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Iran Sends Mixed Signals on Readiness for Conflict

One senior Iranian official told official news agencies in the Islamic Republic on Wednesday that there was no serious risk of a war with the United States in the near future while another warned that if the European countries don’t find a way to allow Iran to skirt US sanctions it will begin enriching uranium to a higher level sometime next month. "Iran's two-month deadline to remaining signatories of the JCPOA (nuclear deal) cannot be extended, and the second phase will be implemented exactly as planned," a spokesman for Iran's Atomic Energy Organization told the Tasnim news agency Wednesday morning.

In related news, US Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, told reporters this week that the Pentagon expects other military powers, particularly in Asia, where the bulk of oil exports from the Persian Gulf go, to assist in operations to secure sea lanes in the event of an Iranian attempt to disrupt them.

“We have maintained across the sea lanes of the world a position of defending freedom of navigation,” Selva said. “Specifically, in the Strait of Hormuz and the [Arabian] Gulf, we’ve taken on an international responsibility of ensuring freedom of navigation and the movement of oil in and out of the Gulf. That doesn’t mean it’s a US-only problem. If we take this on as a U.S.-only responsibility, nations that benefit from that movement of oil through the Persian Gulf are bearing little or no responsibility for the economic benefit they gain from the movement of that oil.”

“What was true in the 1980s, is not true today,” he added. “We are not wholly dependent on the movement of Saudi, Kuwaiti Qatari andEmirati oil in and out of the Gulf to sustain our economy, so the the idea that we would project that method of defending freedom of navigation into 2019 is probably ill-advised. I think there is a military role in defending freedom of navigation. The question will be to what extent the international community is behind that effort."

Here are some videos giving some further insights into the current situation regarding Iran


Netanyahu Warns Israel’s Enemies Against Aggression

Israeli Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Golan Heights Wednesday morning to observe a massive IDF exercise. Standing alongside IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi he said “I am very impressed by the improvement in the [IDF's] readiness, in the spirit of the fighters and the commanders, and especially in the IDF's destructive power. I hear our neighbors from the north, south and east threatening to destroy us. I say to our enemies: The IDF has a very large power to destroy, do not try us." As he spoke, the Air Force was in the midst of its own war games simulating a multi-front conflict.

“All of the air force is in the air,” a senior Israel Air Force officer – speaking on condition of  anonymity – told reporters on Tuesday, adding: “The entire force is taking part in the drill, from the technical branch to the operational staff and the commanders, and the Air Force commander himself.”

The exercises, which began on Sunday and are scheduled to run all week, also include practicing coordination with ground forces. The focus of many of the drills is a defense of Israel’s northern border, which is threatened by the presence of Iranian-backed forces in Syria and Lebanon, including the Shi’ite terror militia Hezbollah which has over 100,000 rockets aimed at Israel.

“If they start with thousands of rockets per day, we are hoping to be able to make it so there are only a few being launched and to intercept those that are launched,” the officer said.

In related news, the chairman of Israel’s Federation of Local Authorities, Haim Bibas, toured the Golan Heights this week and spoke about a need to re-enforce the infrastructure meant to protect civilian populations along the borders.

IDF Uncovers Equipment Used by Biblical Predessesors
Soldiers at an IDF paratroopers base in southern Israel discovered the base of an observation tower on Wednesday which archeologists believe was used by Israelite troops in the days of King Hezekiah. "The strategic location of the tower served as a lookout and warning point against the Philistine enemy, one of whose cities was Ashkelon. " according to Valdik Lifshitz and Sa'ar Ganor, directors of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority. "In the days of the First Temple, the Kingdom of Judah built a range of towers and fortresses as points of communication, warning and signaling, to transmit messages and field intelligence."

The excavations which uncovered the tower took place as part of a joint project between the IDF, the Ministry of Defense and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

"The archaeological excavation was a routine break from my point of view. I saw soldiers enjoying manual labor that has added value," Lieutenant Colonel Roi Ofir, commander of recruits at the Paratroopers Brigade, said. "This is the first time I participated in excavations. The connection to the land, and the fact that there were Jewish fighters in the past, gave me a sense of mission. The fact that there was also a connection to the area where we carried out our own military maneuvers; left us with a feeling that we were giving back."

BDS Movement Suffers More Defeats
The movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel suffered more defeats this week when it was announced that the Jewish State will soon become a participant in the ODYSSEA Project to study various environmental issues in the Mediterranean basin. The Project is supported by the EU and already includes participation by specialists and researchers from 14 countries. Meanwhile, Israel Aerospace Industries subsidiary ELTA Systems landed a strategic cooperation agreement with Brazil’s Embraer Defense & Security at the Paris Air Show this week to jointly build a military electronic reconnaissance aircraft.

IAEA Signs Agreement with "State of Palestine"
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) took the extraordinary step on Tuesday of recognizing the ”State of Palestine” and admitting it as a member. The ceremony where the agreement was signed by IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano and the Palestinian Ambassador in Vienna Salah Abdul Shafi took place in the Agency’s Vienna headquarters. Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon said the agreement was a "violation of international conventions."

"This is another attempt by the Palestinian Authority to join international organizations in order to exploit them for political purposes," the Foreign Ministry spokesperson said.  "Israel does not recognize the attempts of the PA to join such organizations and such institutions as state, and Israel views this as a violation of international agreements."

Today's video gives an in-depth look at tensions along the Gaza-Israel border region

US and Iran in Increasingly Tense Standoff

The Pentagon released photos on Monday apparently showing Iranian operatives removing an explosive device from the hull of the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman last week, bolstering the US assertion that Iran was behind recent attacks on oil tankers. The release was accompanied by an announcement that 1,000 additional US military personnel are being deployed to the region in an effort to deter further Iranian aggression and push back against such aggression if deterrence fails. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said the deployment was designed "for defensive purposes to address air, naval, and ground-based threats in the Middle East" adding that the US would "continue to monitor the situation diligently and make adjustments to force levels as necessary given intelligence reporting and credible threats."

In related news, the US is also accusing Iran of allowing Houthi rebels in Yemen to fire anti-aircraft missiles at surveillance drones over Yemen earlier this month. "A U.S. MQ-9 was shot down over Yemen by what we assess to be a [Huthi] SA-6 surface to air missile on Jun 6," Lieutenant-Colonel Earl Brown, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command, said in a statement on June 16. He added that on 13 June, Houthi rebels attempted to shoot down another drone which was monitoring the attack on the Kokuka Courageous.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke at an event in Jerusalem just hours later, saying 

“Israel is standing on the same front with the United States, moderate Arab states, and with other countries in its opposition to Iranian aggression.”

Here is a video about Iran recently posted by the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Qatari Money Doesn’t Go to Needy Gazans as Planned
Reports out of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip indicate that a large consignment of cash sent into the territory by Qatar, with Israeli consent, did not get distributed to needy families as Qatar intended, but was prevented to from reaching them by an edict from the Palestinian Authority Welfare Ministry in Ramallah. The reports added that the edict was a result of a dispute between the PA and Hamas over a list of eligible welfare recipients.

Israel Blesses the World
Israel’s Economic Ministry and National Cyber Directorate entered into an agreement with the World Bank on Monday to help developing countries build secure cyber networks to facilitate economic growth, employment and prosperity. The Bank’s Digital Development Partnership already includes some of the world’s most powerful countries and Israeli representatives expressed eagerness to cooperate with them to help countries, especially in Africa, give their citizens a better quality of life.

In related news, Israeli medical imaging analytics start-up Zebra Medical Vision received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this week to market the HealthICH product, an artificial intelligence-powered product for detecting intracranial hemorrhages. The technology has the potential to save lives and billions of dollars in health care costs annually.

Morsi Dies While Making Courtroom Appearance
Mohamed Morsi, who briefly held power in Egypt after his Moslem-Brotherhood faction won elections in that country following the overthrow of long-time President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, died on Monday after collapsing during a courtroom appearance in Cairo. He was 67. Prosecutors "had just finished the session for the espionage case and they informed the judge that he had fainted and needed to be transported to a hospital where he later died," a judicial source told AFP.

Netanyahu Leads Launch of ‘Ramat Trump’ on the Golan

The Israeli cabinet held a meeting on the Golan Heights Sunday, culminating in the naming of a new town in the strategic area “Ramat Trump” or “Trump Heights.” "This is an historic day for us,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “We are going to do two things: Establish a new community on the Golan Heights, something which has not been done for many years. This is an act of settlement and of Zionism of the first order. The second thing is to honor our friend, a very great friend of the State of Israel, President Donald Trump, who recently recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. He is the first international leader to have done so. He tore the mask off this hypocrisy, which does not recognize what is self-evident.

"Menachem Begin said that he had passed the Golan Heights Law. Sometimes even the self-evident needs to be stated, which President Trump has also done in this case, as well as in moving the embassy to Jerusalem, in leaving the nuclear agreement with Iran, and is doing at the moment in standing steadfast against Iranian aggression in the Gulf of Oman, the Persian Gulf and the region in general. We are proud that we have this opportunity to establish the community and also honor a great friend. I am very grateful to all of you who have come here. We will continue to build and develop the Golan for all its residents, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, and for the state as a whole."

Here is a video about the event posted by the US Embassy in Jerusalem

Turkey Set to Receive S-400 System from Russia
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told local media outlets in Ankara Sunday that he expects the first components of the Russian-built S-400 air defense system to be delivered to the Turkish military “ in the first half of July” despite strong pressure from the US and other NATO allies to cancel the order. Erdogan added that he will discuss the matter with US President Donald Trump at the G20 summit later this month.

Intel Further Expands Operations in Israel
The movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel suffered another defeat on Sunday when US-based tech giant Intel Corp. announced plans to expand its operations in Israel called “Ignite”. “This program is about how we continue to stimulate ecosystems here in Israel and around the globe by giving opportunities and the chance to bring the size and scale of Intel to the ideas and dreams of entrepreneurs,” said Intel CEO Bob Swan, launching the program at Jaffa’s Peres Center for Peace and Innovation. “The role of Intel in Israel has been a significant contributor to the company’s overall performance for the last 45 years. Ignite is just one more way to engage with the entrepreneurial ecosystem here, and in some small way to contribute to its acceleration in a variety of technologies that are good for business and social welfare.”

Iran Moving Closer to JCPOA Breach

A spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) announced on Monday that his country is taking another step closer to breaching the 2015 JCPOA nuclear agreement in retaliation for what Teheran maintains is American belligerence towards it in a variety of areas. Another Iranian official was quoted by local media outlets as saying the clerical regime is considering whether to abandon the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty entirely if the EU doesn’t begin finding ways to increase its economic activity in Iran despite US sanctions.

The chairman of the Iranian Parliament's Nuclear Committee, Mojtaba Zonnour, told the Mehr news agency that he doubted the EU would do it, saying “The volume of our economic transactions with Europe at best is $20 billion in a year, whereas the volume of economic transactions between Europe and the US is something between $900 billion -1,000 billion. Of course, Europe would not sacrifice $1,000 billion for $20 billion.” However, he added that the Europeans would try to find a way to salvage the status quo “because they don’t want to pay the price. They just want to control Iran, and make sure that we won’t gain anything from the agreement.”

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an interview on June 16 with Fox News that Washington will "take all the actions necessary, diplomatic and otherwise," to guarantee free navigation through the Strait of Hormuz following additional attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf last week which the US and several allied nations blamed on Iran. "These were attacks by the Islamic Republic of Iran on commercial shipping, on the freedom of navigation, with the clear intent to deny transit through the strait," he added.

"We do not want a war in the region...But we won't hesitate to deal with any threat to our people, our sovereignty, our territorial integrity, and our vital interests," Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman told the pan-Arab Asharq al-Awsat newspaper.

Here is a video giving some analysis of the situation

Gaza Launched Barrage Into Israel Prompts Retaliation

A rocket was fired into Israeli territory from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Thursday morning before being intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system and prompting retaliatory strikes by IDF aircraft. The incident came a day after large numbers of incendiary devices attached to kites and balloons were sent into Israeli territory from the Strip, igniting several large fires which burned crops and forests inside Israel. On Wednesday evening, in response to the barrage of incindiery devices, Israel took the highly unusual step of forbidding fishing boats in Gaza from leaving port entirely, following earlier restrictions on the ranges they could go out to sea.

Netanyahu Suffers Legal Setback
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suffered a legal setback on Wednesday evening when the Tel Aviv Economic Crimes Division rejected his lawyers assertion that he deserves a delay in his pre-indictment hearing on several charges of fraud and bribery because they have not provided all the necessary documentation in the cases. The hearing, scheduled for 2-3 October, will make it more difficult for Netanyahu to proceed with his plans to push legislation through the Knesset granting immunity from prosecution for sitting elected officials.

In related news, Justice Minister Amir Ohana told Channel 12 on Wednesday that he may not obey rulings by the Israeli Supreme Court if they contradict his views on what is needed to guarantee national security. He also said he’s continue to support Netanyahu’s legislative agenda including his efforts to shield sitting elected officials from prosecution while in office and other limits on the courts ability to veto Knesset legislation.

Gabbay Announces Retirement from Politics
Outgoing Labor Party chairman Avi Gabbay, who announced on Tuesday that he will not run for another term as factional leader in upcoming primaries, took it a step further on Wednesday and announced he’s terminating his own political career entirely. He explained that he was taking the step to avoid an appearance of undermining whoever becomes the next chairman, adding that the four former chairmen who had positions in the party while technically being subordinate to him were part of the reason his tenure was so difficult and unproductive.

“One of the problems with the culture in our party is that former party chairmen remain on our list,” he said. “In the world outside of politics, when a director-general finishes his job, he moves on and does not become subordinate to someone who was under him before. I had four former chairmen under me, which naturally leads to personal problems, and I did not want to continue that phenomenon.”

Today’s Video Provides a Panel Discussion on the Middle East Economic Outlook

Japanese PM in Iran for Attempt at Reconciliation

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in Teheran on Wednesday for meetings with President Hassan Rouhani, telling journalists assembled for a joint press conference that "It is essential that Iran plays a constructive role in building solid peace and stability in the Middle East…so that the region will not destabilise any further and that no accidental clash will occur in the midst of recent rising tensions.” Rouhani declared during his own remarks that any tensions that exist are all the fault of America, adding “We will not initiate a conflict in the region, even against the US, but if a war starts against us we will then give a crushing response.”

Meanwhile, reports emerged on Thursday morning that two explosions had occurred impacting oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, further stoking tensions in the region. A US Fifth Fleet spokesperson told reporters the incident is being investigated. It comes followed several days in which mysterious fires burnt cargo ships in several Iranian ports and a large fire did extensive damage to the South pars oil platform. It also came a day after a missile fired at the civil airport in the southwestern Saudi Arabian city of Abha by Iranian-supported Houthi rebels in Yemen wounded 26 people, prompting officials in Riyadh to warn of a “stern” response.

Here is a video giving some further analysis of recent Iranian behavior

Israeli-Palestinian Relations Tense Following Nablus Shootout

The Palestinian Authority flatly rejected an offer from Israel to conduct a joint investigation into an incident Tuesday morning which saw gunfire exchanged between IDF troops and PA security forces in Nablus Tuesday morning. A PA police officer was lightly wounded in the exchange of fire, which the IDF said was a mistake but which the PA has said was a deliberate action meant to increase pressure on the PA for an unspecified purpose. The incident comes as the PA is continuing to refuse participation in an upcoming US-sponsored economic workshop in Bahrain aimed at advancing the Trump Administrations plans for Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, despite announcements by several Arab governments that they will send delegations.

Jordan, Egypt and Morocco announced on Tuesday evening that they would send delegations to the summit on 25-26 June, joining Saudi Arabia and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

In related news, Tuesday saw several more fires breaking out in southern Israel, with officials blaming incendiary balloons being sent over the border into Israeli territory from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Also on Tuesday, the international soccer organization FIFA announced that it is launching an investigation into chairman of the Palestinian Football Association (PFA), Jibril Rajoub for various violations of FIFA’s code of ethics including promoting and glorifying terrorism; inciting hatred and violence; promoting racism; and preventing the use of the game of soccer to build a bridge for peace. The investigation is based on evidence provided to FIFA by the NGO Palestinian Media Watch.

Syrian Regime Says Israeli Missiles Hit Tel al-Harah
Assad-regime controlled media in Syria reported Wednesday morning that Israeli missile strikes had caused material damage but no casualties to military infrastructure at Tel al-Harah in the Daraa district of southern Syria. In related news, the regime recently signaled a lack of interest in renewing ties with the Islamist terror militia Hamas which rules the Gaza Strip and formally had a headquarters in Damascus before essentially abandoning the regime in 2011 when it appeared as if rebel factions were close to toppling it.

Moldova Moving Embassy to Jerusalem
The movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel suffered another crushing defeat on Tuesday when the former Soviet Republic of Moldova announced it is moving its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. On the economic front, US defense giant Lockheed Martin secured a contract from Israel’s Defense Ministry on Tuesday to operate and maintain a training center for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at Nevatim Air Force Base in the South. Also, US-based Ford Motor Company followed the example of other large industrial conglomerates to open a technology innovation center in Tel Aviv on Wednesday.
"We recognize the importance of being in one of the world’s leading innovation communities and ecosystems," said Bill Ford, the executive chairman of FMC at the launch ceremony. "This new center is not only an expansion of our existing Research and Innovation centers but provides an opportunity to join a growing innovation community in Israel."

Today's video highlights some of the soldiers who protect the Jewish State

Sara Netanyahu Signs Plea Agreement with Prosecutors

Attorney’s for Sara Netanyahu, the wife of the Prime Minister, announced on Wednesday morning that she had signed a plea agreement with prosecutors in the so-called “Prepared Food Affair” which will require her to pay a NIS 55,000 fine and have a conviction on the charge of intentionally exploiting another person's error entered into her criminal record, which allows her to avoid a conviction on more serious charges of fraud and breach of trust. The announcement came amidst a host of political developments relating to upcoming Knesset elections on 17 September.

Israel’s Labor Party was holding its convention Wednesday to decide, among other things, whether to retain the list of candidates which ran in the previous elections on 9 April for the upcoming elections or to form a new list. The convention comes a day after Party leader Avi Gabbay announced he would not run for re-election to his post but is still interested in being a candidate for Knesset.

Meanwhile, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz made a public appeal at a Knesset press conference Wednesday for Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit to advance the indictment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on various charges of fraud and bribery, saying that the unsettled nature of the cases is having a negative effect on the national life of the country.

“Netanyahu is weak, the original elections were brought forward because of his legal needs,” said Gantz.  “Instead of the government acting to advance the county, the state is causing a situation that the country is stuck, and all of this is because he is weak. Responsibility is now in the hands of the attorney-general and I call on him to halt this corrupt escape dance from judgement. There is a hearing, there is a date, this legal mumbo jumbo cannot continue. Things need to happen.”

Here is a video giving some analysis of the current political climate in Israel

Iran Accelerates Uranium Enrichment

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Yukiya Amano spoke out forcefully on Monday, warning about increased tensions between Iran and the US while adding that the Islamic Republic has followed through on a threat to accelerate its production of enriched uranium. “The situation in the region here is highly explosive and extremely serious,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas Maas told a news conference alongside Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Teheran on Monday. “A dangerous escalation of existing tensions can also lead to a military escalation.”

“Reducing tension is only possible through stopping the economic war by America,” Zarif said during his own comments. “Those who wage such wars cannot expect to remain safe.” However, he added that “Tehran will cooperate with EU signatories of the (JCPOA nuclear) deal to save it.” He also lashed out at Israel, blaming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for provoking a conflict with his country.

Netanyahu responded to that comment by posting this video

Here is another recent video in which Iran’s renegade nuclear program is analyzed by one of the world’s leading nuclear experts

Here are some more videos giving a closer look at the current situation with Iran


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