September 24, 2023

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06/14 Links Pt1: Gaza Rocket Strikes School in Southern Israeli City, No Injuries Reported; Tehran Sends Threatening Messages Via Its Proxies In Gaza; Will it take a Jewish 9/11… for us to take security seriously?

From Ian:

Melanie Phillips: Hezbollah UK terrorist plot kept secret as British continue appeasing rising Iran aggression
As sanctions make the regime feel increasingly cornered, it may be more inclined to use violence. Some analysts believe it won’t risk provoking Washington too far because it knows a U.S. military attack could finish it off.

So it might choose just to sit out the Trump presidency in the hope of a pliable Democrat replacing him in the White House.

The drumbeat of war, though, is increasing. The top commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East says he believes the Iranians or their proxies may orchestrate an attack at any moment.

Over the last month, the Trump administration announced that it was sending an aircraft carrier strike group and air force bombers to the Middle East, as well as Patriot missiles and additional troops, to “send a clear and unmistakable message” to Iran.

U.S. officials said that the decision was based in part on intelligence that the Iranian regime has told some of its proxy forces that they could now target American military personnel and assets.

The day after that announcement, four oil tankers were attacked in the Persian Gulf, with Iran being considered the chief suspect. On Thursday morning, two more oil tankers were damaged near the Strait of Hormuz in another suspected attack.

It’s hard to see how the Iranian regime can be stopped without some kind of military action being taken against it. Those like Britain and the European Union who believe that is unthinkable and can best be avoided by the Obama deal are wrong.

Failing to neutralize Iran will merely mean that, a few years down the road, the West will be menaced not just by Hezbollah terrorism, but by a nuclear Iranian enemy bent on the annihilation of Israel and the destruction of the West.

MEMRI: With No Progress In Indirect U.S.-Iran Contacts, Tehran Sends Threatening Messages Via Its Proxies In Gaza

In recent statements and speeches, Yahya Al-Sinwar, head of Hamas’s political bureau in Gaza, and Ziyad Al-Nakhalah, secretary-general of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), threatened new confrontations with Israel and praised Iran for its support of their organizations. Some of their statements were delivered at a rally organized by the Palestinian factions in Gaza on the occasion of Qods Day, an annual event that was initiated by the Iranian regime and is held on the last Friday of Ramadan.

Coming at this time, these statements by the leaders of Hamas and the PIJ highlighting Iran’s support and its contribution to their fighting abilities are more than just a threat aimed at Israel. They constitute a threatening message sent by Iran, via its proxies, to the U.S. and its allies, in light of the lack of progress in the indirect contacts between Iran and the U.S. over the nuclear issue.

As part of these threatening messages, Hamas leader in Gaza Al-Sinwar stressed the increase in the number and quality of the organization’s rockets, and its intention to stage massive attacks on targets in central Israel in the next confrontation. He also declared that Hamas plans to provide the participants of the weekly March of Return protests on the Gaza-Israel border with military training. He praised Iran for the financial and technical assistance it has extended to Hamas, which has enabled it to develop its military capabilities. “All the Arabs have sold out Palestine, but not the Islamic Republic of Iran, which continues to support our people against the Israeli enemy,” he said.[1]

PIJ leader Al-Nakhalah said, in an interview with Hizbullah’s television channel, that the Palestinian resistance is capable of striking strategic targets in the heart of Israel with its locally-manufactured rockets, including rockets with half-ton warheads, stressing that the PIJ utilizes Iranian weapons and expertise and is closely assisted by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). IRGC Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani “knows the men of the [Palestinian] resistance, and they know him well,” he said. He added that the PIJ would be part of any regional confrontation between the resistance axis and Israel, and that “the Arab regimes have relinquished Palestine,” so their leaders are unfit to lead the Arab nation, whose rights they have relinquished.[2]

Both leaders slammed the Trump administration’s Middle East peace plan known as the “Deal of the Century” as well as the U.S.-led “Peace to Prosperity” economic workshop scheduled to be held in Bahrain on June 25-26, 2019 to discuss the economic dimensions of the peace plan.[3] This is in line with Iran’s position on the Deal of the Century and with Iran’s efforts, reported recently in the Arab press, to unite the resistance axis against it.[4]

Will it take a Jewish 9/11… for us to take security seriously?

Some take a fatalistic view of terrorism. They say that if something happens, it’s God’s will, and you can’t stop God’s will.

I’m not here to enter into a dispute over hashkafa or Jewish philosophy.

I will ask, however, if that’s your position, don’t you still owe some duty of care to those of your congregants who, like those in the Resistance and the Warsaw Ghetto, don’t share your view?

I’m not suggesting that every terrorist act can be prevented. I am saying that a culture of security awareness needs to arise in the Jewish community. We must be eagles, not ostriches.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe felt this way. His position: every community has a responsibility to provide for the safety of its members. You can have faith – but you still have to act.

If it’s a matter of budget, remember that if, God forbid, there were a mass attack at a Jewish synagogue or school, what I call a Jewish 9/11, the money would immediately materialize to prevent a follow-up security event.

So if budgeting for security would be found after the fact, surely it can be scraped together today as well.

Let’s be clear. I’m not calling for vigilantes to take security into their own hands, perhaps inadvertently making their fellow congregants or students even less safe. I don’t have a Kahane-esque vision of “Every Jew a .22.”

I am saying that the Jewish people faces an existential crisis separate and apart from the mullahs of Tehran and the firebrands of Hamas or Hezbollah. We are under siege here at home, even if we don’t want to believe it. We are no longer safe.

The time to act isn’t just now. The time to act is yesterday, because tomorrow may be too late.

Pompeo: Iran Responsible for Oil Tanker Attacks

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iran is directly responsible for attacks on an oil tanker cruising off the coast of Iran in the Gulf of Oman.

During a press conference Thursday afternoon at the State Department, Pompeo declared the Iranian regime “a clear threat to international peace and security,” and explicitly stated that Iranian forces were responsible for Thursday’s attacks, citing intelligence and the sophistication of the attacks.

Two tankers caught fire early Thursday morning, causing their crew to abandon ship. The attacks came just weeks after four tankers were attacked in a similar region near the Strait of Hormuz.

“This is only the latest in a series of attacks instigated by the Islamic Republic of Iran and its surrogates against American and allied interests,” Pompeo added.

Pompeo called the unprovoked attacks “a blatant assault on the freedom of navigation,” and said they are just another example of “an unacceptable campaign of escalating tension by Iran.”

The Secretary of State also said the international community condemned the attacks and instructed the acting U.S. ambassador to the United Nations to raise in the issue in the U.N. Security Council meeting set for late Thursday afternoon.

“Iran should meet diplomacy with diplomacy, not with terror, bloodshed, and extortion,” Pompeo stated.

After tanker attacks, Iran claims US and Israel plotting to ‘sabotage diplomacy’

Iran’s foreign minister on Friday accused the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia of a plot to “sabotage diplomacy” after attacks on two tankers in the Persian Gulf, and appeared to insinuate that those countries were behind the assaults.

Mohammad Javad Zarif in an early Friday morning tweet said the fact that “the US immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran — [without] a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence — only makes it abundantly clear that the #B_Team is moving to a #PlanB: Sabotage diplomacy…and cover up its #EconomicTerrorism against Iran.”

Zarif regularly uses the term “B Team” to refer to a group of leaders he claims are engaged in warmongering against Iran: US National Security Adviser John Bolton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (or Bolton, Bibi, Bin Salman and Bin Zayed — hence the “B” moniker).

Also Friday Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said US actions presented a serious threat to global and regional stability, speaking at an international forum in Kyrgyzstan.

“The US government over the last two years, violating all the international structures and rules and using its economic, financial and military resources, has taken an aggressive approach and presents a serious risk to stability in the region and the world,” Rouhani said, in translated comments, at a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a Eurasian security alliance.

Seth J. Frantzman: Hardliners, ‘false flags’ and revenge: The Iranian tanker attack’s narrative

Within hours of news emerging that tankers had been attacked in the Gulf of Oman a variety of narratives emerged about why it might have happened. Among some who accepted the US claim that Tehran was behind the attack, there was a concerted effort to excuse Iran’s role. This consists of a plethora of voices that include outright supporters of Iran, critics of US President Donald Trump, analysts and experts on the Middle East.

What follow is a list of the most common explanations as well as excuses used to explain or obfuscate about Iran’s alleged involvement in the attack.

Who benefits?
The most common initial question many asked was “who benefits.” The narrative notes that Iran’s regime doesn’t appear to gain by attacking tankers in the midst of the visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. One of them was even Japanese-owned, thus embarrassing Abe, who was in Iran to try to help ease tensions between Iran and the US. It would “boost those who seek to apply military pressure on Iran,” one article at CNN noted.

The Middle East Eye notes “from a rational cui bono point of view, few would seem to benefit from a disruption of trade on these strategic waterways.” The analysis argued that “only those who want escalation will benefit.”

The “hardliners” did it
If Iran did attack the tankers then it must be a sub-set of the Iranian regime, or some rogue element. In this narrative it is Iran’s so-called “hardliners,” that are to blame. This includes the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which the US has labelled a terrorist organization. In this narrative the “moderates” in Tehran, including Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, are trying to play good cop, while a separate part of Iran supposedly seeks to “stage” or “sabotage” the efforts of the moderates.

There are hardliners on both sides, according to some accounts. “The risk is that hard-liners in both Tehran and Washington become mutual enablers, going up a very unsteady escalatory ladder,” said William J. Burns, a former deputy secretary of state. Former Obama administration member Colin Kahl pointed to a quote from Ali Vaez in The Washington Post as “spot on.” The quote claimed that “spoilers” were trying to “engineer a Gulf of Tonkin incident.”

Expert on the IRGC Afshon Ostrovar didn’t agree with this assessment. “Let us all understand this: The IRGC does not go rogue in the strategic arena. It is a firm part of the decision making establishment. The Islamic Republic isn’t a street gang or a militant group. It’s an authoritarian state with an ordered and fixed strategic process.”

New York Times Blames Trump for US-Iran Tensions

One of the most important choices in telling any story is deciding when it begins.

In its coverage of the latest tensions in the Middle East, The New York Times has disclosed its own view. A news article in Thursday’s Times included a third paragraph that said, “The tensions, which began with President Trump’s decision to pull out of the 2015 nuclear accord and impose crippling sanctions, escalated recently as the Trump administration moved additional troops into the Persian Gulf after having accused Iran of plotting to attack American targets.”

A front-page news article in Friday’s Times repeats a version of the same claim: “The animosity between Washington and Tehran began rising a year ago after President Trump withdrew the United States from a 2015 deal with international powers that limited Iran’s nuclear activity in exchange for eased economic sanctions on the country of 80 million people.”

The lack of historical context makes for misleading journalism. It’d be more accurate to write, “The tensions between Washington and Tehran began in 1979, when Islamist extremists with the slogan ‘Death to America’ seized control of the Iranian government and took over the US Embassy in Iran, holding 52 Americans hostage for more than a year.” Otherwise, it makes it sound, falsely, like the conflict is all Trump’s fault. Actually the Iranian regime has been waging war against America pretty much continuously since 1979, funding Hezbollah and Hamas terrorist attacks against Americans in Lebanon and Israel and supporting violent efforts against US troops in Iraq.

Nor is the artificially narrow timeframe the only flaw with the Times coverage of the latest Iran flareup. The Times coverage is also riddled with internal contradictions.

Peace Process: Going to Bahrain with annexation on the mind

DAN ARBELL is a scholar in residence at American University in Washington, DC. He told the Post that Arab countries decided to engage in the workshop because they need the administration’s help with many issues.

“I think that they’re taking it one step at a time. And I think that what’s motivating them to show up in Bahrain is to be on Trump’s good side and not upsetting the Trump administration. Jordan, Egypt, Morocco – they all need the Trump administration for different issues, bilaterally. And so they’re willing to play along and participate in Bahrain, while not necessarily being happy with Friedman’s comments, but putting it on the side and focusing on the Bahrain workshop, as a tool that perhaps would be helpful for the Palestinians in the future. I think they chose to separate between Friedman’s comments and their need to attend.”

Eugene Kontorovich is a professor at the Antonin Scalia Law School of George Mason University and a scholar at the Kohelet Policy Forum. He told the Post: “I think everybody has always understood that in any future scenario, of course, Israel would retain parts of Judea and Samaria. There has been absolutely no other realistic plan or scenario.”

Kontorovich says that the vital part in Friedman’s interview is the phrase that Israel “has a right” to annex. “He didn’t say that it requires the agreement of the Palestinians. I think that’s a truly remarkable thing.”

“Israel has a sovereign claim on the territory, and it doesn’t depend on whether I’m getting permission from the Palestinians,” Kontorovich continued. He added that there is “recognition by the administration that the Palestinians have been saying no for decades, and they cannot hold the future development of this region hostage forever by simply saying no. And that recognition is that the Palestinians are unique because they are the only national liberation movement that is forever saying no” to any proposal.

Bahrain conference may succeed, but not at bringing Israeli-Palestinian peace

But the summit is likely to yield no tangible results, neither in the economic realm — as the Palestinians won’t be in the room — nor in the political area, as the Arab world stands united in its rejection of any peace proposal that doesn’t fulfill the Palestinian people’s aspirations for statehood, which the US peace plan is unlikely to satisfy.

“This conference in Manama will be the biggest setback and embarrassment for [Trump’s senior advisor and Middle East point man Jared] Kushner,” senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat told The Times of Israel in an interview published Wednesday, “because I know that no Arab will [attend] without saying: ‘Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital living side by side with Israel on the 1967 borders.’”

Erekat is right about that last point. Six Arab nations agreed to participate in the upcoming conference not because they are about to defy traditional Arab positions on Palestinian statehood but because they don’t want to say no to the Americans and didn’t think they have to. In a very different area, with a very different US administration, much of the Arab world was similarly bitterly opposed to the Obama administration’s 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, but largely kept quiet about it in order not to publicly antagonize the world’s only superpower.

The question is whether, when (or if) the US administration releases the political part of its peace plan, Cairo, Amman and Riyadh will defy the US and brusquely reject it, or whether the Trump White House will have the success it seeks in shifting those long-held positions, with Bahrain as a gentle starting point.

There is a real likelihood that even these Arab leaders who are going to Bahrain will, when the real core issues are being discussed, respond to the administration by saying, “We were open-minded enough to participate in your economic workshop, which did not make us popular among supporters of the Palestinian cause, but you cannot expect us to also support the second, core part of your proposal.”

If so, the success of Bahrain will be rendered irrelevant by the failure portended by the Palestinians’ boycott.

Honest Reporting: HR on i24 News: US politics, antisemitism and Israel

HR’s Exec. Dir. Daniel Pomerantz speaks with i24 News’s Michelle Makori about the Black Jewish Caucus and Ilhan Omar, antisemitism at the Dyke March, the NYT dropping political cartoons, the possibility of America returning to the Iran Deal and more.

Tremors Across Jordan as Trump Mideast Peace Plan Revives Old Fears

Jordan’s King Abdullah reacts angrily to any suggestion that he might accept a US deal to end the Arab-Israeli conflict that would make his country a homeland for Palestinians.

Speaking to the armed forces in March, he rejected the idea of Jordan as an alternative state for Palestinians, saying: “Don’t we have a voice in the end?”

Already facing economic discontent at home, Abdullah must navigate diplomatic moves by his US allies that are upturning a regional status-quo that has underpinned Jordan’s internal politics and foreign relations for decades.

After Israel’s creation in 1948 Jordan absorbed more Palestinians than any other country, with some estimates that they now account for more than half the population.

Any changes to the international consensus on a two-state solution, and Palestinian refugees’ right of return to what is now Israel and the Palestinian territories, long buttressed by US policy, therefore reverberate harder in Jordan than anywhere else.

US President Donald Trump’s long-promised “Deal of the Century” to resolve the conflict is still secret, though leaked details suggest it dumps the idea of a full Palestinian state in favor of limited self-rule in part of the Palestinian territories, which would undermine Palestinians’ right to return.

It envisages an expansion of Gaza into part of northern Egypt, under Egyptian control, with Palestinians also having a smaller share of the West Bank and some areas on the outskirts of Jerusalem and no control over their borders, the leaks say.

Golan community named for US president to be called ‘Trump Heights’

A new community planned for the Golan Heights in honor of US President Donald Trump will be named Ramat Trump, literally translatable as “Trump Heights,” and will be approved at the next cabinet meeting on Sunday.

The cabinet secretary on Thursday sent to ministers details of the cabinet resolution for approving Ramat Trump, stating that the community will be located close to the existing village of Kela Alon and will be under the jurisdiction of the Golan Regional Council.

“In recognition of the work of the 45th President of the United States, President Donald Trump, on behalf of the State of Israel in a wide range of fields, and expressing gratitude for the American recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the recognition of Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights led by President Donald Trump, it was decided to initiate establishment of a new residential community on the Golan Heights called Ramat Trump,” the resolution read.

The cabinet meeting will be held Sunday at the site on the Golan rather than at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, the usual location for the weekly meetings, the PMO said. US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman will attended a ceremony at the proposed site of Ramat Trump.

Democrat Candidates’ Threats to Israeli Relations

Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg promised to cut funding to Israel if Netanyahu were to annex the West Bank settlements, introducing a new wave of Democratic resentment to the Netanyahu government. Our Shayna Estulin analyzes.

U.S. Congressmen to Merkel: Designate Hezbollah a terror group

A bipartisan group of four members of Congress sent a letter to Chancellor Angela Merkel urging Germany to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

Currently, only the military wing of the terrorist group is named as such. Last week, the Bundestag failed to pass a resolution that would refer to the entire organization as a terror group.

The four, Lee Zeldin (R, NY-1), Grace Meng (D, NY-6), Ted Deutch (D, FL-22), and Gus Bilirakis (R, FL-12) wrote to Merkel that they wish to “express concern” over the recent failed vote in the Bundestag.

“We appreciate your government’s commitment to fighting terrorism, and we believe that taking the step to designate the political wing of Hezbollah will have a significant impact on Hezbollah’s activity in Europe and around the globe,” they added.

“Since 2016, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and United Kingdom have labeled Hezbollah’s political and military wing as a terrorist organization,” they wrote, noting Hezbollah is an Iranian proxy with a significant political and military influence in Lebanon that poses a geostrategic threat to Israel.

“Iran has provided Hezbollah with approximately $800 million annually for military equipment and supplied over 100,000 missiles in southern Lebanon, including the capability of building more missiles,” the four continued. “Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has clearly expressed his intent to spread jihad and wipe Israel off the map.

Potential Weapons Deal Forces Turkey to Make a Choice Between NATO or Russia

Turkey’s Erdogan cannot stay with one foot in NATO and one in Russia forever, senior diplomatic correspondent Christian Malard says, as a July 31 deadline to decide between Moscow’s S-400 missile defense system and the United States’ F-35 fighter jets looms.

Gaza Rocket Strikes School in Southern Israeli City, No Injuries Reported

A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit a religious school in the southern Israeli city of Sderot on Thursday night, damaging the building but causing no injuries.

This was the second rocket attack on southern Israel in two days. On Wednesday night, the Iron Dome aerial defense system intercepted a rocket launched from Gaza. In response to that incident, the IAF struck “underground terror infrastructure” in a Hamas compound in southern Gaza early Thursday morning.

Recent days have seen numerous blazes ignited in southern Israel by incendiary balloons sent over the border from Gaza. The wave of fires prompted Israel to impose a full naval closure on the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave, preventing Gazan fisherman from setting out to sea.

Witnesses describe ‘miracle’ as Gaza rocket barely misses Sderot students

Most students had already left for the weekend, but several people at a religious school in Sderot had stuck around Thursday night. Three of them were just sitting down to study Biblical psalms when a rocket alarm rang out just before 9 p.m.

Seconds later, a missile slammed into a wall just steps away, sending concrete and glass flying but leaving them unharmed.

Eyewitnesses said that had the rocket hit a few minutes earlier, when the main study hall was filled with students, or a few meters from where it did, it could have been a very different story.

“It happened two-three meters from me,” said Shalom Kahlon, a former student who was in the study hall at the time of the explosion, speaking to the Ynet news website.

“It hit the wall, three meters from there, that’s where I was sitting. If the rocket had been half a meter to the side I don’t know if I would be speaking now,” he added.

Kahlon and others described hearing a massive boom as the rocket hit the multi-story building housing the school Thursday evening, though there was no explosion from a warhead, which could have caused much greater devastation.

The strike still managed to break several tempered windows and leave a large hole in an outside wall where it made a direct impact, with concrete rubble strewn across a sidewalk below. Nonetheless, authorities said there were no injuries.

Israeli planes hit several Gaza sites after Sderot rocket attack

Israel planes carried out multiple airstrikes in the Gaza Strip early Friday, hours after a rocket hit a religious school in southern Israel.

The Israeli military said in a statement that fighter jets and other aircraft attacked “several terror targets, including terror infrastructure in military compounds.”

The Israel Defense Forces said it also hit a base belonging to the Hamas terror group’s naval commando unit.

“The attack was carried out in response to the rocket that was shot from the Gaza Strip earlier this evening,” the army said.

A video released by the military showed a number of strikes on unspecified targets.

The Hamas-linked Shehab news agency said there were three strikes on a naval facility near Khan Younis in southern Gaza, causing damage.

It said sites east of Gaza City were also attacked.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Sderot rocket strike prompts calls for major military operation in Gaza

Israeli politicians on the right and center called for serious military action against Gaza Thursday, after a religious school in southern Israel was hit by a rocket launched from the Palestinian territory.

Gazan terrorists launched two missiles at Israel Thursday, breaking over a month of relative calm and bringing the sides once again inching toward full scale military conflict.

Former Israel Defense Forces chief Benny Gantz and former defense minister Avigdor Liberman, both of whom are leading parties competing in upcoming elections, called for severe action against the Hamas terror group that rules Gaza.

Gantz, head of the Blue and White party, urged an “attack of unprecedented intensity,” including targeting leaders of the terror group.

“Put the gun-sight on senior Hamas figures,” Gantz continued. “Afterwards exploit the quiet for a political initiative with economic leverage. Initiate a ceasefire with international mediation, and do not let Hamas dictate it.”

Southern Israeli Officials Slam ‘Bizarre Ritual’ of Government Response to Hamas Rocket Attacks

Following another rocket attack from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, officials in Israel’s south expressed frustration, exasperation and anger at their government for what one called the “bizarre ritual” of Hamas attacks and what they view as an ineffective Israeli response.

“Eleven rounds have ended with nothing,” head of the Eshkol Regional Council Gadi Yarkoni told the Israeli news site Mako.

“We can’t explain to residents the policy on the issue or its correctness,” he said, “because we don’t know what the policy is.”

Despite a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas, a rocket was fired from Gaza toward Israel last night, following several days during which incendiary balloons set off multiple fires in the area. The IDF retaliated against a Hamas target in southern Gaza.

“It’s already been a year and a half of a permanent bizarre ritual,” Yarkoni said. “They fly arson balloons that set off fires, the IDF enacts sanctions, they respond with [rocket] fire, and we find ourselves in another round of violent and wearing escalation for 48 hours.”

“It seems that the system isn’t working and we expect a dramatic change in this reality,” he added.

Gazans launch dozens of fire balloons into Israel as hundreds riot on border

Palestinians rioting on the Gaza border Friday launched dozens of arson balloons into Israel, setting off at least 10 fires near border communities amid soaring tensions following two nights of rocket attacks and retaliatory air force strikes.

Several thousand Palestinians gathered along the border for weekly protests with several hundred taking part in violent riots. Rioters were throwing explosive devices and rocks at troops and also tried to storm the fence in one place.

Three Palestinians briefly breached the fence in one spot before returning to Gaza, Israel Radio reported.

Troops responded with tear gas and live fire in some cases. The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said 36 people were wounded.

The balloons sparked at least 10 blazes, including two large ones near Kibbutz Nahal Oz and Kibbutz Kfar Aza. Another fire raged in the Be’eri nature reserve. Firefighting teams and local residents were working to put them out.

Border protests were not held last week due to the holiday of Eid al-Fitr, but resumed Friday, with an estimated 6,500 Palestinians taking part.

UN Mideast envoy meets Hamas leaders in Gaza amid border violence

Tensions were high along the Gaza Strip border Friday afternoon, ahead of expected weekly protests and following a night of cross-border violence and amid mounting concerns of another flareup.

UN Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov met with Hamas leadership in Gaza on Friday in a bid to prevent an escalation of violence.

Border protests were not held last week due to the holiday of Eid al-Fitr, but were expected to resume Friday, though the level of violence during these demonstrations would largely be a decision of the Gaza-ruling Hamas.

Since the last eruption of violence in early May Hamas has largely acted to contain violence at the rallies, but it was not clear whether the terror group intended to continue this policy.

Israeli Air Force jets carried out multiple airstrikes in the Strip early Friday, hours after a rocket hit a religious school in southern Israel. The Israeli military said in a statement that fighter jets and other aircraft attacked “several terror targets, including terror infrastructure in military compounds.”

PLO to Punish Arabs Who Danced with Religious Jews at Engagement Party

A video released Friday morning on the social networks, showing young Jews wearing yarmulkes dancing the night before at the engagement party of the son of the chief of the village of Deir Qaddis, 10 miles west of Ramallah in Samaria, has caused a storm in Palestinian Authority social networks as well as among PLO officials, TPS reported.

The video shows the young Jews, in typical white shirts and hanging, loose fringes, dancing under PLO flags to the sounds of Arab music, alongside dozens of young people from the village.

A few of the Jewish guests were even raised on the shoulders of their Arab hosts.

Before the dancing began, TPS noted, the Jewish guests gave the bridegroom a sum of money as an engagement gift.

The Fatah terrorist group which is in control of the PA, on Friday morning posted flyers around the village announcing that the head of the village council, Nasser Radi, has been removed from the ranks of Fatah, and demanding that he resign his post.

Another leaflet was issued by the local branch of Fatah declaring that “in the shadow of the American Zionist attack on the Palestinian people and the threats of normalization between the Arab world and the Israeli occupation, and Trump’s deal of the century, which is trying to revive the Zionist dream of establishing a Jewish state, Fatah condemns this harmful behavior, which is contrary to Palestinian national consensus, and warns the local residents against the recurrence of such an incident.”

ISIS Expands in Afghanistan, Threatening West

In the mountains of northeastern Afghanistan, the Islamic State is recruiting new fighters and plotting attacks on the U.S. and other Western countries, according to U.S. and Afghan security officials. Nearly two decades after the U.S.-led invasion, ISIS is seen as an even greater threat than the Taliban because of its increasingly sophisticated military capabilities. Concerns run so deep that many have come to see the Taliban, which has also clashed with ISIS, as a potential partner in containing it.

A U.S. intelligence official based in Afghanistan said, “This group is the most near-term threat to our homelands from Afghanistan. The ISIS core mandate is: You will conduct external attacks” in the U.S. and Europe. “That is their goal. It’s just a matter of time.” Bruce Hoffman, director of the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University, noted, “ISIS has invested a disproportionate amount of attention and resources in Afghanistan,” pointing to “huge arms stockpiling” in the east.

ISIS in Afghanistan received a major boost when the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan joined its ranks in 2015. Today it counts thousands of fighters, many from central Asia but also from Arab countries, Chechnya, India and Bangladesh, as well as ethnic Uighurs from China.

U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has held several rounds of talks with the Taliban in recent months on an agreement in which the U.S. would withdraw its forces in return for a pledge from the Taliban to keep the country from being used as a launch pad for global attacks. But a negotiated settlement could also prompt an exodus of more radical Taliban fighters to join ISIS.

Israel-U.S.-Russian trilat to be held in Jerusalem on June 24

A first of its kind trilateral meeting between the National Security advisers of Israel, the US and Russia will be taking place in Israel in 10 days, according to a schedule put out Thursday by the Foreign Ministry.

US National Security Adviser John Bolton and his Russian counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev, are scheduled to be in Israel from June 24 to 26.

They will be joined in the meetings by Israel’s National Security adviser, Meir Ben-Shabbat, for talks expected to focus on Iran’s presence in Syria. The US-sponsored economic workshop in Bahrain is scheduled to take place at the same time, June 25-26.

The White House statement earlier this month about the unprecedented trilateral meeting said that the three men will “discuss regional security issues.”

Netanyahu first proposed the idea at the Kremlin in February, during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin that dealt primarily with Iran’s presence in Syria.

“The greatest threat to stability and security in the region comes from Iran and its proxies,” Netanyahu said before that meeting. “We are determined to continue with our aggressive action against the efforts of Iran – which calls for our destruction – and against its attempt to entrench militarily in Syria.”

Moscow’s Track Record in Syria Suggests It Is Unable and Unwilling to Keep Iran Out

This month, Jerusalem will host a meeting between U.S. national security advisor John Bolton, Russian Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev, and Israeli national security advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat. Analysts expect the talks to focus on Syria and Iran.

The string of broken ceasefires that have occurred on Russia’s watch instill little confidence that Moscow will honor new agreements in Syria. In July 2018, Moscow promised that Iran would withdraw its forces and proxies at least 85 km. away from Israel’s border. Yet many Iran-allied militia elements remained near the frontier, reportedly switching into Syrian military uniforms in an apparent effort to avoid Israeli airstrikes. The resultant withdrawal was superficial at best and ultimately failed to diminish Iran’s presence.

Even if Moscow wanted to push Iran out, it seems unable to do so. Diplomacy alone would not do the trick, and using military force is unfeasible. Russia may rule Syria’s skies, but Iran holds a stronger position on the ground. It is difficult to imagine Putin would use his military to dismantle Iranian and Hizbullah weapons infrastructure. Nor is it clear that Moscow can limit the forces Tehran deploys in Syria.

Above all, Moscow does not want Iran to turn pro-Western, and Tehran shares the Kremlin’s broad strategic goal of reducing American influence in the region. The writer is a senior fellow at The Washington Institute.

Saudi forces intercept 5 Houthi drones in fresh airport attack

Saudi forces on Friday intercepted five Yemeni rebel drones in the second aerial attack on an airport in the kingdom’s southwest in two days, a Riyadh-led military coalition fighting the rebels said.

The drones targeted Abha airport, where a rebel missile on Wednesday left 26 civilians wounded, and the nearby city of Khamis Mushait, which houses a major airbase, the coalition said in a statement released by Saudi state media.

“The royal Saudi air defense force and air force successfully intercepted and destroyed five unmanned drone aircraft launched by Houthi militia towards Abha international airport and Khamis Mushait,” the statement said.

The airport was operating normally with no fights disrupted, the statement added.

Houthi-run Al-Masirah TV reported earlier that the Iran-aligned rebels had carried out drone attacks on Abha Airport.

The rebels, who have faced persistent coalition bombing since March 2015 that has exacted a heavy civilian death toll, have stepped up missile and drone attacks across the border in recent weeks.

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