The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s news as it unfolded.
US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry condemns what he calls “Iran’s attack on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” in an address to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s general conference in Vienna.
Perry says in Austria that “this behavior is unacceptable” and that Iran “must be held responsible.”
He adds: “Make no mistake about it, this was a deliberate attack on the global economy and the global energy market.”
He says that US President Donald Trump has authorized the release of strategic oil reserves should the US need them, and that his “department stands ready” to proceed if necessary.
Perry also adds that “despite Iran’s malign efforts we are very confident that the market is resilient and will respond.”
Saeid Mollaei has been in hiding since he left the Iranian judo team last month, saying he had been ordered to withdraw from the world championships on political grounds.
Now he’s training for next year’s Olympics without a guarantee he can compete.
Mollaei was the defending world champion, and Israel’s Sagi Muki his biggest rival for the gold medal. There was one problem — Iran has a policy of boycotting all competitions against Israelis, even if that means an athlete’s training was all for nothing.
In the end, Mollaei lost a bronze-medal bout and didn’t face Muki, who won gold. The International Judo Federation, which is supporting Mollaei, said he received demands to withdraw from an Iranian deputy sports minister, embassy staff and the head of the Iranian Olympic Committee.
Mollaei tells The Associated Press he was ordered to lose a preliminary bout against a Russian in order to cover up the reason for his withdrawal. When he refused and won, he received more intimidating calls from senior officials.
“For once, I decided to live as a free man for myself, and prove to the world that I am a brave man,” Mollaei says in a recent interview in Germany, where he’s living in an undisclosed location.
“I did this for my human soul. For myself. I wanted to practice and compete with freedom, with peace of mind,” says Mollaei, speaking in Persian. “I didn’t want to worry about whom to compete with and whom not to compete with. I’ll compete with anyone, to honor the Olympic charter.”
According to Iran’s Fars news agency, the Islamic Republic has seized a ship in the Persian Gulf’s Strait of Hormuz, claiming that it was “smuggling diesel” through the strategic waterway.
The report says 11 crew members were arrested.
The Kremlin warns against a hasty reaction to the drone strikes on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia that Washington is blaming on Iran.
“We call on all countries to avoid hasty steps or conclusions that could exacerbate the situation, and on the contrary keep to a line of conduct that will help soften the impact of the situation,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov tells journalists.
An IDF officer who earned official commendation for a Second Lebanon War battle in which he lost an eye is named the next commander of the storied Golani Infantry Brigade.
Col. Barak Hiram, who currently commands the Israel Defense Forces’ Tzeelim training base, will take command of the brigade in the coming months, the military says.
During the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Hiram, then a major, served as a platoon commander in the elite Egoz unit. During a battle in the southern Lebanese town of Haddatha, Hiram sustained a head wound, which he bandaged himself. He continued fighting, refusing to be taken away until the end of the battle, when another officer was able to take his place.
He ultimately lost his eye from the injury.
A year after the end of the war, he was awarded an official citation of bravery.
Hiram’s appointment is announced along with 17 other high-ranking positions in the IDF. All of the nominations — requiring a degree of colonel — were approved by IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also serves as defense minister.
–– Judah Ari Gross
According to Iranian officials quoted by Fars, the vessel seized by the Islamic Republic today in the Strait of Hormuz was Emirati-flagged.
The report says the vessel was sailing to the United Arab Emirates near an island off Iran’s Hormozgan Province when it was seized.
The name of the ship is not immediately available.
The Israeli military announces it will shutting down the crossings out of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to Palestinians on Tuesday for election day.
The closure is scheduled to begin at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday and end 24 hours later, the army says.
“During the closure, crossings will be permitted only on humanitarian, medical and other exceptional grounds, with permission from the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories,” the IDF says in a statement.
Such measures are common by the Israeli military for Jewish and national holidays.
— Judah Ari Gross
Iraq’s prime minister discusses the weekend drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities by phone with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the premier’s office says, stressing his country was not involved.
The attacks on two key oil installations were claimed by Yemen’s Huthi rebels, but the US has denied they originated from the war-torn state.
Some US officials are investigating whether missiles were actually launched from Iraq or Iran, but Baghdad on Sunday denied its territory was used for the strikes.
Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi tells Pompeo that Baghdad’s aim is to “prohibit Iraqi territory being used to wage attacks against any neighboring, brotherly or friendly country.”
According to a statement from the premier’s office, Pompeo tells Abdel Mahdi that information gathered by the US “confirms” that Iraqi land was not used in the latest attacks.
For the first time, US President Donald Trump accuses Iran of being behind the drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities over the weekend.
In a tweet, he references a June incident that saw Iran shoot down an American drone, which reportedly almost sparked a massive American strike on the Islamic Republic.
Remember when Iran shot down a drone, saying knowingly that it was in their “airspace” when, in fact, it was nowhere close. They stuck strongly to that story knowing that it was a very big lie. Now they say that they had nothing to do with the attack on Saudi Arabia. We’ll see?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 16, 2019
Haaretz reports that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s national security adviser, Meir Ben-Shabbat, met last week with the head of the Central Election Committee to inform him that Tuesday’s elections could be called off due to war.
Earlier today, the newspaper reported that the prime minister tried to initiate an aggressive response to a rocket attack from Gaza that had forced him to take shelter during a campaign stop in Ashdod last week.
The earlier report said that the initiative was effectively blocked by the attorney general, who said the cabinet would have to be convened to make such a decision.
The newer report says that the debate on a possible military response in Gaza became so serious that Ben-Shabbat invited the head of the Central Elections Committee, Hanan Melcer, to attend the meeting. He reportedly did so at the behest of the attorney-general, Avichai Mandelblit.
On Friday morning Netanyahu said, “An operation in Gaza could happen at any moment, including four days before the elections. The date of the elections does not factor [into a decision to go to war].”
Israelis go to the polls on Tuesday. Netanyahu, who is facing stiff competition in his bid to reclaim the premiership, has been seeking to hammer home his credentials and past achievements in security and diplomacy, but ongoing attacks from Gaza have remained a nagging thorn in his side, repeatedly exploited by his political rivals.
For many of those rivals, the scenes of Netanyahu being forced to take shelter from rockets provided a counterpoint to the image he has attempted to cultivate as Mr. Security, highlighting what they say is his government’s failure to deal with ongoing attacks from Gaza terror groups.
The weapons used to strike two Saudi oil plants were provided by the kingdom’s arch-foe Iran, the Riyadh-led coalition fighting in Yemen says.
“The investigation is continuing and all indications are that weapons used in both attacks came from Iran,” coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki tells reporters in Riyadh, adding they arenow probing “from where they were fired.”
A teenage boy in Scotland was filmed performing the Nazi salute in front of a local synagogue while wearing a fake Hitler mustache.
The STV station reports that the incident outside Giffnock & Newlands Synagogue, which was exposed in social networks but whose exact date is not known, is being treated as an anti-Semitic hate crime by local police.
“Police Scotland is aware of a video circulating online on various social media channels, which shows a teenage boy conducting actions of an anti-Semitic nature outside a synagogue. Inquiries are ongoing to trace the persons responsible for making and distributing the video,” a police spokeswoman is quoted as telling STV.
A spokesperson for Police Scotland tells the Jewish Chronicle: “A 16-year-old-boy has been charged and is the subject of a report to the Procurator Fiscal and the Scottish Children’s Reporters Administration in connection with the incident.”
The video is believed to have been created via the TikTok social media video app, and reportedly was circulated among students at the end of last week, according to the Jewish Chronicle.
Paul Edlin, president of Glasgow Jewish Representative Council, tells STV: “The Glasgow Jewish Representative Council are appalled at this anti-Semitic hate crime and we understand that the police are pursuing it vigorously and hope that the alleged perpetrators will be brought to justice quickly.
“The fact that it is now posted on social media makes it an even more significant hate crime,” he adds.
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, who is challenging Netanyahu for the premiership in the elections tomorrow, responds to reports that the prime minister almost launched a massive strike on Gaza last week, potentially causing the postponement of the elections.
“Netanyahu did away with ambiguity for political ends,” Gantz charges in a tweet, alluding to recent comments by the prime minister boasting of Israeli military actions. “Now he’s lost it and wants to drag us into war to postpone the elections.
“[This is a] scenario that belongs [in the TV show] ‘House of Cards,’ not in the State of Israel.”
Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who claimed responsibility for devastating weekend attacks on Saudi oil facilities, threaten to carry out more strikes and urge foreigners to stay away.
“We assure the Saudi regime that our long hand can reach any place we want at any time we choose,” Houthi military spokesman Brigadier Yahya Saree says in a statement.
Saree says the weekend attacks were carried out with a new type of drone.
“We warn companies and foreigners not to stay in the plants that we have targeted because they are still within our reach and could be targeted again,” he says.
Netanyahu’s Likud party has reportedly recorded messages in advance of Tuesday’s elections warning of high voter turnout in “left-wing strongholds” and among Arab Israelis.
According to a report Monday in the Haaretz daily, the messages are set to be sent to hundreds of thousands of Israelis at 4:30 p.m. on election day as part of a Likud effort to boost right-wing turnout.
Ahead of the vote, the ruling party categorized cities and population groups by the number of Likud supporters and gathered phone numbers to send the messages to, the newspaper reports.
“From examinations we’re doing in real time, there is a significantly low voter turnout in your area. You must leave your house now. You can’t be complacent,” one of the messages reportedly says.
In past election campaigns, Netanyahu has frequently warned of low voting levels among right-wingers and high turnout among Arab and left-wing voters, a tactic aimed at swelling support for Likud.
On election day in 2015, Netanyahu released a video saying Arab voters were going in “droves” to voting stations and that left-wing NGOs were busing them there. He later apologized for the remarks, which were perceived as racist.
A lawmaker in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party says Germany should reconsider its ban on arms exports to Saudi Arabia in the wake of the weekend attack on Saudi oil sites.
Juergen Hardt, parliamentary foreign policy spokesman for the Christian Democrats, tells media network RND that “a lifting of the export ban on defensive weapons systems is in our strategic interest” to help Saudi Arabia protect itself.
Germany rescinded arms export permits to Saudi Arabia last year in response to the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Hardt also calls for a review of Germany’s Iran policy, saying “there is no clear evidence of direct Iranian aerial attacks on the Saudi refinery, but Iran’s close collaboration with the Yemeni Houthi militia is obvious.”
Brushing aside Gantz’s criticism, Netanyahu accuses his rival of “playing politics” with Israel’s security.
“Benny Gantz, you’re not ashamed to play politics with security issues?” the premier says in a video response, before castigating Gantz for once admitting — during his tenure as IDF chief of staff — to having endangered Israeli soldiers to protect Palestinian civilians.
“We prepared for every scenario, including that Islamic Jihad and Hamas would disrupt the elections with rocket fire on our cities and we prepared a tough response,” Netanyahu says.
“I’ll choose the date to enter into the [military] campaign we prepared.”
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh chairs a weekly meeting of his cabinet in the Jordan Valley and vows his government will support the development of Palestinian agriculture in the region.
The PA cabinet meeting comes a day after Netanyahu also led a cabinet meeting in the Jordan Valley, which he pledged last week to annex to Israel if he is reelected following tomorrow’s elections.
“We, the Council of Ministers, are here to affirm our complete commitment to doing everything we can to strengthen the steadfastness of our people on its land and making the Jordan Valley, as it was in the past, Palestine’s fruit and vegetable garden,” Shtayyeh says at the outset of the gathering in Fasayil, a village of some 1,500 in the area that has recently been plagued by power outages.
— Adam Rasgon
A Belgian university included in its sign-language dictionary a gesture meaning “Jew” which involves signaling a hooked nose.
The European Jewish Association protests in a statement the gesture’s inclusion in online videos on the website of a dictionary compiled in conjunction with the University of Ghent.
In a letter to the rector, it demands the clips be removed.
The first videos, which function as sign language definitions for Jew, “seem standard,” the Association’s director, Menachem Margolin, writes in the statement. Both videos show a presenter stroking an imaginary beard.
“The second involving side-locks are borderline acceptable if misleading, and the last two are simply racist and demeaning to Jews, using a gesticulation of a large and hooked nose to define Jew,” he adds.
Margolin was told about the videos by a Jewish family who had been looking up sign-language gestures online.
In a letter to the rector of the university Margolin asks that campus authorities remove the two gestures from their dictionary.
“If the aim of this project was to embellish or add to the standard definition, it has certainly managed to so, in the most stereotypical and racist way imaginable, by focusing on side-locks and worse still gesticulating a hooked nose to describe a jew,” Margolin writes.
“We certainly hope that such stereotypes do not reflect the policy of the University, nor your students,” he continues.
— with JTA
The United States tries to build its case that Iran was behind the fiery weekend attack on key Saudi Arabian oil facilities that raised new war worries and sent energy prices spiraling worldwide.
American officials release satellite images of the damage at the heart of the kingdom’s crucial Abqaiq oil processing plant and a key oil field, alleging the pattern of destruction suggests Saturday’s attack came from either Iraq or Iran — rather than Yemen, as claimed by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels there.
Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi again denies the US claims, telling journalists the accusation was “condemned, unacceptable and categorically baseless.”
The leader of the Islamic State group has released a new alleged audio recording calling on members of the extremist group to do all they can to free IS detainees and women held in jails and camps.
The purported audio by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is his first public statement since April, when the shadowy leader appeared in a video for the first time in five years.
In the 30-minute recording released today by a media arm of the group, al-Baghdadi asks: “How can a Muslim enjoy life?” when Muslim women are held in camps that he called “prisons of humiliation run by Crusaders and their Shiite followers.”
IS was defeated in Iraq in 2017. In Syria, it lost its last territory in March, marking the end of the extremists’ self-declared caliphate.
US President Trump meets with senior officials in his administration in the White House to discuss the response to an attack on a Saudi oil facility, which the US has attributed to Iran, according to ABC News.
The report, which relies on three senior administration officials, quotes one official as saying Trump “knows” that Tehran is behind the attack.
The president earlier today posted a tweet implying he suspected the Islamic Republic, but stopped short of assigning explicit blame.
In his tweet, he ominously referenced a June incident that saw Iran shoot down an American drone, which reportedly almost sparked a massive American strike on the Islamic Republic.
“They stuck strongly to that story knowing that it was a very big lie,” he tweeted. “Now they say that they had nothing to do with the attack on Saudi Arabia. We’ll see?”
Channel 13 news reports further on a meeting last week during which Netanyahu urged significant military action against Gaza terror groups after a rocket attack forced him to leave the stage and take cover during a campaign stop.
The report quotes a source that was involved in the deliberations as saying that it seemed Netanyahu, who was attacked over the perceived weakness projected by his taking cover, was guided by political considerations.
“Something happened to him,” one source, who is said to have worked with Netanyahu for years, is quoted as saying. “In the past, he never played with [Israel’s] security for political ends.”
According to the report, senior figures in the defense establishment — among them the chief of staff and the head of the Shin Bet security service — objected to the prime minister’s desire to launch a major strike.
They reportedly said that such a response to the rocket attack last Tuesday on Ashdod, which was relatively limited, could draw a massive retaliation from Gaza: hundreds of rockets, including some on the Tel Aviv area.
The defense officials also reportedly said that such an operation would require reserves call-ups.
The report says it was the military advocate general who contacted Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to inform him of Netanyahu’s plan.
It was Mandelblit who then told the prime minister he would have to consult the security cabinet before launching a military operation that could start a war, Haaretz reported earlier today.
In the days since the Ashdod attack, Netanyahu has warned that war with terror groups in the Gaza Strip could break out “at any moment,” including before Tuesday’s elections.
According to Haaretz, as Netanyahu huddled with top defense officials to discuss a military response to the rocket fire, his national security adviser, Meir Ben-Shabbat, told the head of the Central Elections Committee that Israel was readying to launch a major military operation and to prepare for a possible delay of the September 17 vote.
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Ankara, Turkey, ahead of a trilateral meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss the situation in Syria.
He praises Iran for its role in helping the Syrian regime in the country’s civil war.
The meeting aims to halt fighting in the country’s northwestern province of Idlib and find a lasting political solution to Syria’s civil war, now in its ninth year.
Iran has made a “significant contribution to the elimination of terrorists” and the launch of the “political process in Syria,” Putin tells press at the meeting, according to an English translation of his remarks provided by the Interfax News Agency.
Rouhani stresses the importance of Iran-Russia coordination, the report said.
— With AP
Putin offers to sell Saudi Arabia its missile defense systems in the wake of the attack on its oil facilities.
“We are ready to help Saudi Arabia so that she can protect her territory,” he says.
“She can do so in the same way that Iran has already done in buying the S-300 Russian missile system and the same way that Turkey has already done in buying the S-400 Russian missile system,” Putin adds at a press conference in Ankara, alongside the Turkish and Iranian leaders.
The US has blamed Iran for the attack on the Saudi oil facilities.
— With AFP
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz announces he will name two senior members of his centrist party as defense and education ministers if he is tasked with forming the next government after the elections tomorrow.
For defense minister, Gantz says he will choose Gabi Ashkenazi, his predecessor as IDF chief of staff. Gantz credits Ashkenazi with having “rehabilitated” the army after the inconclusive 2006 war in Lebanon against the Hezbollah terror group.
“Gabi knew how to restore deterrence and the feeling of security to Israeli citizens in the south, the Gaza periphery, the north, and everywhere in Israel,” Gantz says in a statement.
The Blue and White leader says his choice for education minister will be Moshe Ya’alon, who like Gantz and Ashkenazi also once headed the Israeli military and was later defense minister under Netanyahu.
“A beacon of morals and values and someone who knows how to connect all the segments of Israeli society,” Gantz says of Ya’alon.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg says he is “extremely concerned” about escalating tensions following strikes on Saudi oil facilities at the weekend, accusing Iran of destabilizing the region.
Speaking to AFP in Baghdad, Stoltenberg’s comments are his first on the strikes on two major Saudi oil facilities, which were claimed by Yemen’s Huthi rebels, but which both Washington and Riyadh have blamed on Tehran.
“We call on all parties to prevent any such attacks occurring again because that can have negative consequences for the whole region, and we are also extremely concerned about a risk of escalation,” the secretary general says.
Stoltenberg, who says the alliance “strongly condemned” the attacks because of the destabilizing effect on oil supplies, also has a message for Iraq’s neighbor Iran.
“We are concerned about what we see, especially from Iran. Iran is supporting different terrorist groups and being responsible for destabilizing the whole region,” he charges.