operation Magic Carpet, 1949 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

“One cannot talk about the Middle East without taking into consideration the rights of the Jews who were forced to leave their thriving communities amid violence,” said Gamliel, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“All the crimes that were carried out against those Jewish communities must be recognized.”

The Palestinian Authority has sought over $100 billion in compensation from Israel for assets left behind by Arab residents of what is today Israel who fled or were forced to leave at the time of the establishment of the Jewish state, and presented documentation to that effect to the United States a decade ago, the TV report said.

The Palestinians have also always demanded a “right of return” to what is today’s Israel for the few tens of thousands of surviving refugees and for their millions of descendants. This demand would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish state and has been dismissed by successive Israeli governments. Israel argues that Palestinian refugees would become citizens of a Palestinian state under a permanent peace accord, just as Jewish refugees from Arab lands became citizens of Israel. It also argues that by extending refugee status to Palestinian descendants, the relevant UN agencies artificially inflate the issue, complicating peace efforts. The latter view is shared by the Trump administration, which last year announced it was halting funding for the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA.

Israel has never formally demanded compensation for Jews forced out of Arab lands and Iran, and although many of those Jews arrived in Israel with next to nothing, they did not seek formal refugee status from the international community.

Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon giving the opening remarks at an official UN event commemorating Jewish refugees from Arab lands, on December 1, 2015. (Shahar Azran)

At the time, the newly established Jewish state was struggling to attract migration from the world’s Jews and to project its legitimacy as a sovereign state, able to care for its own people. Its first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, would not have wanted Jews returning to their “historic homeland” classed as refugees, according to Meir Kahlon, chairman of the Central Organization for Jews from Arab Countries and Iran.

Monies obtained from the eight countries would not be allocated to individual families, the TV report said, but would rather be distributed by the state via a special fund. Gamliel is coordinating the process, together with Israel’s National Security Council, which works out of the Prime Minister’s Office.

In 2014, Israel passed a law making each November 30 a day commemorating the exit and deportation of Jews from Arab and Iranian lands, which involves educational programming and diplomatic events aimed to increase international awareness of the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab lands and Iran, and of their right to compensation.

That year, at the first such events, Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin issued calls for financial reparations.

President Reuven Rivlin speaks at a ceremony marking the expulsion of Jews from Arab countries. November 30, 2014. (photo credit: Courtesy)

“It is not for nothing that this day is marked on the day after the 29th of November,” Netanyahu said on November 30, 2014, in reference to the anniversary of the UN adoption of the Palestine partition plan in 1947. “The Arab countries, which never accepted the UN declaration on the establishment of a Jewish state, compelled the Jews living in their territories to leave their homes while leaving their assets behind… We have acted – and will continue to act – so that they and their claims are not forgotten.”

Read: The expulsion that backfired: When Iraq kicked out its Jews

In his address at that first ceremony, Rivlin appealed for greater Sephardic representation in Israeli society, as well as for compensation for their suffering. He acknowledged that the troubles of Middle Eastern Jews were not mitigated upon their arrival in Israel, where European Jews were firmly entrenched in power.

“Their voices were muted, but the words were in their mouths all along, even if they were said in Hebrew with a Persian or Arabic accent, which in Israel were thought of as enemy languages and viewed as a source of shame,” he said.

“The voice of Jews from Arab countries and Iran must be heard within the education system, in the media, in the arts, and in the country’s official institutions, as it needs to be heard in the international arena as well, in order to mend the historical injustice, and to ensure financial reparations,” Rivlin said.

Kahlon said that “nearly 800,000 came here (in the years after the establishment of the state) and the rest (around 56,000) went to the United States, France, Italy and elsewhere.”

Kahlon himself came to Israel as a child from Libya and spent his first years in the Jewish state in one of the tent camps set up to shelter the flood of newcomers.

Barber Rachamim Azar, a new immigrant from Baghdad, carries out his trade in the tent he shares with his wife and two children at a maabara (immigrant camp) in central Israel in summer 1951. He told a Government Press Office photographer that he intended to move to a kibbutz (Teddy Brauner, GPO)

In March 2014, Canada formally recognized the refugee status of the Jewish emigres who fled or were expelled from Arab countries after Israel’s founding.

Some of the migrants to Israel say privately that the issue is being promoted to give Israel a bargaining card in negotiations with the Palestinians, to set against Palestinian compensation claims for property and assets left behind in what is now Israel.

READ MORE:

US official says top Hezbollah brass hit in alleged Israeli strikes in Syria

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

US official says top Hezbollah brass hit in alleged Israeli strikes in Syria

Defense Department source tells Newsweek commanders were targeted after boarding a plane bound for Iran; advanced weaponry also destroyed

A screenshot from video on social media purporting to show airstrikes near Damascus on December 25, 2018. (Screen capture: Twitter)

A screenshot from video on social media purporting to show airstrikes near Damascus on December 25, 2018. (Screen capture: Twitter)

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.

Israel said it had deployed air defenses against a missile fired from Syria as Damascus attempted to repel the alleged airstrikes.

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.

Embedded video

Observer IL – 🅾️🅱️🔺@Obs_IL

Dashcam footage from Road 6 of the launch of an AD missile earlier near following this evening airstrikes in . @Intel_sky @IsraelD_Heb @edrormba @BabakTaghvaee @Dannymakkisyria @IntelCrab @IdeologyWars @TheWarOfNow @intellipus

23 people are talking about this

Syrian eyewitnesses and video on social media showed what appeared to be intense fire on targets near the capital.

Embedded video

Zaid Benjamin@zaidbenjamin

Syrian News Agency says the “Aggression on ” continues “from the Lebanese airspace” and air defenses are responding.

20 people are talking about this

“It’s an Israeli raid,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.

“Missiles fired from Israeli planes targeted… arms depots southwest and south of Damascus that belong to Hezbollah or Iranian forces,” Abdel Rahman said.

Lebanon’s National News Agency reported that Israel Air Force planes were operating over southern Lebanon.

Qalaat Al Mudiq@QalaatAlMudiq

: explosions heard over province. Air defenses fired missiles moments ago.

View image on Twitter

Qalaat Al Mudiq@QalaatAlMudiq

. Air defenses in action tonight over W. province. pic.twitter.com/xrYqMYX1E1

Embedded video

57 people are talking about this

News reports made a connection between the strike and the earlier arrival of an Iranian cargo jet in Damascus. The 747, belonging to Iran’s Fars Air Qeshm, had landed in Syria just after 7 p.m.

The civilian company has been accused on multiple occasions of smuggling Iranian arms to Hezbollah, and media speculated that its cargo had been the target of the strikes.

It was not clear whether the jet was the one which Hezbollah officials had allegedly boarded.

Israel in recent years has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria against targets linked to Iran, which alongside its proxies and Russia is fighting on behalf of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Israel has accused Iran of seeking to establish a military presence in Syria that could threaten Israeli security and attempting to transfer advanced weaponry to the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon.

The number of airstrikes in Syria attributed to Israel has dropped noticeably in recent months, after a Russian military plane was downed by Syrian air defenses during an Israeli attack on Latakia, killing all 15 servicemen aboard.

Russia blamed the Israeli military for that incident — a charge rejected by Jerusalem — and has supplied Syria with the advanced S-300 air defense system.

The S-300 systems were delivered to Syria last month, but they are not yet believed to be in use, as the Syrian air defense teams still need to be trained to operate them.

Israeli defense officials have met with Russian counterparts a number of times in recent weeks in an effort to re-establish a deconfliction mechanism that will allow Israel to recommence its air campaign.

Russia reportedly wants significant warning period ahead of any Israeli airstrike, something Israeli officials have been said to refuse.

READ MORE:

Israel fires at missile from Syria; IDF jets said to pound Damascus arms depots

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

(Peace, no peace, ever, there is to much inbred hate and distrust on all three sides, Sunni, Shiite and Judaism,  but thats just my thought on this issue.) (oldpoet56)  

Israel fires at missile from Syria; IDF jets said to pound Damascus arms depots

No injuries or damage in Israel; Israeli planes said to be behind attack near Syrian capital against Hezbollah or Iranian depot; Damascus claims to shoot down ‘enemy targets’

A screenshot from video purporting to show a Syrian surface-to-air missile being fired near Damascus on December 25, 2018. (Screen capture: YouTube)

A screenshot from video purporting to show a Syrian surface-to-air missile being fired near Damascus on December 25, 2018. (Screen capture: YouTube)

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.

Embedded video

Observer IL – 🅾️🅱️🔺@Obs_IL

Dashcam footage from Road 6 of the launch of an AD missile earlier near following this evening airstrikes in . @Intel_sky @IsraelD_Heb @edrormba @BabakTaghvaee @Dannymakkisyria @IntelCrab @IdeologyWars @TheWarOfNow @intellipus

23 people are talking about this

Syrian state media said its own air defenses had opened fire on “enemy targets,” shooting them down, in what was reported to be an Israeli airstrike.

Syrian eyewitnesses and video on social media showed what appeared to be intense fire on targets near the capital.

Embedded video

Zaid Benjamin@zaidbenjamin

Syrian News Agency says the “Aggression on ” continues “from the Lebanese airspace” and air defenses are responding.

20 people are talking about this

SANA said the strikes beginning at about 10 p.m. were carried out from Lebanon and that a number of targets were intercepted.

“It’s an Israeli raid,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.

“Missiles fired from Israeli planes targeted… arms depots southwest and south of Damascus that belong to Hezbollah or Iranian forces,” Abdel Rahman said.

Syrian TV quoted a military source saying weapons warehouses were hit, and three Syrian soldiers wounded.

Lebanon’s National News Agency reported that Israel Air Force planes were operating over southern Lebanon.

Qalaat Al Mudiq@QalaatAlMudiq

: explosions heard over province. Air defenses fired missiles moments ago.

View image on Twitter

Qalaat Al Mudiq@QalaatAlMudiq

. Air defenses in action tonight over W. province. pic.twitter.com/xrYqMYX1E1

Embedded video

57 people are talking about this

News reports tied between the strike and the earlier arrival of an Iranian cargo jet in Damascus. The 747, belonging to Iran’s Fars Air Qeshm, had landed in Syria just after 7 p.m.

The civilian company has been accused on multiple occasions of smuggling Iranian arms to Hezbollah.

By midnight the flight was en route back to Iran.

Israel in recent years has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria against targets linked to Iran, which alongside its proxies and Russia is fighting on behalf of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Israel has accused Iran of seeking to establish a military presence in Syria that could threaten Israeli security and attempting to transfer advanced weaponry to the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon.

In this August 27, 2013, photo, a Russian air defense system missile system Antey 2500, or S-300 VM, is on display at the opening of the MAKS Air Show in Zhukovsky outside Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev, file)

The number of airstrikes in Syria attributed to Israel has dropped noticeably in recent months, after a Russian military plane was downed by Syrian air defenses during an Israeli attack on Latakia, killing all 15 servicemen aboard.

Russia blamed the Israeli military for that incident — a charge rejected by Jerusalem — and has supplied Syria with the advanced S-300 air defense system.

The S-300 systems were delivered to Syria last month, but they are not yet believed to be in use, as the Syrian air defense teams still need to be trained to operate them.

Israeli defense officials have met with Russian counterparts a number of times in recent weeks in an effort to re-establish a deconfliction mechanism that will allow Israel to recommence its air campaign.

Russia reportedly wants significant warning period ahead of any Israeli airstrike, something Israeli officials have been said to refuse.

READ MORE:

Israel’s Government Collapses Amid Corruption Charges and Trump’s Mideast Chaos

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘THE BEAST’ NEWS)

 

Israel’s Government Collapses Amid Corruption Charges and Trump’s Mideast Chaos

The specific issue that brought down Bibi’s government was subsidies for ultra-Orthodox draft dodgers. Still, he thinks he’ll win at the polls again in April.

Amir Cohen/Reuters

JERUSALEM — In the most expected surprise declaration of 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced the dissolution of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, and elections to be held in early April.

The move comes days after U.S. President Donald Trump roiled the region with the startling announcement he was immediately withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria, and as his long-anticipated plan to renew peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians appears to be have shriveled.

A 2019 electoral campaign was inevitable, in fact. Netanyahu’s four-year mandate runs out in November 2019, but Monday’s unforeseen move became inescapable when Netanyahu was unable to muster the necessary votes to pass a popular law levying heavier fines against orthodox Jewish seminary students who dodge Israel’s otherwise universal draft of 18-years-olds on religious grounds.

Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox coalition members opposed the law, and two opposition parties that had initially hinted at support withdrew it due to fears Netanyahu and his religious political partners had cut a secret deal providing financial compensation to counterbalance fines imposed on draft dodgers.

Elections have been in the air since Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s resignation last month, which left the survival of Netanyahu’s coalition hanging by a single Knesset vote.

Lieberman has since taunted Netanyahu for his “government for survival,” but the prime minister remains the most popular leader in Israel’s rambunctious multi-part political process.

The next three months will see Bibi, as Netanyahu is widely known, confront unprecedented tests, none more challenging than his own precarious legal predicament.

Following police and state attorney recommendations that he be indicted on several corruption charges, senior Israeli jurists say his prosecution appears inevitable.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, an essential partner in any future Netanyahu government, restated on Monday that no minister, and no prime minister, can continue to serve if indicted.

Israel’s Justice Ministry issued a rare statement reassuring the public that its work in sifting through the legal recommendations will continue “as usual” despite the announcement of elections.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, a Netanyahu appointee who will make the final determination, said at a conference last week that Israeli law has not yet had to decide whether a sitting prime minister may remain in office if facing legal prosecution.

In recent years, both a president and a prime minister resigned when facing almost certain indictment,. Both eventually served time in prison.

Speaking to a quickly assembled meeting of his parliamentary faction, and ignoring the legal drama, Netanyahu forecast victory in the April vote and said the coalition he currently leads—the most right-wing in Israeli history and one of the most volatile— is “the seed” for his future government.

Listing his administration’s achievements, Netanyahu ignored instability in the financial markets that saw the Tel Aviv stock exchange lose more than 5 percent of its value since U.S. President Donald Trump’s startling decision to withdraw American troops from Syria, where they have provided crucial support for Israeli efforts to contain and halt Iranian entrenchment.

Lauding his government’s “four full years of achievements,” Netanyahu praised Israel as “a growing power, with flourishing diplomatic ties” with continental powerhouse nations such as India, Brazil and Australia, far from Israel’s historic allies.

After extolling ties with “west and east Europe, and central Europe, and Latin America,” Netanyahu extolled Israel’s alliance “with the United States that has never been stronger, with the historic decision made by President Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the embassy to Jerusalem.”

“Israel has the eighth most powerful military on earth,” he boasted to his followers. “It is hard to believe, Israel is not a large country, but serious institutions rank us that high.”

Full text of James Mattis resignation letter to Trump

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Treat allies with respect: Full text of James Mattis resignation letter to Trump

In devastating note stressing importance of America’s alliances, Pentagon chief tells US president he should pick a defense secretary ‘whose views are better aligned with yours’

Part of US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis' resignation letter to President Donald Trump is photographed in Washington, on December 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)

Part of US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ resignation letter to President Donald Trump is photographed in Washington, on December 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)

The full text of the resignation letter US Defense Secretary James Mattis submitted to President Donald Trump on December 20, 2018.

Dear Mr. President:

I have been privileged to serve as our country’s 26th Secretary of Defense which has allowed me to serve alongside our men and women of the Department in defense of our citizens and our ideals.

I am proud of the progress that has been made over the past two years on some of the key goals articulated in our National Defense Strategy: putting the Department on a more sound budgetary footing, improving readiness and lethality in our forces, and reforming the Department’s business practices for greater performance. Our troops continue to provide the capabilities needed to prevail in conflict and sustain strong US global influence.

One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies. Like you, I have said from the beginning that the armed forces of the United States should not be the policeman of the world. Instead, we must use all tools of American power to provide for the common defense, including providing effective leadership to our alliances. NATO’s 29 democracies demonstrated that strength in their commitment to fighting alongside us following the 9-11 attack on America. The Defeat-ISIS coalition of 74 nations is further proof.

Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours. It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model — gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions — to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.

My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.

Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position. The end date for my tenure is February 28, 2019, a date that should allow sufficient time for a successor to be nominated and confirmed as well as to make sure the Department’s interests are properly articulated and protected at upcoming events to include Congressional posture hearings and the NATO Defense Ministerial meeting in February. Further, that a full transition to a new Secretary of Defense occurs well in advance of the transition of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September in order to ensure stability within the Department.

I pledge my full effort to a smooth transition that ensures the needs and interests of the 2.15 million Service Members and 732,079 DoD civilians receive undistracted attention of the Department at all times so that they can fulfill their critical, round-the-clock mission to protect the American people.

I very much appreciate this opportunity to serve the nation and our men and women in uniform.

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Jordan King Meets Abbas

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Jordan King Meets Abbas, Stresses Need to Break Peace Deadlock

Wednesday, 19 December, 2018 – 10:00
A handout picture released by the Jordanian Royal Palace on December 18, 2018, shows Jordanian King Abdullah II (R) meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at Basman Palace in Amman. Yousef ALLAN / AFP / Jordanian Royal Palace
Amman – Asharq Al-Awsat
Jordan’s King Abdullah II on Tuesday stressed during talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas the need to break the stalemate in the peace process by launching serious and effective peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis.

The Royal Diwan said the King reiterated that negotiations should be based on a two-state solution.

During the talks, which were held at the Basman Palace, the King also stressed “Jordan’s rejection of unilateral Israeli actions, including building settlement units and expropriation of Palestinian-owned lands in the occupied West Bank, which are a real obstacle to achieving just and lasting peace based on the two-state solution.”

He called on the international community to assume responsibility and put pressure on Israel to cease its practices that breed more violence, said the Royal Diwan in its statement.

King Abdullah also reiterated that Amman stands by the Palestinian people “to restore their legitimate and rightful demands,” vowing to exert all efforts along with influential parties and the international community for a solution “that serves Palestinian interests and the rights of the Palestinian people”.

He underscored the importance of maintaining the status quo in Jerusalem as a key to achieving peace in the region, stressing that “Jordan continues to carry out its historic and religious role of safeguarding Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem in line with the Hashemite Custodianship over these shrines.”

Damn… I Sure Hope I’m Wrong

Damn… I Sure Hope I’m Wrong

 

Folks this is simply the thoughts of an old man, roll with it where you will, or not. Time, age, it does give one advantage to the times people see fads come and go. I know that I am not the brightest bulb in the package but I do enjoy history and memories what one sees and understands often come from that. This article to you tonight is strictly a ‘what if’ letter and damn, I sure hope I’m wrong.

 

What If, what if President Trump is considered to be at the weakest point of his Presidency right now? What if right now even our Allies have no trust at all in Mr. Trump’s Leadership or even worse, if they consider the U.S. to now be a likely enemy? Now our real Enemies challenge U.S. authority all over the globe, Russia has been pushing the “West” for a fight over Crimea and now over the mainland of Ukraine, Mr. Putin has installed several hundred tanks facing Ukraine along their Border. Russian Naval Ships have fired on boarded and taken control of Ukraine Naval Ships.

 

If Mr. Putin and President Xi Jinping decided on a date over this Christmas Holiday to coordinate an attack on two fronts, first with Russia doing an all out attack on Ukraine and second, China doing an all out assault on Taiwan. Then of course this day would happen to be the time Hamas does an all out assault on Israel from the south and also the day Hezbollah does the same into northern Israel. My question is how would the U.S. Government and Military handle these situations, or could they in any real way enter into a WW3 situation, and win? There would also be the reality of every Three-Bit Dictator attacking whomever they choose all around the world. If the U.S. had great leaders would they take this kind of a chance? The reality is, we don’t have a mentally competent Leader in the Oval Office. So, what would happen if all of this occurred? You know folks, there is one thing that the world seems to forget about. Folks wake up, all of our ‘ways of life’ can change is just a fraction of a second with one bright flash up in the skies.

 

As I said, this was just a ‘what if’ theory and all I can honestly say is, I sure hope I’m Wrong!

Australia recognizes West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Australia recognizes West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

PM Scott Morrison says embassy won’t move from Tel Aviv until peace is achieved, but country will establish a defense and trade office in Jerusalem

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison declares West Jerusalem to be Israel's capital, Sydney, December 15, 2018. (Screen grab via ABC News)

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison declares West Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital, Sydney, December 15, 2018. (Screen grab via ABC News)

Australia on Saturday officially recognized West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, but a contentious embassy shift from Tel Aviv will not occur until a peace settlement is achieved.

“The Australian government has decided that Australia now recognizes West Jerusalem, as the seat of the Knesset and many of the institutions of government, is the capital of Israel,” he said.

He said the decision respects both a commitment to a two-state solution and longstanding respect for relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

Morrison also committed to recognizing the aspirations for a future state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital when the city’s status is determined in a peace deal.

While the embassy move is delayed, Morrison said his government will establish a defense and trade office in Jerusalem and will also start looking for an appropriate site for the embassy.

“We look forward to moving our embassy to West Jerusalem when practical, in support of and after final status of determination,” he said, adding that work on a new site for the embassy was under way.

The prime minister said it was in Australia’s interests to support “liberal democracy” in the Middle East, and took aim at the United Nations, which he said was a place where Israel is “bullied.”

Australia had on Friday warned citizens to take care while traveling in neighboring Muslim-majority Indonesia ahead of the expected announcement by Morrison.

Protesters wave Palestinian flags during a rally against the US plan to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, at Monas, the national monument, in Jakarta, Indonesia, May 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)

While Australia’s then-foreign minister Julie Bishop said in June that “the Australian government will not be moving our embassy to Jerusalem,” Morrison said in October that he was “open-minded” regarding following the American example.

But Morrison’s statement was seen by many Australians at that time as a political stunt. Critics called it a cynical attempt to win votes in a by-election in October for a Sydney seat with a high Jewish population.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten said Saturday that the decision to recognize West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital but not move the embassy there was a “humiliating backdown” from the October by-election campaign.

“What I’m worried is that Mr. Morrison put his political interest ahead of our national interest,” Shorten told reporters.

Both Israel and the Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital. Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community. It sees the entire city as its capital.

Tourists look at the view of the Dome of the Rock and the Temple Mount from the lookout of the Mount of Olives overlooking the Old city of Jerusalem, on November 28, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

For decades the international community maintained that the city’s status should be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians. Critics say declaring Jerusalem the capital of either inflames tensions and prejudges the outcome of final status peace talks. The Trump administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last December, and opened its embassy there in May.

Morrison’s mid-October announcement that he was “open-minded” to following the United States in recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital drew criticism at home. Australia’s spy agency warned the move could provoke further violent unrest in Israel, while opposition lawmakers accused the prime minister of cynically pandering to Jewish voters ahead of a crucial by-election.

The US Embassy in Jerusalem sits on a traffic circle recently named for US President Donald Trump. The compound is in the middle of Arnona, a quiet residential neighborhood in the city’s south. (Ben Sales/JTA)

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat also harshly criticized the planned move, and called on Arab and Muslim countries to sever all diplomatic ties with Australia if it changed its policy on Jerusalem. In a tweet Tuesday morning Erekat said that various Arab and Muslim summits have adopted resolutions committing to ending diplomatic ties with any country that recognizes Jerusalem as belonging to Israel.

Recognizing Jerusalem is expected to help the embattled Australian PM — who faces the prospect of an election drubbing next year — with Jewish and conservative Christian voters and win him friends in the White House.

His supporters argue Israel has the right to choose its own capital and peace talks are dead in the water, so there is no peace to prejudge.

But the move still risks heightening unrest, not least in Australia’s immediate neighbor and the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

Indonesia’s government, facing domestic pressure at home, had reacted angrily earlier this year, when Morrison floated the idea of both recognizing Jerusalem and moving the Australian embassy there.

The issue has put the conclusion of a bilateral trade agreement on hold.

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