Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ chief warns Trump: ‘If you begin the war, we will end it’

In this June 30, 2018 photo, released by an official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, center, who heads the elite Quds Force of Iran's Revolutionary Guard attends a graduation ceremony of a group of the guard's officers in Tehran, Iran. (AP)
Updated 27 July 2018
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Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ chief warns Trump: ‘If you begin the war, we will end it’

  • Mounting US economic pressure, a faltering economy, sliding currency and state corruption are rattling Iran’s clerical rulers
  • Neither side want a military confrontation

ANKARA: A powerful commander of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards said on Thursday that Donald Trump should address any threats against Tehran directly to him, and mocked the US president as using the language of “night clubs and gambling halls.”
The comments by Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who heads the Quds Force of the Guards, were the latest salvo in a war of words between the two countries.
“As a soldier, it is my duty to respond to your threats ... If you wants to use the language of threat ... talk to me, not to the president (Hassan Rouhani). It is not in our president’s dignity to respond to you,” Soleimani was quoted as saying by Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency.
Soleimani’s message was in essence a warning to the United States to stop threatening Iran with war or risk exposing itself to an Iranian response.
“We are near you, where you can’t even imagine ... Come. We are ready ... If you begin the war, we will end the war,” Tasnim news agency quoted Soleimani as saying. “You know that this war will destroy all that you possess.”
Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said the fiery rhetoric of Soleimani was only “empty talk” because Iran was aware of “the strength and might of the US military.”
On Sunday night, Trump said in a tweet directed at Rouhani: “Never, ever threaten the United States again or you will suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before. We are no longer a country that will stand for your demented words of violence & death. Be cautious!“
A few hours earlier, Rouhani had addressed Trump in a speech, saying that hostile US policies could lead to “the mother of all wars.”
Fanning the heightened tensions, US national security adviser John Bolton said in a statement on Monday: “President Trump told me that if Iran does anything at all to the negative, they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid before.”
Bolton is a proponent of interventionist foreign policy and was US ambassador to the United Nations in the administration of George W. Bush during the Iraq war.
“You (Trump) threaten us with paying a price like few countries have ever paid. Trump, this is the language of night clubs and gambling halls,” said Soleimani, who as Quds Force commander is in charge of the Revolutionary Guards’ overseas operations.
Iran’s Guards commanders have threatened to destroy US military bases across the Middle East and target Israel, which Iran refuses to recognize, within minutes of being attacked.

WAR OF WORDS
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said on Thursday that the Trump administration was “working with our partners and allies to try to get Iran to change its behavior and stop its actions across the region.”
Gidley, speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One flying with Trump to Washington, D.C., from St. Louis, declined to comment on whether a strike was among options.
Since Trump’s decision in May to withdraw the United States from a 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers, Tehran’s clerical establishment has been under increasing US pressure and the prospect of possible sanctions.
Washington aims to force Tehran to end its nuclear program and its support of militant groups in the Middle East, where Iran is involved in proxy wars from Yemen to Syria.
Despite the bellicose rhetoric, there is limited appetite in Washington for a conflict with Iran, not least because of the difficulties the US military faced in Iraq after its 2003 invasion but also because of the impact on the global economy if conflict raised oil prices.
Mounting US economic pressure, a faltering economy, sliding currency and state corruption are rattling Iran’s clerical rulers, but analysts and insiders rule out any chance of a seismic shift in Iran’s political landscape.
“This is a war of words. Neither side want a military confrontation. But of course, if America attacks Iran, our response will be crushing,” a senior Iranian official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.
Trump suggested on Tuesday that talks with Iran were an option, saying “we’re ready to make a real deal.” But Iran rejected it.
“But eventually, within a few months, half a year, they’ll have no choice and will return to negotiation table with the United States and give up their nuclear program,” Steinitz told Israeli Reshet TV on Thursday.
While the United States is pushing countries to cut all imports of Iranian oil from November, Iran has warned of counter-measures and has threatened to block Gulf oil exports if its own exports are halted.
“The Red Sea which was secure is no longer secure today with the presence of American forces,” Soleimani said.
Saudi Arabia said on Thursday it was temporarily halting all oil shipments through the Red Sea shipping lane of Bab Al-Mandeb after an attack on two oil tankers by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement.


In Jerusalem’s Old City, conflict means buyer and seller beware

Updated 14 min 5 sec ago
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In Jerusalem’s Old City, conflict means buyer and seller beware

  • ‘Can we be held accountable for something that was sold over two years ago?’
  • The land conflict between Palestinians and Israelis is also a battle over Jerusalem and its Old City

JERUSALEM: In an alley in Jerusalem’s Old City, a three-story building has become a symbol of Palestinian fears they are losing precious ground in the historic area.
Adeeb Joudeh Al-Husseini says he did nothing wrong, but even his status as a member of one of Jerusalem’s most prominent Palestinian families did not shield him from the blowback.
The 55-year-old was accused of being behind the sale of the Mamluk-style building in the Old City’s Muslim quarter to Israeli settlers — something most Palestinians consider treason.
“Can we be held accountable for something that was sold over two years ago?” he asks as he sits at the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built at the spot where Christians believe Jesus was crucified and buried.
Joudeh, as his family is known, is one of the keepers of the keys of the church and has faced calls to relinquish that role over the sale.
He proudly brandishes the long, arrow-shaped key — which the Muslim family says it has handed down from father to son since the 13th century — as proof of his innocence.
Joudeh says he sold the property to another Palestinian in 2016 for $2.5 million and cannot be held responsible if it was passed on to settlers, who moved there in late 2018.
But the building he once owned is not the only one triggering Palestinian concerns.
The land conflict between Palestinians and Israelis is also a battle over Jerusalem and its Old City, home to sites holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians.
Israel took over mainly Palestinian east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community.
It now considers the entire city its capital, citing the Jewish historical and biblical connection there.
The Palestinians see east Jerusalem, which includes the Old City, as the capital of their future state.
They consider each property sale to Israeli settlers there as another blow to their cause.
Some 320,000 Palestinians live in east Jerusalem, while the Israeli settler population there has now grown to 210,000.
Israel bars the Palestinian Authority from operating in Jerusalem, but it seeks to maintain influence, however limited.
Such sales can in theory carry the death penalty under PA law.
In one high-profile case in recent weeks, an American-Palestinian man, Issam Akel, was sentenced to life in prison by a PA court in the occupied West Bank over a property sale in the Old City.
Akel’s lawyer, Oday Nawfel, said he was simply trying to help another Palestinian family sort out inheritance issues with the building, down the street from the one Joudeh sold.
Akel’s case has drawn criticism from David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel, who has been a supporter of settlements and has called for Akel’s release.
It also led to calls in Israel for authorities there to act.
Following Akel’s arrest, Israel detained the Palestinian governor of Jerusalem a number of times over suspicions of involvement in the affair.
Another 32 Palestinians were arrested by Israeli forces on similar grounds that they were supporting the PA in the matter, but eventually all were released.
Akel was reported to have been released this past week on condition he leaves for the US, though neither his lawyer nor the US embassy confirmed the deal.
In a separate case in November, the highest Muslim authority in Jerusalem, Grand Mufti Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, refused to allow a Palestinian killed in a car accident to be buried in a Muslim cemetery over suspicions he had once sold property to Jews.
Israeli settler groups push to make deals happen as part of their efforts to increase the Jewish population in east Jerusalem, sometimes offering exorbitant sums to pressure owners to sell.
The groups use a variety of means such as middlemen or shell companies, anti-settlement activists say.
“These are not open, transparent transactions,” said Yudith Oppenheimer, who heads Ir Amim, an Israeli anti-settlement NGO focused on Jerusalem.
Daniel Luria of Ateret Cohanim, which works to increase the Jewish population of east Jerusalem, defended its actions.
“Everyone should be able to buy and sell” in areas under Israeli sovereignty, said Luria.
Joudeh displays documents that he says show the PA validated the sale of his home to another Palestinian.
He says the buyer “betrayed me, betrayed the Palestinian Authority and Palestine.”
The Palestinian who in 2016 bought the house, Khaled Al-Atari, refused to speak with AFP citing an ongoing investigation on the Palestinian side.
Regardless of who was responsible, neighbors fear more such sales are ahead.