Russian Defense Minister in Tel Aviv, Dodges Commenting on Israeli Airstrike in Syria

Shoigu

Moscow – Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu arrived in Tel Aviv on Monday for talks with his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman.

During the meeting, Shoigu was said to have overlooked commenting on the recent Israeli airstrike against missile defense bases east of Damascus, Syria.

Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman Igor Konashenkov did not elaborate on Moscow’s view on the attack.

Israeli jets bombed a Syrian anti-aircraft battery east of Damascus after it fired an anti-aircraft missile at an Israeli spy aircraft overflying Lebanon, the Israeli military said earlier on Monday.

Russia’s news agency TASS reported that the Israeli forces notified Russia “in real time” about a strike on a target near Damascus.

Russia has been backing the Damascus-centered regime led by Bashar al-Assad against Syrian rebels and other groups since 2015.

“I would like to talk about the things related to Syria. The operation there is close to the end. There are several problems which require urgent solution and the prospects of further development of the situation in Syria require discussion,” Shoigu said.

More so, he dodged questions concerning the airstrikes before the press and reporters, focusing instead on the war against terror.

Addressing Lieberman, he stressed the need to “mobilize all forces” against terrorism in the region.

In an official statement, Konashenkov said that Shoigu arrived in Tel Aviv on a two-day visit, during which he will also meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss issues of technical – military cooperation between the two sides.

Konashenkov added that regional security and issues related to the Syrian settlement will be discussed.

US Measures against Hezbollah Leaders Embarrass Lebanese Government

Beirut – The United States stepped up its measures against Lebanon’s Hezbollah group by offering multimillion-dollar rewards for the arrest of two of its officials.

Washington has offered up to $7 million for information leading to the detention of Talal Hamiyah, head of Hezbollah’s foreign operations, and up to $5 million for Fouad Shukr, a top Hezbollah military operative.

The new escalatory steps put further pressure on the Lebanese government, especially in the wake of recent warnings by Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who said: “The next war in the north will not only be the Lebanese front, but rather a united front made up of Syria and Lebanon.”

“The Lebanese army has lost its independence and has become an integral part of Hezbollah,” he added.

While no official stance was issued by Lebanon in response to the new US measures, Speaker Nabih Berri said on Wednesday that foreign threats affect all the Lebanese people, underlining the importance of preserving unity to face challenges ahead.

In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, sources from Hezbollah said the US rewards and the Israeli threats would not affect the “resistance work against Israeli and extremist groups.”

The sources noted that the new measures were part of a political media campaign with well-known objectives, which came in parallel with the new financial sanctions imposed on the group.

Director of Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs Sami Nader said that the new steps against Hezbollah would embarrass the Lebanese government, which would soon have to give an official stance on the matter.

Nader told Asharq Al-Awsat that the most dangerous part of the US escalatory steps was its call on its European allies to stop separating between Hezbollah’s military and political wings, an approach that European countries have used so far in their relation with Lebanon and its government.

Nathan Sales, the US counterterrorism coordinator, said in a press conference that the rewards were the first offered by the United States for Hezbollah operatives in a decade.

Hamiyah has been on the department’s foreign terrorist list since 2015 and Shukr was added in 2013. The United States named Hezbollah as a foreign terrorist organization in 1997.

Nicholas Rasmussen, the head of the National Counter Terrorism Center, blamed the group for a list of attacks around the world, and said it maintains a presence in “nearly every corner of the globe.”

He added that US intelligence agencies warned that the group was seeking an ability to strike inside “the homeland.”

Israel’s Lieberman: Next War Will Take Place on 3 Fronts

Lieberman

Tel Aviv – Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced on Tuesday that the next war his country wages will most likely take place on three fronts at the same time.

He explained that the northern front will no longer be limited to a war against the “Hezbollah” group in Lebanon, but it will also encompass Syria.

“In the next war in the north of the country, Lebanon will not be the only front,” Lieberman said in a speech to soldiers.

Lebanon and Syria would constitute “one front” against his country, he explained, while making implicit threats to the Lebanese government and army.

The minister added that the Lebanese army had lost “its independence by becoming an integral part of ‘Hezbollah’.”

Lieberman evoked the possibility of a simultaneous conflict in the north and in the south with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

“The battle will take place on the northern and southern fronts,” he said.

“There is no longer war on one front. It’s our basic assumption and it is what our military is preparing for.”

He stated however that his country was exerting great efforts to prevent a new war, but given the “new Middle East, chances of avoiding such a conflict are slim.”

“We have to prepare for any possible scenario, because the new reality presents us with new challenges. In the past, we used to speak of a Lebanese front, but this is no longer the case,” continued Lieberman.

The new northern front now includes Lebanon and Syria, he stressed.

“I hope that our enemies on the other side would think very well before making any move against Israel,” warned the minister.

Netanyahu, Lieberman Clash over Separation Barrier in Hebron

Ramallah- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman have been bickering over the construction of a separation barrier in Hebron, Israel’s Haaretz daily reported.

The newspaper said Lieberman apparently believes that investing more money in the project is not urgent, because as long as other portions of the barrier remain unsealed, there is no point in committing defense ministry funding to it.

But the prime minister has intentions to allot more money to constructing the area’s separation barrier, the report said.

Lieberman was absent from the security cabinet’s tour in the South Hebron Hills two weeks ago, reportedly due to his objection to Netanyahu’s plans.

Most of the security cabinet, including the prime minister, took part in the August 8 tour along the barrier’s proposed route, Haaretz said.

This was Netanyahu’s second visit to the area in a short period.

Construction on the separation fence began in 2002. Over the past decade, work has progressed slowly due to budget constraints, other priorities, and legal wrangles over the route.

Netanyahu said at the end of the tour that the barrier’s construction was necessary for Israel’s security.

The barrier between Tarqumiyah and Meitar (about 10 kilometers) was completed earlier this month.

But Netanyahu said it was important for construction work on the 42-kilometer barrier to end within a year.

The barrier is aimed at preventing Palestinians from reaching Israeli territories through the area of South Hebron.

Israeli Defense Minister Receives Greenblatt with Doubts about Reaching Peace Deal

Greenblatt

Tel Aviv – Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman urged the US President’s Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt on Monday to give up seeking a bilateral peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

“The Trump administration should abandon its pursuit of a comprehensive, bilateral peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians and instead focus on securing regional peace between the Jewish state and the wider Arab world,” Lieberman said.

Lieberman spoke as Greenblatt, along with the senior advisor of US President Donald Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, arrived in the region for a fresh round of talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaderships.

“Since 1993, several Israeli governments have attempted to achieve peace with the Palestinians based on bilateral agreements, but they failed,” said the Israeli Minister.

Giving examples of the obstacles Palestinians have allegedly put in the way of peace efforts, Lieberman said that the Palestinian leadership refused to condemn the recent murder of an Israeli police officer.

In addition to this, they have promoted a series of hostile resolutions against Israel at the UN.

“With such intentions, I doubt whether we can advance anything, let alone a historic or far-reaching agreement,” Lieberman added.

Israeli and US officials said Greenblatt is expected to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the visit, as well as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, to discuss ways to relaunch the peace process.

Greenblatt is arriving three weeks after his previous visit, in which he was accompanied by Kushner.

Kushner met with Netanyahu and Abbas to understand the gaps between the two sides and bring back recommendations to Trump on how to move things forward.

In the coming weeks, Trump is expected to discuss the next steps on the Israeli-Palestinian issue with his senior advisers and the cabinet.

A White House official said Sunday: “This trip is an interim visit as talks continue about potential next steps. President Trump has made it clear that working toward achieving a lasting peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians is a top priority for him.”

On the same day Greenblatt meets Netanyahu, PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah will meet with Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon in Jerusalem to discuss ways to improve the economic situation in the West Bank.

The Israeli security cabinet’s discussion of a plan to approve the construction of thousands of housing units for Palestinians in the West Bank city of Qalqilyah will likely impact Greenblatt’s visit.

This plan was already approved by the security cabinet last year, but Netanyahu decided to bring it up for another discussion after he was criticized by right-wing lawmakers and even some ministers who were present at the original vote last year.

Lieberman Accuses Abbas of ‘Dragging Hamas to War’ with Israel

Lieberman

Tel Aviv – Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman accused on Thursday Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of prolonging the economic crisis in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

He said that Abbas is “pressuring Hamas in Gaza in order to drag it into a war with Israel.”

He explained that the Palestinian leader will not suffice with cutting the salaries in Gaza, but he will increase the rationing of electricity in the coastal strip.

The Israeli minister also said that Abbas is seeking to cut fuel supplies to Gaza and that he is taking his decisions unilaterally, without consulting Tel Aviv or Egypt.

“He does not want to target Hamas, but he wants to push it to war with Israel,” Lieberman said.

On whether he will carry through with his previous vow to destroy Hamas should such a war erupt, the minister said that he was exaggerating when he made such a statement, saying it was a “mistake” on his part.

Commenting on the possibility of resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, he doubted that a settlement was possible through bilateral negotiations.

“Peace can only be achieved through a regional settlement,” he noted.

Such a settlement will pump 45 billion dollars into Israel annually, Lieberman stressed without elaborating.

He remarked that the Oslo Accords were doomed to fail from the start because they were based on the “land for peace” policy, when it should have been based on the “land and people exchange” policy.

Israeli Army Prepares for a Possible New War in Gaza

Hamas

Ramallah – The Israeli army has significantly raised its level of alert on the northern front after joint talks between the army and Shin Bet (general security agency) estimated that there is a possibility of an upcoming escalation in the Gaza Strip.

The army enhanced its level of readiness through frequent surprise exercises in preparation for a possible war that Hamas could be after, reported Yediot Ahronot newspaper.

Internal discussions, between the army and Shin Bet, tend toward the possibility of an upcoming escalation in the strip. This is supported by intelligence reports stating that the humanitarian situation in Gaza is deteriorating because of infrastructure problems which affect the water and electricity supply, in addition to the financial and political pressure exerted by the Palestinian Authority on Hamas.

Furthermore, Qatar, which hosts several Hamas leaders, is dealing with a diplomatic boycott and international pressure, which could affect its financial support for the militant movement.

A general assumption is that Hamas will take aggressive measures and start a new war to improve the economic situation and its position in the Arab world. Hamas wants to improve its status in the Arab world as many countries began referring to it as a terrorist entity.

Hamas believes that difficult images from a conflict with Israel could definitely help the organization achieve that goal, according to Shin Bet officials.

Yediot Ahronot stated that the potential for escalation is high and Hamas will likely use the first opportunity it has to allow factions to launch missiles from Gaza at the underground barrier project in an attempt to disrupt it.

According to a security source, Hamas is willing to apply any means to achieve its goal.

Other sources reported that Israel has relayed messages that it will not allow the project be stopped, even at the cost of another escalation.

Most military and political analysts in Israel believe the next war with Israel will be led by Hamas’ leader in Gaza Yahya Sanwar, who is known in Israel for his extreme and violent stances.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman stated that Israel is not concerned with the escalation. He warned however that any new war would mean the destruction of Gaza’s military infrastructure.

“I have no interest in retaking the Gaza Strip,” Lieberman said. “[Israel] cannot get involved in a military conflict every two years and if we need to fight, then we can’t leave any military infrastructure in the Gaza Strip.”

“My challenge as Defense Minister, and the Israeli Defense Forces’ challenge as an army, is to prevent the next war,” Lieberman said, adding, “with determination and deterrence, we can make the other side see that we’re serious.”

Still, Hamas is not revealing any of its new plans. Observers believe that the organization would rather not head towards direct confrontation amid the deteriorated situation in Gaza, but it may be forced to resort to it if Arab, Israeli and Palestinian pressure increased.

Israel Studies Options to End Gaza Siege in Exchange of Halt in Rocket Attacks

Gaza

Ramallah – Israel is working on a new plan to expand the Beit Hanoun (Erez) border crossing with the Gaza Strip, which includes establishing a railroad track between Israel and the enclave.

The track would be the first of its kind should it be approved.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that Tel Aviv will open the Gaza crossing and end the siege, including the establishment of a port, if Hamas abandoned its tunnel digging and rocket attacks.

Director of the border crossing administration in the Defense Ministry Kamil Abu Rokn revealed the plan to the heads of Israeli kibbutzim surrounding the Gaza Strip.

“In light of the humanitarian crisis in the strip and its effect on Israeli security, we are studying the possibility of constructing a railway track that connects Israel to Gaza,” he said.

The railway will pass through the Beit Hanoun crossing.

An Israeli officer explained that a train station will be built in the Erez kipputz that is located near the Beit Hanoun crossing.

Furthermore, he revealed that Israel is studying the possibility of granting Gaza residents permits to work in the agricultural field in Israel, most notably in the kibbutzim surrounding the coastal strip.

The heads of the kibbutzim had themselves made this request, reported Yediot Ahronot newspaper.

Lieberman had voiced his support for this proposal on condition that calm be preserved.

The Israeli Shin Bet security agency had however opposed the idea of allowing Gaza workers entry into Israel.

The Israeli announcement came days after the Palestinian Authority declared it will no longer pay for the electricity Israel supplies to Gaza, a move that could lead to a complete power shutdown in the territory whose two million people already endure blackouts for much of the day.

The decision is part of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ series of procedures that are aimed at forcing Hamas to give up the strip to the government.

Israel supplies only 30 percent of Gaza’s power needs, which Israel deducts from the taxes it routinely collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. Israeli authorities deal with the PA for electrical and fuel supplies to Gaza because they do not engage with Hamas.

Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Major General Yoav Mordechai said that the PA has officially informed him that it would stop paying for Gaza’s electricity, which means that the Strip would soon plunge in complete darkness.

Israeli officials announced earlier that Tel Aviv will not immediately cut the electricity over fears of the deteriorating humanitarian situation there. Israel is trying to appear as if it is more concerned than the PA over Gaza. This approach has paid off and Hamas is actually counting on Israel to not comply with the PA demand.

Hamas warned against approving the Authority’s request. Party spokesperson Hazem Kassem said that both Israel and Abbas’ government will regret this behavior.

Hamas considered the move a crime against the Palestinian people, warning that if the siege is not lifted, there will be “an explosion and the explosion will be against the Zionist occupation, as well as against everyone who behave improperly.”

“The occupation or the PA will regret this behavior because Hamas has many options in which it can reply to this crime, because we are defending our people and their right to live,” he added.

US Warns Israel about Annexing West Bank

Members of Palestinian security forces take position during a raid following clashes with Palestinian gunmen in the old town of the West Bank city of Nablus

Israel’s defense minister said Monday that the United States has warned Israel against imposing Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank, saying that would lead to an “immediate crisis” with President Donald Trump administration.

“We received a direct message — not an indirect message and not a hint — from the United States. Imposing Israeli sovereignty on Judea and Samaria would mean an immediate crisis with the new administration,” Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said at the start of parliament’s foreign affairs and defense committee meeting. Judea and Samaria is the biblical term for the West Bank, which Israel occupied in 1967. Some 2.6 million Palestinians live there.

The latest call for annexation came on Sunday, when lawmaker Miki Zohar from Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party said in a television interview that “the two-state solution is dead”.

“The two-state solution is dead,” Zohar told i24NEWS, an Israeli TV channel. “What is left is a one-state solution with the Arabs here as, not as full citizenship, because full citizenship can let them to vote to the Knesset. They will get all of the rights like every citizen except voting for the Knesset,” the Israeli parliament.

“They will be able to vote and be elected in their city under administrative autonomy and under Israeli sovereignty and with complete security control,” Zohar added.

Lieberman said he received phone calls “from the entire world” about whether Zohar’s proposal reflected the Israeli government’s position.

He said annexation would provoke a crisis with Washington and result in the financial burden of providing Palestinians with health care and other benefits, explaining Israel immediately “will be required to spend 20 billion shekels ($5.4 billion, 5.1 billion euros)” on various social services.

He called on the governing coalition to “clarify very clearly, there is no intention to impose Israeli sovereignty.”

In a striking departure from longtime American policy, Trump has not explicitly embraced a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which Israel would end its occupation of the West Bank and an independent Palestinian state would be established alongside Israel. Trump said last month he would support whatever solution is acceptable to both sides.

That has raised questions about what kind of agreement could be reached, and has led to calls by hard line members of Netanyahu’s Cabinet to give up on the idea of a Palestinian state and formally annex part or all of the West Bank to Israel. A single binational state could require Israel to grant citizenship to millions Palestinians under its control, threatening its status as a Jewish-majority democracy.

Israel Protests Russia-Iran Jets, Weapons Deal

Tel Aviv- Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has protested Russia’s $10-billion deal with Iran to sell it advanced fighter jets and other arms.

Lieberman said Israel has raised the issue with Moscow to cancel the deal or to downgrade it.

But the Israeli official told reporters that the chances of halting the deal were low because the sale would be in Moscow’s interest.

“I doubt that they (the Russians) will cooperate with us,” the minister said.

The Israeli Defense Ministry has received information that Russia and Iran were in talks on the supply of $10 billion worth of weapons and hardware, including T-90 tanks, artillery systems, aircraft and helicopters.

A Knesset source quoted Viktor Ozerov, head of the Russian Federation Council’s Defense Committee, as saying that the negotiations are still underway and if the deal is concluded, the weapons will be delivered in stages over several years.

Ozerov said the first shipment could only take place in 2020, when the sanctions against selling arms to Iran are due to be lifted.

Lieberman noted that at this stage Russia and Iran are only discussing a possible deal.

He said Israel raised the issue during Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Israel last week, as well as in talks with the Kremlin and other officials in Moscow.

“Obviously, this doesn’t please us very much,” Lieberman told the reporters.

“But the Russians aren’t asking us. We’re talking with them and trying to explain, but ultimately every country acts in accordance with its own interests. Russia is in economic trouble and it will do what’s in its best interests.”

Lieberman, who has close ties to Russian officials, rejected to tackle concerns on the reinforcement of Russian forces in Syria.

He said the Russian reinforcement with advanced missiles and an aircraft carrier would not limit the Israeli army’s ability to operate in Syria.

The Israeli military, however, is now “entirely visible” to the Russians,” he said. “Their radar sees every takeoff by one of our planes.”

“This doesn’t please us much, but this is why we have gone for a coordination mechanism with Russia so as to avoid unnecessary clashes. We’re not forgoing any of our interests, and we’re walking a fine line,” the defense minister added.