Archive for December 2021

Israel said to strike key Syrian port of Latakia, causing ‘massive’ damage

December 28, 2021

Videos posted to social media show huge explosions and fires raging across the port, likely from secondary explosions of Iranian munitions, in second attack on facility this month

By JUDAH ARI GROSS and TOI STAFFToday, 4:29 am  

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, firefighters work at the scene of a missile attack, at the port of the coastal city of Latakia, Syria, Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2021.  (SANA via AP)

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, firefighters work at the scene of a missile attack, at the port of the coastal city of Latakia, Syria, Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2021. (SANA via AP)

Israeli warplanes fired a number of missiles at the port of the coastal city of Latakia early Tuesday morning, causing large explosions and fires, in the second alleged Israeli strike in a month on the key facility.

For years, Israel avoided conducting strikes against the Latakia port due to the large presence of Russian forces nearby, despite Iran allegedly using the terminal to transport advanced munitions through it to its proxies in the region, notably the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group.

SANA, Syria’s state media, quoted an unnamed military official as saying that several missiles struck the container area in the port, setting some of them on fire. He said the strikes caused “massive material damage.”

The Israel Defense Forces did not comment on the Syrian claims, as a matter of policy.

Videos posted to social media showed huge explosions and fires raging across the port, some of them apparently caused by secondary blasts from the missiles causing Iranian munitions to detonate.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

According to SANA, the missiles came from the direction of the Mediterranean.

The Syrian military official said efforts were still underway to put out fires and assess the damage. There were no immediate reports of casualties in the attack, which activated Syrian air defenses, according to SANA

Syria’s state-run al-Ikhbariyah TV ran footage showing flames and smoke rising from the terminal. It reported damage to nearby residential buildings, a hospital, shops and some tourist sites near the port.

An al-Ikhbariyah TV reporter in the area said the attack appeared to have been larger than the strike earlier this month and the explosions could be heard in Tartus, another coastal city more than 80 kilometers (nearly 50 miles) away.

Until earlier this month, strikes on the port of Latakia were highly irregular. The port is a vital facility where much of Syria’s imports are brought into the war-torn country and through which Iran reportedly brings in weapons and other equipment to its militias.

Though Israel has regularly conducted raids against Iranian-linked targets in Syria, it rarely strikes close to Latakia, let alone inside the terminal, as the Russian military maintains a base of operations nearby. Due to its delicate relationship with Moscow, Israel typically refrains from carrying out attacks against targets if there are Russian troops nearby, though Israel believes that this well-known policy has led Iran to seek to protect its arms transfers by conducting them near Russian-controlled areas.https://www.youtube.com/embed/EdCj1fKDfh0?start=26&feature=oembed

Before this month, the previous time that Israel reportedly conducted a strike on a target in the city of Latakia — though not in the port — was in 2018, during which a Russian spy plane was accidentally shot down by Syrian air defenses, causing a major confrontation between Jerusalem and Moscow. Israel has also reportedly carried out raids against targets in the port city in 2014 and twice in 2013.

Israel has staged hundreds of strikes on targets inside government-controlled Syria over the years but rarely acknowledges or discusses such operations. Many of the strikes in the past had targeted the main airport in the capital Damascus, through which Iran is also believed to transfer advanced arms to its proxies

Israel has acknowledged, however, that it targets the bases of Iranian forces and Iran-allied terror groups, particularly along the Golan border, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah that has fighters deployed in southern Syria. It says it also attacks arms shipments believed to be bound for the groups.

Hezbollah is fighting on the side of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces in the decade-old civil war.
In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, flames rise from containers at the scene of a missile attack, at the port of the coastal city of Latakia, Syria, early Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2021. (SANA via AP)
Hours after Syrian media accused Israel of striking the port city of Latakia earlier this month, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett alluded to the incident, saying that the military was constantly fighting “bad forces” in the Middle East.

“We’re pushing back on the bad forces of this region day and night,” he said in English. “We won’t stop for one second. This happens almost daily.”

“In the face of destructive forces we will continue to act, we will be persistent, and we will not tire,” Bennett pledged.

AP contributed to this report

Meeting Bennett on Iran, Biden envoy says US, Israel must develop ‘common strategy’

December 24, 2021


In shadow of Vienna talks, Jake Sullivan tells PM two countries need to find a joint way forward to face major security issues; Bennett downplays reported snub by White House

By AMY SPIRO22 December 2021, 1:54 pm  

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (right) meets with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Jerusalem on December 22, 2021. (David Azagury/US Embassy Jerusalem)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (right) meets with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Jerusalem on December 22, 2021. (David Azagury/US Embassy Jerusalem)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met on Wednesday in Jerusalem with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and other visiting US officials, as Israel remained concerned over Western talks in Vienna with Iran over its nuclear program. Sullivan said the US and Israel are at a “critical juncture” in facing a major set of security issues, and need to “develop a common strategy” that serves both their interests.

“These days are pretty important,” Bennett told Sullivan in public remarks in English ahead of their meeting. “What happens in Vienna has profound ramifications for the stability of the Middle East and the security of Israel for the upcoming years. And that’s why it’s such a timely meeting.”

Sullivan told the prime minister that US President Joe Biden sent him to Israel “even just before Christmas” to coordinate and cooperate on their approach to Iran and other security issues.

“At a critical juncture for both of our countries on a major set of security issues, it’s important that we sit together and develop a common strategy, a common outlook, and find a way forward that fundamentally secures your country’s interests and mine,” said Sullivan. “And we believe those interests, like the values upon which our countries are built, are deeply shared and deeply felt.”

Sullivan then held meetings with Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.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

The meeting between Sullivan and Gantz also focused on Iran, the Defense Ministry said.

“During the meeting, a variety of strategic and cooperative issues were discussed, chief among them the Iranian nuclear fight and Iran’s regional aggression,” Gantz’s office said, noting that IDF chief Aviv Kohavi and director-general of the Defense Ministry Amir Eshel also attended.Defense Minister Benny Gantz meets with visiting US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan at the Knesset on December 22, 2021. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

During the meeting, which was held at the Knesset, the defense minister also spoke with Sullivan about Israel’s efforts to strengthen ties with the Palestinian Authority, according to his office.

Sullivan held a meeting earlier on Wednesday with his Israeli counterpart, Eyal Hulata, and late Tuesday evening he met with President Isaac Herzog. US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides and Israeli Ambassador to the US Mike Herzog also took part in Sullivan’s meetings with both Bennett and Herzog.

Sullivan and Bennett met shortly after reports surfaced saying that Biden has been ignoring Bennett’s request for a phone call, which Bennett appeared to downplay on Wednesday.

“I want to say that the relationship between my government and the Biden administration, between Israel and the United States, is as strong as ever,” Bennett said Wednesday. “And being so strong and having this meaningful friendship means that we can also talk openly and candidly about all the shared challenges that we’re facing. And that’s what we’re going to do.”From left: US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, President Isaac Herzog and Israeli Ambassador to the US Mike Herzog meet in Jerusalem on December 21, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Herzog’s meeting with Sullivan also focused largely on Iran, with the president expressing “concern with Iran’s progress toward nuclear weapons under the cover of the negotiations in Vienna,” according to his office.

The meetings come as European diplomats warn that nuclear negotiations in Vienna to secure a return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran are “rapidly reaching the end of the road.”

In a blow to European mediators, Iran requested a new pause in the talks, which aim to bring the United States back into the agreement and roll back Iran’s nuclear activities. The Islamic Republic publicly stepped up its nuclear projects after the US withdrawal from the deal in 2018.

The talks had resumed in late November after a five-month break following the election of a new hardline government in Iran.

During a press briefing with reporters on Sunday, US State Department Spokesman Ned Price said the White House was not particularly optimistic about the talks, but was not giving up hope.

We are “curbing our enthusiasm for where we are and where we might go. There’s still a lot of work to do,” said Price. “What the team experienced on the ground in Vienna until the talks adjourned late last week, it was progress, but it wasn’t at a pace that was sufficient to get us to where we need if we are to render the JCPOA as a viable vehicle going forward.”People walk past Palais Coburg, where closed-door nuclear talks are taking place in Vienna, Austria, December 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Gruber)

Earlier this month, Gantz visited Washington for discussions on Iran. He later told reporters he’d notified US officials that he had instructed the Israel Defense Forces to prepare for a strike against Iran.

Joining Sullivan in Israel are US envoy to the Middle East Brett McGurk and the State Department’s Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Yael Lempert.

A senior administration official told reporters on Monday that Sullivan was not delivering any new information to Israeli officials during this trip.

“It’s a visit that was long-planned, the culmination of a year of very close consultation,” the official said in response to a question from The Times of Israel. “So, there’s not — you know, there’s not a new deliverable or anything. This is part of a face-to-face engagement with close partners.”

After his meetings in Israel, Sullivan will travel to Ramallah to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Jacob Magid and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

The Fantasies Of Iran, US & Europe At The Vienna Talks | MEMRI

December 18, 2021

Introduction

Following the renewal of the seventh round of nuclear talks in Vienna, it is becoming more and more clear that all the sides involved are living in a fantasy and that their delusions are gradually being exposed. All the sides are realizing that their hopes and expectations are indeed delusions, and their declarations in recent days attest to the fact that their positions are cut off from reality.

The following is an examination of both sides’ positions.

The American/European Side

The American/European Side Does Not Understand That There Is No Way Back To The 2015 JCPOA Agreement – It Has Been Stripped Of Content By Iran And Exists As A Mere Empty Framework

Although all that remains of the JCPOA is its formal framework, and it has been completely emptied of content by Iran through the latter’s violation of all of its aspects, the American/European side is acting as if Iran’s nuclear program can be brought back under the restrictions of the 2015 JCPOA.[1] According to a November 17, 2021 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report,[2] Iran is enriching uranium far beyond the 3.67% permitted in the JCPOA, to 60%. Its inventory of uranium exceeds the permitted 300 kg, with 2,489 kg of uranium enriched to a range of levels: 113.8 kg at 20%, 17.7 kg at 60%, 1,622 kg at 2%-5%, and 59 kg at 2%. It is using IR-4- and IR-6-generation centrifuge cascades, much more advanced than the first generation that it is allowed to use; and it is not cooperating with the IAEA, in violation of its commitment to do so. It is also not allowing inspections of its declared nuclear sites and refuses to allow inspections or even to answer questions about its undeclared nuclear sites that have been exposed. Additionally, it is not cooperating with the IAEA in the matter of its plutonium reactor at Arak.

It should be emphasized that no declaration by senior Iranian officials has expressed an Iranian commitment to return to the original 2015 JCPOA even if the U.S. lifts all the sanctions.

The U.S. Administration Has Come To Terms With Iran’s Extortion Of Funds As A Condition For Contacts With It

About a month before the negotiations began, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Abdollahian demanded that the Biden administration release at least $10 billion of frozen Iranian funds to prove the seriousness of its intentions.[3]


Iranian Foreign Minister Abdollahian (Source: ISNA, Iran, December 14, 2021)

The U.S. administration released $3.5 billion to the Iranian regime as a gesture of goodwill, in the hope that it would be received as a sign of its serious intentions.[4] Additionally, several days before the talks began, the administration extended the waiver on sanctions for Iraq regarding Iranian oil – a path that allows Iran to sell oil via Iraq – which was also received in the West as an American gesture to the Iranian regime.[5]

The regime mouthpiece, the Kayhan daily, tried to clarify that this was not a precondition, but that “from now on, the payment that must be paid by the American side is $10 billion for its meeting” with the Iranian side, “and this is in order to test the sincerity of their intentions.”[6]

Even After Years Of Negotiations, The U.S. Administration Does Not Understand The Fundamental Political Culture And Ideology Of The Iranian Regime In Its Attitude Towards The U.S.: America Is “The Great Satan”;  Iran Does Not Recognize It And Is Unwilling To Maintain A Public Relationship With It, And Will Not Accept A U.S. Return To Negotiations Before It Is Punished

The U.S. has been forced to agree to a preliminary discussion about the conditions for its reacceptance to the negotiations and to the JCPOA. On December 12, 2021, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani, who also heads the Iranian negotiating team, clarified: “One of the central issues in this [round of] negotiations [in Vienna] is to determine the conditions required for the [return of] America to the agreement from which it withdrew and which it now seeks to rejoin. Accordingly, we cannot ignore this agreement [the JCPOA on which Iran says it has based the demands that it has submitted] and I think that our view was not and is not maximalat all.”[7]

Furthermore, the Biden administration saw Iran’s insistence on excluding the U.S. from the negotiating room as a meaningless whim, thinking that the real issues will be determined in the negotiations themselves. U.S. State Department Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley even reiterated, in a December 9, 2021 Al-Jazeera interview, the American administration’s proposal to Iran to hold direct negotiations “at any time and any place,”saying: “We’re prepared to meet with them face-to-face. We think it’s far superior to indirect negotiations.”[8]


Special Envoy Robert Malley (Source: Al-Jazeera, Qatar, December 9, 2021)

In his statements, Malley revealed the U.S. administration’s grave misunderstanding of how Iran perceives the U.S. position. “The Great Satan” is not a propaganda slogan, but a fundamental stance and an ideological foundation vis-à-vis the U.S., as expressed by the refusal of the government of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, like that of his predecessor Hassan Rohani, to conduct any public relationship with the U.S. One example from the past few days of this Iranian regime approach to the U.S. can be found in November 27, 2021 statements by Iranian Armed Forces spokesman Abu Al-Fadl Shekarchi: “The Imam [Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini] did well to call America ‘the Great Satan.’ ‘The Great Satan’ is one thing, and there are also smaller Satans, such as England and France… Every so often they, with their satanic nature, lead America itself to perdition. In many cases, England has been the basis for America’s fall, because the American officials are extremely stupid. The Satans in England… are birds of prey… [But] there is no difference between England, France, and America.”[9]

It is now becoming clear to the Americans that the Iranians’ exclusion of them in the negotiations is an essential matter of principle demonstrating that the U.S. is to blame for the situation, and that therefore it must take the first step – the lifting of all sanctions and Iranian verification of this on the ground, a process that takes time. Only afterwards will the Iranians make any move at all.

The U.S. Does Not Understand That Iran Will Not Compromise On Its Positions

With the renewal of the second stage of the seventh round of talks, on December 7, 2021, it is now clear to the Americans that the Iranian regime is considering its position paper, which it submitted, as a final position that must be accepted, and that this position must be the final outcome of the negotiations. The Americans also thought that the seventh round of talks would begin at the same point as the sixth round ended, and that there would be no backtracking from what was concluded by the two sides in the six previous rounds. They are now realizing that the Iranian side is rejecting those conclusions and is beginning from a different point, arguing that its position paper is based on the 2015 JCPOA and therefore must be accepted in full.

Iran’s representative in the IAEA, Mohammad Reza Ghaibi, at a November 25, 2021 IAEA Board of Governors meeting, explained the Iranian regime’s position, according to which “Iran believes that the negotiations must be results-directed. It is, therefore, important that the outcome of these efforts will ensure that all sanctions will be lifted effectively and that this can be verified [by Iran].”[10] 

The American/European side had hoped that after the first round of negotiations with the Raisi government, the Iranians would more or less give up on their maximal demands as submitted in writing at the beginning of the seventh round of talks, and would present realistic positions for the opening of “serious” negotiations. But at a December 7, 2021 White House briefing, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan expressed his frustration at Iran’s uncompromising position: “The more Iran demonstrates a lack of seriousness at the negotiating table, the more unity there is among the P5+1 and the more they will be exposed as the isolated party in this negotiation. So really, the ball is in Iran’s court as to whether it wants to show up and demonstrate that it’s going to be serious or not.”[11]


National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan (Source: CNN, August 18, 2021)

The Biden administration does not realize that its positive positions vis-à-vis Iran are completely unappreciated by the Iranian leadership – instead, they are perceived as weakness and as a basis for additional extortion.

In light of Iran’s rigidity, the Americans are now compelled to threaten with alternatives, even though they stress that their first preference is negotiations, and are examining cooperation with other countries – the three European countries in the negotiations, Britain, France, and Germany, and also with Israel.

The U.S. Does Not Understand Iran’s Refusal To Negotiate On Other Strategic Issues

The American position included a demand to discuss Iran’s ballistic missiles with a range of over 2,000 km, assuming that the Iranians realize that this must be part of the negotiations. But the Americans are now realizing that Iran’s refusal to discuss this issue is a matter of principle and that Iran will not back down on it.

The Iranian Side

Iran Does Not Understand That Its Positions Are Unrealistic And That The West Cannot Accept Them – And Thinks That It Can Force Them On The West

The new Iranian government, headed by President Ebrahim Raisi, believes that if it insists on its position that it will be able to force the West to lift all the American sanctions and that it will verify that this has been done before it makes any move whatsoever. It must be emphasized that Iran’s demand for all the sanctions to be lifted is in fact an expansion of the JCPOA framework; in the JCPOA it was concluded that only the nuclear sanctions would be lifted and that all the other sanctions on Iran, imposed by Congress for its violation of human rights and promotion of terrorism, would remain in place. This is because Iran refused to include these issues in the negotiations it conducted with the Obama administration, along with the issues of limits on the range of its ballistic missiles and its expansion in the region.

The Iranian regime thinks that its argument that Iran has met its obligations under the JCPOA will continue to be accepted, even though Iran has stripped all significance from the JCPOA, beginning in October 2019, in an orderly and proactive move. According to Iran’s position, the U.S. was the party that failed to meet its obligations, and therefore it is obliged to back down and make the first moves – that is, lift all the sanctions, have Iran verify that they have been lifted, and pay compensation to Iran for the suffering caused by President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the JCPOA.  

Statements by Ali Bagheri-Kani, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister and negotiating team head for the Vienna talks, demonstrate this position. He said on December 9, 2021: “[The solution] to these disputes over [the lifting of] the sanctions [depends on] serious intent and practical willingness on their part [i.e. the U.S.]. When this serious intent is actualized, we will be able to take steps to lift the sanctions. The lifting of the sanctions creates a serious opening for advancing the talks, particularly with regard to [Iran’s] nuclear operation [regarding a return to its commitments].”[12]


Deputy Foreign Minister Bagheri-Kani (Source: Tasnim, Iran, December 7, 2021)

Iranian Foreign Minister Abdollahian wrote in an article published on December 7, 2021 by the Russian newspaper Kommersant: “During the previous six rounds of talks, it became abundantly clear to the Iranian side that America is not paying attention to the fact that there is no way to revive the JCPOA without lifting all the illegal sanctions… I want to stress that the current window of talks will not remain open forever. America and the three European countries must understand this very well.”[13]

The Iranians believe that they are proving their seriousness in the negotiations by adhering to procedural matters: their arrival at the talks, their remaining in Vienna even when the other side departs for consultations, and, primarily, the submission of the position paper whose comprehensive demands they expect to be fully met due to this ostensible “seriousness.” They also announced that they are about to submit an additional document regarding the compensation that the U.S. must pay to Iran for the damage done to it.

President Ebrahim Raisi said at a December 11, 2021 conference for Iran’s ambassadors to neighboring countries: “The presentation of the text of Iran’s proposal at the negotiations proves to the sides in the negotiations that we are in serious negotiations and that if the other side is determined to lift the sanctions, the way to arrive at an agreement is smooth.”[14]


President Raisi (Source: Irdiplomacy.ir, April 16, 2017)

Iranian Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said on the eve of the talks’ renewal, on December 6, 2021: “The Raisi government has announced its intention to negotiate by giving two plans to the Europeans. The ball is in Europe’s court, and the outcome must be the complete lifting of the sanctions, and this is the serious demand of the [Raisi] government. The Western sides have returned to their countries [for consultation]. Our demand is clear, and the European countries must compensate [Iran] for their inaction in light of their violation of the [JCPOA] agreement. We must examine how serious they are regarding their commitment, and we are willing to work with them if [they lift the sanctions]. Their commitment must be to lift all the sanctions.”[15] However, it is now becoming clear to the Iranians that neither the U.S. nor Europe are willing to consider their position, even as an opening position.

The Iranian Regime Does Not Understand The Biden Administration’s Positive Intentions

The Iranian desire for the Iranian regime to publicly humiliate the U.S. is preventing the regime from understanding that the Biden administration is trying any way it can, with genuine goodwill, to arrive at an understanding with it by maintaining the JCPOA in a way that will serve Iran’s interests.

The Iranian Regime Is Mistaken In Its Delusions About Its Military Power vs. The U.S.

The Iranian side is deluding itself that it is capable of deterring the U.S. with threats and military operations. Furthermore, the Iranian side truly believes that the U.S. has been deteriorating since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and that its retreat from Afghanistan is an additional manifestation of its weakness.[16] Recently, the Iranian regime staged an incident that it claimed had taken place in the Persian Gulf between forces of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the U.S. Navy, simulating a U.S. attempt to capture an Iranian oil tanker that was foiled by the IRGC. A four-minute video montage was released depicting the alleged clash; the video included narration and commentary by Iranian strategist Hassan Abbasi, claiming that America has been “dead” since the 1979 hostage crisis. It is superfluous to note that the Pentagon denied that such an incident had taken place.

To view the December 2, 2021 video of an alleged attack and Hassan Abbasi’s commentary on MEMRI TV, click here or below:

https://www.memri.org/player/clip/54617/780,440/1

It should also be noted that according to the Iranian regime, it dealt a successful blow against the U.S. Army in response to the assassination of IRGC Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani, who led Iran’s expansion in the region, with missiles fired at the Ain Al-Assad base in Iraq. This is despite the fact that the attack had been coordinated in advance with the Americans so that there would be no loss of American lives. See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis report The Iran-U.S. Crisis, Part III: Iran’s January 2020 Strikes On U.S. Ayn Al-Asad Airbase – The Roars Of A Fearful Paper Tiger, November 10, 2021.

Assessment

It appears that in light of the profound discrepancies between the sides’ positions, and the Iranian regime’s unwillingness to negotiate directly with the U.S., Iran will continue to demand that the U.S. pay it for continued contact with it in the coming rounds of talks, in order to shore up its shaky economy. At the same time, it is continuing to threaten the U.S. and demand that all the American sanctions be lifted, including those put in place by Congress that the Biden administration is not authorized or able to lift.

It should be noted that the only restriction stressed by the Biden administration concerning Iran is Iran’s obligation never to gain nuclear weapons. Such a demand is ostensibly compatible with the Iranian regime’s proud promotion of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s alleged fatwa banning nuclear weapons.[17]

Based on the assumption that the Iranian regime is truly not interested in nuclear weapons, the sides should have found a common basis for future understandings. The not-insurmountable distance between these two positions should have led the sides to a common ground for understandings and agreement. But the fact is that neither side is even capable of conducting honest negotiations. This is for two reasons:

  1. The assumption that Iran does not seek nuclear weapons is wrong.
  2. The Iranian regime’s institutional ideological hostility towards the U.S., which it views as the leader of the world order that must step down from its role, does not allow its leaders to arrive at any agreement with the U.S. in which the latter does not fully surrender to the demands of the Iranian regime.

* A. Savyon is director of the MEMRI Iran Media Project; Y. Carmon is President of MEMRI.


[1] See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis reports No. 1478, Despite The JCPOA, Iran Accelerates Its Nuclear Research And Development – While The U.S., After Leaving The JCPOA, In Fact Preserves It With Waivers For Member Countries Allowing Them To Help Iran Continue Civilian Nuclear Development, October 10, 2019; No. 1481, Even As UK, France Acknowledge That Iran Is Violating The JCPOA, The Trump Administration, After Ostensibly Withdrawing From It, Continues To Preserve It – By Means Of Its Waivers For Civilian Nuclear Cooperation With Iran, November 6, 2019.

[2] Iaea.org/sites/default/files/21/11/gov2021-51.pdf, November 17, 2021.

[3] Abdollahian said on Iranian TV on October 3, 2021: “Biden wants to get to the negotiating table… Therefore, we have told the other sides that our intentions are serious. We are people who negotiate, and we are people of action. You must know that the new Iranian government is one of action. Our people will not benefit from negotiations that will result in drinking coffee. Our people will benefit from negotiations in which all its economic interests are actualized in the framework of the nuclear agreement. [If] Biden’s intent is serious, he must demonstrate this, and serious intention means the release of at least $10 billion of [the Iranian regime’s] funds [that have been blocked in other countries].” Hamshahrionline.ir, October 3, 2021.

[4] Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh confirmed, on November 15, 2021, that $3.5 billion of Iran’s blocked funds had been released, and added that “Iran is acting for the release of more of its funds.” ISNA, Iran, November 15, 2021.

[5] Freebeacon.com/biden-administration/biden-admin-ignores-congressional-inquiries-into-iran-sanctions-relief. November 29, 2021.

[6] Kayhan (Iran), October 12, 2021.

[7] ISNA (Iran), December 12, 2021.

[8] Aljazeera.com/news/2021/12/9/us-privileging-path-of-diplomacy-with-iran-biden-envoy-says, December 9, 2021.

[9] ISNA (Iran), November 28, 2021.

[10] Tasnimnews.ir, November 25, 2021.

[11] Whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/press-briefings/2021/12/07/press-briefing-by-press-secretary-jen-psaki-and-national-security-advisor-jake-sullivan-december-7-2021.

[12] ISNA (Iran), December 9, 2021.

[13] Tasnimnews.ir, December 7, 2021.

[14] President.ir/fa/133255, December 11, 2021.

[15] Tasnimnews.ir, December 6, 2021..

[16] See for example November 27, 2021 statements by Iranian Armed Forces spokesman Abu Al-Fadl Shekarchi: “Forty-three years ago, America was at its peak materially, and every day that has passed since the Islamic Revolution, America has plummeted several hundred meters, and now it is near the bottom.” ISNA, Iran, November 28, 2021.

[17] For more on Khamenei’s nonexistent nuclear fatwa, see: MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 825, Renewed Iran-West Nuclear Talks – Part II: Tehran Attempts to Deceive U.S. President Obama, Sec’y of State Clinton With Nonexistent Anti-Nuclear Weapons Fatwa By Supreme Leader Khamenei, April 19, 2012; Special Dispatch No. 5406, Release Of Compilation Of Newest Fatwas By Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei – Without Alleged Fatwa About Nuclear Bomb, August 13, 2013; Special Dispatch No. 5461, President Obama Endorses The Lie About Khamenei’s ‘Fatwa’ Against Nuclear Arms, September 29, 2013; Inquiry & Analysis No.1022, The Official Iranian Version Regarding Khamenei’s Alleged Anti-Nuclear Weapons Fatwa Is A Lie, October 3, 2013; Special Dispatch No. 5574, Iranian President Hassan Rohani In Article In Saudi Daily: While Avoiding Confrontation And Hostility, We Shall Be Diligent In Pursuing Our Supreme Interests, December 23, 2013; Special Dispatch No. 5681, Prominent Iranian Analyst, Author, And Columnist Amir Taheri: Nobody Has Actually Seen Khamenei’s Anti-Nuclear Fatwa, Which Obama Often Quotes, March 17, 2014; Inquiry & Analysis No. 1080, U.S. Secretary Of State Kerry In New And Unprecedented Statement: ‘President Obama And I Are Both Extremely Welcoming And Grateful For The Fact That [Iranian] Supreme Leader [Khamenei] Has Issued A [Nonexistent] Fatwa’ Banning Nuclear Weapons, April 19, 2014; Special Dispatch No. 5881, Tehran Again Offers Khamenei’s Nonexistent Fatwa In Negotiations As A Guarantee That It Is Not Developing Nuclear Weapons, November 14, 2014; Inquiry & Analysis No.1151, Iranian Regime Continues Its Lies And Fabrications About Supreme Leader Khamenei’s Nonexistent Fatwa Banning Nuclear Weapons, April 6, 2015; MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1458, Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif Reiterates Iran’s Lie, Promoted By Obama Administration, That Supreme Leader Khamenei Issued Fatwa Banning Nuclear Weapons; No Such Fatwa Ever Existed, May 31, 2019.

Iran’s nuclear breakout time now ‘really short’ — US official

December 18, 2021


Biden’s national security adviser says ‘we do not yet have a pathway back’ to nuke deal; 2nd official: Talks ‘better than it might have been’ and ‘worse than it should have been’

By TOI STAFF and AFPToday, 2:43 am  

In this image made from April 17, 2021, video released by the Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting, IRIB, state-run TV, various centrifuge machines line the hall damaged on April 11, 2021, at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, some 200 miles (322 km) south of the capital Tehran. (IRIB via AP, File)

Illustrative: In this image made from April 17, 2021, video released by the Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting, IRIB, state-run TV, various centrifuge machines line the hall at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, some 200 miles (322 km) south of the capital Tehran. (IRIB via AP, File)

The United States estimates the amount of time Iran needs to churn out enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb is now “very short,” a Biden administration official said Friday.

The official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, did not specify the exact length of time Iran needs to produce enough material for a nuclear weapon. Estimates have put the breakout time at several months.

“But it’s really short. It is unacceptably short,” the official was quoted as saying by Reuters.

The official also called the new assessment of the Islamic Republic’s breakout time “alarming.”

The remarks came as Western powers reported some progress in talks to save the landmark Iran nuclear deal, but European diplomats warned that they were “rapidly reaching the end of the road.”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

In a blow to European mediators, Iran requested a new pause in the talks in Vienna, which aim to bring the United States back into the 2015 agreement and roll back nuclear activities. The Islamic Republic publicly stepped up its nuclear projects after the US withdrawal from the deal.

The talks had just resumed in late November after a five-month break following the election of a new hardline government in Iran.People walk past Palais Coburg, where closed-door nuclear talks take place in Vienna, Austria, December 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Gruber)

Underlying Western concerns are fears that Iran will soon have made enough progress that the 2015 accord — under which it was promised economic relief in return for drastic curbs on its nuclear work — will be obsolete.

Enrique Mora, the EU official chairing the talks, called for a “sense of urgency” and for talks to resume before the end of the year.

“We are not talking anymore about months, we are talking about weeks,” Mora said.

Former US president Donald Trump pulled out of the deal in 2018 and imposed sweeping sanctions including a unilateral US ban on Iran’s oil sales, vowing to bring the US adversary to its knees.

US President Joe Biden supports a return to the agreement negotiated by predecessor Barack Obama, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, but has been frustrated by the pace of resurrection efforts.

“It’s not going well in the sense that we do not yet have a pathway back into the JCPOA,” Biden’s national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, said of the talks.

“We are paying the wages of the disastrous decision to leave the deal back in 2018,” he said.

But Sullivan, speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, said recent days “have brought some progress at the bargaining table.”US national security adviser Jake Sullivan speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, December 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Another US official said the latest round was “better than it might have been” and “worse than it should have been.”

The official called for a “very significant acceleration” and said the US was ready to return before New Year’s.

“If it takes this much time to agree on a common agenda, imagine how much time it will take to resolve the issues on that agenda,” they said.

Russia, which along with China is also in the talks, said negotiators agreed to start from where they left off in June before Iran requested a break for its elections.

The latest round was “successful in a sense that it prepared sound basis for more intensive negotiations,” envoy Mikhail Ulyanov wrote on Twitter.

Tehran’s chief negotiator Ali Bagheri said there were “hard and intense negotiations” to agree on the “bases” for further talks which will take place “in the near future.”

The miracle of 48

December 18, 2021

And you could add: “Because Arabs can’t fight their way out of a paper bag”.

EXCLUSIVE: Mossad recruited top Iranian scientists to blow up key nuclear facility

December 18, 2021
Simpsons-nelson-ha-ha-93-p-672x480 ⋆ BYT // Brightest Young Things

A fascinating read.

90 per cent of the plant’s centrifuges were destroyed, putting the complex out of action for up to nine months

https://www.thejc.com/news/world/exclusive-mossad-recruited-top-iranian-scientists-to-blow-up-key-nuclear-facility-1.523163

articlemain

Mossad recruited a team of Iranian nuclear scientists to carry out a covert operation which blew up one of the regime’s most secure nuclear facilities earlier this year, the JC can reveal.

Up to 10 scientists were approached by Israeli agents and agreed to destroy the underground A1000 centrifuge hall at Natanz in April, though they believed that they were working for international dissident groups.

Some of the explosives they used were dropped into the compound by a drone and quietly collected by the scientists, while others were smuggled into the high security facility hidden in boxes of food on a catering lorry. The ensuing destruction caused chaos in the highest echelons of the Iranian leadership. It demolished 90 per cent of the centrifuges at the nuclear plant, delaying progress towards a bomb and putting the key complex out of action for up to nine months.

The new details are among astonishing secrets of three connected Mossad operations that took place over an 11-month period of sabotage in Iran. The first two, in July 2020 and April 2021, targeted the complex in Natanz using explosives, while he third, in June this year, took the form of a quadcopter assault on the Iran Centrifuge Technology Company (TESA), in the city of Karaj, 30 miles northwest of Tehran. The full details are published for the first time by the JC today.

Other revelations include:

  • Mossad spies hid explosives in building materials used to construct the Natanz centrifuge hall as long ago as 2019, then triggered them in 2020:
  • Agents sneaked an armed quadcopter, weighing the same as a motorbike, into Iran piece by piece, and used it to launch missiles at the TESA site in Karaj in June:
  • The three operations were planned together over an 18-month period by a team of 1,000 technicians, analysts and spies, as well as scores of agents on the ground:
  • The three-part assault on Iranian nuclear infrastructure was carried out by Mossad acting alone – known in Israeli intelligence circles as a ‘blue-and-white operation’ – and not jointly with the United States, dubbed ‘blue-white-and-red’.

It comes amid mounting anxiety that Tehran is cynically playing for time as it resumes negotiations in Vienna while pressing ahead with building a nuclear weapon.

In recent weeks, Israel has shared intelligence with Western allies suggesting that Iran is preparing to enrich uranium to 90 per cent purity, the level required to produce a nuclear bomb, Axios reported.

This raises the spectre of a major Israeli air assault on Tehran’s nuclear plants, should both negotiations and sabotage prove insufficient to halt the programme.

This week, the JC has reported that Israel is embarking on a new policy of launching covert attacks on Iranian soil in retaliation for its meddling in the region, meaning that further undercover operations are in the pipeline.

The team of scientists carried out the sabotage in April this year, while the nuclear negotiations with the West were underway in Vienna.

The measures were needed in order to access the underground A1000 centrifuge hall at Natanz, which housed up to 5,000 centrifuges and is protected from air assault by 40 feet of concrete and iron.

Hours after Iran declared that it had begun to use advanced IR-5 and IR-6 centrifuges at the site, in blatant breach of the 2015 nuclear deal, the bombs were remotely set off.

The blast destroyed the independent and highly secure internal power system that supplied the centrifuges.

It caused a power blackout in the heavily fortified complex.

“The scientists’ motivations were all different,” a source said. “Mossad found out what they deeply wanted in their lives and offered it to them.

“There was an inner circle of scientists who knew more about the operation, and an outer circle who helped out but had less information.”

After the explosion, the scientists responsible were spirited away to a safe location. The source added: “All of them are very safe today.”

Iran named a suspect – 43-year-old Reza Karimi – and claimed to have issued an Interpol ‘red notice’ for his arrest. So far he has not been found.

The explosion left a crater so large that one Iranian official fell into it while examining the damage, injuring his head, leg, arm and back.

Fereydoon Abbasi Davani, the head of the Iranian parliament’s energy committee, grudgingly acknowledged to Iranian state television after the attack that the plan was “rather beautiful”.

This was the second of a three-part Mossad operation targeting Iran’s ‘fissile material project’, which is the industrial process of enriching uranium to weapons-grade levels.

The first attack had come on 2 July 2020, with a mysterious explosion inside the Iran Centre for Advanced Centrifuges (ICAC) warehouse at Natanz, central Iran, a key hub in Tehran’s network of nuclear plants dotted around the country.

The orchestration of the blast was audacious. A year earlier, Israeli spies posing as construction wholesalers had sold Iranian officials building materials to be used in the centrifuge hall.

Unbeknownst to the Iranians, the materials had been filled with Mossad explosives. They were built into the hall and remained in place all year. Then, when the time was right, Israel’s spymasters had pushed the button.

Mossad’s brains behind this attack – whom we are not naming – also led a similar operation in the early Nineties, the JC has learnt, in which a desk filled with listening devices was sold to Mahmoud Abbas’ PLO office in Tunisia, providing the Israelis with a stream of audio intelligence.

“The Iranians have always known that Israel has infiltrated their supply chains, but they are powerless to do anything about it,” a source told the JC.

The warehouse had been used to precisely calibrate centrifuges, a vital part of a complex process of producing a nuclear weapon.

The blast caused major damage, destroying a significant quantity of hardware and dramatically degrading the country’s nuclear programme. According to Iranian reports, nobody was injured.

The third and final act in the three-part drama came in June this year. Mossad’s attention now turned to the production of the centrifuges themselves, in order to delay the replacement of the equipment it had damaged in the first two attacks.

Over the preceding weeks, an armed quadcopter drone, weighing the same as a motorcycle, had been smuggled into the country piece by piece by agents.

The target was the TESA complex in Karaj, the most important factory to build the centrifuges – including advanced centrifuges – for the enrichment plants.

On June 23, from a location 10 miles away from the TESA factory, a joint Iranian and Israeli team launched the drone, flew it towards the facility and fired, partly destroying it.

The drone was then piloted back to the team on the ground, who spirited it away to be used again.

The revelations underline Israel’s capacity for striking at the heart of the Iranian regime’s most secret and strongly fortified sites, bolstering the Jewish state’s insistence that if necessary, it will take unilateral military action to prevent the theocracy from achieving a bomb.

Richard Pater, Executive Director of Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (Bicom), said: “Unlike in the previous rounds of talks, Britain is currently holding the strongest line. This is very much appreciated by Israel, as there is a sense that the Americans are so desperate to return to the deal that they would be too soft.

“However, it is quite clear that Britain and the rest of the international community still sees negotiation as the most effective track to rein in Iranian ambitions.

“Israel is not convinced that this will be enough, and also doubt that more problematic partners, like Russia and China, will be able to hold same line.

“Therefore, the credibility of the threat from Israel needs to be enhanced, reiterated and reimposed, as part of a dual effort to put real pressure on Iranians.

“In terms of geopolitics, that is the message that these operations are sending to the international community.”

Israeli Military Leaders: Biden Nuclear Deal Poses ‘Significant Threat to Israel’s Security’

December 18, 2021

https://freebeacon.com/national-security/israeli-military-leaders-biden-nuclear-deal-poses-significant-threat-to-israels-security/

A group of nearly 3,000 Israeli military leaders, soldiers, commanders, and intelligence officials are warning the Biden administration and Democrats in Congress that a new nuclear deal with Iran poses “a significant threat to Israel’s security.”

These leaders, who organized under the umbrella group Israel’s Defense and Security Forum (IDSF), raise concerns that the United States will sign a deal that gives Iran the cash assets needed to fund terrorism and put it on a glide path to a nuclear weapon that will be used to destroy the Jewish state, according to a letter sent last week to Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) and senior Biden administration officials.

The 2015 nuclear accord “is fatally flawed and represents a significant threat to Israel’s security,” the Israeli leaders write, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. “Returning to this expired and flawed agreement would be a grave mistake.” Iran’s only goal, they say, is to create a “nuclear umbrella under which Tehran can dominate the region.”

The letter, sent on Dec. 9, comes as the Biden administration continues its diplomatic effort to secure a revamped nuclear deal with Iran, which would lift sanctions on the hardline regime and provide it with billions of dollars in cash assets. The Israeli government has expressed its fear about a new deal, but the IDSF letter outlines in the clearest terms to date what the Jewish state expects from the Biden administration if it follows through with negotiations. Concerns about a new deal have been growing as Iran boosts its enrichment of uranium, the central fuel for an atomic weapon, even as it participates in talks with the United States.

As the Biden administration considers inking a temporary deal that places fewer restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program, the Israeli generals warn that this type of agreement “would fuel Iran’s already recovering economy and leave Israel in an unacceptably precarious situation.”

A so-called less-for-more deal removes “necessary pressure from the clerical regime and grant it valuable time to increase its resilience against future American economic pressure, continue skirting international inspections and oversight into their undeclared nuclear activities, and provide patient pathways to nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them.” Such an outcome, they say, is unacceptable.

The Israeli military leaders go on to outline seven areas in which Iran must be held accountable in order for any deal to be viewed as a success by Israel.

“A new agreement should include a much more comprehensive verification and supervision mechanism, including the ability to conduct inspections anywhere and anytime, a full resolution of the [International Atomic Energy Agency’s] outstanding questions about undeclared nuclear materials, sites, and activities, and the monitoring and questioning of scientists related to the Iranian nuclear program,” they write.

A new deal should prohibit Iran’s development of ballistic missiles, which the regime is building to deliver a nuclear payload over great distances. The original nuclear accord notably excluded restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile program, creating a loophole that critics viewed as a fatal flaw.

The United States should also push for the reimposition of all United Nations sanctions on Iran under a mechanism known as “snapback.” The Trump administration chose to invoke this failsafe mechanism, which was written into the original nuclear deal, but the Biden administration reversed the decision soon after taking office. The Israeli military leaders say these sanctions are critical to keeping the Iranian regime’s economy on the ropes.

Any new deal must also renew a longstanding arms embargo on Iran, which expired in October 2020 and has not been renewed. This has allowed Iran to purchase advanced military equipment from nations such as Russia and China, both of which oppose a renewal of the embargo.

The Israeli military leaders also are calling for terrorism sanctions on Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to be preserved under any new deal. Sanctions on the military group have prevented it from expanding its control of Iran’s nuclear-related industries. This would also include sanctions on Iran’s central bank, which funds terrorism and the country’s nuclear program.

“All sanctions for terrorism, missile proliferation, and human rights abuses must be maintained until there is demonstrable evidence that the malign activities underlying those sanctions has permanently ended,” the leaders write.

Report: US tells Israel new tanker jets, key to Iran strike, not coming anytime soon

December 15, 2021

According to NYT, during his visit to DC Defense Minister Gantz asked to accelerate delivery of KC-46 refueling planes but was told first aircraft unlikely to arrive before 2024

By TOI STAFF14 December 2021, 5:04 pm  

A US Air Force Boeing KC-46 Pegasus aerial refueling plane connects to a F-35 fighter jet over California, January 22, 2019. (US Air Force photo by Ethan Wagner)

A US Air Force Boeing KC-46 Pegasus aerial refueling plane connects to a F-35 fighter jet over California, January 22, 2019. (US Air Force photo by Ethan Wagner)

Israel has asked the United States to accelerate the delivery of refueling aircraft it had purchased that could be needed to attack Iranian nuclear sites, but was told by the Biden administration the first plane likely will not be delivered until 2024, according to a report Tuesday.

The sale of eight new KC-46 Pegasus aerial refueling tankers to Israel was approved by the State Department last March.

Citing American and Israeli officials, the New York Times reported the request was made by Defense Minister Benny Gantz when he met last week with his US counterpart Lloyd Austin in Washington.

US officials reportedly told Gantz the planes were back-ordered but they would work to speed up the delivery.

Funding for the refueling planes is set to come from the military aid package that Israel receives annually from the US.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

The newspaper noted that the timing of the delivery is key, with officials in US President Joe Biden’s administration worried that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is seeking to renew the threat of military action against Iran.

It also said the Israeli Air Force was vying with the US Air Force for the planes, with Washington eager to supply the aircraft to its own forces as part of efforts to counter China.

The report noted that the tankers would be a significant upgrade for Israel and that without them, Jerusalem would need to rely on its aging fleet of refueling planes for a strike on Iran, or make a pit stop in Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates, neither of which would want to be linked to an attack on rival Iran.Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin meet at the Pentagon on December 9, 2021. (Defense Ministry)

Current and former officials quoted in the report said Israeli military planners believe that any strike on Iran will likely require multiple sorties against some sites, such as the underground Fordo uranium enrichment facility, necessitating speedy refueling.

US officials told the Times that they did not believe an attack was looming and that Israel’s public preparations for a possible strike could be aimed at putting pressure on Western nations to seek tougher terms in talks on reviving the 2015 deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program.

Israel is vocally opposed to the Iran nuclear deal, which Biden has said he wants to rejoin after his presidential predecessor Donald Trump withdrew the US from the pact in 2018 and reimposed sanctions. Tehran has since steadily increased its breaches of the accord.

Gantz: I told the US I’ve ordered the IDF to prepare a strike against Iran

December 12, 2021


Defense minister says US still aligned with Israel, but has ‘broader priorities’ in region; senior defense official says attack on Iran will be hard without coordinating with US

By JACOB MAGID and TAL SCHNEIDERToday, 1:03 am  

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin meet at the Pentagon on December 9, 2021. (Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin meet at the Pentagon on December 9, 2021. (Defense Ministry)

HOLLYWOOD BEACH, Florida — Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Friday that he notified US officials during meetings this week in Washington that he had instructed the Israel Defense Forces to prepare for a strike against Iran.

In a briefing with reporters on the sidelines of the Israeli American Council’s national summit in Florida, Gantz said the order he gave was to “prepare for the Iranian challenge at the operational level.”

A senior defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, indicated that Gantz had presented a timeline for when such an attack might take place during his meetings with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, but the source did not specify further.

Gantz told reporters Friday that the US and European countries “are losing patience” and are realizing that Iran is trying to drag out the negotiations, despite “playing a bad hand.”

He said no progress had been made in the recent round of negotiations in Vienna aimed at reviving the nuclear accord known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.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 said he has urged the US to step up the pressure against Iran.

“There is room for international pressure — political, economic and also military — in order to convince Iran to stop its fantasies about a nuclear program,” he said.

Gantz said the administration officials he met with were attentive to Israel’s concerns, and that he emphasized that Iran is first and foremost a global problem, before it is an Israeli one.

He said he agreed during meetings with Austin and Blinken that the US and Israel would further develop their cooperation against Tehran.Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani is seen leaving the Coburg Palais, venue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) meeting aimed at reviving the Iran nuclear deal, in Vienna, on December 3, 2021. (Joe Klamar/AFP)

The sides also discussed maintaining Israel’s so-called qualitative military edge over other countries in the region, Gantz said. “There are many steps we discussed that will affect Israel’s ability to be the strongest state in the region for many years to come.”

Gantz acknowledged the Biden administration did not provide a deadline for when it will walk out of talks in Vienna if there is no progress, but he expressed confidence the US would begin considering a military option more seriously if there are no positive developments.

The senior defense official said Iran is close to enriching the amount of uranium necessary to assemble a nuclear bomb and that it will be easier to act against Tehran before it crosses that threshold.

The official acknowledged that American public opinion is not supportive of further military intervention in the Middle East, but said as Iran gets closer to a nuclear weapon, Americans will come around.

“The Americans are still with us, but at the same time, we as Israelis need to understand that the US has broader priorities,” Gantz said separately.US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) meets with Defense Minister Benny Gantz (right) in Washington, DC, on December 9, 2021. (Shmulik Almany/GPO)

“America is the strongest country in the world, and specifically because of that it does not rush to use force. It typically leaves it to later stages in the matter,” he said.

Gantz also justified the need for three separate Israeli officials — Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and himself — to hold conversations with Blinken, even though they all discussed the same issue of Iran. Gantz said each of them placed an emphasis on different issues in their discussions, but they coordinated with one another, he said.

Hours later, a senior military official and a rumored candidate to serve as the next IDF chief of staff said Saturday that while Israel will act independently against Iran if it must, a strike against the Islamic Republic’s nuclear facilities would be difficult without coordinating with the US.

“The desire is always to coordinate with [the US] what we are doing, but at the end of the day Israel is responsible for its own fate and will protect the security of its citizens, Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir said during a live interview on Saturday at the Israeli American Council conference.

Zamir is a former IDF deputy chief of staff currently serving as a research fellow at a think tank in Washington. He is a rumored dark horse candidate to head the IDF, though current deputy chief of staff Herzi Halevi is the assumed frontrunner.

Zamir acknowledged when pushed that “it would be a challenge to launch such an operation without coordinating with the Americans.”

He said that while Israel hopes the US will deter Iran, Israel will act if Washington fails to do so.

He clarified that military action would be a last result and would only be carried out if there is no diplomatic solution to the Iranian problem. He noted that the talks in Vienna are very “worrying” and that all options look very bad as far as Israel is concerned.

US Mideast military chief: Attacks by Iran-backed militias ‘may provoke a response’

December 11, 2021


Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie says Tehran ‘is trying to eject’ US troops from Iraq, and that it holds to dangerous belief its attacks on troops won’t affect nuke talks

By LOLITA C. BALDOR and ROBERT BURNSToday, 10:26 am  

FILE - Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of US Central Command at Resolute Support headquarters, in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 12, 2021 (AP Photo/Ahmad Seir, File)

FILE – Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of US Central Command at Resolute Support headquarters, in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 12, 2021 (AP Photo/Ahmad Seir, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The top US commander for the Middle East said Thursday that the United States will keep the current 2,500 troops in Iraq for the foreseeable future, and he warned that he expects increasing attacks on US and Iraqi personnel by Iranian-backed militias determined to get American forces out.

Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie said in an interview with The Associated Press at the Pentagon that despite the shift by US forces to a non-combat role in Iraq, they will still provide air support and other military aid for Iraq’s fight against the Islamic State.

Noting that Iranian-backed militias want all Western forces out of Iraq, he said an ongoing uptick in violence may continue through December.

“They actually want all US forces to leave, and all US forces are not going to leave,” he said, adding that as a result, “that may provoke a response as we get later into the end of the month.”

The Iraqi government earlier Thursday announced the conclusion of talks on ending the US combat mission against IS. US forces have been largely in an advisory role for some time, so the announced transition changes little. The announcement reflects a July decision by the Biden administration to end the US combat mission in Iraq by Dec. 31.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

“We’ve drawn down from bases we didn’t need, we’ve made it harder to get at us. But the Iraqis still want us to be there. They still want the presence, they still want the engagement,” said McKenzie. “So as long as they want it, and we can mutually agree that’s the case — we’re going to be there.”US Army soldiers stand outside their armored vehicle on a joint base with Iraqi army south of Mosul, Iraq, February 23, 2017. (Khalid Mohammed/AP/File)

He said he believes Islamic State militants will continue to be a threat in Iraq and that the group will “keep recreating itself, perhaps under a different name.” The key, he said, will be to ensure that IS is not able to coalesce with other elements around the globe and become increasingly strong and dangerous.

America invaded Iraq in 2003, and at the peak point had more than 170,000 troops battling insurgents in the country and later working to train and advise Iraqi forces. All US forces were withdrawn at the end of 2011, but just three years later, American troops were back to help Iraq beat back the Islamic State group, which had swept across the border from Syria to gain control of a large swath of the country.

The US presence in Iraq has long been a flashpoint for Tehran, but tensions spiked after a January 2020 US drone strike near the Baghdad airport killed a top Iranian general. In retaliation, Iran launched a barrage of missiles at al-Asad airbase, where US troops were stationed. More than 100 service members suffered traumatic brain injuries in the blasts.US soldiers stand at the site of an Iranian bombing at Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar, Iraq, Jan. 13, 2020. (AP/Qassim Abdul-Zahra)

More recently, Iranian proxies are believed responsible for an assassination attempt last month on Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi. And officials have said they believe Iran was behind the October drone attack at the military outpost in southern Syria where American troops are based. No US personnel were killed or injured in the attack.

“I think an attack to kill the prime minister is a pretty significant event,” McKenzie said. “I think that’s a signpost of the desperation that they’re under right now.” Iranian officials have said Tehran and its allies had nothing to do with last month’s drone attack that lightly injured the Iraqi prime minister.

McKenzie, who has headed US Central Command for nearly three years and traveled extensively throughout the region, painted a picture that reflected the recent upheaval in Afghanistan, where US troops departed at the end of August.

On Afghanistan, McKenzie said al-Qaida has grown slightly since US forces left and that the ruling Taliban leaders are divided about their 2020 pledge to break ties with the group. He said the departure of the US military and intelligence assets from the country has made it “very hard, not impossible” to ensure that neither al-Qaida nor the Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate can pose a threat to the United States.

Like the Taliban’s long campaign to get Americans out of Afghanistan, Iran and its proxies have battled to get the US out of Iraq and the broader Middle East.

“Iran still pursues a vision of ejecting us,” he said. “And they see the principal battleground for that as being in Iraq. And I believe they are under the view that they can increase friction in Iraq to where we will leave.”

Iran, he said, believes that campaign won’t affect the nuclear negotiations that were long stalled but are now restarting. But, he said, “I think it’s a dangerous position for the Iranians to maintain, because I think they’re not going to be able to decouple those two things.”A person walks in front of Palais Coburg where closed-door nuclear talks take place in Vienna, Austria, on December 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Gruber)

McKenzie said that as NATO begins to expand its presence in Iraq as planned, the US will refine its force there. And the total US force presence will depend on future agreements with Iraq’s government.

The US troops in Syria, currently numbering about 900, will continue to advise and assist Syrian rebel forces in the fight against IS, McKenzie said. He said it’s not clear how much longer that will be necessary but said, “I think we are measurably closer than we were a couple of years ago. I still think we have a ways to go.”

More broadly, McKenzie noted that the US troop presence across the Middle East has significantly dropped since last year, when it peaked amid tensions with Iran, at as much as 80,000. The US has identified China and Russia as the top national security threats, labeling China as America’s “pacing challenge,” and has looked to focus more effort and assets in the Pacific.

In its recent review of the positioning of US forces around the world, the Pentagon said little about removing or repositioning troops in the Middle East. McKenzie and other top military leaders have long worried that the US military is concentrated in too few locations in the Middle East and must disperse more to increase security.

“We think it is important to work with our partners in the region to present a more complex targeting problem to Iran,” he said, adding that US will look at other bases and opportunities to move troops around to achieve that goal.

McKenzie said he is particularly concerned by Iran’s development of ballistic and cruise missiles as well as armed drones.

“And so those things are very concerning to me because they continue to develop them,” he said. “And they show no signs of abating in their research in this field, and their fielding of new and increasingly lethal and capable weapons.”