Obama Threatens New Israeli Government Over Palestinian State

The new Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be sworn in today at 7 p.m. local time.

On Wednesday, the Israeli government presented its coalition guidelines, which states, among others things:

The government will advance the diplomatic process and strive to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians and all our neighbors while maintaining Israel’s security, historical and national interests.

This statement was the second in a long list of 18 of the government’s policy priorities. Other top goals include reducing the cost of living, promoting immigration and integration, protecting minority rights, and protecting the environment.

The guidelines also state, “The Jewish people have the undisputable right to a sovereign state in the Land of Israel, its national and historic homeland.”

Absent from the statement about the Palestinians was the so-called two-state solution. Netanyahu made it clear just before the March 18 election that he expected a Palestinian state would not be established under his watch.

After his resounding victory in the election, Netanyahu somewhat backtracked on his statement after he was rebuked by the Obama administration and the European Union.

Administration officials later stated they were skeptical about Netanyahu’s commitment to a two-state solution and were therefore re-evaluating their approach to promoting direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

This would leave open the possibility of withdrawing traditional diplomatic U.S. support for Israel at the U.N. and possibly even supporting a U.N. Security Council resolution imposing the terms of an agreement on Israel, a move Washington has opposed in the past.

Although the released coalition guidelines now clarify that the new government will pursue a negotiated solution to the conflict with the Palestinians, it is almost certain this does not mean Israel feels it is committed to the two-state solution at this point.

Netanyahu has made it clear that the transfer of any territory in the heartland of Israel will result in an Islamist takeover of the West Bank and rockets on Tel Aviv, Ben Gurion Airport, and other vital areas.

President Obama seems to be on a new collision course with Israel over the Palestinian state issue.

In an interview with London-based Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, the president said, “the Palestinians deserve an end to the occupation and the daily indignities that come with it,” and, “they deserve to live in an independent, sovereign state, where they can give their children a life of dignity and opportunity.”

He then added something that could be interpreted as a threat to the new Israeli government:

With the breakdown of talks, simmering tension in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, last summer’s conflict in Gaza, and serious questions about an overall commitment to a two-state outcome, it’s no secret that we now have a very difficult path forward. As a result, the United States is taking a hard look at our approach to the conflict.

We look to the new Israeli government and the Palestinians to demonstrate—through policies and actions—a genuine commitment to a two-state solution. Only then can trust be rebuilt and a cycle of escalation avoided.

Addressing the lasting impact in Gaza of last summer’s conflict should also be central to any effort. Ultimately, the parties will need to address not just Gaza’s immediate humanitarian and reconstruction needs, but also core challenges to Gaza’s future within a two-state context, including reinvigorating Gaza’s connection with the West Bank and reestablishing strong commercial links with Israel and the global economy.

The Israel Project reacted to the president’s statement, saying he omitted the fact that the Palestinian Authority remains committed to its unity government with the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hamas, which has not accepted the Quartet’s principles of recognizing the state of Israel.

“He also did not demand that the Palestinians reject violence and that they adhere to previous agreements made between the PLO and Israel. And he didn’t say a word about the fact that Hamas and other Palestinian factions continue to call for the destruction of the State of Israel,” according to The Israel Project.

Today, Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh reported the PA leadership has set May 15 as a day of national mourning over the “Nakba” (“Disaster,” meaning the establishment of the State of Israel), during which a siren of “mourning” would be sounded for 67 seconds – the number of years since Israel’s establishment. Churches have also been advised to ring their bells in “mourning” over the creation of Israel. Abu Toameh also reported that Hamas leader Ahmed Bahr has announced his movement was preparing 100,000 fighters “to liberate Palestine.”

Israeli commentators pointed out that when the president spoke about the indignities of the occupation and the dignity that would come when the Palestinians have their own state, he seemed to echo statements made by Palestinian leaders who used to protest Israeli security measures in this way.

It is generally known that Israel built checkpoints and a security barrier to stop Palestinians from committing acts of terror, they said

Just today, Palestinians in the Gush Etzion area near Jerusalem tried to kill four Israeli youths at a hitchhiker station near the Jewish community of Alon Shvut. The same station has been the spot of previous terrorist attacks. In November 2014, Dalia Lemkus, a 26-year-old woman of the Tekoa community, was stabbed to death by a Palestinian close to the place of the terror attack today and just a few hundred meters from the site where, in July 2014, three Jewish boys were kidnapped and murdered by two Hamas terrorists.

Others pointed out that when the president spoke of the dignity that will come when the Palestinians live in their own state, he only has to look at what happened in Gaza after the IDF withdrawal in 2005. At the time, many in Israel and abroad expected the same kind of dignity for the Palestinians there; but since Hamas violently took control in 2007 and started three wars against Israel over the last six years, few Palestinians live in dignity in the Gaza Strip.

Today, 42.8% of the working-age Palestinian population in Gaza is unemployed, and the poverty rate is 65%, according to data from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics in a report from the beginning of 2015.

Reacting to the dignity comment by Obama, Dr. Aaron Lerner of Independent Media Review and Analysis (IMRA) in Israel put it this way:

President Obama mentions “dignity” twice in one sentence.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that “dignity” is some noble criteria. A purely positive and innocent requirement.

Because, any security measure can be interpreted as being undignified.

What kind of dignity is there if shipments entering Palestinian territories are subject to inspection?

What kind of dignity is there if the sovereign state of Palestine is subject to measures to insure that weapons restrictions are honored?

What kind of dignity is there if Palestinians are arrested just because they murdered some Israelis?

What kind of dignity is there if the Palestinians are prevented from marching into Israel to stake out their claims on properties they say their families left in 1948?

Taken to its ultimate conclusion, Palestinian dignity is offended by the very existence of the Jewish State!

No. “Dignity” is anything but a purely positive and innocent requirement.

I might add that it is an incredibly hypocritical position when one considers that the United States has absolutely no problem violating the dignity of hundreds of thousands of airline passengers each day in the name of security.

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Equipping You With The Truth

Iranian Threat Forces Israel To Adopt New Strategy In Syria – IAF Attacks Syrian Divisions And Hezbollah Terrorists

Image for representational purposes only.

According to Arab media, the Israeli Air Force attacked several missile depots in Syria last week. Al-Arabiya reported that a first strike took place on Wednesday when two missile depots were targeted.

On Saturday, Divisions 155 and 65 of the Syrian army were targeted. Both divisions possess Assad’s “strategic weapons.”  According to al-Arabiya, the targets were Scud missile depots housed in military bases.

Al Jazeera reported on Saturday that several explosions were heard in Kteife, Yabrud, and Kalamun in the Qalamoun mountains. The area is known for housing weapon depots and missile launchers.

On Sunday, the Israeli air force killed four Hezbollah terrorists who crossed the Israeli border on the Golan Heights and intended to carry out an attack with an explosive device.

IDF spokesman Col. Peter Lerner said the cell hit Sunday night consisted of four people who were “identified while clearly laying a mine and were shot by an Israeli Air Force aircraft.”

On Sunday night, Arab media again reported an Israel air strike in the Qalamoun mountains, northeast of Damascus. Later, unnamed Israeli sources told the Hebrew news site Ynet that Israel was not involved in the attack. They claimed Jabhat al-Nusra, the Al Qeada offshoot in Syria, was responsible for the new assault. It could be that Israel tried to defuse tensions by spinning the news. This reporter noticed unusual activity by the Israeli air force at the time of the strike.

Israel has attacked missile transports and weapon depots in Syria more than ten times since the war in Syria started. The last strike took place in January, when the IAF bombed a Hezbollah convoy on the Syrian side of the border with Israel in the Kuneitra area on the Golan Heights. Several high-ranking Iranian and Hezbollah commanders were killed in that airstrike.

Nine days later, Hezbollah retaliated with an attack with two advanced Kornet missiles on two Israeli Humvees in the Har Dov area, killing 2 IDF soldiers and wounding seven others.

Almost all IAF strikes in Syria were directed at Hezbollah-bound weapon deliveries by Iran. Iran has tried to deliver its own version of the Russian S-300 air missile defense system and other missiles such as the Fateh 110 rocket to Hezbollah. In 2013 alone, the IAF prevented the delivery of this advanced missile five times.

Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said on Sunday that Iran is in the midst of an effort to arm Hezbollah and Hamas. “Israel will not tolerate the transfer of advanced weaponry to its enemies,” he added.

Last week, Israel’s Commander in Chief of the Air Force,  Amir Eshel, warned that Hezbollah is dragging Lebanon toward a “very harsh war” and has deployed its military machine in houses in civilian areas in South Lebanon.

Homes where missiles have been deployed by Hezbollah, Eshel warned, “are essentially military bases… and we’ll hit them.

“Lebanese civilians who live in or close to those homes have to know one thing,” he said. If conflict erupts, “they should get out as soon as they can.”

If Hezbollah, with which Israel fought a bitter war in 2006, sparks another conflict, Eshel said, “Lebanon will go through an experience whose dimensions it cannot imagine. I wouldn’t trade places with a single Lebanese.”

Hezbollah responded by publishing an article on its website al-Manar in which unnamed Israeli analysts were quoted as saying that a war with Hezbollah was considered Israel’s most serious challenge in 2015. In the same article, Hezbollah bragged about its 100,000 missiles that “will destroy the Israeli infrastructure, power facilities, the residential buildings and Zionist military command headquarters.”

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has repeatedly used this threat in an attempt to deter Israel. The Hezbollah leader has warned Israel that his organization now possesses guided missiles that can hit strategic installations in Israel everywhere, even in the Negev desert in southern Israel.

If the Arab media reports about the IAF attacks in Syria are correct, it is another indication that Israel has drawn new red lines vis-à-vis Iran’s activities in Syria.

Syrian Scud missiles pose no direct threat to Israel. Assad’s army is bogged down in the Syrian civil war, and the Syrian dictator will certainly not be interested in a confrontation with the IDF at this point.

So why did Israel decide to launch the air strikes?

The answer is that the attacks on Assad’s Scud missiles could be a signal to Hezbollah and Iran that the rules of the game have changed–and that Israel will do everything it can to stop an Iranian takeover of Syria.

Just like Saudi Arabia and Egypt decided to interfere in the civil war in Yemen in order to stop Iran’s rush for regional hegemony, Israel appears to be doing the same in Syria now–albeit on a smaller scale.

Israel is no longer trying to stop the shipment of missiles for the sake of prevention, but to deter the enemy from using Syria as a beachhead for an assault on the Jewish state. Some Israeli commentators said that the attack on the Syrian divisions was the result of intelligence that indicated that a new Hezbollah missile strike at the Golan Heights was imminent.

In light of this assessment, it is also important to take a look at what is going on in the Gaza strip. As Western Journalism reported last week, Hamas and Iran are cooperating again; and Iran is apparently supplying Hamas with weapons, cash, and machinery to dig tunnels.

In the south and north of the Gaza Strip, Hamas is condoning the formation of new Iranian-backed factions other than Islamic Jihad. In Rafah in the south, Salafists supporting al-Qaeda are helping terrorists cross from Sinai via tunnels.

In the north, Hezbollah in Gaza has reappeared. The group is called Harakat as-Sabeereen Natzran Le-Palastin (“The Patient Ones’ Movement for the Liberation of Palestine”), which sometimes goes by the acronym of Hesn (“fortification”). Their flag is almost a mirror image of the Hezbollah banner, with the small addition of a map of greater Palestine.

The new Hezbollah branch is opposed to any hudna (interim cease-fire) with Israel and has been pressuring Hamas to renew its rocket fire on Israel. On its Facebook page, the group claimed as theirs a terror attack in the West Bank some two weeks ago, in which two IDF soldiers were stabbed.

The news about Iran’s renewed support of terrorist activity in the Gaza strip coincided with the first rocket attack on Israel from Gaza since the end of Operation Protective Edge last summer. On Independence Day, sirens went off in southern Israel; and a rocket fell in the area of the town of Sederot. The IDF immediately retaliated with tank fire on a Hamas terror site near Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip.

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Equipping You With The Truth

Fox’s Hannity Expertly Shuts Down Muslim Guest Trying To Control The Conversation

In a recent on-air conversation with Islamic leader Hassan Shibly, Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity sought details about the case of a young American woman, Hoda Muthana, who left her family last year to join forces with ISIS. Shibly, who heads the Council on American Islamic Relations in Florida, explained that his organization is advocating on behalf of Muthana’s family and shared his thoughts on the story.

“Words can’t describe the utter shock and trauma and horror that the family is facing,” he said, “and the pain and anguish they’re facing at having lost their daughter to brainwashing and recruitment by this terrible extremist violent gang of monsters, really.”

Hannity wondered why CAIR, which he described as a “controversial group,” would be involved. This prompted Shibly to accuse the host of changing the subject.

“I’ll ask any question I want,” Hannity shot back, “this is my show. But you are a controversial group.”

Shibly ultimately answered the question.

“The reason we’re involved is because we have been working in that community for a long time; and her father actually attended a lecture I gave to counter extremists and to delegitimize ISIS,” he stated. “So, when he heard I gave a lecture at his mosque delegitimizing ISIS and condemning that terrorist organization, he reached out to me when Hoda first left; and the first thing I told him is, ‘We have to contact authorities and we have to do the best we can to make sure no other child is lost in the way your daughter was lost.’”

Hannity then pivoted to another topic, asking Shibly if he believes Hamas is a terrorist organization. After some back-and-forth between the two men, the guest ultimately conceded that the group is classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.

He then attempted to castigate Hannity, though, for daring to ask such a question.

“Shame on you for asking every Muslim what he thinks of terrorist organizations,” he responded.

“No shame on me,” Hannity said. “I’m allowed to ask any questions I want.”

Though it was fairly clear Shibly had more he wanted to say, Hannity opted to move on, cutting that interview off and introducing his next guest.

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Equipping You With The Truth

Islamic State Murders 30 Christians, Advances In The Direction Of Israel

Image for representational purposes only.

Islamic State continues to make headlines. On Sunday, the terrorist organization released a new video purportedly showing the gruesome mass killing of a group of thirty Ethiopian Christians in Libya.

The footage that includes the logo of the group’s Al-Furqan media arm is more than 29 minutes long. It begins with a description of Christian churches and then calls the Holy Trinity – the father, the son, and the Holy Spirit – a form of polytheism whose worshipers deserve punishment.

At the end of the video, two groups of men dressed in orange and black are shown being escorted by armed IS members in two different locations. A masked man addresses the camera and gives a warning to viewers.

“Muslim blood that was shed under the hands of your religion is not cheap,” the man says. “We swear to Allah the one, who disgraced you by our hands, you will not have safety even in your dreams until you embrace Islam.”

The video then cuts between the two groups as one group is shot, and the other decapitated with knives.

The video also shows IS members breaking and defacing Catholic and Christian iconography, including crosses on top of churches and pictures and statues of the Virgin Mary. As the crosses fall, IS militants are shown replacing them with the group’s black flag.

At the same time Islamic State released the video, the United Nations reported that at least 90,000 people have fled the advance of IS fighters in Ramadi, Iraq.

“Our top priority is delivering life-saving assistance to people who are fleeing — food, water, and shelter are highest on the list of priorities,” Lise Grande, the deputy special representative of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, said in a statement.

Ar Ramadi is a city east of Bagdad. The report on Islamic State advances close to the Iraqi capital contradicts a recent Pentagon announcement about the progress being made by coalition forces.

U.S. Colonel Steve Warren told reporters last Monday that the group had been pushed out of 25-30 percent – around 5-6,000 square miles – of the Iraqi land under their control. However, a simple look at a map released by the US Department of Defense shows that this is simply not true.

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Michael Knights of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said that the percentage figure was “nonsense” because much of the territory mentioned is unpopulated. “They don’t control empty stretches of Anbar desert where they have no forces, where no-one does.”

The Islamic State offensive in Ramadi could be a prelude of an assault on Bagdad. On Wednesday, it seized several villages close to the provincial capital of Ramadi after launching a series of dawn assaults.

Islamic State fighters have been pushing towards Ramadi since Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi launched a major offensive to drive them out of the majority Sunni province of Anbar last week. Government efforts were intended to build on the victory in Tikrit; but IS forces have now pushed to within three miles of Ramadi, according to various reports.

Syria

In Syria, Islamic State has advanced in the direction of the capital Damascus. The Assad regime, Hezbollah, and Iranian forces suffered setbacks last week after Islamic State took over the Palestinian refugee camp Yarmuk. Almost all of the 120,000 Palestinians who lived in the camp before the war have now fled.

There were conflicting reports about a supposed withdrawal of Islamic State from Yarmouk; but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said on Thursday that clashes were still ongoing. The Observatory reported that 80 percent of Yarmouk was under the combined control of Islamic State and Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al Nusra. Palestinian factions accuse al-Nusra of colluding with Islamic State. The attack on Yarmuk began on April 1st  after the group quietly build its presence through clandestine networks and its Sunni supporters in the area.

Elsewhere in southern Syria, Islamic State and al-Nusra are trying to take over territory held by regime forces and the Western-backed Southern Front. On April 1st, Al-Nusra took over the Nasib border crossing from Assad’s army. This was the last regime-controlled border crossing between Syria and Jordan.

The events in southern Syria could signal a new phase in the Syrian war. The era where Islamic State was a safe distance from the area in Syria closest to Israel seems to be over.

The renewed cooperation between al-Nusra and Islamic State furthermore indicates that they have realized that the escalating Sunni-Shiite war demands they overcome their differences if they want to become a central power in the Middle East.

Islamic State is very well organized; and although it is driven by religious fanaticism, it has clear goals and is coldly calculating how to achieve them.

As Western Journalism reported last month, the organization is trying to destabilize Egypt and Jordan.The Islamic State affiliate Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis is at war with the Egyptian army in the Sinai Peninsula and has set up camp adjacent to Israel’s southern border.

Today, Stratfor reported that Hamas is clamping down on Islamic State offshoot Wilayat Gaza (Province Gaza).

Wilayat Gaza has made several statements and has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks since late 2014. The group claimed responsibility for an attack on the French Cultural Center in Gaza City in October 2014. The following month, the group issued a statement demanding that women abide by Sharia rules of dress. In December, the group issued a statement threatening to kill a number of writers and poets in Gaza if they did not stop “insulting Islam”, Stratfor reported.

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Equipping You With The Truth

Hamas Using Advanced Machinery To Rebuild Tunnels In Gaza, But Israel Now Has An Answer

Hamas is definitely rebuilding the tunnels underneath the Gaza-Israel border, Israeli media reported last week. The evidence that digging activities have resumed has been lingering for months, but Palestinian sources confirmed that the terror organization has taken the digging to a higher level.

The Hebrew news site Walla reported on Wednesday that Hamas is using a Bagger 288, a German mining machine also known as a bucket-wheel excavator. It is unclear how Hamas succeeded to smuggle the excavator into Gaza.

The new tunnel activity is visible from the Israeli side of the border. Bulldozers are doing at least part of the digging and cleanup, while Hamas is using a mixture of cement (when available) and wooden boards for the construction.

Israel has been forced by the international community to resume deliveries of cement to the Gaza strip. In March, 1,000 tons of cement were allowed into Gaza via the Keren Shalom border crossing. The cement was transferred in 175 truckloads. As of now, more than 20,000 tons of cement have been imported into Gaza by Israel.

Senior security sources confirmed the report about the use of the Krupp Bagger 288, adding that Hamas’ true aim is to dig the tunnels at high speed, and that they are focusing on producing short-range rockets and mortars, which are more difficult for the Iron Dome missile defense system to shoot down.

Until now, the terror tunnels in Gaza were the result of manual labor. In August 2014, a disgruntled Gaza resident wrote a letter that was smuggled to Israel about his experience with forced labor in the Gaza tunnel industry. In the letter, the Palestinian wrote that his father was murdered by Hamas and that Hamas members seized his metalwork shop to produce M-75 rockets. After he had been forced into severe financial straits, Hamas offered him a ”job.”

He was picked up in a windowless truck with other Palestinians and brought to an unknown building site. He was then forced to enter a hole in the ground and had to dig tunnels in intense shifts lasting ten days.

“We walked for a few hundred meters, and when we got to the end, two Hamas members were waiting for us. They gave us working tools and explained to us what to do in order to make the tunnel longer,” reported the writer. He described the grueling labor in unventilated shafts as Hamas guards shouted and, in some cases, assaulted the workers. After the shifts, the workers were transported home and given a paltry wage. They did not know where they had been digging.

Hamas spokesperson Husam Badran told Al Jazeera last year that hundreds of Palestinian men have died digging the tunnels that were destroyed in Operation Protective Edge (“Tzuk Ethan” in Hebrew) in the summer of 2014. “Hundreds of our men were martyred digging the tunnels during the previous lull period. …The mujahideen of the Al-Qassam Brigades were getting ready in the tunnels,” the spokesman said.

Among the hundreds who died in the digging, at least nine were children, reported the Journal of Palestine Studies in 2012, indicating how forced child labor was part of the Hamas tunnel enterprise.

The Times of Israel reported last month that Iran is funding the renewed tunnel digging in the Gaza Strip. Tehran has sent tens of millions of dollars to Hamas’ military wing, Izz al-Din al-Qasam, to help rebuild the tunnels and replenish Hamas’ rocket arsenal. The report was based on information from unnamed intelligence sources. Iran and Qatar are reportedly also paying the salaries of the 23,000 Hamas employees in Gaza in order to prevent the Hamas regime from collapsing.

The economic situation in the Gaza strip is still deteriorating, and the general reconstruction of Gaza continues to be delayed due to the internal power struggle between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. The PA has demanded that Hamas cede all governance activity in the Strip, including security operations, to Rami Hamdallah’s government, but the organization has refused to do so.

In November 2014, only three months after the Third Gaza War, Egyptian officials warned that Hamas was spending $140 million annually to construct new tunnels. In December, sources inside Gaza similarly reported to Ynet that “Hamas has been commandeering building materials from Israel transferred into the Gaza Strip for reconstruction for the purpose of rebuilding its offensive ‘terror tunnels.’”

Some commentators have criticized the Israeli government for ignoring Hamas’ renewed tunnel activity and demand that the IDF put an end to this renewed threat to the residents of southern Israel.

However, it has now become clear that Israel is taking appropriate measures to counter the threat.

The Hebrew Daily Yediot Acharonot reported on Thursday that Israel has successfully tested an advanced tunnel detection system near the Gaza border and plans to expand the deployment of the systems.

“A first of its kind in the world, the system includes a series of sensors that will provide data, deciphered by advanced algorithms, allowing security forces to detect accurately and locate tunnel-digging operations,” Yediot Acharonot reported.

Full deployment of the system, developed by the director of research and development at the Defense Ministry in cooperation with Israeli industries, is pending government approval and the allocation of designated funds.

As Western Journalism reported earlier, The Third Gaza War averted a mega terror attack on southern Israel last year. Hamas planned to use its network of tunnels underneath the Israel-Gaza border to launch multiple terror attacks on Israeli communities in the border area on Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) in October 2014. The IDF, however, destroyed all the tunnels during Operation Protective Edge that summer.

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Equipping You With The Truth