Chilling Netanyahu statement as Raisi vows to destroy Israel

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Thursday, 18th April 2024.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday left no doubt what his country might do should current tensions with Iran escalate further. “Israel will do whatever it needs to defend itself,” Netanyahu said in a statement. The comment came after separate meetings he had with British Foreign Secretary David Cameron and Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock in Israel, during which the ministers discussed actions Israel could pursue to retaliate for Iran’s unprecedented, direct attack on Israel over the weekend. “They have all sorts of suggestions and advice. I appreciate that. But I want to be clear: Our decisions we will make ourselves,” the prime minister added.

During the meeting, Baerbock said escalation “would serve no one, not Israel’s security, not the many dozens of hostages still in the hands of Hamas, not the suffering population of Gaza, not the many people in Iran who are themselves suffering under the regime, and not the third countries in the region who simply want to live in peace,” Reuters reported.

Netanyahu’s comment also comes just hours after Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi has vowed to completely destroy Israel, should it proceed with even the “tiniest invasion” of his country. He vowed a “massive and harsh” response to potential Israeli retaliation, during a speech Wednesday at an annual army parade. Iran launched hundreds of missiles and drones at Israel on Saturday in response to an apparent strike on Iran’s embassy compound in Syria on April 1 that killed 12 people, including two Iranian generals. Iran blames Israel for the attack, although Israel has not claimed any involvement. Raisi said Saturday’s attack was a limited one but that “nothing would remain from the Zionist regime” should it escalate the current situation, the official IRNA news agency reported.

Netanyahu stops pre-approved plans for immediate Iran reprisal

The Israeli Kan public broadcaster reports Prime Minister Netanyahu shelved pre-prepared plans for retaliation against Iran’s weekend barrage after speaking with US President Joe Biden shortly after the attack early Sunday. According to the report, the cabinet had already approved a series of possible responses depending on the scope of the Iranian attack, which were slated to be carried out immediately following the Iranian attack. “The response won’t be what was planned any longer, diplomatic sensitivities won out,” a senior source is quoted telling the network. “There will be a response, but it seems it will be different from what was planned.” The network notes that the comments likely point to a weaker response than what had been approved.

EU to impose sanctions on Iran – Michel

European leaders have decided to impose sanctions on Iran after the attack on Israel, the President of the European Council Charles Michel announced at the end of the EU summit in Brussels. “The idea is to target the companies that are used for drones and missiles,” Michel, wrote on X. The leaders condemned Iran’s attack on Israel and said everything possible must be done to help bring stability to the region and avoid escalation. “We ask all parties to exercise maximum restraint.”

On Gaza, the leaders said, “The EU is committed to working with partners to put an end to the Gaza crisis, including through an immediate ceasefire, the unconditional release of hostages, and the guarantee of unlimited access to humanitarian aid.”

Iran-Israel tensions set to dominate G7 ministers’ meeting

Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven major industrialised countries are merting on the Italian island of Capri for three days of talks – a gathering that is overshadowed by expectations of an Israeli retaliation against Iran over its weekend missile and drone attacks. The ramping up of tensions between Israel and Iran looks set to dominate the agenda of the ministers from the United States, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Canada and Japan. Italy holds the G7’s rotating presidency and is urging a cease-fire in Gaza and a de-escalation of tensions in the Middle East. Western countries have called for restraint. “Against a background of strong international tensions, the Italian-led G7 is tasked with working for peace,” Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said in a statement. The wars in Gaza and in Ukraine are also expected to feature on the G7 ministers’ agenda.

Children in the north of Gaza dying of malnutrition – UNRWA

“In northern Gaza, infants and young children have begun to die of malnutrition and dehydration, the head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Philippe Lazzarini, told the UN Security Council. He added “There is food and clean water across the border, but we are denied permission to provide that aid and save lives.” Lazzarini also warned Dagainst dismantling the UN agency, as sought by Israel, as this would accelerate Gaza’s slide into famine and doom generations of children to despair. UNRWA, he said, is a major provider of education as well as food to Palestinian refugees, defined as Palestinians who fled or were expelled around the time of Israel’s 1948 creation, or their descendants. However, the agency is the backbone of UN humanitarian operations in Gaza. Referring to Israel, he said there is an “insidious campaign” under way to dismantle UNRWA and that this would have lasting consequences. “In the short-term, it will deepen the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and accelerate the onset of famine,” Lazzarini said. An outside probe of whether UNRWA is neutral was also undertaken and its final report is scheduled for releasee Monday. Israel’s UN ambassador, Gilad Erdan, told the Security Council that “one of UNRWA’s primary goals is to indoctrinate Palestinian children to the idea of destroying Israel. The time has come to defund UNRWA,” Erdan added.

Security Council schedules vote on full Palestinian UN membership

The UN Security Council plans to vote on Friday afternoon on a Palestinian request for full UN membership. Algeria, currently one of the body’s 10 rotating members, put forward the motion that “the State of Palestine be admitted to membership of the United Nations”. Unlike in past such votes, the motion may receive sufficient support that the United States would be forced to decide whether to use its veto power to block the motion, which needs the support of nine of the 15 current Security Council members and no objections from the Council’s five veto holders. The last attempt fell short of nine votes in favour. However, European powers, including permanent Security Council members the UK and France, have been reiterating the importance of more formal Palestinian statehood as part of the recipe for peace in the conflict in Gaza in recent months. Should the motion pass the Security Council, the UN General Assembly would also have to approve the request for full membership with a two-thirds majority. The State of Palestine is currently a non-member observer state at the UN. This is already seen as a de facto recognition of statehood at some level, but one that required only to pass a vote in the UN General Assembly, where no country holds a veto, as it did in 2012. Full UN membership would be a major step towards a more autonomous and influential Palestinian state.

Biden urges Congress to act on Israel aid

US President Joe Biden called on Congress to immediately pass an aid package for Israel and Ukraine, in an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday. Legislation has been stalled for months amid opposition from House Republicans fuelled by former US president Donald Trump. House Speaker Mike Johnson, however, informed Democrat lawmakers on Wednesday that he would begin the days-long push to hold votes on the funding packages for Israel and Ukraine, as well as one earmarked for allies in the Indo-Pacific. While both Israel and Ukraine “can capably defend their own sovereignty, they depend on American assistance, including weaponry, to do it, and this is a pivotal moment,” Biden wrote, pointing to strikes by Iran and Russia on Israel and Ukraine over the weekend. Iran, he wrote, seeks to eliminate Israel: “The government of Iran wants to destroy Israel forever – wiping the world’s only Jewish state off the map.” Biden warned that “if Iran succeeds in significantly escalating its assault on Israel, the US could be drawn in”. “Israel is our strongest partner in the Middle East. It’s unthinkable that we would stand by if its defenses were weakened and Iran was able to carry out the destruction it intended this weekend. We can make that outcome less likely by replenishing Israel’s air defenses and providing military aid now, so its defenses can remain fully stocked and ready,” he added.

Hours after Biden’s op-ed was published, Johnson forged ahead in the House toward a vote later this week, potentially risking his job as he did so. Johnson said he was proposing that some of the aid for Kyiv be structured as loans, along with greater oversight, but the decision to support Ukraine at all has angered populist conservatives in the House and given new energy to a threat to remove him from the speaker’s office.

Nato-Ukraine Council will meet Friday to discuss air defence

The Nato-Ukraine Council will meet tomorrow Friday to discuss ways on how to provide more air defence systems for Kyiv, Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday. Reuters reports President Zelenskiy asked for such a meeting as his country is facing a shortage of ammunition, with vital funding from the US blocked by Republicans in Congress for months and the EU failing to deliver munitions on time.

Mounting pressure on EU to bolster Ukraine’s air defences

The EU’s 27 leaders face mounting pressure to step up efforts to protect Ukraine’s skies from Russian airstrikes, after President Zelenskyy took a jab at Western allies’ “flagging political will” over the weekend. Speaking ahead of a gathering of leaders in Brussels on Wednesday evening, both German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the Netherlands’ caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte called for urgent steps to provide Kyiv with the air defence systems it needs to fend off the barrage of missiles launched from Russia. Both leaders suggested the bloc’s countries need to look closely at their stockpiles and consider sending their own air defence systems to Kyiv. Addressing EU leaders by video-conference on Wednesday evening, Ukraine told leaders: “Here in Ukraine, in our part of Europe, unfortunately we do not have the level of defence that we all saw in the Middle East a few days ago. Our Ukrainian sky and the sky of our neighbours deserve the same security.”

Two thirds of EU citizens ‘likely’ to vote in June elections

A total of 71 per cent of of those taking part in the latest edition of the Eurobarometer’s official survey said they are likely to cast their vote in the June elections to choose who represents them in the 720-member hemicycle. Released on Wednesday morning, the survey is the collected opinions of over 26,000 people in the 27 member states and will be the last survey of its kind to be released before the bloc-wide election. This represents a 10-point increase compared to the lead-up to the 2019 elections when turnout reached 50.66 per cent, upending a years-long trajectory of declining participation.

By contrast, 14 per cent say they are “not likely” to vote while 13 per cent remain “neutral”. Citizens from Denmark (87 per cent), the Netherlands (86 per cent), Sweden (81 per cent), Finland (79 per cent) and Germany (78 per cent) register the highest rates of likelihood to vote. In some countries, the likelihood to vote has surged compared to 2019, including the Czech Republic (from 39 per cent to 58 per cent), Romania (55 per cent to 74 per cent), Austria and Poland (52 per cent to 70 per cent in both), Cyprus (44 per cent to 60 per cent) and Slovakia (from 47 per cent to 62 per cent). Bulgaria stands out as the only member state with a significant decrease in voting intentions, falling from 57 per cent in 2019 to 50 per cent in 2024. Still, the rise in the likelihood of voting is a strong trend across the board and is matched with a growing engagement in the upcoming elections: 60 per cent say they are “interested” or “very interested,” an 11-point increase since spring 2019. On the other hand, 27 per cent say they are “not very interested” and 13 per cent say they are “not at all interested.”

The Eurobarometer also asked citizens to rate the “importance” they attach to the elections: 53 per cent spoke of “high importance”, 36 per cent of “medium importance” and 10 per cent of “low importance”. The boost in attention comes at a crucial time for the bloc, as Ukraine struggles to contain Russian advances on the battlefield, the conflict between Iran and Israel threatens to spill over into a wider confrontation, and the economic concerns posed by China turn into widespread accusations of dumping. The unpredictable state of global affairs appears to weigh heavily on voters: 81 per cent of citizens say the “current international context makes voting even more important”. The numbers demonstrate that “Europeans are aware that the stakes are high at the ballot box,” said Roberta Metsola, the Parliament’s president. “These elections will be pivotal because they will decide which direction we take.”

The fight against poverty and social exclusion (33 per cent), public health (32 per cent), support for the economy and the creation of new jobs (31 per cent), and the EU’s defence and security (31 per cent) came on top, exposing the shockwaves sent by the major crises of the past few years: the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and record-breaking inflation. Other prominent topics are action against climate change (27 per cent), the future of Europe (26 per cent), migration and asylum (24 per cent), democracy and the rule of law (23 per cent) and agricultural policy (23 per cent), all of which have been discussed at length by lawmakers.

The results are fairly similar to those of the exclusive Euronews poll conducted by Ipsos in March, which put the fight against rising prices, the reduction of social inequalities and the support for economic growth as the main three priorities. On a more philosophical note, the Eurobarometer posed a separate question on “values” that citizens would like the Parliament to defend. The answer? “Peace and democracy”.

Champions League: Real Madrid beat Man. City on penalties

Real Madrid exacted revenge on Manchester City to reach the Champions League semi-finals 4-3 on penalties after withstanding a barrage at the Etihad on Wednesday. Rodrygo gave the visitors an early lead before Kevin De Bruyne hit back for the holders to leave the match level at 1-1 on the night and 4-4 on aggregate. However, City’s defence of the competition came to an end after Bernardo Silva and Mateo Kovacic saw spot-kicks saved by Madrid’s unlikely hero Andriy Lunin. The Ukrainian, who has deputised this season for the injured Thibaut Courtois, had been at fault for City’s early opener in a thrilling first leg but more than made amends.

Kimmich heads Bayern past Arsenal

A 63rd-minute Joshua Kimmich header gave Bayern Munich a 1-0 win over Arsenal and a place in the Champions League semi-finals on Wednesday. The 3-2 aggregate quarter-final victory means Bayern return to the last-four for the first time since winning the title in 2020. Bayern will face either Manchester City or Real Madrid for a place in the final. The result continues a poor week for Arsenal, who conceded top spot in the Premier League table on Sunday with their first league loss of 2024.

Semi-finals are played on two legs: first and second legs are scheduled for April 30 and May 7 while the final will be played on June 1 at London’s Wembley Stadium

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