Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Wednesday that Israel would strike a “resounding blow” if attacked by arch-foe Iran, as regional tensions soar after the US killing of a top Iranian general.
“Anyone who attacks us will receive a resounding blow,” the premier told a Jerusalem conference after Iran launched a salvo of retaliatory missile strikes on bases used by US troops in Iraq.
Netanyahu has described the target of last week’s US drone strike — Major General Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards foreign operations arm — as a “terrorist-in-chief”.
“Qasem Soleimani was responsible for the deaths of countless innocent people, he destabilised many countries for decades, he sowed fear and misery and anguish and he was planning much worse,” Netanyahu said.
“He was the architect and driver of Iran’s campaign of terror throughout the Middle East and the world.”
The Israeli premier praised US President Donald Trump for “acting swiftly, boldly, and resolutely” in killing Soleimani in the Iraqi capital Baghdad.
The drone strike has put the United States and key allies on alert for Tehran’s response to the killing.
A senior Iranian official on Monday warned the Israeli cities of Haifa and Tel Aviv would be turned “to dust” if Washington carried out further military action in response to its retaliatory moves.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday praised US President Donald Trump “for acting swiftly, forcefully and decisively” to eliminate an Iranian general in a missile strike.
“Just as Israel has the right of self-defence, the United States has exactly the same right,” he said as he boarded a flight home after cutting short a visit to Greece.
Netanyahu’s decision to cut short his foreign trip comes shortly after the news of Soleiman’s death made major headlines.
Meanwhile, the world has reacted with alarm to the development, with many governments appealing for restraint.
Although, the attack was praised by US President Donald Trump’s Republicans and close ally Israel, but elsewhere there were sharp warnings it could inflame regional tensions.
Following are some of the reactions from around the world:
US President Donald Trump said Soleimani was “terminated” when he was on the verge of attacking US diplomats but insisted that Washington is not seeking to topple Iran’s government.
But among Democrats, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the killing risks provoking a “dangerous escalation of violence”.
“President Trump just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox,” his 2020 presidential rival Joe Biden said.
“This action can seriously aggravate the situation in the region,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said, according to a Kremlin readout of a phone conversation with French counterpart Emmanuel Macron.
‘Cannot afford another war’
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned of the need to avoid war in the Gulf.
“This is a moment in which leaders must exercise maximum restraint. The world cannot afford another war in the Gulf,” a spokesman for Guterres said in a statement.
“China has always opposed the use of force in international relations,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.
“We urge the relevant sides, especially the United States, to remain calm and exercise restraint to avoid further escalating tensions.”
He said Iraq’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity must be respected.
‘Spark a devastating war’
Iraq’s caretaker prime minister Adel Abdel Mahdi said the US strike, which also killed an Iraqi commander, would “spark a devastating war”.
“The assassination of an Iraqi military commander in an official post is an aggression against the country of Iraq, its state, its government and its people,” he said.
It was a “flagrant violation of the conditions authorising the presence of US troops” on Iraqi soil, he added.
‘Cycle of violence’
“The current cycle of violence in Iraq must be stopped before it spirals out of control,” EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.
“The EU calls on all the actors involved and on those partners who can have an influence to exercise maximum restraint and show responsibility in this crucial moment.”
‘Will not be forgotten’
The Syrian regime condemned the killing and heaped praise on the Iranian general.
The Syrian people “will not forget that he stuck by the side of the Syrian Arab army”, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in a letter of condolences sent to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
‘Avoid aggravating situation’
Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia cautioned against “anything that could aggravate the situation” while the foreign ministers of Bahrain and Qatar also called for “restraint.”
The Jordanian foreign ministry also called for efforts to be made to avoid an escalation.
‘Meting out punishment’
“Meting out the appropriate punishment to these criminal assassins… will be the responsibility and task of all resistance fighters worldwide,” the leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah Shiite militant group, Hassan Nasrallah, said in a statement.
“We will carry a flag on all battlefields and all fronts and we will step up the victories of the axis of resistance with the blessing of his pure blood.”
‘Threaten peace and stability’
“Pakistan has viewed with deep concern the recent developments in the Middle East, which seriously threaten peace and stability in the region,” the foreign ministry said.
“Respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity are the fundamental principles of the UN Charter, which should be adhered to. It is also important to avoid unilateral actions and use of force.”
The foreign ministry in neighbouring India said: “We have noted that a senior Iranian leader has been killed by the US. The increase in tension has alarmed the world.”
‘Against foreign intervention’
“It is manifest that the operation carried out by the US will increase insecurity and instability in the region… Turkey has always been against any foreign intervention in the region, assassinations and sectarian conflicts,” the foreign ministry said.
‘Act with restraint’
French President Emmanuel Macron urged restraint after Soleimani’s killing.
In his telephone call with Putin, Macron said there should be no “new dangerous escalation of tensions” and “called on all the parties to act with restraint,” the Elysee said.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said London had “always recognised the aggressive threat” posed by Soleimani and his Quds Force. “Following his death, we urge all parties to de-escalate. Further conflict is in none of our interests.”
Embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a “huge” victory Friday, after winning a leadership primary that ensures he will lead his right-wing Likud party into a March general election.
Israel’s longest-serving premier, who faces a corruption indictment and a third general election in 12 months, was expected to beat rival Gideon Saar but the convincing margin of victory strengthened his position in the party he has dominated for 20 years.
With all votes counted, the Likud announced that Netanyahu had secured 72.5 percent, with Saar winning 27.5 percent.
“A huge win! Thank you to Likud members for their trust, support and love,” Netanyahu tweeted.
“With God’s and your help, I will lead the Likud to a big victory in the upcoming election and we will continue to lead the State of Israel to unprecedented achievements,” he added.
Most media commentators had predicted a Netanyahu victory but its scale made banner headlines.
“Netanyahu, big time,” said Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s top-selling daily.
State radio described it as a “landslide” victory for Netanyahu.
The left-wing Haaretz newspaper described it as a battle between the “rational expediency” of Saar supporters and the “tribal loyalty” of the Netanyahu camp.
It noted the historic reluctance of Likud members to depose a sitting leader.
“Since 1948, the Labor Party has replaced its leader 17 times,” it said. “The Likud has had only four leaders since Israel’s inception, and only two since 1995.
“Netanyahu has led the party for the past 14 years consecutively, and for two decades altogether. Younger Likudniks have never known their party without Netanyahu at its helm.”
Netanyahu is scheduled to give a victory address at 11:00 am (0900 GMT).
Around 57,000 Likud members voted on Thursday — a little less than 50 percent of those eligible.
Saar, a former minister seen as to the right of Netanyahu, campaigned on the basis that the leader was no longer able to win elections after deadlocked polls in April and September.
“I am content with my decision to have stood. Those who are unwilling to take a risk for what they believe in will never succeed,” Saar tweeted.
“My colleagues and I will stand behind (Netanyahu) in campaigning for the Likud’s success,” he added.
Saar announced his leadership challenge last month after Israel’s attorney general indicted the prime minister for fraud, bribery and breach of trust.
Netanyahu, 70, denies the allegations, accusing the police, prosecutors and the media of a witch hunt.
Stephan Miller, a pollster who has worked on multiple Israeli campaigns, said Netanyahu had campaigned harder than ever before to defeat Saar.
Netanyahu held several campaign events a day in different parts of the country, while on Thursday his Facebook page broadcast live video of him phoning supporters.
In the campaign’s most dramatic moment on Wednesday, Netanyahu was rushed off stage at a rally in the southern port of Ashkelon after a rocket was fired from the nearby Palestinian enclave of Gaza.
“His job was on the line and he fought to keep it successfully,” Miller said.
– Immunity focus –
Netanyahu’s downfall has been predicted repeatedly since he was elected for a second term in 2009, but he has defied expectations and beaten off multiple potential rivals.
He will likely remain prime minister at least until a new election on March 2.
The Likud and the centrist Blue and White were near neck-and-neck after polls in March and September, with neither able to form a majority coalition under the country’s system of proportional representation.
Early polls indicate that the March 2020 election could again be a stalemate.
In the short term, attention will now turn to Netanyahu’s legal woes.
Netanyahu is accused of corruption in three separate cases, ranging from receiving illegal gifts worth thousands of dollars to offering to change regulations in exchange for positive media coverage.
On Tuesday, the supreme court is expected to hold a hearing on whether a prime minister who has been indicted can form a government.
Under current understanding of the law, a prime minister is only forced to step down once convicted and with all avenues of appeal exhausted.
also has until January 1 to decide if he will ask parliament for immunity.
Gayil Talshir, a professor of politics at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said the result could embolden Netanyahu in his campaign against the charges.
“He is going to argue that the people chose him and not the mechanisms and the judiciary,” Talshir said.
“The big game for Netanyahu is immunity and for that he needs 61 votes (in the 120-seat parliament),” she said.
The Israeli army said Tuesday that a strike in Gaza that killed nine members of the same family had been due to a faulty assessment of the risk to civilians.
The November 14 airstrike targeted the home of Rasmi Abu Malhous, described by Israel as a commander in Islamic Jihad, the militant Palestinian movement against which Israel had launched a three-day campaign.
He and eight members of his family were killed by the attack, including five children.
A statement from the army said that intelligence collected ahead of the attack had indicated that the residence “was designated as an Islamic Jihad terror organisation military compound”.
The army had “estimated” that “civilians would not be harmed as a result of an attack” on the site, which was not believed to be accessible to members of the public.
An army inquiry later found “that even though military activity was conducted in the compound, it was not a closed compound, and in reality, civilians were present there,” it said.
The army said it would learn from its “mistakes” to reduce “the recurrence of similar irregular events.”
It stressed it had made “considerable efforts… to reduce the damage to non-combatants”.
The military report also blamed Islamic Jihad for exploiting and endangering non-combatants “by placing its military assets in the heart of the civilian population and by deliberately acting from within densely populated civilian areas.”
The three-day flareup began when Israel killed a senior Islamic Jihad official in Gaza on November 12.
The Islamist group, which is closely allied with Gaza’s rulers Hamas, responded by firing more than 450 rockets at Israel.
During the confrontation, Israeli forces attacked dozens of targets in the enclave.
Palestinian officials said 35 Palestinians were killed and more than 100 wounded. There were no Israeli fatalities.
In its Tuesday report, the Israeli army said its November operation had been a success, dealing a blow to Islamic Jihad and serving to increase the security of Israeli civilians and help prevent “a wider military campaign.”
The founder of an Egyptian publishing house was sentenced to five years in prison for distributing an Arabic version of a controversial Israeli novel, his brother said Tuesday.
The novel entitled “The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel”, by Israeli writer Uri Bar-Joseph, portrays Ashraf Marwan, the son-in-law of former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, as a spy for the Jewish state.
Khaled Lotfi has been on trial in a military court since 2018 for publishing an Arabic version of the book, two years earlier.
The publisher, accused of having “divulged military secrets”, was sentenced to five years in prison despite appealing against an initial ruling, his brother Mahmoud Lotfi told AFP.
“There is no other recourse but a presidential pardon,” he said.
Marwan, who also worked as an adviser to president Anwar Sadat after the death of Nasser in 1970, died in 2007 in London in mysterious circumstances.
Egyptian authorities arranged a grand funeral and Marwan was hailed as a hero.
A 2018 film based on the book, titled “The Angel”, was met with outrage by Egyptian media, which slated it as a manipulation of history.
“From next year, we do not want to have the incidences of people absconding in Israel. It is something that is becoming worrisome. I just got a text. I have not been able to confirm but I want to investigate that three persons absconded.
“I still feel very shocked,” Okowa said.
The governor was reacting during the swearing-in and inauguration of special advisers and board members of some state parastatals at the government house in Asaba, the state capital.
He vowed to investigate the incident to its root and find out who recommended the absconded pilgrims.
“We are going to dig it up in its roots to find out who recommended the pilgrims. It is very embarrassing, I do not expect that from Delta State,” Okowa added.
He concluded that the process for selection and screening of Christian pilgrims from Delta State will henceforth be more thorough to ensure trust and responsibility.
The indictment comes as Israel edges closer to its third general election in a year, after two inconclusive polls in April and September, with Netanyahu and centrist rival Benny Gantz unable to form a government.
Gantz’s Blue and White party won one more seat than Netanyahu’s rightwing Likud in the September polls.
Parliament now has less than three weeks to find a candidate who can gain the support of more than half of the Knesset’s 120 lawmakers, or a deeply unpopular third election will be called.
Israel was set to expel the country director of Human Rights Watch on Monday after a lengthy court battle over claims he supports a boycott of the Jewish state.
US citizen Omar Shakir, the New York-based rights group’s director for Israel and the Palestinian territories, denies the claims and accuses the Israeli government of seeking to suppress dissent.
Shakir’s deportation, expected in the afternoon, would be the first from inside the country under Israel’s controversial 2017 law allowing the expulsion of foreigners who support a boycott, according to authorities.
The European Union, United Nations, and others have criticised the looming expulsion, with the UN warning of a “shrinking space for human rights defenders to operate” in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
But the United States, Israel’s closest ally, declined to do so, saying Sunday only that it supported freedom of expression.
The rights group said Shakir would continue in his position despite being expelled, working from neighbouring Jordan.
– ‘Boycott support’ –
Israel refused to extend Shakir’s work permit in May 2018 after parliament passed a law mandating the expulsion of foreign supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
BDS activists call for a broad-ranging embargo of Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians.
Israel sees the movement as a strategic threat and accuses it of anti-Semitism. Activists strongly deny this and compare it to the economic isolation that helped bring down apartheid in South Africa.
Shakir, who started in the HRW Israel post in 2017, appealed but Israel’s supreme court backed the government’s decision earlier this month.
The case against Shakir was initially based on statements he had made supporting a boycott before joining HRW.
But the government also highlighted work he did with rights groups, including criticising Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
“The Israeli government pretends it is only deporting Omar Shakir and that it is not penalising Human Rights Watch,” its executive director Ken Roth told AFP Sunday.
“But in fact, it is deporting him for the core message of Human Rights Watch with respect to the settlements.”
More than 600,000 Israelis live in settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, communities considered illegal under international law.
Israel disputes this, and the United States last week broke with decades of international consensus and announced it no longer considered the settlements illegal.
Roth contended that US President Donald Trump’s support for Israel’s fellow right-wing government had emboldened it to crack down on human rights groups.
“It is hard to imagine Omar’s deportation going ahead if the US government hadn’t given a kind of implicit green light,” he told AFP.
The US embassy said only it had raised Shakir’s case with Israel and that it supports “freedom of expression.”
“At the same time, our strong opposition to boycotts and sanctions of the State of Israel is well known,” it said.
– ‘Move backfired’ –
Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, which led the campaign to expel Shakir, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The right-wing group NGO Monitor meanwhile charged that HRW’s record was anti-Israel.
“It’s the singling out we disagree with,” said Gerald Steinberg, head of the organisation which argues that international organisations put a disproportionate focus on Israel and the Palestinians.
“They are not saying ‘we disagree with Israeli policy but we believe in the Jewish people’s right to self-determination’,” he said.
“It is about ‘we don’t believe in the Jewish state’s right to exist’,” he argued.
HRW strongly denied the claim.
NGO Monitor provided evidence to the government’s case and Steinberg argued that not renewing a visa was “standard practice” in democracies.
Yet Steinberg admitted that Israel’s move had created negative publicity that helps its critics.
“This is playing into their hands,” he said. “Shakir is milking this, they are going to dance their way out of the airport.”
Roth agreed that Israel’s move had actually intensified scrutiny of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.
“The world isn’t fooled,” he said. “When you try to censor something, the first thing you do is say ‘well what is it you are trying to censor?'”
Israel’s supreme court on Tuesday upheld a government decision to expel a senior Human Rights Watch official over his alleged support of a boycott of the country, the ruling said.
Israel has sought to expel Omar Shakir, the New York-based rights group’s director for Israel and the Palestinian territories, for more than a year.
It will now be up to the government whether to follow through and deport Shakir, a US citizen, who brands the move a bid by Israel to silence and delegitimise critics of its treatment of the Palestinians.
“If it proceeds, I have 20 days to leave & (Israel will) join ranks of Iran, N Korea & Egypt in blocking access for @hrw official,” Shakir tweeted after the decision was announced.
It would be the first expulsion of its kind under a 2017 law allowing the deportation of foreigners who support boycotting Israel, although there have been cases of people being denied entry under the measure.
Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said he was “delighted that the supreme court this morning has validated my decision to not extend the visa of Omar Shakir, one of the leaders of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, for his support for boycotting Israel.”
“All those who work against Israel must know that we will not let them live or work here,” he added.
HRW said it urges businesses to stop operating in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank in order to avoid complicity in human rights abuses, but insisted it does not advocate a boycott of Israel itself.
It said it had “vigorously contested” claims Shakir had done so since joining the organisation.
Kenneth Roth, its executive director, condemned the court’s decision and warned that more such rulings would follow.
“The supreme court has effectively declared that free expression in Israel does not include completely mainstream advocacy for Palestinian rights,” he said.
“If the government now deports Human Rights Watch’s researcher for asking businesses to respect rights as we do across the world, there’s no telling whom it will throw out next.”
The case against Shakir was initially based on alleged statements in support of a boycott he made “in the distant past”, prior to taking up his post, HRW says.
The government later added new statements it alleges are in support of a boycott.
Israel’s ministry of strategic affairs, which probes potential violations of the 2017 law, alleges Shakir’s activism, particularly related to the country’s occupation of the West Bank, has amounted to calls for a boycott.
The BDS movement calls for a broad-ranging boycott of Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians.
Israel sees the movement as a strategic threat and accuses it of anti-Semitism — a claim activists strongly deny.