Report: Israel hit Sudan site housing missiles for Gaza


Israel bombed a warehouse in Sudan housing long-range missiles heading for Hamas in Gaza, an Arabic newspaper reported.

The London-based Al-Arab quoted unnamed sources in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, as saying that Israel struck an ammunition warehouse on Friday located north of the capital. Sudanese officials had claimed the explosion was caused by a fire, according to reports.

Israel’s military has not responded to the allegations.

In 2009, Israel carried out three airstrikes in western Sudan on a convoy reportedly carrying weapons to Gaza. Israel was blamed as well for a 2012 explosion in a weapons plant in Khartoum that reportedly was building weapons for Hamas.

NATO says Turkey no longer balks at missile shield helping Israel


Turkey has accepted assurances a planned NATO missile defense system in which it is playing a part is not designed to protect Israel as well, the alliance's deputy secretary-general said on Wednesday.

Alexander Vershbow said objections by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government had resulted in part from confusion about a Turkish-hosted NATO radar. Ankara had been further assuaged by alliance Patriot anti-missile batteries assigned to protect its territory from Syria.

A leaked U.S. diplomatic cable from 2010 described the Islamist-rooted Erdogan, under whom Turkey's once-solid ties with the Jewish state have deteriorated, as worrying that the NATO shield might provide cover for a threatened Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear sites.

Addressing an Israeli security forum, Vershbow said there had been “a lot of confusion” in Turkey, including over the similarity between its NATO radar and a U.S. radar posted in Israel to help it spot any ballistic missile launches by Iran.

“I think that there was misperception that somehow the NATO system would be focused on the protection of Israel and that Israeli-based assets would be part of the NATO system, whereas in fact these are two separate issues,” he told Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies (INSS).

“So I think that issue has receded. It may still be a problem among some parts of Turkish public opinion, but I think Turkey is now as a government supportive of missile defense.”

He linked that support to the fact the Erdogan government has “been benefitting from the deployed Patriots now for more than a year, deterring the Assad regime from firing some of its Scud missiles against civilian population centres in Turkey”.

Ankara agreed in 2011 to host an early-warning radar system as part of the NATO ballistic missile defence system.

 

RUSSIAN “PROPAGANDA”

The NATO missile defence system, which Vershbow envisaged being complete by the early part of the next decade, has encountered fierce opposition from Russia though the alliance insists the plan is not to counter its capabilities.

Vershbow chided Moscow for not taking up NATO offers to cooperate on missile defence and for apparently ignoring the assessments of Russian experts that the shield's technologies and deployment were inconsistent with a threat on the country.

“This has actually been documented in numerous scholarly articles by Russian generals and rocket scientists in Russian journals,” said Vershbow, a former U.S. ambassador to Moscow and Pentagon official.

“But the bad news is that Russian leaders and senior officials seem to pay no attention to their experts … Instead they continue to beat the drum about the purported threat posed by NATO's missile defence system to Russia's strategic retaliatory capability coupled with ominous warnings of retaliation against a threat that does not exist.”

Among such messages have been media reports of new Russian missile deployments in Kaliningrad, a western enclave of Russia lodged between NATO members Poland and Lithuania.

“After some days of ambiguity they made clear that they haven't yet deployed them,” he told Reuters.

“There is expectation that they will replace the older generation (of missiles). They have recast this system thing that they had planned to do and they are characterising it as a retaliation at least in part to (NATO) missile defence.” (Writing by Dan Williams; editing by Ralph Boulton)

Egypt intercepts Gaza-bound missile shipment


Egyptian security forces in the Sinai Peninsula reportedly intercepted a shipment of American-made missiles destined for the Gaza Strip.

After receiving intelligence on the weapons shipment, the Egyptian Interior Ministry raided a location south of El-Arish, Ma'an, the Palestinian news agency, reported on Friday.

According to the report, security forces discovered six U.S.-manufactured missiles being prepared in the city, just south of Gaza, for smuggling into the Palestinian coastal strip.

The missiles were 75cm long, with a 40cm diameter and a range of two kilometers, Ma'an reported. Some were for use against tanks and the others were anti-aircraft.

Late last month, Egyptian armed forces foiled an attempt to smuggle 17 French-made TDI model rockets into the Gaza Strip, the Egypt Independent quoted an anonymous military source as saying.

According to the report, Egyptian military forces, in cooperation with local Bedouins, stopped the smuggling attempt in northern Sinai. The rockets intercepted were caliber 68 mm, which have a range of 1.86 miles.

Iran says test-fires missiles over threats of attack


Iran said on Tuesday it had successfully tested medium-range missiles capable of hitting Israel as a response to threats of attack, the latest move in a war of nerves with the West.

Israel says it could attack Iran if diplomacy fails to secure a halt to its disputed nuclear energy programme. The United States also has military force as a possible option but has repeatedly encouraged the Israelis to be patient while new economic sanctions are implemented against Iran.

The Islamic Republic announced the “Great Prophet 7” missile exercise on Sunday after a European embargo against Iranian crude oil purchases took full effect following another fruitless round of big power talks with Tehran.

Iran’s official English-language Press TV said the Shahab 3 missile with a range of 1,300 km (800 miles) – able to reach Israel – was tested along with the shorter-range Shahab 1 and 2.

“The main aim of this drill is to demonstrate the Iranian nation’s political resolve to defend vital values and national interests,” Revolutionary Guards Deputy Commander Hossein Salami was quoted by Press TV as saying.

He said the tests were in response to Iran’s enemies who talk of a “military option being on the table”.

On Sunday, Iran threatened to wipe Israel “off the face of the earth” if the Jewish state attacked it.

Analysts have challenged some of Iran’s military assertions, saying it often exaggerates its capabilities.

Senior researcher Pieter Wezeman of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said Iran’s missiles were still relatively inaccurate and of limited use in conventional warfare. With conventional warheads, “their only utility is as a tool of terror and no more than that”, he said by telephone.

He added, however, that they could be suitable for carrying nuclear warheads, especially the larger ones.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies, said in a 2010 report that all Tehran’s ballistic missiles were “inherently capable of a nuclear payload”, if Iran was able to make a small enough bomb.

Iran denies Western accusations that it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons capability. The world’s No. 5 oil exporter maintains that it is enriching uranium only to generate more energy for a rapidly growing population.

OIL MARKETS ON EDGE

Iran has previously threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, through which more than a third of the world’s seaborne oil trade passes, in response to increasingly harsh sanctions by the United States and its allies intended to force it to curb its nuclear research programme.

Fars said dozens of missiles involved in this week’s exercises had been aimed at simulated air bases, and that Iranian-built unmanned drones would be tested on Wednesday.

Iran repeated its claim to be reverse-engineering the sophisticated U.S. RQ-170 drone that it says it brought down during a spying mission last year.

“In this drone there are hundreds of technologies used, each of which are valuable to us in terms of operations, information and technicalities,” General Amir Hajizadeh was quoted by the ISNA news agency as saying.

Wezeman said Iran had a large standing armed force, but that its weapons were generally outdated. “And those weapons only get older and older and they don’t have access to new technology because they are under a United Nations arms embargo.”

In his first comments since the European Union oil ban took force, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said sanctions would benefit Iran by lessening its dependence on crude exports.

“We must see the sanctions as an opportunity … which can forever take out of the enemy’s hands the ability to use oil as a weapon for sanctions,” Fars news agency quoted him as saying.

Negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme continued in Istanbul on Tuesday with a meeting of technical experts from Iran and six world powers.

The discussions follow a round of political talks in Moscow last month at which the sides failed to bridge differences or agree on a further round of talks at that level.

The experts have no mandate to strike agreements but the six powers – the United States, China, Britain, Germany, France and Russia – hope that by clarifying technical aspects of Tehran’s work they can open way for more negotiations in the future.

Diplomats in Istanbul said discussions in the Turkish capital were “detailed” and would most likely be followed by a meeting between a senior negotiator from the European Union and Iran’s deputy negotiator Ali Bagheri. Such a meeting could, at a later date, be a prelude to talks on a political level, diplomats have said.

“We hope Iran will seize the opportunity … to show a willingness to take concrete steps to urgently meet the concerns of the international community,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said ahead of the meeting. Ashton and her team represent the six powers in dealings with Iran.

As a priority, the powers want Iran to stop enriching uranium to levels close to weapons-grade, ship out any stockpile, and close a secret facility where such work is done.

Iran denies its programme has a military dimension and wants relief from economic sanctions before it makes any concessions.

IRANIAN CALL TO SHUT OIL LANES

On Monday, Iranian parliamentarians proposed a bill calling for Iran to try to stop tankers taking crude through the Strait of Hormuz to countries that support the sanctions.

However, the Iranian parliament is relatively weak, analysts say, and the proposal has no chance of becoming law unless sanctioned by Iran’s clerical supreme leader.

That is seen as unlikely in the near term given that Western powers have said they would tolerate no closure of the Strait while Iranian leaders, wedded to strategic pragmatism for the sake of survival, have said they seek no war with anyone.

“It’s a gesture at this stage,” said independent British-based Iran analyst Reza Esfandiari.

“They want to emphasise that Iran can make life difficult for Europe and America. I think this is more of an attempt to offset falling crude prices. Financial markets are very sensitive to such talk.”

On Tuesday, the price of Brent crude, which has been on a downward trend for the last three months, broke $100 for the first time since early June.

“A lot depends on nuclear talks,” said Esfandiari. “If there’s no progress and the initiative is deadlocked, then these kind of actions will intensify.”

Additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati in Dubai, Fredrik Dahl in Vienna and Justyna Pawlak in Brussels; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Kevin Liffey and Michael Roddy

Iran threatens Israel; new EU sanctions take force


Iran announced missile tests on Sunday and threatened to wipe Israel “off the face of the earth” if the Jewish state attacked it, brandishing some of its starkest threats on the day Europe began enforcing an oil embargo and harsh new sanctions.

The European sanctions – including a ban on imports of Iranian oil by EU states and measures that make it difficult for other countries to trade with Iran – were enacted earlier this year but mainly came into effect on July 1.

They are designed to break Iran’s economy and force it to curb nuclear work that Western countries say is aimed at producing an atomic weapon. Reporting by Reuters has shown in recent months that the sanctions have already had a significant effect on Iran’s economy.

Israel says it could attack Iran if diplomacy fails to force Tehran to abandon its nuclear aims. The United States also says military force is on the table as a last resort, but U.S. officials have repeatedly encouraged the Israelis to be patient while new sanctions take effect.

Washington said the EU’s oil ban might force Tehran to give ground at the next round of nuclear talks, scheduled for this week in Istanbul.

Announcing three days of missile tests in the coming week, Revolutionary Guards General Amir Ali Hajizadeh said the exercises should be seen as a message “that the Islamic Republic of Iran is resolute in standing up to … bullying, and will respond to any possible evil decisively and strongly.”

Any attack on Iran by Israel would be answered resolutely: “If they take any action, they will hand us an excuse to wipe them off the face of the earth,” said Hajizadeh, head of the Guards’ airborne division, according to state news agency IRNA.

The missile tests will target mock-ups of air bases in the region, Hajizadeh said, adding that its ability to strike U.S. bases in the Gulf protects Iran from U.S. support for Israel.

“U.S. bases in the region are within range of our missiles and weapons, and therefore they certainly will not cooperate with the regime,” he told IRNA.

Iran has repeatedly unnerved oil markets by threatening reprisals if it were to be attacked or its trade disrupted.

The threat against the Jewish state echoed words President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke in 2005, saying Israel “must be wiped off the page of time” – a phrase often translated as “wiped off the map” and cited by Israel to show how allowing Iran to get nuclear arms would be a threat to its existence.

The EU ban on Iranian oil imports directly deprives Iran of a market that bought 18 percent of its exports a year ago. The sanctions also bar EU companies from transporting Iranian crude or insuring shipments, hurting its trade worldwide.

“They signal our clear determination to intensify the peaceful diplomatic pressure,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement.

The EU sanctions come alongside stringent new measures imposed by Washington this year on third countries doing business with Iran. The United States welcomed the EU sanctions as an “essential part” of diplomatic efforts “to seek a peaceful resolution that addresses the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney said he hoped the sanctions would force Tehran to make concessions in technical-level talks with six world powers later this week.

MALICIOUS POLICIES

“Iran has an opportunity to pursue substantive negotiations, beginning with expert level talks this week in Istanbul, and must take concrete steps toward a comprehensive resolution of the international community’s concerns with Iran’s nuclear activities,” Carney said in a statement.

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – foes of Iran which face it across the oil-rich Gulf – announced their own joint air force exercises on Sunday which they said would take “several days,” their state news agencies reported.

In three rounds of talks between Iran and the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, the Western powers have demanded Tehran halt high-grade uranium enrichment, ship out all high-grade uranium and close a key enrichment facility.

The talks lost steam at the last meeting in Moscow last month and there was not enough common ground for negotiators to agree whether to meet again. Officials – but not political decision-makers – meet in Turkey on Tuesday.

Washington sees the sanctions and talks as a potential way out of the standoff to avert the need for military action, but has not said it would block Israel from attacking Iran.

Tehran says it has a right to peaceful nuclear technologies and is not seeking the bomb. It accuses nuclear-armed states of hypocrisy. Officials said they were taking steps to reduce the economic impact of the new sanctions.

“We are implementing programs to counter sanctions and we will confront these malicious policies,” Mehr news agency quoted Iranian central bank governor Mahmoud Bahmani as saying.

Bahmani has struggled to prevent a plunge in the value of the rial currency and steadily rising inflation as the sanctions have taken effect. He said the effects of the sanctions were tough but that Iran had built up $150 billion in foreign reserves to protect its economy.

Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi said oil importing countries would be the losers if the sanctions lead to price rises.

“All possible options have been planned in government to counter sanctions,” Qasemi said on the ministry’s website.

Last Friday, another Revolutionary Guards commander, Ali Fadavi, said Iran would equip its ships in the Strait of Hormuz – the neck of the Gulf and a vital oil transit point – with shorter-range missiles.

Additional reporting by Marcus George and Isabel Coles in Dubai and by Jeff Mason in Washington; Writing by Robin Pomeroy; Editing by Peter Graff

Fighting flares along Israel-Gaza border


Israel killed two Palestinians in air strikes and Hamas fired its first cross-border rocket barrages in more than a year as fighting along the Israel-Gaza frontier flared on Tuesday for a second day.

The confrontation initially appeared to fit a familiar pattern of Israeli strikes against small squads of Palestinian militants in Gaza and rockets launched toward sparsely populated areas in southern Israel near the border.

But the surprise decision by the Gaza Strip’s rulers, the Islamist group Hamas, to re-engage militarily with Israel after months of staying on the sidelines and discouraging smaller groups from firing rockets held the prospect of wider conflict.

Since Monday, Israeli air strikes have killed six Palestinians, including four militants. A 2-year-old Gazan girl died and her brother was wounded when militants launched a rocket close by, witnesses said. An Israeli military spokesman said there had been no air strikes in the area at the time.

A Hamas medical official said the cause of the children’s injuries was not clear.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said Israeli attacks had prompted the group to “take a firm stance” and launch rockets.

Israeli security officials said at least 40 rockets were fired at southern Israel on Tuesday, causing no casualties.

Although other militant groups have fired rockets across the border, Hamas had held its fire under unofficial truces with Israel, a policy widely seen in Israel as effectively enabling the group to train and arm without much risk of Israeli attack.

Israel has said that Hamas, which seized the Gaza Strip from forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007, bears overall responsibility for any attacks from the coastal enclave.

GROUND OPERATION

“The more things deteriorate, the closer we come to a decision we don’t want to make,” Israeli cabinet minister Silvan Shalom said. “The prospect of a ground operation (in the Gaza Strip) shouldn’t frighten us.”

“If this situation escalates, and I hope it won’t, then all options are open. They know it. We know it. The international community knows it,” he told Israel Radio.

On Monday, before the Gaza flare-up, militants who crossed into Israel from Egypt’s Sinai desert fired on Israelis building a barrier on that frontier, killing one worker. Soldiers shot dead two of the infiltrators.

The Sinai attack, launched soon after the Muslim Brotherhood declared victory in Egypt’s presidential election, increased Israeli concerns about lawlessness in the area since the fall of president Hosni Mubarak last year.

In a video recording obtained by Reuters in Gaza, a group of masked men claimed responsibility for the Sinai incident on behalf of what they said was a newly formed Islamic movement, the “Shura Council of Mujahideen in the Holy Land”.

The masked men used Islamic slogans, pledging to liberate the Holy Land from what they termed Jewish control.

A second video showed two men, one of whom said they were about to embark on a mission to attack “the Zionist forces on the border of Egypt and occupied Palestine”, an apparent reference to Monday’s incident on the Sinai border.

The first man said he was an Egyptian named Abu Salah al-Masri. The other said he came from Saudi Arabia and gave his name as Abu Huthiyfa al-Rathali. The videos could not immediately be verified.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Kevin Liffey

Hamas renews rocket fire from Gaza; 17 missiles explode in southern Israel


Hamas has launched a barrage of rockets toward southern Israel on Tuesday afternoon, after months of restraint on behalf of the Gaza rulers.

Seven rockets exploded in open areas in Eshkol Regional Council on Tuesday afternoon, after four rockets were fired at Hof Ashkelon and Sha’ar Hanegev regional councils overnight Monday.

There were no reported casualties or damage.

Hamas took responsibility for the rocket fire overnight Monday, and announced on Tuesday afternoon that its military wing had fired 10 Grad rockets toward Israel.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Israel bombs Gaza sites


Israeli Air Force planes attacked five sites in the Gaza Strip two days after an Israeli soldier was killed near the security fence with Gaza.

The early Sunday morning attacks targeted what the IDF described as three weapons manufacturing facilities in the central Gaza Strip and two tunnels allegedly used to attack Israeli military patrols in the area.

The Palestinian news service Ma’an reported Sunday morning that Israeli planes struck the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, wounding seven people, including four children. The sites targeted by the Air Force belong to the Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror organizations, Israeli military sources said.

A Palestinian gunman infiltrated the Israel-Gaza borer early Friday morning, killing Netanel Moshiashvili of Ashkelon.

Iran tests missiles capable of reaching Israel, U.S. bases


Iran reportedly tested medium- and long-range missiles that are capable of reaching Israel and U.S. bases.

Tuesday’s firing of the missiles came on the second day of the Revolutionary Guards’ war games.

The day before, Iran’s military displayed on national television underground missile silos programmed to hit predetermined targets with medium- and long-range missiles, including Israel and U.S. bases in the Middle East, in the event of an attack.

Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the Revolutionary Guards Air Force, told the English-language semi-official Iranian news service Fars that the United States and Israel were Iran’s only enemies, “and other than that we are not threatened by any nation. Our missile range is designed according to the location of the American bases in the region and that of the Zionist regime.”

Hajizadeh called the war games, code-named “Great Prophet 6,” a “message of peace and friendship to countries of the region.”

Israel/Wikileaks: ‘Hezbollah expected to launch 100 missiles a day at Tel Aviv’


Israeli officials expect Hezbollah to fire about 500 missiles a day at Israel, including 100 that will reach Tel Aviv, in the next war.

A batch of U.S. diplomatic leaks shared with Israeli newspapers through WikiLeaks were published Friday. Summaries of conversations in 2009 between U.S. officials and Israeli intelligence officials show that Israel expects the next war with Hezbollah to last two months.

Israel has long complained that U.N. pledges in the wake of the 2006 Lebanon war to stem the flow of missiles into Lebanon have proved not only worthless, but that Hezbollah is stronger than it was before that war.

The terrorist group, which is now a leading party in Lebanon’s government, “is preparing for a long conflict with Israel in which it hopes to launch a massive number of rockets at Israel per day,” an Israeli officer is quoted as saying. “In the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Tel Aviv was left untouched − Hezbollah will try to change the equation during the next round and disrupt everyday life in Tel Aviv.”

In other WikiLeaks revelations, released through Ha’aretz and Yedioth Achronoth, Israeli officials in 2009 accused Turkey of helping Iran evade sanctions and describe Mohammed Tantawi, the Egyptian defense minister, as unreliable in the joint Egyptian-Israeli effort to stem arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip.

Tantawi now chairs the military council leading Egypt in the wake of the revolution earlier this year.

WikiLeaks: Iran can reach Israel in 12 minutes


Iran has missiles that can reach Israel in 12 minutes, according to cables released by WikiLeaks.

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi told a U.S. Congressional delegation in November 2009 that the Islamic Republic has over 300 missiles that can reach the Jewish state in up to 12 minutes, according to the cables released on Sunday.

He also reportedly told the lawmakers, led by Ike Skelton (D-Mo.),that he was preparing Israel’s military for a major war against Hamas, saying that “I’m preparing the Israeli army for a major war, since it is easier to scale down to a smaller operation than to do the opposite.”

Ashkenazi told the delegation that the threat from Hamas and Hezbollah is more acute than the Iranian threat, due to their proximity to Israel. Iran funds both Hamas and Hezbollah. He predicted that the next big war for Israel would be either in Gaza or Lebanon.

He also said that Hezbollah has over 40,000 rockets capable of reaching all of Israel, and that Hamas could hit Tel Aviv.

Medvedev: An Israeli strike on Iran could cause a global catastrophe


From HAARETZ.com:

An Israeli strike of Iran’s nuclear facilities could spark a nuclear conflict, which could spiral to a global catastrophe, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told ABC on Monday, adding that he supported what he called “smart” sanctions on Tehran as part of attempt to make it abandon its nuclear program.

The Russian president is in the United States for a 47-nation nuclear summit convened by U.S. President Barack Obama aimed at thwarting nuclear terrorism, and which may also center on a U.S.-back attempt to hit Iran with new nuclear sanctions.

Read the full article at HAARETZ.com.