A senior Iranian military official warned on Thursday that any Israeli attack would unleash a firestorm of missiles on its cities fired by the Islamic Republic’s Hezbollah allies in Lebanon.
The Shiite militia has more than 80,000 rockets ready to fire at Tel Aviv and Haifa, said General Yahya Rahim Safavi, military adviser to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“Iran, with the help of Hezbollah and its friends, is capable of destroying Tel Aviv and Haifa in case of military aggression on the part of the Zionists,” he said, quoted on state television.
“I don’t think the Zionists would be so unintelligent as to create a military problem with Iran,” the general said. “They know the strength of Iran and Hezbollah.”
Israeli military officials meanwhile have tacitly conveyed a threat to the Lebanese terror group through international media. Last week, the New York Times reported, based on maps and aerial photography from IDF officials, that Hezbollah has moved most of its military infrastructure into and around the Shiite villages of southern Lebanon. According to the paper, Israeli officials say Hezbollah’s move is tantamount to using the civilians as human shields.
The paper quotes Israeli officials saying the IDF will not be deterred from striking at Hezbollah posts, indicating that the villages would be hit even harder than during the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
Hezbollah, meanwhile, is also mired in fights with rebels of nearly every Sunni group opposing Syrian President Bashar Assad, from Islamic State to the relatively moderate militias seeking to remove Assad from power.
Last week, a senior IDF intelligence official warned of a heightened threat of conflict over the next two years as a result of “escalation” in the region.
In a briefing to foreign journalists at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, the official referred specifically to Hezbollah, and to Iran’s arming of the group. Israel has repeatedly complained to the UN about Hezbollah’s violations of UN Resolution 1701 from 2006, which forbids the group from rearming.
“The Iranian threat is a tangible threat to Israel,” said the official, whose country has not ruled out the use of military force to block any attempt by Tehran to produce a nuclear bomb.
[Below is an interesting development - the "EU's Special Representative to the Middle East Process" has now been formalized]
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Thursday Europe would increase its efforts to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, and announced the appointment of a Jerusalem-based peace envoy.
Mogherini was in Israel this week for a two-day visit that included meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other high-ranking officials in Israel and the West Bank.
Mogherini reiterated the European desire to jump-start peace talks during a press conference Thursday in which she introduced the EU’s Special Representative to the Middle East Peace Process, Fernando Gentilini.
Gentilini, 53, arrived with Mogherini on Wednesday, after having been named to the position last month.
The Italian diplomat previously served as director for Western Europe, the Western Balkans and Turkey in the European External Action Service
“This appointment emphasizes the resolve of the Union to ramp up its involvement in the peace process,” Mogherini said. “Gentilini will work to renew negotiations with the goal of arriving at a comprehensive peace agreement, based on a two-state solution.”
On Thursday, Mogherini also spoke with Interior Minister Silvan Shalom, who was appointed by Netanyahu the government’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians.
“Israel wants to restart the negotiations immediately,” Shalom said.
“Europe can always have a central role in the Quartet,” he said, referring to the four-member diplomatic group, comprising the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, that has served as a central body coordinating international efforts on the peace talks.
Mogherini met with MK Herzog (Zionist Union) Thursday morning. “I am convinced that a more balanced position on your part would receive a more sympathetic ear in Israel,” Herzog told the European official.
Shalom’s nomination as peace negotiator was denounced by Palestinian officials who noted the former foreign minister does not support the two-state solution. Shalom has returned the criticism, telling Mogherini that Palestinian leaders are not acting to build trust.
“It cannot be that at the same time [as they say they are seeking peace progress, the Palestinians] want to turn to The Hague, to the Security Council and now to FIFA to kick us out,” he said.
Shalom was referring to the ongoing Palestinian effort to remove Israel from the international soccer federation for restricting the movement of Palestinian soccer players.
Israel’s deputy foreign minister, the country’s de facto top diplomat, told Israeli diplomats Thursday not to hesitate in asserting to their foreign counterparts that the entire Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people.
In an unapologetic speech to incoming Foreign Ministry employees, Likud lawmaker Tzipi Hotovely said that “the time has come to tell the world that we’re right – not only smart.”
Hotovely, who favors the annexation of the West Bank and opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state, told envoys, “We must return to the basic truth about our right to the land.”
“Of course the world understands Israel’s security needs, but arguments of ethics and justice will trump security arguments,” she said, urging Israeli diplomats serving abroad to reiterate the Jewish people’s right to the entire land — apparently referring to sovereign Israel and the biblical Judea and Samaria.
Hotovely also quoted an article by late right-wing newspaper editor Uri Elitzur who maintained that Israel needed to shift its approach from arguing for its security interests to insisting in international forums it has a right to sovereignty over the West Bank.
“It’s important to say — this country is all ours. We didn’t come here to apologize for that,” Hotovely said.
During her speech, Hotovely cited the 11th-century Bible commentator Rashi, who explained the Bible’s focus on the story of the Jewish people’s origins in the Land of Israel and its exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land was meant to shore up the Jewish claim to the land in subsequent generations.
Diplomats were shocked at the speech, the Haaretz daily reported, and many “raised an eyebrow” over the reference to a Jewish Biblical right to the land.
After the speech, Hotovely told journalists that despite her personal political views, she was committed to pursuing a two-state solution in keeping with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declared policy.
On Wednesday, Hotovely told EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini that the Palestinian Authority had “abandoned” peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians last year, and called on Europe to support Israel’s demand that the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
In a new move consolidating its grip in Syria, IS seized on Thursday Al-Tanaf, the last regime-held crossing on the border with Iraq, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. With their gains in Palmyra earlier Thursday, the monitor said the jihadists now control half of Syria’s territory.
The monitor said IS control of Al-Tanaf, known as Al-Walid by Iraqis, means Syrian government forces have lost control over the porous border.
The Observatory said jihadists spread out Thursday through Palmyra, including at the archaeological site in the city’s southwest, and executed 17 people accused of “working with the regime.”
The Islamic State group seized Syria’s Palmyra on Thursday, as UNESCO warned that the destruction of the ancient city would be “an enormous loss to humanity.”
US President Barack Obama played down the developments, saying he didn’t think the US was “losing” to IS.
UNESCO chief Irina Bokova called Palmyra “the birthplace of human civilization. It belongs to the whole of humanity and I think everyone today should be worried about what is happening.”
French President Francois Hollande said the world must “act” both to save Palmyra and against IS.
Syrian state media said loyalist troops withdrew after “a large number of IS terrorists entered the city” at the crossroads of key highways leading west to Damascus and Homs, and east to Iraq.
IS proclaimed Palmyra’s capture online and posted video and several pictures, including of a hospital and a prison and a military airbase but none of the ancient site.
“IS now dominates central Syria, a crossroads of primary importance,” said Fabrice Balanche, a French expert on Syria.
“Taking Palmyra opens the way to Damascus and Homs. Eventually, this axis can be threatened.”
IS has recently threatened a number of regime strongholds, including Deir Ezzor city in the east and military airports in the north and south.
“The capture of Palmyra leaves IS strongly placed to make more territorial gains from (Syrian President Bashar al-) Assad, at a time when the government is heavily occupied in the north and south,” said Matthew Henman, head of IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre.
The jihadist victory also “reinforces IS’s position as the single opposition group that controls the most territory in Syria.”
IS now controls “more than 95,000 square kilometers (38,000 square miles) in Syria, which is 50 percent of the country’s territory, “the Observatory said.
It dominates the provinces of Deir Ezzor and Raqa and has a strong presence in Hasakeh, Aleppo, Homs and Hama.
It has also seized most of Syria’s oil and gas fields, using the income to fund expansion of its self-styled “caliphate.”
“IS controls large and contiguous territory with a lot of freedom of movement,” said Charlie Winter, researcher on jihadism at the Quilliam Foundation.
Palmyra’s takeover came days after IS seized the Iraqi city of Ramadi, their most significant victory since mid-2014 when they conquered swaths of land, sparking a US-led air campaign to support Baghdad.
On Thursday IS pushed further and seized Iraqi positions east of Ramadi, officials said.
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