ISRAEL NEW APPROVED SETTLEMENT

Israel’s government has approved the building of the first new settlement in 20 years in the occupied West Bank – a move swiftly condemned as an obstacle to peace based on a two-state solution. The move late on Thursday – considered illegal under international law – was adopted less than a week after the United Nations criticised Israel for not taking any steps to halt settlement building on occupied Palestinian territory, as demanded by the Security Council in a resolution it passed in December. It also came as thousands of Palestinians gathered on Thursday for annual demonstrations marking Land Day, which commemorate the 1976 killing of six peacefully protesting Palestinians by Israeli forces.

The unanimous vote in favour of construction of the new settlement in an area called Emek Shilo, which was announced in an Israeli government statement, drew instant criticism by Palestinian leaders. The cabinet’s vote wasn’t a surprise. We were expecting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to say something because earlier this year he had to clear the settlement of Amona. Amona is one of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank that was built on private Palestinian land. An Israeli high court said that this was illegal, so Netanyahu had to get rid of the people who lived there and move them on to somewhere else. Whether this settlement actually gets built or not is a whole other discussion to be had within the Israeli society. It’s also something to do with the fact that today is Land Day.

Netanyahu is under a lot of pressure from the coalition that helps him govern to build more of these settlements. He’s avoided so far by announcing extensions to settlements but the fact he’s announced a new one is going to anger many people within the international community, however it remains to be seen what the Americans think about this. Trump, at the beginning of the year, had said ‘it’s OK, you can build more settlements’, however he rode that back around March.

The White House pointedly avoided any specific condemnation of the announcement, although it said that further settlement activity “does not help advance peace” and that it expects Israel to show restraint moving forward. Still, the relatively tepid response was a far cry from the automatic condemnations voiced by the Obama’s administration in reaction to Israeli settlement announcements. The White House statement even went so far as to “welcome” what appears to be a limited Israeli commitment to take Trump’s concerns about settlements into “consideration”, without any guarantees to avoid similar announcements.

ARAB TWO-STATE PEACE TALKS

Arab leaders: We’ll try to relaunch Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Arab leaders declared their willingness to help advance the two-state solution, signaling that Palestinian demands would have to be addressed before, not after, any regional embrace of Israel. The closing statement of the annual Arab League Summit, hosted by Jordan, said Wednesday that “peace is a strategic option” for its members. The Arab states declared their willingness to “continue to work to relaunch serious Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations” based on their longstanding framework.

The Arab League’s reaffirmation of its 2002 Arab Peace Initiative is a blow to the Israeli proposal explored by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of normalization with some Arab states ahead of a deal with the Palestinians.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has demanded bilateral negotiations toward a Palestinian state in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and eastern Jerusalem. Netanyahu formally supports the creation of a Palestinian state, but has said it is not feasible in the foreseeable future. He has claimed Jerusalem will remain the united capital of Israel and last week declared construction throughout the city as non-negotiable.

Abbas met with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Siss on the sidelines of the summit ahead of the leaders’ White House meetings in coming weeks.

ISRAEL DEFENSE SALES

Israel reports upswing in defense sales. Israel’s Defense Ministry reported Wednesday that Israeli firms signed $6.5 billion in new export contracts for 2016, an $800 million rise above previous-year levels and an indication of an upward trend after a disappointing $5.6 billion in 2014. “The rise in the amount of new contracts signed is an expression of a global trend of nations emerging from recession, especially those in Europe and North America, and of augmented defense budgets vis-a-vis intensifying security challenges,” said Mishel Ben-Baruch, director of the ministry’s SIBAT defense cooperation and export authority. “We’re proud to conclude a challenging and successful year for the Israeli defense industry. We succeeded in partnership to achieve a significant rise in our defense exports,” he added.

WAR IN SYRIA

Trump administration stops disclosing troop deployments in Iraq and Syria
Even as the U.S. military takes on a greater role in the warfare in Iraq and Syria, the Trump administration has stopped disclosing significant information about the size and nature of the U.S. commitment, including the number of U.S. troops deployed in either country. Earlier this month, the Pentagon quietly dispatched 400 Marines to northern Syria to operate artillery in support of Syrian militias that are cooperating in the fight against Islamic State, according to U.S. officials. That was the first use of U.S. Marines in that country since its long civil war began.

Nearly 300 Army paratroopers were deployed recently to help the Iraqi military in their six-month assault on the city of Mosul, according to U.S. officials. Neither of those deployments was announced once they had been made, a departure from the practice of the Obama administration, which announced nearly all conventional force deployments.

In addition to the number of troops being larger, American forces are now nearer to the front lines in both Iraq and Syria than they have been since the war against Islamic State began nearly three years ago. The deployment of Marines to Syria was confirmed for the first time publicly this week by Gen. Joseph Votel, the top commander in the Middle East, in response to a question at a congressional hearing from a member of the House Armed Services committee who asked whether there were additional Americans inside the country. “They have deployed,” Votel said, adding that there were likely more troops headed for deployment.

The decision appears to be making good on Trump’s promise as a candidate to insist on more of an “element of surprise” in battle tactics. “In order to maintain tactical surprise, ensure operational security and force protection, the coalition will not routinely announce or confirm information about the capabilities, force numbers, locations, or movement of forces in or out of Iraq and Syria,” said Eric Pahon, a Pentagon spokesman.

That move deprives the public of information it has a right to know about the wars in which the U.S. is engaging, said Ned Price, National Security Council spokesman under Obama. Under the Obama administration, Pentagon policy was to announce conventional deployments after they occurred. That administration even took the unusual step of revealing in 2015 that 200 special operations forces — whose missions often are classified — had been sent to Syria. That’s now changed, according to Pentagon officials. “The coalition commander’s intent is that ISIS be first to know about any additional capabilities the coalition or our partner forces may present them on the battlefield,” Pahon said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

Even when news of a deployment leaks, officials will confirm only the broad description of the unit size being deployed — such as a brigade, which can be between 3,200 and 4,000 troops.

Has the US military taken the position that the American public must be informed of troop movements and deployments? Apparently so. “The position of the Obama administration was that the American people had a right to know if servicemen and women were in harm’s way,” he said. “It’s truly shocking that the current administration furtively deploys troops without public debate or describing their larger strategy.”

SYRIA: TABQA DAM

RT spots US ‘advisers’ on Raqqa frontline on visit to Syria’s strategic Euphrates Dam
An RT crew has gained access to the strategic Tabqa dam, partially recaptured by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces with the help of US troops who were deployed to Syria to “train, advise and assist” but who were spotted just miles away from Raqqa frontline. While exploring the northern side of the SDF-controlled part of the Tabqa dam, the RT crew – which became the first international news channel to film there – managed to catch a glimpse of US soldiers embedded with the Wrath of Euphrates operation. Besides capturing what Kurds called American artillery pounding the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) targets, RT’s Lizzie Phelan also noticed US Marines at the northern entrance to the Tabqa dam.

A member of the U.S. military died in Syria on Wednesday, according to a new report. The person, who was only identified as a “service member,” may have died from natural causes, U.S. Central Command said in a brief press release. It was the second “non-combat related casualty” in as many months for a member of Operation Inherent Resolve, which was formed to “militarily defeat DA’ESH,” another name for the Islamic State group, which is more commonly known as ISIS.

WAR WITH IRAN

Iran does not like the US presence in the middle east and it calling for the US navy to exit the Persian gulf
US is like ‘armed robber breaking into your house’ – Iranian defense minister
Iran’s defense minister, Hossein Dehqan, has advised the US military to leave the Persian Gulf and stop causing trouble there, local media report. The Minister was firing back at a US general who accused Iran of being a destabilizing force in its own region. “What are Americans doing in the Persian Gulf? They had better get out of this region and not cause trouble for the countries in the region,” Dehqan said in a statement carried by Iranian state media on Thursday.

He also compared the United States to a home intruder. “Is it acceptable for an armed robber to enter your house and expect to get the red carpet treatment? “This is an example of modern ignorance in the 21st century,” he said. Dehqan’s was responding to remarks made earlier in March by United States Central Command General Joseph Votel, who accused Iran of being a destabilizing influence in the region. “We are also dealing with a range of malign activities perpetrated by Iran and its proxies operating in the region,” Votel said at a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee in describing Tehran’s alleged influence over Iraq and Syria. “It is my view that Iran poses the greatest long-term threat to stability for this part of the world,” he said.

The statements made by military officials on both sides reflect the growing tensions between Iran and the United States. On Saturday, Iranian officials denied that its fast-attack boats had “harassed” an American aircraft carrier passing through the Strait of Hormuz last week, while, earlier in March, the Iranian Navy accused a US tracking ship of changing course to head towards Iranian Revolutionary Guard boats, calling the conduct “unprofessional.” The US Navy responded with counter-claims, however, alleging that it was the Iranian boats that had chased the US ship, risking “miscalculation or an accidental provocation.” A set of ballistic missile tests carried out by Iran has further enraged Washington, the latest of which came just in early March, when Iran announced it had successfully fired the Hormuz-2 naval missile capable of hitting targets within a range of 300 kilometers (180 miles). The US rolled out new sanctions against the Islamic Republic in turn.

Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) testified Wednesday before the House Armed Services Committee about the security challenges facing his area of responsibility (AOR). The Central Region, or CENTCOM AOR, spans more than 4 million square miles that cover 20 predominantly Muslim nations that stretch from Northeast Africa across the Middle East to Central and South Asia. In his written testimony, Gen. Votel declared: Iran poses the most significant threat to the Central Region and to our national interests and the interests of our partners and allies. We have not seen any improvement in Iran’s behavior since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), addressing Iran’s nuclear program, was finalized in July 2015. Over the past year, after the nuclear deal was signed, the U.S. military has been dealing with Iran and its proxies carrying out “a range of malign activities” in the Central Region, namely in “Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Egypt, the Sinai, and the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait [located between Yemen and Djibouti and Eritrea] and in other parts of our area of responsibility,” declared Gen. Votel.

Democrat Congresswoman Jacky Rosen from Nevada asked the top U.S. general during the hearing, “Do you believe Iran has increased destabilizing activity since the JCPOA?” “I do believe they have,” responded Gen. Votel, adding in his written remarks: Unfortunately, the [nuclear] agreement has led some to believe that we have largely addressed the Iranian problem set and that is not the case. In addition to its nuclear weapons potential, Iran presents several credible threats. They have a robust theater ballistic missile program, and we remain concerned about their cyber and maritime activities, as well as the activities of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Qods Forces (IRGC-QF) and their network of affiliates, [including their narco-terrorist proxy Hezbollah]. Since the nuclear agreement was signed, Iran has been “clearly focused” on expanding its influence and power in the Central Region, noted Votel.

“Recognizing that Iran poses the greatest long-term threat to U.S. interests in the Central Region, we must seize opportunities to both reassure our allies and shape Iran’s behavior,” he pointed out, adding, “Through both messaging and actions, we must also be clear in our communications and ensure the credibility of U.S. intentions.” To disrupt Iran’s growing threat, the U.S. must consider military action and other ways, proclaimed Gen. Votel.

Provocation by the US will first cause Iran to attack Israel, who they call “little satan”, after which they will attack the US on its own mainland as described in Jeremiah 50 and 51 where we find fulfilled prophecies, partially fulfilled prophecies and unfulfilled prophecies about Babylon. The partially fulfilled and unfulfilled prophecies are of concern to those who believe that the United States as risen in the end times to become the daughter of Babylon who is destroyed by war and economic collapse.

Iran has infiltrated the United States with operatives and is bragging about it. In an unprecedented move, Iran’s Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi recently admitted to these suspicions. He even boasted that Tehran has agents in the West, notably in the US, UK and Canada. Many believe Iran’s agents are operating not only in Washington, but in various sectors across the US, such as think thanks, businesses and universities. Nevertheless, pro-Iran agents portray its government as a victim in order to allow it to do as it wishes and avoid Western punishment for violating international law.

ECONOMY

Trump sets himself on collision course with China ahead of Xi meeting
Donald Trump has set himself on a collision course with Chinese president Xi Jinping, saying the first meeting between the two leaders would be “very difficult”. Xi will travel to the US next week and will have his first face to face meeting with Trump at Mar-a-lago, the US president’s country club in Florida, from April 6 to 7. But just hours after the trip was officially announced, Trump used Twitter to slam China for its trade balance with the US, setting an ominous tone for what many call “the most important bilateral relationship in the world”.

In a tweet on Thursday evening, Trump said the highly anticipated meeting between the leaders of the world’s two largest economies, which is also expected to cover differences over North Korea and China’s strategic ambitions in the South China Sea, “will be a very difficult one.” “We can no longer have massive trade deficits and job losses,” he wrote, adding in apparent reference to U.S. firms manufacturing in China: “American companies must be prepared to look at other alternatives.”

“The meeting next week with China will be a very difficult one in that we can no longer have massive trade deficits and job losses. American companies must be prepared to look at other alternatives,” Trump wrote in a pair of tweets. Trump’s erratic behaviour is likely to cast a shadow over Xi’s visit, with US officials also criticising China over North Korea. “This is a very dangerous way to start the meeting,” said Amy King, a senior lecturer at Australian National University and expert on Chinese foreign relations. “Trump needs to recognise there is very little he can do in terms of getting China to yield by threatening high tariffs, and they would simply have a backfire effect on the US economy.”

Zheng Zeguang, China’s vice-foreign minister, defended his country’s trade position on Friday in response to Mr Trump’s tweets. He said China’s trade surplus with the US was the “the result of the global distribution of industries, division of labour and different economic structures of China and the US”.

US will appeal injunction of Trump revised travel order

The U.S. Justice Department will appeal a ruling from a Hawaii federal judge which granted an injunction blocking President Donald Trump’s revised restrictions on travel from some Muslim-majority countries, it said in a court filing on Thursday. The appeal will be considered by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which last month upheld a suspension of Trump’s first travel order.