Middle East Roundup: April 24, 2017

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UN chief vows to combat anti-Israel bias and anti-Semitism

(JNS.org) United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reassured Jewish community leaders Sunday that he would oppose any anti-Israel bias at the United Nations.

“As secretary-general of the United Nations, I consider that the state of Israel needs to be treated as any other state,” Guterres said at the World Jewish Congress offices in New York.

“I have already had the opportunity to show that I’m ready to abide by that principle even when that forces me to take some decisions that create some uncomfortable situations,” he added, referring to an incident in March in which the U.N. leader forced the retraction of a controversial U.N. report that accused Israel of implementing “an apartheid regime.”

In addition to clarifying that his opposition to anti-Israel bias does not entail always being “in agreement with all the decisions” made by the Israeli government, Guterres assured he would be “in the frontline” in the fight against global anti-Semitism and if possible, eradicate the phenomenon “from the face of the Earth.”


Israel charges teenage suspect in bomb threats case following US indictment

(JNS.org) Following last Friday’s U.S. Justice Department indictment of an Israeli-American teenager who is accused of making more than 150 bomb threats against Jewish institutions in early 2017, Israel has also formally indicted the suspect.

The indictment details more than 2,000 incidents that allegedly involve the 18-year-old suspect, and includes the charge of making bomb threats to Jewish schools and JCCs as well as airports and sporting events.

It was also revealed Sunday the suspect had attempted to extort a Republican U.S. senator prior to sending the politician drugs in the mail and threatening his family.

The suspect stands accused of numerous additional charges, including causing panic via publication of false information, cyber crimes, money laundering, weapons possession, facilitating drug trafficking, disseminating pedophilic materials and assaulting a police officer.

The U.S. Justice Department and the Israeli Ministry of Justice are in the midst of negotiations regarding the suspect’s extradition to America, which has been put on hold by Israel’s State Attorney Shai Nitzan because the majority of the teenager’s alleged crimes were perpetrated in the Jewish state.

Israel reportedly strikes pro-regime military base in Syria
(JNS.org) The Israeli military launched an attack on a military base belonging to pro-regime forces in Syria Sunday, according to reports.

According to a statement issued by the National Defense Forces, which supports President Bashar al-Assad, three militants were killed and two were wounded in an alleged Israeli strike on the Naba Fawar base near Quneitra.

Pro-regime radio reported that loud explosions were heard at the base at around 5 a.m. Sunday. Following the explosions, it was determined that a cache of ammunitions had detonated at the base, leading to confusion regarding whether or not Israel was responsible for the incident.

The IDF has refused to comment on Sunday’s purported strike, which occurred following several confirmed Israeli strikes in Syria in response to projectiles that landed in Israel’s Golan Heights Friday.

US Justice Department charges teen over JCC bomb threats
(JNS.org) The U.S. Justice Department filed criminal charges Friday against an Israeli-American teenager who is accused of making more than 150 bomb threats against Jewish institutions in early 2017, stoking fears of rising anti-Semitism.

“Today’s charges into these violent threats to Jewish Community Centers and others represent this department’s commitment to fighting all forms of violent crime,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said.

The 18-year-old suspect, whose identity remains under gag order, was arrested in March in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon following a joint investigation by American and Israeli authorities.

The teen has been charged with 28 counts of making threatening phone calls and divulging false information to police. The suspect also allegedly issued threatening phone calls during the past three years to institutions in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

According to the Israel Police, the teenager is suspected of issuing a bomb threat to Delta Airlines in February 2015, causing an emergency landing.
Lebanese prime minister asks UN to help on permanent cease-fire with Israel

(JNS.org) Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri asked the United Nations Friday for help in forging a permanent cease-fire with Israel, ending what he called the Jewish state’s “continuous violations” of Lebanese territory.

“I urge the U.N. secretary-general to support efforts to secure, as soon as possible, a state of permanent ceasefire. This is long overdue and my government is committed to move this agenda forward,” Hariri said, Reuters reported.

Hariri’s request came a day after Hezbollah officials staged a media tour of southern Lebanon to view what they claim are recent Israeli fortifications along the Israeli-Lebanese border.

IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said the tour put on by Hezbollah was a “show” for the media and an effort by the terror group to “shake their sabers and pound their chests.”

Israel and Hezbollah last fought a war in 2006. Since then, an uneasy truce has emerged despite Hezbollah amassing an estimated 100,000-150,000 rockets pointed at Israel. Hezbollah has also threatened to invade and occupy towns in northern Israel in any future conflict.

Haley to UN: focus on ‘destructive nature’ of Iran and Hezbollah, not on Israel
(JNS.org) At a United Nations Security Council meeting Thursday, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said the world body should focus more attention on the “incredibly destructive nature” of Iran and Hezbollah.

“The Israel-Palestinian issue is an important one, deserving of attention. But that is one issue that surely has no lack of attention around here,” said Haley, who is serving in the Security Council’s rotating presidency this month.

“The incredibly destructive nature of Iranian and Hezbollah activities throughout the Middle East demands much more of our attention,” she said. “It should become this council’s priority in the region.”

The U.S. envoy’s comments were seemingly ignored by the Security Council’s other permanent members. In their remarks, France, Russia and China made no mention of Iran and instead emphasized the importance of an Israeli-Palestinian deal to bringing regional peace.

Iranian ambassador to the U.N. Gholamali Khoshroo, meanwhile, accused the U.S. of waging a “misleading propaganda campaign” against the Islamic Republic.
“The U.S. and the Israeli regime want to remove the Palestinian issue—that is central to all conflicts in the Middle East—from these open debates,” said Khoshroo.

In meeting with Mattis, Netanyahu praises ‘strategic change’ in US Mideast policy
(JNS.org) U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis made his first official visit to Israel Friday as part of a weeklong tour of allies in the Middle East.

In a meeting with Mattis, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the defense chief’s “strong and forthright words” on Iran, while hailing President Donald Trump’s “very forthright deeds” in striking Syria following the chemical weapons attack on civilians by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Netanyahu added that Israel “senses a great change in the direction of American policy” since the Trump administration took over in January.

“I think this is a welcome change, a strategic change of American leadership and American policy,” Netanyahu said.

Last week, the State Department said Iran is complying with its nuclear deal with world powers, but Trump later said the Islamic Republic is “not living up to the spirit” of the agreement.

In a meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Mattis said the nuclear deal “continues to be in force,” but warned this “in no way mitigates against or excuses the other Iranian activities in the region, including the war in Yemen that grinds on and what they’re doing in Syria.”

Texas becomes latest state to pass anti-BDS legislation
(JNS.org) Texas became the latest U.S. state to pass legislation targeting the anti-Israel BDS movement Thursday.

The Texas House of Representatives unanimously passed HB89, which prohibits the state from contracting with or investing in entities that boycott Israel.
Pastor John Hagee, founder and chairman of Texas-headquartered Christians United for Israel, an advocate for the anti-BDS legislation, said the “relationship between the Jewish state and the Lone Star State is built upon shared values, including a rock-solid commitment to standing up for liberty—especially when it is threatened by radical Islamic extremism.”

The legislation was spearheaded by Republican Texas State Rep. Phil King, who said BDS is “largely driven by anti-Jewish bigotry” and that “individual states do not want to be complicit in a movement that seeks to discriminate against Israelis and harm the states’ economies.” Texas has exported $13 billion in goods to Israel during the last 20 years, according to King.

Texas joins nearly 20 other U.S. states that have passed anti-BDS legislation since 2015.
Hezbollah deputy says terror group has deterred Israel from ‘foolish’ war

(JNS.org) Israel has been deterred by Hezbollah and it would be “foolish and reckless” for the Jewish state to launch a military campaign on its northern border, the Lebanese terror group’s deputy leader said Thursday.

Arch-terrorist Naim Qassem, second in command to Hassan Nasrallah, made the comments during an interview with the Hezbollah-affiliated daily newspaper Al-Akhbar. Qassem said Israel fears the possibility of incurring high civilian casualties in a confrontation with Hezbollah.

“All the indications point to the fact that Israel is deterred. It has not taken a decision to act in a renewed aggressive manner against Lebanon at this stage,” he said, adding, “It doesn’t flow from its morals, but rather from its understanding that any war against Lebanon is a guaranteed loss for Israel.”


Abbas ready to meet Netanyahu ‘anytime’ in Washington, with preconditions

(JNS.org) Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas Wednesday expressed willingness to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu under the auspices of renewed peace talks initiated by the Trump administration.

“I am ready to meet the prime minister of Israel anytime in Washington under the patronage of President Trump,” Abbas told the Japanese news outlet Asahi Shimbun.

Abbas also commented on potential Palestinian demands for a freeze in construction in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem prior to commencing peace talks, saying, “The question…before talking about any peace process, is to create the right environment for peace to come.”

“This will be impossible as far as Israel’s colonial-settlement enterprises continues,” he added.

The PA leader’s allusion to creating preconditions prior to beginning peace talks directly defies Netanyahu’s numerous calls for Abbas to begin negotiations without preconditions.

Abbas will meet with President Donald Trump at the White House May 3.


Israeli intelligence: ‘hard to believe’ Assad had no knowledge of chemical attack

(JNS.org) It is difficult to believe that President Bashar al-Assad had no knowledge of the deadly chemical attack on Syrian civilians in early April, a senior Israeli intelligence officer said last week.

The Israeli officer said the attack utilized the lethal nerve agent sarin and was carried out by senior Syrian army officers.

“It’s hard to believe that he didn’t know about it….Using sarin shows that [Assad is] deeply frustrated, and even though he has used chemical weapons in the past, this use created a change,” the officer said, Haaretz reported.

The intelligence official said the American missile strike on a Syrian air force base in response to the chemical attack was not a strategic turning point in the ongoing six-year Syrian Civil War, but rather “a combat development.”

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