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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Netanyahu to Russian Defense Min: Iran has to know our red lines

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu) met with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu in Jerusalem on Tuesday, days after President Donald Trump refused to recertify Iranian compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, and a day after Israeli fighter jets hit a surface-to-air missile battery in Syria, a client state of the Kremlin.
According to a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office, the meeting focused primarily on Iran’s military buildup in Syria.
Netanyahu reportedly told Shoygu that an Iranian presence near Israel’s northern border would not be tolerated.
“Iran must understand that Israel will not permit this,” the Prime Minister said.
The leaders also discussed Iran’s nuclear program, and the future of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, better known as the Iran nuclear deal.
The future of the JCPOA was thrown into doubt last Friday when President Trump announced he would not recertify Iranian compliance with the deal. Under US law, the president must certify Iran’s compliance every 90 days. Failure to do so forces Congress to either reimpose sanctions lifted under the JCPOA, or vote to alter the sanctions regime.
The deadline for recertification passed on Sunday, with the President declining to certify Iranian compliance.
While congressional Democrats have backed the JCPOA and earlier called on Trump to recertify, many Republicans in both the House and Senate have argued the agreement must be radically altered – or scrapped. The president echoed this sentiment, calling to “fix it – or nix it”.
On Tuesday, Netanyahu warned the Russian Defense Minister that without serious alterations to the deal, Iran will be able to manufacture its own nuclear arsenal within 8 to 10 years.
A day earlier, Israeli security officials contacted their Russian counterparts to notify them of an impending Israeli airstrike on a surface-to-air missile battery in Syria. Syria, a client state of Russia, had opened fire on the Israeli aircraft as they conducted routine reconnaissance operations over southern Lebanon, forcing the planes to return fire.

Report: 75% of Victims of Religious Persecution Are Christians

A grim new report on Christian persecution around the globe suggests that rather than improving, the situation of Christians worldwide is worsening, a fact whitewashed by mainstream media.
“Christians are the victims of at least 75 percent of all religiously-motivated violence and oppression,” declares the 2015-2017 report from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), and moreover “the extent of this persecution is largely ignored by our media.”
In their report titled “Persecuted and Forgotten?”, ACN noted that in Iraq more than half of the country’s Christian population have become internal refugees, while in the Syrian city of Aleppo, the Christian population has fallen by more than 75 percent. Up until 2011 Aleppo was home to the largest Christian community but in just 6 years numbers have dropped from 150,000 to just over 35,000.
“In terms of the number of people involved, the gravity of the crimes committed and their impact, it is clear that the persecution of Christians is today worse than at any time in history,” said John Pontifex, the Report’s editor.
In the 13 countries where Christians suffer the most intense persecution, the situation has worsened in all but one—Saudi Arabia—in the last two years, and conditions there have stayed the same.
“In almost all the countries reviewed,” the report reads, “the oppression and violence against Christians have increased since 2015 – a development especially significant given the rate of decline in the immediate run-up to the reporting period.”
In communist North Korea, for example, Christians have undergone “unspeakable  atrocities,” the report states, “including extra-judicial killings, forced labour, torture, persecution, starvation, rape, forced abortion and sexual violence.” READ MORE

Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander Soleimani Aiding Iraqi Invasion Against Kurds

Major General Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the notorious Quds Force division of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), has reportedly been seen in Iraq advising Shiite militias in their attack on the Kurdish Peshmerga, a major U.S. battlefield ally against the Islamic State.
Soleimani was involved in talks between Iran-backed “Popular Mobilization Forces” (PMF) militia units and Iraqi Kurds on Sunday, not long before the first reports of armed clashes between the PMF and Peshmerga. Soleimani’s Quds Force, which Iran employs to destabilize adversary governments across the Middle East, was instrumental in training and arming the Shiite-dominated militia groups against the Islamic State (ISIS), which is organized around a version of Sunni Islam.
Soleimani reportedly “arrived in the Iraqi Kurdish region on Saturday and visited the tomb of former Iraqi president and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party leader Jalal Talabani, who died on October 3 after years of poor health,” according to a report at the National.
The sincerity of this apparent gesture of respect to the Kurds is debatable since it wasn’t long before fire was exchanged between the Kurds and PMF. National University of Singapore Senior Research Fellow Fanar Haddad suggested to the National that Soleimani’s public appearance might be better interpreted as a demonstration of Iranian influence, saying, “It seems that whenever Iraq approaches breaking point, as happened in 2014 and now in 2017, Iran sends its man in Iraq to try to sort out the situation.”
Perhaps Soleimani’s seemingly courteous visit was also meant to intimidate the Kurds. If so, it did not work, because on Sunday the Kurdish leadership rejected Baghdad’s demands to renounce the successful independence referendum held in September. READ MORE

Sneak peek: D.C.’s huge new Museum of the Bible includes lots of tech — but not a lot of Jesus

The Museum of the Bible, a massive new institution opening next month just south of the Mall, is just as notable for what it ­includes — vivid walk-through re-creations of the ancient world, one of the world’s largest private collections of Torahs, a motion ride that sprays water at you, a garden of biblical plants — as for what it leaves out.
The $500 million museum, chaired and largely funded by the conservative Christian family that owns Hobby Lobby, doesn’t say a word about the Bible’s views on sexuality or contraception. The museum doesn’t encourage visitors to take the Bible literally or to believe that the Bible has only one correct form. And on floor after gleaming floor of exhibitions, there is very little Jesus.
This isn’t the evangelism that the billionaire Green family first promised a decade ago when they set out to build a museum dedicated to Scripture. At the time, the museum’s mission statement promised to “bring to life the living word of God . . . to inspire confidence in the absolute authority” of the Bible, the book at the institution’s center.

The approach today, while still viewed with skepticism by some scholars, appears to be

more modest: “The museum has fence posts — limits. It doesn’t overtly say the Bible is

good — that the Bible is true,” said Steve Green, the Hobby Lobby chief executive and chair

of the museum. “That’s not its role. Its role is to present facts and let people make their own

decisions.” READ MORE

North Korea Warns That Nuclear War Could ‘Break Out Any Moment

North Korea warned that a nuclear war “may break out any moment” as the U.S. and South Korea began one of the largest joint naval drills off both the east and west coasts of the peninsula.
Kim In Ryong, North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, said on Monday that his nation had become a “full-fledged nuclear power which possesses the delivery means of various ranges” and warned that “the entire U.S. mainland is within our firing range.” He also called North Korea “a responsible nuclear state.”
“As long as one does not take part in the U.S. military actions against the DPRK, we have no intention to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against any other country,” Kim said, referring to his country’s formal name.
The comments are similar to other warnings North Korea has made over the past few months as tensions have increased with President Donald Trump’s administration. Kim Jong Un’s regime has repeatedly said it needs the capability to strike the U.S. with a nuclear weapon in order to deter an American attack. READ MORE

Raqqa: Isis completely driven out of Syria 'capital' by US-backed forces

US-backed militias have completely taken Isis' de facto capital, Raqqa, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said on Tuesday, in a major symbolic blow to the jihadist group.
The fall of Raqqa, where Isis staged euphoric parades after its string of lightning victories in 2014, is a potent symbol of the movement's collapsing fortunes. The city was used as a base for the group to plan attacks abroad.
SOHR said 3,250 people were killed in the battle, including 1,130 civilians.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias backed by a US-led international alliance, has been fighting Isis inside Raqqa since June.
A witness said fighting appeared to be almost at an end with only sporadic bursts of gunfire.
Militia fighters celebrated in the streets, chanted slogans from their vehicles and raised a flag inside Raqqa stadium.
An SDF spokesman said the alliance would capture the last Isis areas in the city within hours.
On Saturday a deal was brokered for the last remaining local fighters in Raqqa to leave the city.
SDF spokesman Talal Silo said then that any fighters who were not signed up to the deal would be left behind "to surrender or die”. READ MORE

Monday, October 16, 2017

North Korea EMP attack could ‘shut down US power grid and kill 90% of Americans’

Experts have warned Congress that it is ignoring a newly-developed weapon from North Korea which could shut down the US power grid and kill the vast majority of Americans within a year.
Two members of the disbanded congressional Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) commission said at a recent House Homeland Security subcommittee hearing that a nuclear EMP attack from Kim Jong Un was the “biggest threat” to the US yet it remains “unacknowledged” by the government.
More attention has been focused on the regime’s continued testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles this year, but the dictatorship also recently claimed to have tested a hydrogen bomb underground in September.

The regime said in a public statement that such a bomb could be detonated at high altitudes for “super-powerful EMP attack according to strategic goals”.
William Graham, chairman of the former EMP commission and its former chief of staff, Peter Vincent Pry, warned the hearing that such an attack could “shut down the US electric power grid for an indefinite period, leading to the death within a year of up to 90 per cent of all Americans.“
They urged the House to protect the grid, and warned that US ballistic missile defence systems are currently designed to intercept missiles from North Korea that approach the US over the North Polar region, but not over the South Polar region. READ MORE

Iraqi forces launch 'major attack' on Kurds following referendum

Iraqi government forces launched an all-out assault on Kurdish peshmerga militias in the northern city of Kirkuk Monday, the Associated Press reported, as tensions between autonomous Kurdistan and the Iraqi federal government worsen following last month’s Kurdish independence referendum.
Millions of Kurds took part in the September 25th referendum, despite opposition by the Iraqi central government, which denounced the vote as illegal and illegitimate, and pledged not to recognize the results.
Some 78% of eligible voters participated in the referendum, with roughly 92% backing Kurdish independence.
Masoud Barzani, President of Iraqi Kurdistan and leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, called on the Iraqi government to respect the outcome of the vote, but added that the Kurds were willing to ‘overcome hardship’ if necessary to realize independence.
“We may face hardship but we will overcome,” Barzani said, urging the Iraqi government and foreign powers “to respect the will of millions of people.”
Barzani called on the Iraqi central government to negotiate with the Kurdish Regional Government following the referendum – a move the central government has repeatedly refused.
Since then, tensions between Iraq’s central government and Kurdistan have increased.
Over the weekend, Iraqi army and militia forces encircled the disputed northern city of Kirkuk, a historically predominantly Kurdish and Turkmen city of nearly one million in the midst of an oil-rich area. The focus of government efforts at “Arabization”, Kirkuk has had a significant Arab majority for at least two decades.
Nevertheless, the Iraqi central government has lost ground in Kirkuk over the past three years, with much of the city and surrounding area coming under de facto Kurdish control.
On Monday, Kurdish forces claimed that federal Iraqi forces had launched a “major, multi-pronged attack” on Kurdish-held portions of Kirkuk, causing “lots of casualties” according to Bahzad Ahmed, a spokesman of the Kurdish forces.
Ahmed said Iraqi forces had “burnt lots of houses and killed many people” south of Kirkuk.
Kurdish leaders say Iraq has used US-built tanks and personnel vehicles in the attack, and that Kurdish peshmerga militias had managed to destroy several Iraqi vehicles during the assault.

Saudis Hail Trump’s Iran Policy Shift

TEL AVIV — Media outlets in Saudi Arabia on Saturday praised U.S. President Donald Trump’s policy speech on Friday about the nuclear deal with Iran.
The London-based international Saudi publication Asharq Al-Awsat gave Trump’s speech the headline, “Trump shakes nuclear deal with Iran … and punishes its regional conduct.” The newspaper noted that the American president demanded a change to the agreement and even indicated it may be canceled while stating that he has ordered that steps be taken to punish Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps.
The newspaper Riyadh ran a piece stating, “The kingdom supports Trump’s strategy towards Iran’s aggressive policies. The American withdrawal dooms the nuclear agreement with Tehran.”
The widely-read newspaper Okaz blasted the headline, “Riyadh and Washington, Coordination and Cooperation … Breaking the Independence of the Ayatollah’s in Qom.”
The newspaper opined that Trump’s comments were a message to the Iranian regime that the era of Iranian terror is over and the Trump administration will repel Iran’s threats and force it to change its policies, especially those of the Revolutionary Guards.
However, media outlets supporting Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood tried to claim that only Israel and Saudi Arabia are happy with the new direction of American policy. The reference to Israel was clearly intended to hurt Saudi Arabia, Qatar’s rival. READ MORE

Israeli Defense Minister: Trump Iran Speech ‘Brave,’ Europeans ‘Burying Heads in Sand’

NEW YORK — Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Saturday praised President Donald Trump’s speech on Iran as “brave” and slammed Europe – the UK, France and Germany – for “burying their heads in the sand” by staying committed to the deal. 
Liberman said Trump’s Friday address, in which the president said he will not recertify the 2015 nuclear deal, was “courageous and correct,” echoing earlier comments from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also lauded the speech as “courageous.”
The Europeans are “burying their heads in the sand just like they did before World War II,” Liberman told Channel 2 about the leaders of Germany, the UK and France – all of which have profited massively from business deals with Iran since sanctions were lifted as part of the deal. “When you see the crises unfolding in Europe, you see this [approach]. They prefer to run away from reality.”
On the other hand, Liberman continued, moderate Middle Eastern nations acknowledge that Iran “presents an existential threat” if it were to acquire nuclear weapons.
The defense minister added, however, that “Israel must be ready to handle Iran by itself without the US.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel released a joint statement after Trump’s speech saying they “stand committed to its full implementation by all sides,” according to a joint statement released by May’s Downing Street office.
The leaders added that they “take note of President Trump’s decision” not to recertify the deal and were “concerned by the possible implications.” READ MORE

Israeli Military Strikes anti-Aircraft Battery in Syria

JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli military said on Monday that it struck and destroyed an anti-aircraft battery deep in Syria after it had opened fire on Israeli jets flying over Lebanon — the first such incident of Syrian forces targeting Israeli planes since the civil war began in 2011.
Military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said Israeli planes were on a routine reconnaissance mission near the Lebanese-Syrian border when they came under fire. They were not hit and returned to base safely.
In response, Israel hit a Syrian anti-aircraft battery about 50 kilometers (30 miles) east of Damascus and “incapacitated” it, he said. Russian forces in Syria were notified in real time, Conricus said, adding that Israel holds Syria responsible for any attack from its territory.
Israel has largely stayed out of the fighting in Syria but it has carried out dozens of airstrikes on alleged arms shipments bound for Hezbollah militants in Lebanon. It has also occasionally carried out limited reprisals along its frontier with Syria in the Golan Heights, after spillover of Syria’s fighting.
But such a strike deep in Syrian territory is highly unusual.
Conricus said Israel has no interest in destabilizing the situation but says the military will “preserve our ability to act and thwart” any hostile activity against it.