News Digest — 6/21/19

Report — Trump Sent Message To Iran: Hold Talks Or We’ll Strike

U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday night (20th) urged Iran to come to the table to hold talks in a message conveyed through Oman, and warned that a U.S. strike against the Islamic Republic could be imminent, according to a report Friday morning (21st).

“In his message, Trump said he was against any war with Iran and wanted to talk to Tehran about various issues… he gave a short period of time to get our response, but Iran’s immediate response was that it is up to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to decide about the issue,” an unnamed Iranian official told Reuters.

Another official said: “We made it clear that the leader is against any talks, but the message will be conveyed to him to make a decision… However, we told the Omani official that any attack against Iran will have regional and international consequences.”

The report comes after American officials said the U.S. made preparations for a military strike against Iran in retaliation for the downing of a U.S. surveillance drone, but the operation was abruptly called off with just hours to go.

The officials, who were not authorized to discuss the operation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the targets would have included radars and missile batteries.  The New York Times said Trump had approved the strikes Thursday night (20th), but then called them off.  The newspaper cited anonymous senior administration officials.



Iran Shows ‘Retrieved Sections Of U.S. Military Drone,’ Says It Warned U.S.

Iranian state television on Friday (21st) showed what it said were retrieved sections of a U.S. military drone downed by Iran.

Amir Ali Hajizadeh, head of the Revolutionary Guards aerospace division, said on the program that the debris was proof that the U.S. drone had been over Iranian territorial waters when it was shot down by the Guards.

He further stated that Iran had warned the U.S. several times before shooting down the drone, but that the U.S. didn’t respond.

Hajizadeh said the debris was picked up from Iranian territorial waters.  He said he would speak about the remnants of the destroyed drone at another time.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Thursday (20th) that the drone was unarmed and clearly over international waters, adding that it could have been shot down by someone “loose and stupid.”

He said, “The U.S. has documented that the drone was above international waters, not Iranian territory, as Tehran claims.”



Shin Bet Exposes Iranian Spy Network Within Israel

The Israeli Shin Bet security agency says it has exposed an “Iranian intelligence effort” to establish a spying operation in Israel under the cover of commercial activity.

In conjunction with the Israeli police, the Shin Bet says it arrested businessman Thaer Shafut, 32, a Jordanian national, who is originally from the Hebron area.

“It was learned that Shafut had entered Israel on behalf of Iranian intelligence in order to carry out missions designed to advance the formation of cells, particularly in Judea and Samaria, for use in covert Iranian activity,” says the Israeli agency’s statement.

The suspect first came into contact with Iranian intelligence when he was in Lebanon, with additional meetings taking place with his “Iranian handlers” during 2018 and 2019 in Lebanon and Syria, according to the Shin Bet.

Shafut was arrested in April but the Shin Bet’s announcement was not made until now, after the IDF Judge Advocate General’s Office filed an indictment earlier this month against the suspect in the Judea military court.  He is accused of “contact with an enemy, contact with a hostile organization, and conspiracy to smuggle enemy funds into the area,” said the Shin Bet.

He had been instructed by his handlers, said the Israeli statement, “to establish a commercial infrastructure in Israel to serve as a cover for future Iranian activity, apparently to gain access to Judea and Samaria, and recruit spies to assist in gathering information pursuant to Iranian interests.”

Ultimately, Iranian intelligence intended to use Shafut as “a conduit to channel funds to terrorists in Judea and Samaria and in other parts of Israel,” it added.

At the conclusion of the operations for which he was sent to Israel, says the Shin Bet, Shafut was expected to travel to Iran to complete his training as an agent and undergo advanced training in intelligence and espionage, but his arrest by Israeli authorities “thwarted his plans and led to the foiling of the actions planned by Iranian intelligence operatives through him,” says the Israeli security agency.



Hamas Blasts Bahrain Summit For ‘Normalizing’ Ties With Israel

Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of the Gaza-based Hamas terrorist organization, said Thursday (20th) that Hamas rejects next week’s U.S.-sponsored Middle East economic conference in Bahrain as it would amount to Arab “normalization” of ties with Israel.

In a rare briefing with international journalists, Haniyeh also accused Israel of failing to abide by agreements meant to ensure calm in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

“We clearly express our rejection and non-acceptance of any Arab or Islamic country holding such a conference, which constitutes normalization with the occupation,” Haniyeh said, referring to Israel.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration organized the conference, which is to be held on June 25 and 26 in Manama for the unveiling of the economic component of a U.S. Israeli-Arab peace plan.

The Palestinian Authority has also accused the U.S. of trying to use the potential offer of billions in investment to avoid dealing with political causes of the “Israeli occupation.”

“We reject the Manama conference and the transformation of the Palestinian cause from a political cause to an economic cause,” Haniyeh said.

Haniyeh also appealed to Bahrain’s King Hamad “not to hold this workshop,” vowing protests “in all Palestinian land and beyond.”



Israel Unveils Portable Iron Dome At Paris Air Show

Israeli aerospace company Rafael has unveiled a portable Iron Dome missile defense battery, promising deployed troops the same protection the original system provided for civilian populations.

The I-Dome, designed to protect troops from rockets, mortars and UAV attacks, was among several new Israeli-made weapons systems featured this week at the Paris Air Show.

The scaled-down missile battery fits on the back of a large flatbed truck, making the system easily transportable.  Its cartridge holds 10 Tamir Interceptor missiles, instead of the 20 used by its larger Iron Dome counterpart.

“Basically, we put a missile launcher, radar and a control system in the cab of a vehicle,” Rafael CEO Pini Yungman told Channel 13 from the Paris expo.  “This array can offer the same protection as the Iron Dome battery.  The I-Dome is an all-in-one system,” he said.

The Rafael-made Iron Dome has been used regularly in Israel since 2011 to shield civilians from rocket fire emanating from the Gaza Strip, most prominently during the 2014 Operation Protective Edge.  During a recent barrage of 700 rockets and mortars fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip, the Iron Dome intercepted 86% of the projectiles headed for populated areas.

Earlier this year, Israel’s Defense Ministry and the U.S. Department of Defense announced that the U.S. Army would purchase two Iron Dome batteries to defend deployed troops from aerial threats.

According to Channel 13, the U.S. military has also expressed interest in purchasing several portable I-Dome batteries from Israel.