Israel’s strike on Iran a warning it can hit “at any time”

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Saturday, 20th April 2024.

Thursday night’s strikes by Israel against Iran in response to last weekend’s unprecedented missile and drone attack were not meant to immediately escalate the Middle Eastern war – but put Tehran on notice about the Jewish state’s capabilities, experts on the region tell The New York Post. The Israeli strike reportedly hit near a major airbase in the central city of Isfahan, home to approximately two million people as well as the underground Natanz uranium enrichment site – which has been repeatedly targeted by suspected Israeli sabotage attacks. Richard Goldberg, senior adviser to the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, said Friday the Israeli military had meant to “thread the needle” by showing they have the “capability to breach Iranian air defence at any time” – while avoiding striking a target that would invite another response from Tehran. The choice of Isfahan as the target was meant to deliver the message “if we wanted to destroy your nuclear programme, we could. So don’t tempt us,” added Goldberg, a former National Security Council official specialising in Iran during the Trump administration. “Long term, the events of last Saturday night are a change in the paradigm of the region,” he went on. “Iran has crossed the Rubicon and it will not be coming back. Israelis have also changed their entire of Iranian decision-making based on what they did on Saturday night.”

Michel hopes attack on Iran will bring “end” to escalation

European Council president Charles Michel hopes Friday’s apparent Israeli retaliation will be the last in the recent escalation with Iran and believes the next “hours and days” will be crucial. Michel spoke exclusively to Euronews hours after Iran activated its air defences near the central city of Isfahan early Friday as it was targeted by a suspected retaliatory attack by Israel, fuelling again fears of a wider regional conflict. It came just six days after Iran launched a barrage of some 300 drones and cruise and ballistic missiles in its first-ever direct attack against Israeli territory. This happened on the heels of an Israeli airstrike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus that had killed seven members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard. Whilst the reported retaliation initially seemed to defy Western pleas for de-escalation, the government in Tehran appears to have played down the attack, with an Iranian official indicating it had no “immediate” plan for further reprisals.

Michel told Euronews: “What is important is the intensity of the reaction. It’s very important to observe in the next days, if indeed it’s possible, to come back to a situation with more stability and to avoid more risks and more tensions. I want to be very cautious and careful, but I sincerely hope that what happened (…) is the end of that story.” Michel also called on the recent development in Iran-Israel tensions not to take focus away from the humanitarian tragedy occurring in Gaza. He reiterated the joint call from EU leaders for a ceasefire and the immediate return of Israeli hostages held by Hamas.

Friday’s attacks, which targeted at a nuclear centre and major air base, were according to US officials launched by Israel but there are conflicting reports about the nature and scale of the offensive. Tehran says the attack involved drones launched from within Iranian territory, while the US has said missiles were involved. The incident took the West off-guard, with reports that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government would withhold from hitting back until after the Jewish holiday of Passover.

Lapid slams Ben-Giv’s “feeble” message

The Israeli Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir took to social media on Friday morning with a one-word message: “feeble”. The provocation indicates deep rifts within Netanyahu’s war cabinet on the required scale and intensity of Israel’s response to Saturday’s attack by Tehran. Israel’s opposition leader Yair Lapid slammed the far right security minister over his social media posts implying Israel was behind Iran’s attacks. “Never before a minister has done such a heavy damage to the country’s security, its image, and its international status,” opposition leader Yair Lapid wrote on X. “In an unforgivable tweet of one word, Ben-Gvir managed to sneer and shame Israel from Tehran to Washington,” he said.

Isolate Iran, keep focus on Gaza

In his interview with Euronews, Michel also called for the Iran-Israel tensions not to take focus away from the persistent humanitarian tragedy in Gaza, reiterating the joint call from EU leaders for a ceasefire and unhindered humanitarian access, as well as the immediate return of Israeli hostages held by Hamas since October 7. He also vowed the bloc would move quickly to slap sanctions on the Iranian regime to further stifle its ability to launch attacks such as last Saturday’s. Brussels is looking to expand the current sanctions regime against Iranian drone technology, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which Tehran sells to Russia to bolster its war efforts in Ukraine, to include the production of missiles and to cover its proxies in the region.

The Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah has frequently traded fire over Israel’s northern border with Lebanon since the outbreak of the war in Gaza. Iran’s proxies in Yemen, the Houthis, have also sabotaged Western and Israel-linked vessels navigating the Red Sea.

G7 leaders call for calm

G7 foreign ministers have warned against new sanctions on Iran and called all parties to prevent further escalation in the Middle East. “We condemn in the strongest terms Iran’s direct and unprecedented attack against Israel of April 13-14, which Israel defeated with the help of its partners,” the statement released by the G7 members said. Yet, “in light of reports of strikes on April 19 , we urge all parties to work to prevent further escalation,” the statement continued. G7 members also reiterated their call on Iran to not develop or acquire a nuclear weapon. They are urging Tehran to fully cooperate with the IAEA to provide assurances that the country’s nuclear programme is peaceful.

Iraq drones against Israel “hit city of Eliat”

In a video released on social media – and relaunched by numerous media in the Arab world – the Islamic Resistance in Iraq announced that it had launched some drones against “a vital target” in Eliat, in southern Israel, on the border between Egypt and Jordan. “The attack,” states the group which brings together a series of pro-Iranian Iraqi forces, “is the response to the violation of Iraqi sovereignty by the Zionist enemy and to its attack against the Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF)”.

Berlin annoyed by ‘Baerbock-Netanyahu row’ reports

Germany said Friday it complained to Netanyahu’s staff after what it described as a “distorted” account of a row between German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and the Israeli prime minister was leaked to the press. Israeli media, as well as Germany’s top-selling tabloid Bild, had reported that an argument erupted between Netanyahu and Baerbock during the German minister’s visit to Israel this week. According to the media reports, Baerbock was shown footage of markets with abundant supplies of food in the war-ravaged Gaza Strip, as well as images of beaches in the coastal territory where Palestinians were sunbathing and swimming. Baerbock responded by criticising Netanyahu over the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, saying the images did not reflect the true situation there, reportedly sparking a retort from the premier who said Israel was “not like the Nazis” who manufactured reality.

US Congress votes Israel, Ukraine aid Bill

The US Congress has pushed ahead with a $95million national security package that would provide additional aid to Israel following Israel’s airstrike in Iran. The Bill was moved forward in the House of Representatives following a critical procedural vote. The legislation would also provide humanitarian support to Ukraine and Taiwan. Friday’s vote produced a seldom-seen outcome in the typically hyper-partisan House, with Democrats helping Republican Speaker Mike Johnson’s plan advance overwhelmingly with 316 votes in favour and 94 against. Final House approval could come this weekend when the package would be sent to the Senate.

Stoltenberg promises Zelenskyy needed Patriots

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Friday admonished NATO defence ministers, telling them, “the choice of whether we are indeed allies” would be determined by whether NATO countries are willing to provide his beleaguered country with more military aid as it struggles to defend itself against a Russian onslaught that is now in its third year.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg addressed the issue after the meeting, saying Ukraine’s allies would come through. “In addition to Patriots there are other weapons that allies can provide, including [the French-Italian] SAMP/T – and many others which do not have available systems have pledged to provide financial support to the purchase of them for Ukraine,” Stoltenberg told reporters. Though allies have promised Kyiv millions of rounds of ammunition, for instance, they have so far been unable to deliver them.

Finland urges EU to help end migrant influx from Russia

Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo on Friday called on the European Union to help his country stop an influx of migrants via Russia. The Nordic nation closed its eastern border in mid-December after nearly 1,000 migrants had arrived without a visa through its frontier with Russia since August. Most of them were from the Middle East or Africa. The two neighbours share a 1,340-kilometre border and Helsinki has accused the Kremlin of weaponising migration in response to Finland’s accession to NATO, triggered by Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen travelled to the Finnish-Russia border in the Arctic with Opro on Friday to see the situation for herself. She noted how Russian President Vladimir Putin and his allies “instrumentalise migrants to test our defences and to try to destabilise us”. Von der Leyen said the Commission is working closely with the migrants’ countries of origin to stop the flow of irregular arrivals.

Man self-immolates outside Trump trial as jury selected

A man set himself on fire on Friday outside the Manhattan courthouse in New York where former President Donald Trump is on trial in a hush-money case. New York Police Department Chief Jeffrey Maddrey said the man – Maxwell Azzarello, 37, a resident of St Augustine, Florida – walked into the centre of the park across the street from the courthouse and set himself on fire. The park is often used to hold both pro-Trump and anti-Trump protests. An eyewitness said he threw pamphlets into the air before dousing himself with a liquid and lighting himself on fire. Police said the pamphlets appeared to be “conspiracy-based”. The man was rushed to hospital and was in a critical condition.

Inside the court a full jury, including alternates, was selected for Trump’s trial. The first ever criminal trial of a former US president stems from an alleged hush-money payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels. It could keep him in court for weeks and complicate his bid to win back the White House in elections later this year. The jury selection process took four days and was complicated, amid difficulty in selecting a group that would be completely objective. Despite Trump’s attempts to delay, Judge Juan M. Merchan told Trump’s legal team that the time had come to accept his verdicts.  The opening statements will begin Monday morning. Then the trial will fully shift into details about Trump’s alleged affair with the adult film star (which he denies) and the hush-money payment made to her in the run-up to the 2016 election. Prosecutors will lay out the theory of their case, followed by Trump’s attorneys summarising their arguments against the charges. After that, the first witness will be called. Prosecutors haven’t said who it will be – saying they don’t want to see Trump posting about any witnesses ahead of time. On Tuesday, the morning will shift to Trump’s discussion of witnesses in the case, as Merchan plans to hold a hearing on social media posts by the former president that prosecutors say violated his gag order. They’re asking the judge to fine Trump $1,000 per post and remind him that violations of the gag order could result in imprisonment. The 12-member jury consists of seven men and five women, mostly employed in white-collar professions.

French police detain man in operation at Iranian consulate

French police said on Friday they detained a man at the Iranian consulate in Paris after responding to a witness report of a suspicious man possibly carrying a grenade and explosives vest, but did they did not immediately confirm finding any weapons. A Paris police official told The Associated Press that officers were verifying the man’s identity and trying to determine whether he had weapons. Some of the police, special agents and firefighters that responded to the incident at the consulate were later seen leaving the scene after the arrest. A police cordon remained in place, but traffic was resuming in the area. The incident comes at a time of heightened tensions in the Middle East, and as Paris is gearing up to host the summer Olympics.

Italian court drops proceedings against German rescue ship crew

Court proceedings against the crew of a German migrant rescue ship have been dropped in Sicily, almost seven years after the vessel was seized by Italian authorities. The crew of the ‘Iuventa’, operated by the German organisation Jugend Rettet, welcomed the decision taken by a court in the port city of Trapani on Friday. The ship was confiscated in the summer of 2017 on its way to helping rescue migrants in the Mediterranean. The crew and other associates were accused of collaborating with Libyan smugglers and investigated for aiding and abetting illegal immigration. According to Jugend Rettet, the Iuventa was one of the first private vessels to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean in 2016 and helped more than 14,000 people in distress before it was seized.

Venice’s Canale Grande turns green and red

Venice’s  Grand Canal suddenly turned red and green Friday afternoon in an apparent action by the environmentalist group, Extinction Rebellion. The police blocked two French tourists, believed to be involved in the action. The dye was poured into the water by a vaporetto, which was stopped by the police as soon as it arrived at the Accademia.

New record for Swift: most downloaded album in one day

American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift continues to break her own records: ‘The Tortured Poets Department’ has become the most downloaded album in a single day, according to Spotify.  With Ttpd (as it has now been nicknamed by fans) released at midnight, the pop star also became the most listened to artist in a single day in the history of the music streaming platform. Ttpd is the first album to be downloaded over 200 million times in a single day. The record belonged to Swift who is now responsible for the top three most downloaded albums in a single day: in addition to Ttpd, ‘Midnights’ and ‘1989’ (Taylor’s version).

Formula 1: Verstappen wins the Chinese GP Sprint

Max Verstappen won the Chinese Grand Prix sprint race Saturday ahead of Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes and Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez to increase his Formula One world championship lead. He finished 13 seconds in front after starting fourth on the grid for the 19-lap sprint at the Shanghai International Circuit to claim the eight points on offer for the winner. “The first few laps were hectic,” he said Verstappen. “The wind was changing a lot which makes it difficult to drive. Once we sorted (the battery) out we were OK.” Ferrari pair Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz were fourth and fifth after surviving a thrilling battle for the minor places with Perez and Fernando Alonso, who had to retire his Aston Martin on lap 18 after a puncture.

Photo: The Associated Press

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