Archive for September 2020

Israeli PM Netanyahu Addresses 75th Session of the UNGA

September 29, 2020

 

 

Rouhani accuses US of ‘atrocity’ over sanctions, blames ‘Zionists’ for woes

September 27, 2020

Iranian president decries the damage of recent American punitive actions, says US administration will yet ‘bow down before the Iranian nation’

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaking in a pre-recorded message played during the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, at UN headquarters in New York, September 22, 2020. (UNTV via AP)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaking in a pre-recorded message played during the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, at UN headquarters in New York, September 22, 2020. (UNTV via AP)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday accused the US of committing an “atrocity” for sanctions that have inflicted damages of $150 billion, and urged the Iranian people to blame the White House for recent financial woes, in a televised address on Iranian state TV.

The United States imposed fresh sanctions this week on Iran’s defense ministry and enforced an arms embargo under a United Nations authority that is widely contested.

“The people should curse the White House for the shortages… the main source of all the crimes and pressures against the Iranian nation is the White House,” Rouhani said.

Rouhani went on to blame the ails of Iranian society on “Zionism, reactionary approaches, and US extremists.”

In his closing remarks, Rouhani said that he had “no doubt the US administration will bow down before the Iranian nation.”

Tensions between the US and Iran have escalated since US President Donald Trump pulled out of the 2015 deal aimed at capping Iran’s nuclear activities in return for sanction relief, and unilaterally reimposed sanctions on Iran in 2018.

Despite pulling out of the nuclear deal, Trump announced Monday that the US has reimposed UN sanctions on the grounds that the United States is still a “participant” in the accord, as it was listed in the 2015 resolution.

This argument has been rejected by virtually all nations on the UN Security Council, including US allies.

The sanctions target 27 entities and officials related to Iran’s nuclear proliferation activities, a statement from the White House said. The order seizes US assets from “those who contribute to the supply, sale, or transfer of conventional arms to or from Iran, as well as those who provide technical training, financial support and services, and other assistance related to these arms.”

Trump said in a statement: “This executive order is critical to enforcing the UN arms embargo on Iran. The order will greatly diminish the Iranian regime’s capacity to export arms to terrorists and dangerous actors throughout the region, as well as its ability to acquire weapons to build up its own forces.”

Agencies contributed to this report.

Palestine quits Arab League role in protest over Israel deals

September 23, 2020

Ha ha ha, this just gets better and better.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/9/22/palestine-quits-arab-league-role-in-protest-over-israel-deals

'There is no honour in seeing Arabs rush towards normalisation during its presidency,' Maliki said [File: Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters]

Palestine has quit its current chairmanship of Arab League meetings, the Palestinian foreign minister said on Tuesday, condemning as dishonourable any Arab agreement to establish formal ties with Israel.

Palestinians see the deals that the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed with Israel in Washington a week ago as a betrayal of their cause and a blow to their quest for an independent state in Israeli-occupied territory.

Earlier this month, the Palestinians failed to persuade the Arab League to condemn nations breaking ranks and normalising relations with Israel.

Palestine was supposed to chair Arab League meetings for the next six months, but Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told a news conference in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah that it no longer wanted the position.

“Palestine has decided to concede its right to chair the League’s council [of foreign ministers] at its current session. There is no honour in seeing Arabs rush towards normalisation during its presidency,” Maliki said.

In his remarks, he did not specifically name the UAE and Bahrain, Gulf Arab countries that share with Israel concern over Iran. He said Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit had been informed of the Palestinian decision.

The Palestinian leadership wants an independent state based on the de facto borders before the 1967 war, in which Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and annexed East Jerusalem.

Arab countries have long called for Israel’s withdrawal from illegally occupied land, a just solution for Palestinian refugees and a settlement that leads to the establishment of a viable, independent Palestinian state, in exchange for establishing ties with it.

In a new move addressing internal Palestinian divisions, officials from West Bank-based President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction and the Gaza-based Hamas movement were due to hold reconciliation talks in Turkey on Tuesday.

Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in 2007 from Fatah forces during a brief round of fighting. Differences over power-sharing have delayed implementation of unity deals agreed since then.

Explosion rocks alleged Hezbollah arms cache in Lebanon, casualties reported

September 23, 2020


Military declares site in Ain Qana a closed zone, amid reports blast was in a weapons depot belonging to the terror group

By AARON BOXERMAN22 September 2020, 4:13 pmUpdated at 6:55 pm  4Smoke billows in the Lebanese village of Ain Qana after an unexplained explosion, September 22, 2020. (Twitter screen capture)

A Hezbollah weapons cache exploded in a small town in southern Lebanon on Monday, sending up billowing clouds of black smoke, causing widespread damage and several casualties, according to unconfirmed reports.

While there was no immediate confirmation by officials as to the cause of the explosion in the small town of Ain Qana, an unnamed source told Reuters the site was an arms depot.

UAE-based Al-Hadath, citing security sources, also reported that the explosion took place at a Hezbollah weapons storehouse. Another channel, Lebanon’s MTV, reported several injured.

A Hezbollah official confirmed there was an explosion but declined to give further details. Hezbollah security forces deployed in the area and prevented journalists from investigating on the scene.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/index.html?dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-0&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1308379892858355712&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.timesofisrael.com%2Fexplosion-rattles-hezbollah-stronghold-in-lebanon-casualties-reported%2F&siteScreenName=timesofisrael&theme=light&widgetsVersion=219d021%3A1598982042171&width=550px

Residents said ambulances had carried away several of the wounded, while the National News Agency reported only limited material damage. However, sources in Hezbollah told the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International TV news channel that no one was injured in the blast.

Ain Qana is in the hilly Iqleem al-Tuffah region. A prominent Hezbollah tourist site that draws thousands of visitors a year lies on a neighboring hilltop just a ten-minute drive away.

The Lebanese Army said in a statement that its forces were at the scene to conduct an investigation into the cause of the explosion.

Lebanese state media implied that Israel may have been involved in the explosion, but emphasized that the causes “are not known.”

“The explosion that occurred in a house in the town of Ain Qana…coincided with the intensive flight of hostile Israeli military and espionage aircraft, which had not left the airspace of Nabatiyeh and Iqlim al-Tuffah since the morning,” the Lebanese National News Agency reported.

Sources in Hezbollah told LCBI that the explosion was not part of a targeted attack on senior officials in the Lebanese terror group.https://www.youtube.com/embed/BR034Rdkvr4?feature=oembed&showinfo=0&rel=0&modestbranding=1

Every blast in Lebanon since August’s devastating Beirut port explosion has gone viral on social media, with thousands waiting with bated breath to see whether or not a tire fire or gas blaze would turn into the next Lebanese catastrophe. Most Lebanese TV networks gave the explosion in Ein Qana wall-to-wall coverage, with experts and analysis on call to speculate about its source.

Viewers of official Hezbollah TV or one of its affiliates, however, may not have heard of the blast at all until hours later. Official Hezbollah al-Manar TV continued to broadcast reruns about its community projects and features about holy sites in south Lebanon; pro-Hezbollah al-Mayadeen ran a story on Lebanon’s financial crisis instead.

In its nightly news broadcast, an al-Manar newscaster delivered the semi-official Hezbollah line: that a house in Ain Qara had exploded due to unspecified “damages.”

“As usual, the media got up and began theorizing and pontificating and analyzing. They were so exceptional that they even beat the security services to finding out the root cause of the incident,” she said sarcastically.

The Beirut port explosion — which killed over 180 and rendered 300,000 homeless overnight — was caused by ammonium nitrate of unknown provenience. While many corrupt officials allowed the explosive material to remain in the port until the day it unleashed a firestorm in Beirut’s downtown, some evidence suggests that Hezbollah could have been involved in bringing it to Lebanon.

The explosion raised new questions about the placement of Hezbollah weapons caches in civilian areas. Hezbollah has long defended what it considers its right to possess arms as part of its “resistance” to Israel.

“Everyone knows where the weapons are. The issue of these weapons in villages and cities is now an issue of life and death. It is neither justifiable nor acceptable for Hezbollah to consider to store its weapons in such places,” Ali al-Amin, a journalist covering south Lebanon, told UAE-based al-Hadath TV.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

At UN, Rouhani says next US leader will ‘surrender to the resilience of Iran’

September 23, 2020


Defiant president slams Trump’s new sanctions, implies rebuke for Arab nations warming ties with Israel: ‘We never made a deal over the Holy Quds’

By AGENCIES22 September 2020, 10:43 pm  2Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaking in a pre-recorded message played during the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, at UN headquarters in New York, September 22, 2020. (UNTV via AP)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani vowed Tuesday that the next US leader must accept Tehran’s demands, ruling out compromise as Donald Trump vies for reelection.

“We are not a bargaining chip in US elections and domestic policy,” Rouhani said in a virtual address to the UN General Assembly. “Any US administration after the upcoming elections will have no choice but to surrender to the resilience of the Iranian nation.”

Tensions have soared between Iran and the United States under Trump, who pulled out of a nuclear accord negotiated by his predecessor Barack Obama and slapped sweeping sanctions on the country.

Joe Biden, Trump’s rival in November 3 elections, staunchly backed the 2015 nuclear deal.

Rouhani delivered a defiant and fiery speech even as his nation grapples with the Middle East’s worst coronavirus outbreak and a weakened economy.

He spoke in a pre-recorded speech to the virtual summit just days after Iran’s currency plunged to its lowest levels ever to the US dollar due to crippling US sanctions imposed by Trump, who pulled the US out of Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018. The accord had been signed by the Obama administration. The sanctions effectively bar Iran from selling its oil globally.

“The United States can impose neither negotiations nor war on us,” Rouhani said, before adding: “Life is hard under sanctions. However, harder is life without independence.”

Rouhani also compared his country’s plight with that of George Floyd, the Black American who died after a white police officer in Minneapolis pinned him to the ground by pressing a knee into his neck. Floyd’s death sparked nationwide protests in support of Black lives.

Calling it “reminiscent of our own experience,” he said: “We instantly recognize the feet kneeling on the neck as the feet of arrogance on the neck of independent nations.”

Rouhani said Iran “has paid a similar high price” in its quest for freedom and liberation from domination. He insisted his nation “does not deserve sanctions” and described the US as “a terrorist and interventionist outsider” before referring to the 1953 US-backed coup that cemented the control of the shah in Iran, which ultimately pushed the country toward its Islamic Revolution and hostility with the West.

This week, the White House doubled down on its maximum pressure campaign against the Islamic Republic with an executive order to enforce all United Nations sanctions on Iran because Tehran is not complying with the nuclear deal — a move that most of the rest of the world rejects as illegal. Few UN member states believe the US has the legal standing to restore the sanctions because Trump withdrew from the nuclear agreement.

Rouhani accused the US of creating Islamic State, and said US claims that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons were “without any foundation.”

He also hailed Iran’s role in standing “with the people and government of Lebanon against Zionist occupiers, domestic warmongers and foreign plotters” and said it his regime “never ignored occupation, genocide, forced displacement and racism in Palestine.”

In an implied rebuke of Arab countries warming their ties with Israel — including the UAE and Bahrain, which last week signed the Abraham Accords at the White House — he said Iran “never made a deal over the Holy Quds and the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people.”French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris, September 21, 2020. (Michel Euler/AP)

French President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday that Europe would not compromise with the US over Washington’s move to reactivate sanctions on Iran, warning the snapback could undermine the UN Security Council and increase Middle East tensions.

Macron assailed the “maximum pressure” policy, saying it had failed to curb Tehran’s interference in the region or ensure it would not acquire a nuclear weapon.

“We will not compromise on the activation of a mechanism that the United States is not in a position to activate on its own after leaving the agreement,” Macron told the UN General Assembly’s 75th session by video from Paris.

“This would undermine the unity of the Security Council and the integrity of its decisions, and it would run the risk of further aggravating tensions in the region,” he warned.

In a nod to Washington, Macron said additional frameworks were needed for effectively dealing with the Iranian nuclear program, adding there needed to be a “capacity to complete” the 2015 accord known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

These would ensure that “we will provide responses to Iran’s ballistic activity, but also to its destabilization in the region.”

Macron insisted that France, along with its European allies Britain and Germany, would keep up its demand for “full implementation” of the Iran nuclear deal.Screen capture from video shows Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei openly weeping as he leads a prayer over the coffin of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in Iraq in a US drone strike, in Tehran, Iran, January 6, 2020. (Iran Press TV via AP)

He added that they would “not accept the violations committed by Iran,” which has ramped up its nuclear activity in response to the US withdrawal.

Tensions have run dangerously high this year between Tehran and Washington following a US strike in January that killed Iranian Revolutionary Guard general Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, prompting Tehran to retaliate with a ballistic missile strike on Iraqi bases housing American troops. The powerful commander was close to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who openly wept at his funeral.

Rouhani mentioned the commander briefly in his speech, referring to him as an “assassinated hero.”

Trump, who faces a stiff reelection battle in November, has ramped up pressure on Iran since taking office and has increased US military presence in the Gulf as a centerpiece of his Mideast foreign policy.

“We are not a bargaining chip in US elections and domestic policy,” Rouhani said.

In his speech earlier Tuesday at the General Assembly, Trump called Iran “the world’s leading state sponsor of terror” and underlined the US killing of Soleimani, boasting, “We withdrew from the terrible Iran nuclear deal and imposed crippling sanctions.”

Planning new sanctions, US said to claim Iran can make nuke in months

September 21, 2020
https://www.timesofisrael.com/planning-new-sanctions-us-said-to-claim-iran-can-make-nuke-in-months/

Officials offers no evidence for assertion that Tehran will have enough material for bomb by year’s end; over 2 dozen individuals and entities linked to arms trade to be penalized

Missiles are fired in an Iranian military exercise by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, July 28, 2020,. (Sepahnews via AP)

Missiles are fired in an Iranian military exercise bythe Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, July 28, 2020,. (Sepahnews via AP)

The US will reportedly place sanctions on more than two dozen people and entities tied to Iran’s nuclear and conventional weapons program, according to a senior US official who claimed the Iranians will have enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon by the end of the year.

Washington has been pushing to reapply international sanctions lifted from Iran under the terms of an unraveling multinational 2015 nuclear agreement, but so far has struggled to find support for the measures at the United Nations.

The US official, who spoke to the Reuters news agency on condition of anonymity, said among those who will be targeted are members of a procurement network supplying dual-use military items for the Iranian missile program and officials in the country’s ballistic missile program.

In addition to the restrictions placed on the targets of the sanctions, the measures will also affect any companies in Europe, Russia, or China that violate the sanctions, Reuters reported.

The sanctions will be announced Monday alongside a US executive order aimed at blocking conventional arms trade with Iran in the wake of the UN’s recent rejection of a US bid to extend an arms embargo on Iran, included in the nuclear deal, that is set to expire on October 18.

“Iran is clearly doing everything it can to keep in existence a virtual turnkey capability to get back into the weaponization business at a moment’s notice should it choose to do so,” said the official.

“Because of Iran’s provocative nuclear escalation, it could have sufficient fissile material for a nuclear weapon by the end of this year,” he said without providing more information. The official said the assessment was based on “the totality” of information available to Washington, including from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency”

He also said that Iran and North Korea have resumed their cooperation on long-range missile projects.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wears a mask as he arrives to hold a press conference at the State Department in Washington, September 16, 2020 in Washington. (Nicholas Kamm/Pool via AP)

A spokesman for Iran’s mission to the UN dismissed the approaching US sanctions as propaganda.

“The US’ ‘maximum pressure’ show, which includes new propaganda measures almost every week, has clearly failed miserably, and announcing new measures will not change this fact,” mission spokesman Alireza Miryousefi told Reuters via email.

“The entire world understands that these are a part of [the] next US election campaign, and they are ignoring the US’ preposterous claims at the UN today. It will only make [the] US more isolated in world affairs,” he said.

The White House declined to comment on the report.

The executive order on arms sales will have a broad definition of conventional weapons to mean any item with military potential, the US official said.

The Reuters report came as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the United Nations will not support reimposing sanctions on Iran as demanded by the US, until he gets a unlikely green light from the Security Council.

The UN chief said in a letter to the council president obtained Sunday by The Associated Press that “there would appear to be uncertainty” on whether or not US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo triggered the “snapback” mechanism in the Security Council resolution that enshrined the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres attends a session during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, August 25, 2020. (Markus Schreiber/AP)

The Trump administration declared Saturday that all UN sanctions against Iran have been restored, a move most of the rest of the world rejects as illegal and is likely to ignore.

The US announcement is certain to cause controversy during the UN’s annual high-level meetings of the General Assembly starting Monday, which is being held mainly virtually this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Sunday, Israel’s ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan sent a letter to Guterres backing the US sanctions announcement and urging “that it is incumbent upon the Secretariat to take all the necessary steps within its purview to ensure the resumption of the effective implementation of the aforementioned resolutions.”

“Iran never renounced its nuclear ambitions or malign activity,” Erdan wrote and claimed that Iran had used relief from the original pre-nuclear deal sanctions “to fund, arm, and train its proxies throughout the Middle East” while “sewing extreme chaos and destruction, and upending the entire region.”

The UN, Erdan wrote, “should apply maximum pressure and take swift action to stop Iran in its tracks. It must ensure, inter alia, that the newly re-imposed [US] sanctions are upheld and enforced.”

Then public security minister Gilad Erdan speaks at the 17th annual Jerusalem Conference of the ‘Besheva’ group, on February 24, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The US announcement on Saturday came 30 days after Pompeo notified the council that the administration was triggering “snapback” because Iran was in “significant non-performance” with its obligations under the accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.

But the overwhelming majority of members in the 15-nation council call the US action illegal because US President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the JCPOA deal in 2018.

They point to Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed the nuclear agreement. It states that “a JCPOA participant state” can trigger the “snapback” mechanism. The US insists that as an original participant it has the legal right, even though it ceased participating.

Guterres noted in the letter that “the Security Council has taken no action subsequent to the receipt of the letter of the US secretary of state, neither have any of its members or its president.”

He said the majority of council members have written to the council president “to the effect that the letter did not constitute a notification” that “snapback” was triggered. And he said the presidents of the council for August and September “have indicated that they were not in a position to take any action in regard to this matter.”

Therefore, Guterres said: “It is not for the secretary-general to proceed as if no such uncertainty exists.”

The UN Secretariat, which Guterres heads, provides support to the Security Council in implementing sanctions, including establishing committees and panels of experts to monitor their implementation along with websites on the nature of sanctions and lists of those on sanctions blacklists.

Guterres said the UN won’t take any action “pending clarification by the Security Council” on whether or not sanctions that have been lifted should be reimposed.

Russian Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Dmitry Polyanskiy speaks to reporters after a security council meeting at United Nations headquarters, November 26, 2018. (Seth Wenig/AP)

Under the “snapback” provision, UN sanctions eased or lifted by the nuclear deal are re-imposed and must be enforced by UN member states. Those would include hitting Iran with penalties for uranium enrichment to any level, ballistic missile activity and buying or selling conventional weapons.

Those bans were either removed or set to expire under the terms of the 2015 deal in which Iran was granted billions of dollars in sanctions relief in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

China and Russia have been particularly adamant in rejecting the US position, but US allies have not been shy either.

In a letter sent Friday to the Security Council president, Britain, France and Germany — the three European participants that remain committed to the agreement — said the US announcement “is incapable of having legal effect,” so it cannot reimpose sanctions on Iran.

Russia’s deputy ambassador to the UN, Dmitry Polyanskiy, said the US had only isolated itself.

“It’s very painful to see how a great country humiliates itself like this, opposes in its obstinate delirium other members of UN Security Council,” he wrote on Twitter.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who coordinates the JCPOA Joint Commission, reiterated that the US cannot be considered “a JCPOA participant state and cannot initiate the process of reinstating UN sanctions.” Consequently, he said, the sanctions remain lifted.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell addresses European lawmakers at the European Parliament in Brussels, September 15, 2020. (Francisco Seco/AP)

China’s UN Mission tweeted: “US unilateral announcement on the return of UN sanctions on IRAN is devoid of any legal, political or practical effect. … It’s time to end the political drama by the US.”

In its own letter to the Security Council on Saturday, Iran said the US move “is null and void, has no legal standing and effect and is thus completely unacceptable.”

It remains unclear how the administration will respond to being ignored, particularly by its European allies, which have pledged to keep the nuclear deal alive. A wholesale rejection of the US position could push the administration, which has already withdrawn from multiple UN agencies, organizations and treaties, further away from the international community.

How Israel Keeps Saving the World

September 18, 2020

Lengthy but very interesting summary of Israel’s successes at stopping bad dudes going nuke: Iraq/Osirak 1981, Syria/al-Kibar 2007, and Iran in the present day.

In Iran, this summer was a season of combustions. As fires and explosions followed hard upon one another, the New York Times reported that “for many Iranians, anticipating what will blow up next has become a kind of parlor game.”

Some of these conflagrations must have been natural occurrences: A string of forest fires owed much to a period of intense heat. Some fires or blasts at industrial facilities were likely the consequence of derelict maintenance due to foreign sanctions or managerial incompetence. Others, however, were attributed to arson or the detonation of bombs. The culprits may conceivably have been local: militant Kurds, Arabs, or Baluchis, fighting for independence. Or they may have been agents of the U.S. or Saudi Arabia or other Arab Gulf states.

But most speculation understandably focused on Iran’s chosen main enemy, Israel. In May Israeli officials had made little effort to conceal their responsibility for a computer disaster at Bandar-Abbas, Iran’s main southern port, which caused long delays of ships and trucks and severe disruption of operations. This was generally recognized as retaliation for the foiled Iranian cyberattack on Israeli water systems a few weeks before.

In general, however, Israel claims credit for few of its attacks on foreign enemies. While things were going bang in Iran, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz declared, “Not every event that happens in Iran is connected to us.” But of course, buried in this deflection of responsibility was an implicit acknowledgment that some such events are indeed of Israel’s making. And Gantz’s predecessor, Avigdor Lieberman, took to the floor of the Knesset shortly after to denounce an unnamed intelligence official, understood to be Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, for leaking to the New York Times confirmation that Israel was behind the most consequential of this summer’s explosions, which destroyed a strategic factory at Natanz.

Natanz is the center of Iran’s nuclear program, where thousands of centrifuges enrich uranium. They have been placed in deep underground facilities to make them difficult to attack. But most of these centrifuges are behind the times, limited in speed and the degree of enrichment they can achieve and therefore in their effectiveness for making nuclear bombs. Presumably to remedy this deficit, Iran had set about manufacturing more modern centrifuges capable of producing more bomb-quality enriched uranium faster. This factory sits above ground. Or at least it did—until it was blown up this July.

This was not the only facility of military significance to go up in flames this summer. A missile-production site at Khojir in eastern Tehran Province was also destroyed by an explosion. A power plant in Isfahan, delivering electricity to Natanz, caught fire. And complete power blackouts in other locales were said to affect military capabilities.

The implication, it seemed, was that Israel had opened a new chapter in its efforts to prevent Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon. Some observers speculated about Iran’s possible retaliation—including against the U.S.—while others expressed alarm. Indeed, ever since an Iranian opposition group laid bare Iran’s secret nuclear program in 2002, much of the world has seemed as anxious about what Israel might do to prevent an Iranian nuclear breakout as about Iran’s quest for the bomb. Israel’s latest apparent tactic was “audacious and risky,” wrote a Washington Post columnist. It amounted to “a dangerous gamble,” warned the head of the Rand Corporation’s Middle East program.

Perhaps so: Audacious and risky tactics, dangerous gambles, have been hallmarks of Israel’s self-defense, which has enabled it to survive in the face of endless threats that few other nations have had to face. It has emerged as the strongest and most stable country in the Middle East, a reality that is recognized universally by unbiased observers. What is less often acknowledged is that actions taken in Israel’s self-defense have also redounded to the benefit of America and, indeed, of the world.

Israel has refused to sign the nuclear nonproliferation treaty and is widely believed to possess a nuclear arsenal, an inference it has steadfastly refused to confirm or deny and for which it has often been criticized.  Nonetheless, it has been responsible for some of the world’s most important measures of what is called “counterproliferation.”

_____________

THE FIRST was the destruction of Iraq’s nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981. As early as 1974, Saddam Hussein, who was not yet president of Iraq but was already the power behind the throne, was named, or named himself, to head a three-member Strategic Development Committee charged with generating weapons of mass destruction.

That year, France agreed to sell Iraq a light-water “research reactor” together with uranium fuel, after turning down a request for a graphite reactor deemed more conducive to weapons manufacture. Italy provided equipment for recovering plutonium from the reactor’s fuel. According to Iraqi scientist Khidhir Hamza, who worked on the program, and David Albright, a former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspector of Iraq’s nuclear programs, “Iraqi teams calculated that the Osirak reactor could conservatively produce about 5 kilograms to 7 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium per year,” and possibly more, enough for a bomb.

This known potentiality led to its being attacked—by Iran. That was in 1980 at the outset of the war between Iraq and Iran. The Iranians damaged some of the facilities at Osirak but not the reactor. In protest, an Iraqi government newspaper addressed the Iranians rhetorically:

We ask Khomeini and his gang, “Who would derive benefit from damaging the Iraqi nuclear reactor, Iran or the Zionist entity?” It does not stand to reason that this reactor would constitute a danger to Iran, because Iraq sees the Iranian people with a brotherly regard. It is the Zionist entity which is afraid of the Iraqi nuclear reactor … because it constitutes a great danger to Israel.

And so it seemed, too, to Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. The following year, as Iraq was preparing to feed fuel into the reactor, making it “hot,” meaning that its destruction would have released radioactivity into the air that might have killed thousands, Begin ordered it destroyed.

The airstrike constituted a remarkable feat of aeronautics. The round trip from Israel to the reactor site was longer than the normal fuel range of Israel’s F-16 bombers. It entailed overflying Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and western Iraq, forcing the planes to extremely low altitude to evade radar, and meaning the pilots had no safe place for an emergency landing or to parachute into. Yet all eight planes returned safely, seven having succeeded in hitting the target, destroying it completely. A French technician working there was quoted in the press, saying, “If  [the Iraqis] want to resume work, they will have to flatten everything and start from scratch.”

The world responded with indignation. The New York Times delivered this pronouncement in a lead editorial: “Israel’s sneak attack… was an act of inexcusable and short-sighted aggression… . Prime Minister Begin embraces the…code of terror.” Few eyebrows were raised when Moscow branded the attack “barbarous,” but even Israel’s friends were condemnatory. Margaret Thatcher called the strike “a grave breach of international law.” Secretary of State Alexander Haig deemed it “reckless.” UN Representative Jeane Kirkpatrick said it was “shocking.” With U.S. assent, the UN Security Council voted to “strongly condemn” Israel and called upon it “urgently” to place its own nuclear program under IAEA safeguards. As a sanction, the Reagan administration delayed delivery of more F-16s to Israel.

In reality, the attack was highly beneficial, and the first to benefit, ironically, was Iran, which Saddam had invaded in 1980, taking advantage of the chaos created by the overthrow of the shah. In the latter half of 1981, Iranian forces reversed the tide, and by late 1982, the war shifted to Iraqi soil. Losing, Iraq reverted to chemical weapons. Starting in 1983, it used mustard gas, sarin, and another nerve agent, Tabun, inflicting thousands of deaths and tens of thousands of injuries.

Had Israel not destroyed the reactor, Iraq might have had a nuclear weapon by this time, or a few of them. The likelihood would have increased after a couple more years, say, by 1985 when the two sides began to fire indiscriminately on each other’s population centers in what was dubbed “the war of cities.” If he had had them, what would have restrained Saddam from using them? Mercy? Prudence? He was a ruler notorious for exhibiting none of the first and too little of the second.

Had technical factors delayed Iraq’s acquisition of the bomb until it was too late to use against Iran, then almost surely it would have had one—or rather, several—by 1990 when Iraq invaded and swallowed Kuwait. Would the U.S. and the coalition it assembled to restore Kuwaiti sovereignty have been able to operate in the shadow of Iraqi nuclear weapons? Not that Saddam could have easily attacked the United States with them, but they might have been deployed against massed U.S. and allied forces.

With international intervention held at bay, Saudi Arabia, too, would have come under threat. Saudi oil fields lie to the eastern edge of that country, just beyond Kuwait, within easy reach of Saddam’s forces once Kuwait had been incorporated as the 19th province of Iraq. Whether or not the impulsive Iraqi ruler would have helped himself to any territory beyond Kuwait, the Saudi and other monarchies of the Gulf would have felt compelled to accept a subservient relationship with a nuclear-armed Iraq, propitiating it with cash and political support. Saddam would have been well on his way to the role he coveted: kingpin of the Arab world. The geopolitical and humanitarian consequences would have been grim.

When U.S.-led forces completed the liberation of Kuwait in 1991, Dick Cheney, then secretary of defense, in effect withdrew America’s criticism of Israel’s actions a decade earlier. He sent an aerial photo of the destroyed Osirak reactor to the man who had commanded the Israeli mission, inscribed: “For Gen. David Ivry, with thanks and appreciation for the outstanding job he did on the Iraqi nuclear program in 1981—which made our job much easier in Desert Storm.” Nor was this a partisan judgment. Bill Clinton, who had to struggle the length of his presidency with trying to root out what was left after Desert Storm of Iraq’s nuclear-weapons program, said later: “What the Israelis did at Osirak, in 1981, … I think, in retrospect, was a really good thing.”

This is disputed by some scholars who claim that the Osirak attack was unnecessary, arguing variously that international inspections by the IAEA and France would have impeded Iraq’s bomb development, that other technological challenges would still have taken Iraq time to overcome, and that Iraq responded to Osirak’s destruction by redirecting its pursuit of nuclear weapons along a different, clandestine path. But none of these claims is convincing. First, Hamza and Albright write, “the Iraqis believed that the safeguards on the reactor, which would have included periodic inspections and surveillance cameras, could have been defeated” by various subterfuges. Second, while no doubt it would have taken Iraq time to produce a weapon, amassing the requisite nuclear material—plutonium or highly enriched uranium—is the critical step. With that in hand, it might have taken a year or two or five to form it into a bomb, but eventually that would have been achieved.

As for the third point of the skeptics, it is true that Saddam continued his nuclear program by other means. When coalition forces defeated Iraq in 1991, they were surprised to discover how far along toward a bomb Iraq had come since Osirak. Estimates varied but seemed to center on the guess that Iraq would have had a bomb in three years, that is, by 1994. That is surely many years later than it would have happened had Osirak been left unmolested in 1981. Of course, Israel’s action only forestalled Iraq’s nuclear-weapon status and did not prevent it for all time. But that postponement was crucial. Iraq never got the bomb; and with Saddam Hussein gone, there is no reason to suppose it will ever try again.

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THE SECOND Israeli act of counterproliferation that made the world safer was its September 2007 bombing of a secret nuclear reactor recently built at al-Kibar, a remote corner of northeastern Syria. In 2006, Israeli intelligence analysts were viewing with growing suspicion satellite photos showing a large square building just west of the Euphrates with little else nearby. They dubbed the mysterious structure “the cube,” and some suspected nuclear activity, however surprising this seemed.

When one of Syria’s top nuclear experts attended a meeting of the IAEA in Vienna, Mossad took the opportunity to sneak into his hotel room and introduce a “trojan” into his laptop that rendered its contents visible to Israel. On it, they found a series of photographs of the interior of the building, showing that it harbored a reactor. To boot, a few of them showed Syrian functionaries together with some from North Korea, including a known official of Pyongyang’s nuclear program. “The cube” turned out to be a replica of the North Korean reactor at Yongbyon—a type of reactor that had been made nowhere else in the previous 35 years.

Top Israeli officials traveled to Washington to show these photos to Vice President Dick Cheney and other U.S. officials. By phone, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert asked President George W. Bush whether the U.S. would destroy the reactor. With the U.S. mired in Iraq and the administration profoundly embarrassed by the erroneous information it had touted about Iraq’s nuclear program, all senior officials except Cheney counseled against military action in Syria, and Bush followed their advice.

Disappointed, Olmert determined that Israel would do the job itself. Available intelligence indicated that the reactor could soon go hot, so time was of the essence. But first, Israel took an extraordinary step to further verify the nature of the facility. A team of agents from the special unit that operates in Arab territory was fitted out with Syrian military uniforms and Syrian weapons and even Syrian-type jeeps. It was delivered by helicopter to the vicinity of “the cube,” where it recovered soil and plant samples. (“Audacious and risky” indeed.) These samples reconfirmed that it housed a reactor.

The bombing of al-Kibar was easier than that of Osirak simply because it was much nearer to Israel. Still, it entailed remarkable military execution. Israel did not want a war with Syria and designed its operation for complete secrecy—not merely beforehand, which of course was necessary, but even after the mission was accomplished. No doubt, the Syrian regime would understand at once what had happened, but how would it react? Israeli leaders calculated that Syrian President Bashar Assad might feel compelled to strike at Israel to save face, even knowing he would lose a war. If, however, no one other than high officials of the two countries and the personnel directly involved discovered what had happened, then no one would lose face. Both sides might be able to go on as if nothing had happened.

Israel used a small number of planes. Flying low and maintaining radio silence, the pilots were instructed even to avoid dogfights should they encounter enemy aircraft. Mission accomplished, the bombers were back at their base within four hours. Olmert called Bush on a secure line and said cryptically: “Do you remember that thing in the north that was bothering me? It isn’t there anymore.” Bush is reported to have replied, “Very good.” Of course, scores of Israeli military and intelligence officers knew what had happened, but strict military censorship was imposed, and the story did not get out for many years, by which time Assad had a rebellion on his hands, and this episode seemed too far past to justify, much less require, retaliation.

Preserving its regional nuclear monopoly manifestly serves Israel’s security. But it serves the general interest as well. Israel is neither a proliferator nor an aggressor. Not every forceful action it has taken over the years has been wise, but all have been rooted in self-defense. Its nuclear deterrent encourages its neighbors to accept that it cannot be driven into the sea, and this conduces to peace. Were a neighbor such as Syria to deploy nuclear weapons, Israel’s deterrent would be eroded, making future large Israei–Arab war more likely. With nuclear weapons on both sides, the region would live nearer the edge of catastrophe.

Apart from the impact on Israel’s security and Israeli–Arab stability, a range of dire consequences would have flowed from Syria’s achievement of a nuclear weapon. To start, Assad would have had to share them with Iran and Hezbollah, whose soldiers have kept him in power. Of course, this would put Israel in danger, but others, too.

The region’s Sunnis would not feel safe, and the rush would be on for Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt to acquire their own bombs—and who knows who else? North Korea, an economic basket case apart from weapon sales, would be only too happy to help build other Yongbyon-type reactors—and no doubt to sell missiles to go with them. The region is a tinderbox, with Syria, Yemen, and Libya aflame in civil war and with other conflicts simmering in Iraq, the Sinai, and Western Sahara. Adding nuclear bombs to the mix might well lead to disaster.

In addition, there is the question of what would have happened to Syria itself. Would Assad’s regime, which repeatedly used chemical weapons against dissident regions of his own country, have refrained from using, say, very small “battlefield” nuclear weapons? Would it have exercised such self-restraint even at the moments in the civil war when the regime seemed on the brink of collapsing? For seven or eight years now, a war of all against all has raged among Assad, the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, ISIS, the relatively liberal Free Syrian Army, the Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units), a range of local militias, Hezbollah, Iran, Turkey, and Russia. Even if Assad did not turn his nuclear guns on his own people, the presence of such weapons, of facilities for manufacturing them, and of fissile material would have fiercely intensified the mayhem.

One possible outcome is that one or another terrorist group might have fallen into possession of a nuclear weapon or of the nuclear material from which a crude weapon could be constructed or, even more easily, a so-called dirty bomb. (A “dirty bomb” is not a nuclear weapon but rather a conventional weapon attached to radioactive material that is spread about by its detonation.) Indeed, at its height, ISIS’s caliphate controlled most of both banks of the Euphrates in Syria and most of Deir Ez Zor Province, probably including the site of “the cube.” Of course, the various states involved presumably would have fought harder to block ISIS from winning that strategic prize were it still standing, but then again ISIS and other terror groups would have gone all out for it, too.

The possibility of a terrorist group acquiring a nuclear weapon or material is not far-fetched. It alarmed President Barack Obama, who inaugurated a series of biannual global Nuclear Security Summits devoted to raising awareness of this peril. Few things, if any, would have made that nightmare more likely to come true than the production of such weapons in Syria.

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IF THE door has been slammed on the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iraq or Syria, the same cannot be said for Iran—which brings us back to this summer’s combustions. It is easy to understand why an Israeli hand is suspected. Israel has good reason to fear an Iranian nuclear bomb.

In 2005, when Iran’s volatile President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared the goal of wiping Israel off the map, various apologists insisted he had been mistranslated. But the thought has been expressed by other Iranian leaders, most recently Brigadier General Hossein Salami, now the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, that country’s most powerful institution. “Our strategy is to erase Israel from the global political map,” he said last year, adding this poetic touch: “The Israelis will not have even a cemetery in Palestine to bury their corpses.”

The antipathy behind such threats is useful to Iran, bridging the gulfs between Persians and Arabs and between Shiites and Sunnis by posing as the champion of all those who remain unreconciled to Israel’s existence. But just as Hitler’s anti-Semitism was no mere contrivance to help win elections in the Weimar Republic, so neither is the hatred that inspires Iran to sponsor global contests for the best cartoon that makes fun of the Holocaust. The Iranian-American scholar Karim Sadjadpour put it:

Distilled to its essence, Tehran’s steadfast support for Assad is not driven by the geopolitical or financial interests of the Iranian nation, nor the religious convictions of the Islamic Republic, but by a visceral and seemingly inextinguishable hatred of the state of Israel…. Though Israel has virtually no direct impact on the daily lives of Iranians, opposition to the Jewish state has been the most enduring pillar of Iranian revolutionary ideology. Whether Khamenei is giving a speech about agriculture or education, he invariably returns to the evils of Zionism.

Israel does not, however, stand alone as an object of Iranian rage. Israel, in Iran’s lexicon, is the “Little Satan” while the United States is the “Great Satan.” The latter may be too formidable to tackle frontally, but Iran does what it can to inflict injuries.

A U.S. district-court ruling in 2011 found that Tehran had “provided material aid and support to al-Qaeda for the 1998 [U.S.] embassy bombings” in Kenya and Tanzania in which more than 200 people were killed. According to the report of the 9/11 Commission, “senior al Qaeda operatives and trainers traveled to Iran to receive training in explosives.” Others were trained in Lebanon by Iranian or Hezbollah experts. The commission also found “strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers.” Regarding the 1996 truck-bombing of U.S. military housing, Khobar Towers, in Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 U.S. service members and wounded 372 others, the commission concluded that the operation had been carried out “by Saudi Hezbollah, an organization that had received support from the government of Iran.” In 2012, under President Barack Obama, the Treasury Department “designated” (i.e., placed on a list for sanctions) Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security for having “facilitated the movement of al Qa’ida operatives in Iran and provided them with documents, identification cards, and passports” and for having “provided money and weapons to al Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI), a terrorist group” and having “negotiated prisoner releases of AQI operatives.”

The 9/11 Commission found no evidence that Iran was directly involved in the 9/11 attack; rather, it had a history of setting aside sectarian differences to give low-key aid to a group whose main purpose was to attack America. Likewise, in Afghanistan, although Iran opposes the Taliban’s return to power (the Taliban are Sunni, and Iran backs its own militia of Shiite Afghans, the Fatemiyoun), it has given the Taliban modest support to bleed America. An article early this year in Military Times reported that “U.S. military intelligence assessments dating back to 2010 suggest Iran’s elite paramilitary unity, the Quds Force, has a track record of providing training and lethal arms to the Taliban.” It added that one report “from the Theater Intelligence Group based out of Bagram Air Base said that Iran’s Quds Force was paying $1,000 for every U.S. soldier killed and $6,000 for American vehicles destroyed.”

In Iraq, Iran trained and supplied Shiite guerrilla groups that inflicted many casualties on U.S. forces. Still today, long after the American combat role ended, such groups continue to take a toll. Last December, Kata’ib Hezbollah launched some 30 rockets into an Iraqi base used by U.S. personnel, killing one American civilian and wounding four U.S. servicemen. When America responded by bombing the group’s military storage facilities, inflicting casualties, Kata’ib Hezbollah organized a violent invasion of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps boats have also harassed U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships in the Persian Gulf, and last year Iran shot down a U.S. drone. “The only way for our enemies to be safe is to respect our sovereignty, national security, and the national interests of the great Iranian nation,” intoned Salami.

Despite the bluster, Iran has no wish to tackle the Great Satan head-on, and these actions amount to nipping at its heels. Iran’s imperial ambitions, however, pose a real threat to many countries and to the broader structure of peace that America built and upholds in its own long-term interest. Tehran is not very guarded about these goals. At a 2015 conference in Tehran, an official adviser to President Hassan Rowhani spoke of the “Iranian empire.” Later he explained, according to a report in Al Arabiya News, “that he was alluding to cultural similarities [of Iran] with Iraq, Azerbaijan and Afghanistan, adding that ‘unification’ of these countries could halt expansionist agendas of powers foreign to the region.”

Iran’s ambitions are defined by three concentric circles, girding the region, the Islamic world, and the entire globe. This last, widest one may not be on any immediate action agenda, but it provides a framework in which the Iranian regime views itself in relation to the outside. Ahmadinejad once boasted: “Thanks to the blood of the martyrs, a new Islamic revolution has arisen. . . . The wave of the Islamic revolution will soon reach the entire world.” True, other Iranian presidents have been less provocative, but Ahmadinejad was the one most closely aligned with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Indeed, Ahmadinejad’s thoughts are congruent not only with Khamenei’s but with those of Khamenei’s predecessor, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the father of the Islamic Republic. Its constitution specifies that “faith and ideology” must be the “basic criteria” of the country’s military policies:

Accordingly, the Army of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps … will be responsible not only for guarding and preserving the frontiers of the country, but also for fulfilling the ideological mission of jihad in God’s way; that is, extending the sovereignty of God’s law throughout the world.

The middle circle is the entire Islamic world—roughly a billion and a half people and some 40-odd countries with Muslim majorities, about half of which lie beyond the Middle East. Here, too, Iran’s constitution has relevant directives. “All Muslims form a single nation, and the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran… must constantly strive to bring about the political, economic, and cultural unity of the Islamic world,” it says. Moreover, much as the Soviet Union once appropriated to itself authority over all Communists everywhere, so Khomeini and then Khamenei have described the Islamic Republic of Iran as the Umm al-Qura, meaning the “mother of Islam.” More traditionally, that term was applied to Mecca, birthplace of the prophet. But one of the regime’s ideologues, Mohammad Javad Larijani explained, “A state in which the Islamic regime is in complete control has a select status, called Umm Al-Qura.” (In this view, Saudi Arabia would not qualify because it is Sunni and the monarchy is not a religious institution.)

In keeping with the idea that the Islamic Republic is the mother of the entire global Umma, Iran’s support for armed groups and its exertion of “soft power” extend beyond the Middle East to South and East Asia, Central Asia, East and West Africa as well as the Magreb.

The inner circle of Iran’s imperial mission is the Middle East, and it is here that its pursuit of that ambition is most intense and consequential. Lebanon is today dominated by Hezbollah, which was created by Iran and is unabashedly subservient to it. Next door in Syria, Hezbollah together with Iran’s own forces and a collection of Shiite fighters from as far as Pakistan, all recruited and organized by Iran, have rescued Bashar al-Assad’s regime from imminent collapse and restored its rule over most of the country. Meanwhile, Iraq is dominated by Shiite militias and parties with which Iran holds great sway, although there are countervailing forces supported by the U.S. And the largely Shiite Houthi movement, widely seen as another Iranian proxy, has gained control of much of Yemen, including the capital, Sanaa.

Thus, when Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards and the architect of Iran’s regional adventures, exulted that “today we see signs of the Islamic revolution being exported throughout the region, from Bahrain to Iraq and from Syria to Yemen and North Africa,” it was no idle boast. In a like vein, when Sanaa fell to the Houthis, the Iranian politician and publisher, Ali Reza Zakani, regarded as a confidant of Supreme Leader Khamenei’s, enthused that it had just become the fourth Arab capital “in the hands of Iran and belonging to the Islamic Iranian revolution.”

Zakani also predicted, “The Yemeni revolution will not be confined to Yemen alone. It will extend, following its success, into Saudi territories.” This specter may have contributed to Riyadh’s decision to enter the war against the Houthis whose forces have also repeatedly fired into Saudi Arabia. Last year, when a flock of drones and missiles hit Aramco’s facilities in eastern Saudi Arabia, temporarily knocking out half of the Kingdom’s oil production, the Houthis claimed responsibility. But this was revealed to be a lie that the Houthis may have been coached to tell by their Saudi patrons. The projectiles were determined to have come from the north, and Yemen lies to the south of the kingdom. U.S. intelligence concluded that Iranian forces had staged this attack from their own soil, and their proxies were helping them deflect blame.

In light of these acts and these ambitions, it is easy to see that Iran’s nuclear aspirations do not threaten only Israel, perhaps not even primarily Israel, which has a nuclear deterrent of its own. They would be brandished to further Iran’s drive to dominate the region, a shield behind which Iran could become still more aggressive and a Damoclean sword with which to intimidate its neighborhood. The Saudi newspaper Asharq Al Awsat wrote years ago, as paraphrased by Israeli regional expert Uzi Rabi, “The nuclear capability Iran is striving for is not aimed at attacking Israel but rather is intended to facilitate Iranian dominance.” Bahrain’s foreign minister called it “the greatest threat to the region.” Clearly the Iranian threat helps to explain the rapid rise in the willingness of the Arab Gulf states to have open contact with Israel.

Were Iran to launch additional damaging attacks against Saudi Arabia, or even more grievous ones, would a nonnuclear Riyadh dare to retaliate if Iran possessed nuclear weapons? Indeed, would mighty America be ready to rescue a Gulf state from aggression, the way it did Kuwait in 1991, if the aggressor was so armed? The answer to either of these questions might still be yes, but the calculus of the defender would become much more fraught than it is today, while the calculus of Iran would be more tempting.

Thus, Israel is far from alone in fearing the advent of an Iranian bomb. The rest of the region, except for Iran’s proxies, fears it, too. And many outside the Middle East also have a critical investment in the security of that region. Western Europe and Japan still depend on oil imports from the Gulf. Thanks to “fracking,” the United States no longer does, but the dependency of its principal allies gives it an enduring vital interest there as well.

Fortunately, despite decades of efforts, Iran has not yet achieved entry into the nuclear weapons-club. That eventuality was forecast to have happened long before now. In January 2006, soon after Iran was censured by the Board of Governors of the IAEA Commission, an article by New York Times diplomatic correspondent Steven Erlanger described various estimates of the time needed until Iran could make a bomb. David Albright, noted nuclear-weapons authority, said, “Iran could have its first nuclear weapon in 2009.” European officials estimated five years, while those of Israel said four to five, and “American officials have offered estimates of six to 10 years,” wrote Erlanger. He added, however, that another respected American arms-control expert, Gary Milhollin, was skeptical of the longer range and thought the Israeli and European timeline more likely.

It is now nearly 15 years since that was written, and Iran is still not a member of the club. Some of that is due to President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, but that was signed already years beyond most of these estimates. The delay, it would seem, was due largely to Israel’s efforts—all of which have been undertaken in the hazy world of covert action, so they cannot be known with certainty.

A joint project of Israel and the U.S. begun during the George W. Bush administration and continued by President Obama introduced a “worm” (later dubbed Stuxnet) into the computer systems of Iran’s nuclear program. It caused the centrifuges at Natanz to function incorrectly, leading to the destruction of an estimated 1,000 of them, one-sixth of Iran’s total. Other equipment used in the program—computers, transformers—was sabotaged, and the shipment of some needed parts or materials was impeded by other means. Without American collaboration, Israel identified the top scientific personnel in the nuclear project, and six out of 15, according to Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman, met violent deaths inside Iran. Bergman interviewed then–CIA director Michael Hayden, who told him, “This program… .is illegal, and we never would have recommended it or advocated such a thing. However, my broad intelligence judgment is that the deaths of those human beings had a great impact on their nuclear program.” In fact, Bergman reports that Hayden told him these killings were the single most effective measure in slowing Iran’s progress.

Stuxnet was part of a larger sabotage project called Olympic Games that began in the latter years of the century’s first decade. Did it continue in some form after 2010, when the computer worm was discovered? Nothing has been revealed about this. The deaths of the scientists occurred in 2011 and 2012. And then there were this summer’s mysterious combustions. It seems unlikely that Israel undertook no efforts to impede Iran’s nuclear progress between 2012 and 2020. But whatever may have been done remains undiscovered.

The spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization said the country could make up for the 2020 destruction of the centrifuge plant at Natanz in 12 to 14 months. Some Western experts have estimated it will take two years. And after that? Both Joe Biden and Donald Trump have asserted the wish to negotiate a new deal with Iran; at a minimum, the Natanz attack has bought them time. At this point, 18 years after an Iranian exile group revealed Tehran’s hidden nuclear enrichment, Iran still has no bomb, confounding expectations. Israel’s actions, so it seems, have had much to do with the delay from which many have benefitted.

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ISRAELI GENIUS has made significant contributions to the world. For example, in the realm of environmental protection, Israelis invented drip irrigation and rooftop solar water heating. In medicine, the flexible stent, keeping coronary arteries open, and also the “pillcam,” which, once swallowed, transmits pictures of the GI tract. In computing, the firewall and flash disk drives. In automotive travel, Waze and Mobileye, built into vehicles to prevent crashes. This is to mention just a few highlights of the much larger phenomenon of Israeli ingenuity and creativity. Earlier this year, the Iranian parliament, or Majlis, passed a law banning the use of all Israeli hardware and software. To this, the appropriate Israeli rejoinder might be, “Make my day.” So ubiquitous are Israeli contributions to the world of cybernetics—via Israeli outposts of Intel, Cisco, Microsoft, etc.—that were Tehran to enforce this law, its nuclear program, and much else, would be stopped in its tracks.

Unlike Iran, much of the world recognizes Israel’s contributions to technology. Its contributions to global security are less well recognized but no less significant. The world has been blessedly free from really big wars since 1945. This is primarily the result of American efforts to build and uphold a structure of relative peace. In that effort, the U.S. has had many partners, but by and large, America has contributed not only the lion’s share of capabilities but also of will and courage. Having one ally that has brought to the table its own remarkable capabilities as well as a powerful sense of will—expressed in the courage to undertake “audacious and risky” acts in confronting threats—has been of considerable benefit. A world without nuclear weapons in the hands of Saddam Hussein or Bashar al-Assad or, for the time being, those of the supreme leader, is a much safer world than it would have been otherwise. More people than know it owe Israel a debt of gratitude.

Netanyahu: Kosovo to be first Muslim-majority nation to open Jerusalem embassy

September 18, 2020

Times sure are a’ changin’

https://www.timesofisrael.com/netanyahu-kosovo-to-be-first-muslim-majority-nation-to-open-jerusalem-embassy/#gs.ggcnlm

Prime Minister of Kosovo Avdullah Hoti sits at a desk as he attends a signing ceremony and meeting with US President Donald Trump and the President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic in the Oval Office of the White House on September 4, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images/AFP)

Netanyahu said Friday that not only would Kosovo recognize Israel but it would open an embassy in Jerusalem, becoming the first Muslim-majority nation to do so.

Earlier Friday, Serbia announced that it would move its embassy to Jerusalem. The moves come as part of US-brokered discussions to normalize economic ties between Belgrade and Pristina.

After two days of meetings with Trump administration officials, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo’s Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti agreed to cooperate on a range of economic fronts to attract investment and create jobs. The White House announcement provided US President Donald Trump with a diplomatic win ahead of the November presidential election and furthers his administration’s push to improve Israel’s international standing.

Netanyahu hailed the moves and said Israel would establish diplomatic relations with Kosovo.

A statement from Netanyahu’s office said that during a meeting between Trump and Hoti, the president called Netanyahu and congratulated the two leaders on the decision to establish full diplomatic relations.

According to the statement, Hoti also announced that he would open an embassy in Jerusalem.

“Kosovo will be the first Muslim-majority nation to open an embassy in Jerusalem. As I said in recent days the circle of peace is expanding and more nations are expected to join,” Netanyahu said.

Kosovo President Hashim Thaci confirmed Prisitna’s intention, saying he welcomed Netanyahu’s announcement “about the genuine intention to recognize Kosovo and establish diplomatic relations.”

” Kosovo will keep its promise to place its diplomatic mission in Jerusalem,” he tweeted.

Trump said Serbia has committed to open a commercial office in Jerusalem this month and move its embassy there in July.

Trump later tweeted “Another great day for peace with Middle East – Muslim-majority Kosovo and Israel have agreed to normalize ties and establish diplomatic relations. Well-done! More Islamic and Arab nations will follow soon!”

Kosovo, notably, is in Europe.

Serbia’s decision to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is a nod to both Israel and the United States. The Trump administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in late 2017 and moved the US embassy there in May 2018.

The administration has encouraged other countries to do the same but has been widely criticized by the Palestinians and many in Europe because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains unresolved. Kosovo, a predominantly Muslim country, has never before recognized Israel nor has Israel recognized Kosovo.

In all, a total of four countries now recognize contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, including the US and Guatemala. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, as their would-be capital.

After the announcement, Netanyahu thanked Trump for his role in continuing to further Israel’s diplomatic standing.

“I thank my friend President Vucic of Serbia for his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move their embassy,” Netanyahu said. ” I also want to thank my friend Donald Trump for his contribution to this achievement.”

A statement from Netanyahu’s office hailed Serbia for being the first European nation to agree to move its embassy and said efforts continued to convince other European nations to also do so.

Netanyahu said that following discussions held in recent days among the Foreign Ministry, National Security Council and others, it was decided that Israel will establish diplomatic relations with Kosovo.

The gestures to Israel are part of the Trump administration’s push to improve the Jewish state’s international standing, which has included forceful denunciations of criticism of Israel at the United Nations and in other international venues. Most recently, the administration brokered a deal for Israel and the United Arab Emirates to normalize relations. That was followed by the first commercial flight between Israel and the UAE, with neighboring Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to allow such flights to pass through their airspace. Additional Arab states, including Sudan, Bahrain and Oman, have been identified as countries that may soon also normalize relations with Israel.

Kosovo’s Parliament declared independence from Serbia in 2008, nine years after NATO conducted a 78-day airstrike campaign against Serbia to stop a bloody crackdown against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

Most Western nations have recognized Kosovo’s independence, but Serbia and its allies Russia and China have not. The ongoing deadlock and Serbia’s unwillingness to recognize Kosovo have kept tensions simmering and prevented full stabilization of the Balkan region after the bloody wars in the 1990s.

Iran’s currency hits new record low against the dollar | The Times of Israel

September 14, 2020

The rial has seen its value fall by 30 percent since June amid severe US sanctions By AP 12 September 2020, 4:12 pm 0 People withraw money from an ATM in Tehran’s grand bazaar on November 3, 2018. (ATTA KENARE / AFP) TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s currency on Saturday dropped to its lowest value ever against the dollar, and has seen its value fall by 30 percent since June amid severe US sanctions imposed on Tehran. Money exchange shops traded the Iranian rial 262,000 for a dollar. The rial had traded at 256,000 to $1 on Thursday, and markets were closed Friday, the start of the weekend in Iran. The rial has tumbled from a rate of 200,000 in late June. Iran’s currency was at 32,000 rials to the dollar at the time of Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. The currency unexpectedly rallied for some time after US President Donald Trump’s decision more than two years ago to withdraw the US from the nuclear deal and reimpose crippling trade sanctions on Iran. The sanctions have caused Iran’s oil exports, the country’s main source of income, to fall sharply. On Friday, the head of Iran’s central bank Abdolnasser Hemmati said the government was trying its best to control the situation in the currency market. Iranian officials for months have warned exporters to bring their foreign earnings home from abroad or face having their export licenses revoked, and the central bank has warned it would publish the names of violators. In June, the central bank reported that Iranian companies export more than $40 billion in non-oil products per year, and officials say some 50% of that remains abroad.

After UAE and Bahrain deals, Trump said aiming for direct Israel-Morocco flights | The Times of Israel

September 14, 2020


Rabat and Jerusalem have no formal relations, but Israeli tourists are allowed into the country, which is home to the largest Jewish community in the Arab world

By TOI STAFF12 September 2020, 11:35 pm  5A view of Rabbat, Morocco (YouTube screenshot)

US President Donald Trump is looking toward following up the landmark normalization deals between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain with the introduction of direct flights between Israel and Morocco, Channel 12 news reported Saturday.

Morocco is considered an ally of the United States, and has long maintained informal but close intelligence ties with Israel.

Though the countries have no formal relations, Morocco has hosted Israeli leaders, and Israelis are allowed to visit there. Some 3,000 Jews live in Morocco, a fraction of the number from before the 1948 creation of Israel, but still the largest community in the Arab world.

The unsourced TV report said efforts to reach a breakthrough on Israel-Morocco ties some time ago had failed due to unspecified reasons, but the US was hoping the more limited gesture of direct flights was achievable.

The television report also said Washington was continuing to push for Oman and Sudan to forge diplomatic ties with Israel, as part of an effort to rack up as many accomplishments on the global stage as possible before the November 3 elections.

Morocco’s Prime Minister Saad-Eddine El Othmani delivers a speech in Marrakech, Morocco, January 30, 2018. (AP/Mosa’ab Elshamy)

Last month Moroccan Prime Minister Saad-Eddine El Othmani said Rabat would not normalize relations with Israel. But days later he appeared to walk those statements back, saying his comments in opposition to warming ties were made in his capacity as leader of the Islamist PJD party, not as prime minister.

El Othmani added that he had just been reiterating a long-held position of his party. He did not comment further on the matter.

In August, quoting unnamed US officials, the Kan public broadcaster said Morocco was seen as a likely candidate to normalize ties as it already has tourism and trade ties with Israel. The report also cited the North African country’s protection of its small Jewish community.

Establishing formal diplomatic ties with Israel could also improve Morocco’s relations with the US. The report said that in exchange for doing so, Rabat was seeking American recognition of its sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara territory.

Morocco occupied large swaths of the Western Sahara in 1975 as Spain withdrew from the area and later annexed the territories in a move not recognized internationally.