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

Bahrain arrests 116 on charges of terrorism, Iran collusion

Bahraini security forces have arrested 116 people on charges of terrorism, accusing them of being part of a network established by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. The suspects allegedly plotted attacks on state officials.

A riot policeman in Bahrain, 2013 (picture alliance/AP Photo/H. Jamali)A riot policeman in Bahrain

Bahrain authorities have busted a network “formed and supported by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard,” the official BNA agency reported on Saturday.

The Bahraini interior ministry said 116 people were arrested, with security forces seizing weapons and explosives in raids across the Gulf state.

The crackdown thwarted multiple terror plots, according to the report.

“The network was planning to target Bahraini officials, members of the security authorities and vital oil installations, with the objective of disturbing public security and harming the national economy,” the interior ministry said in a statement.

Read more: Bahrain top activist jailed for 5 years over tweets

During the raids, police seized 42 kilograms (93 pounds) of high explosives, 757 kilograms of explosive-making materials, grenades, magnetic bombs, as well projectiles and vehicles.  The authorities also discovered weapons, including pistols and several Kalashnikov rifles.

Officials claim that 48 of the 116 suspected militants received training in facilities ran by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and its allies.

A country divided

Bahrain Manama Unruhen (picture-alliance/landov)Bahrain faced mass protests in 2011

Bahrain is ruled by Sunnis despite having a Shiite-majority population. The country holds a key strategic position Iran and Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf and serves as the host for the US 5th fleet.

The Manama government has repeatedly accused Iran of trying to destabilize it, with Tehran denying the charges.

Read more: Bahrain shuts down newspaper amid opposition crackdown

Oil-rich Bahrain is still struggling with the aftermath of the 2011 Arab Spring. During the unrest, the country’s Shiite population rallied against the Sunni-dominated government. In response, authorities launched a massive crackdown and called Saudi military to quash protests.

In recent years, Bahrain has faced bombings and small-scale attacks by Shiite militias. The country also launched a wave of arrests on against dissidents as well as suspected militants, with 47 people detained on terrorism charges in January.

dj/rc (dpa, AP, AFP, Reuters)


What foreign powers want from the Syrian war

The Syrian opposition and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad are not the only groups fighting in the conflict. Other countries have also intervened to pursue their own interests.


What it’s done: Tehran has been one of Assad’s strongest advocates, supporting loyalist forces with money, weapons and intelligence. Iran has also sent military advisors from its Revolutionary Guard to Syria and directed fighters from Hezbollah, a Lebanon-based militant group backed by Iran, which is also involved in the conflict.

Why it’s there: Tehran’s involvement in the war has allowed it to portray itself as a guardian of Shiism — the branch of Islam that the majority of Iranians belong to. Syrian Shiites have been targeted by some militant groups that identify with Sunni, another major branch of Islam. Iran also wants to keep Assad in power. The Syrian leader allows Iranian aid to flow to Hezbollah in Lebanon, opposes US influence in the Middle East, and favors Iran over Saudi Arabia for regional leadership.

Infographic showing armed factions in northern Syria


What it’s done: Moscow came to Assad’s aid when it started airstrikes in Syria in 2015. Russian officials said the airstrikes were targeting terrorist organizations like “Islamic State” (IS). But Russian bombers have also struck other anti-Assad groups.

Why it’s there: Moscow wants to secure its influence in the Middle East by keeping Assad in office and securing an important military airbase in the western province of Latakia and a naval base in the port city of Tartus. Russian President Vladimir Putin also appears to want to bolster Russian prestige and influence in the Middle East at the expense of the United States.

Saudi Arabia

What it’s done: Riyadh has given money and weapons to Syrian opposition forces, including some Islamist militant groups. It has also flown airstrikes against IS as part of a US-led international coalition.

Why it’s there: Saudi Arabia, a majority Sunni country, has opposed Iran’s attempts to expand its influence in the Persian Gulf since the end of the Iraq War in 2003. Riyadh wants to replace Assad with a pro-Saudi, anti-Iranian leader.

Read more: Opinion: The twisted logic of the war in Syria


What it’s done: Turkish leaders had a good relationship with Assad in the mid-2000s, but they have supplied non-Kurdish Syrian opposition groups with weapons since the war broke out in 2011. Turkey has allowed opposition fighters, including jihadist militants, to direct ground fighting from Turkey and to enter the fray across the Turkish-Syrian border. Ankara has also launched airstrikesagainst IS and has been fighting Kurdish opposition forces in northern Syria since mid-2016.

Why it’s there: Turkey wants to prevent Syrian Kurds from gaining autonomy in northern Syria. Ankara fears that Kurdish gains could embolden the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), a Turkish group, to seek greater autonomy within Turkey. Ankara also wants to defeat IS, which has conducted terrorist attacks in Turkey, and install a more pro-Turkish government in the Syrian capital Damascus.

Read more: Turkey’s military offensive against Kurdish-held Afrin: What you need to know


What it’s done: Israel has primarily launched airstrikes against Hezbollah and Iranian targets in Syria since the conflict broke out.

Why it’s there: Israel wants to prevent Iran from gaining influence in Syria. Iranian leaders have repeatedly questioned Israel’s right to exist and funded anti-Israeli terrorist groups. Israel also wants to stop Hezbollah gaining any ground. The group has repeatedly fired rockets into Israel from neighboring Lebanon and Israel fears it could try and do the same in the strategically important Golan Heights in western Syria.

Read more: Former US ambassador: ‘Syrian situation extremely dangerous’

United States

What it’s done: The US has led an international coalition fighting IS with airstrikes since 2014. It has also provided air support and weapons to opposition groups in northern Syria, including Kurdish forces currently fighting Turkey, a US ally in NATO. Washington has also deployed several hundred US special forces to fight alongside opposition groups.

Why it’s there: Washington’s foremost stated goal has been the destruction of IS and other extremist groups in Syria. US policy toward Assad is less clear. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, said “Assad must go.” Apart from its opposition to the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons, the Trump administration’s position on Assad’s future is more ambiguous.

Read more: How German Tornado jets can help the anti-IS alliance in Syria


What it’s done: Germany has flown surveillance flights over Syrian territory to support airstrikes against IS and helped train Kurdish opposition fighters.Berlin has also called on Russia and Iran to persuade Assad to leave office in any peace deal.

Why it’s there: Berlin also wants to see the defeat of IS, which has carried out and inspired terror attacks in Germany. It has also opposed the Assad regime. German officials have said there can be no lasting peace in Syria if Assad remains in power.


What it’s done: France initially sent medical supplies and weapons to opposition forces. In 2015, it began airstrikes against IS that intensified after an IS terror attack in Paris in November 2015. Paris has also warned Assad against using chemical weapons.

Why it’s there: Paris also wants to defeat IS after a string of IS-related terrorist attacks in France. It also Macron urges Putin to help ease Syria crisis . French President Emmanuel Macron said in 2017 his country would no longer condition peace talks on a promise by Assad to leave office.
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Iranian FM calls Netanyahu’s drone stunt ‘cartoonish circus,’ says Israel ‘not invincible’

Iranian FM calls Netanyahu’s drone stunt ‘cartoonish circus,’ says Israel ‘not invincible’
Iran’s foreign minister ridiculed a security conference speech by Netanyahu, who used a part of a drone to make a point. He lashed out at Israel’s “aggression to neighbors” and mentioned the country’s “crumbling invincibility.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif spoke at the Munich Security Conference a few hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu displayed what he said was a piece of an Iranian drone shot down last week by Israeli forces. The Iranian official dismissed the use of the prop as a “cartoonish circus” that was meant “to blame others for its own strategic blunders, or maybe to evade the domestic crisis they’re facing.”

‘Mr. Zarif, you recognize this?’ – Netanyahu to Iranian FM 

Netanyahu uses fragment of destroyed drone to taunt Iranian FM — RT World News

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used a piece of what he said was fragment of an Iranian drone downed by the Israeli military to taunt Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

He added that Israel was avoiding discussion of its own hostile and destructive policies in the Middle East.

“Israel uses aggression as a policy against its neighbors,” Zarif said, citing the regular air incursions into Syria and Lebanon. “The entire speech [by Netanyahu] was trying to evade the issue.”

Zarif also said that the loss of a fighter jet by Israel during the latest flare-up on the Syrian border tarnished the image of invincibility the Israeli military has.

Earlier on Sunday, Netanyahu called Iran the biggest threat in the world, and taunted Zarif while holding the aircraft fragment.

Courtesy: RT

Plane crashes in Iran’s Zagros Mountains with 66 on board

Iran’s state media reported the Aseman Airlines passenger plane crashed in the country’s south in a foggy, mountainous region, killing all 66 passengers on board. The crash happened near the flight’s destination.

A turboprop regional airliner operated by Iran Aseman Airlines (picture-alliance/dpa/EADS ATR)

Aseman Airlines spokesman Mohammad Taghi Tabatabai told state TV on Sunday that everyone on board Flight No. 3704 had been killed. The plane was carrying 60 passengers, including one child, and six crew members.

The ATR-72 twin-engine turboprop used for short-distance regional flying, crashed near its destination of the southern Iranian city of Yasuj, some 780 kilometers (485 miles) south of the Iranian capital Tehran.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei encouraged everyone involved “to heal the sorrow of the families and relatives of victims,” according to the the IRNA news agency.

President Hassan Rouhani said he has assigned officials to investigate the crash and apply measures to avoid similar incidents in the future.

Map showing Semirom and Tehran in Iran

Germany’s foreign ministry issued its condolences via Twitter.

We are dismayed by the crash of an airplane of Aseman Airlines in Iran this morning. Our thoughts are with the families and friends of the victims.

Aging aircraft

After decades of international sanctions against Iran, the country’s commercial passenger aircraft fleet has aged, with air accidents occurring regularly in recent years.

Following the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran signed deals with both Airbus and Boeing to buy scores of passenger planes worth tens of billions of dollars.

Read more: What is the Iran nuclear deal?

bik,law/jm (AP, AFP, dpa)

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Moscow invites BRICS partners to invest in rebuilding post-war Syria

Moscow invites BRICS partners to invest in rebuilding post-war Syria
Russia has invited its partners among the BRICS nations (Brazil, India, China and South Africa) to establish a foothold in the promising Syrian market, according to the Russian Ambassador to the country, Alexander Kinshchak.

“According to Syrian estimates, losses in the real sector of the economy topped $75 billion,” the ambassador told TASS news agency. “UN experts believe that it will take nearly $200 billion to achieve the pre-crisis GDP growth rate,” he added.

“We are aware that the Syrian government will find it difficult to obtain a huge amount of money required for the post-crisis recovery,” Kinshchak explained.

“Therefore, Russia suggested that the international community, first of all, the nations friendly to Syria, should join efforts in order to work out a complex program for its revival,” he added.

Kinshchak said Russia was looking to BRICS and allies like Iran and other states that have independent foreign policies and are motivated to gain a foothold in the promising Syrian market.

In 2016, Damascus and Moscow signed nearly a billion dollars’ worth of agreements to rebuild war-torn Syria. Russia was offered a chance to participate in exploring and developing oil and gas on land and offshore. In particular, it was invited to upgrade the Baniyas refinery and construct a refinery with Iran and Venezuela.

Syria has begun agricultural exports to Russia. The countries also intend to open a bank to facilitate transfers. The bank would be controlled 50-50 by the countries’ central banks.

Courtesy: RT

Bashar al-Assad – the useful tyrant?

President Bashar al-Assad remains at the center of the Syrian conflict. Fighting between troops, rebels and IS has claimed countless lives and the situation is still volatile. How has Assad stayed in power for so long in times of such instability?

Watch video42:31

According to UN estimates, the balance sheet after seven years of war in Syria is devastating: 500,000 dead or missing, 12 million people uprooted, besieged cities, air raids on the civilian population and endless suffering. Bashar al-Assad remains at the center of the conflict. He has been President of Syria since 2000. He succeeded his father Hafiz al-Assad, who ruled the country from 1971 to 2000. The son started as a reformer, initially courted by heads of state in the West. After all, he was considered a guarantor of stability and a partner in the fight against Islamic terrorism. But the “Damascus Spring” ended abruptly after the people’s demands for more freedom outstripped the Syrian leadership’s will to reform. Assad violently repressed the protests that began in Syria in the course of the Arab Spring in 2011. In the subsequent civil war, he stands accused of using chemical weapons against opposition fighters and civilians. Bashar al-Assad maintained his grip on power through a mixture of brute force, skillful tactics and above all through international aid, especially from his allies Russia and Iran. At the beginning of 2017, Syrian troops controlled 19 percent of the country: Now it’s more than half, including the four largest cities, access to the Mediterranean, ten out of 14 provincial capitals and 85 percent of the population. IS has largely been defeated and the area held by the last remaining rebels is shrinking steadily. So who is Bashar al-Assad? How could his clan hold on to power for so long? The film examines how the Assads have repeatedly managed to politically survive through changing international alliances. How does the dictator exploit the geostrategic interests of global players? We talk to close companions and opponents as well as other people who have met him.

Courtesy: DW