The chief of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard threatened Saturday to go after everyone who had a role in a top general’s January killing during a U.S. drone strike in Iraq.
The guard’s website quoted Gen. Hossein Salami as saying, “Mr. Trump! Our revenge for martyrdom of our great general is obvious, serious and real.”
U.S. President Donald Trump warned this week that Washington would harshly respond to any Iranian attempts to take revenge for the death of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, tweeting that “if they hit us in any way, any form, written instructions already done we’re going to hit them 1000 times harder.”
The president’s warning came in response to a report that Iran was plotting to assassinate the U.S. ambassador to South Africa in retaliation for Soleimani’s killing at Baghdad’s airport at the beginning of the year, reports AP.
“We took out the world’s number one terrorist and the mass murderer of American troops and many, many troops and many people all over the world,” Trump said. “Qasem Soleimani is dead. He’s dead. Bad guy. Bad guy. Very bad guy.”
Salami rejected the report of an Iranian plot to assassinate Ambassador Lana Marks, but made clear that Iran intends to avenge the general’s death.
“Do you think we hit a female ambassador in return to our martyred brother?’ the general said. “We will hit those who had direct and indirect roles. You should know that everybody who had role in the event will be hit, and this is a serious message. We do prove everything in practice.”
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In January, Iran launched a ballistic missile attack targeting U.S. soldiers in Iraq in response to the fatal drone strike.
Trump has stepped up economic pressure on Iran with sanctions since he pulled the United States out of Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018.
Tehran has continued to expand its stockpile of enriched uranium and pressured other nations to offset the harm of U.S. sanctions, while insisting it does not want to develop a nuclear weapon.
The Israeli military struck Hamas militant sites in the Gaza Strip early Wednesday in response to rocket fire toward Israel the previous night that coincided with the signing of normalization agreements between Israel and two Arab countries at the White House.
The barrage against Israel began Tuesday night just as the ceremony in Washington was getting underway to formalize the new agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Two Israelis were lightly wounded.
The military said five projectiles landed in open areas with the rest intercepted by Israel’s rocket defense system.
In response, the military said it struck about 10 sites belonging to Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers, including a weapons and explosives manufacturing factory, underground infrastructure and a military training compound.
The renewed exchange offered a stark reminder that the festive events in Washington would likely do little to change Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians.
The bilateral agreements signed by Israel, the UAE and Bahrain, all three signed a document dubbed the “Abraham Accords” after the patriarch of the world’s three major monotheistic religions.
The Palestinians are opposed to the agreements viewing them as a betrayal of their cause by the Arab countries.
Neither President Donald Trump nor Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mentioned the Palestinians in their remarks at the signing ceremony, but both the UAE and Bahraini foreign ministers spoke of the importance of creating a Palestinian state.
The Islamic militant group Hamas has ruled Gaza since 2007, when it seized power from the internationally-backed Palestinian Authority. Israel and Egypt have imposed a crippling blockade on the coastal territory since then.
Israel and Hamas have fought three wars and several smaller skirmishes since 2007.
A Saudi court issued final verdicts on Monday in the case of slain Washington Post columnist and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi after his son, who still resides in the kingdom, announced pardons that spared five of the convicted individuals from execution.
While the trial draws to its conclusion in Saudi Arabia, the case continues to cast a shadow over the international standing of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose associates have been sanctioned by the US and the UK for their alleged involvement in the brutal killing, which took place inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
The Riyadh Criminal Court’s final verdicts were announced by Saudi Arabia’s state television, which aired few details about the eight Saudi nationals and did not name them. The court ordered a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for the five. Another individual received a 10-year sentence, and two others were ordered to serve seven years in prison.
A team of 15 Saudi agents had flown to Turkey to meet Khashoggi inside the consulate for his appointment on Oct. 2, 2018 to pick up documents that would allow him to marry his Turkish fiancé, who waited outside . The team included a forensic doctor, intelligence and security officers, and individuals who worked directly for the crown prince’s office, according to Agnes Callamard, who investigated the killing for the United Nations.
Turkish officials allege Khashoggi was killed and then dismembered with a bone saw inside the consulate. His body has not been found. Turkey apparently had the consulate bugged and shared audio of the killing with the C.I.A., among others.
Western intelligence agencies, as well as the US Congress, have said the crown prince bears ultimate responsibility for the killing and that an operation of this magnitude could not have happened without his knowledge.
The 35-year-old prince denies any knowledge of the operation and has condemned the killing. He continues to have the support of his father, King Salman, and remains popular among Saudi youth at home. He also maintains the support of President Donald Trump, who has defended U.S.-Saudi ties in the face of the international outcry over the slaying.
Saudi Arabia’s trial of the suspects has been widely criticized by rights groups and observers, who note that no senior officials nor anyone suspected of ordering the killing has been found guilty. The independence of the Riyadh Criminal Court has also been questioned.
Callamard, the U.N. special rapporteur who investigated Khashoggi’s killing, told The Associated Press in a statement that the crown prince has remained “well protected against any kind of meaningful scrutiny in his country” and the high-level officials who organized the killing have walked free from the start.
“These verdicts cannot be allowed to whitewash what happened,” she said, calling on U.S. intelligence services to publicly release their assessments of the crown prince’s responsibility. “While formal justice in Saudi Arabia cannot be achieved, truth telling can.”
A small number of diplomats, including from Turkey, as well as members of Khashoggi’s family, were allowed to attend the initial trial. Independent media and the public were barred.
Yasin Aktay, a senior member of Turkey’s ruling party and a friend of Khashoggi, criticized the final court rulings, saying those who ordered the killing remain free while several questions concerning the journalist’s death remain unanswered.
He also said there were questions as to whether those convicted in the killing are imprisoned.
“According to what we have heard, those who were convicted are roaming freely and living in luxury,” he said. “The truth of the matter is this case should be tried in Turkey, not in Saudi Arabia.”
Saudi Arabia has tried 11 people in total, sentencing five to death in December and ordering three others to prison for covering up the crime. The crown prince’s senior advisors at the time of the killing, namely Saud al-Qahtani and intelligence officer Ahmed al-Asiri, were not found guilty.
The trial also concluded the killing was not premeditated. That paved the way for Salah Khashoggi, one of the slain writer’s sons, to months later announce that the family had forgiven the killers, which essentially allowed the five to be pardoned from execution in accordance with Islamic law.
Salah Khashoggi lives in Saudi Arabia and has received financial compensation from the royal court for his father’s killing.
Saudi Arabia initially offered shifting accounts about Khashoggi’s disappearance, including claiming to have surveillance video showing him walking out of the consulate alive. As international pressure mounted because of Turkish leaks, the kingdom eventually settled on the explanation that he was killed by rogue officials in a brawl inside the consulate.
Prior to his killing, Khashoggi had been writing critically of Prince Mohammed in columns for the Washington Post at a time when the young heir to the throne was being widely hailed in the US for pushing through social reforms and curtailing the power of religious conservatives.
Dozens of perceived critics of the prince remain in prison, including women’s rights activists, and face trial on national security charges. Khashoggi left Saudi Arabia for the U.S. just as Prince Mohammed was beginning to detain writers and critics in late 2017.
Other critics of the crown prince have said their security has been threatened following Khashoggi’s killing. In one instance, a former senior intelligence official who now resides in Canada claims in a US lawsuit that Prince Mohammed sent a similar hit squad to track him down and kill him, but that they were stopped by Canadian border guards.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman told US President Donald Trump that the kingdom is eager to achieve a fair and permanent solution to the Palestinian issue, which he said was the main starting point of the kingdom’s proposed Arab Peace Initiative.
The leaders spoke by phone following a historic US-brokered accord last month under which the United Arab Emirates agreed to become the third Arab state to normalise ties with Israel, after Egypt and Jordan, the state news agency reported.
King Salman also told Trump that he appreciated US efforts to support peace and that Saudi Arabia wanted to see a fair and permanent solution to the Palestinian issue based on the Arab peace initiative proposed by the kingdom in 2002, reports The Guardian.
Under the proposal, Arab nations have offered Israel normalised ties in return for a statehood deal with the Palestinians and full Israeli withdrawal from territory captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and site of its holiest shrines, does not recognise Israel.
However, this month the kingdom said it would allow flights between UAE and Israel, including by Israeli airliners, to use its airspace.
White House adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner has said he hoped another Arab country normalised ties with within months.
No other Arab state has said so far it is considering following the UAE.
King Salman’s son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Kushner discussed the need for the Palestinians and the Israelis to resume negotiations and reach a lasting peace after Kushner visited the UAE last month.
The UAE-Israel deal was met by overwhelming Palestinian opposition.
A high-ranking American and Israeli delegation took off Monday to Abu Dhabi in the first-ever direct commercial passenger flight to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The American delegation includes President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, national security adviser Robert O’Brien, Mideast envoy Avi Berkowitz and envoy for Iran Brian Hook. Israel is represented by national security adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and director generals of several ministries, who will meet with their Emirati counterparts, reports AP.
“While this is a historic flight, we hope that this’ll start an even more historic journey for the Middle East and beyond,” Kushner told reporters before boarding the plane.
Meir Ben-Shabbat, Israel’s national security adviser and head of the Israeli delegation, said he was excited about the trip and that the aim was to lay the groundwork for cooperation in various areas like tourism, medicine, technology and trade.
The Israeli flag carrier’s flight marks the implementation of the historic US-brokered deal to normalise relations between the two nations and solidifies the long-clandestine ties between them that have evolved over years of shared enmity toward Iran.
With the US as matchmaker, Israel and the UAE agreed earlier this month to work toward normalisation, which would make the UAE the third Arab nation to have full relations with Israel, after Egypt and Jordan.
But unlike those two nations, Israel has never fought a war against the UAE and hopes to have much-warmer relations.
The El Al flight, numbered LY971 as a gesture to the UAE’s international calling code number, is expected to fly over Saudi Arabian airspace which would mark another historic first for Israel and at least an acquiescence by the kingdom for the UAE's move.
Saudi King Salman, along with other Gulf Arab leaders to varying degrees, maintain boycott of Israel in support of Palestinians obtaining an independent state. Any long-term flights between Israel and the UAE would require Saudi clearance to be profitable.
El Al spokesman Stanley Morais said the 737-900 is equipped with a missile-defense system, a standard feature on these types of planes and a requirement for this flight. After grounding its fleet due to coronavirus, it is the airline’s first flight since July 1.
The plane was decorated with the words for peace in Arabic, Hebrew and English above the pilot’s window. Journalists were handed special face masks decorated with the Israeli and Emirati flags. The seat protectors said “Making History” in all three languages, and Israeli folk music played in the background.
The plane's captain, Tal Becker, said he has not worked for several months and received a call out of the blue asking him to prepare for the flight. He said it took about a week to get up to speed.
The 45-year veteran, who is the senior captain in El Al’s 737 fleet, said he never dreamed of flying to Abu Dhabi, calling it a “very special feeling.”
The Israeli delegation will stay in Abu Dhabi for one night before returning home on El Al flight LY972, a nod to Israel’s international calling code.
Private jets have earlier flown between the two nations as part of covert talks, and Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways flew cargo freighters to Israel before to deliver coronavirus aid to the Palestinians. But the high-profile flight Monday, eagerly promoted by US officials, looks to place a solid stamp on the surprise Aug 13 White House announcement of Israel and the UAE establishing ties.
Since then, telephone calls were connected, and the UAE’s ruler issued a decree formally ending the country’s decades-long boycott of Israel. Some Israeli firms have already signed deals with Emirati counterparts, but Monday’s visit is expected to usher in a slew of further business cooperation. The official repeal of the boycott looks to open the door to more joint ventures, such as in aviation, banking and finance.
The UAE has touted the deal as a tool to force Israel into halting its contentious plan to annex parts of the West Bank sought by the Palestinians for their future state. It also may help the Emirates acquire advanced US weapons systems that have been previously unattainable, such as the F-35 fighter jet. Currently, Israel is the only country in the region with the stealth warplanes.
The Palestinians, however, have fiercely opposed the normalisation as peeling away one of their few advantages in moribund peace talks with Israel. Palestinians have held public protests and burned the UAE flag in anger.