Archive for January 8, 2021

PM aides said worried as Biden’s foreign policy team looking more like Obama’s

January 8, 2021


While Netanyahu critics Rice and Kerry won’t be dealing with Iran or Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel reportedly concerned about role of former Iran deal negotiator Sherman

By JACOB MAGID7 January 2021, 7:58 pm  1

US President Barack Obama, accompanied by, from left, Secretary of State John Kerry, Vice President Joe Biden, and National Security Adviser Susan Rice, speaks during a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington on March 31, 2016.  (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

US President Barack Obama, accompanied by, from left, Secretary of State John Kerry, Vice President Joe Biden, and National Security Adviser Susan Rice, speaks during a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington on March 31, 2016. (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s closest advisers are reportedly concerned about the foreign policy team that US President-elect Joe Biden is putting together as it begins to look more and more like that of former president Barak Obama, who sparred frequently with the Israeli premier over Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On Tuesday, Politico reported that Wendy Sherman, a chief US negotiator for the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, will be nominated for the role of deputy US secretary of state. She’ll serve under Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, Tony Blinken, who was deputy secretary of state under Obama.

Biden has also tapped former Obama-era secretary of state John Kerry to serve as a special envoy on climate change and Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice to server as director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. Jake Sullivan, who was also involved in negotiating the Iran deal vehemently opposed by the Netanyahu government, will serve as Biden’s national security adviser.

The growing list of “Obama people” has members of Netanyahu’s National Security Council grumbling, Axios reported Wednesday.US Secretary of State John Kerry and Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman meet with foreign ministers of Germany, France, China, Britain, Russia and the European Union at a hotel in Vienna, Austria on July 7, 2015. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / CARLOS BARRIA)

Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer has told interlocutors in Washington that he’s less worried about Kerry and Rice, as they aren’t slated to be involved in forming Middle East policy, according to Axios.

He’s also not as concerned about Blinken and Sullivan, who are seen as having strong pro-Israel credentials, despite having served in the Obama administration. Dermer’s greater concern is Sherman as she is set to assume a role that will likely include a great deal of involvement in crafting policy toward Iran, the report said.

Dermer declined to comment for this story, as did Netanyahu’s office, Axios said.

Dermer and Netanyahu have both repeatedly called Biden’s plan to re-enter the nuclear agreement abandoned by US President Donald Trump a mistake.

Biden and his staff have said he will only re-enter the accord if Iran returns to compliance with it and that he hopes to negotiate a follow-up agreement that will address Iran’s ballistic missile program as well as its regional hegemony.

Tehran, which announced earlier this week that it has ramped up its uranium enrichment to 20% in violation of the deal, has asserted that it will not negotiate a subsequent agreement.

Netanyahu sparred with the Obama administration regularly over the latter’s determination to pursue a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear pursuit as well as a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based roughly on the pre-1967 borders.Violent protesters, loyal to US President Donald Trump, storm the Capitol, January 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Netanyahu enjoyed a near complete transformation of those policies when Donald Trump entered the White House in 2017. The Republican president would go on to withdraw from the Iran deal and propose a peace plan that envisions Israel annexing all of its West Bank settlements.

But the premier may be forced to distance himself from Trump against the backdrop of the attempt by the president’s supporters to stampede the Capitol to prevent the certification of his election loss.

Netanyahu condemned the attack on the Capitol as “disgraceful,” but only made mention of Trump in praising him as a “peacemaker” for his administration’s negotiating of the Abraham Accords.

As Biden inauguration nears, Netanyahu warns US against rejoining Iran nuke deal

January 8, 2021


Prime minister praises under-fire Trump during meeting with US Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, who is en route to the Persian Gulf

By JUDAH ARI GROSS7 January 2021, 7:54 pm  0

US President Donald Trump, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walk to a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House, January 27, 2020. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

US President Donald Trump, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walk to a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House, January 27, 2020. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised US President Donald Trump’s administration for its Middle East policies on Thursday, as the American leader faced widespread criticism at home after hundreds of his supporters stormed the Capitol building the day before.

“I want to thank President Trump and all of you in the administration for all you have done and are doing for peace. You’ve made a real difference, achieving one breakthrough after another, bringing the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan into the circle of peace. I have no doubt that more Arab and Muslim countries will follow,” Netanyahu said.

In recent months, the Trump administration has brokered normalization agreements between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco. Sudan, which recently saw regime change in favor of a government more aligned with the US, has also agreed to normalize ties with Israel, though no agreement between the two countries has been signed.

The prime minister made his remarks alongside US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who stopped in Israel on Wednesday and Thursday following a visit to Sudan, where officials agreed to advance their efforts to normalize ties with Israel, and before taking off to Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for meetings.

Netanyahu repeated his opposition to the United States rejoining the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as US President-elect Joe Biden has indicated he plans to do if Iran returns to compliance with the accord.US President Donald Trump, center, with from left, Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, during the Abraham Accords signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, September 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Trump withdrew the US from the agreement in 2018 — at the urging of Netanyahu — reimposing economic sanctions on Iran and prompting Tehran to begin violating the terms of the deal by enriching more uranium and to greater levels. This week, Iran announced it would begin enriching uranium to 20 percent, just a small technical step away from the 90% needed for a nuclear bomb.

Biden has said that if Iran returns to the terms of the agreement, he too would rejoin, removing the crushing economic sanctions that have wreaked havoc on the Iranian economy over the past two years.

Netanyahu, a staunch and vocal opponent of the JCPOA, warned that returning to the agreement would prompt further nuclear proliferation in the region. This claim was based on the criticism that the nuclear agreement grants legitimacy to Iran’s nuclear program, allowing portions of it to operate freely after a certain amount of time, though technically, under the deal, Tehran agrees to never pursue nuclear weapons.

“If we just go back to the JCPOA, what will happen and may already be happening is that many other countries in the Middle East will rush to arm themselves with nuclear weapons. That is a nightmare and that is folly. It should not happen,” Netanyahu said.

The premier thanked Mnuchin for his role in the imposition of economic sanctions on Iran and called for the strategy — known as “maximum pressure” — to continue.Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) addressing the media alongside US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in Jerusalem, January 7, 2021. (GPO)

“I also want to commend the maximum pressure campaign on Iran. Under your leadership, the US Treasury has played a crucial role in applying and enforcing sanctions on the Iranian regime,” Netanyahu said.

“It must be continued to prevent Iran from continuing its campaign of aggression and terror throughout the region and to prevent Iran from rushing to a nuclear arsenal,” he added.

During his remarks, Netanyahu also condemned the assault on the US Capitol building in Washington, DC, by a mob of Trump loyalists who sought to interrupt the certification of Biden’s victory in the November election.

The prime minister called the attack “disgraceful” and said it represented the “opposite of the values we know Americans and Israelis cherish.”Supporters of US President Donald Trump protest inside the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. (ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP)

Mnuchin also condemned the attack on the Capitol Building and indicated that he would not be resigning from his position in light of the attack on the Capitol, which both Republican and Democratic lawmakers blamed on incitement by the president, as Deputy National Security Adviser Matt Pottinger did Wednesday.

“The violence that occurred last night at the Capitol in Washington, DC, was completely unacceptable. Now is the time for our nation to come together as one and to respect the democratic process in the US,” the treasury secretary said.

“I look forward to getting back to Washington, DC, with our continued work on the transition,” he added.

Mnuchin’s office said that during his visit in Israel, he met with Netanyahu and Finance Minister Israel Katz to discuss the economic opportunities presented by the Abraham Accords and Israel’s improved ties with the Persian Gulf.

His spokesperson said the three also spoke about “national security issues, including cooperative efforts to combat terrorist financing.”

Iran Establishing New Facts on the Ground to Leverage Biden Administration

January 8, 2021
by Meira SvirskyJanuary 6, 2021 Reading Time: 5min read 

The Islamic Republic just skyrocketed levels of uranium enrichment — all under the watch of the IAEA

Iranian FM Mohammad Javad Zarif (Photo: ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)
Iranian FM Mohammad Javad Zarif (Photo: ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)

With close to two weeks left in office for President Donald Trump, Iran is establishing facts on the ground to leverage the Biden administration with its announcement that it has begun to enrich uranium to a 20 percent level.

The level represents the “most significant and blatant violation to date” of the nuclear deal, according to former Israeli army intelligence chief Amos Yadlin.

Twenty percent represents “a technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90 percent,” according to a report by the AP. Astonishingly, the move – which consists of the highest level of enrichment since the nuclear agreement made between Iran and the world powers in 2015 – was made with the tacit approval of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“At Fordo, Iranian nuclear scientists under the watch of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors loaded centrifuges with over 130 kilograms (285 pounds) of low-enriched uranium to be spun up to 20%, said Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s permanent representative to the U.N. atomic agency.” – AP

According to the prestigious Washington think tank, the Institute for Science and International Security, once enough uranium is enriched to the 20 percent level, enriching it further to the 90 percent needed for bomb-grade material would only take six weeks.

The institute estimates, that with this new development at Fordo, it will take Iran only five to six and a half months to produce enough uranium necessary to make a bomb. From that point, it would take another month and a half for Iran to produce a bomb itself.

Some experts believe that Iran already has enough low-level enriched uranium for several nuclear bombs and that the further enrichment necessary to actually produce the bombs would take about three months.

In a clear move to leverage the incoming Biden administration, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted, “Our measures are fully reversible upon FULL compliance by ALL.

Members of Biden’s incoming administration have indicated that re-entering the 2015 nuclear agreement made under the Obama/Biden administration is “high on his agenda.”

“I believe that in the first months [of Biden’s presidency], we’ll either see him rejoin the deal fully or what I would call ‘JCPOA-minus,’ meaning lifting sanctions in exchange for suspending some of the Iranian nuclear programs [developed] in the past three years,” said Amos Hochstein, who worked at the State Department during the previous administration and oversaw energy sanctions on Iran.

Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018 and embarked instead on a program of crippling sanctions against Iran. The Trump State Department called Iran’s latest move a “clear attempt to increase its campaign of nuclear extortion.”

Lifting sanctions will give Iran access to the much-needed cash they need to purchase advanced weapons, which recently become legally available to them.

In October, a 13-year UN arms embargo on Iran was lifted as part of the nuclear agreement. This means that Iran – recognized as the largest state sponsor of terrorism – is now allowed to buy weapons from which it was previously restricted, as well as give them to its proxies, including the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah and the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Iran is demanding “full and unconditional implementation of the [nuclear agreement] and compensation for the events of the past,” said a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry.

Further, the spokesman said, “We will not renegotiate any parts of the [nuclear agreement].”

One of the biggest flaws of the agreement was that it did not address Iran’s ballistic missile program. Ballistic missiles can be fitted with nuclear warheads.

Incoming National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a recent interview on CNN that the U.S. would lift sanctions on Iran in exchange for negotiations on Iran’s ballistic missile program. Sullivan also said in the same interview that the assassination of Iranian terror mastermind Qassem Soleimani did not make America safer or protect U.S. interests.

What are we to make of Biden and members of his administration expressing such attitudes, as well as making such blatant overtures to the Iranian regime? Master negotiators, the Iranians managed to gut the 2015 nuclear agreement of any teeth, including:

  • Ruling out any inspections of its military sites (necessary for an assessment of possible nuclear dimensions of the existing Iranian nuclear program)
  • Getting immediate sanctions relief (making “snapback” provisions a moot point after Western nations immediately began investing in Iran)
  • Retaining centrifuges used for enriching uranium
  • Continued uranium enrichment
  • Retention of nuclear sites

In this second round of negotiations, Iran already has the upper hand – simply because the incoming administration has indicated their eagerness to rejoin the agreement. This is especially devastating considering the fact that Trump is leaving Biden with an enormous amount of economic leverage over Iran.

“They [Iran] are in deep, deep trouble, and to simply return to the status quo of the Obama administration, surrender all of that simply to return to a deal that in a space of a very few years is going to run out and allow Iran to surge forward with an industrial-strength nuclear program doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” said former Vice President Dick Cheney’s national security adviser John Hannah, speaking to FOX Business.

In addition to a severely weakened Iran, Trump has left Biden with a Middle East unified against Iran through the historic Abraham Accords, the peace agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and possibly more countries to come in the last days of the Trump administration.

The Trump team has also just negotiated the end of a years-long dispute between the Gulf States and Qatar (who, since the dispute, made overtures to Iran). They also just seized $7 million in Iranian assets after shutting down a money-laundering operation designed to get around American sanctions against the Islamic Republic. The Department of Justice plans to use the money to pay victims of Iranian state-sponsored terrorism.

After the nuclear agreement was made and sanctions were lifted, European companies invested deeply in Iran (apparently with no concern for effectively financing this terrorism). One thing Trump taught us is that America does just fine without playing international politics by European rules.

While Biden has made “restoring” America’s relationship with Europe one of the priorities of his foreign policy, it remains to be seen what the U.S. will get in return – particularly in light of the new trade agreement Europe just made with China. The agreement prioritizes Europe’s ties with the communist regime over those with the U.S.

The new administration would be better off staying the course and not get involved in negotiating with Iran. Historically, such negotiations have not ended well and there is no reason to believe this time will be any different.

Iran is driven by ideology, and no amount of Western largesse will change that.