Archive for June 7, 2019

Former Obama Officials Reportedly Still Coaching Iran 

June 7, 2019

 

 

Are Iran and Hezbollah turning Venezuela into the next Syria?

June 7, 2019

Source: Are Iran and Hezbollah turning Venezuela into the next Syria? – www.israelhayom.com

ANALYSIS: With Russia, Cuba, Iran and Herzbollah offering their support to Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro, some fear the once prosperous South American country could become a hub for international terrorism.

Ongoing instability in Venezuela under dictator Nicolás Maduro has led to the continued suffering of tens of millions of Venezuelans. A failed uprising earlier this spring by National Assembly President Juan Guaidó, recognized by the United States, Israel and many other Western democracies as Venezuela’s leader, has only led to the further entrenchment of Maduro and his regime.

At the same time, Maduro is being supported by international pariahs such as Russia, Cuba as well as Iran and its terror proxy Hezbollah, leading some to fear the once prosperous South American country could turn into the next Syria and serve as a hub for international terrorism.

“Venezuela has opened its doors to Iran and Hezbollah, giving them full access to Latin America,” Emanuele Ottolenghi, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies said.

“Venezuela is their forward operating base in the Western Hemisphere. Iran and Hezbollah run many of their overt and covert activities from there. Preserving this relationship is paramount for their interests.”

This alliance comes as U.S. President Trump has sanctioned the Venezuelan government in an effort to help Guaidó come to power peacefully.

“Venezuela allies itself with a group of nations that the Trump administration is actively pressuring, including Russia, Iran and Cuba. Venezuela’s connections to Iran were well-known under the leadership of Maduro’s mentor, Hugo Chávez, who often met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,” Ari Cicural, a policy analyst with the JINSA Gemunder Center for Defense and Strategy, said.

‘One of the world’s largest drug-trafficking operations’

Indeed, Maduro and Chávez have had a long history of ties with Iran and its terror proxies. Chávez used to meet regularly with former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who infamously threatened to wipe Israel off the map. More recently, a report by The New York Times highlighted how close Maduro confidante Tareck El Aissami, who was indicted in the U.S. in March on drug-trafficking charges, played a crucial role in assisting Iran and Hezbollah in their operations in Latin America.

The report cited a confidential dossier by Venezuelan intelligence agents documenting El Aissami’s activities, provided to the Times by a former top Venezuelan intelligence official and confirmed independently by another.

The United States sanctioned El Aissami in February 2017.

“Alongside Ghazi Atef Nassereddine, who is also under U.S. sanctions and wanted by the FBI, El Aissami has been an important facilitator for Hezbollah inside the Venezuelan regime,” said Ottolenghi. “Thanks to him, numerous operatives have likely acquired citizenship and entry into the country and, by way of that, they are now free to travel across the region visa-free.”

Born in Venezuela to a Lebanese mother and Syrian Druze father, El Aissami has deep family connections to Baathist party members in Syria and formerly in Iraq, as his great-uncle was close to former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. El Aissami’s father was an early supporter of Chávez, backing him in his 1992 coup d’êtat attempt.

According to the Times, “El Aissami and his family have helped sneak Hezbollah militants into the country, gone into business with a drug lord and shielded 140 tons of chemicals believed to be used for cocaine production –helping make him a rich man as his country has spiraled into disarray.”

The New York Times reported that “informants told intelligence agents that Mr. El Aissami’s father was involved in a plan to train Hezbollah members in Venezuela, ‘with the aim of expanding intelligence networks throughout Latin America and at the same time working in drug trafficking,’” as El Aissami had the authority to issue residency permits, including to members of the terrorist group, thereby allowing them to remain in the country.

While the dossier does not mention whether Hezbollah established a network in the country, the Politico magazine in December 2017 exposed Hezbollah’s money-laundering network and involvement in other crimes, as well as its operations in the South American country. Under Trump’s predecessor U.S. President Barak Obama, Washington reportedly turned a blind eye to these activities in order to reach the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

“Hezbollah has long operated one of the world’s largest drug-trafficking operations, including in Venezuela. As a senior member of the Venezuelan government linked to the drug trade and other illicit activities in Latin America and the Middle East, it is not surprising that recent reports have alleged Tareck El Aissami has aided Hezbollah militants” in entering Venezuela, Cicurel said.

With U.S. sanctions having a significant impact on Hezbollah’s funding from Iran, the drug trade remains an important source of income for the terror group.

“Venezuela is a key transit point for cocaine, and Hezbollah has an important network of supportive businesses in Venezuela, many with connections to Colombia, Panama and the Dutch Antilles, which are then used to money-launder drug revenues,” said Ottolenghi.

“Given that, supporting Maduro is critical,” he added. “If Hezbollah and Iran were to lose Venezuela, many of their ongoing ops in Latin America would suffer. It wouldn’t be a mortal blow, but definitely a serious one.”

While Iran and Hezbollah’s track record of taking advantage of failed states such as Syria, Iraq and Yemen have only proven to exacerbate the instability in those places, it remains unclear whether or not Venezuela will become a launching ground for terrorism, according to Jonathan Ruhe, associate director of the JINSA Gemunder Center for Defense and Strategy.

“Currently, there are two more pressing concerns raised by Venezuela’s close ties with Iran and Hezbollah. First, that Hezbollah uses Venezuela to increase narcotrafficking revenues at a time when sanctions are crimping Iranian largesse; and second, that Russia uses its leverage over Caracas to secure a real political and military foothold in Venezuela,” he told JNS.

“This foothold would be smaller than what it has in Syria, but it would give Moscow both undue influence over one of the world’s largest oil players and a dangerous perch along the approaches to the Panama Canal, as well as threatening neighboring U.S.-allied Colombia – a country that has stabilized itself over the exact same period as Venezuela has descended into chaos, but whose remarkable gains are now held at risk by potential spillover from Venezuela.”

‘There’s no direct anti-Semitism in Venezuela’

Aside from narcoterrorism, Iran and Hezbollah have had a history of targeting Israeli and Jewish interests in South America, as in the 1994 AMIA Jewish center bombing in Argentina that killed 85. Later, in 2015, Argentinian Jewish federal prosecutor Alberto Nisman was found dead hours before he was due to appearin Congress to present evidence that then-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner plotted to whitewash Iran’s involvement in the bombing.

“Iran’s and Hezbollah’s networks in Latin America are not based in one country,” explained Ottolenghi. “The most recent public instances of Hezbollah operatives seeking to carry out attacks in Latin America and the U.S. involved two U.S.-based Lebanese nationals who became U.S. citizens. Iran’s and Hezbollah’s cells operate with impunity in the tri-border area of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.”

It remains unclear whether the presence of Iran and Hezbollah in South America would constitute a threat to Venezuela’s once vibrant Jewish community, which following years of emigration from the country, now numbers in the thousands.

“What we have heard from government officials in the U.S. and others in Latin America that we have spoken to, they know that money laundering is prevalent, they know because they are involved in drug trafficking and other criminal activities. But nobody has been able to confirm that there are active cells that could carry out terror attacks,” Dina Siegel Vann, director of Latin American Affairs for the American Jewish Committee, said.

While the Jewish community was targeted by Chávez in the past, according to Siegal Vann, “There’s no direct anti-Semitism in Venezuela presently as the Maduro regime is interested in surviving. They cannot be strategic in that sense. They are not in that type of mindset.”

Nevertheless, Maduro has promoted hateful anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and allegations of Jewish or “Zionist” plots to take over the government. Interim President Guaidó has been repeatedly accused of being an agent of “Zionists” or the United States.

“The Jewish community has dwindled and has continued to dwindle,” Siegel Vann affirmed. “The Jewish community, like the rest of the country, is suffering.”

This article is reprinted with permission from JNS.org.

 

Off Topic:  Macron: ‘We know what we owe to the United States of America’

June 7, 2019

Source: Macron: ‘We know what we owe to the United States of America’ – The Washington Post

While speaking at a ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, French President Emmanuel Macron voiced his support for multilateralism and global institutions.

Trump signals readiness for negotiations with Iran

June 7, 2019

Source: Trump signals readiness for negotiations with Iran | The Times of Israel

US president, visiting France, says he’s ‘fine’ with talks, but Tehran ‘can’t have nuclear weapons’

French President Emmanuel Macron, left, meets US President Donald Trump during a ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day at the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France, June 6, 2019. (Ian Langsdon/POOL via AP)

French President Emmanuel Macron, left, meets US President Donald Trump during a ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day at the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France, June 6, 2019. (Ian Langsdon/POOL via AP)

CAEN, France — US President Donald Trump on Thursday said it was “fine” for him if Iran wanted to hold talks, adding the Islamic Republic was currently “failing as a nation.”

The United States has had no diplomatic relations with Iran following the seizure of hostages at the American embassy in Tehran that followed the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

US diplomats helped negotiate the landmark 2015 deal on Iran’s nuclear program with Europe under former President Barack Obama but Trump unilaterally pulled out of the deal in May 2018.

Speaking after talks in northern France with French President Emmanuel Macron, an ardent supporter of diplomacy with Iran, Trump indicated he could consider talking to Tehran.

“I understand they want to talk and if they want to talk that’s fine,” said Trump, who is in northern France to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

“We’ll talk but the one thing that they can’t have is they can’t have nuclear weapons,” he added.

Trump said when he came to power, Iran was “undisputed champion of terror” but indicated activity had slackened in recent times.

“They’re not doing that anymore. They’re doing very poorly as a nation. They’re failing as a nation,” said Trump.

Iranian demonstrators raise placards and portraits of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as they chant anti-US slogans during a rally in the capital Tehran on May 10, 2019. (STR/AFP)

Trump referred to the US sanctions against Iran which are battering the Iranian economy, especially since Washington pulled out of the nuclear deal.

“I don’t want them to fail as a nation. We can turn that around very quickly but the sanctions have been extraordinary.”

Although EU leaders were bitterly angered by Trump’s pullout from the nuclear deal, the US president said he and Macron did not have differences on how to handle Iran.

French President Emmanuel Macron poses for a group picture after a ceremony at the Caen prison to pay tribute to French resisters as part of D-Day ceremonies in Caen, June 5, 2019. On June 5, 1944, the Germans shot over 80 people at the prison, including 71 who have been identified as members of the French Resistance. (AP Photo/Francois Mori, pool)

Macron said the US shared the same four objectives on Iran — to prevent it obtaining nuclear weapons, reduce its activities in ballistics, contain Iran’s operations in the region and promote regional peace.

The French president said that in order to achieve such objectives, “you need to start a negotiation” and applauded Trump’s apparent readiness to hold talks.

“I think the words pronounced by President Trump today are very important,” said Macron, speaking in English. “We need to open a new negotiation.”

The comments came as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has a warm personal relationship with Trump, plans to travel to Iran next week. Tokyo aims to play a mediation role.

However Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei lashed out at Trump earlier this week, saying “when such a person is the president, this shows the political and moral decline of that country.”

 

Khamenei blasts ‘treasonous’ Bahrain peace deal confab, ‘usurping enemy’ Israel

June 7, 2019

Source: Khamenei blasts ‘treasonous’ Bahrain peace deal confab, ‘usurping enemy’ Israel | The Times of Israel

In Eid al-Fitr comments, Iranian supreme leader lashes ‘anti-democratic’ regime in Manama, vows Trump peace deal ‘will never be realized’

Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei leads prayers for Eid al-Fitr in Tehran, June 5, 2019. (Khamenei’s official website)

Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday lashed the US-initiated conference slated for later this month in Bahrain in which the Trump administration is expected to launch part of its peace initiative between Israelis and Palestinians.

He called Israel a “usurping enemy,” and urged “resistance” by Muslims until Israelis “surrender to [the Palestinian] nation’s will.”

The Iranian leader also accused Bahrain’s leaders of “weakness” and an “anti-democratic” spirit in hosting a US-led event.

“Some Islamic countries have betrayed the issue of Palestine by taking treasonous measures,” Khamenei said in a statement on Twitter following similar comments made in a speech at Eid al-Fitr prayers in Tehran.

In this picture released by an official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks in a ceremony marking the 30th death anniversary of the late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, at his mausoleum just outside Tehran, Iran, June 4, 2019. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

“The summit that is to take place in Bahrain belongs to the US but Bahraini rulers’ weakness and anti-democratic, anti-Islamic spirit has led them to hold the summit,” Khamenei charged.

“The purpose of the summit is to implement the treasonous, vicious US plot that they call ‘Deal of the Century.’ Of course this will not happen and the Deal of the Century will never be realized, God willing,” he said.

A view of the Manama skyline, Bahrain. (CC-BY Jayson De Leon/Wikimedia Commons)

The conference in Bahrain, slated for June 25-26, is to be part of the roll-out of the Trump administration’s much-touted, but as yet still vague, peace plan for Israelis and Palestinians.

The conference is being boycotted by the Palestinian leadership and nearly the entirety of the Palestinian business community. The Palestinian Authority has had almost no ties with the US administration since US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017.

PA officials have charged that the Bahrain summit is meant to convince Palestinians to surrender their political aspirations for independence in exchange for international investment and economic prosperity.

“The ‘Deal of the Century’ is a major act of treason against the World of Islam,” Khamenei added on Wednesday. “We thank Muslim & Arab countries & Palestinian groups that opposed the deal. We hope Bahraini & Saudi rulers will understand what a quagmire they’re stepping into & how harmful it will be for them.”

The Iranian regime opposes Israel’s existence and has long supported Palestinian terrorist groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, opposed to a peace agreement with Israel.

Iranian demonstrators carry a portrait of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and an effigy of US President Donald Trump during a rally in the capital Tehran, on May 10, 2019. (Stringer/AFP)

In his Twitter comments, Khamenei went on to complain that “there are Islamic countries with Muslim nations but remiss rulers who ally with Zionist regime rather than opposing it & fight against Muslims.”

He insisted that Tehran did not seek to see Jews “thrown to the sea,” but believed the “Palestinian nation’s pervasive fight including military, political & cultural resistance should persist until usurpers surrender to this nation’s will.”

And he called on Muslims to battle the “usurping enemy in the heart of Muslim countries—i.e. Palestine,” which was “criminally active. This obliges Muslims to prevent it from committing crimes. Instead, there are governents in the World of Islam that compromise with it while attacking their brethren. The door to repentance is open.”

Khamenei called for a referendum by “Muslim, Christian & Jewish residents of #Palestine & Palestinian refugees on governing system. Till then, Resistance should continue; by God’s grace Palestinians will be victorious; youth will see the day Palestine is returned to Palestinians.”

 

US says Iran having second thoughts about attack after troop buildup 

June 7, 2019

Source: US says Iran having second thoughts about attack after troop buildup | The Times of Israel

Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie warns it is too early to tell if Tehran has abandoned plans for potential actions against American interests that accelerated deployment last month

The flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in the Arabian Sea, on May 19, 2019. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Garrett LaBarge/US Navy via AP)

The flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in the Arabian Sea, on May 19, 2019. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Garrett LaBarge/US Navy via AP)

BAGHDAD, Iraq — The top commander of US forces in the Mideast said Iran appears to have decided to “step back and recalculate” in response to a US military buildup in the Persian Gulf area.

Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie said it’s too early to conclude Iran has abandoned plans for potential attacks against American interests that prompted the buildup last month.

McKenzie told reporters Thursday that he is assessing Iran’s stance. He said he would not rule out requesting more forces to bolster American defenses.

McKenzie said Iran and its proxies posed what he called an “advanced and imminent” threat to US forces when he asked on May 5 for authority to accelerate the deployment of an aircraft carrier and send four strategic bombers to the Gulf area.

Iran is locked in a tense standoff with the US after Washington withdrew from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal last year and reimposed sanctions.

The US has accused Tehran of being behind a string of incidents last month, including the alleged sabotage of oil tankers off the Emirati coast, a rocket strike near the US embassy in Baghdad and a coordinated drone attack on Saudi Arabia by Yemen’s Iran-allied Houthi rebels.

 

Netanyahu: Tehran working toward ‘arsenal of nuclear bombs’ 

June 7, 2019

Source: Netanyahu: Tehran working toward ‘arsenal of nuclear bombs’ | The Times of Israel

But Jerusalem ‘committed to stop it,’ prime minister tells former deputy chief of UN nuclear watchdog, who praises Mossad operation to reveal secret nuclear warehouse in Iran

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with Olli Heinonen, the former deputy head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, at his office in Jerusalem on June 6, 2019. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Iran is actively trying to obtain an “arsenal of nuclear bombs,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday, amid ongoing tensions between the Islamic Republic and the US after the unraveling of the 2015 landmark nuclear deal.

“It’s very clear Iran is lying. Iran is continuing to work toward an arsenal of nuclear bombs, and we’re committed to stop it,” he said during a meeting with Olli Heinonen, an former deputy director-general at the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Heinonen, in a series of interviews and lectures this week, repeatedly accused Iran of violating its commitments under the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The Islamic Republic would be theoretically be able to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon within six to eight months, he said, though building an actual bomb would take longer.

“Thank you for your forthright analysis and your clear-cut conclusion. I thank you for pointing out what Iran is doing,” Netanyahu told the Finnish-born scientist at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.

Heinonen, who today serves as senior adviser on science and nonproliferation at the Washington, DC-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, thanked Netanyahu for revealing information about Iran’s secret nuclear archive last year.

“Thank you for this brave action of taking them out [the nuclear archive documents] because this gives the material for the international community to think about it and it’s a good place on how to talk with the Iranians, how to stop it,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech on an archive brought out of Iran by the Mossad that documents Iran’s nuclear program, at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on April 30, 2018. (AFP/Jack Guez)

Last year, Mossad agents smuggled out some 100,000 documents on 55,000 pages on 183 CDs from an unmarked Tehran warehouse. According to Israeli officials, the documents proved that the Islamic Republic had actively worked on building a nuclear weapon, something Tehran has always denied and continues to deny.

According to Heinonen, a former IAEA’s deputy director-general for safeguards, only a fifth of the archival material was brought to Israel. “There is another 80 percent that stayed behind,” he said earlier Thursday at a lecture at a Jerusalem think tank.

Heinonen also said Tehran’s nuclear scientists — which he described as “the best of the best” — today could produce enough fissile material for an atomic bomb within six to eight months, though it was unclear how long it would take them to actually build such a device.

“Material from the nuclear archives seized by Israel a year ago combined together with information available from official IAEA reports provide strong indication that Iran’s nuclear weapons program had proceeded substantially further than what was stated by Iran and concluded by the IAEA in its latest assessment in December 2015,” according to the Finnish-born scientist.

“There was a cohesive plan to manufacture nuclear weapons, and when and after the plan was halted, the IAEA was not provided, as was stated by Iran, with a full disclosure of the past nuclear program,” he said.

Despite his criticism of Iran, on Wednesday, in an interview with Army Radio, Heinonen rapped the administration of US President Donald Trump for its decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal in May 2018, suggesting Washington’s aggressive stance toward Tehran could prove counterproductive.

“I think they felt comfortable [with the Trump decision]. They have the enrichment technology and they can create more centrifuges. Probably they [will be] able to withstand a lot of sanctions,” he said.

On May 15, Iran announced it was stepping up its uranium enrichment program in response to the United States’ decision the previous year to drop out of the 2015 nuclear deal and impose heavy economic sanctions on Iran and the countries and groups that do business with it.

Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran was staying within the limitations set by the 2015 nuclear accord, though its stockpiles of low-enriched uranium and heavy water were growing.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.