Moscow: Western Ambassadors Are Meddling in Russia's Affairs

A person throws flowers towards the grave of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny while standing in front of a closed entrance to the Borisovskoye cemetery, in Moscow, Russia, March 3, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer
A person throws flowers towards the grave of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny while standing in front of a closed entrance to the Borisovskoye cemetery, in Moscow, Russia, March 3, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer
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Moscow: Western Ambassadors Are Meddling in Russia's Affairs

A person throws flowers towards the grave of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny while standing in front of a closed entrance to the Borisovskoye cemetery, in Moscow, Russia, March 3, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer
A person throws flowers towards the grave of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny while standing in front of a closed entrance to the Borisovskoye cemetery, in Moscow, Russia, March 3, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer

Russia's foreign ministry on Tuesday accused Western ambassadors in Moscow of meddling in Russia's internal affairs and said their behavior raised questions about the point of such envoys.
The war in Ukraine has triggered the deepest crisis in Russia's relations with the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and President Vladimir Putin has warned the West that it risks provoking a nuclear war if Western troops are sent to fight in Ukraine.
Russia was dismayed by what Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on March 4 was a refusal by European Union ambassadors to meet him for a conversation ahead of Russia's March 15-17 presidential election.
There was no immediate reaction to Lavrov's statement from the Western ambassadors.
Asked by Russian state television anchor Vladimir Solovyov if the EU ambassadors understood their function, Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said their refusal to meet Lavrov raised questions about their role.
"The question indeed arises among everyone: what are they doing, and why, how do they interpret their conduct on the territory of our country if they do not perform their most important function?" Reuters quoted Zakharova as saying.
Solovyov noted that EU ambassadors attended the March 1 funeral of opposition politician Alexei Navalny, whom he cast as their agent. Navalny, whose death at an Arctic prison colony was announced on Feb. 16, always denied he was a Western agent.
Zakharova said such behavior showed Western ambassadors in Moscow were meddling in Russia's affairs and putting on "performances" rather than doing their diplomatic work.
The banner headline on Solovyov's television show read: "Should the EU ambassadors be sent out?"

The West is grappling with what support it will give to Kyiv after Russian forces regained the initiative on the battlefield after a failed Ukrainian counteroffensive last year.
Russian media last week published an audio recording
of a meeting of senior German military officials held by Webex discussing weapons for Ukraine and a potential strike by Kyiv on a bridge in Crimea.
Russia summoned Germany's ambassador to the foreign ministry on Monday, demanding clarification of the conversations and the assistance given to Ukraine to strike Russian targets.
The ambassador, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, was also scolded over what Moscow said were attempts by Berlin to restrict the activities of Russian journalists in Germany, according to the Russian foreign ministry.
"If they touch Russian correspondents and bring their plans to conclusion, German journalists will leave Russia," Zakharova said.



US Issues New Sanctions Tied to Iran Revolutionary Guard Cyber Unit

The US Treasury Department building, June 6, 2019, in Washington. (AP)
The US Treasury Department building, June 6, 2019, in Washington. (AP)
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US Issues New Sanctions Tied to Iran Revolutionary Guard Cyber Unit

The US Treasury Department building, June 6, 2019, in Washington. (AP)
The US Treasury Department building, June 6, 2019, in Washington. (AP)

The US designated four individuals and two companies linked to Iran's Revolutionary Guard cyber command, the Treasury Department said on Tuesday.

The sanctions targets were involved in cyber operations aimed at more than a dozen US companies and government entities, the Treasury Department said in a statement.

The sanctions target Mehrsam Andisheh Saz Nik and others acting as front companies for the Revolutionary Guard cyber command, the Treasury said.


Long-Awaited Aid to Ukraine Poised to Pass US Congress, Weapons Coming Soon

 Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., arrives as the Senate prepares to advance the $95 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan passed by the House, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, April 23, 2024. (AP)
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., arrives as the Senate prepares to advance the $95 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan passed by the House, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, April 23, 2024. (AP)
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Long-Awaited Aid to Ukraine Poised to Pass US Congress, Weapons Coming Soon

 Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., arrives as the Senate prepares to advance the $95 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan passed by the House, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, April 23, 2024. (AP)
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., arrives as the Senate prepares to advance the $95 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan passed by the House, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, April 23, 2024. (AP)

Billions of dollars in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan should easily win approval in the US Senate this week, after the House of Representatives abruptly ended a months-long stalemate and approved the assistance in a rare Saturday session.

The Senate on Tuesday will take up the package of four bills passed by the House, one providing $61 billion for Ukraine, a second with $26 billion for Israel, a third with $8.12 billion "to counter communist China" in the Indo-Pacific and a fourth that includes a potential ban on the social media app TikTok, measures for the transfer of seized Russian assets to Ukraine and new sanctions on Iran.

The package could pass the Democratic-led Senate as soon as late Tuesday. Democratic President Joe Biden has promised to sign it quickly into law.

Two US officials told Reuters the administration was already preparing a $1 billion military aid package for Ukraine, the first to be sourced from the bill.

That would clear the way for shipments of military assistance to Ukraine within days, boosting morale for its troops fighting Russian invaders. The influx of weapons should improve Kyiv's chances of averting a major Russian breakthrough in the east, analysts said, although it would have been more helpful if the aid had come closer to when Biden requested it last year.

"I ask my colleagues to join together to pass the supplemental today as expeditiously as possible, send our friends abroad the aid they have long been waiting for," Senate Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a speech as the Senate opened.

As he urged support, Republican leader Mitch McConnell said failing to support allies emboldened rivals like China and Russia, and denounced isolationism. "Today, the Senate sits for a test on behalf of the entire nation. It’s a test of American resolve, our readiness, and our willingness to lead," he said.

It was not immediately clear how the money for Israel would affect the conflict in Gaza - Israel already receives billions of dollars in security assistance from the United States. The package includes humanitarian assistance, which supporters hope will help Palestinians in Gaza.

Humanitarian concerns

The Israel bill passed the House by an overwhelming 366 to 58 - with 21 Republicans and 37 Democrats opposed. The Republican "no" votes came from hardliners who generally oppose foreign aid. Democrats who voted no said they wanted more done to ease the devastating humanitarian toll of Israel's campaign in Gaza as it retaliates for the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas fighters that killed 1,200 people and resulted in around 250 being taken hostage.

The Israeli military assault that followed those attacks has killed more than 34,000 people in Gaza, according to Gaza health authorities.

The Senate passed security aid for Ukraine, Israel and the Indo-Pacific more than two months ago, with support of 70% of the 100-member chamber, both Republicans and Democrats.

The White House said Biden told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a phone call on Monday that his administration would provide new security assistance "to meet Ukraine's urgent battlefield and air defense needs" as soon as he signs the supplemental spending bills into law.

The legislation's progress has been closely watched by industry, with US defense firms up for major contracts to supply equipment for Ukraine and other US partners. Backers of the foreign assistance stress that approving the Ukraine bill would create many American jobs.

Experts expect the supplemental spending to boost the order backlog of RTX along with other major companies that receive government contracts, such as Lockheed Martin , General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman.

Congressional aides said the funding for Ukraine includes $8 billion in Presidential Drawdown Authority, which lets Biden send equipment to Ukraine from U.S. stocks.

The House passed the Ukraine funding by 311-112, with all 112 "no" votes coming from Republicans, many of whom were bitterly opposed to providing further assistance to Kyiv. Only 101 Republicans voted for it, forcing Speaker Mike Johnson to rely on Democratic support and prompting calls for his ouster as House leader.

However, the House left Washington for a week-long recess, without triggering a vote to remove Johnson.


UK Puts Its Defense Industry on ‘War Footing’ as It Gives Ukraine $620 Million in New Military Aid

 British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk meet at the Chancellery of the Prime Minister in Warsaw, Poland, April, 23, 2024. (Reuters)
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk meet at the Chancellery of the Prime Minister in Warsaw, Poland, April, 23, 2024. (Reuters)
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UK Puts Its Defense Industry on ‘War Footing’ as It Gives Ukraine $620 Million in New Military Aid

 British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk meet at the Chancellery of the Prime Minister in Warsaw, Poland, April, 23, 2024. (Reuters)
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk meet at the Chancellery of the Prime Minister in Warsaw, Poland, April, 23, 2024. (Reuters)

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced Tuesday that the country is putting its defense industry on a “war footing” by increasing defense spending to 2.5% of GDP by the end of the decade, amid NATO concerns of possible repercussions of Russia's war in Ukraine.

Sunak made the announcement to increase spending to well above the 2% target set by NATO during a visit to the Polish capital, Warsaw. It came on the heels of a new pledge to send arms worth 500 million pounds ($620 million) to Ukraine, including missiles, armored vehicles and ammunition.

He described the increased spending as the “biggest strengthening of our national defense for a generation."

“In a world that is the most dangerous it has been since the end of the Cold War, we cannot be complacent," he said at a news briefing alongside NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. “As our adversaries align, we must do more to defend our country, our interests and our values."

Sunak promised an extra 75 billion pounds ($93 billion) in defense spending over the next six years. The target of 2.5% of GDP spending was a re-commitment of a target set by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2022.

Sunak and his Treasury chief, Jeremy Hunt, had previously only said the 2.5% goal would be met when the economic conditions allow.

“We will put the UK’s own defense industry on a war footing,” Sunak said to an audience of British troops serving on NATO's eastern front. “One of the central lessons of the war in Ukraine is that we need deeper stockpiles of munitions, and for industry to be able to replenish them more quickly.”

Under the new spending plan, Britain’s defense budget will increase immediately and then rise steadily to reach 87 billion pounds at the end the decade.

A decade ago, NATO leaders agreed to commit 2% of GDP to defense spending. Britain has spent above that over the past decade but never higher than 2.35% in 2020, according to NATO data.

UK official figures showed that defense spending last year was about 55.5 billion pounds. NATO data showed that this amounted to about 2.07% of the UK’s GDP, ahead of countries including France and Germany but behind Poland, the U.S., Estonia and others.

Sunak spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to confirm the assistance and "assure him of the UK’s steadfast support for Ukraine’s defense against Russia’s brutal and expansionist ambitions,” Sunak's office said.

UK authorities said the new commitment to Ukraine included 400 vehicles, 60 boats, 1,600 munitions and 4 million rounds of ammunition, at a time when Ukraine is struggling to hold off advancing Russian forces on the eastern front line of the war, now in its third year.

The shipment will include British Storm Shadow long-range missiles, which have a range of some 150 miles (240 kilometers) and have proved effective at hitting Russian targets.

Sunak said that Britain's commitment “shows that Ukraine is not alone, and Ukraine will never be alone.”

However, Downing Street did not indicate whether the aid would be immediately available for delivery. Zelenskyy has pleaded for greater international assistance, warning that his country will lose the war without it.

The announcement came three days after the US House of Representatives approved $61 billion in aid for Ukraine, as American lawmakers raced to deliver a fresh round of US support to the war-torn ally. The Senate was expected to vote on the package Tuesday.

Ammunition shortages over the past six months have led Ukrainian military commanders to ration shells, a disadvantage that Russia has seized on this year — taking the city of Avdiivka and currently inching towards the town of Chasiv Yar, also in the eastern Donetsk region.


Iran's FM Calls EU Sanctions 'Regrettable'

Iranians walk near an anti-Israel banner carrying pictures of Iranian missiles and drones in Tehran, Iran, 22 April 2024. EPA/ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH
Iranians walk near an anti-Israel banner carrying pictures of Iranian missiles and drones in Tehran, Iran, 22 April 2024. EPA/ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH
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Iran's FM Calls EU Sanctions 'Regrettable'

Iranians walk near an anti-Israel banner carrying pictures of Iranian missiles and drones in Tehran, Iran, 22 April 2024. EPA/ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH
Iranians walk near an anti-Israel banner carrying pictures of Iranian missiles and drones in Tehran, Iran, 22 April 2024. EPA/ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH

European Union sanctions announced following Iran's attack against Israel are "regrettable" because the country was acting in self-defense, Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian posted on X on Tuesday.
Iran launched more than 300 drones and missiles on Israel in what it said was retaliation against a suspected Israeli bombing of its embassy compound in Damascus.
On Monday, EU foreign ministers agreed in principle to expand sanctions on Iran by agreeing to extend restrictive measures on Tehran's weapons exports of any drone or missile to Iranian proxies and Russia.
"It is regrettable to see the EU deciding quickly to apply more unlawful restrictions against Iran just because Iran exercised its right to self-defense in the face of Israel’s reckless aggression," Amirabdollahian said on X, before calling on the EU to apply sanctions on Israel instead.
More work will need to follow in Brussels to approve a legal framework before the expansion of the sanctions can take effect, Reuters reported.


Satellite Photos Suggest Iran Radar System for Russian-made Air Defense Battery Struck in Isfahan

Burn marks surround what analysts identify as a radar system for a Russian-made S-300 missile battery, center, near an international airport and air base is seen in Isfahan, Iran, Monday, April 22, 2024. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)
Burn marks surround what analysts identify as a radar system for a Russian-made S-300 missile battery, center, near an international airport and air base is seen in Isfahan, Iran, Monday, April 22, 2024. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)
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Satellite Photos Suggest Iran Radar System for Russian-made Air Defense Battery Struck in Isfahan

Burn marks surround what analysts identify as a radar system for a Russian-made S-300 missile battery, center, near an international airport and air base is seen in Isfahan, Iran, Monday, April 22, 2024. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)
Burn marks surround what analysts identify as a radar system for a Russian-made S-300 missile battery, center, near an international airport and air base is seen in Isfahan, Iran, Monday, April 22, 2024. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

Satellite photos taken Monday suggest an apparent Israeli retaliatory strike targeting Iran's central city of Isfahan hit a radar system for a Russian-made air defense battery, contradicting repeated denials by officials in Tehran of any damage in the assault.
The strike on an S-300 radar in what appears to have been a very limited strike by the Israelis would represent far more damage done than in the massive drone-and-missile attack Iran unleashed against Israel on April 13. That may be why Iranian officials up to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei have been trying to dismiss discussing what the attack actually did on Iranian soil, The Associated Press reported.
Analysts believe both Iran and Israel, regional archrivals locked in a shadow war for years, now are trying to dial back tensions following a series of escalatory attacks between them as the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip still rages and inflames the wider region. But a strike on the most advanced air defense system Iran possesses and uses to protect its nuclear sites sends a message, experts say.
“This strike shows Israel has the ability to penetrate Iran’s air defense systems,” said Nicole Grajewski, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment's nuclear policy program who wrote a forthcoming book on Russia and Iran. “The precision of it was quite remarkable.”
The satellite images by Planet Labs PBC taken Monday morning near Isfahan's dual-use airport and air base, some 320 kilometers (200 miles) south of Tehran, showed an area nearby that served as a deployment point for the air defense system. Burn marks sit around what analysts including Chris Biggers, a consultant former government imagery analyst, previously had identified as a “flap-lid” radar system used for the S-300.
Less-detailed satellite images taken after Friday showed similar burn marks around the area, though it wasn't clear what was at the site, AP reported. Biggers said other components of the missile system appeared to have been removed from the site — even though they provide defensive cover for Iran's underground Natanz nuclear enrichment facility.
“That’s a powerful statement, given the system, the location, and how they use it,” Biggers wrote.
On Friday, air defenses opened fire and Iran grounded commercial flights across much of the country. Officials in the aftermath sought to downplay the attack, trying to describe it as just a series of small drones flying through the sky.
“What happened ... was not a strike,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian claimed in an interview with NBC News. “They were more like toys that our children play with – not drones.”
In the attack's aftermath, however, Iraqis found what appeared to be remnants of surface-to-air missiles south of Baghdad. That, coupled with a suspected Israeli strike on a radar station in Syria the same day, suggests Israeli fighter jets flew over Syria into Iraq, then fired so-called “standoff missiles” into Iran for the Isfahan attack. Small, shorter-range drones may have been launched as well — Israel has been able to launch sabotage attacks and other missions inside of Iran.
Still, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani repeated Tehran's denial Monday.
“Relevant authorities have announced that this harassment attack has caused no damage whatsoever and Iran’s defensive system has carried out their duties," Kanaani told journalists at a briefing. "Therefore, in our opinion this issue is not worthy of addressing.”
The S-300 and their years-delayed delivery to Iran show the challenge Tehran faces in getting any foreign-made advance weapon systems into the country. Russia and Iran initially struck a $800 million deal in 2007, but Moscow suspended their delivery three years later because of strong objections from the United States and Israel.
After Iran reached its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, Russia unfroze the deal and is believed to have given Iran four sets of an export variant of the S-300.
The relationship between Iran and Russia has deepened in recent years. Moscow relies heavily on Iran's bomb-carrying Shahed drones to target sites across Ukraine as part of its war on the country. Those same drones featured in Iran's attack on Israel.
Tehran meanwhile has made repeated comments over recent years about trying to obtain Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets from Russia to improve its decades-old fighter fleet. In September, a Russian-made YAK-130 combat trainer aircraft entered service in Iran. That model can be used to train pilots for the Su-35.
Russia now has the S-400, but the S-300 which has a range of up to 200 kilometers (125 miles) and the capability to track down and strike multiple targets simultaneously, remains one of the most-potent air defense weapons in the world. The batteries can be used to shoot down missiles as well as aircraft.
Iran likely needs Russian assistance to repair the damaged radar — and will seek newer weapons as well as time goes on, Grajewski said.
“Iran wants new weapons from Russia all the time – to try to show that it’s not so isolated,” she said.


2 Malaysian Navy Helicopters Collide, 10 Killed

In this photo released by Fire & Rescue Department of Malaysia, fire and rescue department inspect the crash site of two helicopter in Lumur, Perak state, Monday, April 23, 2024. (Terence Tan/Ministry of Communications and Information via AP)
In this photo released by Fire & Rescue Department of Malaysia, fire and rescue department inspect the crash site of two helicopter in Lumur, Perak state, Monday, April 23, 2024. (Terence Tan/Ministry of Communications and Information via AP)
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2 Malaysian Navy Helicopters Collide, 10 Killed

In this photo released by Fire & Rescue Department of Malaysia, fire and rescue department inspect the crash site of two helicopter in Lumur, Perak state, Monday, April 23, 2024. (Terence Tan/Ministry of Communications and Information via AP)
In this photo released by Fire & Rescue Department of Malaysia, fire and rescue department inspect the crash site of two helicopter in Lumur, Perak state, Monday, April 23, 2024. (Terence Tan/Ministry of Communications and Information via AP)

Two Malaysian navy helicopters collided in mid-air and crashed during a rehearsal for a naval parade on Tuesday, killing all 10 crew members aboard, the navy said.
The incident occurred at the Lumut naval base in the western state of Perak at 9.32 a.m. on Tuesday morning (0132 GMT), the navy said.
"All victims were confirmed dead at the scene and sent to the Lumut naval base military hospital for identification," the navy said.
A video circulating on local media showed several helicopters flying in formation, when one of the choppers' rotor clipped another before both aircraft crashed into the ground. Local police confirmed the footage was genuine.
The navy said it would carry out an investigation into the cause of the accident.

Seven crew members were aboard the AW139 maritime operation helicopter, the navy said. That aircraft is produced by AgustaWestland, which is a subsidiary of the Italian defense contractor Leonardo. Three other crew members were on a Fennec lightweight helicopter, manufactured by European multinational defense conglomerate Airbus.

Defense Minister Mohamed Khaled Nordin said the aircraft were rehearsing for a parade celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Royal Malaysian Navy, due to be held on Saturday.
Efforts were underway to verify the identities of the crew members killed, all of whom were below the age of 40, Mohamed Khaled told reporters.


Israel Planned Bigger Attack on Iran, but Scaled it Back to Avoid War

This satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows the dual-use civilian airport and air base in Isfahan, Iran, Thursday, April 18, 2024. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)
This satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows the dual-use civilian airport and air base in Isfahan, Iran, Thursday, April 18, 2024. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)
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Israel Planned Bigger Attack on Iran, but Scaled it Back to Avoid War

This satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows the dual-use civilian airport and air base in Isfahan, Iran, Thursday, April 18, 2024. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)
This satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows the dual-use civilian airport and air base in Isfahan, Iran, Thursday, April 18, 2024. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

By Ronen Bergman and Patrick Kingsley

Israel abandoned plans for a much more extensive counterstrike on Iran after concerted diplomatic pressure from the United States and other foreign allies and because the brunt of an Iranian assault on Israel soil had been thwarted, according to three senior Israeli officials.

Israeli leaders originally discussed bombarding several military targets across Iran last week, including near Tehran, the Iranian capital, in retaliation for the Iranian strike on April 13, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the sensitive discussions.

Such a broad and damaging attack would have been far harder for Iran to overlook, increasing the chances of a forceful Iranian counterattack that could have brought the Middle East to the brink of a major regional conflict.

In the end — after President Biden, along with the British and German foreign ministers, urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to prevent a wider war — Israel opted for a more limited strike on Friday that avoided significant damage, diminishing the likelihood of an escalation, at least for now.

Still, in the view of Israeli officials, the attack showed Iran the breadth and sophistication of Israel’s military arsenal.

Instead of sending fighter jets into Iranian airspace, Israel fired a small number of missiles from aircraft positioned several hundred miles west of it on Friday, according to the Israeli officials and two senior Western officials briefed on the attack. Israel also sent small attack drones, known as quadcopters, to confuse Iranian air defenses, according to the Israeli officials.

Military facilities in Iran have been attacked by such drones several times in recent years, and on several occasions Iran has said it did not know who the drones belonged to — a claim interpreted as Iranian reluctance to respond.

One missile on Friday hit an antiaircraft battery in a strategically important part of central Iran, while another exploded in midair, the officials said. One Israeli official said that the Israeli Air Force intentionally destroyed the second missile once it became clear that the first had reached its target, to avoid causing too much damage. One Western official said it was possible the missile had simply malfunctioned.

The officials said Israel’s intention was to allow Iran to move on without responding in kind, while signaling that Israel had developed the ability to strike Iran without entering its airspace or even setting off its air defense batteries. Israel also hoped to show that it could hit those batteries in a part of central Iran that houses several major nuclear facilities, including an uranium enrichment site at Natanz, hinting that it could have also reached those facilities if it had tried.

The Israeli military declined to comment.

The path to this attack began on April 1, when Israel struck an Iranian embassy complex in Damascus, Syria, killing seven Iranian officials, including three senior military leaders. Iran had not retaliated after several similar strikes in the past, leading Israeli officials, they say, to believe that they could continue to mount such attacks without drawing a significant Iranian response.

This time proved different: Within a week, Iran began privately signaling to neighbors and foreign diplomats that its patience had reached a limit, and that it would respond with a major strike on Israel — its first ever direct attack on Israeli soil.

During the week of April 8, Israel began preparing two major military responses, according to the Israeli officials.

The first was a defensive operation to block the expected Iranian attack, coordinated with the US Central Command — its top commander, Gen. Michael E. Kurilla, visited Israel that week — as well as with militaries of allied countries.

The second was a huge offensive operation to be carried out if the Iranian strike materialized. Initially, Israeli intelligence believed that Iran planned to attack with a “swarm” of large drones and up to 10 ballistic missiles, the Israeli officials said. As the week progressed, that estimate grew to 60 missiles, heightening Israeli desire for a strong counterattack.

Israel’s military and political leaders began discussing a counterstrike that could begin as soon as Iran began firing the drones — even before it was known how much damage, if any, they caused. According to one official, the plan was presented to Israel’s war cabinet by the military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, and his Air Force chief, Tomer Bar, early on Friday, April 12 — two days before Iran’s attack.

Israel’s intentions changed after Iran attacked, the officials said. The attack was even bigger than expected: With more than 100 ballistic missiles, 170 drones and some 30 cruise missiles, it was one of the largest barrages of this kind in military history.

But Israel’s defense, in coordination with several countries, took down most of the missiles and drones, and there was only limited damage on the ground, reducing the need for a swift response. And there were questions about whether Israel should risk taking its focus off defense while the assault was still underway, two officials said.

The turning point, however, was an early-morning phone call between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Mr. Biden, during which the American president encouraged the Israeli leader to treat the successful defense as a victory that required no further response, according to three Israeli and Western officials, who described those discussions on the condition of anonymity. Mr. Netanyahu emerged from the call opposed to an immediate retaliation, the Israelis said.

The following day, the Israeli government began signaling to foreign allies that it still planned to respond, but only in a contained way that fell far short of what it had previously planned, according to one of the senior Western officials.

Instead of a broad counterattack that might leave Iran’s leaders believing they had no option but to respond in kind, Israeli officials said, they settled on a plan that they hoped would make a point to Iranian officials without publicly humiliating them.

They initially planned the attack for Monday night, the Israeli officials said, pulling out at the last minute amid fears that Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese militia that has been engaged in a low-level conflict with Israel since October, might significantly increase the intensity of its strikes on northern Israel.

Foreign officials continued, without success, to encourage Israel not to respond at all, then signaled their willingness to accept an Israeli attack that left Iran with the option of moving on without losing face, according to an Israeli and a Western official.

After Israel finally carried out its attack early on Friday morning, Iranian officials did exactly that — focusing on the small drones rather than the missiles and dismissing their impact.

Officials in Tehran also largely avoided blaming Israel for the assault. That, coupled with Israel’s own decision not to claim responsibility for it, helped to reduce the risk of an escalation.

The New York Times


Columbia Lets Students Attend Class Online amid Growing Campus Protests over Israel’s War in Gaza

FILE - Police in Riot gear stand guard as demonstrators chant slogans outside the Columbia University campus, Thursday, April 18, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)
FILE - Police in Riot gear stand guard as demonstrators chant slogans outside the Columbia University campus, Thursday, April 18, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)
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Columbia Lets Students Attend Class Online amid Growing Campus Protests over Israel’s War in Gaza

FILE - Police in Riot gear stand guard as demonstrators chant slogans outside the Columbia University campus, Thursday, April 18, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)
FILE - Police in Riot gear stand guard as demonstrators chant slogans outside the Columbia University campus, Thursday, April 18, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

Columbia University's main campus will switch to hybrid learning — giving students the option to attend classes online rather than in person — for the rest of the semester amid protests over Israel's war with Hamas that have roiled colleges across the US.

Some students have said they are afraid to set foot on Columbia’s campus with tensions running high.

“Safety is our highest priority as we strive to support our students’ learning and all the required academic operations,” the Ivy League university's provost, Angela V. Olinto, and chief operating officer, Cas Holloway, said in a statement late Monday.

The move comes as schools across the country, many of which have about two weeks of classes left before the semester ends, grapple with how to handle similar protests. Since the war began, colleges and universities have struggled to balance safety with free speech rights. Many long tolerated protests but are now doling out more heavy-handed discipline.

Tensions have risen since more than 100 pro-Palestinian demonstrators who had camped out on Columbia’s upper Manhattan campus were arrested last week.

The arrests sparked renewed anti-war protests and encampments, including at New York University a few miles south of Columbia, where an encampment swelled to hundreds of protesters and police made arrests Monday night.

A New York Police Department spokesperson said 133 protesters were taken into custody at NYU, and that all of them had been released with summonses to appear in court on disorderly conduct charges. University spokesperson John Beckman said NYU was carrying on with classes Tuesday.

Across the country, California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt, announced that its campus will be closed through Wednesday after demonstrators occupied a building Monday night. Classes were to be conducted remotely, the school said on its website.

At the University of Michigan, protesters had set up more than 30 tents on the central part of the Ann Arbor campus called the Diag.

The protests have pitted students against one another, with pro-Palestinian students demanding that their schools condemn Israel’s assault on Gaza and divest from companies that sell weapons to Israel. Some Jewish students, meanwhile, say much of the criticism of Israel has veered into antisemitism.

As Donald Trump walked into a Manhattan courtroom Tuesday morning to attend his historic hush money trial, he spoke briefly to reporters and focused on the turmoil at college campuses, blaming President Joe Biden.

“What’s going on is a disgrace to our country and it’s all Biden’s fault,” Trump said.

A day earlier, when asked whether he condemned “the antisemitic protests," Biden said he did.

“I also condemn those who don’t understand what’s going on with the Palestinians,” Biden said after an Earth Day event outside Washington.

Columbia University President Minouche Shafik said in a message to the school community Monday that she was “deeply saddened” by what was happening on the campus.

“To deescalate the rancor and give us all a chance to consider next steps, I am announcing that all classes will be held virtually on Monday,” Shafik wrote, noting that students who didn't live on campus should stay away.

Robert Kraft, who owns the New England Patriots football team and funded the Kraft Center for Jewish Student Life across from Columbia’s campus, said he was suspending donations to the university.

“I am no longer confident that Columbia can protect its students and staff and I am not comfortable supporting the university until corrective action is taken,” he said in a statement.

Campus protests began after Hamas’ deadly attack on southern Israel, when fighters killed about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took roughly 250 hostages. During the ensuing war, Israel has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, according to the local health ministry, which doesn’t distinguish between combatants and noncombatants but says at least two-thirds of the dead are children and women.


North Korean Leader Leads Rocket Drills

A photo released by the official North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) overseeing a simulated nuclear counterattack drill at an undisclosed location, North Korea, 22 April 2024 (issued 23 April 2024). EPA/KCNA
A photo released by the official North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) overseeing a simulated nuclear counterattack drill at an undisclosed location, North Korea, 22 April 2024 (issued 23 April 2024). EPA/KCNA
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North Korean Leader Leads Rocket Drills

A photo released by the official North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) overseeing a simulated nuclear counterattack drill at an undisclosed location, North Korea, 22 April 2024 (issued 23 April 2024). EPA/KCNA
A photo released by the official North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) overseeing a simulated nuclear counterattack drill at an undisclosed location, North Korea, 22 April 2024 (issued 23 April 2024). EPA/KCNA

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervised salvo launches of the country’s “super-large” multiple rocket launchers that simulated a nuclear counterattack against enemy targets, state media said Tuesday.

The report by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency came a day after the South Korean and Japanese militaries detected the North firing what they suspected were multiple short-range ballistic missiles from a region near its capital, Pyongyang, toward its eastern seas.

Analysts say North Korea’s large-sized artillery rockets blur the boundary between artillery systems and ballistic missiles because they can create their own thrust and are guided during delivery. The North has described some of these systems, including the 600mm multiple rocket launchers that were tested Monday, as capable of delivering tactical nuclear warheads.

KCNA said Monday’s launches represented the first demonstration of the country’s nuclear-weapons management and control system called “Haekbangashoe,” or “nuclear trigger.” The report described the drill as aimed at demonstrating the strength and diverse attack means of North Korea’s nuclear forces amid deepening tensions with the United States and South Korea, which it portrayed as “warmongers” raising tensions in the region with their combined military exercises.

State media photos showed at least four rockets being fired from launch vehicles as Kim watched from an observation post. It said the rockets flew 352 kilometers (218 miles) before accurately hitting an island target and that the drill verified the reliability of the “system of command, management, control and operation of the whole nuclear force.”

KCNA said Kim expressed satisfaction, saying that the multiple rocket launchers were as accurate as a “sniper’s rifle.”
He said the drill was crucial for “preparing our nuclear force to be able to rapidly and correctly carry out their important mission of deterring a war and taking the initiative in a war in any time and any sudden situation.”

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the weapons from Monday’s launches flew about 300 kilometers (185 miles) before crashing in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. The ranges suggested the weapons would likely target sites in South Korea.

The latest launches came as South and the United States have been conducting a two-week combined aerial exercise that continues through Friday aimed at sharpening their response capabilities against North Korean threats.


EU Foreign Ministers Agree to Expand Iran Sanctions

A general view shows the Milad Telecommunications Tower in Iran's capital Tehran on April 19, 2024. (AFP)
A general view shows the Milad Telecommunications Tower in Iran's capital Tehran on April 19, 2024. (AFP)
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EU Foreign Ministers Agree to Expand Iran Sanctions

A general view shows the Milad Telecommunications Tower in Iran's capital Tehran on April 19, 2024. (AFP)
A general view shows the Milad Telecommunications Tower in Iran's capital Tehran on April 19, 2024. (AFP)

EU foreign ministers agreed in principle on Monday to expand sanctions on Iran following Tehran's missile and drone attack on Israel, the bloc's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.

The European Union already has multiple sanctions programs against Iran, for the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, human rights abuses and supplying drones to Russia.

But several EU countries had called for widening the drone-related sanctions regime to cover missiles and transfers to proxy forces.

"We have reached a political agreement in order to enlarge and expand the existing drone (sanctions) regime in order to cover missiles and their potential ... transfer to Russia," Borrell told reporters after a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg.

The sanctions would also be expanded beyond Russia to cover drone and missile deliveries not only to Russia but also to proxies in the region, he said.

More work will need to follow to approve a legal framework before the expansion of the sanctions can take effect.