Trump foreign policy adviser urges sanctions on ICC officials after meeting Netanyahu

Former US National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien. (Reuters)
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Updated 22 May 2024
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Trump foreign policy adviser urges sanctions on ICC officials after meeting Netanyahu

The US should slap sanctions on International Criminal Court officials who seek an arrest warrant for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a top foreign policy adviser to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said on Tuesday after meeting the Israeli leader.
Robert O’Brien, who served as Trump’s fourth and final national security adviser, made the comments in a Jerusalem interview with Reuters after meeting Netanyahu and other Israeli officials during a multi-day visit to the US ally.
O’Brien, who said Trump would be briefed on the results of the trip, discussed what he called the ICC’s “irrational decision” to issue a warrant for Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, along with three Palestinian Hamas leaders, in his meetings with the Israeli officials.
“We can sanction the bank accounts, the travel. We can put visa restrictions on these corrupt prosecutors and judges. We can show some real mettle here,” O’Brien told Reuters from Jerusalem.
O’Brien was joined by former US Ambassador to the UAE John Rakolta and former Ambassador to Switzerland Ed McMullen.
The trip, first reported by Reuters, was a rare case of Trump allies traveling abroad as part of an organized delegation to meet foreign officials. It took place amid strains between Israel and the Biden administration about the US Middle East ally’s conduct of the war in Gaza.
In addition to Netanyahu, the delegation met in recent days with Israeli President Isaac Herzog, war cabinet minister Benny Gantz, and Gallant, O’Brien said. Their itinerary did not include Palestinian leaders.
O’Brien said rescuing all remaining hostages held by Hamas and capturing Yahya Sinwar, the mastermind of the Oct. 7 attack on Israel that prompted Israel’s Gaza offensive, would be key to declaring victory over the militant group.
“This is something I did share with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and President Herzog and Benny Gantz from the war cabinet: We’ve got to move quickly,” O’Brien told Reuters. “Israel has to defeat Hamas in Rafah.”
The group said they did not go to Israel at Trump’s behest.
But O’Brien, Rakolta and McMullen all speak regularly to Trump who, despite facing four criminal trials, is ahead of his Nov. 5 presidential election rival, Democratic President Joe Biden, in opinion polls in most battleground states.
In addition to meeting political leaders, members of the delegation traveled to areas of Israel that were targeted in the Hamas attack in October, including the site of the Nova Music Festival and the Nir Oz kibbutz, both near Gaza.
More than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s seven-month-old assault on the Gaza Strip, according to health officials in the Hamas-ruled enclave. The war began when Hamas militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and abducting 253 others, according to Israeli tallies. Israel says that more than 100 hostages are still being held in Gaza, including several Americans.
On Monday, the ICC’s prosecutor in The Hague, Karim Khan, requested the warrants for Netanyahu, Gallant and three Palestinian leaders, alleging they had committed war crimes.
In the Reuters interview, O’Brien said he was throwing his support behind Republican-led legislation in Congress that would sanction ICC employees that investigate officials in the US or in allied countries that do not recognize the court, like Israel.
It was unclear how much bipartisan support that bill could garner, though both Democratic and Republican officials have been sharply critical of the ICC.
In 2020, Trump issued an executive order to restrict travel and freeze assets of court staff involved in investigating US conduct in Afghanistan, sanctions which were reversed in the opening months of the Biden administration.
O’Brien’s comments suggest Trump’s advisers would be willing to reimpose and expand sanctions should the former president return to the White House. While the US has at times engaged with the ICC in a limited fashion, it has never been a member of the court, and many US political leaders argue the ICC’s international jurisdiction threatens national sovereignty.
Throughout the interview, O’Brien, Rakolta and McMullen rejected assessments by many US, Palestinian and international officials who say Israel is not doing enough to protect civilian life.
“The Israelis are conducting themselves in a really fine tradition of a modern, humanitarian military, and I think that’s the biggest takeaway from the meetings we’ve had in my view,” O’Brien said.
The Biden administration has at times dissented from that view, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying earlier in May that Israel lacked a credible plan to protect civilians in Rafah.
While the Trump administration backed a two-state solution to Middle East conflict, O’Brien said the conflict in Gaza and Palestinians’ hostile attitude toward Israel makes discussing it a moot point at the moment.
The US government has long held that the pathway to a lasting peace runs through the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. Since Oct. 7, however, Trump has indicated in interviews and on the campaign trail that he is rethinking his stance.


Iran says Canada terror designation for Guards ‘hostile’

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Iran says Canada terror designation for Guards ‘hostile’

Tehran: Iran on Thursday condemned as “irresponsible” and “hostile” a decision by Canada to designate the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist entity.
Ottowa announced on Wednesday it had placed the Guards on its terror blacklist over “disregard for human rights” and “willingness to destabilize the international rules-based order.”
In a statement Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani hit out at the Canadian move as “hostile” and “contrary to the accepted norms and principles of international law.”
“This irresponsible and provocative move is a continuation of the wrong path that the Canadian government has taken over the past decade,” he added.
Canada’s terror listing bars members of the Guards from entering Canada and Canadians from having any dealings with individual members or the group.
Any assets the organization or its members hold in Canada may also be seized.
The decision to add the Guards to Canada’s terror list comes amid tensions between Ottawa and Tehran which have not had formal diplomatic relations since 2012.
Canada and other nations have been engaged in legal action against Iran at the International Court of Justice over the downing of Flight PS752 in January 2020.
Iranian expats and families of the victims of from the flight, which was downed by Iran shortly after take-off from Tehran, killing all 176 passengers and crew, including 85 Canadian citizens and permanent residents, have long pressed Ottawa to designate the militia as a terrorist entity.
Tehran said a missile strike on the aircraft was carried out by mistake.
Ottawa has previously listed the Quds Force, the Guards’ foreign operations arm, as a terrorist entity, and in 2022 permanently denied entry to more than 10,000 Iranian officials, including Guards members.
The United States listed the Guards as a foreign terrorist organization in April 2019.
Earlier this month, the European Union also sanctioned the Guards for allegedly supplying drones to Russia and its allies in the Middle East.

Iran condemns Canada's listing of Revolutionary Guards as terrorist group

Updated 20 June 2024
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Iran condemns Canada's listing of Revolutionary Guards as terrorist group

DUBAI: Iran condemned Canada's listing of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization as "an unwise and unconventional politically-motivated step," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars news agency on Thursday.
"Canada's action will not have any effect on the Revolutionary Guards' legitimate and deterrent power," Kanaani said, adding that Tehran reserves the right to respond accordingly to the listing.
On Wednesday, Ottawa listed the Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organisation, a step that could lead to the investigation of former senior Iranian officials now living in Canada.
The United States took a similar step in 2019 against the Revolutionary Guards, which Western nations accuse of carrying out a global terrorist campaign.
Tehran rejects such claims, saying that the elite force is a sovereign institution responsible for safeguarding national security.


Rifts seem to appear between Israel’s political and military leadership over conduct of the Gaza war

Updated 20 June 2024
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Rifts seem to appear between Israel’s political and military leadership over conduct of the Gaza war

  • “Hamas is an ideology, we cannot eliminate an ideology,” said Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari
  • PM Netanyahu's office quickly rebuffed the spokesman's statement, saying Hamas has to be defeated

JERUSALEM: The Israeli army’s chief spokesman on Wednesday appeared to question the stated goal of destroying the Hamas militant group in Gaza in a rare public rift between the country’s political and military leadership.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted Israel will pursue the fight against Hamas, the group running the besieged Gaza Strip, until its military and governing capabilities in the Palestinian territory are eliminated. But with the war now in its ninth month, frustration has been mounting with no clear end or postwar plan in sight.
“This business of destroying Hamas, making Hamas disappear — it’s simply throwing sand in the eyes of the public,” Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the military spokesperson, told Israel’s Channel 13 TV. “Hamas is an idea, Hamas is a party. It’s rooted in the hearts of the people — whoever thinks we can eliminate Hamas is wrong.”
Netanyahu’s office responded by saying that the country’s security Cabinet, chaired by the prime minister, “has defined the destruction of Hamas’ military and governing capabilities as one of the goals of the war. The Israeli military, of course, is committed to this.”
The military quickly issued a clarification, saying it was “committed to achieving the goals of the war as defined by the Cabinet” and that it has been working on this “throughout the war, day and night, and will continue to do so.”
Hagari’s comments, it said, “referred to the destruction of Hamas as an ideology and an idea, and this was said by him very clearly and explicitly,” the military statement added. “Any other claim is taking things out of context.”
There have already been open signs of discontent over the handling of the war by Netanyahu’s government, a coalition that includes right-wing hard-liners who oppose any kind of settlement with Hamas. Months of internationally mediated truce talks, including a proposal floated this month by President Joe Biden, have stalled.
Benny Gantz, a former military chief and centrist politician, withdrew from Netanyahu’s war Cabinet earlier this month, citing frustration over the prime minister’s conduct of the war.
And early this week, Netanyahu expressed displeasure with the army’s decision to declare a “tactical pause” in the southern Gaza city of Rafah to help deliver humanitarian aid to the besieged territory. An aide said Netanyahu was caught off guard by the announcement, and Israeli TV stations quoted him as saying “we have a country with an army, not an army with a country.”
Israel attacked Gaza in response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 cross-border attack into southern Israel, which killed some 1,200 people and took 250 hostage.
Israel’s war effort initially enjoyed broad public support, but in recent months wide divisions have emerged. While Netanyahu has pledged “total victory,” a growing array of critics and protesters have backed a ceasefire that would bring home the roughly 120 hostages still in Gaza. The Israeli military has already pronounced more than 40 of them dead, and officials fear that number will rise the longer the hostages are held.
Inside Gaza, the war has killed more than 37,100 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which doesn’t distinguish between combatants and civilians. The war has largely cut off the flow of medicine, food and other supplies to Palestinians, who are facing widespread hunger.
The United Nations said Wednesday that its humanitarian workers were once again unable to pick up aid shipments at the Kerem Shalom border crossing from Israel because of a lack of law and order.
UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said that although there were no clashes along the route where Israel has declared a daily pause in fighting, the lawlessness in the area prevented UN workers from picking up aid. This means that no trucks have been able to use the new route since Israel announced the daily pause on Sunday.
In recent weeks, Israel’s military has concentrated its offensive in the nearby city of Rafah, which lies on the border with Egypt and where it says Hamas’ last remnants are holding out.
More than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million people had earlier taken shelter in Rafah to escape fighting elsewhere in the territory, and the city is now nearly empty as the Israeli military carries out airstrikes and ground operations.
The Israeli military says it has killed over 500 militants and inflicted heavy damage on Hamas’ forces, but officials expect the operation to continue for at least several more weeks.
Israel also has taken over a 14-kilometer (8-mile) corridor along Gaza’s border with Egypt, including the Rafah border crossing. Footage circulating on social media shows the crossing blackened and destroyed, with only the former passenger terminal remaining intact. Before Israel moved into the area, the crossing was used to deliver humanitarian aid and to allow Palestinians to leave the territory.
The head of the Rafah municipality, Ahmed Al-Sufi, said Wednesday that Israeli strikes have destroyed more than 70 percent of the facilities and infrastructure. He accused Israeli forces of systematically targeting camps in Rafah, adding that entire residential areas in one neighborhood have been destroyed. Al-Sufi didn’t immediately respond to a request for additional information.
In a separate incident, 11 people were killed in an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, said Dr. Saleh Al-Hamas of the nearby European Hospital. There were no further details and the Israeli military had no immediate comment.


Libyans want an end to country’s divisions and feuding politicians to hold elections, UN envoy says

Updated 20 June 2024
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Libyans want an end to country’s divisions and feuding politicians to hold elections, UN envoy says

  • Koury said there is consensus that the current “status quo is not sustainable” – and the political process needs to advance toward elections

UNITED NATIONS: Libyans from rival regions and all walks of life are fed up with the country’s divisions and want political players to end their years-long impasse and agree to hold national elections, a key step to peace in the oil-rich north African country, the UN deputy representative said Wednesday.
Stephanie Koury told the UN Security Council that she has been meeting political leaders, civil society representatives, academics, women’s groups, military leaders and others in the country’s rival east and west to listen to their views. She said there is consensus that the current “status quo is not sustainable” – and the political process needs to advance toward elections.
Libya plunged into chaos after a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. In the chaos that followed, the country split, with rival administrations in the east and west backed by rogue militias and foreign governments.
The country’s current political crisis stems from the failure to hold elections on Dec. 24, 2021, and the refusal of Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah — who led a transitional government in the capital of Tripoli — to step down. In response, Libya’s east-based parliament appointed a rival prime minister who was suspended. The east is now governed by Prime Minister Ossama Hammad while the powerful military commander Khalifa Haftar continues to hold sway.
Koury, the top UN official in Libya since the resignation of special representative Abdoulaye Bathily in April, said many Libyans she spoke to signaled the importance of a “pact” or agreement that would affirm, among other things, the rival parties’ respect for the outcome of elections. They also expressed deep concern at the country’s divisions and parallel governments, and provided ideas on a roadmap to elections, she said.
“While institutional and political divisions keep deepening, ordinary Libyans long for peace, stability, prosperity and reconciliation,” Koury said. “Resolute and united action to advance a political process is needed by Libyans with the support of the international community.”
In February, Bathily warned the country’s feuding political actors that if they didn’t urgently form a unified government and move toward elections Libya will slide into “disintegration.”
The three African nations on the council – Sierra Leone, Algeria and Mozambique joined by Guyana – said in a joint statement Wednesday that “the Security Council must remain committed to an inclusive Libyan-led and Libyan-owned political process facilitated by the United Nations … for the holding of national elections.”
The four countries called on the rival political players “to move from the entrenched institutional and political positions, resolve their differences, build consensus and facilitate the holding of national election.”
US deputy Ambassador Robert Wood said the United States also continues to firmly support the UN political mission’s efforts “to bring Libya closer to unlocking a viable process toward long-overdue elections.”
“Progress toward greater military integration remains key to reaffirming Libyan sovereignty and preventing Libya from becoming enmeshed in regional turmoil,” he said.
Turning to Russia’s actions in Libya, Wood told the council the United States recently sanctioned “Russian state-owned enterprise Goznak for producing counterfeit currency globally and printing more than $1 billion worth of counterfeit Libyan currency, which exacerbated Libya’s economic challenges.”
Libya is under a UN arms embargo, and Wood said the United States also notes “with particular concern the recent reports of Russian Federation naval vessels unloading military hardware in Libya.”
Libya’s UN Ambassador Taher El-Sonni, who represents the internationally recognized government in the west, stressed that national reconciliation is the only way to rebuild social cohesion and trust between the rivals, unite the country and pave the way for elections.
“We are tired and fed up from the stalemate and the vicious cycle that we have been going through for decades now,” he said. “We are tired and fed up from being lectured on what to do and what not to do,” and from the Security Council’s inaction.
“We are tired and fed up to use Libya as a proxy for certain countries and regional powers for selfish greedy battles, some of which have colonial ambitions,” El-Sonni said.
He called on the Security Council “to leave Libya alone” and let the people decide their own future and “take their destiny in their own hands.”


US military’s stop-start Gaza pier to resume operations, officials say

Updated 20 June 2024
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US military’s stop-start Gaza pier to resume operations, officials say

  • The US military estimates the pier will cost more than $200 million for the first 90 days and involve about 1,000 service members

WASHINGTON: The US military’s on-again, off-again floating pier in Gaza is expected to resume operations on Thursday to unload sorely needed humanitarian aid for Palestinians, two US officials told Reuters on Wednesday.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the pier had been re-attached to the shore on Wednesday after being temporarily removed last Friday due to poor sea conditions.
Aid began arriving via the US-built pier on May 17, and the UN said it transported 137 trucks of aid to warehouses, some 900 metric tons.
But then rough seas damaged the pier, forcing repairs, and poor weather and security considerations have limited the number of days it has been operational.
US President Joe Biden announced in March the plan to put the pier in place for aid deliveries as famine loomed in Gaza, a Hamas-run enclave of 2.3 million people, during the war between Israel and the Palestinian militants.
The US military estimates the pier will cost more than $200 million for the first 90 days and involve about 1,000 service members.
It is unclear how much longer it will be operational.
Speaking at the Pentagon on Tuesday, spokesperson Air Force Major General Patrick Ryder declined to say when the military might halt its pier operations altogether. He said the pier has so far allowed for a total of over 3,500 metric tons of aid to reach Gaza’s shores.
“With the caveat that this has always been intended to be a temporary pier, I’m not aware at this point of any established date of: ‘This is when we’re going to stop,’” he told reporters.
“And again, taking a step back here, the big picture: Whether it be by land, sea or air, (the United States is) employing all avenues to get assistance into Gaza.”