Israel launches retaliatory airstrikes in Gaza after Hamas rocket attacks

The fighting is the worst episode of violence since Israel and Hamas fought a brief war in 2014. The United States, European Union and United Nations have condemned the rocket and mortar attacks against Israel.

    
A picture taken from Gaza City on May 29, 2018, shows a smoke billowing in the background following an Israeli air strike on the Palestinian enclave. (picture-alliance/ZUMA Wire/A. Amra)

Israel has launched airstrikes against targets throughout the Gaza Strip after the armed wing of the ruling group in the Palestinian territory launched dozens of rockets and mortar shells into southern Israel.

The confrontation, which continued into Wednesday morning, is the worst episode of violence between Israel and Hamas since they fought a seven-week-long war in 2014.

Read more: Gaza residents ‘caged in a toxic slum’: UN human rights chief Zeid

What we know so far

  • The Israeli military said around 70 rockets and bombs had been fired into Israel by 8 p.m. local time on Tuesday (1700 GMT). One mortar shell landed near a kindergarten.
  • Israeli forces intercepted most of the rockets and mortar shells, the military said, and tanks and bombers responded by targeting 55 militant locations within Gaza. There were no immediate reports of Palestinian casualties.
  • Three Israeli soldiers were wounded, according to the military.
  • The armed faction of Hamas and Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attacks in a joint statement. They said they were retaliating against “Zionist aggression and crimes against our people” since clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian protesters on March 30.
  • Islamic Jihad said Egypt had brokered a ceasefire agreement with Israel, but Israel later dismissed the report.

Read more: ‘No soldier fires at will’ on Gaza border

Watch video03:53

Israel threatens Hamas leaders

‘Threshold of war’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “The Israeli army will respond with great force to these attacks,
and Israel will exact a heavy price from anyone who tries to harm it, and we see Hamas as responsible for preventing these attacks against us.”

Israeli Intelligence Minister Israel Katz said Hamas and Israel were “at the closest point to the threshold of war” since 2014. “If the firing [from Gaza] does not stop, we will have to escalate our responses and it could lead to a deterioration of the situation,” Katz told Army Radio.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah group rules the Palestinian West Bank and is a rival of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, said Israel had used “vigorous aggression” against Gaza and was not interested in peace.

Watch video00:42

Palestinian President Abbas: “Israel does not want peace”

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council for Wednesday and said: “The Security Council should be outraged and respond to this latest bout of violence directed at innocent Israeli civilians.”

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, called on Hamas to end its rocket and mortar strikes and said “indiscriminate attacks against civilians are completely unacceptable under any circumstances.”

Nickolay Mladenov, the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, denounced “the indiscriminate firing of rockets by Palestinian militants from Gaza toward communities in southern Israel.”

Weeks of violence: The exchanges follow weeks of clashes along the Gaza-Israeli border. Israeli forces have shot and killed more than 110 Palestinians protesting against Israel’s occupation of lands claimed by Palestinians. Israel has said the use of force against protesters was necessary to defend Israel’s border, and has accused Hamas of using civilians as human shields.

Read more: Israel Supreme Court upholds use of lethal force against Palestinians during protests

amp/cmk (dpa, AP, Reuters)

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COURTESY: DW

Palestinians Bury Their Dead After Clashes with Israeli Military

Israel defends its use of gunfire, saying it has the right to provide security for its people


Palestinian protesters look up at falling tear gas cannisters near the border with Israel in the southern Gaza Strip on Tuesday.
SAID KHATIB/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
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Palestinians in Gaza began burying their dead Tuesday after violent clashes a day earlier left some 60 people dead, as Israel pushed back on international criticism over its use of gunfire by defending its right to secure its people.

The bloodshed at the protests, the deadliest in years, cast a cloud over a ceremony celebrating the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem and has sparked calls for restraint. Officials in Gaza said that hospitals were overwhelmed, with many running out of essential supplies such as drugs to treat the injured.

About 2,700 people were hurt in the clashes, including more than 1,300 by live fire from the Israeli military, which also used tear gas and rubber bullets to push back Palestinians attempting to breach the fence dividing the Gaza Strip and Israel.

Clashes Over New U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem Leave Dozens Dead

Thousands of protesters were injured at the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel ahead of the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.

Some protesters burned tires, or used explosive devices, firebombs or flaming kites.

Israel says its military must use gunfire to prevent protesters from reaching nearby Israeli towns. The area near the fence was relatively quiet Tuesday, with Gaza health officials reporting one person killed, but Israeli officials said they were preparing to respond to more protests amid fears they could spread, especially as the holy month of Ramadan is expected to begin this week.

The United Nations Security Council was meeting Tuesday to discuss the violence in an emergency session requested by Kuwait, a U.S. partner in the Middle East.

The U.K. and France have also been particularly critical, with both directly expressing opposition to the embassy opening and the U.K. criticizing Israel’s use of live rounds and calling for an independent investigation. The Irish foreign ministry summoned the Israeli ambassador to express Ireland’s “shock and dismay” at the numbers of deaths and injuries, as Turkey temporarily expelled the Israeli ambassador and recalled its own.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday lashed out at President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, who has heavily criticized Israel, saying he was aligned with Gaza ruler Hamas.

“Erdogan is among Hamas’s biggest supporters and there is no doubt that he well understands terrorism and slaughter. I suggest that he not preach morality to us,” Mr. Netanyahu said.

The U.S. placed the blame with the Gaza rulers. “The responsibility for these tragic deaths rests squarely with Hamas,” Raj Shah, a White House spokesman, said Monday. “Israel has the right to defend itself.”

The bloodshed was a stark contrast to the ceremony celebrating the new U.S. embassy around 50 miles away, where Mr. Netanyahu and Trump administration officials called the opening a step toward peace. The Palestinians also claim Jerusalem for a future capital and had warned the U.S. against the move, saying it would derail any chance for a peace process.

Hamas has used a host of anniversaries to rally support for mass protests in the past month and a half. The Monday protests drew 40,000 Gaza residents at 12 points along the border fence.

Protest organizers had aimed to encourage tens of thousands to march Tuesday for what Palestinians call “Nakba Day” or “Day of the Catastrophe,” the anniversary of the day after the date of Israel’s founding. But there were no calls on loudspeakers for protests, unlike on Monday, when mosques in Gaza urged people to actively take part in the demonstrations and buses moved people from inside Gaza City to the border.

Protests, however, have in the past often picked up later in the day. There were some clashes in the West Bank as several thousand protesters gathered in the center of Ramallah and elsewhere.

On Monday, Israel’s military said warplanes carried out strikes on 11 Hamas targets in one of its compounds in the northern Gaza Strip. Israeli military tanks also targeted two Hamas posts in the north and south of Gaza.

Since March 30, Hamas has helped organize weekly protests and threatened to break through the border fence. Israel has responded with live fire, killing more than 100 people.

The death toll on Monday was the largest on a single day since the Israeli army fought a conflict with Hamas in 2014.

Mohamed Al Ashi, 22, was sharing a room with two others in Shifa hospital in Gaza. Mr. Ashi was hit in the leg, and one of his roommates was shot Monday, while the other was shot the Friday before.

Mr. Ashi said he was protesting near the fence with some friends when the soldiers starting shooting at them. “They should not have shot us. We did not even cross the fence,” he said.

Write to Felicia Schwartz at Felicia.Schwartz@wsj.com

COURTESY: WSJ

U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem Opens to a Fraught Climate

Relocation complicates Trump administration’s push for Israeli-Palestinian peace

A worker on Sunday inside the new U.S. embassy compound during preparations for its opening ceremony, in Jerusalem.
A worker on Sunday inside the new U.S. embassy compound during preparations for its opening ceremony, in Jerusalem. PHOTO: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS

JERUSALEM—The opening of the relocated U.S. Embassy here fulfills a campaign promise of President Donald Trump’s while dialing up tension around another administration goal: peace in the Middle East.

Mr. Trump’s decision to relocate the embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv has faced fierce criticism from European and Arab officials who say it could hamper any future peace negotiations. Palestinians are refusing to meet with representatives of the Trump administration and say they no longer recognize the U.S. as the main broker of peace talks with Israel.

U.S. officials this weekend said they would press on with their still-secret plan to secure what Mr. Trump has called “the ultimate deal” for Middle East peace. The plan is mostly finished, they said, and the administration is seeking the right time and place to present it.

“The peace process is most decidedly not dead,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Fox News on Sunday. “We’re hard at work on it. We hope we can achieve a successful outcome there as well.”

U.S. officials have said recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital reflects the reality on the ground. Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, and much of its government is in Jerusalem. The international community doesn’t recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

In an interview that aired Sunday on ABC, White House national-security adviser John Bolton said the embassy location would help the peace process.

“I think recognizing reality always enhances the chances for peace,” he said.

peace deal has eluded Mr. Trump’s three most recent predecessors as president, and the most recent round of talks collapsed in 2014.

The U.S. Embassy’s opening on Monday culminates nearly six months of preparations. The State Department spent about $400,000 to retrofit a consular building in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood, straddling West Jerusalem and what is called No Man’s Land, a contested area that lies in between the 1949 armistice lines.

Ahead of the opening, new road signs for the embassy appeared near the site.

Israel captured East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state. The Trump administration has said the final boundaries of Jerusalem would be left up to final status negotiations.

The embassy move exacerbated tensions with Palestinian leaders, with the Palestine Liberation Organization calling for protests on Monday at the new embassy. The issue of the U.S.’s recognizing Jerusalem has also drawn repeated condemnation from Arab rulers, including Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, Jordan’s King Abdullah and Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, staunch U.S. allies.

While the embassy move announcement didn’t initially spark as much violence as predicted by some opponents of the move, it has helped fuel protests in the Gaza Strip, where thousands of Palestinians have turned out each Friday at the border fence to call for their right to return to what is now Israel. So far, more than 40 Palestinian protesters have died in repeated clashes with Israel’s military.

The Gaza protests are expected to culminate the day after Monday’s embassy opening, on what Palestinians call Nakba Day, or Day of the Catastrophe, marking the day after the anniversary of Israel’s founding on May 14, 1948. Yahya Sinwar, leader of Hamas in Gaza, which controls the territory, suggested last week that more than 100,000 people could storm the fence.

Nearly all European ambassadors skipped a reception Sunday evening in honor of the embassy move held by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Representatives from 33 countries including Nigeria, Vietnam, Paraguay and Guatemala were there, and the latter two have said they would also move their embassies.

Mr. Trump won’t attend Monday’s ceremony but will address the proceedings by video. The U.S. delegation is being led by Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan and includes Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

The U.S. expects about 800 guests on Monday, including 11 U.S. Republican lawmakers, but the Trump administration didn’t invite officials from other countries because Washington says it sees the opening as a bilateral event.

State Department officials said the U.S. would also look for a site to build a new embassy.

Casino magnate and GOP donor Sheldon Adelson, who attended Mr. Netanyahu’s reception on Sunday, had earlier this year offered to contribute funds to build a new embassy, but on Sunday, in a brief interview at the reception, he said “that hasn’t been finalized.”

“I don’t think it’s going to be necessary,” he said.

Write to Felicia Schwartz at Felicia.Schwartz@wsj.com

COURTESY: WSJ

Trump and Netanyahu Aligned Against Iran as Tensions Soar

U.S. pullout from nuclear deal, support for Israeli military actions show two governments’ common focus on countering Tehran

U.S. President Donald Trump, right, speaking as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu listens at the White House in March.
U.S. President Donald Trump, right, speaking as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu listens at the White House in March. PHOTO:OLIVIER DOULIERY/BLOOMBERG NEWS

TEL AVIV—The Trump and Netanyahu governments are moving in lockstep in defining Iran as a common enemy, setting a combative course as new tensions rise in the region.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu share the view that confronting and checking Iran is more important to regional stability than solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict, advisers to both men say.

U.S. support for Israel’s hard-nosed approach to the Middle East became clearer this week. On Tuesday, Mr. Trump withdrew the U.S. from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, saying it was one-sided and failed to bring calm to the region. On Thursday, U.S. officials expressed strong support for a massive Israeli military response to Iranian shelling from Syria.

Israeli soldiers walking past tanks in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights on Thursday. Israel said it struck dozens of Iranian targets in Syria overnight in response to a rocket barrage on Israeli positions.
Israeli soldiers walking past tanks in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights on Thursday. Israel said it struck dozens of Iranian targets in Syria overnight in response to a rocket barrage on Israeli positions. PHOTO: ARIEL SCHALIT/ASSOCIATED PRESS

And on Monday, the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem—something Israel’s government couldn’t persuade past American presidents to do—will present another, highly symbolic demonstration of how aligned the Trump administration is with Mr. Netanyahu.

“There hasn’t been an administration whose outlook has been closer to Israel’s, the way it sees the Middle East,” said Michael Oren, the deputy minister for diplomacy in the prime minister’s office and a former Israeli ambassador to Washington.

Mr. Trump has pledged his commitment to brokering what he describes as “the ultimate deal” between Israel and the Palestinians. Yet in sticking so close to Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Trump faces the unappealing risks of stoking rising tensions with the Palestinians and getting dragged deeper into any conflict between Iran and Israel in Syria—at a time when he has vowed to draw down U.S. troops there.

Mr. Trump’s breaks with past U.S. positions are also throwing traditional allies off balance. His declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital—the Palestinians claim the eastern part of the city as their capital—has infuriated Arab states and European governments alike. The president plans to address Monday’s ceremony marking the embassy’s opening in Jerusalem with a video message.

The Trump administration also has toned down U.S. criticism of contentious Israeli settlement building in occupied territory and slashed a previously planned contribution for Palestinian refugees by more than half to $60 million.

Those stances have deflected pressure for a right-wing Israeli government that has resisted significant territorial concessions in exchange for a peace agreement with the Palestinians, the logic at the core of years of international negotiations toward a two-state solution to the Mideast conflict.

Israeli forces firing teargas canisters toward Palestinian demonstrators during clashes along the border with Gaza on Friday.
Israeli forces firing teargas canisters toward Palestinian demonstrators during clashes along the border with Gaza on Friday. PHOTO: MOHAMMED ABED/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

American officials insist Mr. Trump is looking after U.S. interests, not Mr. Netanyahu’s.

“Whether it’s the Jerusalem decision or the decision on Iran or I could name 10 more, the analysis is what is in the best interest of the United States,” U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said in a briefing with reporters.

Mr. Trump acknowledges taking some cues from the Israeli leader, most notably in his decision to leave the Iran deal. Last week Mr. Netanyahu presented on television documents he said were stolen from Iran and accused Tehran of lying about secret plans to build nuclear weapons.

Mr. Trump cited the theatrical disclosure Tuesday in announcing his ditching of the accord, saying the documents “amounted to definitive proof” that Iran wanted more than a nuclear-energy program. Mr. Trump’s decision drew swift praise from Israel and Arab states who oppose Iran, and angered European allies who see the deal as the best way to constrain Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

The U.S. and Israeli leaders aren’t always on the same page. While the Trump administration has been supportive as Israel flexes its muscles and is wary of the spread of Iranian proxies, Mr. Trump doesn’t want an extended U.S. presence in the Middle East. He has made that clear to his advisers, and asked Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations to contribute more to stabilize Syria.

For its part, Israel doesn’t want the Trump administration to pull its 2,000 troops out of Syria while Iran is able to take advantage of instability there. Mr. Trump froze basic stabilization funds for the country and has repeatedly asked other regional powers to foot the bill.

“I think that it’s important not just with respect to Israel but with respect to [other Arab states] that there not be an impression that the U.S. is pulling back,” said Dore Gold, former director general of Israel’s foreign ministry and president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Mostly, though, the positions of Messrs. Trump and Netanyahu have aligned neatly, and the regional blowback has been minimal. In December, Mr. Trump broke with his Republican and Democratic predecessors to follow a 1995 law mandating that the embassy be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“They all made campaign promises, and they never had the courage to carry it out,” Mr. Trump said late last month. “I carried it out.”

Only scattered protests followed the decision on the move, but Monday’s ceremonial opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem comes at a particularly troubled time for Israeli and Palestinian ties.

Palestinian youth pulling away a section of the border fence with Israel during mass demonstrations in Gaza on Friday.
Palestinian youth pulling away a section of the border fence with Israel during mass demonstrations in Gaza on Friday. PHOTO: SPENCER PLATT/GETTY IMAGES

Nearly six weeks of protests at the fence separating the Gaza Strip from Israel are supposed to culminate on Tuesday, what Palestinians call Nakba Day (“Day of the Catastrophe”), marking the day after the anniversary of Israel’s founding on May 14, 1948.

So far, 48 Palestinians protesters have died in the weekly border demonstrations in repeated clashes with Israel’s military. They have been calling for the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees who left or were forced to leave Israel when it was established.

U.S. officials have condemned violence from the protesters while refraining from criticizing Israel’s response.

The U.S. president and Israeli prime minister have both expressed skepticism that solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict would pave the way toward resolving other issues in the region, including routing extremist groups and improving ties among countries there.

Still, Mr. Trump’s promise to seek “the ultimate deal” in that conflict remains on the books. His chief negotiator, Jason Greenblatt, along with Mr. Friedman and Jared Kushner, his senior adviser and son-in-law, have been leading the U.S. effort to put together a plan for more than a year. Officials say they are looking for the right time and conditions to present it.

Some analysts say success will depend in part on whether Mr. Trump decides to trade in the diplomatic capital he has accrued.

“If the Trump administration is serious…at some point Israel would have to be asked to make some very hard decisions and concessions that would be politically difficult,” said Daniel Shapiro, former U.S. ambassador to Israel during the Obama administration who is now at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. “There is a sense that Trump has put a lot of money in the bank that gives him leverage to make hard asks. Will he do so?”

Write to Felicia Schwartz at Felicia.Schwartz@wsj.com

COURTESY: WSJ

Netanyahu Says Secret Files Prove Iran Lied About Nuclear Program

Israeli leader makes case against 2015 deal as Trump faces May 12 deadline

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented what he said was an archive of documents showing that Iran had a plan to develop nuclear weapons, in Tel Aviv on Monday.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented what he said was an archive of documents showing that Iran had a plan to develop nuclear weapons, in Tel Aviv on Monday. PHOTO: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented what he called new evidence that Iran maintained a secret and comprehensive plan to build nuclear weapons but lied repeatedly about it, building a case against the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

The broadside by Mr. Netanyahu on Monday, broadcast in Israel and the U.S., came as President Donald Trump nears a May 12 deadline to decide whether to withdraw from the deal, which halted Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for economic benefits. Mr. Netanyahu said the agreement was a mistake and urged Mr. Trump to do “the right thing.”

Mr. Netanyahu said the documents obtained by Israel, which he said included 100,000 files on paper and discs, show that “Iran is brazenly lying when it says it never had a nuclear weapons program.”

Mr. Trump said later that he agreed the 2015 nuclear agreement was a mistake, adding it would allow Iran to resume nuclear activities in seven years.

Mr. Netanyahu, in Tel Aviv on Monday, said the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran was a mistake and urged President Donald Trump to do “the right thing.”
Mr. Netanyahu, in Tel Aviv on Monday, said the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran was a mistake and urged President Donald Trump to do “the right thing.” PHOTO: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS

“That is just not an acceptable situation,” Mr. Trump said at a news conference with Nigeria’s president, after he was asked about Mr. Netanyahu’s presentation.

“I’m not telling you what I’m doing” with regard to the May 12 deadline, he said.

Iran’s lead negotiator in the talks leading to the 2015 nuclear deal told Iranian state television that Mr. Netanyahu’s presentation was “a childish, ridiculous show.”

The documents he presented were counterfeits, said the official, Abbas Araghchi, describing claims about a hidden stash of documents as laughable.

“How would Iran keep such important documents in a deserted industrial warehouse?” he said. “The fact that Netanyahu performs this show 10 days before Trump’s decision on the JCPOA makes it clear that it is an orchestrated play to influence Trump’s decision,” he said.

Iran has denied it was seeking to build nuclear weapons, although many U.S. and international officials have long believed the country’s Islamic government was attempting to do so at one time.

As part of the 2015 nuclear deal, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog conducted a probe of Iran’s previous nuclear work. That investigation was finished in December 2015 and found no credible evidence that Tehran had engaged in recent atomic-weapons activity. But the agency reported that the country had pursued a program in secret until 2009.

Mr. Netanyahu in his comments claimed to have new evidence of Iran’s prior weapons program, displaying replicas of binders and CDs that he said were part of secret files from a bunker in Tehran. He said that Iran’s false denials represented a violation of the 2015 agreement.

Mr. Trump set a May deadline to decide whether to leave the deal. He has said he would pull out unless Europe agrees to address his concerns with Iran’s ballistic missile program, limits on Iran’s nuclear program that begin to expire in 2025 and the inspections regime detailed in the agreement.

The Israeli leader’s comments came a day after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Tel Aviv.

Messrs. Netanyahu and Trump spoke by telephone on Saturday, the White House said.

Mr. Netanyahu said the U.S. has vouched for the authenticity of the materials uncovered by Israel and has shared the documents with the U.S.

“We have not seen everything, but they have been very eager to share it with us,” a White House official said. “We have no reason to think that anything is inauthentic.”

Israeli officials have been discussing the files with American officials in recent days, the official said, suggesting the release was a coordinated effort. “We were not unhappy about it,” the White House official said of the presentation.

The Trump administration was impressed by the “volume and completeness of the picture” of Iran’s work that the materials presented, the official said.

However, U.S. intelligence officials and Mr. Pompeo have said that Iran is in compliance with the 2015 agreement, concurring with a view advanced by European officials and nuclear inspectors.

Mr. Netanyahu has lobbied furiously against the nuclear agreement since before it was reached, speaking against it in an address before the United Nations and in a speech to the U.S. Congress in 2015 that drew controversy because the Israeli leader and GOP congressional leaders arranged it, going around the White House, contrary to protocol.

The Trump administration is seeking what it has described as improvements to the 2015 deal between six world powers and Iran. It is trying to enlist Saudi Arabia and other regional powers to contribute more to confronting Iran in the region.

The Trump administration believes the deal gives Iran too much in sanctions relief in exchange for too few curbs on Iran’s nuclear program.

The Israeli leader argued that the files proved Iran had lied about its nuclear ambitions before signing the deal in 2015, and that Iranian attempts to keep the plan secret indicated Tehran was waiting for a time of its choice to use nuclear weapons.

He showed photos and documents documenting “Project Amad,” engineering and design work on weapons and the nuclear core of a warhead. He said officials who were in charge of the country’s weapons efforts would one day be able to return to their previous pursuits.

The U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency, in information published in 2011, concluding that the Amad project was a coordinated effort to build a nuclear weapon that was shelved in 2003.

In a 2015 report on Iran’s past nuclear activities, the IAEA assessed that while there were some nuclear weapons-related activities after 2003, they didn’t take place in a coordinated fashion.

Mr. Netanyahu, however, said in his presentation Monday that Israel could prove Iran was saving material from the project “to use at a time of its choice to develop nuclear weapons.”

Because Iran has preserved its nuclear documentation and its nuclear experts still reside in the country, Mr. Netanyahu described the nuclear effort as a continuing project.

Mr. Netanyahu gave his presentation hours after missiles hit Syrian bases in Hama and Aleppo, killing more than a dozen Iranian troops, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Syrian pro-regime media accused Israel of being behind the attack.

Israeli military declined to comment on the allegations. U.S. officials said neither they nor members of the coalition against Islamic State in Syria initiated the missile strikes.

The presentation touched off a debate among experts and former officials about the value of the new information claimed by Mr. Netanyahu, whether it offered any new information or backed either side of the argument about the Iran nuclear deal.

“Netanyahu is telling us something we already knew—that Iran had a nuclear weapons program,” said Jeffrey Lewis of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, Calif., in a Twitter message.

However, the materials offered by Mr. Netanyahu deepened mistrust among those critical of the nuclear agreement.

“Anyone who doesn’t think Iran was lying and still is lying doesn’t know Iran,” said Ari Fleischer, who was press secretary to former President George W. Bush.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called Mr. Netanyahu “the boy who can’t stop crying wolf.”

“You can only fool some of the people so many times,” he said.

Write to Felicia Schwartz at Felicia.Schwartz@wsj.com

Courtesy: WSJ

Saudi crown prince says Israelis, Palestinians both have ‘right to have their own land’

Saudi crown prince says Israelis, Palestinians both have 'right to have their own land'
Mohammed bin Salman, crown prince of Saudi Arabia, meets with President Trump last year in the Oval Office. (Mark Wilson / TNS)

 

Saudi Arabia’s young crown prince said in an interview published Monday that Israelis, alongside Palestinians, “have the right to have their own land,” seemingly opening the door to the possibility of an eventual normalization of ties with Israel.

Mohammed bin Salman, the 32-year-old heir to the Saudi throne, told the Atlantic magazinethat any Mideast peace agreement would need to address the fate of Islam’s third-holiest site, which is located in Jerusalem, and ensure “the rights of the Palestinian people.” Even so, his comments appeared to mark a break with the public posture adopted by most Arab leaders.

Two Arab countries, Jordan and Egypt, have peace treaties with Israel, but most Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, do not recognize Israel. However, there have been recent signs of a warming between Israel and the conservative kingdom, whose aging monarch, King Salman, has already handed many leadership responsibilities over to the crown prince.

The Trump administration has pinned hopes on Saudi Arabia as a key interlocutor in any Mideast peace accord. Mohammed is currently on a U.S. visit that’s focused on attracting investment and presenting himself as a reformist who has pushed for social changes such as granting Saudi women the right to drive.

The young crown prince is close to President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and a bitter Saudi rivalry with Iran’s government dovetails neatly with Trump’s own hawkish views on Tehran.

Critics are mistrustful of Mohammed, however, painting a recent anti-corruption drive by the crown prince as a thinly veiled power grab meant to sideline royal rivals and force wealthy business leaders to sign over billions of dollars in assets.

In the Atlantic interview, Mohammed was asked whether he believed that the Jewish people had the right to a nation-state in at least part of their ancestral homeland.

“I believe the Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land,” he replied. “But we have to have a peace agreement to assure the stability for everyone and to have normal relations.”

Referring to the contested plateau in Jerusalem’s Old City revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, the crown prince said Saudi Arabia had “religious concerns about the fate of the holy mosque in Jerusalem and the rights of the Palestinian people.”

But he added, “We don’t have any objection against any other people.”

Although Trump has said he regards Mideast peace as “the ultimate deal,” the rift between Israel and the Palestinians has widened during his tenure to date. Palestinians were infuriated by Trump’s declaration that the United States recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital — seemingly dismissing a Palestinian claim to part of the city as the capital of their future state.

Saudi Arabia was among the many states across the Muslim world that denounced the Trump administration’s stance on the holy city.

Trump has been inconsistent on what had for decades been a cornerstone of U.S. policy: support for side-by-side Israeli and Palestinian states. Mohammed, in the interview, suggested that shared economic interests might be a powerful driver of normalization efforts with Israel.

“Israel is a big economy compared to their size, and it’s a growing economy,” he said. “Of course there are a lot of interests we share with Israel, and if there is peace, there would be a lot of interest between Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries and countries like Egypt and Jordan.”

Saudi Arabia’s position, like most other Arab states, has long been that there can be no ties with Israel until it cedes territory captured in the 1967 Middle East war to make way for a Palestinian state.

Under the rightist government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel has tightened its grip on Jewish settlements scattered across the West Bank, creating what Palestinians describe as an archipelago of territory that would be nearly impossible to stitch together into a viable state.

Under Netanyahu, however, there have been indications that Israel and Saudi Arabia were bonding over their common deep mistrust of Iran. Last month, Saudi Arabia opened its airspace to a commercial flight to Israel, a groundbreaking symbolic step that Israel greeted with near-euphoria. Reports have also surfaced of secret contacts between Israel and the Saudis, although both sides publicly maintain their distance.

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Netanyahu begins visit to U.S., putting aside personal and political troubles at home

Netanyahu begins visit to U.S., putting aside personal and political troubles at home
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly Cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office in a picture dated Feb. 25, 2018. (Gali Tibbon / AFP/Getty Images)

 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, landed in Washington on Sunday in the midst of a convergence of crises at home with little precedence.

Netanyahu’s government is teetering on the verge of collapse over the latest threat presented by an ultra-Orthodox party to his coalition government — a proposed law granting draft exemptions to young religious men.

“Do you think a solution will be found to save your government by the time you return?” one Israeli journalist asked Netanyahu as he prepared to embark for Washington early on Sunday.

Netanyahu’s hold on power is similarly threatened from another direction: the police.

His last working day in Jerusalem was spent responding to Israeli police interrogators who declared that both Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu are criminal suspects in an investigation of regulatory benefits in exchange for positive coverage in a news outlet owned by an Israeli telecom giant.

It was Netanyahu’s eighth interrogation, and it followed a Feb. 13 police recommendation that Netanyahu be indicted in two unrelated cases of graft.

In Washington, further strife could await him.

On Monday, Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with President Trump. The focus of their meeting is expected to be a troublesome issue dividing the closely allied leaders: Iran.

Anticipating the summit, Netanyahu said: “We will discuss Iranian aggression in our region in general, and especially with regard to the Iranian nuclear program.” But the real strain involves Iran’s expanding, conventional military presence in Syria, Israel’s neighbor to the north.

Tensions between Israel and Iran, longtime regional enemies, flared last month when Iran launched a drone into Israeli airspace from one of its Syrian bases. Israel intercepted the drone and Netanyahu brandished a large piece of debris from it at last month’s Munich Security Conference, where he warned Iran not to “test” Israel.

The Israeli government has come to the conclusion that the United States is willing to allow Iran’s continued presence in Syria so long as Islamic State fighters are defeated in the civil war.

Another potential subject of discussion is mired in mystery. It is unclear whether anyone in Washington, Jerusalem or in Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian government, knows where Trump’s touted plan to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks stands.

No Israeli or Palestinian officials are known to have seen any drafts.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, who has been responsible for advancing the initiative, and who was stripped of his security clearance last week, will attend the Monday summit in a diminished capacity. Josh Raffel, a White House spokesman who has been deeply enmeshed in contacts with Israel, announced his resignation last week.

Israeli officials have expressed bafflement about the plan’s possible impact on Israel’s already febrile political panorama.

On Monday, Netanyahu is also scheduled to address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee at its annual convention.

This encounter with a usually friendly arm of American Jewish leadership comes as Netanyahu’s relations with some American Jews are at a nadir, following his abandonment of a 2016 deal that would have allowed the liberal streams of Judaism that represent the majority of American Jews an equal place to pray at the Western Wall, widely regarded as Jerusalem’s holiest site for Jews.

Daniel Shapiro, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel, wrote in a Sunday op-ed piece in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz: “Not since the Nov. 1, 1973, meeting between Prime Minister Golda Meir, under fire for the failures that led to the Yom Kippur War, and President Richard Nixon, already deep into the Watergate scandal, have American and Israeli leaders met at a time of such internal political turmoil in both countries.”

Courtesy: Los Angeles Times