FBI, POLICE INVESTIGATING BOSTON CHABAD FIRES AS POSSIBLE HATE

The incidents have aroused deep concern and condemnation.
The FBI, state and local police, and other agencies are investigating three separate fires last week at two Chabad centers in Boston as possible hate crimes.

The first fire occurred last Saturday at the Chabad Center for Jewish Life Arlington-Belmont in Arlington, a Boston suburb, but did little damage and was put out easily.

Last Thursday, a second fire started at the same location, and then approximately an hour later another fire started about 12 miles away at the Chabad Jewish Center in Needham.

The Chabad Center in Arlington is run by Rabbi Avi Bukiet and his wife, Luna, who said that despite the fires Shabbat services were expected to take place as usual.

Local and state law enforcement and fire officials are coordinating their investigations, including the possibility that the fires are hate crimes.

The Needham Chabad is the residence of Rabbi Mendy Krinsky and his family. No one was hurt in the fires and the damage was minimal.

According to ABC affiliate WCVB-TV, agents from the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the Massachusetts State Police are all investigating the fires as possible hate crimes, while the US Attorney’s Office in Boston is coordinating the response.

Arlington Police Department Acting Chief Julie Flaherty said at a news conference on Friday that the fires, set on the shingles on the outside of both homes, were similar in nature.

“We can’t rule out that they are connected,” Flaherty said, standing among more than 15 local and state officials, the Bukiets, other Chabad leaders and representatives from Boston’s Jewish community.

Needham Police Chief John Schlittler said his town’s investigation was being conducted in coordination with the state police. One local media outlet reported that the state’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, which includes federal agents, is assisting in the investigation.

A $15,000 reward was announced by Robert Trestan, director of the New England office of the Anti-Defamation League, adding to a $5,000 reward by the state’s fire marshal, for information that leads to a conviction in the fires.

“It is important for this to be resolved quickly,” Trestan urged, saying that the attacks are not just on Jewish houses of worship but on the rabbis’ homes.

Earlier in the day, Chanie Krensky of the Needham Chabad Center described on Facebook her fright when she smelled smoke outside her home and how Rabbi Krensky extinguished the fire before the fire alarm was set off.

“Somebody out there wants to hurt us just because we exist, and that is frightening. Hate can’t be reasoned with. Hate just needs to be eradicated. A little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness,” she wrote.

“The Jewish community is unified,” Jeremy Burton, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, said at the Friday news conference.

State Police Spokesman David Procopio confirmed that his agency’s Fire Investigation Unit and Fusion Center were assisting in the investigation, as are troopers and federal agents assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

Sen. Warren said that the attacks were “meant to inspire fear in places of worship and joy. But we won’t let that happen. By coming together to stand against antisemitism and other forms of bigotry, our communities will only grow stronger.”

Rep. Kennedy said on Twitter, “Although acts of antisemitism and intimidation won’t deter the Jewish spirit of kindness and empathy, this violence must end. Standing with the Needham and Arlington Jewish communities today.”

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WAR GAMES WITH GAZA

‘We feel like we’re dealing with two little kids in a kindergarten,’ say the Egyptians.

Early May witnessed the most lethal and unnecessary round of the violent exchange of fire between Gaza and Israel since the last war. The facts illustrate this better than anything else.

In the 57 months that elapsed since the war in the summer of 2014 known as Operation Protective Edge, not a single Israeli citizen was killed. In the short battle in May, which lasted 60 hours, four Israeli civilians died from rockets and some 30 Palestinians from air bombardment.

In the 50 days of Protective Edge, Hamas and the smaller Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) fired 4,500 rockets. In the two and a half days in May, they launched 700 rockets.

The two terror groups – new Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi calls them “Terror Armies” – used new war toys in the battle. It is clear that they possess more rockets than Israeli intelligence knew about.

It is now estimated that Hamas and PIJ have around 15,000 rockets, mostly self-manufactured in secret workshops and assembly lines in Gaza, some of them built underground.

The warheads are heavier and the rockets’ range extends to 150 kilometers (more than 90 miles) and can now reach Tel Aviv and further north. Hamas has worked hard utilizing local engineers and technicians, as well as know-how acquired in Iran and Malaysia to improve its accuracy.

Hamas operators showed an impressive ability to fire barrages of rockets simultaneously in order to confuse Israel’s air defense. In one instance, more than 100 rockets were launched within one hour directed at Iron Dome batteries.

Hamas also has small naval commando and anti-aircraft units, a fleet of drones and copters, and a cyber department. True, these are in their inception. Nevertheless, all of them were used in the battle, though obviously no match for the mighty military machine of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

Before the last round, the IDF psychological warfare department, which is part of Military Intelligence, tried to create a wedge between Hamas and the PIJ by spreading information and rumors accusing PIJ of plotting and operating against Israel behind Hamas’s back.

But it turned out that during the recent clashes, the two groups worked very closely together from a joint command room, showing a high level of coordination, command and control, and a sense of common cause.

All in all, it is evident that Hamas and PIJ to a lesser degree are upgrading and improving their military capabilities and drawing lessons and conclusions from their past failures.

The IDF, for its part, also upended its attitude. It renewed the use of targeted killing, bombed Hamas-PIJ bunkers and command posts in the center of Gaza City, and exerted strong force in order to shock the enemy. It was brinkmanship. The instructions from the cabinet and Gen. Kochavi to the troops were: “Hit hard, but don’t cross the line! We don’t want to be dragged into an all out war.”

Since the two sides didn’t exchange messages during the battles, and they only conversed in fire, Hamas had to interpret Israel’s true intentions by itself. In such circumstances, the margins of error and miscalculation are high.

Yet a full-scale war didn’t erupt. Hamas and PIJ demonstrated restraint and decided not to launch rockets against Tel Aviv, knowing the importance and the symbolic value of the city, which is considered as the beating heart of Israel.

Hamas didn’t want to be dragged into a war during the month of Ramadan, the most important holiday in the Muslim world. Israel was on the eve of its 71st Independence Day and in exciting preparations for the Eurovision, an international song contest. Neither side wanted to ruin its own parties.

No wonder Gaza and Israel wanted a quick ceasefire, brokered as usual by Egyptian intelligence with a little help from Qatar. The round of hostilities was redundant because it changed nothing. The two sides stand exactly in the same spot where they were before it.

In the weeks since the end of this round, the two sides have been engaged in a war of propaganda in which they have tried to convince public opinion at home and abroad that they won and the enemy lost. But it seems neither Israelis nor Gazans believe their government’s propaganda. It is even more evident in Israel. The most ardent supporters of the right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also know very well that Israeli deterrence suffered a major blow in the May clashes.

The sheer fact that Hamas and PIJ didn’t hesitate to challenge the IDF by launching hundreds of rockets is ultimate proof that while they may acknowledge Israeli superiority, they don’t fear Israel’s response and retaliation.

Their fearless approach derives from the asymmetrical realities of the two sides. Hamas exploits its limited military strength to the maximum to achieve a political goal. Its aim is to lift the Israeli blockade imposed on land, sea and air. Hamas aspires to improve the unbearable standards of living of the two million Palestinians who live in poverty, with undrinkable water, a constant shortage of electricity and a nearly 50% rate of unemployment.

Hamas leaders, especially Yahya Sinwar, who served more than 20 years in an Israeli prison, know very well that they rule on the edge of a volcano. They know that the Gaza population is frustrated and angry, and may turn against them similar to the way in which the Arab masses got rid of or turned against their own governments in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Syria.

Hamas is more worried about its survival and the possible reaction of its people than Israeli guns. Thus, the group’s leadership seeks to do everything it can to change the miserable reality of Gaza.

The Israeli government, on the other hand, has no clear strategy or long-term diplomatic goals. Already 57 months ago in the indirect, proximity talks in Cairo between Israeli security officials and their Hamas-PIJ counterparts, moderated by Egyptian intelligence, major understandings were agreed upon.

It was understood that Israel would lift its blockade, Gaza would be rehabilitated and rebuilt with new neighborhoods, a water desalination plant, an electricity power station and sewer projects, to be financed by Qatar and the international community.

Israel even hinted that at the end of the rehabilitation process, it would agree to the construction of a sea port and airport. In return, Hamas and PIJ agreed to sign a long-term (five or maybe more years) sustainable ceasefire without recognizing the right of Israel to exist, but with a promise to restrain all the other small renegade terrorist organizations operating in Gaza.

During the negotiations in 2014, the two sides also talked about the possibility of demilitarizing Gaza – but without any firm commitment by the Gazan representatives.

Very little of what was negotiated there and then materialized. Hamas and PIJ honored the ceasefire for three and a half years. Israel opened two border crossings to allow a flow of basic goods to Gaza and extended fishing waters to 12 nautical miles for Palestinian fishermen.

Realizing that all the other promises were not kept, Hamas and PIJ embarked on a new path, employing tactical measures to break the diplomatic stalemate. They sent thousands of people to protest, demonstrate and occasionally to break and damage the new border fence and underground barrier of 66 kilometers that Israel is constructing to encompass the Strip. They launched arson kites, which set fires and burned Israeli fields along the border and, from time to time, renewed launching rockets in small numbers.

Israel responded by sniper fire and air strikes, killing some 250 Palestinians. To restore tranquility, senior Egyptian intelligence officials, including its chief, Gen. Abbas Kamel, traveled back and forth between Cairo-Gaza and Tel Aviv, and met with Hamas leaders and the heads of Israel’s intelligence community.

All brokered ceasefires were short-lived and broken after a few days or weeks. The two sides have found themselves time and again rolling forward and then backward to the starting point. And this is exactly where they are once again right now.

While the Hamas position is clear and its aims well-known, it is difficult to read Netanyahu and understand what motivates him. As reported here by this writer in several articles, Netanyahu’s long-term strategy seems to be to prevent the creation of one unified Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. He no longer talks about the “two-state solution.” In order to achieve his goal, he is trying to divide the Palestinians into two separate entities – one in Gaza and one in the West Bank, both of which will have limited autonomy.

This is why Netanyahu is weakening the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank by depriving it of a significant portion of its own tax monies collected by Israel. At the same time, he allows Qatar to transfer a monthly “ransom” of $30 million to Gaza, part of which goes to Hamas, enabling it to produce rockets and other armaments. No wonder that his critics, including from within his ruling Likud party and the cabinet, call it “blood money” or “protection money” and blame Netanyahu for surrendering to terror.

The mystery surrounding Netanyahu’s approach is even more difficult to understand since it seems to contradict his own long-term goals. If he wishes to divide and rule, it should be in his interest to help Gaza and its people lead as normal a life as possible. However, by refusing to reach a long-term solution with Hamas he only aggravates the situation.

Not only Hamas understands this reality but so does Egypt. Western diplomatic sources involved in the efforts to reach a comprehensive solution told me that they had heard Egyptian officials express their frustration.

“We feel like we’re dealing with two little kids in a kindergarten,” they cited the Egyptians as saying.

Surely it’s also an Egyptian national interest that Gaza will remain calm. Egypt and Israel are strong allies and, as President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi admitted in an interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes a few months ago, have enhanced their military and intelligence cooperation in the war against ISIS in Sinai.

“But,” as the Egyptian officials remarked, “with all our best intentions and good services, we are getting tired of Netanyahu’s games.”

It is clear to all involved parties that if – in a matter of weeks after Netanyahu forms his new cabinet – a comprehensive long-term agreement is not achieved soon by Israel and Hamas, a new war will break out once again – with one exception.

This time it will be much more violent. Thousands of casualties can be expected on both sides with great damage to buildings and property. And there is the strong possibility that in the eventuality of a new war, the IDF will have no choice but to conquer Gaza, which its commanders are against as are as the majority of Israelis.

California will get snow and possibly two months worth of rain from back-to-back-to-back ‘atmospheric rivers’

(CNN) — California is on track to get more rain in a week than it sees in two months, all from unseasonal storm systems rolling through.
The National Weather Service’s San Francisco office said that through May 22 the state is expected to get 150-200% of its normal monthly rainfall.
It’s all thanks to a series of “atmospheric rivers” that will set up over the Pacific Ocean, moving into California.

Atmospheric rivers suck up water vapor from the ocean, transport it along narrow regions in the atmosphere and then dump precipitation in massive amounts on land, supercharging storm systems.
Water vapor satellite imagery shows the atmospheric river flowing across the Pacific into California early Thursday morning.

The second of three “rivers” is setting up still offshore, but it’ll start bringing rain and snow to California on Friday through Saturday. Then a third system, albeit weaker, will move through the state next Wednesday to help push precipitation totals over record amounts.

Expected high winds won’t help travel conditions either and are likely to cause power outages and down trees.
These storms are unusual because they normally happen in winter. In fact, atmospheric rivers are responsible for pulling much of California and Arizona out of drought.
The first atmospheric river moved through on Wednesday and is already dissipating. Before it did, it set daily rainfall records across the state.
Venado, California, got 5 inches in one day, making it the wettest day in May in its history. The previous record for the northern California town was 3.28 inches on May 18, 2005.

We must stand with Israel as rockets fly

Last week, Israel was pounded by what seemed like an endless stream of rocket attacks. The explosions and bloodshed serve as a reminder that our ally is an island of freedom in a sea of turmoil. Now, as always, the only flourishing democracy in the Middle East needs our unwavering support.

President Trump, thankfully, has expressed that the United States is firmly committed to Israel: “Once again, Israel faces a barrage of deadly rocket attacks by terrorist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad. We support Israel 100% in its defense of its citizens…”

Last year the president made a decision past presidents — despite promising to do so — had been too timid to make, to uphold the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 and officially move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. This week marks the one-year celebration of the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, a historic event.

Trump’s decision not only strengthened the United States’ relationship with our closest ally in the Middle East, but it signaled to the international community that America has new leadership willing to keep promises and to act boldly in the best interest of the American people and the world, rather than cave to the demands of terrorists and dictators.

What a relief to know Israel and the United States stand together! We must remember if the outcome of the 2016 election had been different, America’s support for Israel may not have been so certain.

Imagine what would become of our country — and of Israel — if voters didn’t bring their Judeo-Christian values to bear on the next elections! We cannot afford to wait to put our strategy into place. We must roll up our sleeves and act now to reach and equip faith voters with the right information to cast their ballot.

Dozens of tornadoes reported in Nebraska, Kansas as severe weather slams central US

All modes of severe weather will be possible through the weekend as a vigorous storm system plows into the central United States, threatening at least 18 states and over 40 million residents. Large hail, tornadoes, life-threatening flash flooding and damaging winds cou

There were over 30 preliminary tornado reports in Nebraska and Kansas on Friday and Friday night, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Storm Prediction Center (SPC). These twisters were spawned by two separate violent storms, known as supercells, that tracked for hundreds of miles.

The multi-day severe weather outbreak first got underway Thursday across the parts of Iowa, Illinois and Indiana. Wind gusts of 86 mph were recorded in Washington, Iowa, while hail the size of baseballs fell in Westville, Illinois. A tornado was reported in Sheridan, Illinois, about 50 miles southwest of downtown Chicago. No injuries were reported.

More powerful thunderstorms erupted across the central U.S. on Friday afternoon from western Texas through Nebraska. The strongest of the storms focused on central Nebraska, spinning up several large tornadoes.

Around 5:45 p.m. CDT, a tornado was reported near McCook, Nebraska. SPC reported tree and power line damage along with minor damage to a farm. As the storm tracked northeast, is spun up two tornadoes near Farnam, Nebraska around 7:26 p.m. CDT.

Later in the evening, a tornado was reported near Dodge City, Kansas, tracking just southeast of the city.

“Tornado Alley is certainly waking up with significant severe weather,” Timmer said while breaking down the multi-day outbreak. Earlier this week, he said this is the worst setup for severe weather he has seen in years.

Meanwhile, Blake Naftel, AccuWeather video journalist, intercepted a tornado near the border of Kansas and Oklahoma on Friday evening.

The severe weather setup will be similar on Saturday, but will shift a little farther east. Severe thunderstorms are likely in an expansive area Saturday into Saturday night from central Iowa, much of Missouri and Kansas, eastern Arkansas, Oklahoma and northern and central Texas. Major metro areas like Dallas, Oklahoma City, Kansas City and Des Moines are at risk on Saturday.

By Sunday, the threat for damaging storms will continue to push eastward into the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley.

A new severe thunderstorm watch has been issued for portions of southeast Nebraska and northeast Kansas as severe weather dangers continue overnight. While damaging winds, hail and downpours have become the primary threats with the storms, the risk of a tornado will continue into early Saturday morning.

A brief rope tornado was spotted near the Barton-Stafford County line 6 miles south of Great Bend, Kansas, according to a National Weather Service trained spotter.

A confirmed tornado continues to track across central Kansas northeast of Dodge City. This continues to be a particularly dangerous situation.

A wind gust of 76 mph was clocked at Russell, Kansas, as a line of powerful thunderstorms moved through the town.

A confirmed tornado is located just south of Dodge City, Kansas, and is tracking toward the northeast. People in and east of Dodge City should seek shelter until the storm has passed.

Three more tornadoes touched down within the hour of the tornado near Farnam, Nebraska.

The first occurred near the Oklahoma-Kansas border between Forgan, Oklahoma, and Meade, Kansas, around 7: 35 p.m. CDT.

About 20 minutes later at 7:54 p.m. CDT, a large tornado touched down just north of Cozad, Nebraska. The SPC reports the tornado kicking up dust and debris.

Another tornado from the same storm that spun up the tornado near McCook briefly touched down near Farnam, Nebraska around 7:26 p.m. CDT. It downed trees and power lines, and local law enforcement has blocked off certain roads according to the SPC.

US warns commercial flights near Persian Gulf could be ‘misidentified,’

An Iranian commander says even their short-range missiles can reach warships in the Persian Gulf; Jennifer Griffin reports from the Pentagon.

Commercial airliners flying over the wider Persian Gulf could be “misidentified” and targeted amid the increasing escalation between the U.S. and Iran, American diplomats said in a warning Saturday.

The warning, relayed by U.S. diplomatic posts from the Federal Aviation Administration, stressed that the current tensions, with Iran-backed militias reportedly moving missiles closer to American bases in Iraq, are posing a risk to global air travel.

All commercial aircraft flying over the waters of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman need to be aware of the ongoing escalation, the warning reads, adding that the threat presents “an increasing inadvertent risk to U.S. civil aviation operations due to the potential for miscalculation or misidentification,” the warning said.

It also advised that aircraft could experience interference with its navigation instruments and communications jamming “with little to no warning.”

The notice comes amid heightened tensions between the two countries. The Trump administration recently ordered warships and bombers to the region to counter the supposed threat from Iran that forced the U.S. earlier this week to pull all non-essential U.S. government personnel from Iraq.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Iraqi top brass that Iran-backed militias have moved their missiles closer to bases housing Americans.

Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani, a commander of Iran’s extraterritorial military operations Quds Force, meanwhile, met in recent weeks with the militias and told them to “prepare for proxy war,” the Guardian reported.

“Iran or its proxies” were also blamed by the U.S. for targeting four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, while Iran-aligned rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for a drone attack on a crucial Saudi oil pipeline, prompting the Saudis to call on the U.S. to carry out strikes against the Iranian regime.

Other countries soon followed the threat assessment of the U.S., with Britain raising threat levels for its troops in Iraq on Thursday. Both Germany and the Netherlands suspended a training mission in Iraq.

President Trump says he hopes U.S. is not on a path to war with IranVideo
But President Trump on Tuesday appeared to downplay the escalation and denied the reports that his administration was planning to send more than 100,000 troops to the region in the wake of heightened tensions in the region.

“If we did that, we’d send a hell of a lot more troops than that,” he said.

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Zarif, on Thursday deemed new sanctions imposed by the Trump administration as “unacceptable” but noted that the country is committed to the nuclear deal.

“We believe that escalation by the United States is unacceptable and uncalled for. We have exercised maximum restraints,” he said during a visit to Japan.

In Landmark Vote, Same-Sex Marriage Now Legal In Taiwan

In a landmark decision, the parliament of Taiwan has voted to legalize gay marriage. Not only is it the first legislative body in Asia to do so but the BBC also reports that lawmakers have approved the most “progressive” of three potential bills.

“It’s a very important moment, but we are going to keep on fighting. We are Taiwanese and we want this important value for our country, for our future,” said Jennifer Lu, who is the chief coordinator of the rights group Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan.

What Led to This
In 2017, Taiwan’s constitutional court ruled to legalize gay marriage and gave the government a two-year deadline for doing so. May 24th was the day by which lawmakers had to approve changes; otherwise, says The Washington Post, same-sex marriage would have been legalized automatically.

In a series of referendums in November 2018, Taiwanese voters were asked whether marriage should continue to be defined as between one man and one woman or whether it should include gay couples. Voters overwhelmingly voted against same-sex marriage. Out of about 10.5 million votes, over 7.6 million were in favor of marriage continuing to be defined as between one man and one woman.

Yet even before those votes came in, the government said that the referendums would not sway the fact that, per the court’s ruling, it would legalize same-sex marriage. Some feared, however, that the population’s disapproval of gay marriage would result in the legislature passing a more restrictive bill.

But the approved bill, which passed by a vote of 66 to 27, was the most generous in terms of the rights it allows. It is the only one of the three that used the term “marriage” (versus “union” or “relationship”) and it provides for some adoption rights for gay couples. It does not, however, protect Taiwanese nationals who wish to marry people from countries that have not legalized gay mariage. Jennifer Lu told the BBC, “I’m very surprised – but also very happy. It’s a very important moment in my life. However, it’s still not full marriage rights; we still need to fight for co-adoption rights, and we are not sure about foreigner and Taiwanese marriage, and also gender equality education.”

One result the 2018 referendum did have was to lead lawmakers not to alter the definition of marriage as defined in its civil law, but to create a special, separate law instead. According to The Washington Post, “Taiwan’s new law grants same-sex couples the right to marry outside its civil code, which governs marriage rights for heterosexual couples.” The purpose of this decision was to comply with the constitutional court’s ruling as well as to acknowledge the voters’ wishes as seen in the referendum.

Many are celebrating the decision, including Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen. On the day of the decision, she tweeted, “Today, we have a chance to make history & show the world that progressive values can take root in an East Asian society.”

Good morning #Taiwan. Today, we have a chance to make history & show the world that progressive values can take root in an East Asian society.

After the ruling was announced, the president posted another tweet, saying, “We took a big step towards true equality, and made Taiwan a better country.”

One of the reasons Taiwan’s decision is significant is because of how conservative cultures in Asia tend to be. For example, same-sex marriage is illegal in China. Same-sex marriage celebrations were illegal in Vietnam until 2015, and gay sex was illegal in India until 2018.

Gay rights supporters, as reported by the BBC, hope that Taiwan will become a trailblazer for other governing bodies in Asia: “Taiwan’s action today should sound a clarion call, kicking off a larger movement across Asia to ensure equality for LGBT people.”