Category: Israel

Lebanon is sliding into the abyss of a “failed state”

 Aug 4, 2020 @ 11:02 Economic collapseHizballahLebanon failed stateSaudi Arabia

When he quit as Lebanon’s foreign minister on Monday, July 3, Nasser Hitti said his country was close to becoming a “failed state” due to “conflicting interests” and its weakened ties with the “Arab community” – a dig at the Shiite Hizballah’s iron fist on government as Iran’s tool.

Lebanon’s woes are the result of a compendium of troubles: a cold shoulder from oil-rich Sunni Arab friends, a collapsed economy, popular discontent that transcends sectarian divides, government corruption and ineptitude, and the disastrous spinoff from the Syrian civil war – all aggravated by the coronavirus outbreak. Last year, as Lebanon plunged deep into debt, Hizballah fighters came marching home from a successful campaign on Iran’s behalf in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Its leader Hassan Nasrallah, riding high, deepened his grip on government and parliament, after forging an alliance with President Michel Aoun.

Lebanon’s formerly strong ties with Arab nations were soon derailed, especially with Saudi Arabia. They bitterly resent the Iranian Lebanese proxy’s growing role in furthering Tehran’s ambitions in its country and region and interference in its conflicts.

Hizballah’s increased clout in Beirut also tipped the scales of the fragile power-sharing arrangement among the country’s three main sects, based on a Christian president, a Sunni Muslim prime minster and a Shiite Muslim Parliament Speaker. They form the elite which maneuvers tirelessly for the high ground in Beirut and plum jobs for their cronies.

Not long ago, Beirut was the free-and-easy playground of well-heeled Arabs who kept the town buzzing and its banks swimming in abundant dollars. Today, Lebanon’s public debt-to-gross domestic product is the third highest in the world, unemployment is rife and a third of the population had sunk to below the poverty line. Transfers have dried up from the large Lebanese diaspora. The drop in remittances from Gulf-based Lebanese nationals and decline in oil prices keep on pushing Lebanon further into debt and widening the gap between the Lebanese pound and the dollar in a thriving black market.

The country’s weakness is further exacerbated by the added burden of 1,5 million Syrian displaced refugees displaced to Lebanon at the height of the war.

Furious protests starting last year over the breakdown of basic services – power cuts, shortages of clean water and public healthcare – spilled over in October when the government levied a tax on tobacco, petrol and the Whatsapp messaging service. This plan was scrapped but the protests continued against the ruling elite, which continues to be blamed for feathering their nests while failing to carry out essential reforms. Tens of thousands of angry Lebanese forced the Western-backed Sunni prime minister Saad Hariri to resign and his unity government to fall, bringing the country to a standstill.

The protesters will not have forgotten or forgiven Hizballah goons for wielding sticks to break up their demonstrations last year.

The current Prime Minister Hassan Diab subsequently announced that Lebanon would default on its foreign debt for the first time in its history, saying its foreign currency reserves had hit a “critical and dangerous” level and that those remaining were needed to pay for vital imports.

By the time the coronavirus restrictions began to be lifted in May, the prices of some foodstuffs had doubled, and Lebanon was at risk of a major food crisis. At a time of hyperinflation, meat, fruits and vegetables have become unattainable luxuries for most Lebanese; some can’t even buy bread. Hours after Hitti resigned, President Michel Aoun and Diab signed a decree appointing Charbel Wehbe as the new foreign minister.

Hitti’s resignation was the biggest blow yet to Diab’s six-month-old government, which has struggled to make good on promises to implement wide-ranging reforms following the massive anti-establishment protests last year.  Diab’s cabinet has already seen two high-profile resignations from a team negotiating with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout. Both had cited the same lack of will to reform due to the interests of the country’s political-financial elite.

Hitti’s prediction that “If they don’t’ come together, then the ship will sink with everyone aboard.” is close to being realized. “Everyone” also includes Hizballah, whose response to this dire fate is keenly watched from neighboring Israel.

Permanent link to this article: http://discerningthetimes.me/?p=10793

Many Americans See The Hand Of God At Work In Current Events

July 23, 2020 by Michael Snyder

2020 has been an incredibly bizarre year up to this point, and this has many people wondering if the hand of God is at work.  And the worse things get, the more this sort of speculation will heat up.  When things get crazy, people search for answers, and that can be a good thing.  Because the truth is that during normal times most of us are way too self-absorbed and most of us spend far too little time thinking about the things that really matter.  2020 has really shaken up a large portion of the U.S. population, and we should hope that all of this shaking ultimately moves our society in a more positive direction.

Right now, COVID-19 is dominating the headlines day after day, and the debates that I have seen on social media platforms about this pandemic have often gotten quite heated.

I knew that many people had extremely passionate opinions about COVID-19, but what I didn’t realize is that a large percentage of them are also convinced that God is somehow involved.  In fact, an Associated Press/NORC survey found that 63 percent of all religious Americans believe that this pandemic is “a sign from God”…

Sixty-three percent of religious Americans say that the novel coronavirus pandemic is a sign from God, telling humanity to change its ways of living, according a new poll.

The poll, which was conducted by the Associated Press/NORC, surveyed 1,002 U.S. adults who say they believe in God.

I was stunned to see a number that high.  The Bible does tell us that there will be “pestilences” in the last days, and it would have been very interesting to see how many respondents to that survey believe that this COVID-19 pandemic is one of those pestilences.

In any event, if this pandemic actually does inspire vast numbers of Americans to live better lives, that would definitely be a positive outcome.

Unfortunately, that does not appear to be happening.  Instead, surveys have shown that Americans are increasingly turning to drugs, alcohol and television during this pandemic, and a survey that was released just this week found that Bible reading in the United States dropped precipitously “between January and June”

The number of American adults the American Bible Society considers “Scripture engaged” based on how frequently they read Scripture and its impact on their relationships and choices dropped significantly from 28% to 22.7% between January and June, according to additional data collected by the organization in June.

Another thing that has many Americans speculating is the very unusual storm that hit New York City on Wednesday.  A massive thunderstorm sent wind gusts of up to 75 mph howling through the city, and at one point “purple lightning bolts” were photographed striking One World Trade Center…

Dramatic photos captured the moment purple lightning bolts struck the tip of One World Trade Center – while smaller bolts scattered across the sky in New York City.

Huge bolts of lightning were also photographed hitting the middle of the Hudson River, near Lower Manhattan – making an eerie sight.

Could that lightning strike have some sort of spiritual significance?

I certainly do not know.  But when video footage emerged of lightning hitting “on or behind” the Statue of Liberty, that fueled the speculation even more…

Video footage captured the moment lighting bolts struck on or behind Lady Liberty with dark clouds seen overhead.

Mikey Cee, who took the 21-second video from Ellis Island and shared it to Twitter, wrote: “The best video I ever captured. #NewYork #WeatherChannel #NYC.”

In addition, a lightning bolt also hit the steeple of a church, and this caused a very dangerous fire

The FDNY responded to the fire at the Spirit and Truth Christian Church on Sutter Avenue just after 7:30 p.m.

Crews worked hard to save the house of worship as flames raced up the front of the building, right beneath the steeple.

Neighbors say the clap of thunder that preceded the fire was even more dramatic than the actual flames.

Witnesses say the steeple took a direct hit from a lightning bolt.

In normal times, perhaps a thunderstorm of this nature would be largely ignored.

But these are not normal times.

On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, people are buzzing about the fact that the locust armies that have been absolutely devastating parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia have now made their way to Europe.

Farms on the Italian island of Sardinia are now being ravaged by desert locusts, and one British news source is using the term “biblical plague” to describe what is happening…

In a situation reminiscent of a biblical plague, the insects have stripped large areas of the island’s agricultural regions of crops, in what the World Bank has already been branded the most serious such invasion the world has faced in 70 years. The epicentre is formed by the municipalities of Orani, Ottana and Bolotana in the Tirso valley, with insects having arrived from the Middle East and Africa, where 23 countries have experienced similar problems.

Over the past several months, I have written several articles about this very unusual plague and the impact that it is having on the global food supply.  Some of the swarms are as large as major cities, and when the locusts descend upon a farm they can literally eat everything there in as little as 30 seconds.

Lastly, I wanted to mention a very close encounter that we will have with an asteroid on November 2nd.  Apparently, a rock known as “2018 VP1” is supposed to pass very close to our planet on that day

There’s a video on Youtube saying we are about to have another “very-close encounter” with an asteroid. What the Jet Propulsion Lab in California calls “Near-Earth-Objects” or NEOs. Now keep in mind asteroids have been coming close or have hit our planet for millions of years, and many do daily. The bulk of asteroids and debris in space as you may remember from science class get burned up in the atmosphere, caused by the friction from the air as objects hit the atmosphere going many thousands of miles per hour.

However, one Youtube video says an asteroid called “2018 VP1“, which is about 6 feet diameter will pass within about 300 miles of our planet on November 2, 2020. However, some experts are saying this nothing to fear. First off there’s the math, asteroid “2018 VP1” is projected to come 0.02 times the distance between the earth and the moon. Given that the moon is 239,000 miles away, 0.02 equates to 4,780 miles. Now your thinking that’s far off right? What’s the big deal? Well, when they compute this stuff through orbital mechanics, they use the center of the celestial body, in this case, the earth. The earth is 7,917 miles across, and half that is 3,958 miles. That is where the video correctly gets its 300-mile estimate from, or a drive from Metro Detroit to Sault Sainte Marie in the UP to put it in perspective.

The good news is that this asteroid is so small that it is not likely to cause any damage even if it enters our atmosphere.

But I have noticed that there is a tremendous amount of discussion about asteroids on social media lately, and scientists assure us that it is just a matter of time before a very large rock does slam into our planet.

A lot of people do not like to be reminded of such things, but realizing how dependent we are on God for every breath that we take leads to humility.  Sometimes we need something to shake us up so that we will turn back to Him.

It is so easy to lose sight of what really matters, and that is why we should be thankful for events that come along that cause us to step back and consider the bigger picture.

Permanent link to this article: http://discerningthetimes.me/?p=10772

KING HEZEKIAH’S ADMINISTRATIVE COMPOUND DISCOVERED NEXT TO US EMBASSY, JERUSALEM

In the fourteenth year of King Chizkiyahu, King Sennacherib of Assyria marched against all the fortified towns of Yehuda and seized them. Kings 18:13 (The Israel BibleTM)

by BIN staff | Jul 22, 2020 | Biblical News

An Israel Antiquities Authority excavation on the slopes of the Jerusalem neighborhood of Arnona uncovered an administrative complex from 2,7000 years ago. (Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority)

What challenge was the Kingdom of Judah preparing for 2,700 years ago in today’s Arnona neighborhood of Jerusalem and can it be related to a dramatic historical event?

A significant administrative storage center from the days of Kings Hezekiah and Manasseh (8th century to the middle of the 7th century BCE) has recently been exposed at archeological excavations in the Arnona neighborhood of Jerusalem.

The excavation conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority is funded by the Israel Land Authority and administrated by the Moriah Jerusalem Development Corporation for the development of a new neighborhood.

Excavation at the site revealed an unusually large structure built of concentric ashlars walls. Of particular interest, 120 jar handles were found bearing seal impressions containing ancient Hebrew script. Many of the handles bare the inscription “LMLK” – (belonging) to the King- with the name of an ancient city, while others feature the names of senior officials or wealthy individuals from the First Temple Period. This is one of the largest and most important collections of seal impressions ever uncovered in archaeological excavations in Israel.

According to Neria Sapir and Nathan Ben-Ari, directors of the excavations on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “This is one of the most significant discoveries from the period of the Kings in Jerusalem made in recent years. At the site we excavated, there are signs that governmental activity managed and distributed food supplies not only for shortage but administered agricultural surplus amassing commodities and wealth. Evidence shows that at this site, taxes were collected in an orderly manner for agricultural produce such as wine and olive oil.

“The site once dominated large agricultural plots and orchards of olive trees and grape vines which included agricultural industrial facilities such as winepresses for winemaking. The site is dated to a period documented in the Bible by upheavals such as that of the Assyrian conquest campaign – under the command of King Sennacherib in the days of King Hezekiah.

“It may be that the government economic provisions indicated by the stamp seals are related to these events however, the excavation revealed that the site continued to be active after the Assyrian conquest. Moreover, the array of stamped seals indicated that the system of taxation remained uninterrupted during this period.

“It is interesting to note that some of the storage jar handles area inscribed with the names of senior officials and wealthy individuals from the Kingdom of Judah – Naham Abdi, Naham Hatzlihu, Meshalem Elnatan, Zafan Abmetz, Shaneah Azaria, Shalem Acha and Shivna Shachar. These names appear on storage jar handles at various sites across the Kingdom of Judah and attest to the elite position of those whose names are impressed on the jars.

“It is estimated that these are senior officials who were in charge of specific economic areas, or perhaps wealthy individuals at that time – those who owned large agricultural lands, propelled the economy of their district, and owned private seals.”

The excavators also posit that the large number of seal impressions at the site clearly indicate that during the latter part of the Kingdom of Judah, governmental activity took place in the area south of the City of David. It is also possible that this governmental activity was related to the nearby site of Ramat Rachel, which may be identified with the palace of the Kings of Judah and/or as an administrative center.

The majority of the seal impressions uncovered contain the ancient Hebrew letters “LMLK.” These impressions are characterized by a sun disk, flanked with two wings. Above the sun disc appears the word ‘to the King’ and below one of four cities in the kingdom of Judah: Hebron, Ziph, Socho or Mmst. According to Sapir and Ben-Ari, while the identification of Hebron, Ziph and Socho can be identified with known ancient cities in Judea in the Hebron Hills area, the identification of Mmst is still controversial.”

During the ancient period, for reasons not understood, the large building at the site was covered over with a massive pile of flint stones forming an artificial hill measuring 20 meters high and extending over seven dunams (!). Even today, this huge pile of stones stands out from the surrounding hills and is visible from a great distance. According to the researchers, “These artificial stone hills have been identified at several sites in Jerusalem and are a phenomenon to the end of the First Temple period and have aroused the curiosity and fascination of Jerusalem researchers since the beginning of archeological research in the area. Nevertheless, the reason for the huge effort made in stacking them over many acres remains an unresolved archaeological mystery.”

Another find that sheds light on the character of the period is a collection of figurines – clay statuettes. According to archaeologists Sapir and Ben-Ari, “Some of the figurines are designed in the form of women, horse riders or as animals. These figurines are usually interpreted as objects used in pagan worship and idolatry – a phenomenon, which according to the Bible, was prevalent in the Kingdom of Judah.”

The researchers added that, “It seems that shortly after the site was abandoned, with the destruction of the Kingdom of Judah in 586 BCE and Babylonian exile, the site was resettled, and administrative activity resumed. During this time governmental activity at the site was connected to the Judean province upon the Return to Zion in 538 BCE under the auspices of the Achaemenid Persian Empire, which then ruled over the entire ancient Near East and Central Asia.”

According to Dr. Yuval Baruch, the IAA Jerusalem District Archaeologist, “The archeological discoveries at Arnona identify the site as a key site – the most important in the history of the final days of the Kingdom of Judah and of the return to Zion decades after the destruction of the Kingdom. This site joins a number of other key sites uncovered in the area of Jerusalem which were connected to the centralized administrative system of the Kingdom of Judah from its peak until its destruction. The Israel Antiquities Authority and the Israel Lands Authority recognize the importance of the site and its uniqueness and are working together to preserve and integrate these sites into the new neighborhood plan. This is part of the IAA’s trend of sustainable development which views archeological excavations as a resource that must be preserved and presented to the public as part of local heritage, and not just as an academic field of study.”

Permanent link to this article: http://discerningthetimes.me/?p=10759

Is Turkey’s Erdogan out to destabilize Middle East?

From northwest Iraq to Tripoli on Libya’s African coast, Turkey is flexing its muscles – without the slightest nod to the supposedly ‘pro-Western’ and ‘pro-NATO’ orientation that Turkey’s Western apologists like to recall.

 By  Dr. Jonathan Spyer

Turkish forces are at the present time bolstering newly constructed outposts in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Turks have established five new positions on mountainous terrain near the villages of Sharanish and Banka, in the Zakho area adjoining the border with Turkey, since commencing operation in the area in mid-June. Troops have been transported in by helicopter to man the new positions.

This is the latest phase in an operation that has brought the Turkish armed forces to 30 kilometers (18 miles) inside Iraqi Kurdish territory. Operation Claw-Tiger was launched on June 17, following Turkish air attacks on targets Ankara identified as associated with the PKK at a number of sites in the Kurdish Regional Government-controlled area. The areas destroyed in the airstrikes included a number of Yezidi villages in the Mount Sinjar area. A refugee camp at Makhmur was also targeted.

Elements of the 1st and 5th Commando Brigades, both elite Turkish airborne formations, are taking part in the operation on the ground. Iranian artillery shelled the Choman area of the Qandil Mountains on June 16th, in a move widely interpreted as supportive of the Turkish offensive. Iranian cooperation with Turkey derives from immediate shared interests: both countries have restive and alienated Kurdish populations living in geographically distinct areas.

Both wish to see the weakening of both the PKK and the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq. The PKK originated among Turkish Kurds, but also has a franchise among Iranian Kurds (PJAK). Beyond the Kurdish issue, Iran has huge hydrocarbon reserves, while Turkey has a need for oil and gas. As a result, Turkey has been assisting Iran in avoiding US sanctions.

Turkey’s ongoing gas imports from Iran were suspended on March 31, 2020, due to a PKK operation that temporarily disabled the pipeline. Supplies are set to recommence this month. Iran and Turkey both seek the end of the US-led security structure in the region, and are similarly opposed to the various allies in the region of that structure. Hence, there is at present a great deal of common ground between the two countries.

The PKK is a pan-Kurdish organization, and the fighters in Qandil come from across the Kurdish area. The organization was formed in Turkey, however, and its top leadership remains dominated by Turkish Kurds. Despite the considerable dimensions of the current offensive, Kurdish sources do not consider that it represents the beginning of a long-awaited general Turkish attempt to destroy the PKK in Qandil.

Rather, it is seen as continuing an established pattern of ongoing Turkish operations into Kurdish controlled northern Iraq, conducted without inquiry as to the wishes of the local Kurdish authorities, and intended to establish a widening Turkish military infrastructure in the area adjoining the border.

Turkish media reports largely concur. According to a recent article in the Hurriyet newspaper, 12 permanent observation posts had already been established in the KRG controlled area in the period between 2016 and the present operation.

Hurriyet quoted Turkish security officials who depicted the PKK as seeking to establish a corridor from their forces on the Iranian border in Suleimania province, via Sinjar, to the Kurdish controlled area in northeast Syria. In this regard, it is worth noting that both PJAK and other Iranian Kurdish military groups opposed to the Iranian regime, such as the Iranian Kurdish Democratic Party (PDKI) maintain bases and positions inside KRG territory, adjoining the border with Iran.

Ankara considers the YPG (Peoples’ Protection Units), which is the main force in this area, to be a franchise of the PKK. The Turkish operation, according to Hurriyet, is intended to break this corridor from Syria to the Iranian Kurds. It should be noted that the current deployment of Turkish forces is not sufficiently deep to cut any such notional line.

The Turkish newspaper likened the current effort to previous Turkish operations in northern Syria in 2016 and 2019 which resulted in Turkish occupation of two non-contiguous blocs of territory along the Syrian Turkish border. Turkey hopes to expand the easternmost of these areas, which cuts directly into Kurdish controlled northeast Syria.

Kurdish sources, meanwhile, suggest an additional, domestic political motivation for the current operation. They note the dire state of the Turkish economy, and the consequent loss of public support indicated in a number of recent polls, for the ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its main ally, the far-right Nationalist Action Party (MHP). According to this perspective, the Turkish operation is intended to rally the government’s political base through its fear of and hostility to Kurdish aspirations and to distract from socio-economic failure.

This element notwithstanding, Operation Claw Tiger fits into an arc of Turkish military assertiveness currently extending from northern Iraq, across northern Syria, going down via the Mediterranean and via Israel, and reaching Libya. Turkey also has a military presence to the south and east of this area, in Qatar, in Sudan and in Somalia. In the Mediterranean, Turkey is challenging Greece, Cyprus and Israel for the gas riches beneath the water.

Via its SADAT military private company, Ankara is deeply engaged in support of Hamas against Israel. SADAT, sometimes referred to as Erdogan’s “Revolutionary Guards,” is involved in other, similarly more murky ends of Turkey’s regional assertion. The company, founded by the Turkish President’s military advisor General Adnan Tanriverdi, took responsibility for the training of Syrian Islamist and jihadi rebels under Turkey’s flag. These forces were subsequently deployed against the Syrian Kurds in 2019-20.

They are now engaged in Libya, fighting against the Libyan National Army of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. SADAT, incidentally, is currently also involved in training Sunni Islamist forces loyal to the Government of National Accord in Libya. The Africa Intelligence website and Sharq al Awsat newspaper reported this week that the Turkish company has signed an agreement to this end with Security Side, a Libyan security company headed by one Fawzi Abu Kattaf, a Palestinian Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood supporter with close ties to Qatar.

So, what does this flurry of overt and semi-covert Turkish regional military assertion amount to? Can a common theme be established?

In Syria and Iraq, obviously, Ankara is on the face of it challenging its old PKK enemy. But there are additional layers. Erdogan was first to support the Syrian Sunni Arab insurgency. He has proved its last and most faithful ally. Western states, discouraged by the insurgency’s Islamist and jihadi nature, peeled away from it years ago. Turkey, untroubled by these loyalties because it shares them, has remained.

The enclaves in northern Syria do serve to bisect the area of Kurdish control, and in Afrin a large-scale ethnic cleansing of Kurds has taken place. But Turkey is now pouring money and forces into northwest Syria, in an effort to shore up this enclave and ensure its semi permanence. This is not only about opposing Kurdish aspirations. It is about establishing a corner of Syria intended to be forever Turkish (and Sunni Islamist). The Turkish Lira has now been introduced as the currency in these areas, to replace the devastated Syrian pound. The Turkish postal service has even opened branches in a number of towns in northwest Syria.

In Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, Erdogan wants to lay claim to the cause of recovering al-Aqsa from non-Muslim custodianship. Covert military support to Hamas runs alongside active soft power efforts. These are managed by the government aid agency TIKA. Tens of millions of dollars are spent each year, via such projects as the Turkish Culture Center on Hashalshelet Street in Jerusalem’s Old City.

In the Mediterranean, the interests, of course, are related to Turkey’s need for gas supplies. But the bald assertiveness of laying claim, together with the client government in Tripoli of a massive swathe of the east Mediterranean and thus stymying plans by Israel, Greece and Cyprus to pipe gas to Europe has the additional advantage for Turkey of depicting itself as the regional dominant force.

In Libya, finally, again geo-strategic and ideological aspects coincide: Serraj is kept in place by Muslim Brotherhood associated forces. He represents a last remnant of the hoped for alliance which Erdogan had thought to lead, before the military coup in Egypt of 2013, the departure of the En Nahda party from power in Tunisia and the revival of Bashar Assad’s fortunes in Syria.

So, all the way from Zakho Province in north west Iraq, to Tripoli on Libya’s African coast, assisted by Qatari direct financial investment, Turkey is flexing its muscles. It is an independent, ambitious foreign policy, without the slightest nod to the supposedly ‘pro-Western’ and ‘pro-NATO’ orientation that Turkey’s Western apologists like to recall. It has its origin in a combination of nationalist assertiveness, tinged with Ottoman-era nostalgia, and the ambitions of MB-style Sunni political Islam. This is a potent mix, which is not required to place itself before the judgement of the Turkish voter until 2023. As of now, its main impact is an arc of destabilization, stretching across land and sea from Iraq to Libya.

Permanent link to this article: http://discerningthetimes.me/?p=10744

At least 7 Iranian ships in flames at Bushehr port. New US warning

 Jul 15, 2020 @ 16:46 7 Iranian ships on fireUS Gen. Kenneth McKenzie

The types of the seven vessels on fire on Wednesday, July 15, and what caused the blazes were not revealed in the first official report from Tehran. The incident followed a string of mysterious explosions at Iran’s nuclear, military and missile production sites ongoing since late June.

DEBKAfile: If this suspected campaign of sabotage has been extended to encompass Iran’s navy, it would be a serious escalation, amounting to a threat to Iran’s claim to control the Persian Gulf and its waters.

Bushehr province is also home to Iran’s only nuclear power plant.


A day earlier, on Tuesday, US Central Command Chef Gen. Kenneth McKenzie warned Tehran that “any malign activities in the Gulf would bear a high cost.” In an interview sponsored by the State Department, he reminded Iran of “the events of January” when a US drone killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. “So we are postured and will continue to be postured in the region, working closely with all our partners, all our friends n the region, to ensure that we’re ready and Iran sees very clearly what would be the high cost of any malign activity on their part,” the US Centcom chief stressed.

The general was asked if the Iranian regime was truly deterred by the killing of Soleimani or whether, before making its move, it was waiting out the upcoming UN Security Council vote on extending the arms embargo or the US presidential election. He replied that Washington had established “red lines” that might not have been visible before. The UN vote was a factor, he said, adding “But to be honest with you, it’s very hard to know and understand exactly what Iran’s thinking is.”

Permanent link to this article: http://discerningthetimes.me/?p=10738

Damage to Natanz centrifuge production may be irreparable

Iran is caught in a dilemma between hiding the true scale of damage caused to its nuclear program by the Natanz explosion and fire and the urge to punish the culprit.  On July 10, Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi warned of “consequences” to foreign elements proved to be involved. He also hedged it round by saying it was “too early” to judge “the main cause and reason for the blast.”. He criticized media reports attributing the explosion to Israel for “portraying Israel as powerful.”

Tehran knows perfectly well the exact cause and reason for the Natanz blast on July 2 (which occurred less than a week after an explosion at a secret underground tunnel system and missile production site east of Tehran.) They may not admit this, but they know that the damage to the Iran Centrifuge Assembly Center (ICAC) at the Natanz enrichment center was “extensive, severe and possibly irreparable,” according to analysts David Albright, Sarah Burkhard, and Frank Pabian of the Institute for Science & International Security.

The ICAC, inaugurated in 2018, was critical to the mass production of advanced centrifuges, in particular the assembly of rotor assemblies and its key component, the rapidly spinning part. An annex to the building was intended to assemble electrical components, including motors.

Enriched uranium is essentially used for both civil nuclear power generation and military nuclear weapons. Iran’s new advanced uranium centrifuges at Natanz were intended to accelerate its ability to produce enough enriched uranium to make a bomb in the short term.

Satellite imagery further shows that the damage appears to have been caused by a large single point detonation, possibly creating a crater that is centered at the northwest corner of the ICAC. That explosion, evidently causing or coinciding with a fire, may well have involved an explosives device.

The true extent of the damage was publicly withheld by Iran.  It was not until commercial satellite imagery became available that the true nature of the damage could be observed. It is clear from the imagery of Airbus/CNES and Planet Labs that a major explosion took place, destroying nearly three quarters of the main centrifuge assembly hall, generating a fire that blackened a major portion of the building, the blackening visible where the roof had been blown away by the explosion. Although we had originally concluded, based on the ground imagery, that the explosion and fire had most likely occurred in the northeast corner of the building in an area of the building that likely contained auxiliary diesel generators, it is now clear from the overhead satellite imagery that the explosion was actually centered at the northwest corner.  

Unlike the northeast corner, which was blackened by fire and exhibited signs of some structural damage, the northwest corner of the ICAC building, including a large portion of a brick-walled annex, was completely obliterated. Moreover, a debris field of building materials (primarily roofing panels) is also distributed in a roughly radial pattern, extending to a radius of over half a football field, from that same point. What we perceive might be a crater, roughly 10 meters in diameter, that is visible in the center of that circular pattern. What appears to be some gray concrete throw-out material is also visible in the area where the corner of the building had been. That center-point of the possible crater is located just outside the building, which would be accessible by vehicle, suggesting that a vehicle-borne explosives device cannot be ruled out at this time. 

The centrifuge assembly building was said to be intended to mass produce IR-2m, IR-4, and IR-6 centrifuges. Mass production translates to the combined production of thousands of such centrifuges per year. Iran placed next-generation uranium enrichment centrifuges at its Natanz enrichment facility as part of a program it could tap to produce a nuclear weapon. Under its 2015 nuclear deal with six powers, Iran agreed to install no more than 5,060 of its oldest centrifuges at Natanz until 2026. Last year, Tehran began rolling back its commitments to the accord in reprisal for US withdrawal. And by November, Iran had doubled the number of advanced centrifuges operating at Natanz.

Although the explosion and fire at the Iran Centrifuge Assembly Center does not eliminate Iran’s ability to deploy advanced centrifuges, such as the IR-2m’s, its destruction must be viewed as a major setback to Iran’s ability to deploy advanced centrifuges on a mass scale for years to come. Some estimates say that the Islamic Republic nuclear weapons program has suffered a delay of up to two years.

Permanent link to this article: http://discerningthetimes.me/?p=10725

Turkey vows to ‘liberate Al-Aqsa’ after turning Hagia Sophia to mosque

The resurrection of Hagia Sophia heralds the Liberation of the Al-Aqsa mosque, the Turkish Presidency website says.

 

By SETH J. FRANTZMAN   

JULY 11, 2020 18:23

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to “liberate al-Aqsa mosque” from Israel after “resurrecting Hagia Sophia” as a mosque on Friday.

The decision to change the status of the ancient Hagia Sophia church, which had been transformed into a mosque in 1453 and then into a museum in 1934, was made controversially last week.

It follows an increasingly religious authoritarian agenda from Ankara that has made Turkey the world’s largest jailer of journalists, seen dissidents imprisoned for “terrorism” and witnessed increasing military invasions of neighboring countries by Turkey.

The resurrection of Hagia Sophia heralds the liberation of the al-Aqsa mosque, the Turkish Presidency website says. “The resurrection of Hagia Sophia is the footsteps of the will of Muslims across the world to come… the resurrection of Hagia Sophia is the reignition of the fire of hope of Muslims and all oppressed, wrong, downtrodden and exploited.”

The speech, which was in Turkish, was translated slightly differently to Arabic and English, apparently as a way to hide part of Ankara’s full views on how it has linked Hagia Sophia to a wider agenda.

In Arabic the speech says that turning Hagia Sophia into a mosque is part of the “return of freedom to al-Aqsa,” essentially meaning Israel should be ejected from controlling Jerusalem’s Old City where al-Aqsa is located.

Turkey’s president linked the decision to reviving Islam from Bukhara in Uzbekistan to Andalusia in Spain. This terminology, linking al-Aqsa in Jerusalem to Hagia Sophia and Spain, is a kind of coded terminology for a wider religious agenda. In the Turkish translation the same reference to Spain does not appear to be included as in the Arabic.

Turkey’s current president has long championed the Palestinian cause and been an extreme critic of Israel, famously walking off the stage at Davos during a discussion with former president Shimon Peres in 2009. Turkey then sent the Gaza flotilla to try to breach Israel’s blockade of Gaza, leading to the deaths of 10 Turkish citizens when Israeli forces raided the Mavi Marmara ship.

In recent years Turkey’s religious and political authorities have been making increasingly adversarial statements about Israel, vowing to mobilize the “Islamic ummah” in June against Israel’s annexation plans.

Linking the major change at Hagia Sophia to Jerusalem illustrates that Ankara’s ambitions are far larger than just reasserting Islamic prayers at the historic mosque and church in Istanbul; it is part of a larger Islamic agenda for the region.

Turkey’s ruling AK Party is rooted in the Muslim Brotherhood and Turkey is a close ally of Hamas in Gaza. Hamas is also rooted in the Muslim Brotherhood. This strategy by Turkey seeks more influence across the region with like-minded groups and countries, such as Qatar and the Government of the National Accord in Libya.

Turkey is seeking to supplant Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region, such as Egypt and Jordan, as the main determiner of what is “Islamic.”

This means Ankara’s leadership believes that its changes to Hagia Sophia are only one step of a larger religious militarist agenda in the Middle East. Turkey invaded part of eastern Syria in October 2019 after depopulating the Kurdish region of Afrin in Syria in January 2018.

Turkey then recruited Syrian refugees to fight in Libya’s civil war as part of an energy and military deal with Tripoli. In June, Turkey launched airstrikes in Iraq against Kurdish groups, claiming to be fighting “terrorism.”

One day, Turkey could even aim its sights at Jerusalem. The speech about Hagia Sophia clearly indicated this is on the agenda in the future.

Permanent link to this article: http://discerningthetimes.me/?p=10722

NEW DEFENSE CONTRACT INDICATES AN ISRAELI STRIKE ON IRAN IN 2 YEARS

“Ah, land in the deep shadow of wings, Beyond the rivers of Nubia!” Isaiah 18:1, (The Israel BibleTM)

by Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz | Jul 13, 2020 | IDF

In March, the US State Department approved the sale of KC-46 state-of-the-art refueling planes to Israel but apparently the Israeli military has a pressing need for long-distance airstrikes, leading them, to request a hurry-up date of delivery.

The State Department approved the sale of eight Boeing KC-46 Pegasus military aerial refueling and strategic military transport aircraft at an estimated cost of $2.4 billion, which was first delivered to the US Air Force last year. The new planes will be purchased as part of a $3 billion US defense aid package. Israel currently uses Boeing 707s, which have been modified by Israel Aerospace Industries, for aerial refueling. The sale can still be blocked in Congress. The delivery of the airplanes was scheduled to take place in four years. 

Channel 12 News reported Wednesday that Israel has requested that the aircraft be delivered within two years. For this to happen, the US Air Force will need to give up two production slots for the 179 KC-46 airplanes being built for the American defense department. Sources at the Boeing Corporation estimate that the first refueling tanker will be delivered to Israel in 2022 or 2023.

The announcement has led to conjecture that the urgency for in-flight refueling comes as a result of concern of an Iranian reprisal to a wave of explosions targeting military and nuclear sites in Iran. One of the planes that can be serviced by the KC-46 is the F-35 stealth fighter. The Israeli Air Force currently has 16 of the stealth fighters, named Adir. Israel became the first country in the world to use the F-35 in combat during recent clashes with Iran in Syria. Israel 

Following threats against Israel by senior Iranian officials last year, Prime Minister Netanyahu warned that Israel’s F-35 fighter jets can reach “anywhere in the Middle East.” The F-35 stealth jet is not believed to have an effective range to reach Iran unassisted, but it could conduct operations there with in-air refueling. Delivery of the KC-46 would allow in-flight refueling of the F-35 Adir, adding a significant impact to Netanyahu’s threat.

The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency said Israel’s having its own KC-46s would help back up the US military’s own, “potentially freeing US assets for use elsewhere during times of war.”

Israel is considering other aviation purchases from the US as essential to defense, including the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey vertical takeoff and landing tri-rotor aircraft. The V-22 is used to transport special units “very fast for long distances.”

In a related development, the US government this week agreed to sell Israel 990 million liters of special  JP-8  jet fuel worth about $3 billion.

Permanent link to this article: http://discerningthetimes.me/?p=10716

Does A Series Of “Mystery Explosions” Inside Iran Mean That The Next Big Middle East War Is About To Begin?

July 7, 2020 by Michael Snyder

Over the past several weeks, a series of “mystery explosions” has happened at very strategically sensitive locations inside Iran, and it has become obvious that what we are witnessing is not just a bunch of random accidents.  For years, the Israeli government has pledged that the Iranians will never be allowed to develop nuclear weapons, and several of the sites where the mystery explosions have taken place have direct connections to Iran’s nuclear program.  For example, there was a very large explosion at Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facility on July 2nd, and it is being reported that some officials believe that this explosion was caused by a “powerful bomb”.  The following comes from the Jerusalem Post

Israel was behind an explosion and fire at Iran’s Natanz nuclear complex caused by a “powerful bomb,” a Middle Eastern intelligence official with knowledge of the incident told The New York Times on Monday.

A member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps confirmed to the Times that an explosive was used in the incident as well. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity.

Of course there have been several other “mystery explosions” as well, and there is speculation that “computer viruses similar to the Stuxnet virus” may have been involved in at least some of the blasts…

Five recent explosions in Iran may have been caused by computer viruses similar to the Stuxnet virus that disabled Iranian centrifuges in 2010.

Two of the blasts took place at power plants, one at a missile research, development and production site, one at a new uranium enrichment centrifuge center, and the last (if it can be considered part of the attacks) in downtown Tehran at a medical facility that could have been a cover for nuclear operations such as a hidden command center.

It has become clear that the Trump administration does not intend to take military action to stop Iran’s nuclear program, so the Israeli government has been forced into a position where it must make a very tough choice.  Either Israel must be willing to accept Iran as a nuclear power or Israel must do something to stop it from happening.

At this point, it has been confirmed that the “industrial shed” that was destroyed during the explosion at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility “was in fact a new site for assembling centrifuges”, and that would definitely be a logical target for the Israelis to hit. When asked about the “mystery explosions”, the following is what Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz had to say about them

When Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz was asked if Israel had anything to do with “mysterious explosions,” he reportedly told Israel Radio: “Not every incident that transpires in Iran necessarily has something to do with us.”

“All those systems are complex, they have very high safety constraints and I’m not sure they always know how to maintain them,” he said, according to Reuters.

Obviously that is not a denial.

Meanwhile, it is also being reported that the Mossad has “thwarted a series of planned Iranian attacks on Israeli embassies”

Israeli spy agency Mossad claims it has recently thwarted a series of planned Iranian attacks on Israeli embassies around the world.

The intelligence bureau has halted ‘terrorist’ plans in Europe and elsewhere, according to a report by Hebrew-language broadcaster Channel 12 which said that Israel’s arch-enemy Iran was behind the plots.

The Iranians are becoming increasingly frustrated by the success of Israeli covert operations, and they want to find ways to strike back.  Embassies are typically easy targets, but thankfully the Mossad has apparently been one step ahead of all Iranian efforts to target embassies so far.

Needless to say, all of this is happening at a time when tensions in the entire region are rapidly coming to a boil.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu keeps insisting that he is about to move forward with his plan to to annex portions of Judea and Samaria, and if that happens there will inevitably be a violent response by the Palestinians.

In fact, the Times of Israel is reporting that “Fatah and Hamas are in agreement that there should be a popular uprising if the controversial plan goes ahead”…

An adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas warned Saturday there was a possibility of a third intifada if the Israeli government goes ahead with its plan to annex parts of the West Bank.

The Kan public broadcaster reported that Nabil Shaath told the Arabic-language arm of the France 24 network that Palestinian rivals Fatah and Hamas are in agreement that there should be a popular uprising if the controversial plan goes ahead.

And the truth is that rocket fire has already started.  On Sunday, Israeli planes hit targets in the Gaza Strip after “a barrage of rocket fire into southern Israel”

Israeli aircraft struck targets in the northern Gaza Strip on Sunday following a barrage of rocket fire into southern Israel. No casualties were reported on either side. In a statement, the Israeli military said attack helicopters and fighter jets struck “underground infrastructure” belonging to Gaza’s ruling Hamas terrorist group.

Earlier Sunday, the army said three rockets were fired by Gaza terrorists toward Israel, setting off air-raid sirens. It said one of the rockets was intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system; according to Channel 12 TV the other two landed in open areas. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the rocket fire. A number of armed terrorist groups operate in Gaza.

The bottom line is that the Middle East has been on the precipice of a major war for years, and it certainly isn’t going to take much to push things over the edge.

If the Iranians do not stop their nuclear program, the Israelis are going to continue to hit them, and that will eventually spark a war.

And if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu goes ahead with his plan to annex portions of Judea and Samaria, that is almost certain to spark a war too.

We have reached such a critical moment, and it appears to be just a matter of time before a great conflict erupts.

Permanent link to this article: http://discerningthetimes.me/?p=10711

Five Mysterious Explosions Cripple Iran’s Nuclear Capability: Israel Responds

By Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz July 5, 2020 , 1:43 pm

Of David. Blessed is Hashem, my rock, who trains my hands for battle, my fingers for warfare; Psalms 144:1

A series of explosions in Iran including several at problematic nuclear sites has left the regime giving conflicting answers to difficult questions. It also graphically illustrates that even the most secure Iranian facilities are open to foreign attacks.

On June 25, a huge explosion rocked Parchin military base about 20 miles southeast of the capital Tehran. Defense ministry spokesman Davoud Abdi told state TV the blast happened at a gas storage facility in a “public area” of Parchin rather than the military base

It was later revealed that the explosion was the result of a cyberattack, possibly carried out by Israel. 

In July 2015, there were claims based on satellite imagery that there was activity in the Parchin military complex associated with nuclear weapons. UN and international inspectors were denied access to the site and Iran denied the claims saying the satellite photos were fabricated. 

In 2014, the New York Times reported that a large explosion at the site was a case of sabotage by foreign intelligence agencies. In 2018, Israeli intelligence captured an archive in Tehran with proving the Parchin site was a key part of Iran’s ongoing nuclear weapons research and development program. This archive contained documentary evidence that in 2003 Iran was operating a nuclear weapons program, codenamed the AMAD Plan, which aimed to build five nuclear weapons and prepare an underground nuclear test site. Parchin was a key part of that program, used for a specialized, difficult to develop, neutron initiator to start the chain reaction in a nuclear explosion. Some of the equipment is believed to be held ready for later use, potentially when Iran’s 2015 nuclear accord with the six world powers expires.

At about the same time as the explosion at the Parchin facility, a large explosion at the local power station left half of the city of Tehran without electricity. 

But that was not the end of Iran’s woes. Four days later, an explosion from a gas leak in the Sina Athar Medical Center in northern Tehran killed 19 people. Video posted online appeared to show more than one explosion.

On Thursday, a fire and explosion damaged a centrifuge production plant above Iran’s Natanz nuclear enrichment facility at around 2:00 AM local time. Initially, Iranian officials claimed the destruction was inconsequential, damaging an “industrial shed.” At the same time, the government claimed the “industrial shed” was the target of sabotage by enemy nations such as Israel and the US.  An unnamed Middle Eastern intelligence official later told the NY Times that damage to the facility was caused by an explosive device placed inside the building.

Natanz nuclear facility is generally recognized as Iran’s central facility for uranium enrichment with over 19,000 gas centrifuges currently operational and nearly half of them being fed with uranium hexafluoride. Between 2007–2010 Natanz nuclear power plant was hit by a sophisticated cyberattack that was carried out by German, French, British, American, Dutch and Israeli intelligence organizations. The attack used a Stuxnet worm which hampered the operation of the plant’s centrifuges and caused damage to them over time.

Disaster hit Iran yet again on Saturday as an explosion ripped through the Zargan power plant in the Iranian city of Ahvaz. Iran’s IRNA news agency later reported that the blaze was ignited when a transformer exploded.

A few hours later on Saturday, IRNA said a chlorine gas leak at a Karun petrochemical center in the city of Mahshahr in southeast Iran. 70 workers.were reported hospitalized in the incident.

Some of the mystery behind the explosions was alleviated in an interview on Sunday with  Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz. When Israel Army Radio asked whether Israel had anything to do with the spate of explosions in Iran, Gantz answered enigmatically, “Not every incident that transpires in Iran necessarily has something to do with us.”

“All those systems are complex, they have very high safety constraints and I’m not sure they always know how to maintain them,” Gantz 

Three Iranian officials who spoke to Reuters said they thought cyber sabotage had been involved at Natanz, but offered no evidence. Two said Israel could have been behind it.

An article by Iran’s state news agency IRNA addressed what it called the possibility of sabotage by enemies such as Israel and the United States, although it stopped short of accusing either directly.

Cyberwarfare between Israel and Iran has been carried out for some time with terrifying implications. An unprecedented Iranian cyberattack targeted six facilities in Israel’s water infrastructure on April 24-25 nearly dumped lethal levels of chemicals into the Israeli civilian water system. Fortunately, the attack impacted some systems but did not cause any disruption in the water supply or waste management. The computer system was breached but the cyberattack was blocked before any damage could be done. 

Cyber attacks typically target databases or websites. But this attack was the first of its type, attempting to attack a civilian population.

Israel responded in kind, targeting Iran’s largest port, paralyzing the main economic ingress for several days.  All navigation systems of the ships were severely disrupted and everything had to be stopped to avoid collisions between incoming and outgoing vessels. 

Permanent link to this article: http://discerningthetimes.me/?p=10701