ON THE BRINK: Netanyahu moves security meetings to underground bunker as war with Iran looms

Jerusalem (The Times of Israel) — Israel’s high-level security cabinet will meet in a new, specially built underground bunker in Jerusalem for the foreseeable future.

The change of venue — meetings of the security cabinet usually take place in the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem — may signal the heightened sensitivity of upcoming discussions, with some observers in the Hebrew-language media suggesting it could point to preparations for a possible escalation of hostilities with Iran.

Talks held in the secure bunker could also prevent leaks to the media.

The decision to move the meetings to the bunker was made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Following Israel’s recent military successes, including the Air Force’s strike on an Iranian base attack two weeks ago, the cabinet is reportedly formulating policy and deciding Israel’s red lines with regard to Iran and Syria.

During two pre-dawn hours on May 10, Israeli F-15 and F-16 fighter jets evaded “dozens of missiles” and dropped “many dozens” of bombs on over 50 Iranian targets throughout Syria as the Israel air force carried out an extensive campaign, dubbed “Operation House of Cards,” to debilitate Iran’s military presence in the country.

Those strikes came after 32 rockets were fired by Iranian troops in Syria at the Golan Heights, according to Israel Air Force figures, none of which struck Israeli territory.

At a meeting on the morning after the attack, the security cabinet discussed how best to proceed — whether to press its military advantage or settle for what had already been achieved, Hadashot news reported.

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‘YOU HAVE MADE HISTORY’: US embassy opens in Jerusalem, recognizing holy city as ‘true capital’ of Israel

Jerusalem, — The Trump administration officially opened a new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem on Monday, recognizing the holy city as the “true capital of Israel.”

“For many years, we have failed to acknowledge the obvious, plain reality that the [Israeli] capital is Jerusalem. At my direction, the United States finally and officially recognized Jerusalem as the true capital of Israel,” Trump said in a video address just moments before daughter his daughter Ivanka officially unveiled the embassy.

“The United States will always be a great friend of Israel and a partner in the cause of peace,” Trump added. “We extend a hand in friendship to Israel, the Palestinians and to all of their neighbors. May there be peace.”

Shortly after the unveiling of the facility, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed how “deeply grateful” he and the Israeli people are to President Trump and the people of the United States who supported the decision to place the facility within Jerusalem city limits.

“President Trump, by recognizing history, you have made history,” Netanyahu said, taking a moment to publicly recall a moment from his childhood when he was warned not to run too close to the Jerusalem border. “My mother said you can’t go any farther, that was near the border. There was sniper fire. That was then—this is now. Today the embassy of the most powerful nation on earth, our greatest ally, the United States of America, today the United States Embassy opened here. What a difference.”

Netanyahu went on to declare Monday a “great day for Israel,” and for the U.S.-Israel bond.

“We are in Jerusalem and we are here to stay,” Netanyahu said.

As America and Israel celebrated, however, clashes near the border with protestors who were opposed to the relocation left dozens of Palestinians dead and hundreds wounded.

Palestinian officials have criticized the Trump administration for its decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced he has cut ties with the U.S., declaring it no longer fit and too one-sided to mediate peace between Israel and Palestine.

The Trump has rebuffed Palestinian’s criticism, saying that the embassy move should be viewed as a first step toward brokering peace.

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TENSIONS RISE: Israel and Iran inch closer to war as Israel strikes back against Syrian targets

Jerusalem (The Telegraph) — Israel and Iran lurched closer to an all out war on Thursday after the Israeli military struck “almost all” of Iran’s bases in Syria in response to what it said was a Iranian rocket barrage fired at the Golan Heights.

The exchange of fire was the most direct confrontation between the two Middle East rivals after years of standoff in Syria and came just one day after Donald Trump pulled the US out of the Iran nuclear agreement and reimposed sanctions on Iran.

Israeli carried out its largest wave of airstrikes in Syria since the 1973 war, striking around 50 Iranian military bases, supply depots, and intelligence sites as well as Syrian regime air defence batteries, the Israeli military said.

“We, of course, struck almost all the Iranian infrastructure in Syria, and they need to remember this arrogance of theirs,” said Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli defence minister. “If we get rain, they’ll get a flood.”

The wave of strikes was in response to a barrage of 20 rockets which Israel said were fired by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard towards the Golan, a mountainous region that Israel annexed from Syria after capturing it in 1967.

There were no casualties on the Israeli side. The Israeli military said its Iron Dome missile defence system had intercepted four of the rockets at around 12.10am on Thursday, while the other 16 fell harmlessly inside of Syrian territory.

At least 23 people were killed by the Israeli strikes, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It was not clear how many of the dead were Iranians. Iran has neither confirmed nor denied that it was responsible for the rocket barrage.

Israel has said repeatedly it will not allow Iran to build up a permanent military presence in Syria and is prepared to go to war to stop it. “Whoever hurts us, we will hurt him sevenfold. Whoever tries to hurt us, we will act to hurt him beforehand,” said Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister.

Tensions between the two sides have risen sharply since April 9, when a suspected Israeli strike on the T4 airbase in central Syria killed at least seven Iranians. Iran vowed revenge for the bombing and Israel has been warning for weeks that it was expecting an Iranian attack.

In February, Iran allegedly launched an armed drone from Syria into Israel. Israel shot down the drone and carried out a wave of airstrikes in response. One Israeli F-16 was shot down by Syrian air defence systems during the attack, the first time Israel has lost a warplane in combat since 1982.

Britain and the US were quick to issue messages of support for Israel and condemning Iran. “The United Kingdom condemns in the strongest terms the Iranian rocket attacks against Israeli forces. We strongly support Israel’s right to defend itself,” said Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary.

Both the UK and US called on Russia to do more to rein in Iran’s presence in Syria and avoid a further escalation. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, also condemned the attack in phone call with Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president.

The Israeli attacks are likely to strain the relationship between Iran and Russia, who are fighting on the same side in Syria on behalf of the Assad regime.

Israel warned Russia of its intention to launch strikes ahead of time but Russian forces in Syria appear to have done nothing to shield their Iranian allies. Hours before the Israeli attack, Vladimir Putin hosted Mr. Netanyahu as an honoured guest at a military parade in Moscow.

While Israel has scored tactical military victories over Iran in Syria, it has struggled with a broader diplomatic campaign to convince world powers to clamp down on Iran in Syria. Mr. Netanyahu travels regularly to Moscow to make this point but his diplomatic efforts have so far yielded few visible results.

Bahrain also voiced support for Israel’s strikes, in an unusual example of an Arab state publicly applauding Israel for dropping bombs on the territory of a fellow Arab state. Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations share many of Israel’s fears about Iran.

Israel said the rockets were fired by the Quds Force, the expeditionary wing of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, and accused its leader, General Qassem Soleimani, of personally ordering the attack.

“It was ordered and commanded by Qassem Soleimani and it has not achieved its purpose,” said Lt Col Jonathan Conricus, a spokesman for the Israeli Defence Forces.

By Thursday afternoon quiet had returned to the Golan Heights and tourists mingled with UN Observers on Mount Bental, a mountain affording sweeping views into Syria.

Nathan Gabah, a 24-year-old businessman relaxing in the late afternoon sun at the beauty spot, said he heard explosions on Thursday morning from his home city of Safed, around 30 miles from the site of the alleged Iranian barrage.

“There was a vroom and a bang, like a bomb,” he said, describing the firing of an Iron Dome anti-missile battery near by.

“I’m not worried at all. Then again I have a friend who is really scared. It varies from person to person,” he shrugged. “It doesn’t feel like we’ve suddenly gone to war.”

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AMERICA VS THE WORLD: UN votes to condemn US recognition of Jerusalem as Israeli capital

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United Nations General Assembly on Thursday defied warnings from the United States by overwhelmingly passing a resolution which condemned President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

A total of 128 countries voted in favor of condemning Trump’s declaration. Just seven states, Togo, Micronesia, Guatemala, Nauru, Palau, Marshall Islands and Honduras joined the U.S. and Israel in voting against the resolution.

Speaking before the UN assembly prior to the vote, U.S. ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, defended the Trump administration’s decision, saying the recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital represented “the will of the people”.

“The decision does not prejudge any final status issues, including Jerusalem’s boundaries. The decision does not preclude a two-state solution, if the parties agree to that,” Haley said. “The decision does nothing to harm peace efforts. Rather, the president’s decision reflects the will of the American people and our right as a nation to choose the location of our embassy.”

“America will put our embassy to Jerusalem,” Haley added. “That’s what the American people want us to do. And it’s the right thing to do.”

Haley then went on to issue a fierce warning to states who chose to support the resolution.

“We will remember it when we are called upon once again to make the world’s largest contribution to the United Nations,” vowed Hailey. “And we will remember when so many countries come calling on us, as they so often do, to pay even more and to use our influence for their benefit.”

Thursday’s vote “will make a difference on how Americans look at the U.N. and on how we look at countries who disrespect us in the U.N., and this vote will be remembered,” Hailey warned.

In a video statement following the vote, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “Israel completely rejects this preposterous resolution. Jerusalem is our capital — always was, always will be.” However, Netanyahu added, “I do appreciate the fact that a growing number of countries refuse to participate in this theater of the absurd.”

Referring to the United States as Israel’s strongest ally, Netanyahu thanked President Donald Trump and Haley for their “stalwart defense” of Israel and “the truth”.

In a declaration of victory, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said: “The vote is a victory for Palestine.” The spokesperson went on to pledge that the Palestinians would “continue our efforts in the United Nations and at all international forums to put an end to this occupation and to establish our Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital.”

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‘WE STAND TOGETHER ALWAYS’: TRUMP AFFIRMS US PLEDGE TO ISRAEL DURING FIRST VISIT AS PRESIDENT

JERUSALEM — “We are not only longtime friends, we are great allies and partners. We stand together always,” president Donald Trump said of the United States and Israel during his first official visit as president.

Joined by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at a joint press conference in Jerusalem, the president also called upon the Israeli government to help the United States halt the threat of a nuclear Iran.

“The United States and Israel can declare with one voice that Iran must never be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon, never ever, and must cease its deadly funding, training and equipping of terrorists and militias, and it must cease immediately,” Trump said during a joint appearance with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem. “There is a growing realization among your Arab neighbors that they have common cause with you in the threat posed by Iran, and it is indeed a threat, there is no question about that,” he added.

Accompanied by first lady Melania Trump and daughter Ivanka, the president also traveled to Jerusalem’s Old City where he visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. During his visit, the president made history by becoming the first sitting American president to visit the Western Wall, where he prayed silently and slipped a written prayer request between it’s stones.

Trump will continue touring Jerusalem before meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu this evening.

The trip marks the first official visit made by the president to the Middle East since being inaugurated in January.

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