Archive for February 17, 2021

Israel hints it may not engage Biden on Iran nuclear strategy

February 17, 2021

“We will not be able to be part of such a process if the new administration returns to that deal,” Israel Ambassador to the US Gilad Erdan says.

Report: Israel, Arab states seek 'seat at the table' in Iran talks

Israel held out the possibility on Tuesday that it would not engage with US President Joe Biden on strategy regarding the Iranian nuclear program, urging tougher sanctions and a “credible military threat.”

The remarks by Israel’s envoy to Washington came as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands for re-election next month.

The new administration has said it wants a US return to a 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran – which former President Donald Trump quit, restoring sanctions – if the Iranians recommit to their own obligations. Washington has also said it wants to confer with allies in the Middle East about such moves.

“We will not be able to be part of such a process if the new administration returns to that deal,” Ambassador Gilad Erdan told Israel’s Army Radio.

Netanyahu aides have privately questioned whether engaging with US counterparts might backfire, for Israel, by falsely signaling its consent for any new deal that it still opposes.

Israel was not a party to the 2015 deal.

“We think that if the United States returns to the same accord that it already withdrew from, all its leverage will be lost,” Erdan said.

“It would appear that only crippling sanctions – keeping the current sanctions and even adding new sanctions – combined with a credible military threat – that Iran fears – might bring Iran to real negotiations with Western countries that might ultimately produce a deal truly capable of preventing it breaking ahead (to nuclear arms).”

The Biden administration has said it wants to strengthen and lengthen constraints on Iran [really? says who?], which denies seeking the bomb.

Hezbollah chief threatens Israel after IDF drill directed at terror group

February 17, 2021

Hassan Nasrallah says terrorist organization will bomb Israeli cities in response to attacks in Lebanon

By TOI STAFFToday, 6:32 am  0

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

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

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah issued a warning to Israel on Tuesday, after the Israel Defense Forces held an exercise simulating a war with Hezbollah in a clear threat to the Lebanon-based terrorist group.

“Israel’s home front needs to know that if there is a war with Hezbollah, it will see things it has not seen since the establishment of Israel,” Nasrallah said.

“We don’t seek a fight with Israel, but if it starts a war, we will fight,” Nasrallah said, according to Channel 13.

“If Israel bombs cities in Lebanon, we’ll bomb cities in Israel, and if it bombs villages in Lebanon, we’ll bomb towns in Israel. If the IDF bombs our military targets, we can also attack Israel’s military targets,” Nasrallah said.

“No one can guarantee that a few days of combat between us and Israel won’t lead to a wider war,” he said. “We’re following [events] and weighing our decisions. We won’t accept something that will put our country in danger.”

Nasrallah spoke from an undisclosed location via a live video feed in line with his usual security protocols.

The Israeli Air Force completed a three-day surprise exercise simulating a large-scale war against Hezbollah this week, including mock strikes on some 3,000 targets in one day, the military said, in a clear threat to the Lebanese terror group.An F-35 fighter jet takes off during a surprise exercise, ‘Galilee Rose,’ in February 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

The hypothetical incident that kicked off this fictional conflict was Hezbollah shooting and damaging an Israeli aircraft — something the terrorist militia tried to do earlier this month when it fired anti-aircraft missiles at an IAF Heron unmanned aerial vehicle.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, dozens of aircraft — fighter jets, cargo planes, helicopters and drones — took part in the exercise, called “Galilee Rose.”  They were operated and assisted by conscripted and reservist forces, who were called up on short notice after the drill was announced on Sunday.

“During [the exercise], intense fighting was simulated, along with offensive operations, scenarios involving defending the country’s airspace, command and control operations, precise planning and wide-scale, powerful strikes. In addition, strikes on thousands of targets and the launching of many weapons were practiced to simulate war on the northern front,” the military said.

A senior air force official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the level of intensity shown in the exercise was unprecedented. To wit, the drill simulated the bombing of some 3,000 targets over the course of 24 hours, whereas in the more than month-long 2006 Second Lebanon War, roughly 5,000 targets were struck in total.

The exercise also simulated Hezbollah’s attacks on Israel, including the firing of cruise missiles and other advanced munitions, as well as standard, albeit massive rocket launches at both military and civilian targets in the Jewish state, the senior air force officer told reporters.

The surprise exercise came amid lingering tension in the region between Israel and Hezbollah over the death of one of the terror group’s operatives in Syria last summer, in an airstrike widely attributed to the IDF. The Israeli military believes Hezbollah still intends to exact revenge for the death of its fighter in order to deter Israel from future strikes.

After years of being relative caution, the IDF believes that the terror group has grown increasingly emboldened, though it still does not want to enter into a full-blown war with Israel. This was on display on February 3, when Hezbollah fired on the Israeli drone as it was flying over southern Lebanon.

In that case, the military refrained from retaliating. This week’s exercise, simulating a massive retaliation to such an attack, was seemingly meant to signal to the terror group what would happen if it again fired upon an Israeli drone.

Blinken says that for Iran, ‘the path to diplomacy is open’

February 17, 2021

US secretary of state won’t say if Washington has reached out to Tehran, vouches for nuclear deal, says Iran still ‘ways away’ from being in compliance

By TOI STAFFToday, 3:50 am  0

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the State Department, Feb. 4, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the State Department, Feb. 4, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday that the US was open to diplomacy with Iran and voiced support for the 2015 deal Iran signed with world powers, while asserting that it must not be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon.

In an interview with National Public Radio, Blinken said that for Iran, “the path to diplomacy is open.”

He reiterated the US stance that Iran must first return to compliance with the deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and said that, “Right now, Iran is still a ways away from being in compliance, so we’ll have to see what it does.”

When asked if the US had reached out to Iran, Blinken declined to say.

“At present, the president’s, I think, been very clear publicly, repeatedly, about where we stand.  And we’ll see what, if any, reaction Iran has to that,” he said.

The Biden administration has repeatedly said it will return to the deal if Iran first returns to its terms, but Iran has said the US must first lift sanctions before talks resume, putting the two sides at a stalemate for now.

Iran has gradually broken the terms of the deal, including in recent months, since former US president Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018 and imposed punishing sanctions on Tehran.

Iran on Monday reiterated its warning that it will halt certain nuclear inspections if other parties to the deal “fail to meet their obligations” by February 21.Illustrative: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visits the Bushehr nuclear power plant just outside of Bushehr, Iran, Jan. 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Iranian Presidency Office, Mohammad Berno, File)

The Iranian foreign ministry said the move would see Iran end its adherence to the “additional protocol” of the nuclear accord, which prescribes intrusive inspections of its nuclear facilities.

Recent Iranian breaches have included exceeding the stockpile limit on enriched uranium, enriching beyond the permitted purity level and using more advanced centrifuges than permitted under the deal.

Blinken said the agreement “was very effective in cutting off all the pathways that Iran then had to produce fissile material for a nuclear weapon… and it’s very unfortunate that we pulled out of it.”

“The result is that today Iran is far closer to having the ability to produce fissile material for a weapon on short order than it was when the deal was enforced,” Blinken said.

He said Iran’s breakout time, or the amount of time it would take to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon if it chose to do so, was longer than a year when the deal was in place, and was now down to three or four months.

“I think we have an incentive to try to put Iran back in the nuclear box.  Presumably Iran still has incentives to get what it bargained for in the deal, which was some sanctions relief, given the state of its economy,” Blinken said.

He repeated the US position that the next deal with Iran needed to be “longer and stronger,” including by covering its ballistic missile program and destabilizing actions in other countries.US President Joe Biden speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, February 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Interviewer Mary Louise Kelly asked Blinken if a rocket attack in Iraq on Monday outside an airport near where US forces are based was Iran testing the new US administration.

The strike in Kurdish-run Irbil killed one US-led coalition contractor and wounded at least eight people. Previous, similar strikes have been blamed on Iran-backed forces.

Blinken said the attack was “outrageous,” but that it was “too soon” to blame Iran.

“Certainly we’ve seen these attacks in the past.  We’ve seen Iraqi militia, Iranian-backed militia in many cases, be responsible.  But to date, it’s too early to know who is responsible for this one,” Blinken said.

Israel has voiced strong opposition to Washington returning to the Iran nuclear deal. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long been a leading critic of the agreement, which was reached when President Joe Biden was vice president, and warned against reengaging with Tehran on the accord.

Netanyahu on Monday vowed opposition to those who oppose his hawkish stance toward Iran.

“Whoever supports our policies, I’m with him. And whoever endangers us, for example [on policies] regarding a nuclear Iran, which is an existential threat to us, so I oppose that, and I don’t care if it’s Democrats,” Netanyahu said.

Biden has not called Netanyahu after over three weeks in office. The lack of a phone call between the two leaders since Biden took office last month has raised eyebrows in Israel and the United States, though the White House has said the new American president was not intentionally snubbing Netanyahu.

The Whiet House said Tuesday that Biden’s first phone call with a Middle East leader will be with Netanyahu.READ MO