Archive for August 2021

Israel and US working on ‘Plan B’ if Iran nuke talks fail, Gantz says | The Times of Israel

August 31, 2021

In wide-ranging briefing, defense minister says intel ties with US getting stronger, calls for strengthening the PA and keeping a strict blockade on Gaza until Hamas frees captives

By JUDAH ARI GROSS30 August 2021, 5:49 pm  

Defense Minister Benny Gantz at a state memorial ceremony marking 7 years since Operation Protective Edge at the National Memorial Hall at the entrance to the military cemetery on Mount Herzl, June 20, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz at a state memorial ceremony marking 7 years since Operation Protective Edge at the National Memorial Hall at the entrance to the military cemetery on Mount Herzl, June 20, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Monday said Israel and the United States had restored intelligence ties and were working to develop a “Plan B” if the stalled talks between Washington and Tehran regarding a fresh Iran nuclear deal sputter out, following a meeting between Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and US President Joe Biden last week.

Gantz warned that if Iran becomes a nuclear state, it will trigger an international arms race in which many other nations, in the Middle East and beyond, will attempt to acquire an atomic bomb.

“The United States and Israel share intelligence information, and the cooperation with the United States in this field is only getting stronger. We are working with them in order to establish a Plan B and to demonstrate that if there is no deal, other activities will begin, as President Biden said,” the defense minister said, speaking to military correspondents ahead of the Jewish New Year next week.

On Friday, the US president told a joint press conference with Bennett that his administration was “ready to turn to other options” if diplomatic talks with Iran failed, likely alluding to the possibility of clandestine operations and military strikes.

The White House meeting came a day after US officials told the New York Times that Israel’s previous administration had downgraded intelligence sharing with the US after Biden took office. Bennett has sought to restore ties with US Democrats after their relationship with former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu became frayed, though Iran was the focus of the Friday meeting.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

Gantz did not specify what the “Plan B” could entail, but Israeli officials have signaled a need for a credible military threat to deter Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons.

Gantz’s comments joined a flurry of threats by Israeli defense officials toward Iran in recent days, including Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, who told reporters last week that the military was preparing plans and funding for a potential military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

“We are allocating resources in order to strengthen our ability to act against challenges in the region, chief among them Iran,” Gantz said.

US President Joe Biden (right) shakes hands with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett as they meet in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, Aug. 27, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The defense minister made his comments during an extended briefing with reporters at the Defense Ministry’s offices in Tel Aviv’s Kirya military base, focusing on Iran along with his meeting Sunday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the lingering threats from the Gaza Strip following May’s conflict with terror groups there, the Middle East in general and the ongoing efforts by the government to pass the budget and fund the Defense Ministry’s programs.

“A defense budget allows us to rearm and allows for the operational ability that we need, alongside important social considerations. We are working to improve fortifications in the north and to build the [Lebanese border] barrier that was held up for years,” Gantz said.

Referring to recent efforts by the government to encourage ultra-Orthodox men to perform national service, the defense minister said he was working to expand this in order to get a larger majority of Israelis to enlist, warning that if this is not accomplished within the next decade, Israel will be forced to move to a professional, volunteer military.

“The goal is to get more than 70 percent of people to serve each year, when today we only have roughly 50 percent,” Gantz said.

The defense minister said he instructed the IDF to begin preparing for the possibility that it will have to continue to support the national pandemic response through the end of 2022, after initially planning to scale back the military’s involvement in these efforts following this year’s massive vaccination drive.

Strengthening the PA

Gantz reiterated his support for strengthening the Palestinian Authority, which works closely with Israel on security issues, particularly against Hamas and other terror groups in the West Bank. However, the PA is often maligned in Israel for its financial support for terrorism in the form of stipend to the families of Palestinians imprisoned in Israeli on terrorism charges or killed as they perpetrated terror attacks, as well as for its repeated efforts to gain unilateral recognition as a state in international forums such as the United Nations.

“I told Abbas that we aren’t going anywhere and that the Palestinians aren’t going anywhere. I went to the meeting in order to build confidence and preserve the interests of the State of Israel and the important ties we have with the Palestinian Authority, which I believe we need to strengthen,” Gantz said.

“As the Palestinian Authority gets stronger, Hamas gets weaker, and so long as it has greater governance, we will have more security and we will have to act less,” he added.

The defense minister did not bring up the possibility of renewed peace talks with the Palestinians, and an official close to the prime minister told reporters earlier in the day that “there is no diplomatic process with the Palestinians nor will there be.”

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas delivers a speech regarding the Coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19), at the Palestinian Authority headquarters, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 5, 2020. (Courtesy Flash90)

Regarding the Gaza Strip, which has recently seen a significant increase in violence along the border, Gantz said Israel was maintaining its policy of making full reconstruction and further development of the enclave contingent upon the release of two Israeli civilians and the remains of two fallen IDF soldiers from Hamas captivity.

The defense minister said the military would also continue to strike more forcefully than it did in the past in response to low-level violence along the border, such as the launching of balloon-borne incendiary devices.

“We said that what had been will not be again, and what had been is not what is happening now. This is in terms of the nature and strength of our retaliations, in the different mechanism through which Qatari funds are being transferred, also on civilian issues and on the dependence of reconstruction on the captives, as I said at the end of the operation,” Gantz said.

Echoing similar comments made recently by IDF chief Kohavi, the defense minister warned that Israel may be at the outset of a fresh round of fighting in Gaza, continuing the campaign from May’s 11-day conflict, known in Israel as Operation Guardian of the Walls, if the violence along the border continues.

“Our strikes in Gaza have been precise and have hit rearmament facilities that are painful for Hamas and that deny it capabilities. I cannot promise that we will not have to continue with a 12th day of Guardian of the Walls,” he said.

Gantz also noted that rocket attacks from Lebanon, which began during Operation Guardian of the Walls, appeared to be the work of Palestinian terror cells linked to Hamas.

During the fighting in Gaza, three rounds of rocket fire were launched at northern Israel, causing neither injuries nor damage. A fourth attack was launched on July 20 and a fifth on August 4 by these Palestinian cells.

Israeli self-propelled howitzers fire towards Lebanon from a position near the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona following Hezbollah rocket fire from the Lebanese side of the border, on August 6, 2021. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)

“We have seen that Hamas International is trying to create an infrastructure in Lebanon,” Gantz said.

The IDF does not see these cells as a major threat, but has allocated additional intelligence resources to monitoring them. The main threat in Lebanon remains the Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist militia.

After Israel retaliated forcefully to the August 4 attack, Hezbollah fired 19 rockets at northern Israel, the first time the organization has openly launched such an attack since the 2006 Second Lebanon War. These rocket attacks from Lebanon raised the specter of a potential two-front war in the future, in which Israel would have to fight both Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

“The humanitarian situation in Lebanon is very worrying, but so are the rearmament efforts of Hezbollah. We are prepared for the possibility of fighting on the northern front, including a situation in which we would be fighting on northern and southern fronts,” Gantz said.

Bennett said to vow he won’t openly lobby against US return to Iran nuke deal

August 29, 2021


Israeli official tells news site PM stressed to Biden that despite disagreements, he wants them to work together ‘according to rules of honesty and decency’

By TOI STAFF28 August 2021, 11:18 pm  

President Joe Biden meets with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, Aug. 27, 2021, in Washington. (AP/Evan Vucci)

President Joe Biden meets with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, Aug. 27, 2021, in Washington. (AP/Evan Vucci)

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett pledged to US President Joe Biden that despite opposing a potential Washington move to rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, he will not wage a public campaign against a possible American return to the accord, the Walla news site reported on Saturday.

Citing two American sources familiar with the details of Bennett and Biden’s meeting on Friday at the White House, the news site said that the Israeli premier stressed the same point in his sit-downs with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.

Bennett’s government opposes US efforts to return to the Iran nuclear agreement, signed in 2015 by the administration led by Barack Obama and abandoned three years later by Donald Trump.

But, according to the sources, Bennett said that he believes dialogue will lead to a better outcome, and that the White House was very appreciative of his stance on the matter. Many current administration officials also served under Obama when he clashed with then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the deal. Netanyahu, now the opposition leader, lobbied against the deal in a 2015 speech to the US Congress, infuriating Obama, and continues to vociferously oppose a return to the accord, which he argues paves the way to an Iranian nuclear arsenal.

“Even though there are disagreements, I want us to work according to rules of honesty and decency,” Bennett told Biden, according to an Israeli source quoted in the report.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party on Saturday night blasted Bennett over the report.

“For a picture at the White House, Bennett completely folded in front of Biden and harmed Israel’s security when he promised not to fight publicly,” Likud said in a statement. “This is a dangerous statement that combines inexperience, irresponsibility and a lack of leadership.”

“Iran is galloping toward the bomb and the weak government in Israel proved that it does not intend to fight against it.”

Netanyahu openly campaigned against the deal before it was signed in 2015 under then-US president Barack Obama and has recently been vocal in opposing Biden’s intention to restore the agreement.

Biden’s administration has been seeking a return to the nuclear deal, but this has looked increasingly unlikely as Iran has moved further away from its obligations and as a hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi, has taken office in Tehran.

Bennett and Biden were able to set “rules of the game” for how their offices work during their terms, a senior Israeli official told reporters on Friday after the meeting, saying that they had agreed there would be vigorous direct open dialogue, and that disagreements would be kept quiet.Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (right) and US President Joe Biden have coffee in the White House private presidential dining hall, on August 27, 2021. (White House/Twitter)

The atmosphere in the White House was “not optimistic” about returning to the nuclear deal with Iran, the official added, stressing that the fate of the agreement depended on Iran.

During public remarks the two gave in the Oval Office, Biden clarified that he prefers a diplomatic approach to block Iran’s path to the bomb, namely the revival of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. However, he said that “other options” would be pursued if those negotiations failed and vowed that the US would ensure Iran “never” attains nuclear weapons.

Later pressed on what was meant by other options, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki declined to elaborate. Israel has been pushing the US to put a “credible military threat” against Iran on the table while negotiating to curb its nuclear efforts.

During the meeting in the White House, Bennett presented his two-pronged approach to dealing with Iran — confronting its regional activities in a quiet, multifaceted “gray zone” campaign, and keeping Tehran permanently a year away from nuclear breakout capability.US President Joe Biden listens during a meeting with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the Oval Office at the White House, on August 27, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Pool/Getty Images North America/Getty Images via AFP)

Bennett also presented his view of a Middle East “cold war,” in which Israel is analogous to America, and Iran is a Soviet-like dictatorship, hated by its people and rotten from within.

Bennett was in Washington for the first time since becoming prime minister in June and held a series of meetings with top administration officials. On Wednesday, Bennett met with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Blinken, and Sullivan.

His meeting with Biden on Thursday was pushed back to Friday because of the deadly suicide attack at the Kabul airport in Afghanistan, forcing Bennett and his staff to spend Shabbat in Washington before flying back early Sunday morning.

Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

Israeli prime minister ENCOURAGED by Biden’s stance on Iran

August 28, 2021

Catastrophe in Afghanistan — for Afghans, Israel, the region… and for America

August 20, 2021

As the Taliban retake power, the imminent 20th anniversary of 9/11 underlines the horrific consequences of the US failing to reckon with this region’s darkest forces

David Horovitz

By DAVID HOROVITZ19 August 2021, 11:49 am  

Taliban fighters take control of the Afghan presidential palace after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Zabi Karimi)

Taliban fighters take control of the Afghan presidential palace after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Zabi Karimi)

Like every national leader, the president of the United States has a prime obligation to safeguard the security and well-being of his citizens. And like his predecessor Donald Trump, President Joe Biden concluded that the presence of US troops and contractors in Afghanistan was having the opposite effect — that the American military deployment, as Biden put it on Monday, was “not in our national security interest.”

Thousands of Americans had lost their lives in the course of the 20-year war since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when the Bush administration began targeting Afghanistan for harboring al-Qaeda terrorists. And Biden, inheriting an agreement to withdraw the last few thousand US troops, decided to go ahead with it and, he said this week, avoid a “third decade” of war.

Before we get into the profound and dismal wrongheadedness of this decision — which in a matter of a few days has seen the United States humiliated and weakened in the eyes, most especially, of its Islamist enemies — we should note that Israel has twice in recent decades carried out its own hasty military withdrawals on our very own doorstep, under circumstances and with consequences it has to some extent lived to regret.

We left southern Lebanon unilaterally in 2000, under public pressure amid the relentless loss of soldiers’ lives in the Security Zone, and were plunged into the Second Lebanon War six years later. Now we face a full-fledged Hezbollah army on that front. We left Gaza unilaterally in 2005, choosing neither to negotiate the pullout with the Palestinian Authority nor to heed the warnings that emboldened terror groups, claiming vindication, would fill the vacuum. Now we face endless friction and intermittent bloody conflict with Hamas.

Israel, in other words, is not immune to the urge to cut and run.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

And that is what the United States has now done in Afghanistan, to devastating effect. It has handed Afghanistan back to the Taliban — brutal and benighted Islamic fundamentalists who, when they last controlled the country, oppressed women with a methodical viciousness unparalleled by any other regime worldwide; indiscriminately massacred civilians; restricted education; destroyed agriculture; banned culture and recreation…Taliban fighters stand guard in a vehicle along the roadside in Kabul on August 16, 2021, (AFP)

In consigning Afghanistan to its grisly fate, moreover, the US has shown itself to have been incapable of forging the Afghan military into a competent fighting force, despite all the training, the tens of billions in equipment, the lives lost.

And while Biden now blames Afghanistan’s political leaders for fleeing, and the Afghan army for laying down its arms, the US also reveals itself to have been unable to recognize the unreliability of its Afghan allies. As recently as July 8, Biden asserted with outrageously misguided complacency that “the likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.”

For Israel, the debacle is a reinforcement of our insistence that we, and we alone, put our lives on the line in the defense of this country — even as we forge and nurture our alliances with our vital allies, and none more so than the United States. We do not and must not ask US or any other forces to risk their lives for us, and we dare not rely on any other country or alliance to protect us from our enemies.Taliban officials arrange a Taliban flag before a press conference by Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, at the Government Media Information Center, in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

For Israel and its allies and semi-allies in the region, the US mishandling of Afghanistan also shocks and horrifies because it gives succor to terrorist groups and extremist regimes. First and foremost of these is Iran, closing in on the bomb, toying with the US in negotiations over a return to the 2015 nuclear deal, determined to destroy “Little Satan” Israel, and now even more contemptuous of the “Great Satan.”

For the United States, however, what’s ultimately worst about the abandonment of Afghanistan to some of the darkest forces on the planet is that it negates, rather than serves, that core presidential obligation to ensure the security and well-being of the American people. The US deployment had been greatly scaled back, and the losses, still of course terrible, reduced to a fraction of those in earlier years. The hapless departure and its consequences, bitter experience indicates all too well, will exact a far greater cost than maintaining that deployment would have.

Biden’s two immediate predecessors complained that, notwithstanding the US commitment to championing freedom and democracy, it was not America’s job to solve all the problems of this part of the world (Barack Obama) and fight our region’s stupid wars (Donald Trump). But that the debacle is playing out around the 20th anniversary of 9/11, when 3,000 people lost their lives in al-Qaeda’s horrific terrorist assault on America, serves to grimly underline the direct consequences for the United States itself of failing to reckon with the ruthless, amoral and sophisticated forces plotting to harm it.People wait to be evacuated from Afghanistan at the airport in Kabul on August 18, 2021. (AFP)

Those regressive forces, most of them strategizing in our part of the world, are murderously hostile to everything that is best about America — its defense of freedoms, its commitment to democracy, its striving for opportunity and equality, its fundamental humanity. Today, they are more confident and stronger than they were just a few days ago. And the bastion of the free world’s defense against them, the United States of America, looks tired and irresolute.

This, at the risk of catastrophic understatement, is not in the US national security interest.US President Joe Biden leaves after speaking about the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, from the East Room of the White House, on August 16, 2021, in Washington, DC. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)

Iran ups uranium enrichment to 60 percent, UN watchdog confirms

August 18, 2021


IAEA says Tehran boosting its nuclear capabilities at the Natanz plant, as talks with world powers stall

By AFPToday, 12:22 am  

A handout picture provided by the Iranian presidential office on Saturday, April 10, shows a video conference screen of an engineer inside Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment plant (Iranian Presidency/AFP)

A handout picture provided by the Iranian presidential office on Saturday, April 10, shows a video conference screen of an engineer inside Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment plant (Iranian Presidency/AFP)

VIENNA — Iran has established a process to accelerate production of highly enriched uranium, the UN nuclear watchdog said Tuesday, with talks to save the 2015 nuclear deal at a standstill.

International Atomic Energy Agency director Rafael Grossi informed IAEA member states that Tehran was boosting such capacity at its Natanz enrichment plant.

The agency verified on Saturday that “Iran had configured a new operational mode for the production of UF6 enriched up to 60 percent U-235,” Grossi said in a statement to AFP.

This involved using two centrifuge cascades compared to one previously, he added.

The move takes Iran closer to the 90 percent purity level needed for use in a nuclear weapon.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

Tehran had started in mid-April to enrich uranium to 60 percent.

In this image made from April 17, 2021, video released by the Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting, IRIB, state-run TV, various centrifuge machines line a hall at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, Iran. (IRIB via AP)

The Islamic Republic has gradually rolled back its nuclear commitments since 2018, when then-US president Donald Trump withdrew from a multilateral nuclear deal and began imposing sanctions.

The 2015 deal known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, gave Iran relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

Under the accord, Iran had committed to keep enrichment to 3.67 percent, though it had stepped this up to 20 percent in January.

Trump’s successor Joe Biden said he hopes to revive the nuclear deal and indirect talks in Vienna, through European intermediaries, started in the Austrian capital in April.

But the talks broke up on June 20 without any discernible progress.

The EU said earlier this month that Iran is ready to resume talks under new president Ebrahim Raisi, and meetings could take place in Vienna from early September.

Meanwhile the United States on Monday urged Iran to return to the negotiations, voicing alarm over Iranian production of uranium metal reported by the UN nuclear watchdog.

File: Iran’s nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz, Iran (AP Photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian)

According to the report presented by Grossi, Iran has made 200 grams of the metal, after having announced such a project in July for research purposes.

The State Department said Washington believed Tehran “has no credible need to produce uranium metal.”

Under the 2015 deal, Iran promised not to produce the metal, which can be used to build a nuclear bomb.

IAEA: Iran producing uranium metal, which can be used in nuclear bomb

August 17, 2021

UN nuclear watchdog says Tehran produced 200g of material enriched up to 20%, in further departure from deal

An Iranian technician walks through the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan 255 miles (410 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, February 3, 2007. (Vahid Salemi/ AP/ File)

By TOI STAFF and AGENCIES16 August 2021, 9:41 pm  

An Iranian technician walks through the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan 255 miles (410 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, February 3, 2007. (Vahid Salemi/ AP/ File)

With the chances of a return to the 2015 nuclear deal fading, Iran has progressed with producing uranium metal, the UN nuclear watchdog said on Monday.

“On 14 August 2021, the Agency verified… that Iran had used 257g of uranium enriched up to 20% U-235 in the form of UF4 (uranium tetrafluoride) to produce 200g of uranium metal enriched up to 20% U-235,” the International Atomic Energy Agency wrote, according to Reuters.

Uranium metal can be used as a component in nuclear weapons. Iran had signed up to a 15-year ban on “producing or acquiring plutonium or uranium metals or their alloys,” under the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed in 2015 with world powers.

Iran previously told the UN nuclear watchdog that it was advancing research on uranium metal production, saying it is aimed at providing advanced fuel for a research reactor in Tehran.

The IAEA added that the move was step three in a four-step plan, the fourth being the production of a reactor fuel plate, according to Reuters.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

But Iran has insisted its nuclear activities are peaceful and that it is not aiming at building a weapon

The Iranian flag waves outside of the UN building that hosts the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, office inside in Vienna, Austria, July 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

Former United States president Donald Trump pulled out of the deal in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions that have choked Iran’s oil-dependent economy. Iran has responded by walking back measures it had agreed to abide by, including enriching uranium to unprecedented levels, near weapons-grade.

Talks kicked off in April in Vienna to find a way to bring both parties back to the deal. But the last round took place on June 20, with no date set for when they would resume. The EU chairs the meetings.

US President Joe Biden, Trump’s successor, has signaled his readiness to return to the nuclear deal and has engaged in indirect negotiations with Iran alongside formal talks with the agreement’s remaining parties, Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia.

Police officers stand in front of the ‘Grand Hotel Wien’ in Vienna, Austria, April 9, 2021, where closed-door nuclear talks with Iran take place. (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter)

Israel has long opposed the nuclear deal and Biden’s stated intentions to reenter the treaty.

A return to the 2015 deal seems more unlikely as tensions have risen, notably with an attack by drones last month on an Israeli-linked tanker off Oman that killed a Briton and a Romanian national on board.

The G7 — the US, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan — blamed the attack on Iran, which denies the accusation.

Bennett seeking joint US-Israel strategy on Iran if nuclear talks fail — report

August 13, 2021


PM said to urge coordination during meeting with CIA chief; officials believe William Burns also skeptical Tehran will return to 2015 deal

By TOI STAFFToday, 2:59 am  

CIA chief William Burns, left, meets with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in Jerusalem, August 11, 2021. (Amos Ben-Gershon/GPO)

CIA chief William Burns, left, meets with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in Jerusalem, August 11, 2021. (Amos Ben-Gershon/GPO)

During his meeting this week with CIA chief William Burns, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told the US spymaster that Jerusalem and Washington should form a joint strategy for a scenario in which Iran refuses to reenter the 2015 nuclear deal, according to an Axios report Thursday.

The report said Israeli officials received the impression that like Israel, Burns is also skeptical on Tehran returning to compliance with the deal under the new hardline government.

“It was important for the prime minister to make it clear that when we say we think it is a mistake to return to the 2015 nuclear deal, it is not an automatic continuation of the Netanyahu government’s policy and that we have a different approach,” the report cited a senior Israel official as saying.

Burns, a career diplomat, played a key role in the US rapprochement with Iran that led to the 2015 deal between Iran and major powers, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

US President Joe Biden has sought to rejoin the pact after former president Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018. Israel opposes the deal and government officials have held successive rounds of talks with US counterparts on the nuclear negotiations.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

A report in The New York Times earlier this month said US officials are increasingly pessimistic on the prospects of returning to the accord under the new leadership in Tehran.

CIA Director William Burns speaks during a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 15, 2021. (Al Drago/Pool via AP)

Channel 12 news reported on Tuesday that during a meeting with Mossad chief David Barnea, Burns was presented with information intended to show Iran’s new President Ebrahim Raisi as mentally disturbed, untrustworthy and incapable of negotiating a new nuclear deal or sticking to his commitments.

According to the network, Barnea gave Burns a dossier on Raisi that portrayed him as exceptionally extreme, cruel, corrupt and unstable. “The Mossad described him as someone with mental disturbances,” the channel claimed in the unsourced report.

Raisi, a hardline former judiciary head who was Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s choice for the role, has been accused of ordering the execution of thousands of prisoners toward the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988.

He took office last week, taking over from Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate who agreed to the landmark deal in 2015 that curbed Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.

Iran’s new President Ebrahim Raisi speaks at his swearing-in ceremony at the Iranian parliament in the capital Tehran, on August 5, 2021. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

European Union-sponsored talks in Vienna are aimed at reviving the JCPOA but the last round took place on June 20, with no date set for when they would resume and Western officials estimating that with Raisi in power, the chances of clinching a deal have dwindled significantly.

Bloomberg news reported Monday that with chances of a return to the 2015 deal fading, the US is considering the possibility of easing sanctions on Iran in return for an agreement that the Islamic Republic freeze any progress on its nuclear project,

If a widescale deal cannot be reached, the US is weighing a number of possible interim steps, including sanctions relief, officials familiar with the negotiations were quoted by the news agency as saying.

The move would be different from a full return to the JCPOA, as it would only include limited sanctions relief in exchange for Iran freezing its most provocative nuclear proliferation work, the report said, citing the officials.

New Iranian leader picks minister wanted for Buenos Aires Jewish Center bombing

August 11, 2021
President Ebrahim Raisi, center, waves to journalists as he is surrounded by group of lawmakers after taking his oath as president at the parliament in Tehran, Iran, on Thursday, August 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

President Ebrahim Raisi, center, waves to journalists as he is surrounded by group of lawmakers after taking his oath as president at the parliament in Tehran, Iran, on Thursday, August 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Iran’s new president, Ebrahim Raisi, presents a Cabinet dominated by hardliners, state TV reports, providing one of the first glimpses into the policies he might pursue over the next four years.

The conservative cleric and former judiciary chief, Ebrahim Raisi, nominates hardline career diplomat Hossein Amirabollahian to the crucial post of foreign minister as Iran and the US seek to resuscitate Tehran’s landmark nuclear deal with world powers.

The Cabinet list, which offers few surprises, must still be confirmed by Iran’s parliament. The supreme leader also typically weighs in on picking officials for the most sensitive positions, such as foreign minister.

Amirabollahian, 56, has served in a range of administrations over the decades. He was deputy foreign minister for Arab and African affairs under former populist hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, known in the West for his Holocaust denial and disputed re-election in 2009.

Raisi also appoints Gen. Ahmad Vahidi as his interior minister — a former defense minister blacklisted by the US in 2010 and wanted by Interpol over his alleged role in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people and wounded hundreds.

Israeli #INSOz Sa’ar-6 can hold its own vs whole Iran Navy!

August 10, 2021

With 1st declared rocket attack in 15 years, Hezbollah risks war to test Israel

August 8, 2021


IDF’s projection in early 2021 that the Lebanese terrorist militia will try to initiate limited conflicts on the border comes true

By JUDAH ARI GROSS7 August 2021, 5:03 am  

Israeli artillery fires toward Lebanon from a position near the northern town of Kiryat Shmona following Hezbollah rocket fire from the Lebanese side of the border, on August 6, 2021 (JALAA MAREY / AFP)

Israeli artillery fires toward Lebanon from a position near the northern town of Kiryat Shmona following Hezbollah rocket fire from the Lebanese side of the border, on August 6, 2021 (JALAA MAREY / AFP)

The rockets fired at northern Israel on Friday were the fifth such attack from Lebanon in three months, but the first directly and openly carried out by the Hezbollah terror group since the 2006 Second Lebanon War — indicating a clear change in the dynamics on that frontier, after 15 years in which conflict bubbled just below the surface.

The Blue Line — the unofficial but internationally recognized border between Israel and Lebanon — has largely been quiet in the decade and a half since the war, with just a handful of exceptions, even as the Israel Defense Forces and Iran-backed Hezbollah continued to wage a quieter conflict with one another elsewhere, mostly in neighboring Syria.

Generally speaking, Israel has refrained from conducting strikes in Lebanon, and Hezbollah too halted rocket fire from the land of the cedars. But in recent months, that arrangement has started to break down.

During May’s conflict between Israel and terror groups in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian factions in Lebanon fired rockets at northern Israel three times, apparently with the tacit approval of Hezbollah, which maintains strict control over southern Lebanon. A Palestinian group again fired rockets at northern Israel earlier this week. In these four cases, Israel responded with limited artillery barrages. On Wednesday this was followed by a round of airstrikes on unspecified military targets in the area from which the rockets were fired. These were the first Israeli airstrikes against targets inside Lebanon since 2014.

Following the Second Lebanon War, the threat that emerged on the Lebanese border was another full-scale war. This was what the IDF trained for and worked to postpone or at least improve its chances of winning. In contrast, the situation in the Gaza Strip is far muddier: While there is a threat of large-scale conflict — such as in May or in 2014 — it is far more common for the area to see more limited attacks by Palestinian terror groups and similarly restrained retaliation by the IDF, without the situation deteriorating into all-out war.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

At the beginning of this year, the IDF warned that such a dynamic was poised to emerge in Lebanon as well, with Hezbollah feeling increasingly confident that it could launch attacks directly against Israel without risking a full-scale war, one that according to Israeli military assessments would be devastating for Israel and — more so — for Lebanon.

A picture taken from Lebanon’s southern Marjayoun area shows an agricultural vehicle driving down a dirt road in the Israeli town of Metula along the border fence between the two countries on August 6, 2021 (Mahmoud ZAYYAT / AFP)

Despite the apparent emergence of this new, more aggressive stance by Hezbollah, the IDF has maintained that the terrorist militia is deterred, both out of fear of the Israeli military and due to the ongoing financial and societal crises playing out within Lebanon, as could be seen this week with rallies against the government to mark the one-year anniversary of the Beirut Port explosion.

Indeed, IDF Spokesperson Ran Kochav told reporters on Friday that the army believes the rocket attack itself “shows Hezbollah’s deterrence, as it fired at open areas.”

But there is reason to question this interpretation. Of the 19 rockets fired at northern Israel on Friday, 10 were shot down by the Iron Dome missile defense system, something that, under the IDF’s air defense doctrine, is normally only done when it appears a projectile is heading to a populated area.

While Hezbollah may not have been intentionally launching a full-scale war with its rocket attack on Friday, it seems it was certainly willing to risk one.

The IDF’s projections for how a war with Hezbollah would break out do not anticipate that the terror group would initiate such a conflict with a sudden, large-scale assault — but rather that such a conflict would kick off with some kind of attack along the border, possibly an ambush against IDF troops, as was the case in the Second Lebanon War, or a rocket or missile attack, to which Israel would respond forcefully.

This picture taken on August 6, 2021 shows a view of Israeli bombardment near the southern Lebanese village of Kfar Shouba following a rocket attack from the Lebanese side (Mahmoud ZAYYAT / AFP)

Hezbollah would then retaliate further, potentially launching large barrages of rockets at the Israeli home front and deploying its Radwan Unit, a special forces detachment that has been specifically trained to capture portions of the Galilee in order to score a public victory over Israel — however fleeting — and to delay Israel in launching its own ground invasion of southern Lebanon. Such an invasion would be necessary, IDF officers say, to take the strategic high ground, the Lebanese mountainous ridge overlooking northern Israeli communities.

Friday’s rocket attack appears then to be a test balloon by Hezbollah to see how Israel’s relatively newly formed government responds.

So far, Israel has indicated that it does not appear poised to take immediate action against Hezbollah besides the initial artillery barrage. The IDF spokesperson told reporters that Israel had “no intention of going to war,” and a senior defense official added that further response would be conducted “in accordance with operational needs and a timeframe that is best suited for Israel.”

How and if Israel retaliates to Friday’s attack will set a precedent for any future aggression by Hezbollah and shape the emerging modus vivendi on the Lebanese border: if it will return to its post-Second Lebanon War calm or if it will again see regular rocket fire.