Thursday, April 27, 2017

Israel Confirms Overnight Airstrike On Syria, PA Stops Payments For Gaza Electricity Escalating Struggle Between PA And Hamas, IDF Tank Destroys Hamas Post In Gaza

Intelligence minister appears to confirm Israeli strike on Syria

Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz on Thursday appeared to confirm reports that Israel was behind an overnight airstrike near the Damascus airport.

Katz, who is also transportation minister, told Army Radio in an interview Thursday morning that “the incident is completely compatible with our policy of preventing weapons transfer to Hezbollah,” the Lebanon-based terror group supported by the Syrian regime and Iran.

“Every time we receive intelligence information on plans to transfer advanced weaponry to Hezbollah, we will act,” the minister added. “We must prevent Iran from establishing a military presence in Syria.”

Explosions rocked the area around Damascus’s airport earlier on Thursday morning, setting off fires. Syria’s state media SANA said Israel fired several missiles from inside the Golan Heights south of the capital at a military installation near the capital’s main airport, triggering several blasts and causing damage.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.
An unnamed regional intelligence source, quoted by Reuters, said the strike was carried out by Israel and targeted an Iran-supplied Hezbollah arms depot.
The Hezbollah-linked Al-Manar news site also attributed the raid to the Jewish state, saying an initial missile strike against a weapons warehouse belonging to government forces caused fuel silos to explode, leading to a cascade of explosions that damaged a few nearby homes.

Explosions were also reported in the Al-Mazzeh area of the Syrian capital, apparently at the Mazzeh Air Base, a military airstrip used by regime forces.

Israel is widely believed to have carried out airstrikes on advanced weapons systems in Syria — including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made missiles — as well as Hezbollah positions, but it rarely confirms such operations on an individual basis.

The Palestinian Authority on Thursday announced it will no longer pay Israel for the electricity it provides to the Gaza Strip, in a move that will certainly increase the suffering of local residents.

The message was delivered to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Major General Yoav Mordechai.

Israel supplies Gaza with about 30% of its electricity—125 Megawatts—through ten lines, at a cost of about $11 million a month, which Israel takes out of the taxes it collects on behalf of the PA.

The PA Thursday announcement is yet another step in the escalating struggle over control of the Gaza Strip between PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and the Hamas. 

What may come next is a far-reaching ultimatum to Hamas, to come under the wings of the PA again or risk losing a complete stop of all PA payments.

When faced with the consequent crisis that will no doubt result from this move, the Hamas is likely to channel social frustration and suffering into attacks on Israel, in a desperate attempt to elicit financial support from the Gulf States.

The move is one of a series of measures taken recently by the PA, aimed at forcing Hamas to either take full responsibility for the territory it governs, or to relinquish control back to the PA.

The PA’s power play comes during an existing energy crisis, after Hamas refused to buy fuel from the PA for the enclave’s only power plant.
Currently, the energy shortage in Gaza has left the Strip’s residents with as little as four hours of power a day.
The World Bank said on Thursday the power cuts have led to a “humanitarian crisis,” hitting hospitals, clinics, water supply and other vital services, as well as household needs.
Without energy provided by Israel, it is unclear how Gaza can maintain even its current scarce levels of electricity.
Israel has been providing Gaza energy through 10 power lines, supplying 125 megawatts, which is 30 percent of the amount needed to power Gaza 24 hours a day.

An IDF force fired two artillery shells at a Hamas position east of Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip Thursday afternoon, Israel Radio and Arab media reported.
According to Ma’an, the two shells were fired at a “resistance position near the borderline.” No resister was hurt.
According to Israel Radio, the incident began when Arabs from the Gaza side of the border started shooting at an IDF force that was carrying out a routine assignment near the border fence in the Gaza Strip.

An IDF tank destroyed a Hamas position in the central Gaza Strip, after shots were fired at Israeli troops operating near the security fence on Thursday morning, the army said.

No one was injured, and no damage was caused by the gunshots at the Israeli soldiers, according to the military.

No terrorist group immediately took credit for the attack. But the IDF targeted a Hamas post, in accordance with Israeli policy that sees the terrorist group, which rules the Strip, as ultimately responsible for any attack from the coastal enclave.

The troops were “carrying out routine activities near the border” when they came under fire, the army said.

They were on the Israeli side of the fence at the time of the attack, an IDF spokesperson said.
A short while after the gunshots were fired, the Israeli tank targeted the Hamas site in Deir al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip, according to the terrorist group.

Rumors Of War Increasing

You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. 
(Matthew 24)

The US Navy’s Carl Vinson aircraft carrier has finally arrived within striking distance of North Korea, after weeks of internal miscommunication and confusion about the massive ship’s whereabouts.

The USS Carl Vinson is the flagship vessel of the US Navy’s Carrier Strike Group One. As the threat of a nuclear-equipped Pyongyang looms, the strike group “sits in the Philippine Sea just east of Okinawa,” US Adm. Harry Harris told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday. 
The Vinson, two destroyers and a guided missile cruiser are standing by “in strike range and power projection range of North Korea if called upon to do that,” Harris said. 

“In the next few days I expect it will continue to move north,” he added.

Two weeks ago, Defense Secretary James Mattis said the Vinson was “on her way up there because that’s where we feel it’s prudent to have her at this time.” And on April 11, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisted that “a carrier group steaming into an area like that, the forward presence that is clearly … a huge deterrent,” adding “it serves multiple capabilities.” Using air support on North Korea from jets on the Vinson, when the ship was nowhere near its stated destination, was clearly not one of those capabilities. 

Chinese troops stationed along the border with North Korea have been placed on high alert, according to Japanese daily newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun.

The People's Liberation Army has three stages of alertness, and this is the middle stage. Beijing activates it when a "direct military threat" is detected. Soldiers are prepared for combat and are forbidden from taking leave. 
The order came down in mid-April, and China has moved 150,000 soldiers to guard the border – or to potentially invade the Hermit Kingdom themselves, if they feel the need. Sim Tack, a North Korea expert with geopolitical analysis firm Stratfor, called the Chinese movements an attempt to minimize American involvement on the peninsula.

"The overt presence of Chinese forces would dissuade the US from going into that territory because they would run the risk of inviting that larger conflict themselves," Tack told Business Insider, adding that China could enter North Korea to place themselves "in a position to force a coup or force Kim's hand [in disarming his missiles]."

China's ultimate goal would be to "make sure North Korea still exists and serves Chinese interests while it stops acting as a massive bullseye to the US."
The Global Times, China's state-run media outlet, wrote that Beijing would consider a military response to an American surgical strike against North Korean nuclear facilities to be "unnecessary." The relationship between the once-staunch allies has soured in recent months, with Beijing threatening "serious consequences" to Pyongyang if they belligerently launch missiles.

A senior administration official said military preparations are underway in the chance that they become necessary regarding North Korea.
All 100 senators were invited to attend a rare, closed-door briefing by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis at the White House Wednesday so the administration could communicate “the seriousness of the threat posed by North Korea.” An official who briefed reporters next door while it was underway said North Korea is a “brutal, unpredictable and capable regime that possesses an increasing possibility of destruction.”
“What you’ve seen is a really integrated effort to prioritize diplomatic and informational aspects of national power, but also what you will see soon is using the economic dimension of national power, as well as the military preparations that are underway,” the official said.
The official said there is a new level of threat posed by the “unacceptable and erratic and unlawful behavior of the Kim Jong Un regime.”

Kim Jong-Un's army readied for war as they fired rockets and torpedoes at mock enemy warships during North Korea's 'largest ever' live-fire artillery drills on Tuesday.
Hundreds of tanks were lined up along the eastern coastal town of Wonsan in a show of military strength to celebrate 85 years since the North Korean army was created.
Kim saluted the military as he watched the exercises on Tuesday, which involved the firing of more than 300 large-calibre artillery pieces and included submarine torpedo-attacks.
Just one day later, South Korea conducted joint military live-fire drills with the US at Seungjin fire training field in Pocheon, South Korea, near the border with North Korea.

North Korea held massive live-fire artillery drills on Tuesday as it marked the anniversary of the founding of its military

More than 300 large-calibre artillery pieces were fired in the drill, called a 'Combined Fire Demonstration'

Hundreds of weapons were fired across the sea in Wonsan, North Korea, in the military demonstration 

And in a defiant bit of timing, South Korea have announced that key parts of a contentious US missile defense system have been installed. 
The South's trumpeting of progress in setting up the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, comes as high-powered US military assets converge on the Korean Peninsula and as a combative North Korea signals possible nuclear and missile testing.
On the same day, a US guided-missile submarine docked in South Korea. 

The US and South Korean militaries have taken part in a combined firing drill as part of joint exercises amid increased tensions with Pyongyang. It comes just one day after the North launched its own artillery drill.
More than 2,000 South Korean and American troops were involved in the Wednesday drills in Pocheon, South Korea, according to Yonhap news agency.
The war games took place at Seungjin Fire Training Field, some 30km south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing the two Koreas.

The exercises, which lasted 45 minutes, included some 100 artillery pieces, 90 armored vehicles and 50 aircraft, according to South Korea's Ministry of Defense.
Footage from the scene shows trails of color streaked across the sky as fighter jets showcase their force, as well as firing tanks, huge clouds of smoke, and soldiers dropping out of helicopters.

Iran news agency FARS reports that according to Syrian military sources, Moscow has informed Damascus of its preparedness to dispatch ground troops to Syria.
FARS - which like most US media should always be taken with a gran of salt - quotes the Al-Hadath news, according to whose sources Russia has announced that in case of the Syrian army's request it is ready to send ground forces to Syria. The sources said that special Russian forces are prepared to be deployed in regions which are experiencing the most pressures by the terrorist groups.

They added that the technical aspects of the plan have been studied and prepared by Russia, saying that the plan can be implemented upon Russian President Vladimir Putin's order after Damascus' official request.
A Russian daily reported earlier this month that the country's soldiers are about to shoulder the responsibility of restoring security to the Christian-populated regions during the Syrian Army's imminent anti-terrorism operations in Northern Hama.

Federal authorities are running nuclear response drills at MetLife Stadium in northern New Jersey.
Homeland Security and FEMA are conducting Operation Gotham Shield.  The purpose is to practice how to assess, treat and evacuate victims during a potential nuclear attack in the New York City area.
The drills simulate a scenario in which a 10,000 ton improvised nuclear device goes off on the New Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel
MetLife Stadium is serving as the primary response center during the multi-day drills.  The stadium is in East Rutherford, about 15 minutes outside of Manhattan.

The New Jersey and New York emergency management organizations are also taking part.
The exercise is part of several that are taking place along the Northeast Corridor.  Other drills are taking place in Washington, D.C. and Albany.

A complex, coordinated attack is one that involves multiple events. WMATA Police Chief Ron Pavlik explained that the perpetrators “launch an initial attack, wait a short period of time and attack another venue, and a short period of time later, they attack another venue.”

That was the method used in the Paris attacks in November 2015, in which 130 people were killed. A similar but smaller-scale attack happened just weeks ago in London.
Organized by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG), the exercise will let law enforcement personnel and other first responders from across the area test their abilities to communicate and respond to multiple, rapidly developing terror attacks that may be different in scale and severity.

“We want to look at lessons learned overseas and what’s going in Europe, and vehicle-borne type attacks. That’s something we’re seeing overseas, and we want to know how that would play out here in the United States,” said Pavlik.

Scott Boggs, managing director of homeland security and public safety at the Council of Governments, said it’s impossible to prepare for a specific threat in this era.
“Unfortunately, the threat picture changes with every incident that happens around the world, and we can’t [so much] focus on a single threat, as much as try to prepare to the degree we can [what] we learn about known threats through intelligence,” said Boggs.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

U.S. Senate: White House Briefing On N Korea 'Sobering', 'Urgent National Security Threat'

Senators: White House Briefing on North Korea 'Sobering,' 'Important'

Senators received a rare briefing at the White House on Wednesday from the President Trump’s national security team on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, which has become one of the most pressing foreign policy challenges early on in the administration.

“Sobering briefing,” tweeted Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) after the briefing, hosted by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. The President also briefly attended the event.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) called it an “important” meeting. “We will never accept North Korea as a legitimate nuclear weapons power,” he tweeted.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) told NBC News that North Korea’s “capacity is increasing and has increased significantly.”
After the meeting, Tillerson, Mattis, and Coats released a statement, calling North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons an “urgent national security threat and top foreign policy priority”:
Today, along with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joe Dunford, we briefed members of Congress on the review. The president’s approach aims to pressure North Korea into dismantling its nuclear, ballistic missile, and proliferation programs by tightening economic sanctions and pursuing diplomatic measures with our allies and regional partners.

The statement said the administration is “engaging responsible members of the international community” – a veiled reference to China – to increase pressure on North Korea to de-escalate and return to the “path of dialogue.” 

The statement also emphasized that the U.S. favors diplomacy over military action, but added that it remained “prepared to defend” itself and allies.

The United States seeks stability and the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. We remain open to negotiations towards that goal.  However, we remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies.

While some critics argued the briefings were little more than a photo opportunity, others – including Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) –  praised the White House for inviting both Democrats and Republicans to the briefing, and for trying to engage with senators.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), after the meeting, also praised the president, saying he “deserves credit for updating the entire Senate.”
“The Administration’s decision to hold this top-secret briefing at the White House indicates the seriousness of the threat,” he said in a statement.
Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) called North Korea a “grave” and “urgent threat.”
Democrats were more critical. Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) said on NBC News it was “heartening” that there was more talk about diplomacy, but said it was in the context of more U.S. military exercises in the region and expressed concern about an “accidental war.”
After the Senate meeting was announced, the White House decided to hold a briefing for members of the House, but at the Capitol.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) after the meeting tweeted that it was “time to re-list” North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, following a Reuters report saying that the administration was considering doing so.