Archive for January 10, 2019

Pompeo repudiates Obama Mideast policy, takes aim at Iran

January 10, 2019

Source: Pompeo repudiates Obama Mideast policy, takes aim at Iran | The Times of Israel

In Cairo, top US diplomat credits Trump with reversing ‘our willful blindness to danger of Iran,’ accuses ex-president of ‘looking the other way’ as Hezbollah stockpiled missiles

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the media at the US Embassy compound in the Iraqi capital Baghdad after his tour around Irbil in the Kurdish autonomous region of northern Iraq on January 9, 2019. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool Photo via AP)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the media at the US Embassy compound in the Iraqi capital Baghdad after his tour around Irbil in the Kurdish autonomous region of northern Iraq on January 9, 2019. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool Photo via AP)

CAIRO — US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a scathing rebuke of the Obama administration’s Mideast policies on Thursday as he denounced the former president for “misguided” and “wishful” thinking that diminished America’s role in the region, harmed its longtime friends and emboldened its main foe: Iran.

In a speech to the American University in Cairo, Pompeo unloaded on US President Donald Trump’s predecessor for being naive and timid when confronted with challenges posed by the revolts that convulsed the Middle East, including Egypt, beginning in 2011. Pompeo laid the blame notably on a vision outlined by President Barack Obama in a speech he gave in Cairo in 2009 in which he spoke of “a new beginning” for US relations with countries in the Arab and Muslim world.

“Remember: It was here, here in this very city, another American stood before you,” Pompeo told an invited audience of Egyptian officials, foreign diplomats and students. “He told you that radical Islamist terrorism does not stem from ideology. He told you 9/11 led my country to abandon its ideals, particularly in the Middle East. He told you that the United States and the Muslim world needed ‘a new beginning.’ The results of these misjudgments have been dire.”

“In falsely seeing ourselves as a force for what ails the Middle East, we were timid about asserting ourselves when the times — and our partners — demanded it,” Pompeo said, without mentioning the former president by name.

Pompeo blamed the previous administration’s approach to the Mideast for the ills that consume it now, particularly the rise of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria and Iran’s increasing assertiveness, which he said was a direct result of sanctions relief, since rescinded by the Trump administration, granted to it under the 2015 nuclear deal.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, second right, and his wife Susan, right, are greeted by Egypt’s Assistant Foreign Minister For North and South American Affairs Reda Habeeb Ibrahim Zaki, second from left, and Charge d’Affaires for the US Embassy in Egypt, Tom Goldberger, left, as they arrive at Cairo International Airport in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, January 9, 2019. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool Photo via AP)

He criticized Obama for ignoring the growth of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon to the detriment of Israel’s security and not doing enough to push back on Iran-supported rebels in Yemen.

“America’s penchant for wishful thinking led us to look the other way as Hezbollah, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Iranian regime, accumulated a massive arsenal of approximately 130,000 rockets and missiles,” he says during a speech in Cairo.

“That arsenal is aimed squarely at our ally Israel.”

Since Trump’s election, however, Pompeo said this was all changing.

“The good news is this: The age of self-inflicted American shame is over, and so are the policies that produced so much needless suffering,” he said. “Now comes the real ‘new beginning.’ In just 24 months, actually less than two years, the United States under President Trump has reasserted its traditional role as a force for good in this region, because we’ve learned from our mistakes. We have rediscovered our voice. We have rebuilt our relationships. We have rejected false overtures from enemies.”

In the speech entitled “A Force for Good: America’s Reinvigorated Role in the Middle East,” Pompeo extolled the Trump administration’s actions across the region cementing ties with traditional, albeit authoritarian governments, taking on the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria and imposing tough new sanctions on Iran.

“President Trump has reversed our willful blindness to the danger of the regime and withdrew from the failed nuclear deal, with its false promises,” Pompeo said. “Countries increasingly understand that we must confront the ayatollahs, not coddle them.”

Pompeo also welcomed Israel’s warming ties with Arab Gulf states as “old rivalries” are put aside to confront Tehran.

“New bonds are taking root that were unimaginable until very recently,” he said, pointing to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s trip last year to the sultanate of Oman, a country with which Israel has no formal ties.

Pompeo also noted a judo competition in Abu Dhabi where for the first time Israeli athletes were able to compete under the Israeli flag.

“It was also the first time an Israeli culture and sports minister attended a sports event in the Gulf. She said, and I quote: ‘It is a dream come true,’” he said, quoting Miri Regev’s reaction to the playing of the Israeli national anthem.

Since withdrawing from the nuclear deal with Iran last year, the US administration has steadily ratcheted up pressure on Tehran and routinely accuses the nation of being the most destabilizing influence in the region. It has vowed to increase the pressure until Iran halts what US officials describe as its “malign activities” throughout the Mideast and elsewhere, including support for rebels in Yemen, anti-Israel groups and Syrian President Bashar Assad.

US President Obama delivering his famed Cairo Speech in 2009. The president highlighted the need for social progress in his first major address to the Muslim world. (photo credit: screen capture, YouTube)

US President Barack Obama speaks in Cairo on June 4, 2009. (screen capture, YouTube)

“The nations of the Middle East will never enjoy security, achieve economic stability, or advance the dreams of its peoples if Iran’s revolutionary regime persists on its current course,” Pompeo said.

In a rebuttal to the speech, a group of mainly former Obama administration foreign policy officials rejected Pompeo’s assertions as petty and weak.

“That this administration feels the need, nearly a decade later, to take potshots at an effort to identify common ground between the Arab world and the West speaks not only to the Trump administration’s pettiness but also to its lack of a strategic vision for America’s role in the region and its abdication of America’s values,” the National Security Action group said in a statement.

Pompeo’s speech came on the third leg of a nine-nation Mideast tour aimed at reassuring America’s Arab partners that the Trump administration is not walking away from the region amid confusion and concern over plans to withdraw US forces from Syria.

Earlier in Cairo, he met with Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry to discuss security and economic cooperation.

Trump has boasted of his close relationship with Sissi, a former general who has been criticized for his human rights record and democratic shortcomings. The Trump administration has resumed weapons sales to Egypt that had been suspended over human rights concerns, including the jailing of several American citizens on what US officials say are false charges.

At a brief news conference with Shoukry, Pompeo said he raised human rights with both Sissi and Shoukry and reminded them that “open and honest public debates are a hallmark of a thriving society.” He said he discussed a “panoply” of rights concerns, including the detention of political prisoners but gave no specifics.

Shortly before Pompeo arrived, the State Department noted improvements in Egypt’s human rights record. It welcomed the recent acquittal of employees of American civil society groups who had been “wrongly convicted of improperly operating in Egypt” and said the US supports Sissi’s pledges “to amend Egyptian law to prevent future miscarriages of justice.” On Wednesday, however, an Egyptian court sentenced a leading activist behind the country’s 2011 uprising to 15 years in prison after convicting him of taking part in clashes between protesters and security forces later that year.

 

Marco Rubio calls Rashida Tlaib’s jibe on anti-BDS bill ‘anti-Semitic’

January 10, 2019

Source: Marco Rubio calls Rashida Tlaib’s jibe on anti-BDS bill ‘anti-Semitic’ | The Times of Israel

After Palestinian American lawmaker says promoters of legislation ‘forgot what country they represent,’ US senator says it’s a ‘typical anti-Semitic line’

Rashida Tlaib, US Democratic Rep. for Michigan's 13th congressional district, listens during a rally in Dearborn, Michigan, October 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Rashida Tlaib, US Democratic Rep. for Michigan’s 13th congressional district, listens during a rally in Dearborn, Michigan, October 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

WASHINGTON, DC (JTA) — US Senator Marco Rubio has been pushing a bill that would protect states that penalize Israel boycotters, spurring a freshman congresswoman to question his loyalties.

On Monday, the Florida Republican decried the statement from Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat of Michigan, as anti-Semitic.

“This ‘dual loyalty’ canard is a typical anti-Semitic line,” Rubio said on Twitter, quoting a tweet from the previous day by Tlaib, a Palestinian American. “#BDS isn’t about freedom & equality, it’s about destroying #Israel.”

BDS stands for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel.

US Sen Marco Rubio speaks during a news conference in front of the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children, on June 22, 2018, in Homestead, Florida. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Tlaib in the earlier tweet had attacked a Senate bill initiated by Rubio and Senator James Risch, an Idaho Republican, that incorporates four Middle East-related bills that languished in the last Congress. One of the measures protects states that pass anti-BDS bills, including those that ban work with contractors who boycott Israel, from lawsuits. Civil libertarians have decried the state laws as impinging on speech freedoms.

“They forgot what country they represent,” Tlaib said in her tweet. “This is the U.S. where boycotting is a right & part of our historical fight for freedom & equality.”

Marco Rubio

@marcorubio

And if boycotting is constitutionally protected, then boycotting companies that boycott is also constitutionally protected

Rashida Tlaib

@RashidaTlaib

They forgot what country they represent. This is the U.S. where boycotting is a right & part of our historical fight for freedom & equality. Maybe a refresher on our U.S. Constitution is in order, then get back to opening up our government instead of taking our rights away. https://twitter.com/SenSanders/status/1082013021214597120 

Tlaib was quoting a tweet by Sen. Bernie Sanders, an Independent of Vermont, that described Rubio’s bill as “absurd” at a time that the US government is shut down over President Donald Trump’s refusal to advance funding bills, as long as they do not include the more than $5 billion he is demanding for a border wall with Mexico.

Also weighing in on Tlaib’s tweet was the American Jewish Committee.

“Tell us more about dual loyalty, @RashidaTlaib,” AJC said in a tweet attached to a photo of the newly elected congresswoman embracing someone draped in the Palestinian flag.

AJC

@AJCGlobal

“It’s outrageous to imply dual loyalty because you disagree with a policy initiative,” AJC said in a followup tweet. “A new member of Congress has no place saying that four U.S. Senators don’t know which country they represent.”

 

Iran’s supreme leader calls US officials ‘idiots,’ but hints sanctions hurting 

January 10, 2019

Source: Iran’s supreme leader calls US officials ‘idiots,’ but hints sanctions hurting | The Times of Israel

Khamenei says Iran will withstand the pressure, slap US in the face again

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at a gathering of the Basij, an all-volunteer force under the Revolutionary Guard, in Tehran, October 4, 2018. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at a gathering of the Basij, an all-volunteer force under the Revolutionary Guard, in Tehran, October 4, 2018. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Wednesday that American sanctions are putting pressure on Iran and its people.

In an unusually forceful speech from the holy city of Qom, Khamenei also mocked American leaders, as top US diplomat Mike Pompeo made a tour of the region.

US President Donald Trump pulled out of an international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program in May and in November reimposed sanctions on Tehran.

“The sanctions do put pressure on the country and the people. The Americans happily say that these sanctions are unprecedented in history,” Khamenei said, according to a Reuters translation. “Yes, they’re unprecedented. And the defeat that the Americans will face will be unprecedented, God willing.”

Iran has ignored Western calls to curb its military development and has pushed ahead with repeated ballistic missile tests. The Iranian military recently announced its intention to deploy warships to the western Atlantic off the US coast as a counter to American military presence in international waters off Iran.

Iranians raise anti-US and anti-Israel signs during a demonstration following the weekly Muslim Friday prayer in the capital Tehran on September 28, 2018. (AFP / STRINGER)

In an English translation of his remarks posted on his website, Khamenei said “Iran will overcome sanctions, slap US in face again.”

Khamenei also cited a story about a US official once predicting he’d celebrate Christmas in Iran to lash out at Americans.

“Some US officials pretend that they are mad,” Khamenei said. “Of course I don’t agree with that, but they are first-class idiots.”

The supreme leader did not name the official. However, US National Security Adviser John Bolton told a meeting of the Iranian exile group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq last March that “before 2019, we here … will celebrate in Iran.” Trump’s personal lawyer, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, has made similar comments before the MEK over the years.

Iran’s supreme leader, viewed by Shiite hardliners as second only to God, typically doesn’t make such forceful remarks. However, Trump’s decision last year to withdraw from the nuclear deal has seen the 79-year-old cleric grow increasingly critical.

Punishing sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program had been curbed as part of a 2015 nuclear deal, but were largely re-imposed by the US last year, under Trump, who has taken a hard line toward Iran.

Trump has labeled the landmark agreement forged under his predecessor Obama as “defective” and unable to rein in Iranian behavior or halt the Islamic Republic’s quest to develop nuclear weapons.

In 2017, Khamenei dismissed remarks by Trump calling Iran a “terrorist” nation as “idiotic.” Last May, after Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal which saw Iran limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions, Khamenei told Trump in a speech: “You cannot do a damn thing!”

Khamenei’s comments Wednesday came as Pompeo visited Iraq. On Tuesday, the US top diplomat threatened that America would double down on commercial and diplomatic efforts in the coming weeks to “put real pressure on Iran.”

Khamenei’s remarks to Qom residents were meant to mark the anniversary of religious riots in 1978 that challenged Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. They would spiral into the nationwide demonstration that saw the shah leave Iran and give rise to the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Iranians will commemorate the revolution’s 40th anniversary in February.

 

US buys more Israeli defense systems to protect tanks, APCs

January 10, 2019

Source: US buys more Israeli defense systems to protect tanks, APCs | The Times of Israel

Initial contract worth $80 million approved, with another $120 million pending, for Israel’s Trophy system

An American Abrams tank equipped with the Israeli-developed TROPHY active defense system, which protects the armored vehicle from rocket and missile attacks, in an undated photograph. (Leonardo DRS and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd.)

The US military awarded a nearly $80 million contract for the purchase of an Israeli-developed missile defense system to protect tanks and armored personnel carriers, after reaching a similar $200 million deal this past summer, the Rafael Advanced Defense Systems contractor announced Wednesday.

The United States is expected to pay another $120 million for more defense systems as part of the agreement, pending final approvals, bringing the total value of the two contracts to approximately $400 million, according to a spokesperson for the weapons manufacturer.

The systems, which block incoming anti-tank missiles and rockets, will be supplied to the US Army by the American defense contractor Leonardo DRS, Inc., which partnered with Rafael to manufacture them.

The Trophy, known in Hebrew as Me’il Ruah, or “Windbreaker,” is an active defense system manufactured by Rafael that is designed to protect tanks and other armored vehicles from missiles and rockets.

The radar and dummy launcher from a Trophy’s system is seen on an Israeli Merkava tank. (CC BY-SA 3.0, NatanFlayer, Wikipedia)

The system is made up of a radar detection system that spots incoming missiles and predicts their trajectories, and launchers that fire buckshot-like metal pellets, which cause the incoming missile or rocket to detonate away from the tank.

The system also pinpoints the source of the attack, allowing the soldiers inside the tank or APC to return fire more quickly.

The Trophy’s purchased as part of the agreement will be installed on the US military’s Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

The defense system was developed by Rafael and the Israel Aircraft Industries’ Elta Group and was declared operational in 2009.

In the initial stage of the contract, Leonardo DRS will provide the Trophy system to the US Army and Marine Corps in exchange for $79.6 million. The additional $120 million section of the approximately $200 million agreement requires additional approvals, a Rafael spokesperson said.

This is in addition to a deal made this past summer, under which Leonardo DRS agreed to supply the system and accompanying parts to the US Army for $193 million.

“Leonardo DRS is proud of the confidence shown by the Army in deciding to field Trophy to even more US combat brigades,” said Aaron Hankins, a vice president at the defense contractor.

The Trophy system has been in use in Israel’s Merkava-model tanks since at least 2011, and more recently in the military’s armored personnel carriers.

Rafael said it has supplied “some 1,000 systems to all major Israeli ground combat platforms.”

An Israeli Merkava tank equipped with a Trophy system is seen during Operation Protective Edge in 2014. (CC BY 2.0, IDF Spokesperson Unit, Wikipedia)

In 2016, the US military announced that it was planning to purchase the Trophy system to protect American tanks until the US defense contractor Raytheon could produce its own active defense system.

In 2017, the US Army said it would be fielding tanks with the Trophy system by 2020.

Parts of the Trophy will be made in the US and some in Israel, according to Rafael.

At a conference in 2017, representatives from the US military said they were impressed by the system’s capabilities from live-fire testing on an Abrams tank equipped with the Trophy.

“I tried to kill the Abrams tank 48 times and failed,” said US Army Col. Glenn Dean at a defense expo in 2017, according to the Military.com news site.

The system saw extensive real-world use in the 2014 Gaza war. Though many sustained damage, no tanks were destroyed in the fighting.

 

Iran preparing satellite launches despite US warnings

January 10, 2019

Source: Iran preparing satellite launches despite US warnings | The Times of Israel

Washington says space initiative defies UN resolution by advancing technology that could be used to develop long-range ballistic missiles

A picture from the official website of the Iranian Defense Ministry claims to show the launch of a satellite-carrying rocket on July 27, 2017. (Iranian Defense Ministry)

A picture from the official website of the Iranian Defense Ministry claims to show the launch of a satellite-carrying rocket on July 27, 2017. (Iranian Defense Ministry)

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s president said Thursday the Islamic Republic soon will send two new satellites into orbit using Iran-made rockets, despite US concern the launch could help further develop its ballistic missiles.

President Hassan Rouhani’s comments, during a commemoration for the late President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, confirmed the rocket launches would take place.

Iran typically displays achievements in its space program in February, during the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. This year will mark the 40th anniversary of the revolution, which saw the Persian monarchy of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi replaced by the Islamic Republic overseen by a Shiite cleric.

“Soon, in the coming weeks, we will send two satellites into space using our domestically-made rockets,” Rouhani said, without elaborating.

Previously, Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit over the past decade, and in 2013 launched a monkey into space. The US and its allies worry the same satellite-launching technology could be used to develop long-range missiles.

President Hassan Rouhani speaks at a ceremony to mark the second anniversary of the death of former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, in Tehran, Iran on January 10, 2019. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Last week Iran said country’s three new satellites have successfully passed pre-launch tests.

Earlier in January, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iran’s plans for sending satellites into orbit demonstrate the country’s defiance of a UN Security Council resolution that calls on Iran to undertake no activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

Iran insists the launches do not violate the resolution.

Meanwhile Thursday, Iran began an annual air drill in central parts of the country.

The state-run IRNA news agency said dozens of fighter jets, bombers and transportation planes are taking part in the 2-day maneuver. It said beside US-made F-14, F-5 and F-4 fighter jets of the shah’s era, the Russian-made MiG-29 fighter jet as well as the Iranian-made Saegheh fighter will participate in the annual war game.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gestures during a press conference with Jordan’s foreign minister in Amman on January 8, 2019. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool/AFP)

Drones, laser-guided rockets and heavy smart bombs also will be used, said Gen. Amir Angizeh, the maneuver’s spokesman.

Pompeo is currently touring the Mideast to promote the White House’s tough stance on Iran and to assure America’s Arab allies that the Trump administration is not walking away from the region.

On Wednesday, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called Washington officials “first-class idiots” in unusually harsh remarks that reflect the broader tension between Iran and the US after President Donald Trump withdrew America from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.

 

EU imposes sanctions on Iran for ‘murders’ on European soil – TV7 Israel News 09.01.19 

January 10, 2019