Tel Aviv, Israel
President Barack Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington - 1 October 2014
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with US President Barack Obama on Wednesday where he directly warned President Barack Obama not to accept any Iran deal that would allow Tehran to become a “threshold nuclear power.”
"Iran seeks a deal that would lift the tough sanctions that you worked so hard to put in place and leave it as a threshold nuclear power. I fervently hope that under your leadership that would not happen," Netanyahu told Obama in the Oval Office.
The Prime Minister stressed his wishes for an operation against Iran - as well as all forms of global jihad, including Islamic State (IS) - to be a joint one.
"We, the US and Israel, face many challenges and have many options," he said. "I commend your leadership in organizing the war against ISIS - but we must also prevent Iran from becoming nuclear."
"We need to work together to promote common interests and to make the Middle East safer and more promising," he continued. Netanyahu also offered to mobilize the Arab countries in order to ensure a safer Middle East.
Netanyahu also thanked Obama for supporting Israel during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.
"Your support for the Iron Dome Missile Defense System saved a lot of Israelis during Operation Protective Edge," he said, adding that "US-Israel relations have progressed well over the years."
Warm welcome, serious issues
Earlier Wednesday, Obama gave Netanyahu a friendly welcome before holding the closed session.
"Prime Minister Netanyahu is no stranger to the White House," Obama stated. "Israel is in a very turbulent neighborhood. We meet at a challenging time."
"Once again, we reaffirm the unbreakable bond between US and Israel and our ironclad commitment to Israel’s security," he continued. "During the summer, all of us were very concerned about the situation in Gaza. We were proud that the Iron Dome was protecting Israelis as rockets were pouring down on a regular basis."
Obama called to change the “status quo.”
"We realize we have to find ways to change the status quo, so that both Israelis and Palestinians feel safe in their homes," he stated. "We will work on rebuilding Gaza, but also on finding a more sustainable peace between Israelis and the Palestinians."
"We will also discuss the progress we made this week in the attempts to deal with Iran’s nuclear program which is a high priority for Israel but also for the US and the world."
In spite of the summer’s conflict with Gaza terrorist groups and the knock to tourism during that period, Israel had maintained its sterling A1 credit rating, according to the Moody’s international credit rating agency.
The report based its findings on Israel’s resilient growth model and effective government.
Unsurprisingly for the so-called “Start Up Nation”, the key engine driving that growth is the flourishing hi-tech sector.
"Key to Israel’s economic dynamism is a high-tech export sector that benefits from the country’s well-educated, relatively young population, as well as one of the highest levels of per capita investment in research and development," according to the report.
It further noted the recent decision by technology giant Intel to invest $6 billion in a new chip manufacturing plant as evidence of the “substantial” inflow of foreign capital to the Jewish state’s high-tech sector.
Growth is expected to continue to accelerate into next year, according to the report.
Despite the positive outlook, however, it warned that “Israel’s extensive geopolitical challenges continue to constrain the ratings.”
"These include territorial disputes with the Palestinians, intense civil strife in Egypt and Syria and the stand-off with Iran over its nuclear program. Intermittent conflicts pose near- to medium-term risks for the public finances and impair Israel’s standing in the international community."
The good news comes less than two weeks after a similarly glowing report by Standard & Poors (S&P) international credit ratings agency, which said the impact of the 50-day Operation Protective Edge on Israel’s economy was “minor”.
S&P reiterated its high regard for Israel’s economy, affirming its ‘A+/A-1’ rating for the country’s sovereign debt, meaning that investors in Israeli bond issues and government debt are almost sure to get their money back.
A Kenyan court on Wednesday ordered two Iranians held under anti-terrorism laws to serve two years in jail or pay a hefty fine after they pleaded guilty to using fake Israeli passports to enter the East African country last month.
Kenyan anti-terrorism police arrested the two on suspicion of plotting an attack in Kenya as they prepared to board a flight at Nairobi airport on Sept. 18 bound for Belgium.
It was not immediately clear whether officials’ concerns about a possible attack had been put to rest. It was also not clear whether the two, a man and a woman, would avoid jail by paying the fine of 2 million shillings ($22,422) each instead.
Kenyan security agencies have been on alert after several gun and grenade attacks which followed the killing of 67 people in an attack by Islamist gunmen on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall in September last year.
In her ruling, Nairobi Resident Magistrate Hannah Kaguru also ordered the two accused be handed over to Kenya’s department of refugees once they have completed their sentences.
They have 14 days to appeal against Wednesday’s ruling.
Two Iranian men were sentenced to life in prison by a Kenyan court in May last year for planning to carry out bombings in Nairobi and other cities. The men have appealed against their conviction and a ruling on their appeal is expected on Oct. 14.
A vow to defend the 700-year-old tomb of Suleyman Shah, grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire, in a Turkish enclave in northern Syria could decide Turkey’s role in the military campaign against Islamic State.
Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said on Tuesday that the militants were advancing on the white stone mausoleum, guarded by several dozen Turkish soldiers and perched on a manicured lawn under a Turkish flag on the banks of the Euphrates.
The tomb was made Turkish territory under a treaty signed with France in 1921, when France ruled Syria. Ankara regards it as sovereign territory and has repeatedly made clear that it will defend the mausoleum if it is attacked.
"We can’t leave that place, which is ours through agreements, unprotected. Regardless of pride, this is important for our historical memory. This is important for everyone, not just for Turks," said Ilber Ortayli, a leading Turkish historian at Istanbul’s Galatasaray University.
Turkey has so far been reluctant to take an active role in the U.S.-led military campaign against Islamic State, but the government on Tuesday sent a proposal to parliament to beef up its powers to order cross-border operations in Syria and Iraq.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, foreign minister at the time, said in March Turkey would retaliate against any attack on the tomb, 30 km (20 miles) from the Turkish border, as Islamic State tightened its grip on surrounding areas.
Islamic State and other Islamist groups, whose strict Salafi interpretation of Islam deems the veneration of tombs to be idolatrous, have destroyed several tombs and mosques in Syria.
Suleyman Shah was the grandfather of Osman I who founded the Ottoman Empire in 1299. Traveling through modern-day Syria with the Kayi tribe, he fell off his horse and drowned in the Euphrates near Ja’bar, south of the current site of the mausoleum, according to historians.
The Kayi tribe settled in Anatolia, which became the heart of the Ottoman Empire.
Other academics question how knowledgeable the average Turk is about the tomb’s history and the extent to which an Islamic State attack on it would spark popular support for a Turkish military intervention.
Hasan Unal, professor of international relations at Ankara’s Atilim University, said the government could play it either way.
"It would depend largely on how the government presents it. If it had a serious intention to take part in the war, the tomb would look to have greater significance … But if it didn’t, it could downgrade its significance in the public eye," he said.
The tomb also made news in March when it cropped up in a leaked audio recording on YouTube of top security officials, including Davutoglu and intelligence chief Hakan Fidan, discussing possible military action in Syria.
Turkish army tanks take up position on the Turkish-Syrian border near the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province - 29 September 2014
Hamas terrorists Marwan Kawasmeh and Amar Abu Eisha, who abducted and murdered Israeli teens Naftali Frenkel, Eyal Yifrah, and Gilad Sha’ar on June 12, were lauded with the highest status in Islam - martyrdom - by official Palestinian Authority (PA) press and leaders.
The official PA news agency WAFA praised the two as martyrs last Tuesday after the IDF succeeded in eliminating the two terrorists earlier in the day in Hevron, after the terrorists engaged Israeli forces in a gun battle.
"Israeli occupation forces executed citizens Marwan Kawasmeh and Amar Abu Eisha today, Tuesday, in the early hours of the morning in a military operation in central Hevron… Security sources told WAFA that the occupation forces were still holding on to the bodies of the two martyrs," wrote WAFA, as translated by Palestinian Media Watch (PMW).
PA Minister of Religious Affairs Yusuf Ida’is also called the two terrorists “martyrs” while speaking with the Palestinian Arab Ma’an News Agency last Tuesday.
PMW notes that the status as martyrs indicates the highest level of heavenly reward in Islam, a status that has made Arab mothers ecstatic on many documented occasions.
In addition to the unadulterated praise of the terrorists without noting their heinous crimes, numerous PA sources last Tuesday rushed to condemn Israel for taking out the two, amid insinuations that they were not actually guilty of the murders.
The claims come despite the fact that a senior Hamas source in Turkey last month finally took credit for the attack, and last Monday Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashaal admitted to Yahoo News that the murders were indeed carried out by Hamas terrorists.
Ida’is accused Israel of “assassinating” the terrorists, while official PA TV news presented the elimination of the terrorists as a “cold-blooded execution.” The claim is ironic given that the PA’s “unity partner” Hamas executed numerous Gaza residents at the end of the recent operation, reportedly using the opportunity to take out Fatah rivals.
PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction also got in on the condemnation action last Tuesday, with Fatah spokesperson Ahmad Assaf terming the killing a “cowardly execution,” and “a serious violation of international law.”
In Hevron, where the elimination of the terrorists took place, local PA Governor Kamel Hamid said “the occupation carried out a death sentence on two Hevron citizens, and this is a premeditated crime.”
The PA also hinted that Israel killed the terrorist murderers to prevent them from somehow exposing they were not involved in the murder, despite the abundance of evidence.
Fatah Leadership Committee Member Yahya Rabah wrote in his column for the official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida “it is possible that, were they alive, they would tell us and the world that the operation of kidnapping and murder of the three settlers is unrelated to the official Israeli version. Therefore, the execution of the young men, Marwan and Amar, amounted to the murder of the truth.”
The PA daily also quoted PA Security Forces spokesperson Adnan al-Damiri as saying the details of the murder was “an Israeli version from beginning to end.”
The U.N humanitarian chief on Tuesday said tens of thousands of people are fleeing Syria as the Islamic State militant group expands its grip on large parts of the country despite a U.S.-led airstrike campaign.
Valerie Amos said tens of thousands more could flee if the Islamic State group’s fighters continue to seize control of more territory.
"Over the past two weeks, ISIL forces have advanced in northern Aleppo and over 160,000 people, mostly women and children, fled into Turkey in just a few days," Amos told the Security Council, using one of the acronyms for the group. "Their fear is so great that many people crossed heavily mined fields to seek refuge."
The exodus is one of the largest in Syria’s civil war as the militants press their offensive on the town of Kobani and surrounding villages near the border with Turkey.
More than a week has passed since the United States and Arab allies began airstrikes against the Islamic State group’s camps and other assets inside Syria. It has created an unusual situation where the U.S., which opposes Syrian President Bashar Assad, and Syria’s government are on the same side against the extremist group. Syria has said the U.S. informed it of the first airstrikes but has given no further notifications as the campaign continues.
The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, later told reporters that some council members asked during Tuesday’s briefing what effect the airstrikes might be having on the number of people currently fleeing Syria, which is expected to reach 200,000.
Power said she made clear to the council that any time military force is used, there is the risk of civilians being caught up, injured or killed. “I offered assurance we are taking every precaution, and this is a huge priority by President Obama to avoid civilian casualties,” she said.
Syria’s U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari told reporters that his government has received no figures of civilian victims of the airstrikes.
Power also emphasized that the United States’ position has not changed. “We continue to believe the Assad regime is a magnet for terrorism,” she said, adding that the Syrian government “cannot and will not take on ISIL.”
The rise of the Islamic State group has complicated Syria’s brutal civil war, now in its fourth year, which already has sent three million registered refugees into neighboring countries. Amos told the Security Council that the actual number of people who have left is “far higher than that.”
"Those who can, flee," she said simply.
Her monthly briefing on Syria’s humanitarian situation remained bleak, despite the opening of the Qamishli border crossing with Turkey that Amos said will help get aid to another 225,000 people. In July, the Security Council unanimously approved the delivery through four border crossings with Turkey, Jordan and Iraq without the approval of the Syrian government, which Amos has blamed repeatedly for slowing the aid process.
A Security Council diplomat said Amos told the briefing there was no evidence the airstrikes were affecting humanitarian aid access.
The U.N. has blamed both the Syrian government and the armed groups fighting it for what Amos called “utter disregard for international humanitarian and human rights law,” with violence on both sides causing civilian deaths.
Amos said 11 million people inside Syria still need urgent aid. She also welcomed the $1 billion pledged last week by various parties during the U.N. General Assembly but said more is needed. “Without additional funds, the World Food Program will be forced to end its operations completely within two months,” she said.
Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations issued an angry response to her comments. “In all her briefing, I didn’t hear the word ‘terrorist,’” Ja’afari told reporters. “For her, they are Syrian opposition groups. … She’s still insisting on misreading the facts and reality taking place in Syria.”
He criticized the U.N. humanitarian chief for thanking neighboring countries for their help but not his own government, which he said is the source of 75 percent of humanitarian aid.