Iran threatens U.S, Israel

Chief of staff warns Tehran’s enemies and regional states against military action, calling American threats ‘political bluff’

In the latest in a series of warnings against the US, Iran’s chief of staff Hassan Firouzabadi warned the Islamic republic’s foes that Iran is prepared for a “decisive battle” if attacked.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on stage during a meeting with Iranian air force commanders in Tehran

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on stage during a meeting with Iranian air force commanders in Tehran

“We are ready for the decisive battle with America and the Zionist regime (Israel),” Fars news agency quoted Firouzabadi as saying Wednesday.

He also warned neighboring nations not to allow any attack to be launched on Iran from their soil.

“We do not have any hostility toward regional states, but if we are ever attacked from the American bases in the region we will strike that area back,” he said.

Washington has many military bases in the region, including in Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said late last month that if diplomacy with Iran fails, “the military option of the United States is ready and prepared to do what it would have to do.”

But Firouzabadi accused the US of bluffing.

“Over the past decade, they brought their forces but came to the conclusion that they can’t attack us, and left,” he said, dismissing the US military threat as nothing but a “political bluff.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday that the West should not have any delusions about using a military option.

“I say explicitly, if some have delusions of having any threats against Iran on their tables, they need to wear new glasses. There is no military option against Iran on any table in the world,” he said.

On Sunday, Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps Navy Commander Ali Fadavi said the US knows that its aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf would be sunk if it launched a military strike on Iran.

“The Americans can sense by all means how their warships will be sunk with 5,000 crews and forces in combat against Iran and how they should find its hulk in the depths of the sea,” said Fadavi, according to Fars news agency.

“They cannot hide themselves in the sea since the entire Middle East region, Western Europe, the Persian Gulf, the Sea of Oman and the Strait of Hormuz are monitored by us and there is no place for them to hide.”

Also Sunday, Defense Minister Hossein Dehqan touted the Iranian military’s ability to respond to an American attack, Fars reported.

“The Iranian Armed Forces are an intertwined and coherent complex that can give a decisive response to any threat at any level and any place under the command of the commander-in-chief,” Dehqan said in a ceremony marking the 35th anniversary of the revolution that brought the current Islamic regime to power.

“The enemy can never assess and think of the range of the response given by the powerful and mighty Armed Forces of the Islamic Iran,” he added.

The bellicose rhetoric follows Saturday’s announcement by an Iranian admiral that Iran had dispatched warships to the North Atlantic, while Iran’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei denounced the Americans as liars who, while professing to be friends of Tehran, would bring down his regime if they could. He also said it was “amusing” that the US thought Iran would reduce its “defensive capabilities.”

On Friday, Iranian state TV ran a documentary featuring a computerized video of Iran’s drones and missiles bombing Tel Aviv, Haifa, Ben-Gurion Airport and the Dimona nuclear reactor in a simulated retaliation for a hypothetical Israeli or American strike on the Islamic Republic.

Iran is due to resume talks on Monday in Vienna with the P5+1 — Britain, France, the United States, Russia and China plus Germany — aimed at reaching a comprehensive nuclear accord following a landmark interim agreement struck in November.

Western nations have long suspected Iran of covertly pursuing nuclear weapons alongside its civilian program, allegations denied by Tehran, which insists its nuclear activities are entirely peaceful.

Neither the United States nor Israel has ruled out military action to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, if diplomacy fails.

No love lost between Lion and Barkat in TV debate on eve of vote

In a rather unpleasant mini-TV face-off Monday, hours before polls open nationwide for municipal elections, the rival candidates for the Jerusalem mayoralty, incumbent Nir Barkat and challenger Moshe Lion, each proclaimed they have the upper hand. But polls have consistently shown Barkat heading for reelection, by anything from 7% to 20%, and Lion suffered eve-of-vote blows Monday when sections of the ultra-Orthodox leadership indicated their support for him had wavered.

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While official Likud candidate Lion was officially endorsed by the Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, he has not received backing from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and one important Haredi faction has insisted on fielding an independent candidate, Haim Epstein — who could cost Lion thousands of votes. On Monday morning, a letter was placed on prominent Haredi Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach’s car, threatening him with death if Epstein, who is running on behalf of Auerbach’s Bnei Torah faction, did not withdraw from the race. “Shut down your party, otherwise you’ll forfeit your life,” read the note.

On Monday evening, the Gur Hassidic dynasty, whose followers constitute one of the largest ultra-Orthodox communities in the city, withdrew their support for Lion’s candidacy. The Belz community was expected to follow suit, further improving Barkat’s chances of winning the race. Lion shrugged off the blows, insisting that “at most, 5,000 votes” were involved, and that he would still triumph.

In its Monday newscast, Channel 2 brought the two candidates together for an interview, with Barkat appearing in a suit and tie and Lion flaunting a black-and-yellow of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer scarf. A picture released later showed Lion standing alongside MK Avigdor Liberman — one of his chief backers — in the crowd at the game.

Barkat looked confident in the interview and said he was certain of his reelection. “The people of Jerusalem have made up their minds. Most residents of Jerusalem understand what transpired during my term, what I had to work with and where the city is today,” he said. “Tomorrow you’ll see… Everyone understands what the alternative is – the shady deal.”

Barkat was referring to the alliance wrought between Aryeh Deri, leader of the Sephardi ultra-Orthodox Shas party, and Liberman, head of the Russian-speaking secularists in Yisrael Beytenu. The two are united behind Lion, the Likud-Beytenu’s official candidate, in an effort to unseat Barkat, a right-wing but politically independent high-tech multimillionaire seen to represent the city’s slowly dwindling secular, tax-paying economic base.

“We know we’re going to win tomorrow,” Barkat said, looking squarely at the camera.

Lion was no less confident, though his choice of attire betrayed a last-ditch effort to win a few more votes. “It’s time Jerusalem had [a mayor] who can bring about a real revolution,” Lion said, explaining that he had 15 years of “action for the sake of Jerusalem, albeit quiet and understated,” behind him to back up his candidacy. “It’s a real mission for me. I hope that the truth will come to light tomorrow and that I win,” he added.

Asked why Netanyahu, the Likud party chairman, hasn’t endorsed him, Lion told Channel 2 that he had “nothing against” the prime minister, for whom he had worked in the past as PMO director general. “We have a fantastic relationship, overall,” Lion said. “To tell you the truth, I’m not at all concerned with it at the moment.”

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Asked by the interviewer if he had anything positive to say about his rival, Lion was less magnanimous. “After three months of lies and slander by his campaign managers, I don’t even have one good thing to say about him,” he said.

Asked the same question, Barkat said he wished Lion well in his future moves — indicating his conviction that Lion, who only recently relocated to Jerusalem from his home town of Givatayim, would not be taking over at City Hall.

At the end of the interview, Lion interjected with one of the staple cheers of Jerusalem soccer fans: “Yalla Beitar!” Later Monday, Lion posted on his Facebook page that, “In soccer, as in life, the heart and the soul always prevail.”

The Beitar fan base has a long history of anti-Arab sentiment, and, until earlier this year, the team was the only Israeli soccer team never to have signed an Arab or Muslim player. The team played against arch-rival Hapoel Tel Aviv on Monday — and won 1-0 with an 84th minute goal.

Some fans at Teddy Stadium describing a crowd incensed even more than usual – this time, not by Muslim players on the field, but by flyers accusing Barkat of left-wing sentiment. “That’s what Liberman and Lion would like Jerusalemites to think,” said one fan, apparently not a Lion supporter. “That’s how they ‘unite’ Jerusalem.

President launches new Q&A app on FB

Shimon Peres invites Facebook followers to submit questions which he will personally answer

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President Shimon Peres launched a new social media application on his Facebook page Monday, urging readers and followers to submit their questions to him, without specifying the limits to the genre of queries people are invited to send. It’s safe to assume they will be moderated.

The project, which sets a deadline of October 31, is called “You ask, President Peres answers.”

Peres’s office indicated that the questions with the most “likes” will personally be answered by the president in writing and/or video messages.

The application “creates a direct link between President Peres and people all over the world who are interested in the State of Israel,” his office said in a statement announcing the new initiative.

As of Monday, the president had just over 182,000 followers on Facebook. Throughout his presidency, he and his team have remained avid social media users, publishing pictures, statements, videos — and even a music jam titled “Be my friend for peace” featuring the nonagenarian — on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

His online presence is dubbed “Peres 360,” which creates “transparency and accessibility to the president through social media,” his office said.

Pope to visit Israel next year

Argentinian Rabbi Abraham Skorka, a personal friend of Pope Francis, says the pope has raised the possibility of visiting Israel in March 2014 • “We are planning to visit Israel together in the coming year,” Skorka says.

 While the exact date is not yet known, Pope Francis will visit Israel in 2014, likely in March or July. The trip has not yet been coordinated with Israel's Foreign Ministry. In May, President Shimon Peres invited Pope Francis to visit Israel, and the pope responded that he intended to. Two weeks ago, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) met with Pope Francis and also invited him to visit Israel. The pope told Edelstein that he was considering coming in July to mark the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI's historic 1964 visit to the Holy Land. Argentinian Rabbi Abraham Skorka, a personal friend of Pope Francis, said that in a recent conversation the pope had raised the possibility of visiting Israel in March. "We are planning to visit Israel together in the coming year," Skorka said. Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said, "The Holy See announced that he plans to visit Israel."


While the exact date is not yet known, Pope Francis will visit Israel in 2014, likely in March or July.

While the exact date is not yet known, Pope Francis will visit Israel in 2014, likely in March or July.

The trip has not yet been coordinated with Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

In May, President Shimon Peres invited Pope Francis to visit Israel, and the pope responded that he intended to. Two weeks ago, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) met with Pope Francis and also invited him to visit Israel. The pope told Edelstein that he was considering coming in July to mark the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s historic 1964 visit to the Holy Land.

Argentinian Rabbi Abraham Skorka, a personal friend of Pope Francis, said that in a recent conversation the pope had raised the possibility of visiting Israel in March.

“We are planning to visit Israel together in the coming year,” Skorka said.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said, “The Holy See announced that he plans to visit Israel.”

 

‘We are not Arabs. We are Christians who speak Arabic’

Many of Israel’s Christians feel that their history, culture and heritage have been hijacked by Muslim Arabs in the region, while they feel a much stronger link to Israel’s Jews • The Jewish state is the only place where we are protected, they say.

Rally for Israel by Christians in New York

Rally for Israel by Christians in New York

It was not just any conference. Even the word “historic” would not do it justice. This was nothing short of the shift of an ancient paradigm.

For a long time we had grown accustomed to thinking about the Middle East as an Arab region. But this region, the vast majority of which was actually originally not Arab, was conquered in the seventh century by tribes hailing from the Arabian Peninsula. They imposed their religion, their culture and their language on the indigenous population, and to top it all off, claimed ownership of the land in the region.

But the social and diplomatic firestorms currently raging around us have begun to chip away at this monolithic point of view among various ethnic groups, whose identities are actually different than the ones we have lazily attached to them, and their voices are beginning to be heard loud and clear: “We are not Arabs,” they are saying. “We are Christians who speak Arabic.”

At the “Israeli Christians: Breaking Free? The advent of an independent Christian voice in Israel” conference in Jerusalem, one after another, Israeli Christian representatives took to the stage and greeted the audience with a “moadim l’simcha” (“times of joy” – a common Jewish holiday wish of good tidings). The first speaker was the Rev. Gabriel Naddaf, a Greek Orthodox priest in Nazareth and spiritual leader of the Israeli Christian Recruitment Forum. Naddaf is an impressive man, who speaks in a reserved tone, but is nonetheless articulate and resolute. “I am here to open the public’s eyes,” he said. “If we want to refrain from lying to our own souls and to the general public, we must say clearly and unwaveringly: enough!”

“The Christian public wants to integrate into Israeli society, against the wishes of its old leadership. There are those who keep pushing us to the margins, keeping us the victims nationalism that is not our own, and of a conflict that has nothing to do with us,” he said.

Naddaf spoke of the Christian roots, planted deep in this land since the dawn of Christianity. This is where Jesus Christ’s doctrine first emerged. The Christian faith, he said, came out of the Jewish faith and its biblical roots. As far as Naddaf is concerned, what happened in the seventh century was an Arab invasion from which the Christians also suffered. He added that he wasn’t very proud of the Christian crusades either, and distanced himself from them.

He surveyed the dire situation currently faced by Christians in Arab states, and said that the realization that Israel is the only country in the region that protects its Christian minority has prompted many Arabic-speaking Israeli Christians to develop a desire to contribute to the state of Israel. That is how the Israeli Christian Recruitment Forum came to be.

Naddaf quoted the founder of the forum, Maj. Ihab Shlayan, as saying: “The Christians will not be made into hostages, or allow themselves to be controlled by those who wish to impose their nationality, religion and way of life upon us. We will not agree to hide behind the groups that control the streets. We want to live in Israel — brothers in arms and brothers in peace. We want to stand guard and serve as the first line of defense in this Holy Land, the Land of Israel.”

“We have broken through the barrier of fear,” Naddaf went on to say. “The time has come to prove our loyalty, pay our dues and demand our rights.” He spoke about the death threats that he and his friends face, and added that despite the hardships they continue forward “because the State of Israel is our heart. Israel is a holy state, a strong state, and its people, Jews and Christians alike, are united under one covenant.”

Naddaf was followed at the podium by Lt. (ret.) Shaadi Khalloul, the spokesman of the Israeli Christian Recruitment Forum and an officer in the Israel Defense Forces Paratroopers Brigade. Khalloul, a scholar who studies the history of the Christian faith in the region, spoke about the eastern Christian identity that had been stripped of his people. Over the last three years, he has fought Israel’s Interior Ministry over recognition of his community as Aramaic Christians.

We are “B’nei Keyama,” which means allies in Aramaic, he said. He has nothing against the Arabs, but it is simply not his identity. It is especially problematic for him because being associated with the Arabs pulls him into a conflict that is not his own, entirely against his will.

Khalloul said that the way to integrate into Israeli society was through military service in the IDF, which he described as a melting pot, but also through education. It turns out that Israel’s Christian population is not educated in their own history, only the history of the Arabs and of Islam.

“The typical Christian student thinks that he belongs to the Arab people and the Islamic nation, instead of speaking to the people with whom he truly shares his roots — the Jewish people, whose origins are in the Land of Israel.”

Adding to that point, Rev. Naddaf stepped in and said, “It is unthinkable that our children will be raised on the history of the Nakba and on the hatred of Jews, and not be taught their history.”

It was no coincidence that Khalloul chose the Aramaic word for allies to describe his people. In his view, Israeli Christians are not mercenaries, as they might be perceived, but in fact allies. “We want to defend the holy land alongside the Jews,” he insisted. He mentioned the Christians’ support for the establishment of a national homeland for the Jews in the 1947 UNSCOP Committee. In a letter to the committee at the time, the Maronites rejected any reference to the land of Israel as Arab land.

Khalloul said further that global Christianity supported them, but refrained from making the support public because of the fact that Christians in the Middle East are hostages in the hands of Islamic forces.

Remarking on the ongoing debate surrounding the issue of a Jewish-democratic state vs. a so-called state of all its citizens, Khalloul said that he preferred a Jewish state that takes care of all its citizens over a state governed by all its citizens, without a Jewish identity.

“Several decades ago, 80 percent of the Lebanese population was Christian,” he recalled, “but the 20% Muslim minority imposed their Arab identity on them and many of them left. Today, only 35% of the population is Christian.”

Syria, too, he added, is comprised of Christians and Kurds who are not Arab. “Where is the respect for these groups? For their history and their culture?” Only in a Jewish state, he concluded, will different groups be given the right to exist.

Naddaf then interjected and said, “That is not just [Khalloul’s] opinion. The entire forum shares this view.”

The last representative to take the stage was Capt. Bishara Shlayan, whose initiative to establish the Christian Israeli Party was first reported in Israel Hayom this past July. Following the report, Shlayan was bombarded with responses from all over the world.

“We were raised on Arab political parties,” he said, “the communists, and then the National Democratic Assembly. In time, I realized where these Arab parties were taking us — only against Israel.”

He said that Islam was imposing itself on the Christians in the region. Thus, for example, the ancient “Miriam’s Spring” evolved into the “Nazareth Spring.” In his youth, he had received a red flag, he recounted. But today, he sighed, “our children are being raised on the green flag, on anti-Israeli culture.”

“We need to create a different culture,” he continued. “We need to hand out Israeli flags to every child. Education begins here. You enter a school in Nazareth, and you will not see a single Israeli flag. They don’t recognize it. You will only see Palestinian flags.”

Shlayan is well aware of the claims that Israeli Christians are not afforded all the rights to which they are entitled. “That may be,” he said, but “you have to begin by pledging loyalty to your country and serving it. I believe that.”

All the above is only part of what was said at the recent conference of the Liaison Committee of B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem and the Ecumenical Theological Research Fraternity in Israel.

The Christian communities’ march toward the heart of the Israeli consensus has an iconoclastic significance. It is reminiscent of Abraham’s smashing the idols and thereby smashing certain thought conventions and patterns. It is important not only on the inter-faith and theological level; it is also important to Israel’s efforts to prove our rights to the world. Parts of the Christian world see us as the crucifiers of the Palestinians, even though this could not be further from the truth. Therefore, when the Israeli Christians stand by the State of Israel and declare that this is the Land of Israel and not Palestine and that Jews did not steal this land but rather returned home as the Bible prophesied, it has immeasurable significance.

We, as a society and as a state, must embrace these courageous people, who spoke from the very deepest recesses of their hearts. We must help them, provide for them and integrate them into our society. And no less importantly, we must protect their lives. Our lives and our future depend on it.