Archive for December 2020

Hezbollah says its precision missiles doubled in a year, can hit all of Israel

December 28, 2020


Leader Nasrallah says terror group still committed to avenging its fighter killed in Syria and Iran’s slain top general; alleges Saudi-Israeli plot to assassinate him

Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah gives an address on official party al-Manar TV on September 29, 2020. (Screenshot: Al-Manar)

By TOI STAFFToday, 2:45 am  6Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah gives an address on official party al-Manar TV on September 29, 2020. (Screenshot: Al-Manar)

Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group has doubled the number of its precision missiles over the past year, the organization’s leader Hassan Nasrallah said in an interview published Sunday.

In a wide-ranging interview with the pro-Hezbollah al-Mayadeen news website, Nasrallah also claimed his Iran-backed Shiite group has the ability to accurately hit any part of Israel.

“The number of precision missiles at the resistance’s disposal has now doubled from what it was a year ago,” he said. “Any target across the area of ​​occupied Palestine that we want to hit accurately — we are able to hit accurately.”

Tensions in the region are high following the recent assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, in a raid attributed to Israel, and amid fears of further attacks at the tail end of US President Donald Trump’s White House term.

Israel’s Channel 13 reported last month that Nasrallah was sheltering in place amid fears that he may be next on a US-Israeli hit list. The report said Nasrallah was staying put and canceling any “movements” following Fakhrizadeh’s assassination.

The terror leader has been thought to be a target of Israel for years, and some Israeli officials have mocked him for staying in a “bunker” and only making very rare public appearances. Such a hit by Israel would likely seriously inflame the region

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Ali Kamel Mohsen Jawad, a member of the Hezbollah terror group, who the organization says was killed in an Israeli airstrike on July 20, 2020. (Hezbollah media)

In his Sunday interview, Nasrallah said his group still intends to avenge the July death of its fighter, Ali Kamel Mohsen Jawad, in a series of airstrikes in Syria that were attributed to Israel, as well as for the US assassination in January of Iranian top general Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, a pro-Iran militia leader in Iraq.

He alleged that Israel operating drones in Lebanese skies reflects “confusion,” adding that Hezbollah has adequate weapons against the drones and that the group has fired at them on several occasions.

Earlier this month, Hezbollah claimed a drone of its own had managed to enter Israeli airspace undetected by the Israel Defense Forces and took footage of alleged army bases in the Upper Galilee.

In the interview, Nasrallah claimed that its regional foe Saudi Arabia has been seeking to assassinate him for a long time and that the kingdom has involved the United States and Israel in the plan.

“Our data indicates that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman raised the issue of my assassination during his visit to Washington,” he said, adding that the Americans “agreed to a Saudi request to assassinate me, that Israel would implement it.”

Regarding the recent decisions by a series of Arab states to normalize their ties with Israel, Nasrallah said he was “not surprised by the Arab letdown, because most of the Arab regimes used to sell the Palestinians only words.”

He said that the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco establishing ties with Jerusalem means that a period of “hypocrisy” has ended and “the masks have fallen.”

“As an Islamist, I find the position of the Justice and Development Party in Morocco more painful and more dangerous than the normalization of regimes,” Nasrallah added. “Nothing in the world justifies anyone in the world giving up Palestine.”Military personnel stand near the flag-draped coffin of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, during a funeral ceremony in Tehran, Iran, November 30, 2020. (Iranian Defense Ministry via AP)

Tensions have recently also been rising between Israel and Iran, with an IDF spokesman telling a Saudi newspaper over the weekend that Israeli submarines are quietly operating “everywhere” and an unnamed Iranian official subsequently telling Al Jazeera that “Tehran’s response to any attack on national security will be strong and wide.”

The anonymous source claimed that Israel “is looking for excuses to drag the region into tension that will create chaos” in the final days of Trump’s term.

Iran has suffered several devastating attacks this year, including the killing of Soleimani in a US drone strike in January, and a mysterious explosion and fire that crippled an advanced centrifuge assembly plant at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, which is widely believed to have been an act of sabotage.

IDF: Our subs sail everywhere; Iran: Our response to any attack will be strong

December 26, 2020


Army spokesman tells Saudi paper Israel is tracking Iran movements in region, days after Israeli submarine said to cross Suez Canal; Revolutionary Guard says ready for any scenario

An Israeli submarine sails during Independence Day celebrations marking 70 years since the founding of the state in 1948, in Tel Aviv, April 19, 2018. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

By TOI STAFFToday, 3:27 pm  0Illustrative: An Israeli submarine sails during Independence Day celebrations marking 70 years since the founding of the state in 1948, in Tel Aviv, April 19, 2018. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

After an Israel Defense Forces spokesman told a Saudi newspaper on Friday that Israeli submarines were quietly operating “everywhere,” an unnamed Iranian official told Al Jazeera Saturday that “Tehran’s response to any attack on national security will be strong and wide.”

The anonymous source claimed that Israel “is looking for excuses to drag the region into tension that will create chaos” in the final days of US President Donald Trump’s term.

And the top naval commander in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps warned that Iran was ready to defend itself and was prepared for any scenario.

“Forces, systems and equipment are at the desired level of readiness to defend the water borders, the interests and security of our country,” said IRGC Navy Commander Admiral Alireza Tangsiri.

Tangsiri’s comments came after IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman told the Saudi Arabian Elaph news outlet that Israel was tracking Iranian movements around the region, and that Israeli submarines were quietly “sailing everywhere.”

Zilberman gave the interview after an Israeli submarine reportedly openly crossed the Suez Canal last week in a show of force directed at Iran. The move was approved by Egypt, according to the Kan public broadcaster, which cited Arab intelligence sources. The submarine reportedly surfaced and faced the Persian Gulf, which lies on the other side of Saudi Arabia. The intelligence sources said the move was meant to “send a message” to Iran

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Brig. Gen. Hidai Zilberman, who was nominated to take over as the next IDF spokesperson on June 13, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

Zilberman additionally said that although Israel was not aware of any specific plans by Iran to attack the Jewish state, Iranian forces could carry out an attack from Iraq or Yemen, according to a translation of the interview by the Ynet news site.

He said Israel had information indicating Iran was developing unmanned aerial vehicles and “smart missiles” in Iraq and Yemen, and that the weapons could have the ability to strike Israel.

Zilberman said Israel had attacked targets in Syria in the past year, and used 500 smart missiles, without any response from Iran or the Syrian regime. He added that Israel had no intention of letting up its pressure campaign against Iran in Syria.

The IDF has launched hundreds of strikes in Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011 against moves by Iran to establish a permanent military presence in the country and efforts to transport advanced, game-changing weapons to terrorist groups in the region, principally Hezbollah.

Zilberman’s comments were not immediately available in English and the interview contained few direct quotes.

On Monday, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi warned Iran against attacking Israel, saying that the Jewish state will retaliate forcefully against any aggression.

Iran has threatened to attack Israel since the assassination of its top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, in late November, in a raid blamed on the Jewish state.

In this Sept. 18, 2016 file photo Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, center, attends a meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Revolutionary Guard commanders in Tehran, Iran. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

In a strikingly similar move to the reported Israeli submarine crossing of the Suez Canal, a US nuclear submarine crossed the Strait of Hormuz on Monday as the anniversary of the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani by a US drone approached.

US military officials fear an attack by Tehran to avenge the powerful Soleimani, leader of the IRGC’s elite Quds force, who was assassinated on January 3, 2020, in a US drone strike near Baghdad airport in Iraq.

Agencies contributed to this report.

Syrian state media reports Israeli airstrikes in central Hama province

December 25, 2020


Syria’s defense ministry claims to down Israeli missiles; IAF warplanes reportedly fly over Beirut shortly before attack

Illustrative: A Syrian surface-to-air missile explodes in the sky over southern Syria on August 31, 2020. (SANA)

By AGENCIES and TOI STAFFToday, 2:53 am  1Illustrative: A Syrian surface-to-air missile explodes in the sky over southern Syria on August 31, 2020. (SANA)

Syrian state media said Israel carried out airstrikes in the central province of Hama early Friday morning.

Syria’s official news agency SANA said the attack occurred near the town of Masyaf and that the missiles were fired from Lebanese territory.

The Associated Press said Israeli jets flew very low over parts of Lebanon before the strikes, including over Beirut, frightening some of the city’s residents.

The Syrian Ministry of Defense issued a statement saying Israel “launched an aggression by directing a barrage of rockets” from the north of the Lebanese city of Tripoli toward the Masyaf area.

It said Syrian air defenses “confronted the enemy missiles and intercepted most of them.” Syrian war analysts generally dismiss the military’s regular claims of interceptions as false, empty boasts.

Syrian state TV aired footage purporting to show air defenses responding to the Israeli attack.Volume 0%

There was no immediate word on what the target was or whether there were any casualties.

There was no comment from the Israel Defense Forces, which generally maintains a policy of ambiguity regarding its activities against Iran and its proxies in Syria, refusing to publicly acknowledge its actions.

Masyaf is a significant military area for Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime that includes a military academy and a scientific research center. The general area around Masyaf, which is also believed to have a major Iranian presence, has reportedly been targeted by Israel many times in the past.

The last reported Israeli strikes in Syria took place a month ago in the southern part of the country, near Israel’s border with Syria on the Golan Heights, and reportedly targeted sites associated with Iran and its proxies.

The IDF has launched hundreds of strikes in Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011 against moves by Iran to establish a permanent military presence in the country and efforts to transport advanced, game-changing weapons to terrorist groups in the region, principally Hezbollah.

Israeli submarine reportedly crosses Suez Canal in ‘message’ to Iran

December 22, 2020

Vessel said to have surfaced and faced Persian Gulf, in show of force amid threats over killing of nuclear scientist; in similar move, US sub crosses Straight of Hormuz

An Israeli military submarine sails past cargo ships in the Mediterranean Sea, Israel, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020 (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

By TOI STAFF and AFP21 December 2020, 10:02 pm  2Illustrative: An Israeli military submarine sails past cargo ships in the Mediterranean Sea, Israel, September 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

An Israeli submarine openly crossed the Suez Canal last week, in a show of force against Iran, the Kan public broadcaster reported Monday night.

The move was approved by Egypt, according to the report, which cited Arab intelligence sources.

The submarine reportedly surfaced and faced the Persian Gulf, which lies on the other side of Saudi Arabia. The intelligence sources said the move was meant to “send a message” to Iran.

The Israel Defense Forces declined to comment, saying it does not respond to “reports of this kind.”

Earlier Monday, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi warned Iran against attacking Israel, saying that the Jewish state will retaliate forcefully against any aggression.IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi speaks during an Israeli Navy ceremony in Haifa, on March 4, 2020. (Flash90)

“Recently, we have heard increased threats from Iran against the State of Israel. If Iran and its partners, members of the radical axis [Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Palestinian terror groups], whether in the first circle of states or the second, carry out actions against Israel, they will discover their partnership to be very costly,” Kohavi said at a ceremony honoring exemplary soldiers.

“The IDF will forcefully attack anyone who takes part, from near or far, in activities against the State of Israel or Israeli targets. I am saying this plainly and am describing the situation as it is — the response and all the plans have been prepared and practiced,” he added.

Iran has threatened to attack Israel since the assassination of its top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, in late November, in a raid blamed on the Jewish state.

In a strikingly similar move to the reported Israeli submarine crossing of the Suez Canal, a US nuclear submarine crossed the Strait of Hormuz on Monday, in a show of force directed at Iran as the anniversary of the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani by a US drone approached.

The USS Georgia can carry 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles and 66 special forces soldiers, according to a statement from the US Navy, which usually does not disclose the presence of its submersibles around the world.

The statement was illustrated with photos showing the USS Georgia at the surface, escorted by the cruisers USS Port Royal and USS Philippine Sea, in the strategic strait that Iran regularly threatens to block

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The Georgia’s presence “demonstrates the United States’ commitment to regional partners and maritime security with a full spectrum of capabilities to remain ready to defend against any threat at any time,” the Navy warned.

US military officials fear an attack by Tehran to avenge the powerful Soleimani, who was assassinated on January 3, 2020, in a US drone strike near Baghdad airport in Iraq.US Marine Corps General Kenneth ‘Frank’ McKenzie, commander of US Central Command, speaks as a picture of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is seen during a press briefing October 30, 2019, at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. (Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP)

The head of US forces in the Middle East, General Frank McKenzie, told journalists Sunday that Washington is “prepared to react” if Iran attacks them.

The anniversary will coincide with a reduction in US military strength in Iraq, and the Pentagon has stepped up demonstrations of force in recent weeks to deter opponents.

Two US B-52 bombers, capable of carrying nuclear weapons, flew over the Gulf region on December 10, and the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz crossed the Gulf waters at the end of November.

A rocket salvo on Sunday targeted the US Embassy in Baghdad, causing damage, but no casualties.

The attack was the third against US military and diplomatic facilities since an October truce with pro-Iran Iraqi factions ended a year-long series of attacks on foreign facilities across Iraq.

IDF chief warns Iran against attack, says retaliation plans already drawn up

December 22, 2020


Aviv Kohavi declares Israel will respond ‘forcefully’ to any assault, including by Iranian proxies

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi speaks during an Israeli Navy ceremony in Haifa, on March 4, 2020. (Flash90)

By TOI STAFF21 December 2020, 7:46 pm  0IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi speaks during an Israeli Navy ceremony in Haifa, on March 4, 2020. (Flash90)

Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Aviv Kohavi on Monday warned Iran against attacking Israel, saying that the Jewish state will retaliate forcefully against any aggression.

“Recently, we have heard increased threats from Iran against the State of Israel. If Iran and its partners, members of the radical axis [Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Palestinian terror groups], whether in the first circle of states or the second, carry out actions against Israel, they will discover their partnership to be very costly,” Kohavi said at a ceremony honoring exemplary soldiers.

“The IDF will forcefully attack anyone who takes part, from near or far, in activities against the State of Israel or Israeli targets. I am saying this plainly and am describing the situation as it is — the response and all the plans have been prepared and practiced,” he added.

Iran has threatened to attack Israel since the assassination of its top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, in late November, in a raid blamed on the Jewish state.Military personnel stand near the flag-draped coffin of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, an assassinated top nuclear scientist, during his funeral ceremony in Tehran, Iran, November 30, 2020. (Iranian Defense Ministry via AP)

Last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani claimed that Israel was behind the killing, which he described as an effort to start a war during the last days of US President Donald Trump’s administration.

Israel, long suspected of killing Iranian nuclear scientists over the last decade, has repeatedly declined to comment on the attack.

“Waging instability and war in the final days of the Trump administration was the main aim of the Zionist regime in the assassination,” Rouhani said.

Rouhani vowed to avenge the killing, and said that his country would not allow Israel to decide the “time or venue“ of any retaliatory action. He said Iran would not allow instability in the region.

Israel insists that Iran still maintains the ambition of developing nuclear weapons, pointing to Tehran’s ballistic missile program and research into other technologies. Iran long has maintained that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Fakhrizadeh was named by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2018 as the director of Iran’s rogue nuclear weapons project. When Netanyahu revealed then that Israel had removed from a warehouse in Tehran a vast archive of Iran’s own material detailing its nuclear weapons program, he said: “Remember that name, Fakhrizadeh.”Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands in front of a picture of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, whom he named as the head of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, April 30, 2018. (YouTube screenshot)

On Sunday, an Iran-linked hacking group claimed to have breached the Israeli Aerospace Industries’ computer systems, in the latest in a series of cyberattacks on Israeli firms.

The group, known as Pay2Key, revealed its alleged hack in a tweet.

“Knock Knock! Tonight is longer than longest night for @ILAerospaceIAI,” the group wrote cryptically.

The state-owned Israeli Aerospace Industries said it was looking into the matter.

The Israeli cyber security firm ClearSky, which released a report on Pay2Key three days before the alleged IAI hack, said the group was likely an offshoot of an Iranian hacking cooperative known as Fox Kitten.

Agencies contributed to this report.

Iran’s Rouhani Has No Doubt Joe Biden Will ‘Bow’ to Tehran, Lift Sanctions

December 17, 2020
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani speaks at a military parade marking the 38th anniversary of Iraq's 1980 invasion of Iran, in front of the shrine of the late revolutionary founder, Ayatollah Khomeini, outside Tehran, Iran, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. Elsewhere gunmen disguised as soldiers attacked a annual parade in the southwestern …
AP/Ebrahim Noroozi

SIMON KENT17 Dec 20201,8732:34

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Thursday he has “no doubt” a Joe Biden administration will rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal negotiated by Barack Obama and remove sanctions on Iran’s economy while embracing appeasement across the Middle East.

His assertion followed Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei who also backed the swift resumption of Iran’s commitments under the deal if it would finish U.S. sanctions, as Breitbart News reported.

“I have no doubt that the heroic national resistance of Iran is going to compel the future U.S. government to bow … and the sanctions will be broken,” Rouhani said Thursday.

The Washington Post reports the remarks were made at the inauguration of several infrastructure projects, where he spoke via videoconference.

On Wednesday, Khamenei had said in a televised address if U.S. sanctions “can be lifted in a correct, wise, Iranian-Islamic [and] dignified manner, this should be done.”

“We should not hesitate for even an hour,” he said, echoing a phrase Rouhani often uses, thus restating the confidence in Tehran that Joe Biden in the White House would mean a resumption of a compliant U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/index.html?creatorScreenName=sunsimonkent&dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-0&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1305109795666620417&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.breitbart.com%2Fmiddle-east%2F2020%2F12%2F17%2Firans-rouhani-has-no-doubt-joe-biden-will-bow-to-tehran-lift-sanctions%2F&siteScreenName=BreitbartNews&theme=light&widgetsVersion=ed20a2b%3A1601588405575&width=550px

Tensions between Tehran and Washington soared during Donald Trump’s presidency as his administration brought Israel and the Gulf Arab states closer together while disciplining Iran for its human rights abuses and fostering of Islamic terrorism across the Middle East.

In 2018, Trump pulled Washington out of the Obama-negotiated Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal with Tehran and reimposed punishing sanctions.

The so-called Iran nuclear deal was regarded as the “crown jewel” of the Obama-Biden administration’s efforts to deal with Tehran, however Trump saw otherwise.

“This was a horrible one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made,” Trump said at the time. “It didn’t bring calm, it didn’t bring peace, and it never will.”

This January, Trump ordered an air strike near Baghdad airport which killed senior Iranian terror organiser Qasem Soleimani.

Just last week a pair of U.S. B-52H Stratofortresses flew a show-of-force mission across the Persian Gulf in a display intended to deter attacks from Iran. The bombers were joined by fighter escorts from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar.

Gulf normalization isn’t about fearing Iran, it’s about embracing Israel

December 16, 2020
Israeli model May Tager, right, holds Israel's blue-and-white flag bearing the Star of David, while next to her Anastasia Bandarenka, a Dubai-based model originally from Russia, waves the Emirati flag, during a photo shoot in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Sept. 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)


An off-the-record conversation between Emirati and Israeli officials reveals a deeper impulse for forging ties than the immediate benefits each country has won for itself

By HAVIV RETTIG GURToday, 12:33 pm  1Israeli model May Tager, right, holds Israel’s blue-and-white flag bearing the Star of David, while next to her Anastasia Bandarenka, a Dubai-based model originally from Russia, waves the Emirati flag, during a photo shoot in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Sept. 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

“You think you have chutzpah? We have chutzpah.”

It was an unexpected line from a senior Emirati official, delivered recently in an off-the-record video conference call between current and former Israeli and Emirati officials.

The conversation had turned to business ties, innovation and the cultural differences between the two countries. The official wanted to explain something important about the new Israeli-Arab normalization agreements that Abu Dhabi had helped start: not only why they are happening, but why they seem so inexplicably warm and genuine.

The United Arab Emirates is most visible in this regard, but it isn’t the only one. Bahrain, too, is investing in a warm peace. And Sudan, while agonizing over the step itself — a breach of decades of ideological commitments vis-à-vis the Palestinians — has shown signs of wanting the normalization to reap more benefits than mere diplomatic contact or its removal from the US terror sponsors list.

There is no shortage of benefits that have accrued to the countries that normalized relations with Israel in the waning days of the Trump administration. The Emiratis asked for F-35s, the Moroccans recognition of their claim over Western Sahara, the Sudanese an end to their 27-year stay on the terror list and protection from lawsuits linked to the previous regime.

A protester against the normalization deal between Morocco and Israel in Rabat, Morocco, December 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Mosa’ab Elshamy)

These benefits all explain why each government might agree to establish full diplomatic ties with Israel. But they don’t explain, for example, the Emirati government’s order that hotels offer kosher food in time for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, or the eagerness of the UAE and Bahrain for direct flights to Tel Aviv, or the decision by one sheikh to buy into Jerusalem’s controversial Beitar soccer club. They don’t explain Morocco’s move in recent weeks to introduce a curriculum about the history and culture of the country’s Jews into state school.

There are costs to that warmth. The Palestinians are furious not only at the opening of diplomatic relations — Egypt and Jordan already broke that taboo — but at what they see as a gratuitous embrace of Israel and Israelis. Iran, Muslim Brotherhood-linked regimes in Turkey and Qatar, and the opinions of many Arabs and Muslims from Morocco to Malaysia are against the move.

If Israel had the population or economy of, say, Germany, the economic factor might be sufficient explanation for the embrace. But it doesn’t. Israel’s population is roughly that of Honduras, its GDP roughly that of Ireland. Israeli tourists are not going to reshape Dubai’s economy, nor are Jewish pilgrims to heritage sites going to dramatically affect Morocco’s prosperity.DP World and Israeli Agrexco officials at the Fresh Market in Dubai, Nov. 2020 (DP World)

What, then, explains the apparent warmth of the new normalization? Where did this sudden show of affection come from?

There are two explanations for the unexpected openness. The first is often heard from Israeli officials, who have generally assumed that the new friendliness is meant to head off criticism. It’s a basic rule of politics both domestic and international: If you’re going to do something controversial, you’ll catch less flak by leaning into it than by apologizing for it.

The Emiratis believe they can neutralize more Arab criticism by embracing a warm peace with Israelis than by keeping their distance, the argument goes.

But there is a second explanation for the new warmth, one suggested by the senior Emirati official to his Israeli colleagues in that call.

At a superficial level, it has to do with the countries’ shared interest in fending off Iran. But the new interest in Israel isn’t about a narrowly conceived defense pact, arms sales or intel sharing. It’s about self-reliance.

Members of an Israeli high-tech delegation walk past a poster of Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum during a meeting with Emirati counterparts at the headquarters of the Government Accelerators in Dubai, on October 27, 2020. (Karim Sahib/AFP)

Sources of strength

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani presented his government’s budget earlier this month. It’s a budget of some 8.4 quadrillion rials, a 74 percent jump from last year’s budget in rial terms — but a 13% drop in its dollar value because of the ongoing crash of Iran’s currency.

The budget is fascinating for many reasons. It ups funding for the military and security forces, including the loyalist Revolutionary Guards. It assumes a $40 barrel of oil and an Iranian capacity to sell that oil in the coming year. It assumes, in short, that Iran’s economy will be liberated from crippling US sanctions once US President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January, and IRGC forces will be able to leap back into action throughout the Arab world.

But the most interesting point about the budget is the bottom line. Iran’s state budget for the coming Persian year (which begins in March) is valued at $33.7 billion.

Israel’s deadlocked parliament, on the other hand, has so far failed to pass a budget law for 2020 nor even propose one for 2021, but its 2019 budget carried a dollar value of some $140 billion when it passed into law. The stopgap spending bills that funded the government over the past year were also in that range.

Iran has a population of over 80 million people. Israel has barely 10 million. A fourfold budget for one-eighth the population means the Israeli government is spending, in extremely rough back-of-the-napkin terms, 32 times more per person than Iran.

In this picture released by the official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, worshipers chant slogans during Friday prayers ceremony, as a banner show Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, left, and Iraqi Shiite senior militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who were killed in Iraq in a US drone attack on January 3, 2020, and a banner which reads in Persian: “Death To America,” at Imam Khomeini Grand Mosque in Tehran, Iran, Friday, January 17, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

That economic strength means Israel can afford a sprawling, sophisticated $20 billion army, an $8 billion espionage agency that’s second in size only to America’s Central Intelligence Agency (according to unconfirmed reports), and the kind of research and innovation programs that grant it a decisive advantage over Iran in cyber, missile defense and many more technological fields.

Replicating Israel

Lacking natural resources until very recently, Israel achieved that wealth largely on the strength of its human capital. And most of that human capital, fully half of the Jewish population and the large Arab minority in the country, hails from the Middle East.

There is a deep underlying thread of Arab-ness in Israeli Jewish culture that goes beyond the love of hummus and expressive Arabic epithets. Israelis’ assumptions about family, religion, and social and ethnic identity overlap profoundly with Arab-world cultural assumptions.

Israel is the lone OECD member state whose birthrate is high and rising, and the rate is rising among the highly educated and secular. Families are tight-knit and large, politics are centered on cultural, religious, and social tribes rather than policy arguments, and religion is viewed as an arbiter of identity even by those who don’t observe or believe. Taken together, these characteristics set Israel apart from the West, but are shared by many of the Muslim societies that surround it.

What is it about Israel, the most Arab-like people in the West — or perhaps the most Western of Arab-world peoples — that conferred on it its economic and political and military strengths?

Israelis wearing face masks walk on Jaffa Street in downtown Jerusalem, on November 19, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Jews speak of Israel’s accomplishments with pride, as a way of patting themselves on the back. Some in the Arab world are beginning to speak of those accomplishments, too, but in less sentimental terms. Their interest is diagnostic. What are the Israelis doing right, actually and specifically? And how do we replicate it?

The Emiratis are increasingly convinced that neither Israel nor America will come to their rescue in case of war. The lack of an American response to the Iranian missile assault on the Aramco facility in Saudi Arabia earlier this year drove that point home, but so did the decade-long drawdown of American deployments in the region under both Obama and Trump.

They cannot help noticing, too, that while the Gulf Arabs are protected by a physical American military presence, Israel, for all the financial aid it receives, is not protected by American troops. Israelis alone defend Israel, and even when Israel buys expensive military technologies from abroad, it’s not because it is unable to produce its own.

There is a strategic shift underway in the Emirati and broader Arab thinking about Israel. It is no mere reconciliation nor in any simple sense a defensive alliance. To those now starting to look at Israel beyond the scope of the Arab-Israeli and Palestinian-Israeli conflicts, here is a basically conservative, high-birthrate country that has managed to neutralize or even reverse the trends that plague Arab economies and societies, from their young, unemployed populations to their ethnic and religious sectarianism. Israel’s population is young but its unemployment is low — at least before the coronavirus pandemic — and its division into bickering sectarian tribes, as this writer and others have argued, is the source and main driver of its democracy.

Some in the Arab world now seek to study and absorb those strengths, and through them win for themselves the safety and security Israel has managed to eke out in a chaotic, conflict-prone region.

An Emirati gunner watches for enemy fire from the rear gate of a United Arab Emirates Chinook military helicopter flying over Yemen, September 17, 2015. (AP Photo/Adam Schreck, File)

nd for that, they don’t need Israel’s infantry or air forces, but its entrepreneurs and scientists. They need Israelis to bring their culture of innovation, their “chutzpah,” to Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

‘Second home’

It is no accident that even after the signing ceremonies were over and the news cameras gone, it was Bahrain’s industry and commerce minister who was sent to Israel to tour the length and breadth of the country and meet with business and tech leaders to hammer out agreements.

Nor is it an accident that the Emiratis have invested so much in ensuring Israel does not carry out a West Bank annexation, and in buying up its most scandalously racist soccer club — investing, that is, in making Israelis more palatable to the Arab world.

“You think you have chutzpah? We have chutzpah,” the Emirati official told his Israeli counterparts in that video call.

In a conversation about what the two countries stand to gain from the peace, he explained: “We have a very young population. We have a lot of people who are interested in learning from these ties.”Emirati and Israeli officials discuss future cooperation agreements in Abu Dhabi on August 31, 2020. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

It remains to be seen if Arab states like the UAE can replicate Israel’s strengths. Israelis themselves have only vague notions about the sources of those strengths. Does democracy play a factor? Or can a monarchical state import from a democratic one its culture of innovation without any political adjustments?

The Emiratis are betting that it can, as when a bewildered Israeli asked the Emirati official on the call: “What did ordinary Emiratis think of Israelis before the new ties?”

The official answered: “We’re a country that has a deep respect for our leaders, whose responsibility it is to lead. Our people trust their leaders, so when they decided to make peace with Israel, everyone became very genuinely excited about it.”

There are two ways to hold at bay an enormous and aggressive Iran perched on one’s doorstep. One can rely on stronger friends, or one can become one of those stronger friends. Emirati officials have insisted repeatedly to Israelis visiting the country in recent weeks that they should consider the UAE their “second home.” They mean it more emphatically than their Israeli visitors suspect.

Zumwalt: Biden’s Iran Policy May Spark Mideast Nuclear Arms Race

December 13, 2020
Saudi armed forces take part in a parade in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca during a military drill on August 13, 2018, behind a portrait of the Saudi King Salman, ahead of the annual Hajj pilgrimage, - The hajj to Mecca, the most revered site in Islam, is a …
BANDAR ALDANDANI/AFP via Getty Images

JAMES ZUMWALT11 Dec 20201234:38

The expected return of former Vice President Joe Biden to the White House will likely end the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran, allowing the Islamist regime to expand its influence in the region and triggering alarm among its neighbors.

Biden’s statements on Iran – indicating he would be amenable to a return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and further concessions to Tehran – are a wakeup call for Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and Egypt that they can no longer depend on the United States to protect them from a nuclear Iran and the time has come to consider developing their own nuclear arsenals.

Saudi Arabia, eager to have a good working relationship with Biden, wasted no time in congratulating him for his victory and did so in 24 hours. But days later, the Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir made it clear that Riyadh would definitely consider arming itself with nuclear weapons if Iran acquired them.

Asked in November if Riyadh would consider nuclear development in the face of a nuclear-armed Iran, al-Jubeir said it was “definitely an option.” He has made this threat before. It was voiced when Saudi Arabia feared the mullahs would use the newfound cash they were receiving under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015 to fund various nefarious activities (i.e., terrorism) and when tensions between Riyadh and Tehran heightened as Iranian supported the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Since the JCPOA, or Iran nuclear deal, paved the way for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons despite assurances otherwise, any discussions about a new agreement will see Iran demanding nothing less. Tehran is already making it clear, while the U.S. is obliged to return to the nuclear deal, it will cost us to do so.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who negotiated the agreement with Secretary of State John Kerry, sounded a bit like an old Smith Barney commercial in which the brokerage house claimed to make money the old fashioned way — by earning it. Zarif claims the U.S. now has to “earn” the right to return to the deal by fulfilling its commitments since its withdrawal — which means he is looking for a similar financial windfall as Tehran received for agreeing to JCPOA originally. Interestingly, and somewhat curiously, since Iran never actually signed JCPOA, a legal argument could be made the U.S. owes Tehran nothing —but it is an argument Biden likely will not make.

Skeptics believing a Middle East nuclear arms race is many years down the road fail to realize Riyadh can join the race almost instantaneously. Having helped Pakistan fund its nuclear defenses for years, Saudi Arabia did so with a tacit understanding that if it needed such weapons from Islamabad, they would be provided. Since Iran continues to be firmly committed to knocking Saudi Arabia off its pedestal as custodian of Islam’s Two Holy Cities, to establishing a Shia caliphate as the leader of the Islamic world, and to triggering the return of the “Hidden Imam” – all goals pointing to a nuclear attack on Saudi Arabia – Riyadh will quickly press Pakistan to make good on their understanding.

The prospect of a Middle East nuclear arms race should make us pause and reflect upon how two former leaders — one Iranian and the other American — viewed a nuclear-armed world.

In 1980, Iranian Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini said, “We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah. I say let this land burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam remains triumphant in the rest of the world.” It tells us a militant Iran does not fear its own destruction in its plan to destroy other nations.

In 2009, President Obama described his policy of the “audacity of hope” by announcing he sought to create a world free from nuclear weapons.

Ironically, Obama’s dream could be shattered by a nuclear arms race ignited by his former vice president.

Lt. Colonel James G. Zumwalt, USMC (Ret.), is a retired Marine infantry officer who served in the Vietnam war, the U.S. invasion of Panama, and the first Gulf war. He is the author of Bare Feet, Iron Will–Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam’s BattlefieldsLiving the Juche Lie: North Korea’s Kim Dynasty and Doomsday: Iran–The Clock is Ticking. He is a senior analyst for Ravenna Associates, a corporate strategic communications company, who frequently writes on foreign policy and defense issues.

Chanukah blessing for the first night…

December 10, 2020

UN urges Iran to address nuclear, ballistic missile concerns and return to deal

December 9, 2020


As concerns increase, Guterres says Tehran should comply with 2015 agreement, notes Israeli intel about probable Iranian missiles in Libya

By EDITH M. LEDERERToday, 7:46 am  1

The exterior of the Arak heavy water production facility in Arak, Iran, 360 kilometers southwest of Tehran, October 27, 2004. (AP Photo)

The exterior of the Arak heavy water production facility in Arak, Iran, 360 kilometers southwest of Tehran, October 27, 2004. (AP Photo)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is urging Iran to address concerns raised about its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and return to “full implementation” of its 2015 nuclear deal with major powers.

The UN chief expressed regret in a report to the Security Council obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press that the Trump administration withdrew from the agreement in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions against Tehran, and at Iran’s 2019 decision to violate limits in the deal including on centrifuges and enriching uranium.

Guterres said in the report on implementation of a council resolution endorsing the 2015 nuclear agreement that for the last five years the nuclear deal “has been largely viewed by the international community as a testament to the efficacy of multilateralism, diplomacy and dialogue, and a success in nuclear nonproliferation.”

But US President Donald Trump has waged war on the nuclear agreement, denouncing it during the 2016 campaign as the worst deal ever negotiated, and he has kept up opposition in the years since the US pullout in 2018.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks at an online video conference on September 3, 2020 (Ministry of Environment Government of Japan via AP)

The Trump administration maintains the agreement — the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA — is fatally flawed because certain restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activity gradually expire and will allow the country to eventually develop atomic weapons. In August, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo formally notified the UN that it was invoking a provision of the 2015 deal to restore UN sanctions, citing significant Iranian violations and declaring: “The United States will never allow the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism to freely buy and sell planes, tanks, missiles and other kinds of conventional weapons … (or) to have a nuclear weapon.”

But the remaining parties to the JCPOA — Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — as well as the overwhelming majority of the Security Council called the US action illegal because the US had withdrawn from the treaty. The council and the secretary-general both said there would be no action on the US demands — which meant there would be no UN demand for countries to re-impose UN sanctions on Iran.

This photo released November 5, 2019, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP, File)

Nonetheless, concerns by the US as well as the European parties to the JCPOA have increased, especially with Iran continuing to violate the deal’s limits. Iran has openly announced all its violations of the nuclear deal in advance and said they are reversible.

The deal promised Iran economic incentives in exchange for the curbs on its nuclear program. Since the US withdrawal and its imposition of new sanctions, Tehran has tried to put pressure on the remaining parties using the violations to come up with new ways to offset the economy-crippling actions by Washington.

Secretary-General Guterres recounted the US actions and Security Council response in the report and stressed again “the importance of initiatives in support of trade and economic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran, especially during the current economic and health challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

People wearing face masks to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus wait at a bus stop in downtown Tehran, Iran, December 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

As for implementation of the 2015 Security Council resolution endorsing the JCPOA, the secretary-general said he focused on restrictions on nuclear, ballistic missile, and arms-related transfers to or from Iran.

He said Israel provided information about the presence of four alleged Iranian Dehlavieh anti-tank guided missiles in Libya in June. On the basis of photographic evidence, he said, one missile “had characteristics consistent with the Iranian-produced Dehlavieh” but the UN Secretariat has been unable to determine if it had been transferred to Libya in violation of the resolution.

On Australia’s June 2019 arms seizure, Guterres said analysis of high-definition images of some material determined that “the 7.62 mm ammunition in this seizure were not of Iranian manufacture.”

Illustrative — This frame grab from video shows the launching of underground ballistic missiles by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard during a military exercise. (Sepahnews via AP)

The secretary-general said the UN received information that an unnamed “entity” on the sanctions blacklist took actions “inconsistent” with its frozen assets and actions to ship “valves, electronics, and measuring equipment suitable for use in ground testing of liquid propellant ballistic missiles and space launch vehicles” to Iran. He said the UN Secretariat is seeking further information.

The Security Council is scheduled to discuss the report on Dec. 22.