Archive for September 6, 2019

Strengthening the US-Israel alliance 

September 6, 2019

Source: Strengthening the US-Israel alliance –

Israel has two strategic interests that could be significantly advanced by changes in its security ties with the US. Neither necessitates signing a formal agreement.

In 2000 then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak made signing a mutual defense treaty with the US a central component of his national security strategy. That year, as Barak sought to sell the public his plan to give the Temple Mount to Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat and Judea and Samaria to Arafat’s terror armies, he presented the option of signing a mutual defense pact with the US as a reasonable payoff for Israel’s sacrifice for peace.

Barak’s thinking was clear.

True, if the PLO boss had accepted Barak’s peace offer Israel would have been left without its capital and without defensible borders. But there was no reason to worry. The Marines would protect us. At the heart of Barak’s vision of a mutual defense treaty stood his unwillingness to bear the burdens of freedom, power and sovereignty.

The present round of chatter about the prospect of achieving a US-Israel defense treaty was initiated by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC). In opposition to the view of the majority of Israelis and of the 2016 Republican Party platform, Graham insists on maintaining allegiance to the so-called “two-state solution,” despite its hundred-year record of continuous failure.

Still, Graham is no foe of Israeli sovereignty and military might. To the contrary. Graham played a decisive role in convincing President Donald Trump to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. So it is inconceivable that Graham shares Barak’s post-Zionist vision of a defenseless Israel protected by Uncle Sam.

Moreover, according to media reports, ahead of the September 17 election Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is making an effort to convince President Trump to make a statement in favor of a new US-Israel defense treaty. Since Netanyahu’s diplomatic policies and his strategic vision of Israel are diametrically opposed to those Barak advanced, it is impossible to imagine that Netanyahu shares Barak’s vision of the purpose of a defense treaty.

What then could be the purpose of a defense treaty? What sort of rearrangement of Israel’s defense ties with the US would advance those ties to both countries’ mutual advantage?

Israel has two strategic interests that could be significantly advanced by changes in its security ties with the US. Neither necessitates signing a formal agreement. At most, they could be included in some form of presidential memorandum or summary of a bilateral meeting between Trump and Netanyahu.

Israel’s first interest is to provide a formal expression and operating framework for Israel’s now intimate working relations and strategic cooperation with the Sunni Arab states.

These burgeoning ties were the unintended but salutary consequence of the Obama administration’s radical Middle East policy.

During his tenure in office, Barack Obama sought to realign the US away from Israel and from America’s longstanding Sunni Arab allies and toward the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran. As Obama’s actions became more damaging, and his intentions unmistakable, Netanyahu reached out to the Saudis, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt.

Working under the principle that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, Netanyahu’s intuition paid off. The Sunnis recognized that working with Israel would help them to survive Obama’s treachery and responded positively to his overtures.

The first visible consequence of the new partnership came in 2014 during Operation Protective Edge. As Obama sought to coerce Israel into accepting Hamas’s ceasefire terms, (presented as a mediated settlement by Hamas’s state sponsors Turkey and Qatar), the Saudis, the UAE and Egypt stood with Israel in rejecting them. The three Sunni Arab states insisted that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi rather than the Turks or Qataris serve as the mediator between Israel and Hamas. And el-Sissi demanded that Hamas accept Israel’s ceasefire conditions.

Blindsided, Obama was compelled to stand down.

Obama rightly viewed Israel’s cooperative relationship with the Sunnis as a hostile bloc that stymied his efforts to realign the US away from them and toward Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood.

As for Trump, from his earliest moments in office, Trump embraced the newfound partnership Netanyahu had forged of necessity, and made it the centerpiece of his Middle East policy.

For more than two years, Israel and the US have discussed ways to bring Israel’s relations with the Arabs out of the closet. Signing a peace treaty is out of the question. Popular hatred of Israel in the Arab world is ubiquitous. To appease the street, the Arab regimes would be compelled to demand that Israel make massive concessions to the Palestinians in exchange for a peace deal that would do nothing more than formalize the relations that Israel and the Arabs have already forged. Israel would be foolish to pay for what it already achieved.

A different framework is required. And as it happens, the US military has one at the ready.

The US Central Command is responsible for the Middle East. To appease the Arabs, the US military refused to include Israel in Central Command’s area of responsibility and placed Israel instead under the aegis of its European Command.

Central Command’s reputation for hostility to Israel is doubtlessly rooted in this anomaly. How can Central Command officers recognize the value of a state that their Arab interlocutors attack? How can they recognize Israel’s role as a stabilizing force in the Middle East when the Arabs criticize the US incessantly for its friendship with Israel?

Transferring responsibility for Israel to the Central Command would kill two birds with one stone. First, American commanders responsible for military operations in the Middle East would be able to work directly with the US’s most powerful ally in the region. Israel would be in a position to present its views to the relevant US military regional commanders on operational issues that affect its security in real-time.

And second, including Israel in Central Command would provide Israel and its Arab partners with an appropriate framework for open cooperation. Under the umbrella of the US military, the parties would be able to maintain normal ties and develop their relations free of political constraints and pressure.

The second interest that Israel should use a revision of its strategic relations with the US to advance is its interest in discrediting the widely held assessment that it is a drag on US national security rather than an asset and an ally. This goal can be achieved by intensifying US-Israel technological cooperation in weapons systems development generally and hypersonic weapons development specifically.

Hypersonic weapons are the central component of the new arms race in the emerging cold war between the US on the one side and China and Russia on the other. Today, the US is dangerously trailing both Russia and China in this arms race.

Hypersonic speeds are speeds of 5-mach or 6,000 km per hour (3,700 mph) and above. There are two types of hypersonic weapons: hypersonic glide vehicles, which are launched from a rocket or a ballistic missile before gliding to a target; and hypersonic cruise missiles which are powered by high-speed, airbreathing engines or “scramjets” after acquiring their target.

Hypersonic weapons travel at low altitudes and are guided by internal electro-optics systems that enable them to maneuver and change direction during flight while locked on a target. Their atmospheric altitude makes them difficult for satellite-based missile defense systems to track. Their high speed makes them difficult for ground-based anti-missile systems to detect. In congressional testimony, US Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin stated that the US has no defense against hypersonic weapons.

According to a report on hypersonic weapons published by the Congressional Research Service in July, Russia and China are expected to field hypersonic glide vehicles as early as 2020. Last year, Griffin told defense industry executives that developing hypersonic systems is the Pentagon’s top priority.

According to the CRS report, the US is unlikely to field a hypersonic system before 2022, and that likely is an optimistic projection. Congress appropriated $2.6 billion to hypersonic projects for 2020. A mere 5% of the sum is allocated to hypersonic defense programs.

This brings us to Israel, the US ally so views as a burdensome client.

On July 28, Israel and the US conducted a successful test of the Arrow 3 ballistic missile defense system in Alaska. The Arrow is a joint program developed by Israel Aerospace Industries and Boeing. During the course of the test, the Arrow successfully intercepted a ballistic missile flying at what Netanyahu referred to as “unprecedented altitudes and speed.”

Less than a month later, the Pentagon announced that it was canceling a similar program by Boeing. The proximity of the cancellation of Boeing’s Redesigned Kill Vehicle to the successful Arrow 3 test raises the likelihood that the two events are connected.

As it demonstrated with the Arrow 3 test, Israel has proven capabilities in a number of areas that are relevant to the development of hypersonic weapons. Israel is a world leader for instance in the fields of electronic warfare and electro-optics, both critical components of hypersonic systems. With proper funding, Israel could make a significant contribution to US efforts to step up the development of hypersonic defensive systems and elements of offensive hypersonic weapons for the benefit of both countries.

This then brings back to the issue of an upgraded defense relationship between Israel and the US.

The specter of a Democratic administration casts a pall over Israel’s ties with the US. With the rise of radical forces in the Democratic Party, the positions of its leaders are becoming increasingly hostile to Israel. How can Israel-US ties be altered to survive and even prosper under a hostile administration in the future?

Regardless of his or her own positions on Israel and those of his or her party, a future Democratic president faced with a reality in which Israeli officials cooperate openly with their Sunni Arab counterparts under the aegis of the US Central Command, and in which Israel serves as a key partner in the development of offensive and defensive systems that are critical to the US, will not rush to abandon the US alliance with Israel.

Thanks to Netanyahu’s interest-based foreign policy, Israel has managed to develop strong bilateral relationships based on common interests rather than ideology with a long list of foreign governments. By placing interests ahead of politics, Netanyahu was able to significantly reduce the salience of anti-Semitism as a political force in the international arena.

If Israel and the US are interested in making significant alterations to their strategic ties, it is important that the changes be expressed in the same manner, for the benefit of both countries.


Are Iran and Israel edging toward war? 

September 6, 2019

Source: Are Iran and Israel edging toward war? –

Despite its standoff with the US over the past two years, Iran’s regional power base has been substantially enhanced. Its “Shia crescent,” once aspirational, is now a reality. Having supported and developed the military capabilities of its proxies, Iran is now engaged in transferring to them advanced missile and drone capabilities, which it hopes will one day be unleashed on Israel.

Military activity by Israel over the weekend of August 24-25, 2019, reported widely in the media, ratcheted up Iranian-Israel tension in the region. Because these operations appeared to be a response to the threat of imminent hostile action, the idea that they may also be consistent with a deeper strategy was not the subject of much comment. Yet alongside a determination to prevent the transfer of Iranian military hardware to Hezbollah, an Israeli policy of consistently degrading Iran’s armed forces and their proxies is becoming increasingly apparent.

This longer-term pattern of Israeli military thinking parallels what is emerging as Iran’s deeper purposes in the region. Despite its standoff with the US over the past two years, Iran’s power base in the Middle East has been substantially enhanced. Its “Shia crescent,” once a rather aspirational concept, is now a reality. Having supported and developed the military capabilities of its proxies in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, and Yemen, Iran is now engaged in transferring to them its advanced missile and unmanned drone capabilities. The Houthis in Yemen and Hamas in Gaza are making use of them. If Iran has its way, Hezbollah will one day unleash them on Israel.

At the same time, Iran pursues with increasing determination its opposition to much of the Sunni Muslim world in general, and to Saudi Arabia in particular, seeking constantly to undermine and eventually overturn their regimes. In this one particular, the moderate Arab world and Israel know they stand shoulder to shoulder.

The latest clashes began early on the morning of Saturday, August 24, when, acting on intelligence indicating an imminent “killer” drone strike, Israel attacked military sites in Syria. Shortly afterward, Lebanese sources reported that two Israeli surveillance drones had come down in a Hezbollah stronghold in the Lebanese capital, Beirut. Some reports speculate that they had been involved in the earlier attack in Syria.

Then on Sunday night, August 25, Israeli aircraft carried out three airstrikes deep inside Lebanon on a base belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the terrorist group fighting alongside Iranian forces and Iran-backed militias in support of Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. The base is located in the Bekaa valley in eastern Lebanon, near the border with Syria.

Later that Sunday evening three rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel. Within hours the Israeli Air Force had launched a series of strikes on targets in the Gaza Strip, hitting a Hamas military base. That was followed by a retaliatory Hezbollah strike on an IDF base on September 1, and Israel’s response – 100 artillery shells fired into Southern Lebanon.

Is all this military activity by Israel explicable as a direct reaction to provocation, or consistent with a longer-term strategy aimed at weakening Iran’s aggressive capabilities? There have certainly been some unclaimed and unexplained anti-Iran activities in the recent past.

For example, a blast on Tuesday night, August 20, apparently caused by an aerial attack, struck a pro-Iranian Shiite militia facility 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Baghdad. It came after three unexplained explosions in recent weeks on Iraqi Shiite militia sites that served or hosted Iranian assets. Iraq’s paramilitary groups backed by Iran have blamed the series of blasts on the US and Israel.

Another blast the week before at a weapons depot run by one group sent rockets hurtling across southern Baghdad, killing one person and wounding 29 others. A government investigation concluded that it was caused by a drone attack.

Israel has, in line with its normal policy, neither confirmed nor denied responsibility for these attacks inside Iraq, but if it did carry them out, it would be an extension of its normal anti-Iran campaign. The last time it struck Iranian targets inside Iraq was in 1981, when Israeli fighter jets bombed a nuclear reactor under construction south of Baghdad.

Escalation has also been the name of the game on Iran’s part. Its recent attempt, frustrated by the Israel Defense Forces, to launch a flotilla of “killer drones” into Israel has upped the stakes. Israel’s immediate claim of responsibility for the strike against the Iranian-controlled bases in Syria also strikes a new note. It underlines Israel’s determination to foil any ambition Iran might harbor of establishing a permanent power base in either Syria or Iraq.

The world must hope that neither side will advance its political aims to the point of armed conflict.


Israel’s yellow card to Iran, Hezbollah over precision missile project 

September 6, 2019

Source: Israel’s yellow card to Iran, Hezbollah over precision missile project –

The message conveyed on Tuesday revealing Hezbollah’s precision missile factory in Lebanon and the military base being built by Iran in eastern Syria cannot be mistaken: Israel is warning its enemies to cease and desist or face the consequences – even if it means going to war.

The message conveyed on Tuesday – revealing Hezbollah’s precision missile factory in Lebanon and the military base being built by Iran in eastern Syria – cannot be mistaken: If the activity there doesn’t cease, Israel will have to make it cease.

Both revelations were publicized simultaneously but through different channels. Israel directly released the information regarding the former, via the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit. The latter was exposed by Fox News, whose report was based on “Western intelligence sources.”

Both cases involve substantiated information, backed by satellite images and detailed explanations. They illustrate, yet again, the depth of Israel’s intelligence penetration into the axis linking Iran to Lebanon (via Syria and Iraq), but also the determination of this axis to continue operating. Iran, which despite hundreds of reported and unreported attacks on its facilities and weapons shipments, is still looking for ways to entrench itself in Syria to deploy its Shiite militia proxies, along with Hezbollah. Despite the fog surrounding its precision missile program (including the drone attack in south Beirut 10 days ago), Iran continues to pursue this objective with great vigor.

Employing such means to expose Iran and Hezbollah’s activities is nothing new. Its purpose is to create legitimacy for Israeli action, deliver messages to various audiences and attempt to foil the enemy’s activities without the need for military force. In his speech to the UN General Assembly last year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed three facilities in the heart of Beirut used by Hezbollah to equip primitive missiles with precision components. Netanyahu’s goal was to pressure the Lebanese government to force Hezbollah to remove those installations from civilian populations and out of harm’s way.

Hezbollah indeed took action. It hastily scrubbed these facilities to remove the evidence, and immediately played dumb by claiming there was nothing there to begin with. We can assume that Hezbollah will respond similarly this time around, but the present circumstances are more complicated from its perspective. Unlike the previously exposed facilities that were situated among civilians, the factory revealed on Tuesday is isolated and strictly military in nature. Israel can attack the facility without harming innocents. Incidentally, those in the know are surely familiar with the town in the Beqaa Valley where the factory is located, al-Nabi Sheet, from a different context: Israeli navigator Ron Arad was held captive there before he disappeared without a trace.

The same applies to the base that Iran is building in Syria. Israel has already established that it will act to enforce its policy of preventing Iran from establishing a military presence in the country, and likely won’t hesitate to strike near the Syrian-Iraqi border as well – certainly considering the recent reports about Israeli airstrikes on numerous Iranian-related targets in Iraq. The hope is for the Syrian and Iraqi governments to pressure Iran to minimize or stop its activities on their soil altogether. Past experience tells us that this pressure would be minimal at best, and even if applied would have zero chance of swaying Iranian policy.

Tuesday’s reports, therefore, are akin to Israel issuing Iran and Hezbollah a yellow card, just before showing them the red card. It would be mistaken to believe that the recent incidents on the northern border concluded this round of hostilities. They were barely the prologue. This campaign will be fought over the enemy’s desire to acquire precision missile capabilities, and Israel reiterated plainly on Tuesday that it has no intention of blinking first this time. If Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah doesn’t choose to shelve the precision missile project on his own, and spare Lebanon from calamity, then Israel will do it for him – even if it means going to war.


Iran to unveil new details on cuts to nuclear commitments Saturday

September 6, 2019

Source: Iran to unveil new details on cuts to nuclear commitments Saturday | The Times of Israel

After setting Friday deadline for an EU solution for skirting US sanctions, Tehran says failure will bring ‘significant’ new rollback of nuclear limits on centrifuges

Iran's uranium conversion facility near Isfahan, which reprocesses uranium ore concentrate into uranium hexafluoride gas, which is then taken to Natanz and fed into the centrifuges for enrichment, March 30, 2005.  (AP/Vahid Salemi)

Iran’s uranium conversion facility near Isfahan, which reprocesses uranium ore concentrate into uranium hexafluoride gas, which is then taken to Natanz and fed into the centrifuges for enrichment, March 30, 2005. (AP/Vahid Salemi)

Iran’s atomic energy agency is to make an announcement on Saturday about its next step away from the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers, a move that President Hassan Rouhani has described as “highly significant.”

The semi-official Tasnim news agency and other Iranian media reported on Thursday that the agency will hold a press conference to reveal further details.

Rouhani on Wednesday reiterated Iran’s threat to take additional steps that go against the nuclear accord and accelerate nuclear activities if Europe fails to provide a solution, calling it Iran’s third, “most important step” away from the deal.

Rouhani indicated that after Friday’s deadline expires and Iran takes the next step, another two-month deadline to Europe will follow with the aim to resume talks with European leaders on reviving the deal.

The announcement meant Iran’s nuclear agency stood poised Thursday to begin work on advanced centrifuges that will enrich uranium faster as the 2015 nuclear deal unravels further and a last-minute French proposal offering a $15-billion line of credit to compensate Iran for not being able to sell its crude oil abroad because of US sanctions looked increasingly unlikely.

In this photo released by the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, September 4, 2019. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Iran has yet to say officially what exact steps it will take after the Friday deadline, but it is expected to focus on faster centrifuges, speeding enrichment and enabling Tehran to shorten the time it would need to have enough material available to build a nuclear weapon — if it chose to do so.

Under the unraveling deal, which has frayed after US President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of the US from the accord last year, experts thought Iran would need about a year to reach that point.

The US has continued its effort to choke off Iran’s crude oil sales abroad, a crucial source of government revenue. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who continues a whirlwind global diplomatic tour, insists his country will do everything it can to keep those sales going, though he described US sanctions in an angry tweet Thursday as the equivalent of a “jail warden.”

“We will sell our oil, one way or the other,” Zarif told Russian broadcaster RT in a recently aired interview. “The United States will not be able to prevent that.”

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during a press conference in the Iranian capital Tehran on August 5, 2019. (AFP)

Tensions between Iran and the US have been growing since Trump’s pullout from the nuclear deal, which saw Tehran agree to limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. Trump subsequently re-imposed old sanctions on Iran and created new ones, going as far as targeting Iranian officials like Zarif and Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.

In his speech late Wednesday, Rouhani said Tehran would soon begin work on research and development of “all kinds” of centrifuges that enrich uranium by rapidly spinning uranium hexafluoride gas.

In this July 21, 2019 file photo, a speedboat of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard moves around a British-flagged oil tanker, the Stena Impero, which was seized by the Guard, in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. (Hasan Shirvani/Mizan News Agency via AP, File)

Iran has begun to break limits imposed by the 2015 deal, such as just creeping beyond its 3.67%-enrichment limit and its stockpile rules. Iranian officials already have raised the idea of enriching to 20% — a small technical step from weapons-grade levels of 90%.

Iran long has maintained its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes and denies it seeks an atomic bomb. However, Western nations have pointed to previous Iranian research into a weapons program that UN experts say largely ended in 2003 following the US invasion of neighboring Iraq, thought Israel, the US and other nations believe the program continues to be a key regime policy goal.

While Trump maintains he’s open for North Korea-style talks with Iran, his administration has continually upped its pressure on the Islamic Republic. On Wednesday, the US imposed new sanctions on an oil shipping network it alleged had ties to the Guard and offered up to $15 million for anyone with information that disrupts the Guard’s operations.

“There will be more sanctions coming,” Brian Hook, the US special envoy for Iran, told reporters at the State Department. “We can’t make it any more clear that we are committed to this campaign of maximum pressure.”

Hook also directly emailed or texted captains of Iranian oil tankers, trying to scare them into not delivering their cargo, according to the Financial Times.

Zarif reacted angrily to the report.

“Having failed at piracy, the US resorts to outright blackmail_deliver us Iran’s oil and receive several million dollars or be sanctioned yourself,” the diplomat wrote on Twitter.


US nixes Security Council statement that fails to condemn Hezbollah

September 6, 2019

Source: US nixes Security Council statent that fails to condemn Hezbollah | The Times of Israel

Washington rejects text that puts terror group and Israel on equal footing following exchanges of fire along border, diplomatic sources say

Spanish UN peacekeepers patrolling along the Lebanese-Israeli border pass a Hezbollah flag, in the southern Lebanese village of Kfar Kila, Lebanon, Monday, Sept. 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Spanish UN peacekeepers patrolling along the Lebanese-Israeli border pass a Hezbollah flag, in the southern Lebanese village of Kfar Kila, Lebanon, Monday, Sept. 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

The US on Thursday blocked a UN Security Council statement on tensions between Israel and Hezbollah that did not single out violence by the Lebanese terror group, forcing the text to be scrapped, according to diplomatic sources.

In the first version of the six-point text, seen by AFP, council members expressed “deep concern at the recent incidents” during a flare-up between the sides across the “Blue Line” border.

The draft, drawn up by France, added that “members of the security council condemned all violations of the Blue Line, both by air and ground, and strongly calls upon all parties to respect the cessation of hostilities.”

According to diplomats, Washington blocked the statement twice, calling for Hezbollah to be specifically condemned in the text.

Footage from Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television network showing a September 1, 2019, missile strike against an Israeli military vehicle near the northern border, broadcast on September 2. (Twitter, screen capture)

The US said it was impossible for it to back any statement putting Israel’s right to self-determination on an equal footing with Hezbollah, which it considers a terrorist organization, a diplomat explained.

Several other members of the security council objected to the US stance, and the text was eventually abandoned.

Any statement by the council must be backed by all 15 members.

Israel and Hezbollah, which fought a month-long war in 2006, have indicated they do not want to go to war but appeared on a collision course in recent days after Hezbollah vowed it would retaliate for a pair of Israeli strikes against the Iran-backed terrorist group — one in Syria claimed by Israel, and another, in Beirut, that the group blames on the Jewish state.

This picture taken on September 1, 2019 from a location near the northern Israeli town of Avivim, close to the border with Lebanon, shows fires and smoke rising after Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah terror movement fired anti-tank missiles into northern Israel (Jalaa MAREY / AFP)

Hezbollah said it fired anti-tank missiles at Israel on Sunday and destroyed an Israeli military vehicle across the border. The IDF said no Israeli soldiers were injured by the 2-3 missiles fired by Hezbollah, which lightly damaged a military jeep and an IDF base.

The Israeli military retaliated by firing approximately 100 artillery shells and bombs at Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon.

Pictures and videos showing injured soldiers being evacuated had been a ploy meant to trick Hezbollah into thinking it had caused casualties, the army said.

The Iranian proxy group indicated the attack was in retaliation for the Israeli airstrike in Syria last month that killed several operatives, including two of its members.

UN peacekeepers and IDF officers visit the site of a Hezbollah missile attack on IDF positions in northern Israel on September 4, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

On Thursday, UN peacekeepers toured the site of the attack and called it “a violation of the UN Security Council resolution 1701 … by Hezbollah.”

UN Resolution 1701 calls for all armed groups, besides the Lebanese military, to be removed from southern Lebanon, in the area south of the country’s Litani River.

Israel has repeatedly claimed that Hezbollah, occasionally aided by the Lebanese Armed Forces, maintains an active presence in southern Lebanon of both fighters and weaponry despite this prohibition.

UNIFIL, which is tasked with ensuring Resolution 1701’s implementation, has indicated that the constraints of its mandate prevent it from being able to fully investigate Israel’s claims, namely because of the peacekeepers’ inability to enter private property.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.


How Despots Interpret Deals with the West

September 6, 2019

by Bassam Tawil
September 6, 2019 at 5:00 am

  • The European Union wants the world to welcome Iran back into the international community because as far as the Europeans are concerned, it appears that the stronger Iran is, the better: a renewed Iran would further Europe’s hope of seeing Israel and the Jews wiped off the face of the earth. Heard just a few months ago were calls such as, “send Jews to the ovens,” “Hitler didn’t finish the job,” and “kill the Jews.”
  • The Trump administration has created the impression in the Arab and Muslim world that it is ready to beg the leaders of Iran to engage in direct negotiations with Washington. This approach is exceptionally harmful to US interests: it sends a message to many Arabs and Muslims that Americans are prepared to surrender again and humiliate themselves for the sake of any kind of deal with the Iranians. As Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said last month, America should “bow down” to Iran. Seems it is.
  • Advice to the Trump administration is: Stay strong. As Osama bin Laden correctly observed, “When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse.”
  • Strength and more strength is the only way to earn the respect of those running the show in Beijing, Kabul, Moscow, Pyongyang, and especially in Tehran, Gaza and Beirut.
US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper was quoted as saying on August 28 that the US is “not seeking conflict with Iran.” During the Pentagon press briefing, Esper repeated Trump’s calls for diplomatic efforts with Iran. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The European Union says it will support talks between the US and Iran, but only if the current nuclear deal with Tehran is preserved.

The idea of direct talks between the US and Iran seems to have developed after President Donald Trump recently said he was ready to meet Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani.

“We are always in favor of talks, the more people talk, the more people understand each other better, on the basis of clarity and on the basis of respect,” EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said last month.

The EU wants the world to welcome Iran back into the international community because — this might sound harsh, but it is increasingly hard not to believe it — they are hoping that the leaders of Tehran will focus their efforts on achieving their goal of annihilating Israel. As far as the Europeans are concerned, it appears that the stronger Iran is, the better: a renewed Iran would further Europe’s hope of seeing Israel and the Jews wiped off the face of the earth. Heard just a few months ago were calls such as, “send Jews to the ovens,” “Hitler didn’t finish the job,” and “kill the Jews.”

US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper was quoted as saying on August 28 that the US is “not seeking conflict with Iran.” During the Pentagon press briefing, Esper repeated Trump’s calls for diplomatic efforts with Iran. “You saw over the weekend some reporting. The president once again said that he’s more than willing to meet with Iran’s leaders to resolve this… diplomatically.”

The Trump administration’s gestures towards Iran, however, do not appear to have impressed the leaders of the Islamic Republic. In fact, Arabs and Muslims have a habit of misinterpreting gestures from Westerners as a sign of weakness and retreat. In addition, such gestures have historically whetted the appetite of Arabs and Muslims, leading to demands for yet more concessions.

The Trump administration has created the impression in the Arab and Muslim world that it is ready to beg the leaders of Iran to engage in direct negotiations with Washington. This approach is exceptionally harmful to US interests: it sends a message to many Arabs and Muslims that Americans are prepared to surrender again and humiliate themselves for the sake of any kind of deal with the Iranians. As Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said last month, America should “bow down” to Iran. Seems it is.

In the eyes of many Arabs and Muslims, the US now appears to be courting the Iranian regime despite Tehran’s increased support for terrorism, particularly in the Middle East. These Arabs and Muslims are even convinced that it is only a matter of time before the Trump administration comes knocking on Iran’s door, begging for a meeting between Trump and Rouhani.

The Iranians are already making it appear as if they are the ones who need to consider whether or not to meet with the Trump administration. This policy is designed to send the following message to Arabs and Muslims: “See how these pathetic Westerners have come to us, begging? See how they have zero self-respect?”

Echoing this approach, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said last month:

“It won’t be possible for us to engage with US unless they stop imposing a war, engaging in economic terrorism… If they want to come back to the [negotiating] room, there is a ticket, and that ticket is to observe the agreement.”

Zarif was referring to the 2015 nuclear deal, also known as the JCPOA, but never signed by Iran and never submitted to the US Senate to make it a binding treaty.

Zarif is saying, in other words, that Iran has its own pre-conditions for talking with the Trump administration. Statements like these are aimed at making Iran appear to Arabs and Muslims as a country that can afford openly to challenge — and even degrade — the US.

For now, the Iranians appear as if they have the upper hand and final say in the crisis with the US. This bearing further emboldens Tehran’s leaders and proxies throughout the Middle East, especially Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip and the Houthi Shia militias in Yemen.

The Trump administration, rather than avoiding the telephone calls of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, would do well to learn from Israel’s experience when it comes to offering gestures and making territorial and political concessions: that striking deals with Arab and Islamic regimes and organizations, such as Iran and the Palestinian Authority — as well as the Taliban, China, North Korea and Russia, which all seem to think that honoring agreements is for other people — tends to come with a heavy price.

In 1993, Israel signed the Oslo Accord with the PLO — a move that allowed then PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and thousands of his “fighters” to move from Tunis to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Israelis were hoping back then that the Oslo Accords would lead to real peace and coexistence, with the Palestinians living under PLO rule. The Oslo Accords, nonetheless, have since proven to be a disaster for both Israelis and Palestinians. Why? As it later transpired, Arafat and the PLO never had any intention of implementing the agreements. Arafat, in fact, spoke of the Oslo Accord as a modern version of Mohammad’s Treaty of Hudaibiyyah, in which the prophet had promised not to attack a Jewish tribe for ten years, but instead came back in two years and wiped it out.

PLO official Faisal Husseini on two separate occasions in 2001 described Oslo as a “Trojan Horse” – presumably first to open Israel to Palestinian demands and then to destroy it.

In 2006, Palestinian journalist Abdel Al-Bari Atwan revealed in a television interview that Arafat had told him that he was planning to turn the Oslo Accords into a curse for Israel.

“When the Oslo Accords were signed, I went to visit [Arafat] in Tunis. It was around July, before he went to Gaza. I said to him: We disagree. I do not support this agreement. It will harm us, the Palestinians, distort our image, and uproot us from our Arab origins. This agreement will not get us what we want, because these Israelis are deceitful.

“He [Arafat] took me outside and told me: By Allah, I will drive them [the Jews] crazy. By Allah, I will turn this agreement into a curse for them. By Allah, perhaps not in my lifetime, but you will live to see the Israelis flee from Palestine. Have a little patience. I entrust this with you. Don’t mention this to anyone.”

When Arafat and the PLO realized at the 2000 Camp David summit that their plan had been uncovered, they launched a massive wave of terrorism, called “the Second Intifada,” against Israel. At that meeting, Arafat received the most generous offer to date from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak — but the Palestinian leader still said “no.”

Barak’s proposal, according to various sources, included the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state on approximately 92% of the West Bank and 100% of the Gaza Strip, with some territorial compensation for the Palestinians from land inside Israel; the dismantling of most of the settlements; and the establishment of the future Palestinian capital in large parts of east Jerusalem. (An offer in 2008 from then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, even more far-reaching, was rejected by the Palestinians without even a counter-offer.)

Israel had believed what the PLO and Yasser Arafat said, and ended up facing an unprecedented campaign of suicide bombings and different forms of terrorism that have claimed the lives of thousands of Israelis in the past 27 years.

In 2005, Israel again paid a heavy price for a move that was supposed to promote peace and stability in the Middle East: the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Then, Israel withdrew to the 1949 armistice line bordering the Gaza Strip after evacuating more than 8,000 Jews from their homes in the Gaza Strip settlements. Israel’s gesture, however, was misinterpreted by many Palestinians as a sign of weakness and retreat. The way most Palestinians saw it was: “Wow, we have killed 1,000 Jews in four and a half years — and now the Jews run! What we need to do is step up our terrorism: today they are evacuating the Gaza Strip, tomorrow they will evacuate the cities of Ashkelon, then Ashdod, then Tel Aviv … and from there to the sea.”

So, the Palestinians continued to fire rockets from the Gaza Strip at Israel even after the Israeli pullout. They had evidently concluded that spilling more Jewish blood would force the Jews to make even greater concessions and lead eventually lead to the elimination of Israel.

Similarly, Israel has repeatedly paid a heavy price for other gestures, such as releasing convicted terrorists from prison or removing checkpoints. Virtually each time, the Palestinian response was mounting more terrorism and killing more Jews. Many Palestinians who were released by Israel in the past few decades have returned to terrorist activity. They clearly saw their release from prison as a sign of weakness, and not as a gesture of goodwill on the part of Israel. Their conclusion was: to get Israel to release more prisoners, kill more Jews.

Most of all, the Trump administration would be wise to learn from Israel’s bitter experience in dealing with Iran’s Palestinian proxies: Hamas and Islamic Jihad. How many ceasefire agreements has Israel reached with the Gaza-based terrorist groups in the past 15 years? Probably at least ten. What has happened since then? Most of the agreements were violated by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, sometimes within hours, days or weeks.

Israel has learned the hard way that agreements with terrorists and dictators (such as Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas) are not worth the paper they are written on — and usually simply serve to invite further violence.

The Trump administration, in its overtures towards the Iranian regime — and China, North Korea, Russia and the Taliban — could well be facing the same scenario. Advice to the Trump administration is: Stay strong. As Osama bin Laden correctly observed, “When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse.”

Strength and more strength is the only way to earn the respect of those running the show in Beijing, Kabul, Moscow, Pyongyang, and especially Tehran, Gaza and Beirut.

Bassam Tawil is a Muslim Arab based in the Middle East.

Above and beyond – The birth of the Israeli Air Force via American volunteer pilots 

September 6, 2019

In 1948, a group of World War II Jewish American pilots volunteered to fight for Israel in the War of Independence. As members of ‘Machal’ — volunteers from abroad — this ragtag band of brothers not only turned the tide of the war, preventing the possible annihilation of Israel at the very moment of its birth; they also laid the groundwork for the Israeli Air Force.

ABOVE AND BEYOND is their story. The first major feature-length documentary about the foreign airmen in the War of Independence, ABOVE AND BEYOND brings together new interviews with pilots from the ’48 War, as well as leading scholars and statesmen, including Shimon Peres, to present an extraordinary, little-known tale with reverberations up to the present day.

One of the pilots featured in this documentary, Lou Lenart was a friend of mine in Hollywood.  Sadley, he passed away a number of years ago…