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Monday, February 19, 2018

Saudi Arabia to pursue nuclear program

Saudi Arabia plans to transition to nuclear energy, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told CNBC at the Munich Security Conference.
According to al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia is discussing the plans with "roughly 10 countries or so around the world, and we have not made a decision yet with regards to which path we will take and which country we will be focusing on more."
The plan, he says, aims "to produce energy so that we can save the oil and export it in order to generate revenue."
"Our objective is we want to have the same rights as other countries," he added.
The country, which has its own uranium deposits, is currently seeking a contractor for its first nuclear power project, which will include two nuclear reactors.
According to Yonhap, South Korea's Energy Ministry said the country would work to submit a proposal for the deal, and has met with both state utility companies to design an effective strategy. Saudi Arabia is scheduled to select a contractor by the end of 2018.
Later stages of the Saudi plan include building an additional 14 nuclear reactors, for a total cost of more than $80 billion over the course of 25 years.
The country will be required to sign a declaration of peaceful intent.

'Iran poised to replace ISIS across Middle East'

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) warned that Iran is poised to supplant ISIS across Syria following the Islamic State’s military defeats over the past year, and urged the US to intervene to prevent Tehran from cementing its foothold in the war-torn state.
Speaking at the Conference of Presidents’ 42nd annual Leadership Mission to Israel in Jerusalem on Monday, Erdan warned that while ISIS had been weakened militarily, Iran is positioning itself to reap the benefits.
“Iran will replace ISIS,” said Erdan.
“There’s a need for greater American involvement in making sure that Iran does not turn Syria into a puppet state. Every day that Iran entrenches itself in Syria brings war closer.
Without Western intervention, Erdan added, Syria would be dominated by Iran, leading to the establishment of a “Shia crescent” across the Middle East.
“There's no vacuum. If the US chooses not to be a major player in shaping the future of Syria,then others will - and trust me, it won't be the democratically - elected representatives of the Syrian people. The Islamic Republic [of Iran] will replace the Islamic State, and will try to set up a Syrian Hezbollah made up of Shia militias.”
“It's crucial that American policy-makers and opinion-leaders understand how explosive the situation really is. And that they understand that Iran and Hezbollah have hidden their missiles in the heart of Lebanese and Syrian villages, and have turned state infrastructure into a support system for their military machine.
Should Iran continue to deepen its involvement in Syria, Erdan predicted, conflict between Israel and Tehran’s proxies will become inevitable.
“Israel has no desire for war, but we will do what is necessary to protect our citizens and our borders. If we want to prevent such a conflict, then the time to act is now.READ MORE

Israeli PM: Iran Becoming Increasingly Aggressive in Region

MUNICH (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says an international agreement with Iran has emboldened the regime in Tehran to become increasingly aggressive in the region.
Netanyahu told world leaders, defense officials and diplomats at the Munich Security Conference on Sunday the agreement has “unleashed a dangerous Iranian tiger in our region and beyond.”
Saying Iran’s “brazenness hit new highs,” he held up a fragment of what he said was an Iranian drone shot down last week by Israel in Israeli airspace and challenged Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who was to speak later.
Netanyahu said “Mr. Zarif do you recognize this? You should, it’s yours. You can take back with you a message to the tyrants of Tehran — do not test Israel’s resolve!”
Tehran says it wasn’t Iran’s drone.

WATCH: Holocaust Denial, Anti-Semitic Threats Soaring on Social Media

Anti-Semitic symbols and threats along with posts on social media denying the Holocaust have increased by 30 percent, according to a new report by the World Jewish Congress (WJC), with Twitter hosting the vast bulk of offending material.
The WJC-commissioned study, made in collaboration with Vigo Social Intelligence is titled Anti-Semitic Symbols and Holocaust Denial in Social Media Posts: January 2018. It reveals a dramatic increase in the number of incidents already in 2018 compared with the same period in 2016,  with the U.S. and Europe leading the way.
The study is a follow-up to an initial survey released in 2016. It was intended to cover the period between January 1-24, which “holds significant importance leading up to International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27 and coinciding with the World Jewish Congress’ 2018 We Remember campaign,” the organization said.
Key findings of the report indicate that 30 percent more posts using anti-Semitic symbols were recorded during this time frame, along with twice the number of conversations denying the Holocaust.
As Breitbart Jerusalem reported, this is not the first time Twitter specifically has been accused of hosting vile content that has ultimately been exposed by activists.
Last year an Israeli-born Jewish comedian in Germany daubed anti-Semitic tweets on the street outside Twitter’s headquarters in Hamburg to draw attention to the social media giant’s inaction in tackling online hate.
Slurs including “Jewish Pig”, “Let’s gas some Jews together” and “Gays to Auschwitz” were chosen to be spray-painted by Shahak Shapira. WATCH

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Lebanese Court Orders Muslims to Learn Quran Verses About Virgin Mary

TEL AVIV — In a highly unusual ruling, a judge in Lebanon has ordered three Muslim men to learn passages from the Quran by heart that praise and glorify the Virgin Mary after they were found guilty of insulting the religious figure, according to a report by the Al Arabiya television network. Lebanese law allows for prison sentences on charges of insulting religions, but the judge decided instead to order the three to learn the relevant Quranic passages.

According to the report, the unusual punishment got a positive response from the Lebanese public and even received support from Lebanon’s Muslim Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his predecessor Najib Miqati. Both wrote that the sentence is evidence of the judge’s wisdom because her decision gave preference to the teaching of shared values over punishment.
Other ministers also praised the judge and noted that beyond the cultural nature of the ruling, “It is a precedent-setting ruling that opens a window for other creative judgements in order to solve social problems and deal with religious extremism.”
When the three appeared before the judge Jocelyne Mata in the city of Amshit located 37 kilometers north of the capital of Beirut, Mata decided that the three must learn the verses “to learn the values of tolerance in the religion of Islam and Islam’s love for the virgin. The law is a school and it can’t be reduced just to prisons.” READ MORE

War of Words! Bibi Shows Piece of Iran Drone!

Signaling a business-as-usual attitude in the face of significant legal woes, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu adressed the Munich Security Conference Sunday morning, just days after the police recommended he be indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Iran, as it often is when the prime minister speaks abroad, was high on Netanyahu's agenda. Israel could act against Iran itself — not just its allies — after border incidents in Syria brought the Middle East foes closer to direct confrontation, Netanyahu warned. (Read Article)

Abbas to tell UN: The goal is Jerusalem

PA spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina revealed details of the expected speech by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday.

In a conversation with reporters in Ramallah, Abu Rudeina said that Abbas’ speech would focus on the city of “Al-Quds” (Jerusalem) and on the “Palestinian basic principles” from which there would be no withdrawal.

"A new phase has begun in the struggle to preserve the overall goal of our Palestinian people, the Arab nation and the world as a whole, and this is the issue of Al-Quds, with its holy sites to Islam and Christianity, its heritage and history, which some are trying to counterfeit by contradicting all international laws which have always established that Al-Quds is Palestinian and Arab," Abu Rudeina said.

According to him, Abbas’ speech will serve as a message to the entire world that "Justice, peace and the Land are the only way to create a secure and stable Middle East and a prosperous world free of all expressions of terrorism."

Indian PM hosts Iran's Rouhani

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani met on Saturday with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as part of his three-day visit to India. "This is the first visit by an Iranian president in 10 years," Modi told a joint press conference with Rouhani after the meeting. "It deepens and strengthens relations."

Modi added that Iran and India respect each other and claimed that under Rouhani's leadership, the ties between the two countries have strengthened. The Iranian president’s visit to India comes one month after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was warmly received in India as part of a visit to mark 25 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

"The Prime Minister of India is a close friend of Israel and of mine, and I appreciate the fact that he personally accompanies me in large parts of the visit. I have hope that the new era in Israeli-Indian relations will bring benefits to Israelis, Indians and the entire world," Netanyahu said after the meeting.

Last week, Modi became the first Indian prime minister to visit the Palestinian Authority (PA), where he met PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas. He also visited the grave of former PA Chairman Yasser Arafat, laid a wreath and said that Arafat "was one of the greatest leaders."
Modi became the first Indian prime minister ever to visit Israel in July last year, with the two countries signing deals on cybersecurity and energy.

66 presumed dead in Iranian plane crash

An Iranian passenger plane crashed on Sunday in central Iran while en route from Tehran to the city of Yasuk in southwestern Iran, apparently killing all 66 on board, CNN reported according to the airline. According to the Iranian ISNA new agency, the plane, operated by Iranian carrier Aseman Airlines, crashed in the mountainous Zagros region near the town of Semirom after taking off from Tehran's Mehrabad Airport.

The plane disappeared from radar some 50 minutes into the flight, CNN said according to the airline's Instagram account. Speaking at the Munich Security Conference earlier on Sunday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu offered his condolences over the 66 people apparently killed in the plane crash, moments after he launched a blistering attack on Tehran's government.

"I take this opportunity to send condolences to the families of the 66 civilians that lost their lives in the plane accident today," Netanyahu said at the Munich Security Conference.
"We have no quarrel with the people of Iran, only with the regime that torments them," he added.  

Earlier in his fiery speech, the premier warned Tehran not to "test Israel's resolve" as tensions between the two countries have reached fresh heights over Iran's activities in Syria.

Iran's Zarif slams Netanyahu's 'cartoonish circus' drone stunt

Iran's foreign minister today slammed Israel's Binyamin Netanyahu for staging a "cartoonish circus" after the Prime Minister brandishedwhat he said was a piece of an Iranian drone shot down by Israel.

"You were the audience for a cartoonish circus just this morning which does not even deserve the dignity of a response," Iran's top diplomat Mohammad Javad Zarif said at the Munich Security Conference, as he took to the stage shortly after Netanyahu's speech.
Netanyahu declared that Israel would prevent Iran from approaching its border. "We said we have red lines, we are preventing Iran from establishing itself in Syria, but Iran is trying to cross these red lines, and last week they sent a drone to Israel, which we downed. We will not allow Iran to establish a force on our border.We will attack not only Iran's proxies, but also the country itself."

He turned to the audience and told them, "The Iranian Foreign Minister will soon talk about peace. He claims Iran is fighting extremism, and he argues the conflict in the Middle East won't be resolved by a military solution," Netanyahu said. "How will he explain the fact that they are sending drones to Israel?" Netanyahu wondered.

At this stage he took out a rectangular piece of dark green metal which he called "a piece of that Iranian drone, or what's left of it, after we shot it down." Holding it aloft he asked, "Foreign Minister Zarif, do you recognize this?", drawing laughter from the audience.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Stocks close higher, S&P 500 post biggest weekly gain since 2013

The market soon stabilized after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein emphasized in a press conference that these indictments had no allegations of willing support to the Russians by Americans. "The nature of the scheme was that the defendants took extraordinary steps to make it appear that they were ordinary American political activists," he said.
"One of the key point is there's no finding that this actually affected the election results," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at B. Riley FBR. "To the extent this is a first blush, it doesn't look market negative."
The Dow Jones industrial average closed 19.01 points higher at 25,219.38, with Pfizer as the best-performing stock in the index. The Dow also posted its sixth straight day of gains. At its session highs, it rose 232.05 points. (Read More)

Olympics Sticks Near 2018 Viewership Low As 19.3M Watch On NBC

With 19.3 million watching on NBC, NBC Sports Network and streaming in total audience delivery, last night’s Olympics barely was basically even with Valentine’s Day’s all-time low for the 2018 games so far. Cutting into any minor celebration the Comcast-owned net might get out of being up 0.5%, all those Day 6 official competition platforms put together last night was still down over 15% from the first Thursday of Sochi 2014 – which was only seen on NBC in primetime.
Putting up NBC 2018 against the broadcast-only coverage of February 13, 2014’s XXII Winter Games and things start to really sting. Last night’s primetime featuring Mikaela Shiffrin and Nathan Chen in PyeongChang dropped a hard 29% in sets of eyeballs. (Read More)

USGS: Earthquake Shaking South and Central Mexico has Preliminary Magnitude of 7.5

A powerful earthquake has shaken south and central Mexico, causing people to flee buildings and office towers in the country's capital, and setting off quake alert systems.
Crowds of people gathered on central Reforma Avenue in Mexico City as the ground shook. The U.S. Geological Survey put the quake's preliminary magnitude at 7.5 and said its epicenter was 2 kilometers southeast of Pinotepa in Oaxaca state. It had a depth of 43 kilometers.

A magnitude 7.1 earthquake in central Mexico on Sept. 19 left 228 people dead in the capital and 369 across the region.

Nasrallah: Downing of Israeli jet 'a big achievement'

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on Friday boasted that Syria’s downing of an Israeli F-16 fighter jet last weekend was a “very big achievement.” In a televised speech, Nasrallah also threatened Israel's offshore energy projects and insisted his movement is Lebanon's "only" source of leverage in an escalating oil and gas dispute.

Last Saturday, a squadron of Israeli F-16I fighters struck a dozen Syrian and Iranian military targets around Damascus, in retaliation for the violation of Israeli airspace by an Iranian “Simorgh”-type unmanned aircraft earlier that day. During the operation, Syria’s air defense network fired dozens of missiles at the Israeli aircraft. Most of the missiles fired were older, Soviet-built S-200 “Dubna” missiles (designated as the SA-5 Gammon by NATO).

One of the S-200 missiles exploded in close proximity to one of the F-16Is, damaging the plane and forcing the pilot and navigator to bail out after they returned to Israeli airspace. Both crew members were injured during the ejection sequence.

“The decision to shoot down the plane was taken by the Syrian leadership and President Bashar Al-Assad. Those who executed the order were the officers and soldiers from the Syrian Arab Army,” Nasrallah said Friday, according to Iran’s PressTV.

In his remarks, the terrorist leader also discussed the tensions between Israel and Lebanon over offshore drilling for gas. Last week Lebanon signed its first contract to drill for oil and gas off its coast with a consortium comprising energy giants Total, ENI and Novatek, including in a block disputed by Israel. Read More)

Friday, February 16, 2018

Syrian air defenses spread out to target US as well as Israeli overflights

Both US and Syria (plus pro-Iranian allies) are massing strength in the south and east for military clashes in the continuing confrontation.

Assad’s army with Hizballah and other pro-Iranian forces backed by Russia are massing for two objectives: a major offensive to capture Daraa on Syria’s southern border with Jordan;  and at the Deir ez-Zour region in the east for another attempt to cross the Euphrates from west to east. US forces and allies are building up to ward off the two offensives. This time, Syria has positioned its Russian anti-air weapons for targeting incoming air strikes by US as well as Israeli air force planes. Syrian Foreign Minister Fayssal Mikdad articulated this threat when he said Wednesday, Feb. 14: “Syria will down any warplane that launches an airstrike on the SAA [Syrian Arab Army].”

US military officials are cited by DEBKAfile’s military sources as estimating on Thursday that the combined Russian, Syrian, Iranian and Hizballah army massing on the western bank of the Euphrates in the Deir ez-Zour region will make another attempt to transfer troops to the eastern bank. They are expected to go for one of the oil or gas fields held by the US-backed SDF (Syria Democratic Forces), which is composed mainly of Kurdish YPG militiamen. Their particular targets are the CONICO gas facility and the al-Omar oil fields.

That’s in the east. In the south, the Syrian, pro-Iranian, Russian-backed coalition is preparing to grab Daraa. In both operations, they are determined to come off best after major defeats in the last few days. On the night of Feb. 7, massive US air and artillery strikes thwarted a Russian-assisted Syrian, Hizballah attempt to cross the Euphrates; and on Feb. 10, after an Israeli F-16 jet was downed by a Syrian SA-17 air defense missile, Israeli warplanes bombed a dozen military positions in Syria. They included air defense emplacements, but also  struck the secret Iranian Revolutionary Guards command posts that were preparing the combined assault on Daraa. Those preparations were resumed in the interim, with boosted protection against attacks from the air.

Tillerson Lands in Turkey to Meet Erdogan After ‘Ottoman Slap’ Threat

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson begins a pivotal visit to Turkey on Thursday evening intended to mend fences amid President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s repeated threats to attack U.S. soldiers in Syria.
Erdogan has insisted that his troops will enter Manbij, a region of northern Syria populated in part by U.S. troops. Turkey objects to Washington’s support of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ), a militia that was instrumental in the defeat of the Islamic State in its “capital,” Raqqa.
In remarks Tuesday, Erdogan threatened the United States with an “Ottoman slap,” a medieval martial arts technique. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert refused to get “riled up” about the comment during her regular press briefing that day.
Tillerson will meet Erdogan personally this week in Ankara and also hold talks with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, according to Turkey’s state news agency Anadolu. Tillerson is currently on a Middle East tour that also includes Jordan and Lebanon.
In Lebanon Thursday, Tillerson affirmed in response to reporters’ questions during a press conference with Prime Minister Saad Hariri that “Turkey is an important NATO ally of ours, they’re still an important partner of ours in the fight to defeat ISIS.”
Tillerson praised Ankara as having “performed admirably” and “been supportive” of the United States.
“There are so many aspects of the Turkey-U.S. relationship which are very important and very positive, and we intend to build on the areas that we do share common interests, common concerns,” Tillerson continued. “I would tell you our endpoint objectives are completely aligned; there’s no gap between them.” READ MORE