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Iranian General: 'Date Set' for Israel's Destruction

By IsraelNationalNews.com, DEBKAfile, VOA News, WIN, Israel Hayom, YnetNews & the Jerusalem Post Brig. Gen. Kioumars Heydari, the commander of the Iranian ground forces, said in a speech that Iran's army is "much stronger than in the past" and that Israel can no longer threaten the Islamic Republic. The Iranian news agency Mehr reported that the general said that "the date has already been set" for the destruction of Israel. Heydari delivered his speech ahead of Iran's "Army Day", which begins Wednesday, on the same day Israel concludes Memorial Day and then celebrates its Independence Day. He stressed that unlike Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region, which import weapons from the West, his country produces its own weapons. On Tuesday, Israeli security officials revealed that Iran is now preparing for a direct assault on Israel, using its growing military assets on Israel's northern border to strike targets inside the Jewish state. Israel believes the attack will come in the form of precision- guided missiles or armed drones launched from a base in Syria by the IRGC itself – not by proxies, as was done before – under the command of Quds Force commander Maj.-Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Israel will react strongly to any Iranian action from inside Syria," a senior IDF source told Sky News in Arabic, adding that Iran plans to attack Israel from Syria. A senior IDF source told Sky News Arabia that Iran plans to attack Israel from Syria, The Jerusalem Post reported Tuesday. "Israel will react strongly to any Iranian action from inside Syria," a senior IDF source told the news site. Aerial photos released Tuesday show that Iran has established several military bases in Syria. The pictures indicate that Tehran remains capable of flying in surface-to-surface missiles to Syria as well as unmanned aerial vehicles under the guise of humanitarian aid, the Post said. Iran's military budget for 2017 was $15.9 billion, an increase of almost 65% from 2014. The Revolutionary Guards budget showed the greatest increase of any Iranian military branch, rising from about $4.5 billion in 2016 to about $7 billion last year. Tensions between Israel and Iran have been rising over Iran's military presence in Syria. On Friday, the IDF revealed that an Iranian drone which violated Israeli airspace in February had been carrying explosives. In addition, Iranian soldiers were reportedly killed in an alleged Israeli airstrike against a military airbase belonging to the Assad regime near the Syrian city of Homs last week. However, according to Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Yossi Kuperwasser, former director-general of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs and former head of the IDF's Intelligence Research and Assessment Division, Israel and Iran "are not necessarily on an inevitable course to a full-scale military conflict." An unusual IDF communique Tuesday, April 17, divulged details of Iran's UAV bases in Syria and named their commanders, while the threats traded between them gained volume. These disclosures and their tone stood in marked contrast to the Israeli government and security chiefs' strange silence and passive acquiescence to Tehran's steady buildup of its military assets in Syria during the past two years. The information now released, much of it available to DEBKA's readers in the past, attests to the growing conviction among Israel's strategic leaders that Iran's Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) are on the point of a military operation to punish Israel for its April 9 air attack on the SyrianT-4 airbase, which left eight IRGC aerospace officers dead, including Col. Mehdi Dehgan Yazdeli. The IDF is finally leveling on the threat so as to prepare the Israeli public for what looks like an inevitable military clash with Iran. Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani is leading the preparations for the first direct Iranian assault on Israel, not just by proxy. Soleimani is the overall commander of Iran's Middle East warfronts. Iranian air force units in Syria are gearing up for the attack. Military Il-76 freight planes, disguised as Iranian Simorgh Air and Pouya Air commercial flights, are ferrying military equipment into Syria. The IRGC air fleet is spread out in four Syrian bases outside Aleppo, Saiqal, Damascus and T-4 near Homs. Israeli security sources on Tuesday issued a stern warning to Iran not to launch revenge attacks on Israel after an IDF strike last week on a base in Syria that killed seven Iranian military advisers. Kuperwasser, in a conference call organized by The Israel Project, noted soon after that warning was issued that Israel and Iran have already been in a proxy war over Iran's entrenchment in Syria for years. Kuperwasser said the latest developments, in which rhetoric between Tehran and Jerusalem has reached boiling point, are mostly semantic. Furthermore, Kuperwasser noted, Iran's biggest concerns as of now are not Israel's military actions, but rather the May 12th deadline set by President Donald Trump, in which he may opt to back out of the Iranian nuclear deal, effectively re-imposing economic sanctions on Iran. Kuperwasser, noting that the IDF is on very high alert these days, did not seem too worried that the Iranians would attempt to disrupt Israel's 70th Independence Day celebrations in retaliation for last week's attack on the T-4 airbase. According to his assessment, if and when such an attack occurs, it will be at a time convenient to Iran. However, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Monday. "The Lebanese army has joined Hizbullah, the Syrian army and the foreign Shiite militias under Iranian command in Syria to build a cohesive warfront along Israel's northern borders. This presents us with a strategic challenge of the highest degree" and called for "a comprehensive rallying of the IDF and all security bodies to further ramp up and strengthen our readiness," to confront this challenge. The Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday revealed new information about the deployment of Iranian air defenses in Syria, further exposing Tehran's attempts to entrench itself militarily in the war-torn country. Tensions between Israel and Iran have been steadily escalating since an Iranian drone that breached Israeli airspace on February 10 was shot down by the Israeli Air Force. An Israeli official confirmed to The New York Times Monday that it was the IAF that struck the T4 air base in Homs, last week. Seven members of Iran's elite Quds Force were killed in the strike, including the commander of its drone unit in Syria. Israeli officials said the drone, which the IDF found had been weaponized and on an offensive mission, was launched from T4. Fuming over the strike, Iran has vowed to exact vengeance on Israel. The IDF said Tuesday that the deployment of Iranian air defenses in Syria was personally supervised by Quds Force commander Ghasem Soleimani, one of the most powerful military figures in the Iranian regime. Iran is a close ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad and it has lent his forces significant logistical, technical and financial support in their war against the rebels. According to the United Nations envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, the Iranian government spends at least $6 billion annually on maintaining Assad's government. Independent researchers believe Iran's support of Assad's regime amounts to over double that sum. Israeli defense officials said that the majority of Iran's military support is delivered to Syria under the guise of humanitarian aid. Since 2015, the Iranian Air Force has been conducting routine flights into Syria, using military cargo planes disguised as civilian Iranian airlines to transport weapons and combat personnel, including drone operators. The Quds Force is said to be focused on establishing air defenses and drone operations in Syria, so it can use them to launch direct offensives against Israel. The IDF believes that any direct clash between Israel and Iran on the northern border would be carried out by the Revolutionary Guards' air force rather than by ground troops. Israel released details on Tuesday about what it described as an Iranian "air force" deployed in neighboring Syria, including civilian planes suspected of transferring arms, a signal that these could be attacked should tensions with Tehran escalate. Iran, along with Damascus and its big-power backer Russia, blamed Israel for an April 9 air strike on a Syrian air base, T-4, that killed seven Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) members. Iranian officials have promised unspecified reprisals. Israeli media ran satellite images and a map of five Syrian air bases allegedly used to field Iranian drones or cargo aircraft, as well as the names of three senior IRGC officers suspected of commanding related projects, such as missile units. The information came from the Israeli military, according to a wide range of television and radio stations and news websites. Israel's military spokesman declined to comment. However, an Israeli security official seemed to acknowledge the leak was sanctioned, telling Reuters that it provided details about "the IRGC air force (which) the Israeli defense establishment sees as the entity that will try to attack Israel, based on Iranian threats to respond to the strike on T-4." The official, who requested anonymity, would not elaborate. Army Radio reported that, given tensions with Iran over Syria, the Israeli air force cancelled plans to send F-15 fighter jets to take part in the US-hosted exercise Red Flag, which begins on April 30. Roni Daniel, military editor for Israeli TV station Mako, said the disclosure was a signal to Iran that its deployments in Syria "are totally exposed to us, and if you take action against us to avenge (the T-4 strike) these targets will be very severely harmed." According to Daniel, Israel was bracing for a possible Iranian missile salvo or armed drone assault from Syria. "Israel is headed for escalation," Yaacov Amidror, former national security adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, told Tel Aviv radio station 103 FM. "There could be a very big belligerent incident with Iran and Hizbullah."

Israel, Marking Annual Memorial Day, Comes to a Standstill

By VOA News & YnetNews

Israel marked its annual Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism on Tuesday with somber ceremonies and a one-minute siren that brought the country to a solemn standstill. Sirens wailed at 8 p.m. across the country, prompting Israelis to stop in their tracks and stand silently with heads bowed to remember the dead. Another two-minute siren will ring out on Wednesday morning. Memorial Day honors the Jewish state's 20,512 fallen soldiers and 3,134 victims of terrorist attacks. Hundreds of memorial ceremonies are scheduled to take place simultaneously in military cemeteries across the country. The state ceremony honoring victims of terrorism will be held on Mount Herzl at 1 p.m. The ceremony honoring Israel Police officers killed in the line of duty is scheduled to take place at 9:30 a.m. on Mount Herzl. The Defense Ministry said it will make hundreds of shuttles available for bereaved families seeking to visit their loved ones' graves and attend Memorial Day ceremonies. Memorial Day, which goes from sundown to sundown, is marked across the country by mournful ceremonies and visits to cemeteries by bereaved families. Places of entertainment shut down, and TV and radio stations broadcast war stories and melancholic music. The main ceremony was held at Jerusalem's Western Wall on Tuesday evening and attended by Israel's president, military brass and grieving families. This year's commemoration has been marred by a dispute between Israel's Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and a group of Israeli and Palestinian bereaved families holding a joint memorial ceremony for loved ones. Lieberman refused to allow some of the Palestinian participants to enter Israel, prompting a court challenge by the group of bereaved families. The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected Lieberman's decision, allowing for the joint ceremony to go ahead as planned. In response, Lieberman said the court "put on the same plane bereavement and terror, the murdered and the murderers.'' Memorial Day continues into Wednesday, ending at sundown with a sharp break into jubilant festivities celebrating 70 years since Israel's creation.

Birthright Founder Gives Middle Finger to Anti-Israel Protesters

By JTA

Michael Steinhardt, the co-founder and major funder of Birthright Israel, flashed his middle finger at anti-Israel protesters outside a gala dinner in honor of the 18th anniversary of the free trip to Israel for young Jewish men and women. More than 150 students from colleges in the New York and New England areas protested in front of the Ziegfeld Ballroom in New York, where the annual gala was held on Sunday evening. The students represented groups including Jewish Voice for Peace, Students for Justice in Palestine, the Palestine Solidarity Alliance and the Democratic Socialists of America, all of which support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. The protest was led by Return the Birthright, a campaign supported by Jewish Voice for Peace and Independent Jewish Voices. It calls on young Jews to boycott Birthright and to support the right of Palestinian Arabs to Israel - a move which would likely end the country's Jewish majority. During the event, the anti-Israel group IfNotNow, which does not take a stance on the BDS movement, projected on the ballroom building an image with the words "Birthright Lied To Us," and "Jewish Youth Demand the Truth." A quote attributed to the evening's honoree, billionaire philanthropist Sheldon Adelson — "Israel Isn't Going to Be a Democratic State – So What" — also was projected on the wall. Adelson, a major Birthright funder, was presented with the "Guardian of the Jewish Future" award at the event. The student protesters wrapped themselves in personalized Jewish prayer shawls and demonstrated by returning symbolic Birthright plane tickets. They also read out the names of Arab villages destroyed 70 years ago, and the names of the 33 rioters in Gaza killed in the past three weeks during the Great Return March violent protests. A photo of Steinhardt and protesters was posted on Instagram by a photographer for Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency.

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