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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/middle-east"

American student locked in Egyptian prison for over a year without trial is freed, returns to US

Westlake Legal Group american-student-locked-in-egyptian-prison-for-over-a-year-without-trial-is-freed-returns-to-us American student locked in Egyptian prison for over a year without trial is freed, returns to US Louis Casiano fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/state-department fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/secretary-of-state fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/middle-east fox-news/health/infectious-disease/coronavirus fox news fnc/world fnc article 54e549ec-3512-5076-b8c9-3c15fb06e5f7

An American medical student imprisoned in Egypt for more than a year returned to the United States on Monday, the State Department said.

Mohamed Amashah, an Egyptian-American from New Jersey with dual citizenship, had been held in pretrial detention for over 500 days on charges of “misusing social media” and “aiding a terrorist group,” according to the Freedom Initiative, which advocated for his release.

“We welcome the release of U.S. citizen Mohamed Amashah from Egyptian custody, and thank Egypt for its cooperation in his repatriation,” the State Department said.

Westlake Legal Group AP20188832076273 American student locked in Egyptian prison for over a year without trial is freed, returns to US Louis Casiano fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/state-department fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/secretary-of-state fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/middle-east fox-news/health/infectious-disease/coronavirus fox news fnc/world fnc article 54e549ec-3512-5076-b8c9-3c15fb06e5f7

In this image provided by the Freedom Initiative Mohamed Amashah, second from left, is greeted by family members upon arrival at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Va., on Monday. The American medical student detained without trial in an Egyptian prison for nearly 500 days has been freed and returned to the United States, the U.S. State Department said on Monday. (Bushra Soltan/Freedom Initiative via AP)

Amashah was arrested after he was spotted alone in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in March 2019 holding a sign that read: “Freedom for all the political prisoners.” He was arrested and sent to the Tora prison complex, where he stayed for almost 16 months.

Protesting has been illegal in Egypt since 2013 when President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, as defense minister, led the military’s ouster of Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, amid mass protests against his rule.

Tahrir Square, where Amashah held his sign, was the epicenter of Egypt’s 2011 Arab Spring movement.

In prison, Amashah’s health declined amid the coronavirus pandemic, prompting American officials to call for his release. He suffers from asthma and an autoimmune disease, which makes him suspectable to the disease.

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, a Republican, said he’d personally raised the issue of “unjustly detained Americans” with Egypt’s foreign ministry last week.

Westlake Legal Group AP20188832070175 American student locked in Egyptian prison for over a year without trial is freed, returns to US Louis Casiano fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/state-department fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/secretary-of-state fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/middle-east fox-news/health/infectious-disease/coronavirus fox news fnc/world fnc article 54e549ec-3512-5076-b8c9-3c15fb06e5f7

Mohamed Amashah was detained without trial in an Egyptian prison for nearly 500 days has been freed and returned to the United States, the U.S. State Department said on Monday. (Bushra Soltan/Freedom Initiative via AP)

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A bipartisan group of senators also urged Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to urge foreign governments to release American detainees, including Amashah, citing the virus.

In a statement, the Freedom Initiative called the release “welcomed progress and a step forward in the right direction that we hope is built on for the release of the political prisoners in Egypt.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Westlake Legal Group AP20188832076273 American student locked in Egyptian prison for over a year without trial is freed, returns to US Louis Casiano fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/state-department fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/secretary-of-state fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/middle-east fox-news/health/infectious-disease/coronavirus fox news fnc/world fnc article 54e549ec-3512-5076-b8c9-3c15fb06e5f7  Westlake Legal Group AP20188832076273 American student locked in Egyptian prison for over a year without trial is freed, returns to US Louis Casiano fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/state-department fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/secretary-of-state fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/middle-east fox-news/health/infectious-disease/coronavirus fox news fnc/world fnc article 54e549ec-3512-5076-b8c9-3c15fb06e5f7

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Iran nuclear site fire hit centrifuge facility, analysts say

A fire and an explosion struck a centrifuge production plant above Iran’s underground Natanz nuclear enrichment facility early Thursday, analysts said, one of the most-tightly guarded sites in all of the Islamic Republic after earlier acts of sabotage there.

The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran sought to downplay the fire, calling it an “incident” that only affected an under-construction “industrial shed,” spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said. However, both Kamalvandi and Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi rushed after the fire to Natanz, a facility earlier targeted by the Stuxnet computer virus and built underground to withstand enemy airstrikes.

The fire threatened to rekindle wider tensions across the Middle East, similar to the escalation in January after a U.S. drone strike killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad and Tehran launched a retaliatory ballistic missile attack targeting American forces in Iraq.

While offering no cause for Thursday’s blaze, Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency published a commentary addressing the possibility of sabotage by enemy nations such as Israel and the U.S. following other recent explosions in the country.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran has so far has tried to prevent intensifying crises and the formation of unpredictable conditions and situations,” the commentary said. But ”the crossing of red lines of the Islamic Republic of Iran by hostile countries, especially the Zionist regime and the U.S., means that strategy … should be revised.”

The fire began around 2 a.m. local time in the northwest corner of the Natanz compound in Iran’s central Isfahan province, according to data collected by a U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite that tracks fires from space.

DOJ SEEKS TO SEIZE OIL ON 4 TANKERS WITH ISLAMIC REVOLUTIONARY GUARD CORPS TIES BOUND FOR VENEZUELA

Images later released by Iranian state media show a two-story brick building with scorch marks and its roof apparently destroyed. Debris on the ground and a door that looked blown off its hinges suggested an explosion accompanied the blaze.

“There are physical and financial damages and we are investigating to assess,” Kamalvandi told Iranian state television. “Furthermore, there has been no interruption in the work of the enrichment site. Thank God, the site is continuing its work as before.”

In Washington, the State Department said that U.S. officials were “monitoring reports of a fire at an Iranian nuclear facility.”

“This incident serves as another reminder of how the Iranian regime continues to prioritize its misguided nuclear program to the detriment of the Iranian people’s needs,” it said.

The site of the fire corresponds to a newly opened centrifuge production facility, said Fabian Hinz, a researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California.

Hinz said he relied on satellite images and a state TV program on the facility to locate the building, which sits in Natanz’s northwest corner.

THE RISE AND FALL OF SYRIA’S FIRST LADY: WHY THE US IS GOING AFTER ASMA ASSAD?

Westlake Legal Group 06544358-1000-1 Iran nuclear site fire hit centrifuge facility, analysts say fox-news/world/conflicts/iran fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/middle-east fnc/world fnc d6220aad-d163-5a70-84b0-860fb1b18d3a Associated Press article

Centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP, File)

David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security similarly said the fire struck the production facility. His institute previously wrote a report on the new plant, identifying it from satellite pictures while it was under construction and later built.

Iranian nuclear officials did not respond to a request for comment about the analysts’ comments. However, any damage to the facility would be a major setback, said Hinz, who called the fire “very, very suspicious.”

“It would delay the advancement of the centrifuge technology quite a bit at Natanz,” Hinz said. “Once you have done your research and development, you can’t undo that research and development. Targeting them would be very useful” for Iran’s adversaries.

Natanz, also known as the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant, is among the sites now monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency after Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. That deal saw Iran agree to limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

The IAEA said in a statement it was aware of reports of the fire. “We currently anticipate no impact on the IAEA’s safeguards verification activities,” the Vienna-based agency said.

Natanz became a flashpoint for Western fears about Iran’s nuclear program in 2002, when satellite photos showed Iran building an underground facility at the site, some 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of the capital, Tehran. In 2003, the IAEA visited Natanz, which Iran said would house centrifuges for its nuclear program, buried under some 7.6 meters (25 feet) of concrete.

TEHRAN MEDICAL CLINIC EXPLOSION KILLS AT LEAST 13, STATE MEDIA REPORT

Natanz today hosts the country’s main uranium enrichment facility. In its long underground halls, centrifuges rapidly spin uranium hexafluoride gas to enrich uranium. Currently, the IAEA says Iran enriches uranium to about 4.5% purity — above the terms of the nuclear deal but far below weapons-grade levels of 90%. Workers there also have conducted tests on advanced centrifuges, according to the IAEA.

The U.S. under President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal in May 2018, setting up months of tensions between Tehran and Washington. Iran now is breaking all the production limits set by the deal, but still allows IAEA inspectors and cameras to watch its nuclear sites.

Natanz remains of particular concern to Tehran as it has been targeted for sabotage before. The Stuxnet malware, widely believed to be an American and Israeli creation, disrupted and destroyed centrifuges at Natanz amid the height of Western concerns over Iran’s nuclear program.

Satellite photos show an explosion last Friday that rattled Iran’s capital came from an area in its eastern mountains that analysts believe hides an underground tunnel system and missile production sites. Iran has blamed the blast on a gas leak in what it describes a “public area.”

Yoel Guzansky, a senior fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies and former Iran analyst for the prime minister’s office, said he didn’t know if there was an active sabotage campaign targeting Tehran. However, he said the series of explosions in Iran feel like “more than a coincidence.”

“Theoretically speaking, Israel, the U.S. and others have an interest to stop this Iran nuclear clock or at least show Iran there’s a price in going that way,” he said. “If Iran won’t stop, we might see more accidents in Iran.”

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Late Thursday, the BBC’s Persian service said it received an email prior to the announcement of the Natanz fire from a group identifying itself as the Cheetahs of the Homeland, claiming responsibility for an attack on the centrifuge production facility at Natanz. This group, which claimed to be dissident members of Iran’s security forces, had never been heard of before by Iran experts and the claim could not be immediately authenticated by the AP.

Westlake Legal Group 1000 Iran nuclear site fire hit centrifuge facility, analysts say fox-news/world/conflicts/iran fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/middle-east fnc/world fnc d6220aad-d163-5a70-84b0-860fb1b18d3a Associated Press article  Westlake Legal Group 1000 Iran nuclear site fire hit centrifuge facility, analysts say fox-news/world/conflicts/iran fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/middle-east fnc/world fnc d6220aad-d163-5a70-84b0-860fb1b18d3a Associated Press article

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Pompeo warns Iran will become arms dealer ‘to the Maduros and the Assads’ if arms embargo expires

Westlake Legal Group pompeo-warns-iran-will-become-arms-dealer-to-the-maduros-and-the-assads-if-arms-embargo-expires Pompeo warns Iran will become arms dealer 'to the Maduros and the Assads' if arms embargo expires fox-news/world/world-regions/russia fox-news/world/world-regions/china fox-news/world/united-nations fox-news/world/conflicts/syria fox-news/world/conflicts/iran fox-news/topic/venezuelan-political-crisis fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/secretary-of-state fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/middle-east fox news fnc/politics fnc fc3ff907-7405-50fa-9544-17a4ab1402c7 article Adam Shaw
Westlake Legal Group image Pompeo warns Iran will become arms dealer 'to the Maduros and the Assads' if arms embargo expires fox-news/world/world-regions/russia fox-news/world/world-regions/china fox-news/world/united-nations fox-news/world/conflicts/syria fox-news/world/conflicts/iran fox-news/topic/venezuelan-political-crisis fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/secretary-of-state fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/middle-east fox news fnc/politics fnc fc3ff907-7405-50fa-9544-17a4ab1402c7 article Adam Shaw

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday warned that the Iranian regime will become an arms dealer to despots in places such as Syria and Venezuela if a 13-year-old arms embargo is allowed to expire — and that more people will die in the Middle East as Tehran gets its hands on weapons.

“If Iran is allowed to buy weapons from the likes of China and Russia, more civilians in the Middle East will die at the hands of the regime and its proxies — it’s that straight forward,” Pompeo said at during a news conference.

POMPEO: IF UN LETS IRAN ARMS EMBARGO EXPIRE, IT WILL ‘BETRAY’ IDEALS OF PEACE, SECURITY

The arms embargo imposed on Tehran more than a decade ago is due to expire as part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal, in October.

But the U.S. has warned that, given the rogue behavior of the Iranian regime and its funding of terror proxies such as Hezbollah, that the consequences will be disastrous for the region and elsewhere — and that Venezuelan despot Nicolas Maduro and Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad would be the beneficiaries.

“Tehran will become an arms dealer for the [Nicolás] Maduros and [Bashar] Assads of the world, sworn enemies of Israel like Hamas and Hezbollah will be better armed, European nations will be put at risk,” Pompeo said.

The U.S. left the Iran deal in 2018 after long-standing opposition to the Obama-era deal by President Trump, but has argued it still has the ability to use a clause in the deal that allows an individual nation to “snap back” sanctions on Iran.

Pompeo has warned that if the U.N. does not vote to extend the embargo, then the U.S. will seek to “snap back” the sanctions as it claims it is authorized to do as a still-participating member of U.N. Resolution 2231, which enshrined the Iran deal.

STATE DEPT. LAYS OUT IRANIAN TERROR RECORD AMID PUSH TO EXTEND ARMS EMBARGO

The State Department last week laid out Tehran’s funding of terrorism at home and abroad in 2019, saying it plots and commits terror attacks “on a global scale.”

“Through the [Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Forces], Iran continued its support to several U.S.-designated terrorist groups, providing funding, training, weapons, and equipment. Among the groups receiving support from Iran are Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestine Islamic Jihad, Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) in Iraq, and al-Ashtar Brigades in Bahrain,” the report says. “Iran also provided weapons and support to Shia militant groups in Iraq, to the Houthis in Yemen, and to the Taliban in Afghanistan.”

This week, the Treasury slapped sanctions on Iran’s metals sector, as well as the captains of five Iranian ships that delivered gasoline to the authoritarian Maduro regime in Venezuela.

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On Wednesday, Pompeo spoke to the U.N. Security Council directly, urging them to support extending the embargo indefinitely.

“This chamber has a choice: Stand for international peace and security, as the United Nations’ [UN’s] founders intended, or let the arms embargo on the Islamic Republic of Iran expire, betraying the UN’s mission and its finest ideals, which we have all pledged to uphold,” Pompeo said during a video conference.

Fox News’ Caitlin McFall contributed to this report.

Westlake Legal Group image Pompeo warns Iran will become arms dealer 'to the Maduros and the Assads' if arms embargo expires fox-news/world/world-regions/russia fox-news/world/world-regions/china fox-news/world/united-nations fox-news/world/conflicts/syria fox-news/world/conflicts/iran fox-news/topic/venezuelan-political-crisis fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/secretary-of-state fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/middle-east fox news fnc/politics fnc fc3ff907-7405-50fa-9544-17a4ab1402c7 article Adam Shaw  Westlake Legal Group image Pompeo warns Iran will become arms dealer 'to the Maduros and the Assads' if arms embargo expires fox-news/world/world-regions/russia fox-news/world/world-regions/china fox-news/world/united-nations fox-news/world/conflicts/syria fox-news/world/conflicts/iran fox-news/topic/venezuelan-political-crisis fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/secretary-of-state fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/middle-east fox news fnc/politics fnc fc3ff907-7405-50fa-9544-17a4ab1402c7 article Adam Shaw

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Deroy Murdock: Trump’s global campaign to decriminalize homosexuality merits gay pride

Westlake Legal Group deroy-murdock-trumps-global-campaign-to-decriminalize-homosexuality-merits-gay-pride Deroy Murdock: Trump's global campaign to decriminalize homosexuality merits gay pride fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/middle-east fox-news/politics/foreign-policy fox-news/politics/executive/white-house fox-news/opinion fox news fnc/opinion fnc Deroy Murdock article 337a63ed-6fa2-5705-9e06-339930b6f21b

As another Pride month winds down, much of the civilized world has enjoyed four weeks of public, conspicuous, and unfettered celebrations by gay people. This occasion no longer raises eyebrows, as most people have heeded an old, liberationist chant and “got used to it.”

But in nearly 70 nations, homosexuality is no parade. It’s illegal and triggers jail sentences and even executions for gays whom these antiquated, inhumane statutes ensnare.

Thankfully, the Trump administration is working to decriminalize homosexuality overseas. Until June 1, Ambassador Richard Grenell, 53, spearheaded this endeavor.

LUMA MUFLEH: PRIDE 50TH ANNIVERSARY – WHAT THIS PROUD AMERICAN HAS LEARNED ABOUT RESILIENCE

He recently left Washington after serving as President Donald J. Trump’s envoy to Germany and, since February 20, Acting Director of National Intelligence. The latter position made Grenell America’s first openly gay Cabinet member — a distinction unachieved under the Obama-Biden administration or any other Democrat presidency.

“President Trump believes the United States should make clear that criminalizing homosexuality is wrong,” Grenell told me. “There are currently 69 countries that make being gay a crime, and that means we must have 69 different strategies.” These nations include allies and enemies, primarily in the Middle East and Africa.

This challenge was key to Grenell’s diplomacy.

“I have met with many foreign Ambassadors, Ministers and Heads of State to make clear that the U.S. is making this initiative a priority,” Grenell said. “Our European partners have been helpful and continue to raise the issue,” he continued. “We have received overwhelming private support from many foreign officials for our efforts, but we now need that private support to become public action.”

Some powers have come forward. Others are weighing more vocal assent.

“We are grateful that the British government and the French government have agreed to consult with former colonies to untangle leftover laws still calling for the criminalization of homosexuality,” Grenell explains. “I have even spoken with a Shia cleric who is considering a public pronouncement against the criminalization of homosexuality.”

An official in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence noted that Grenell “led the U.S. government’s global campaign to end the criminalization of homosexuality,” starting in February 2019. “The U.S. campaign is rooted in the National Security Strategy, which fights for the human dignity of every person.”

Grenell instructed the 16 intelligence agencies that he supervised to focus on this undertaking and devise relevant recommendations, due soon. Even pre-Grenell, the intelligence community led in this realm. As the ODNI official explained: “IC Pride was rated the #1 Employee Resource Group in the country in 2017 – above private sector companies like NBC Universal and Disney.” This honor also graced the Trump administration.

In nearly 70 nations, homosexuality is no parade. It’s illegal and triggers jail sentences and even executions for gays whom these antiquated, inhumane statutes ensnare.

As if on cue, Egyptian broadcaster Hala Samir furnished a fresh example of what the Trump Administration is combating. She said June 16, via Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s Turkey-based Watan TV: “Ibn Abbas quoted the Prophet Muhammad as saying: ‘If you find men engaged in a homosexual act – kill the active one as well as the passive one.’ Don’t start asking: ‘Are you active or passive?’ Just kill both.”

“The companions of the Prophet Muhammad unanimously agreed that homosexuals should be killed, but they had disagreements about the method of killing,” Samir added, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute’s translation. “Some said that they should be burned alive…Others said that they should be thrown off a high place, and this should be followed by stoning.”

Grenell rebuffed this madness on Twitter: “Every US government agency and official must speak clearly that this is unacceptable.”

Westlake Legal Group Grenell-Richard-Grenell-responds-via-Twitter-to-Hala-Samir-calling-for-gays-to-be-killed-2-June-26-2020 Deroy Murdock: Trump's global campaign to decriminalize homosexuality merits gay pride fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/middle-east fox-news/politics/foreign-policy fox-news/politics/executive/white-house fox-news/opinion fox news fnc/opinion fnc Deroy Murdock article 337a63ed-6fa2-5705-9e06-339930b6f21b

Rather than applaud, Twitter targeted Grenell. “Twitter launched an investigation of me for this tweet calling it unacceptable to kill gay people,” Grenell said. “But they allow the Muslim Brotherhood’s video calling for the death of gay people to continue.”

From a different religious perspective, Evangelical Christians and other social conservatives are central to President Trump’s political base. But they rarely do backflips over advances in gay rights. How has this core constituency greeted this operation?

“The concern is where this is really headed, or the end-game,” said Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council and Vice-Chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Perkins told me: “Very few, if any, evangelicals support the harsh criminal penalties that some countries have placed on homosexual behavior. They also see administration officials pushing policies/views which were forced upon Americans by the Court as a form of cultural imperialism and do not support it. This concern applies not only to homosexuality but to abortion as well.”

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Grenell comes from the same faith tradition, yet he differs. “I grew up Evangelical Christian, and I know personally that support for decriminalizing homosexuality is high with Evangelicals and the larger religious community, because putting someone in jail or killing someone simply because they are gay is abhorrent to followers of Christ.”

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The Trump aministration began addressing this problem just over two years into office. Conversely, Obama and Biden had eight years to mount such a high-profile project. But they couldn’t care less. Instead, these far-Left Democrats apologized to fundamentalist-Islamic regimes that are among this sphere’s most nefarious actors.

Even worse, Obama and Biden unfroze $115 billion in Iranian assets and physically jetted $400 million in laundered Swiss francs to Tehran’s ayatollahs to spend as they wished.

Quid pro nihilo!

Obama and Biden’s partners in the calamitous Iran-nuclear deal were and are Earth’s No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism. They also have a bad habit of hanging and decapitating men who love other men.

“Last year, Iran’s regime publicly hanged a man based on anti-gay charge,” the Jerusalem Post reported Sunday. “Iran’s regime,” the Post added, “according to a 2008 British WikiLeaks dispatch, executed between 4,000-6,000 gays and lesbians.”

Rather than subsidize such butchery by air-delivering cash to homicidal homophobes — as Obama and Biden did — Trump officially has battled the barbarians behind such savagery.

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“This is a human rights issue,” Grenell says. “I don’t see this as just a gay rights issue.”

Gay activists, who tend to lean 90 degrees left, should remember all of this before they, yet again, scream, “Homophobe!” at President Donald J. Trump.

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM DEROY MURDOCK

Westlake Legal Group image Deroy Murdock: Trump's global campaign to decriminalize homosexuality merits gay pride fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/middle-east fox-news/politics/foreign-policy fox-news/politics/executive/white-house fox-news/opinion fox news fnc/opinion fnc Deroy Murdock article 337a63ed-6fa2-5705-9e06-339930b6f21b  Westlake Legal Group image Deroy Murdock: Trump's global campaign to decriminalize homosexuality merits gay pride fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/middle-east fox-news/politics/foreign-policy fox-news/politics/executive/white-house fox-news/opinion fox news fnc/opinion fnc Deroy Murdock article 337a63ed-6fa2-5705-9e06-339930b6f21b

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Satellite image: Iran blast was near suspected missile site

Westlake Legal Group satellite-image-iran-blast-was-near-suspected-missile-site Satellite image: Iran blast was near suspected missile site JON GAMBRELL fox-news/world/world-regions/middle-east fox-news/world/conflicts/iran fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/middle-east fnc/world fnc ea776979-bd64-5e88-8a75-ee8d1e1348b2 Associated Press article

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — An explosion that rattled Iran’s capital came from an area in its eastern mountains that analysts believe hides an underground tunnel system and missile production sites, satellite photographs showed Saturday.

What exploded in the incident early Friday that sent a massive fireball into the sky near Tehran remains unclear, as does the cause of the blast.

The unusual response of the Iranian government in the aftermath of the explosion, however, underscores the sensitive nature of an area near where international inspectors believe the Islamic Republic conducted high-explosive tests two decades ago for nuclear weapon triggers.

Westlake Legal Group AP20179369014525 Satellite image: Iran blast was near suspected missile site JON GAMBRELL fox-news/world/world-regions/middle-east fox-news/world/conflicts/iran fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/middle-east fnc/world fnc ea776979-bd64-5e88-8a75-ee8d1e1348b2 Associated Press article

This Friday, June 26, 2020, photo from the European Commission’s Sentinel-2 satellite shows the site of an explosion that rattled Iran’s capital. Analysts say the blast came from an area in Tehran’s eastern mountains they hides a underground tunnel system and missile production sites. The explosion appears to have charred hundreds of meters of scrubland. (European Commission via AP)

The blast shook homes, rattled windows and lit up the horizon early Friday in the Alborz Mountains. State TV later aired a segment from what it described as the site of the blast.

FROM POISONINGS TO BEHEADINGS, ‘HONOR KILLINGS’ IN IRAN GET A FRESH SPOTLIGHT WITH SOCIAL MEDIA

One of its journalists stood in front of what appeared to be large, blackened gas cylinders, though the camera remained tightly focused and did not show anything else around the site. Defense Ministry spokesman Davood Abdi blamed the blast on a leaking gas he did not identify and said no one was killed in the explosion.

Abdi described the site as a “public area,” raising the question of why military officials and not civilian firefighters would be in charge. The state TV report did not answer that.

Westlake Legal Group AP20179371571270 Satellite image: Iran blast was near suspected missile site JON GAMBRELL fox-news/world/world-regions/middle-east fox-news/world/conflicts/iran fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/middle-east fnc/world fnc ea776979-bd64-5e88-8a75-ee8d1e1348b2 Associated Press article

This June 21, 2020 photo from the European Commission’s Sentinel-2 satellite shows a site before an explosion June 26, 2020, that rattled Iran’s capital. Analysts say the blast came from an area in Tehran’s eastern mountains they hides a underground tunnel system and missile production sites. (European Commission via AP)

Satellite photos of the area, some 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) east of downtown Tehran, showed hundreds of meters (yards) of charred scrubland not seen in images of the area taken in the weeks ahead of the incident. The building near the char marks resembled the facility seen in the state TV footage.

The gas storage area sits near what analysts describe as Iran’s Khojir missile facility. The explosion appears to have struck a facility for the Shahid Bakeri Industrial Group, which makes solid-propellant rockets, said Fabian Hinz, a researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California.

The Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies identified Khojir as the “site of numerous tunnels, some suspected of use for arms assembly.” Large industrial buildings at the site visible from satellite photographs also suggest missile assembly being conducted there.

The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency says Iran overall has the largest underground facility program in the Middle East.

Such sites “support most facets of Tehran’s ballistic missile capabilities, including the operational force and the missile development and production program,” the DIA said in 2019.

Westlake Legal Group AP20179443910854 Satellite image: Iran blast was near suspected missile site JON GAMBRELL fox-news/world/world-regions/middle-east fox-news/world/conflicts/iran fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/middle-east fnc/world fnc ea776979-bd64-5e88-8a75-ee8d1e1348b2 Associated Press article

This Friday, June 26, 2020, photo combo from the European Commission’s Sentinel-2 satellite shows the site of an explosion, before, left, and after, right, that rattled Iran’s capital. Analysts say the blast came from an area in Tehran’s eastern mountains that hides a underground tunnel system and missile production sites. The explosion appears to have charred hundreds of meters of scrubland. (European Commission via AP)

Iranian officials themselves also identified the site as being in Parchin, home to a military base where the International Atomic Energy Agency previously said it suspects Iran conducted tests of explosive triggers that could be used in nuclear weapons. Iran long has denied seeking nuclear weapons, though the IAEA previously said Iran had done work in “support of a possible military dimension to its nuclear program” that largely halted in late 2003.

Western concerns over the Iranian atomic program led to sanctions and eventually to Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. The U.S. under President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord in May 2018, leading to a series of escalating attacks between Iran and the U.S. and Tehran abandoning the deal’s production limits.

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Iran’s missile and space programs have suffered a series of explosions in recent years. The most notable came in 2011, when a blast at a missile base near Tehran killed Revolutionary Guard commander Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, who led the paramilitary force’s missile program, and 16 others. Initially, authorities described the blast as an accident, though a former prisoner later said the Guard interrogated him on suspicion Israel caused the explosion.

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Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.

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US hits Iranian metal industry with sanctions as tensions bubble

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The U.S. Treasury Department on Thursday slapped sanctions on Iran’s metals sector — a move that comes a day after it also sanctioned the captains of five Iranian ships that delivered gasoline to the authoritarian Maduro regime in Venezuela and said it would seek “snap back” sanctions against Iran if the U.N. Security Council doesn’t extend an arms embargo against the rogue Middle-Eastern state.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that the proceeds from the Iranian metal industry are going toward the Islamic regime’s malign activities, rather than taking care of its citizens.

“The Iranian regime continues to use profits from metals manufacturers and foreign sales agents to fund destabilizing behavior around the world,” Mnuchin said in a statement. “The United States remains committed to isolating key sectors of the Iranian economy until the revenues from such sectors are refocused toward the welfare of the Iranian people.”

POMPEO SAYS IF UN DOESN’T EXTEND ARMS EMBARGO ON IRAN, US WILL SEEK SANCTIONS

He added in a tweet: “The Iranian regime continues to prioritize the funding of terrorist groups over the needs of the Iranian people. @USTreasury took action today to further restrict revenues from a key Iranian sector.”

The top targets of the Wednesday sanctions are companies associated with the Mobarakeh Steel Company, which according to the Treasury Department produces about one percent of Iran’s GDP. It was slapped with sanctions in 2018.

Among those are Tara Steel Trading GmbH, which is based in Germany and in 2018 sold “nearly the equivalent of 60 million dollars” of “metals and metal ores in Europe.” Three other companies in the United Arab Emirates, majority-owned by Mobarakeh, also were designated for sanctions. The same is the case for Metil Steel, a manufacturer and exporter based in Iran.

Three other Iranian-based metals manufacturers and one Chinese company that the Treasury Department says “knowingly transferred 300 metric tons of graphite to an Iranian entity” were also included in Wednesday’s round of sanctions.

Tensions between the U.S. and Iran have increased under President Trump’s administration. Trump campaigned on withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, which was a signature accomplishment of the Obama administration, and did so in 2018. The U.S. has aimed to impose significant economic pressure on Iran via sanctions and other limits with the goal of forcing the regime to change its behavior to avoid further economic pain.

BOLTON CALLS US WITHDRAWL FROM URAN NUCLEAR DEAL ‘MY HAPPIEST MOMENT’ IN TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

One provision of that deal — an arms embargo on Iran — is set to expire in October and the United States is currently lobbying the United Nations Security Council to extend it. It’s threatening to impose “snap back” sanctions if the council refuses.

“Without action, on the 18th of [October], Iran will be able to purchase advanced weapon systems and become the arms dealer of choice for terrorists and rogue regimes all throughout the world. This is unacceptable,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday.

He quoted former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State John Kerry, who each made comments that if the U.S. was not satisfied with how the deal was working out, that it could unilaterally reimpose the sanctions that were previously on the Iranian regime.

Pompeo added: “The legal options in the Security Council are clear. Our great preference is to have a Council resolution that would extend the arms embargo, but we are determined to ensure that that arms embargo continues.”

Meanwhile, Russia has cast doubt on the idea that the U.S., after pulling out of the nuclear deal, could reimpose those sanctions.

And S.A. Mousavi, the spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, has claimed that the U.S. pressure campaign has been a “miserable failure.”

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“US desperate moves against Iranian individuals – like the one announced by @SecPompeo, aka the #SecretaryofHate – just signal the miserable failure of the so-called “max pressure”. Despite US pressure, #Iran & #Venezuela remain steadfast in countering unlawful American sanctions,” he said in a Wednesday tweet.

But the U.S. says it’s Iran that’s acted unlawfully.

“Given that Iran has neither abided by current restrictions nor demonstrated a change in its threatening behavior, Special Representative Hook and Ambassador Craft called on Security Council members to extend the arms embargo,” the State Department said in a statement Wednesday.

In recent years, Iran has attacked Saudi Arabia with drones; created a dangerous environment in the Strait of Hormuz by seizing oil tankers in international waters; sent a drone toward a U.S. warship; used captured U.S. sailors for propaganda; armed the Houthi rebels in Yemen; tripled its stockpile of enriched uranium and more.

Fox News’ Bradford Betz contributed to this report. 

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3 ISIS hideouts destroyed in Iraq, coalition says

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Three Islamic State (ISIS) camps have been destroyed in northern Iraq by coalition aircraft in coordination with the Iraqi government, military officials announced Saturday.

ISIS hideouts were targeted in Wadi al-Shai, an area in Kirkuk Province located in the northern part of the country and known to have become an ISIS hideout, officials said.

Hideouts in rural regions in Iraq have become the new modus operandi for the terrorist organization after Iraqi Security Forces and Syrian Democratic Forces destroyed the last ISIS stronghold in March 2019.

“The Iraqi Security Forces have tactical overmatch against ISIS; airstrikes help destroy ISIS targets in terrain difficult to reach by standard vehicles,” Col. Myles B. Caggins III, a coalition military spokesman, said in a statement Saturday. “Blowing up ISIS hideouts in bucolic locations ultimately results in security in cities and villages.”

TWO ISIS ‘REGIONAL’ LEADERS KILLED DURING RAID IN SYRIA, COALITION SAYS

Iraqi citizens have largely rejected the presence of ISIS in Iraq and have helped to drive the terrorists into rural desert and mountain areas, after being reportedly “liberated from formerly ISIS-held areas,” according to military officials Saturday.

U.S. military personnel continue to encourage Iraqi citizens to come forward with information about ISIS and to contact local security officials.

“Each Coalition precision airstrike is conducted at the request of the Government of Iraq to help achieve a permanent defeat of Daesh,” Caggins said.

ISIS regional leaders and operatives continue to be targeted and “neutralized,” according to military officials, forcing them to hide in rural areas.

STATE DEPARTMENT ANNOUNCES $3M REWARD FOR INFO ON SENIOR ISIS LEADER

The State Department has also encouraged people to come forward with information regarding Muhammad Khadir Musa Ramadan, a senior ISIS leader responsible for the organization’s use of propaganda and in the creation of the gruesome videos that ISIS has become known for.

“Muhammad Khadir Musa Ramadan is one of ISIS’s longest-serving senior media officials,” a State Department spokesperson told Fox News last month. “Ramadan oversees the group’s daily media operations, including the management of content from ISIS’s dispersed global network of supporters.”

A $3 million reward has been placed on his head for any information surrounding him and his whereabouts.

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“The Coalition and our partners will continue to maintain relentless pressure on the terrorist organization,” a statement released by U.S. Central Command said Saturday.

“In addition to military operations, the Coalition has significantly disrupted and degraded ISIS propaganda operations, finance, and human trafficking networks.”

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Iran appears to build fake aircraft carrier as tensions with US grow

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Iran appears to have built a fake aircraft carrier off its southern coast for potential live-fire drills amid ongoing tensions with the U.S., satellite images showed Tuesday.

The apparent mock-up resembles the Nimitz-class carriers that the U.S. Navy routinely sails into the Persian Gulf from the Strait of Hormuz, where 20 percent of all the world’s oil passes through.

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In this Sunday, June 7, 2020 satellite photo a fake aircraft carrier is seen off the coast of Bandar Abbas, Iran.  (Satellite image ©2020 Maxar Technologies via AP)

While not yet acknowledged by Iranian officials, the replica’s appearance suggests Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard is preparing an encore of a similar mock-sinking it conducted in 2015.

The replica’s appearance comes as Iran announced Tuesday it will execute a man it accused of sharing details on the movements of the Guard’s Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S.-authorized drone strike in Baghdad earlier this year.

The replica carries 16 mock-ups of fighter jets on its deck, according to satellite photos taken by Maxar Technologies. The vessel appears to be some 650 feet long and 160 feet wide.

The mock-up, which defense and intelligence analysts first noticed in January, resembles a similar one used in February 2015 during a military exercise called “Great Prophet 9.” During that drill, Iran swarmed the fake aircraft carrier with speedboats firing machine guns and rockets. Surface-to-sea missiles later targeted and destroyed the fake carrier.

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FILE: Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, center, attends a meeting in Tehran, Iran.  (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

But that drill came as Iran and world powers were in negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear program. President Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord in May 2018. Since then Iran has abandoned nearly every tenant of the agreement, though it still allows U.N. inspectors access to its nuclear sites.

IRAN SAYS IT WILL EXECUTE MAN WHO ALLEGEDLY PROVIDED US WITH INFORMATION ON SOLEIMANI

Tensions ramped up to new heights last summer amid a series of attacks and incidents between Iran and the U.S. They reached a crescendo with the Jan. 3 strike near Baghdad International Airport that killed Soleimani, Iran’s top general.

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Iran retaliated for Soleimani’s killing with a ballistic missile strike Jan. 8 targeting U.S. forces in Iraq, an assault that left over 100 American troops with serious brain injuries. That same day, the Guard accidentally shot down a Ukrainian jetliner in Tehran, killing 176 people.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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The aftermath of Qassem Soleimani’s death and his daughter’s rise to prominence

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It has been almost five months since President Trump shocked the world by authorizing a strike to kill Iran’s top spymaster and shadowy commander, Qassem Soleimani.

Fears of mass retaliation and a sinister spike in violence that would endanger U.S. troops and potentially lead to a full-blown war were instantly ignited. Baghdad threatened to kick the Americans out of the country, and woes of a more profound destabilization ensued, worries that Iran’s proxy militias would grow even more out of control grew and many lamented that the blindsiding decision by the American commander in chief would bring animosity between Washington and Tehran to a tipping point.

So what, exactly, has been the fallout?

“Once again, the critics of Trump’s Iran policy are wrong. There was no WW3 after the removal of the Islamic Republic’s most important military official from the battlefield,” Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), told Fox News. “Four months since that game-changing strike, Iran’s proxy network continues to operate, but without the charismatic and cunning terrorist who coordinated their efforts. Now is the time to ramp up the pressure on this network.”

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Protesters chant slogans and hold up posters of Gen. Qassem Soleimani during a demonstration in front of the British Embassy in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020. A candlelight ceremony late Saturday in Tehran turned into a protest, with hundreds of people chanting against the country’s leaders — including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — and police dispersing them with tear gas. Police briefly detained the British ambassador to Iran, Rob Macaire, who said he went to the Saturday vigil without knowing it would turn into a protest. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

But as part of its campaign to keep the Soleimani legacy alive, Tehran has this year been steadily building the profile of the dead commander’s 28-year-old daughter, Zeinab Soleimani. Little it is known about the general’s personal life, other than he is survived by three sons and two daughters, but Zeinab catapulted into the limelight immediately after her father’s death, by vowing to large crowds of mourners that “U.S. soldiers’ families will spend their days waiting for the death of their children.”

In late January, Zeinab met with Hezbollah leader General Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut and tweeted a video of the encounter with the caption “the spider nests of America and Zionists will collapse.” Moreover, she has referred to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Houthi leader in Yemen, Abdalmalek Houthi, as her “uncles.”

In early May, she was appointed by the regime to run the newly established Qassem Soliemani Foundation to maintain his legacy and doctrine, although it remains unclear how that will play out.

“As a revolutionary regime, the Islamic republic is always looking for icons which can be used in its propaganda machine to reproduce its narrative. Zainab Soleimani has all the hallmarks,” Malik said. “With minimum cost, she can help indoctrinate young women who are seen as mothers who bring up the next generation of the revolution.”

Although crippled by the coronavirus, of which Iran has been the most deeply impacted country in the Middle East, along with its embarrassing and tragic shooting down – and cover-up – of the Ukrainian airliner in the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 3 Soleimani slaying, Iran has purported to show strength in other ways. It is what foreign policy experts deem a bid to prove it will not appear feeble under pressure as it postures beneath the murky line of taking pride in its fortitude while playing the victim card.

THE MASTER BEHIND THE MASK: WHO IS IRAN’S MOST FEARED AND POWERFUL MILITARY COMMANDER?

In late April, Iran ratcheted up its own display of nationalism when it launched a satellite – a move that U.S. officials referred to as a “provocation” given that the Defense Intelligence Agency last year reported that space launch vehicles could be utilized as a proving ground “for developing an ICBM,” although military analysts have since argued that Iran’s machinery is far too limited to serve as an intercontinental ballistic missile.

“The level of Iranian reprisals thus far certainly has not risen to match the significance of the Soleimani killing, but this should not be seen as an indication that Iran has abandoned its desire to seriously harm U.S. interests in the Middle East,” warned Jordan Steckler, research analyst at United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI). “Even the coronavirus has not fully slowed Iran’s malign targeting of the U.S. The regime has followed a familiar playbook, continuing external aggression to distract from its own corruption and ineptitude.”

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In this photo released Wednesday, April 22, 2020, by Sepahnews, an Iranian rocket carrying a satellite is launched from an undisclosed site believed to be in Iran’s Semnan province. (Sepahnews via AP)

But according to one Iraqi intelligence source, who requested anonymity due to safety precautions, the assassination of Soleimani has had a profound aftereffect.

“Iran really utilized him as a real foreign policy preacher and enforcer across the entire Middle East and Russia and Afghanistan, he was the real boss and had relationships no one else had,” the source explained. “The IRCG is not the same. It’s going to take them a long while to build that back up and figure who he knew. He did everything his own way and didn’t have to ask permission for anything.”

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Deceased Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, center, attends a meeting in Tehran in 2016. A woman in Kosovo was arrested Tuesday over social media post criticizing the United States for killing the Iranian military commander in a drone strike last week. (via AP, File)

Soleimani’s replacement in heading the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (ICRG) elite Quds Force unit is Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani, and experts contend he has so far shown little of the same clout that his predecessor did.

“Esmail Qaani’s portfolio was heavily centered on Quds Force operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” noted Steckler. “His relationships with Syrian, Lebanese, and Iraqi political and militia leaders aren’t as strong as Soleimani’s were, and we have seen Hezbollah step in to fill that void in the interim as Qaani gains his footing.”

The source also stressed that the killing of Iraq’s Shiite militia leader Abu, who was alongside Soleimani as they endeavored to depart the Baghdad airport on that fateful Friday night, has had an equally as resounding impact.

“His death was devastating for Iranian interests, he was the head of the snake, and those under him now really don’t know what to do,” noted the insider. “All the command he built up has gone.”

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Mourners step over a U.S. flags before burning it during the funeral of Iran’s top general Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iran-backed militias in Iraq known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, in Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. Thousands of mourners chanting “America is the Great Satan” marched in a funeral procession Saturday through Baghdad for Iran’s top general and Iraqi militant leaders, who were killed in a U.S. airstrike. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

Several other Iraq officials Fox News spoke to concurred that the effect has been significant.

“The period after the killings has meant a huge split inside the PMF,” one Kurdish official said. “They still cannot decide on who to replace Abu Mahdi, Soleimani was the decider for everyone, and he had the final say.”

IRAN PICKS CYBER FIGHT WITH ISRAEL AS BOTH SIDES TARGET CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE

However, the low-level offensive assaults against U.S. interests by the Iranian-backed militias in Iraq remain ongoing, coupled with Tehran’s overarching use of its naval vessels in the Persian Gulf – including live-action training exercises earlier this week – have some policymakers calling for the U.S. to implement an even tighter “maximum pressure” campaign.

Furthermore, it circumvented the Trump administration’s hardline Venezuelan policy against the regime of Nicolas Maduro this week by sending five tankers of gasoline to the increasingly isolated Latin American country.

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that all sanctions waivers issued to countries to work with Iran on nuclear projects would be coming to an end within 60 days.

Despite the acrimonious rhetoric between Washington and Tehran, so far, it has amounted to little more than tit-for-tat and a far cry from the doomsday predictions that percolated at the beginning of the year.

“Even under coronavirus crisis conditions, Iran is signaling that it will not be deterred,” Taleblu said. “Low-level escalation is set to continue.”Others caution that once other distractions such as the coronavirus crisis subside, hostilities could rise again.

“The killing of Soleimani and other ‘maximum pressure’ tactics have resulted in a more hostile, provocative Iran, not a moderate one. Even though a full-scale war hasn’t happened yet, concerns were justified,” said Defense Priorities Policy Director, Ben Friedman.  The killing sparked direct U.S.-Iran conflict, including a missile attack on an Iraqi base housing U.S. forces. It was mostly just luck that the attack didn’t kill any U.S. soldiers, providing President Trump an off-ramp to back down from further escalation.”

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But over the next few months, analysts highlighted, there is likely to be a lull. A prominent forthcoming date is Oct. 18, 2020, when the United Nations arms embargo 2231 will expire, freeing Iran to take delivery of state-of-the-art combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, and tanks from Russia and China, who are eager to tap into the Iranian defense market.

“While Iran has already violated the arms embargo with seeming impunity, ferrying weaponry to its proxies in combat zones around the region, the resolution has kept the most advanced weaponry out of Iranian hands,” added Steckler. “If the resolution lifts, Iran will be able to rebuild its own aging military fleet, and it would strip the U.S. and Israel of justification under international law for its efforts to curtail Iranian arms transfers through interdictions and airstrikes.”

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Benjamin Netanyahu corruption trial – everything you need to know

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Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trial for three corruption cases will begin on Sunday,  more than two months after Israel’s unprecedented third election in less than a year, which ended inconclusively and led to the formation of a unity government. Netanyahu is the first sitting Israeli prime minister to go on trial.

What are the charges?

Netanyahu has been charged with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in three different controversies.

The allegations against him included suspicions that he accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in champagne and cigars from billionaire friends, offered to trade favors with a newspaper publisher and used his influence to help a wealthy telecom magnate in exchange for favorable coverage on a popular news site.

When was Netanyahu formally charged?

After a three-year investigation, Netanyahu, who has served as prime minister for 11 years, was indicted in November.

“A day in which the attorney general decides to serve an indictment against a seated prime minister for serious crimes of corrupt governance is a heavy and sad day, for the Israeli public and for me personally,” Israel’s attorney general Avichai Mandelblit told reporters after Netanyahu was formally charged.

Netanyahu, in response, said the indictment stemmed from “false accusations” and a systematically “tainted investigation.” He claimed to be the victim of a witch hunt involving political rivals, the media, police and prosecutors, all pressuring a “weak” attorney general, The Times of Israel reported.

ISRAELI PM BENJAMIN NETANYAHU ACCUSED OPPONENTS OF ‘ATTEMPTED COUP’ AFTER CORRUPTION CHARGES 

Mandelblit rejected suggestions that the indictment was politically motivated, saying it was a “heavy-hearted decision” based solely on professional considerations.

Did the COVID-19 outbreak impact the trial? 

Netanyahu’s trial was supposed to begin in March, but was delayed when his justice minister closed most of the court system because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Israel’s new government was sworn in on May 17 following three national elections in under a year, which all ended inconclusively with neither Netanyahu, nor his rival Benny Gantz, in control of a required parliamentary majority.

Given the coronavirus outbreak and the desire to avoid yet another election, Gantz dropped his opposition to sitting in a government with the indicted Netanyahu. Under their power-sharing deal, the two will rotate the prime minister’s job during the next three years — with Netanyahu in the role for the first 18 months.

According to the agreement, Gantz and Netanyahu control an equal number of government ministries and parliamentary committees and essentially hold veto power over most key decisions.

Does Netanyahu have to step down as prime minister given he has been indicted?  

Netanyahu is not legally required to resign while under indictment.

The unity government created a new position of “alternate prime minister,” which like the premier is not required to resign under indictment. This position would allow Netanyahu to stay in office throughout a trial and potential appeals process that could last several years.

What happens next?

On Wednesday, an Israeli court ordered Netanyahu to appear for the opening of his criminal trial in Jerusalem on Sunday.

His attorneys had asked the court for an exemption from appearing at the arraignment, arguing that Netanyahu’s presence was “not essential” given he had “read this indictment several times already.” They also argued that his bodyguards’ presence would violate Health Ministry social distancing requirements during the coronavirus pandemic.

The court rejected the request, saying that Netanyahu “must, like all other accused, appear and give his statement before the court.”

The trial will take place in Jerusalem District Court where evidence will be presented before a three-judge panel.

Judge Rivka Friedman-Feldman will be heading the panel, which will also include Judges Moshe Bar-Am and Oded Shaham, Haaretz reported, adding that the majority of the judges are known to be tough on corruption.

The newspaper noted that Arnon Mozes, the publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth Israeli newspaper; Shaul Elovitch, the former owner of the Bezeq telecommunications company, and his wife Iris have also been charged in the cases.

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The Jerusalem District Court noted that social distancing orders by the Health Ministry must be followed and, therefore, people in the courtroom will be required to wear face masks and sit more than 6 feet apart, The Times of Israel reported.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Westlake Legal Group benjamin-netanyahu-1-AP Benjamin Netanyahu corruption trial - everything you need to know Talia Kaplan fox-news/world/world-regions/israel fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/middle-east fox-news/person/benjamin-netanyahu fox-news/health/infectious-disease/coronavirus fox-news/entertainment/events/in-court fox news fnc/world fnc cdf60fa6-881f-504a-a62a-d3c3d0a201a3 article  Westlake Legal Group benjamin-netanyahu-1-AP Benjamin Netanyahu corruption trial - everything you need to know Talia Kaplan fox-news/world/world-regions/israel fox-news/politics/foreign-policy/middle-east fox-news/person/benjamin-netanyahu fox-news/health/infectious-disease/coronavirus fox-news/entertainment/events/in-court fox news fnc/world fnc cdf60fa6-881f-504a-a62a-d3c3d0a201a3 article

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