Iran seizes another oil tanker in Strait of Hormuz as Gulf crisis erupts

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE UK EXPRESS NEWS)

 

Iran seizes another oil tanker in Strait of Hormuz as Gulf crisis erupts

IRAN is believed to have seized another oil tanker passing through the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran: ‘Startlingly dangerous moment’ in Middle East says expert

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The Israeli Broadcasting Corporation is reporting another ship has been seized in the gulf. Correspondent Amochai Stein said on Twitter: “Iran has seized another oil vessel in the Strait of Hormuz. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard arrests a vessel and 11 crew on ‘diesel smuggling charges’.”

It comes after Iran said accusations it had a role in the attack on Saudi oil installations were “unacceptable” and “baseless”, after a senior US official said the Islamic Republic was behind it.

“These allegations are condemned as unacceptable and entirely baseless,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said in remarks carried by state TV.

On Sunday, a senior US official told reporters that evidence from the attack, which hit the world’s biggest oil-processing facility on Saturday, indicated Iran was behind it, instead of the Yemeni Houthi group that had claimed responsibility.

Iran news

Iran is believed to have seized another oil tanker passing through the Strait of Hormuz (Image: REUTERS/GETTY)

Donald Trump waded into the row by issuing a fierce warning to Iran that America was “locked and loaded” in a chilling esponse to the oil field attacks.

The US President said on Twitter: “There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of the attack, and under what terms we would proceed.”

He then said the US had ‘PLENTY OF OIL!’ despite the attacks on the fields.

READ MORE: Putin swoops on Iran chaos in crunch talks hours after Saudi strike

Last night the US issued satellite images an intelligence backing the claim that Iran was behind attacks on major Saudi oil facilities.

According to the New York Times, ABC and Reuters US officials pointed 19 points of impact from bombs or missiles and evidence indicated the attacks had come from a west-north-west direction – not Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen, which lies to the south-west of the Saudi oil facilities.

US officials suggested launch sites in the northern Gulf, Iran or Iraq were a more likely source of the missiles. And a close-up image of damaged tanks at the Abqaiq processing plant seemed to show impact points on the western side.

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Iran’s semi-official Students News agency ISNA reported Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have seized the the vessel for allegedly smuggling 250,000 litres of diesel fuel to the United Arab Emirates.

A reporter for ISNA said: “It was detained near Iran’s Greater Tunb island in the Persian Gulf.

“The crew have been handed over to legal authorities in the southern Hormozgan province.”

Donald Trump would take ‘aggressive’ stance on Iran says expert

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Mr Trump said on Monday the United States would help its allies.

Taking to Twitter he said: “We don’t need Middle Eastern Oil & Gas, & in fact have very few tankers there, but will help our Allies!”

The latest reported ship seizure by Iran follows a series of incidents involving shipping around the Gulf after US sanctions on Iranian oil exports took full effect in May.

Russian Envoy Insists on Forming Syria’s Constitutional Committee in September

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

 

Russian Envoy Insists on Forming Syria’s Constitutional Committee in September

Wednesday, 11 September, 2019 – 11:30
Syrian refugee women stand in front of their homes at Azraq refugee camp, near Al Azraq city, Jordan (File photo: Reuters)
Moscow – Raed Jabr
Moscow hopes the formation of the Syrian Constitutional Committee will be completed by the end of September, announced Mikhail Bogdanov, the Russian president’s special envoy for the Middle East and African countries and Deputy Foreign Minister.

Bogdanov said that Moscow discussed with a number of foreign ministers, including the Turkish FM, the committee’s formation.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed confidence that forming the committee will be completed soon, noting that the disagreements were on a “name or two” in the third list that the UN should have submitted.

Lavrov noted that Russia was surprised that the formation of the 150-member committee would be disrupted because of differences on one or two names.

Meanwhile, Moscow announced that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will arrive in Sochi on Thursday to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Last week, Kremlin Aide Yuri Ushakov said Netanyahu’s visit to Russia could take place very soon. The visit is most likely to be held in Sochi, he said.

Russian and Israeli media sources agreed that the discussions will address security coordination in Syria, especially against the backdrop of warnings recently reported by Russian media, regarding Israel’s failure to comply with previous understandings in informing Moscow of the details of military operations in Syrian airspace.

Netanyahu affirmed that he intends to discuss the Iranian presence in Syria, an issue present on the agenda of all Russian-Israeli meetings.

Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry denied reports that Russian aircraft violated the ceasefire by attacking the Idlib de-escalation zone.

“Since the beginning of the cessation of fire regime on August 31 in the Idlib de-escalation zone, Russian Aerospace Forces and Syrian Air Force aircraft have not performed any combat missions to hit targets on the ground,” the Ministry said.

The statement comes after Reuters citing several sources that Russian planes had carried out two raids in the strategic Jabal al-Akrad mountain range near the western Latakia coast.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to annex a massive part of the West Bank, explained

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF VOX.COM)

 

Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to annex a massive part of the West Bank, explained

Israel’s prime minister wants to seize the Jordan Valley — a move that would bury the two-state solution for good.

Netanyahu Pledges To Annex Jordan Valley In Occupied West Bank If Re-Elected
Benjamin Netanyahu announces plan to annex the Jordan Valley.
 Amir Levy/Getty Images

In a high-profile speech on Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to annex a part of the West Bank called the Jordan Valley if he wins Israel’s upcoming election on September 17.

“If I am elected I commit to annex the Jordan Valley. It is our eastern border, our defense wall,” the prime minister vowed. “Give me the mandate. No previous Israeli prime minister has proposed doing so.”

The annexation is billed as a security measure, an essential move for Israeli to protect its heartland. In practice, though, it would mean seizing land that’s vital to any future Palestinian state’s success — effectively dismantling the peace process. It’s a truly radical pronouncement, a blaring statement that this Israeli government has no interest in a serious negotiated peace with the Palestinians.

Annexation is not inevitable. Netanyahu might lose the election, or he might end up with a parliamentary coalition that would block his move. The speech was clearly designed to shore up Netanyahu’s support in the upcoming elections (particularly with right-wing voters).

But just because the promise is campaign rhetoric doesn’t mean it’s empty. Experts warn that the very act of putting annexation on the table will shift Israeli politics even further to the right, potentially scuppering the peace process for good.

“Instead of a conversation on whether annexation is smart or stupid, bad for Israel or good for Israel, everyone across the Israeli political spectrum will accept this new baseline and annexation becomes normal,” writes Michael Koplow, policy director at the center-left Israel Policy Forum. “As it is, the gap between Israel and the Palestinians is wide and widening by the day. This makes that gap unbridgeable if it becomes the new Israeli baseline position.”

Why annexation is so scary for the peace process

The Jordan Valley runs along the east edge of the West Bank, the heavily Palestinian-populated area taken by Israel in the 1967 war, marking its boundary with neighboring Jordan. It contains both Palestinian population centers, like the city of Jericho, and a number of Israeli settlements.

Netanyahu claimed in his speech that he would not be “annexing even one Palestinian.” To do that, he exempted Jericho and nearby Palestinian villages from the annexation proposal, opting instead to encircle them (the red blob in the map below) with newly taken Israeli land (the much bigger blue chunk):

Raphael Ahren

@RaphaelAhren

Here’s the map of the territory of the Jordan Valley, in the West Bank, that Netanyahu vowed to annex if he wins next week’s election (blue: will be annexed to Israel; orange: will remain under Palestinian control)

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The most credible argument for Israel formally seizing control of this land is essentially strategic. Israel has faced invasions from Jordan before, and an IDF military presence in the Jordan Valley is arguably vital to protecting Israel from another hypothetical invasion in the future.

However, there is no imminent risk of such an invasion to justify an immediate land grab. And there are lots of arrangements by which Israel could protect legitimate security interests in the Jordan Valley without outright seizing the land. It could station some troops there with permission from a Palestinian state, for example.

Annexing the Jordan Valley at this particular moment is not a response to an urgent security threat. Rather, it a dagger blow to the idea of a two-state solution, amounting to a declaration that Israel is not interested in creating a Palestinian state but rather simply taking the land that it wants for itself.

“Annexation — taking land while continuing to subjugate the Palestinians on that land — is apartheid and should face the same consequences,” says Diana Buttu, a Ramallah-based political analyst and former adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

This unilateral land grab of a huge chunk of the West Bank would shrink the remaining Palestinian territory to such an extent that most observers believe it would render the very idea of a two-state solution impossible.

“Netanyahu is proposing annexing essentially a third of the West Bank,” writes Raf Sanchez, a Middle East correspondent at the UK’s Telegraph newspaper. “Very hard to see how anyone can say a Palestinian state is still possible if that happens.”

If that’s the case, then Netanyahu’s land grab would force Israel down one of two dangerous one-state paths.

One option would be giving the vote to Palestinians and making them full citizens of Israel, leading to an Arab demographic majority and thus ending Israel’s status as a Jewish state. This is not only a recipe for violence between Muslims and Jews but also unacceptable to the currently ascendant Israeli political right, of which Netanyahu is very much a part. The other option is indefinite Israeli rule over Palestinians without granting them citizenship. There’s a word for keeping an ethnically defined part of your population in permanent second-class citizenship: apartheid.

Annexation isn’t happening tomorrow. But this speech is still really scary.

Before we go down the doomsday road, though, it’s worth noting that annexation is not happening tomorrow — and may not be happening at all.

The polling for the September 17 election is ambiguous. The leading opposition party, centrist Blue and White, is polling ever so slightly ahead of Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud, but neither party is projected to come close to a parliamentary majority. Whoever comes out ahead will depend on a coalition agreement with a group of smaller parties, and it’s not at all clear what the most likely coalition will be come next week. It’s possible Netanyahu is out of a job or stuck with some kind of coalition that won’t let him pursue annexation.

What’s more, Netanyahu is currently battling indictment on corruption charges. The amount of attention and energy this fight will consume might, according to some Israeli observers, make it impossible for him to actually take the radical step he just proposed.

“If Netanyahu wins next Tuesday, and that’s a big ‘if,’ he will be spending all his time trying to tailor his immunity from prosecution. Not annexing the Jordan Valley,” writes Anshel Pfeffer, a columnist at Israel’s left-wing Ha’aretz newspaper. “If Netanyahu’s statement proves anything, it’s his contempt for his own right-wing voters’ intelligence. They are expected to believe that after all this time, the ‘historic opportunity’ to annex the Jordan Valley is suddenly just a week before the election.”

But just because annexation may not be imminent doesn’t mean the talk of it isn’t dangerous.

The basic concern here is that Netanyahu is changing the terms of Israeli politics. If he proposes it and gets even tacit permission from the Trump administration — which has yet to condemn the proposal — then expectations of what Israel can get from the Palestinians will be profoundly reset.

“What happens now is that Bibi says he will take a step that is important to Israeli security, probably get Trump administration backing, get most Israeli parties to support — or at least not to oppose — it,” writes Koplow. “This is precisely how the fundamental window on this shifts.”

If this comes to pass, then annexation is likely to happen one way or another. And if it does, the peace process will be well and truly dead.

“Yes you can argue that it’s an electoral ploy,” writes Brent Sasley, an expert on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process at the University of Texas at Arlington. “But he’s been moving the goalposts of annexation every year and an outright public commitment to it is a major step forward.”

Saudi’s: Pressure on Netanyahu to Expand Hebron Settlement

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

 

Pressure on Netanyahu to Expand Hebron Settlement

Wednesday, 4 September, 2019 – 11:45
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on as he arrives to review an honor guard with his Ethiopian counterpart Abiy Ahmed during their meeting in Jerusalem September 1, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
Tel Aviv – Ramallah- Nazir Magally and Asharq Al-Awsat
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing pressure by settlers to announce an expansion of the Jewish settlement in Hebron, political sources have revealed.

The Palestinian Authority warned of an expected visit by Netanyahu to Hebron, describing this visit as a “colonial” move.

The sources said that Netanyahu is likely to yield to pressure despite the international criticism and strong Palestinian condemnation he would be subjected to.

Netanyahu’s planned visit is “racial and colonial,” the Palestinian Foreign Ministry said, noting that it comes at a time he is seeking to secure more votes from the right-wing.

It pointed out that the visit comes also in line with “Israeli plans to Judaize the old city of Hebron, including the Ibrahimi Mosque.”

The Ministry further deplored policies on settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian territories, along with the crimes of destroying houses, mosques and institutions.

It also warned of the risks and consequences of the Israeli PM’s visit, especially after the occupation authorities took discriminatory measures against the residents of Tel Rumeida, the Old City and its vicinity in preparation for the visit.

The Ministry called on the international community and international organizations to “assume legal and moral responsibility towards the suffering of the Palestinian people in Hebron.”

Hebron was a prosperous commercial city, until a settler doctor carried out a massacre in 1994 when he entered the Ibrahimi Mosque during fajr prayers and shot the worshipers, killing 29 Palestinians, while the Israeli army killed 20 others.

Yitzhak Rabin’s government was offered the chance to evict settlers from Hebron, but he failed to do so and he protected them militarily with a fence, which was later used to tighten the noose on the city mainly under Netanyahu’s rule.

Iranian judoka allegedly coerced to avoid fight against Israeli seeks asylum

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Iranian judoka allegedly coerced to avoid fight against Israeli seeks asylum

International Judo Federation confirms Saeid Mollaei has requested asylum in Germany after reportedly being pressured to throw match at World Judo Championship

Luka Maisuradze of Georgia, top, competes against Saeid Mollaei of Iran during a men's -81 kilogram bronze medal match of the World Judo Championships in Tokyo, August 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

Luka Maisuradze of Georgia, top, competes against Saeid Mollaei of Iran during a men’s -81 kilogram bronze medal match of the World Judo Championships in Tokyo, August 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

An Iranian judoka who was allegedly pressured into throwing a match to avoid facing off against an Israeli opponent has requested asylum in Germany.

The International Judo Federation confirmed Saeid Mollaei’s asylum request and expressed its backing of him, Radio Farda reported Saturday.

On Thursday, the chairman of the Israel Judo Association said Mollaei was coerced into throwing his semifinal battle against Belgium’s Matthias Casse a day earlier at the World Judo Championship in Tokyo in order to avoid facing Israel’s Sagi Muki in the final. Muki went on to win the championship, becoming the first Israeli man to win a World Championship gold.

In the past Iran has forbidden its athletes from competing against Israelis. In May, the International Judo Federation said it had reached an agreement with Iran to end the boycott, though the head of Iran’s national Olympic committee later denied it.

Saeid Mollaei in 2018 (YouTube screenshot)

Mollaei has been accused of faking injuries and intentionally losing fights in the past to avoid facing Muki.

IJA head Moshe Ponti, speaking to Army Radio on Thursday, said that an hour before Wednesday’s semifinals, the Israeli team heard that Mollaei, ranked No. 1 in the world, “intended to continue the contest, even if he had to face Sagi Muki at the final. We heard he’d asked the head of the Iranian judo association to ensure his family was kept safe.”

At the semifinals Mollaei was paired with Casse and Muki faced Egyptian Mohamed Abdelaal. After Muki defeated Abdelaal (the Egyptian’s refusal to shake Muki’s hand caused further controversy), it became clear that if Mollaei defeated the Belgian he would face off against the Israeli for the gold.

“From what we understand, within a short time Iranian intelligence officials came both to his home in Iran and to the judo arena and warned him,” Ponti said.

“I don’t know what happened there, but eventually he lost both battles,” Ponti said, referring to the fight against Casse and the subsequent fight for the bronze against Luka Maisuradze of Georgia. “He didn’t make it to the final with Sagi and he didn’t make it to the podium.”

Muki eventually defeated Casse and was named world champion, the first male Israeli athlete to reach the top. Mollaei, who had been reigning world champion after winning last year’s games, ended the contest in fifth place. If he had taken fourth or above he would have had to stand on the podium as Israel’s national anthem “Hatikvah” was played in honor of Muki.

Sagi Muki of Israel reacts after defeating Matthias Casse of Belgium during a men’s -81 kilogram final of the World Judo Championships in Tokyo, August 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

Ponti did not blame Mollaei for his actions, saying that though he “had promised the head of the International Judo Federation he would compete… there were people at his family’s home in Iran. You can’t judge an athlete in such a situation.”

Muki on Wednesday said Mollaei was an “excellent” sportsman, while Israel’s team coach Oren Smadja said he was “a terrific guy.”

The notion that Mollaei had thrown his fight with Casse to avoid facing Muki was prevalent in outlets covering the contest.

Cases of Iranians intentionally losing matches to avoid facing Israelis have been reported in the past. Last year an Iranian wrestler was banned for six months for deliberately throwing a match to avoid facing an Israeli opponent.

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UN extends Lebanon border peacekeeping mission

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

UN extends Lebanon border peacekeeping mission, urges full access to Blue Line

Security Council warns rising tensions can lead to war neither side can afford, orders review of UNIFIL amid Israeli concerns that Hezbollah rendering Blue Helmets ineffective

Soldiers of the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) patrol a road in the southern Lebanese village of Kfar Kila along the border with Israel on August 29, 2019. (Mahmoud ZAYYAT / AFP)

Soldiers of the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) patrol a road in the southern Lebanese village of Kfar Kila along the border with Israel on August 29, 2019. (Mahmoud ZAYYAT / AFP)

The UN Security Council on Thursday voted to renew its long-running peacekeeping mission in Lebanon for a year, warning of a “new conflict” with neighboring Israel as tensions with the Hezbollah terror group spike.

The draft resolution, written by France and approved unanimously, would allow for the approximately 10,000 members of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, known as UNIFIL, to stay in place. It also calls for a review of the peacekeeping mission, amid Israeli concerns that Hezbollah and Lebanon “continue to significantly hinder the full and effective implementation” of the Blue Helmets’ mandate.

“Should these restrictions remain, UNIFIL’s relevance is questioned,” Israel’s Foreign Ministry said

According to the draft text, the Security Council warned that “violations of the cessation of hostilities could lead to a new conflict that none of the parties or the region can afford.”

Military vehicles belonging to the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) drive past posters of the Lebanese Shiiite Hezbollah movement leader Hasan Nasrallah (R) and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, on a road near the southern Lebanese town of Marjayoun, on August 26, 2019. (Mahmoud ZAYYAT / AFP)

It “condemns all violations of the Blue Line” between Lebanon and Israel, “both by air and ground, and strongly calls upon all parties to respect the cessation of hostilities.”

IDF soldiers in northern Israel have been on high alert this week over fears of a reprisal attack from Hezbollah or another Iranian proxy following Israeli airstrikes against Iran-linked targets in Syria, and an armed drone attack on Hezbollah’s south Beirut stronghold, which has been blamed on Israel.

Lebanese president Michel Aoun said the Beirut incident amounted to a “declaration of war,” and on Wednesday the Lebanese army fired on an Israeli drone in the southern part of the country.

“Urging all parties to make every effort to ensure that the cessation of hostilities is sustained,” the Security Council called on all sides to “exercise maximum calm and restraint.”

Israeli ambassador to the UN Danny Danon, whose term at the world body was recently extended, praised the Security Council decision, which he said “sends a clear message to the Lebanese government: restrain Hezbollah.”

“The terrorist organization’s grip on southern Lebanon is intended to only harm the State of Israel and endanger the entire region. Israel will not accept such a reality,” he said.

A picture taken on August 26, 2019, near the northern Israeli moshav of Avivim shows a Hezbollah flag in the Lebanon village of Aitaroun. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

The resolution includes a requirement — on the insistence of the United States, diplomats said — for the UN secretary-general to perform an evaluation on the UNIFIL mission and its staff before June 1, 2020.

Also at the US’s request, the Security Council resolution calls for UNIFIL to have full access to the Blue Line, where Israel recently said it discovered a network of cross-border tunnels dug by Hezbollah.

A picture taken from the southern Lebanese village of Meiss al-Jabal on December 16, 2018, shows Israeli soldiers watching as United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) soldiers speak with Lebanese soldiers in front of a Hezbollah flag. (Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP)

The resolution expresses “concern that UNIFIL still has not been able to access all relevant locations north of the Blue Line related to the discovery of tunnels crossing the Blue Line.”

Washington was unable, however, to reduce the maximum allowed number of peacekeepers deployed to 9,000.

Israel had been seeking to expand the mandate of the mission, giving it more access to areas in Lebanon and allowing it to report infractions in real time, according to a Hebrew-language report Wednesday.

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Israel: ‘Watch out’ IDF reveals details of Iran-Hezbollah missile plot

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

‘Watch out’: In tacit threat, IDF reveals details of Iran-Hezbollah missile plot

Military names Iranian, Lebanese officers working for years to give Shiite terror group advanced munitions; wants Lebanon, international community to act to halt the program

This frame grab from video released on July 22, 2017, and provided by the government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media, shows Hezbollah fighters firing a missile at positions of al-Qaeda-linked militants in an area on the Lebanon-Syria border. (Syrian Central Military Media, via AP)

Illustrative. This frame grab from video released on July 22, 2017, shows Hezbollah fighters firing a missile at positions of al-Qaeda-linked militants in an area on the Lebanon-Syria border. (Syrian Central Military Media, via AP)

The Israel Defense Forces on Thursday revealed the identities of four senior Iranian and Hezbollah officials involved in a joint project to manufacture precision-guided missiles for the Lebanese terror group, in a dramatic move apparently intended as a tacit threat to the officers.

The program is being led on the Iranian side by Brig. Gen. Muhammad Hussein-Zada Hejazi, a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps operating under the direct command of Qassem Soleimani, a general who heads the IRGC’s Quds Force, IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told reporters.

According to Conricus, Iran has intensified its efforts to establish facilities capable of producing precision-guided missiles in Lebanon in recent weeks.

The Israeli military said it was taking the highly irregular step of releasing information about active members of a terrorist plot in order to push the Lebanese government and international community to take action to halt the project.  Conricus said the IDF would likely reveal additional intelligence about the plot within the coming hours and days.

“Iran is endangering Lebanese by trying to produce precision-guided missiles on Lebanese soil, using the Lebanese people as human shields,” Conricus said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said exposing the details of the program was meant to send a signal to Israel’s enemies.

“We will not stand to the side and allow our enemies to acquire deadly weapons to use against us. This week, I already told our enemies to be careful with their actions. Now I am telling them: Dir balak,” Netanyahu said, using an Arabic phrase meaning, “Watch out.”

A graphic released by the Israeli military showing IRGC Brig. Gen. Muhammad Hussein-Zada Hejazi, who is allegedly responsible for the Iranian military’s activities in Lebanon, which was released on August 29, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

Tensions between Israel and Hezbollah have been particularly high this week following Israeli airstrikes on Saturday night on an Iranian position in Syria that killed two Hezbollah members. Israel named the two as Lebanese nationals and said they were involved in a IRGC Quds Force plot to use armed unmanned aerial vehicles against the Jewish state.

Further stoking tensions was as a drone attack in Beirut early Sunday morning attributed to Israel that reportedly targeted key components of the joint Hezbollah-Iranian precision missile project.

Conricus said he would not comment on the matter.

The precision missile project

According to the IDF, Iran began trying to transport advanced precision missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon through Syria in 2013 and 2014. But airstrikes attributed to Israel prevented the Islamic Republic from providing the terror group with large numbers of these projectiles.

Israeli Military Intelligence believes that in 2016 Iran and Hezbollah decided to change tack and convert the terror group’s existing simple rockets into precision-guided missiles in factories inside Lebanon, but had yet to acquire the ability to do so, despite significant investments of time, money and resources.

A graphic by the Israeli military providing a general explanation of the production methods used in a joint Iranian-Hezbollah program to provide the Lebanese terror group with precision-guided missiles, which was released on August 29, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

“According to our assessments, Hezbollah does not yet have an industrial capability to manufacture precision-guided munitions — not for lack of trying,” Conricus said.

He said the terror group does possess several precision-guided missiles, but does not have “significant amounts” of them.

The Israeli army said IRGC Col. Majid Nuab is responsible for the technical aspects of the program, which began in 2016.

The complicated logistics of transporting the machinery necessary to create such precision-guided missiles from Iran, through Syria and into Lebanon is managed by IRGC Brig. Gen. Ali Asrar Nuruzi, according to the IDF.

A graphic by the Israeli military showing Hezbollah commander Fuad Shukr, who is allegedly responsible for Hezbollah’s role in a joint Iranian-Hezbollah program to provide the Lebanese terror group with precision-guided missiles, which was released on August 29, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

This joint project is being led for Hezbollah by Fuad Shukr, a senior member of the Lebanese group who acts as a close adviser to its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, and is wanted by the United States for his role in the 1983 bombing of a US Marines barracks in Beirut, Conricus said.

“He is responsible for everything related to this precision missile project, the development of the missiles as well as preparations to use them. If they’ll be used by Hezbollah, he’s the guy who’ll [actually] be using them,” the IDF spokesman said.

In addition to their names, the Israeli military also released photographs of the officials.

Asked if the revelation of their identities was meant to serve as a threat of assassination to the three IRGC officers and Hezbollah official, Conricus said, “If I were any of these terrorists, I probably wouldn’t be too happy to be named and shamed.”

A graphic by the Israeli military showing IRGC Brig. Gen. Ali Asrar Nuruzi, who is allegedly responsible for the logistical aspects of an Iranian-Hezbollah program to provide the Lebanese terror group with precision-guided missiles, which was released on August 29, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

According to the Israeli military, Iran has used three main ways to transfer the technical equipment necessary both to convert simple rockets into precision missiles and to indigenously manufacture long-range precision missiles from Iran to Lebanon: through the ground, air and sea.

The army spokesman said Military Intelligence believes some of these components were transferred from Syria, where Iran has a large presence and significant influence, to Lebanon through official Lebanese ground crossings, including through the Masnaa Crossing. Other pieces of equipment are suspected of being flown into Lebanon using civilian transport flights into Beirut’s Hariri International Airport. And some machinery was sent to Lebanon by ship through Beirut’s international port, according to the Israeli military.

Conricus said Hezbollah has established multiple facilities involved in the precision missile project in various areas of Lebanon, including in Beirut.

During the strike in Beirut early Sunday morning, a drone carrying explosives reportedly detonated near two crates containing equipment central to the project, destroying them and setting back Hezbollah’s efforts by approximately a year.

A graphic by the Israeli military showing IRGC Col. Majid Nuab, who is allegedly responsible for the technical aspects of an Iranian-Hezbollah program to provide the Lebanese terror group with precision-guided missiles, which was released on August 29, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

Conricus said Israel has attempted to use diplomatic methods to block the joint Iranian-Hezbollah effort.

Last September, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed the locations of three alleged precision missile facilities inside Beirut during a speech at the United Nations General Assembly.

Since then, Israel has provided information on the plot to Lebanon through the UN and through large countries that have diplomatic ties with both Israel and Beirut, but to no avail, Conricus said.

“It is happening inside Lebanon, despite the fact that Israel through official and covert channels has warned the state of Lebanon and tried to [alert] the state of Lebanon to the dangers of producing these weapons on Lebanese soil near Lebanese civilians,” Conricus said.

He said Israel believes that in light of the Lebanese government’s lack of action on the matter, it has made itself complicit in the Iranian-led endeavor.

“In our point of view, the Lebanese government is completely responsible for what is happening on Lebanese soil,” Conricus said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the General Assembly at the United Nations in New York September 27, 2018, and holds up a placard detailing alleged Hezbollah missile sites in Beirut. (AFP / TIMOTHY A. CLARY)

However, the spokesman added that at this time Israel does not see the Lebanese Armed Forces as an “active enemy,” as it does consider Hezbollah.

“Hezbollah is our main enemy, the LAF is a potential enemy,” he said.

Soldiers in northern Israel have been on high alert this week over fears of a reprisal attack from Hezbollah following the strikes on Saturday night and early Sunday morning.

The Lebanese frontier was especially tense Thursday morning, following an incident the night before in which Lebanese troops fired on Israeli drones that reportedly entered their airspace.

The IDF believes Hezbollah intends to attack its soldiers or a military installation on the border, and not civilians.

In light of these concerns, the army on Tuesday restricted the movement of military vehicles along roads close to the Lebanese border. The limitations were not imposed on civilians in border communities.

A picture taken from the Israeli side of the border on August 27, 2019 shows Lebanese army and United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) vehicles patrolling in the Lebanese village of Aitaroun along the border with Lebanon. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Israeli officials have threatened a harsh response to any reprisals by Hezbollah, both against the group and against the state of Lebanon, which Jerusalem sees as complicit in the terrorist militia’s activities.

“The Israeli response to an attack will be disproportionate,” an unnamed senior officer told Israel’s Channel 12 news on Monday night.

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Israel: Iran forced its Judoka to throw semifinal to avoid facing Sagi Muki (Israeli)

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Israel says Iran forced its judoka to throw semifinal to avoid facing Sagi Muki

Local judo chief Moshe Fonti says Saeid Mollaei intended to compete to the end even if it meant squaring off against Israeli, but then Iranian agents arrived at his family home

Saeid Mollaei in 2018 (YouTube screenshot)

Saeid Mollaei in 2018 (YouTube screenshot)

The chairman of the Israel Judo Association said Thursday that Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei was coerced into throwing his semifinal battle against Belgium’s Matthias Casse a day earlier at the World Judo Championship in Tokyo in order to avoid facing Israel’s Sagi Muki in the final.

In the past Iran has forbidden its athletes to compete against Israelis. In May, the International Judo Federation said it had reached an agreement with Iran to end the boycott, though the head of Iran’s national Olympic committee later denied it.

Mollaei has been accused of faking injuries and intentionally losing fights in the past to avoid facing Muki.

IJO head Moshe Fonti, speaking to Army Radio, said that an hour before Wednesday’s semifinals, the Israeli team heard that Mollaei, ranked No. 1 in the world, “intended to continue the contest, even if he had to face Sagi Muki at the final. We heard he’d asked the head of the Iranian judo association to ensure his family was kept safe.”

At the semifinals Mollaei was paired with Casse and Muki faced Egyptian Mohamed Abdelaal. After Muki defeated Abdelaal (the Egyptian’s refusal to shake Muki’s hand caused further controversy), it became clear that if Mollaei defeated the Belgian he would face off against the Israeli for the gold.

“From what we understand, within a short time Iranian intelligence officials came both to his home in Iran and to the judo arena and warned him,” Fonti said.

“I don’t know what happened there, but eventually he lost both battles,” Fonti said, referring to the fight against Casse and the subsequent fight for the bronze against Luka Maisuradze of Georgia. “He didn’t make it to the final with Sagi and he didn’t make it to the podium.”

Israeli judo commentator Miri Nevo said it was clear that Mollaei carried out what she called “a calibrated defeat,” to ensure he lost in the semifinal. She sniped that if the Iranians were so patriotic and hostile to Israel, they should “try to beat us” in sports.

Gold medalist Israel’s Sagi Muki on the podium of the men’s under 81kg category during the 2019 Judo World Championships at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo on August 28, 2019. (CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP)

Muki eventually defeated Casse and was named world champion, the first male Israeli athlete to reach the top. Mollaei, who had been reigning world champion after winning last year’s games, ended the contest in fifth place. If he had taken fourth or above he would have had to stand on the podium as Israel’s national anthem “Hatikvah” was played in honor of Muki.

Fonti did not blame Mollaei for his actions, saying that though he “had promised the head of the International Judo Federation he would compete… there were people at his family’s home in Iran. You can’t judge an athlete in such a situation.”

Muki on Wednesday said Mollaei was an “excellent” sportsman, while Israel’s team coach Oren Smadja said he was “a terrific guy.”

The notion that Mollaei had thrown his fight with Casse to avoid facing Muki was prevalent in outlets covering the contest.

Website Inside the Games noted that Mollaei, having “looked unstoppable in the preliminaries,” suddenly claimed to have suffered a head injury ahead of his fight with Casse and came to the fight “wearing a huge bandage on his head.” He “barely attempted a throw during the bout, before being thrown for ippon by Calle’s first real attack.”

Belgium’s Matthias Casse (in blue) celebrates winning the semifinal fight against a bandaged Saeid Mollaei of Iran in the men’s under 81kg category during the 2019 Judo World Championships at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo on August 28, 2019. (CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP)

French site RMC Sport said Mollaei “threw the semifinal heat after seeing [Muki’s] qualification for the final.”

It also reported that “in the morning, in the warm-up room, witnesses described Saied Mollaei as extremely agitated, on the verge of tears, citing the danger to his family.”

There were reports that prior to losing his fight against Casse, Mollaei had threatened during earlier stages of the competition to quit if he was paired up with Muki.

Cases of Iranian intentionally losing matches to avoid facing Israelis have been reported in the past. Last year an Iranian wrestler was banned for six months for deliberately throwing a match to avoid facing an Israeli opponent.

Report: Beirut strike will delay Hezbollah missile program by at least a year

Report: Beirut strike will delay Hezbollah missile program by at least a year

Powerful planetary mixer used in creation of solid state fuel is said to have been destroyed in drone explosion; was reportedly flown in from Iran

Two crates reportedly belonging to Hezbollah containing critical technical machinery that were destroyed in a drone strike attributed to Israel in Beirut on August 25, 2019. (Twitter)

Two crates reportedly belonging to Hezbollah containing critical technical machinery that were destroyed in a drone strike attributed to Israel in Beirut on August 25, 2019. (Twitter)

The target of a drone attack on a Hezbollah facility in Beirut early Sunday that has been attributed to Israel was an expensive and rare industrial mixing machine used in the creation of solid fuel, and the raid set back the terror group’s plans to develop long-range precision missiles by at least a year, according to Hebrew media reports late Tuesday.

In the predawn hours of Sunday morning, two copter-style drones flew into the Dahiyeh neighborhood of Beirut. One crashed and was recovered by Hezbollah, while the other exploded while still in the air, causing damage and sparking a fire.

Hezbollah and the Lebanese government have blamed Israel for the drone strike. Israeli officials have refused to comment on the matter, and many analysts have suggested the drones were Iranian, not Israeli.

While Israel has been facing off against Hezbollah and its patron Iran, following the 2006 Second Lebanon War, the Israeli military has largely refrained from carrying out large strikes against the terror group inside Lebanon, instead, according to foreign reports, focusing the fighting in Syria and more recently Iraq.

Though Israel has been accused of conducting limited airstrikes against Hezbollah deep in Lebanon in the 13 years since the war, this week’s drone attack in the heart of Beirut would mark a shift to a more aggressive defense policy for the Jewish state.

A Lebanese soldier walks past military intelligence investigators inspecting the site where two drones crashed earlier in the day, in the south of the capital Beirut on August 25, 2019. (ANWAR AMRO / AFP)

According to Lebanese media Tuesday, the country’s military believes that the unmanned aerial vehicles were launched from within eight kilometers of the site of the explosion, indicating that they were either launched within Lebanon or came in from the sea.

Hezbollah has claimed that only its media offices were damaged by the blast.

However, on Tuesday afternoon, the British Times newspaper reported that the targets of the strike were two crates that held materials for a Hezbollah program to turn its stock of simple rockets into precision-guided missiles — a project that is of deep concern to Israel as it would significantly increase the threat posed by these projectiles.

Last September, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the United Nations General Assembly in a speech that Israel knew of this Hezbollah plot and even provided the geographic coordinates for the facilities where the missiles were allegedly being produced.

Following Netanyahu’s remarks and the increased scrutiny in Lebanon, the terror group reportedly moved these factories to different locations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the General Assembly at the United Nations in New York September 27, 2018, and holds up a placard detailing alleged Hezbollah missile sites in Beirut. (AFP / TIMOTHY A. CLARY)

This Hezbollah program is focused on two main goals: locally manufacturing long-range precise missiles and upgrading its current stock of simple rockets into precision-guided ones.

According to Israeli defense officials, the terror group has not yet succeeded in these goals and possesses only a small number of precision-guided missiles.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has denied the existence of the factories but said his organization does possess such weaponry.

On Tuesday night, several Hebrew media outlets reported additional information about the two targets of the Beirut drone strike — the specialized industrial mixer and a computerized control unit.

According to these reports, the mixer was the far more significant target, as it is necessary for the creation of the solid fuel used in long-range missiles and was the only machine of its kind inside Lebanon.

This type of device — known as a vertical planetary mixer — is used around the world in militaries and space programs to produce solid fuels. Due to the delicate nature of this work, these machines must be incredibly precise and are therefore difficult to manufacture.

A drone that crashed in the Lebanese capital of Beirut on August 25, 2019. (Lebanese state media)

According to Channel 13 news, the planetary mixer targeted in the Beirut strike had recently been flown into Lebanon from Iran. It was being held temporarily in Dahiyeh before being transferred to the factory where the actual work on the precision missile project was being performed.

This mixer and the fuel that it would help produce would have been used by Hezbollah to create a locally-produced, precise long-range rocket.

The damage to the mixer rendered it unusable and is believed to have set back this aspect of Hezbollah’s precision missile program by at least a year.

The computerized control unit was reportedly tied to the second aspect of the terror group’s missile project — upgrading existing stocks of rockets.

It was not immediately clear how valuable a target this was.

On Tuesday, Hezbollah said the drone that crashed in Beirut contained an explosive device weighing more than five kilograms (11 pounds).

The scene of where an alleged Israeli drone fell in southern Beirut on August 25, 2019. (screen capture: Twitter)

“Experts dismantled the first drone that crashed in Beirut’s southern suburbs; it was found that it contained a sealed explosive device” of around 5.5 kilograms, Hezbollah said in a statement.

“We confirm that the purpose of this first drone was not reconnaissance but the carrying out of a bombing attack,” it added.

The latest discovery, Hezbollah said, confirms that Sunday’s drone attack involved not one but two explosive-rigged drones — one which exploded and the other that did not because of a technical failure.

On Monday, Lebanese President Michel Aoun denounced the alleged Israeli drone attack as a “declaration of war.”

Hezbollah, considered a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States, is a major political actor in Lebanon and also a key government backer in war-torn Syria.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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Saudi: Holocaust Memorial Stirs Controversy in Morocco

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

 

Holocaust Memorial Stirs Controversy in Morocco

Wednesday, 28 August, 2019 – 11:00
A view of a site which PixelHelper says was a holocaust memorial demolished by the authorities. Photo published by PixelHelper on its social media account
Rabat – Latifa Larousni

Moroccan authorities have demolished a holocaust memorial that has been under construction since September 2018 in Ait Faska, near Marrakesh.

The Interior Ministry denied rumors that local authorities had granted construction permits for the site which was planned to include a museum and several facilities, as well as the monument.

The ministry explained that the reports of a holocaust memorial being built in the area are “baseless.”

“Provincial authorities have not granted any authorization for the establishment of such a project,” added the ministry in a statement.

PixelHelper, a German non-profit organization, had been preparing to launch its first project in North Africa in the village of Ait Faska. But Oliver Bienkowski, founder of PixelHelper, posted videos on his Facebook page showing authorities intervening to demolish his project, Moroccan newspapers and websites reported.

Bienkowski announced that he has been working on the Ait Faska project since September 2018, adding that it aimed to honor people who died during the holocaust.

He expressed hope in remarks to i24 website that the memorial will strengthen the bonds of friendship between Muslim countries and Jews.

Moroccan rights activists condemned the German organization’s plan, calling it an unprecedented and dangerous move.

Human rights activist Abdel Hamid Amin said in remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat that all Moroccans who condemn normalization of relations with Israel reject such a project.

“The holocaust happened in Germany and other countries,” he said.

“Morocco hasn’t witnessed any violent conflict between Muslims and Jews,” he told the newspaper, saying the project had a hidden political agenda to push Morocco towards normalization of ties with Israel.