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Israel hints it may not engage Biden on Iran nuclear strategy

February 17, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Israel was not a party to the 2015 deal.

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

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

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

How Iran Could Get Nuclear Weapons On Biden’s Watch

January 25, 2021

Could Iran develop a nuclear weapon on President Biden’s watch? Yes.

While Democrats might blame President Donald Trump’s abrogation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) for recent Iranian nuclear violations, they should not: The 2015 Iran deal reversed decades of non-proliferation precedent which demanded a complete accounting and dismantlement of nuclear infrastructure. Exculpating Iran due to hatred of Trump also ignores that Iran is treaty-bound to uphold its Non-Proliferation Treaty Safeguards Agreement commitments.

To understand just how close the Islamic Republic is to nuclear weapons, consider the three general components of a nuclear weapons capability: enrichment, warhead design, and delivery. Iran has worked on all three. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chronicled Iran’s possible military dimensions in a public report almost a decade ago: Iran had worked on warhead design, detonators, weapon modeling, and procurement. While Biden’s team may say that the JCPOA stopped such activity, Iran’s accounting to the IAEA fell short, the regime sought to hide the archive of its work, and the knowledge already developed does not go away.

The JCPOA and its corollary, UN Security Council Resolution 2231, reversed legal precedent to enable Iranian missile work under the guise of a satellite launch program. While some officials debate Iran’s missile capability, they ignore another reality: While the Pentagon might seek precision and perfection, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps may not. A dirty bomb carried by ship obviates the need for an intercontinental ballistic missile or, for that matter, the perfect warhead.

The JCPOA focused its efforts on Iran’s enrichment program, although it undercut its effectiveness both with expiring provisions and by allowing Iran to maintain an industrial-scale enrichment program greater than that of Pakistan at a time that Pakistan built nuclear weapons. In short, Iran already has the knowledge to build and launch a warhead. All it needs is more enriched uranium.

Even as Iran approaches nuclear weapons capability, Biden continues to be blind to Iran’s own strategy. His national security team mistakenly believes that differences between hardliners and reformers are of belief rather than tactics. They see sincerity rather than a game of good-cop, bad-cop. The reality is that both factions support the theocracy’s revolutionary precepts and collude to disenfranchise tens of millions of Iranians who seek to live in a normal country.

Tehran is confident that they can outplay American diplomacy for other reasons: They are simply following the path already laid by Pyongyang. Consider the 1994 Agreed Framework signed both to keep North Korea within the confines of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and to stop its development of nuclear weapons. As Iran does now, North Korea maintained a pretense of abiding by its agreement even as it sought to cheat along the margins. Even as it became clear the Agreed Framework was not constraining North Korean ambitions, officials—including Biden himself—bent over backwards to deny its flaws and exculpate North Korean cheating. After the North Korean foreign ministry announced in 1998 that it would no longer abide by the Agreement, for example, the Clinton administration offered Pyongyang $100 million in new aid.

Today, Democrats similarly debate new incentives to bring Tehran back into the fold.  As defiance becomes lucrative, it only grows. North Korea subsequently demanded $300 million to allow inspection of an underground nuclear site near Kumchang-ni and $1 billion to stop missile exports. American proponents of diplomacy meanwhile argued that increasingly violent North Korean rhetoric was simply a prelude to its offer of a grand bargain. The reality: North Korean authorities never abandoned their nuclear drive, but saw diplomacy as a way to delay accountability and enrich the regime. Today, North Korea’s nuclear arsenal increasingly threatens the United States and its allies, while its leaders live a luxurious lifestyle funded in part by billions of dollars of wasted American taxpayer money.

Let’s face it: Biden’s team may say they want to re-engage Tehran, but in reality, their diplomacy will simply be a fig leaf to enable Iran, like North Korea before it, to establish a nuclear fait accompli.

Gulf War: How Israel went from 0 to world’s best missile defense

January 25, 2021

So is Israel in better or worse shape in terms of missile defense and deterrence than it was 30 years ago?

The Israel Missile Defense Organization conducts live-fire intercept tests of the David's Sling weapon system (photo credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY)

Thirty years after the 1991 Gulf War, Israel has gone from zero real missile defense to the best missile defense shield in the world and from fear of preemptive action in other countries to operating almost freely in Syrian airspace and in some other hostile areas.

At the same time, if in 1991, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein presented the only major missile threat, Israel currently faces potential missile threats from six distinct areas. These are Gaza, Hezbollah, Iran, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Jerusalem is confronted by two adversaries, Iran and Hezbollah, which can each overwhelm even Israel’s state-of-the-art three-tier missile defense with a combination of volume and advanced precision.

This view has been advanced repeatedly to The Jerusalem Post by former Missile Defense Organization chief Uzi Rubin, former intelligence minister Dan Meridor and former deputy national security council chief Chuck Freilich.

So is Israel in better or worse shape in terms of missile defense and deterrence than it was 30 years ago?

Looking at the issue of missile defense in isolation, the situation is probably worse.

Back in 1991, Iraq’s 39 ballistic Scud missiles fired on Israel easily beat the lame US patriot missile defense system and only failed to kill Israelis because of a combination of early warning sirens, bomb shelters, the Scuds’ lack of precision and luck.
Even without deaths, the Scuds caused tremendous trauma and significant evacuations which shook the country.

But the impact was limited compared to the current era’s threats.

Hamas is believed to have rebuilt its rocket arsenal to possibly more than the 10,000 rockets it had on the eve of the 2014 Gaza War.

Even back then it managed to continue to fire rockets on Israel’s home front for 50 days, covering the majority of the country and even leading to most flights from Ben Gurion Airport being grounded for 48 hours at one point.

Despite Hamas’ capabilities, the IDF’s current missile defense can be considered an overall success, and a night-and-day improvement from the 1991 Patriot defense system.

Both in that round of fighting and in later shorter rounds, including a few in 2019, the Iron Dome was able to shoot down enough Hamas and Islamic Jihad rockets – all relatively short range – so that few Israelis were killed.

For many years the IDF has also operated the Arrow missile defense system to shoot down long range intercontinental ballistic missiles and potentially some medium range missiles.

In 2017, the IDF introduced the David’s Sling to focus specifically on medium range missiles, even as both the Iron Dome and Arrow could be used for that as well.

In mid-December, the IDF held its first impressive combined missile defense test in which all three missile defense systems needed to be utilized simultaneously.

One would think that all of this advancement and Israel’s relative success with Hamas would mean the country is much better off than when Saddam Hussein could land his rockets in Tel Aviv at will.

But these days Hamas is the easy part.According to missile defense and national security experts cited above: Rubin, Meridor and Freilich, both Iran and Hezbollah have the capacity to overwhelm all three tiers of Israel’s missile defense. Hezbollah has up to 150,000 rockets, including several hundred precision missiles. Iran has fewer missiles within range, but at least 400 ballistic missiles which can hit Israel.

Although theoretically, Iron Dome might be used against them, as in the mid-December test, there has been no major real war test of either the Arrow or the other missile defense systems’ abilities to shoot down a barrage of ballistic missiles.

In contrast, Iran has successfully and accurately used its ballistic missiles to attack ISIS in Syria in 2018 and US forces in Iraq in 2020.

It has also used attack UAVs including: the Shahed 129, Saegheh 2 and the Ababil, to attack targets in Yemen and Saudi Arabia in 2019-2020 and showed off an impressive drill of ballistic missiles and attack drones on January 15-16.

Moreover, though Jerusalem is doing all it can to prevent the deployment of Iranian long range precision missiles in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, it is an open question whether this is possible indefinitely.

Still, that is not the end of the story either since there is also the question of deterrence.  From a deterrence perspective, Israel is in a far stronger position now than in 1991 when Israel did not even respond directly to Saddam’s 39 ballistic missiles.

Conventionally, the understanding was that then prime minister Yitzhak Shamir was pressured by then US president George H.W. Bush not to respond for fear that an Israeli intervention would scuttle the broad anti-Iraq coalition Bush had assembled.

In addition, Israel was still suffering from the trauma of the 1982 Lebanon War, which unnerved Israel’s confidence that it could operate successfully in enemy territory.

Records, newly declassified in 2018, showed that then defense minister Moshe Arens approved a counterattack on Iraq weeks into the war after all the Scuds had been fired and most of the US’s aims in Iraq had been accomplished.

Even at this point when the coalition was not at risk, Israel was asked not to respond.

Then US defense secretary Dick Cheney used time-honored procedural delaying tactics about having to hold meetings on operational coordination.

It was also revealed in 2018 that then IDF chief Dan Shomron was fearful about the consequences of an Israeli attack in foreign territory. So after Arens told him to prepare a plan, the IDF commander went behind the defense minister’s back and told Shamir that he opposed it.

That was the IDF’s mentality in 1991.

In contrast, in recent years, and with a reported exclamation point in recent weeks, Israel has carried out thousands of airstrikes and other attacks to stop Iran’s attempts to smuggle precision missiles into Syria, and reportedly also in Lebanon and Iraq when necessary.

In that respect, Gadi Eisenkot, who was IDF chief from 2014-2019, has said recently that Israel may have deterred its many enemies from starting a major conflict, with missiles or without, than at almost any other time in its history.

In January last year, General David Petraeus, former CIA director and  commander of the multinational forces in Iraq, said that, “Iran will not risk a major war because it would put its survival at risk,” should Jerusalem respond – and then said the same applied to Hezbollah.

The IDF’s ability to hit almost anywhere and anytime, with precision and without losing IDF troops is unprecedented.
Based on that, it may continue to deter the increasing number of actors whose missile capabilities could beat Jerusalem’s missile defense.

That could mean that in the final analysis Israel is more threatened, but also more secure in 2021 than it was in 1991.

As Trump exits, the full Mossad story on normalization comes into focus

January 23, 2021

Interesting behind-the-scenes info.

MOSSAD DIRECTOR Yossi Cohen. (photo credit: FLASH90)

As the administration of president Donald Trump exits stage left, it’s time to take stock of the four normalization deals that Israel has already signed.

But there is a crucial piece of the story that has not been emphasized.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, although the July-to-December 2020 wave of deals provided the historic photos, the turning point moments were back in 2017 and 2019, The Jerusalem Post has learned. Also, though, it has not yet signed an agreement itself, the key party was always Saudi Arabia.

Much of the de-emphasis of these points has to do with Mossad chief Yossi Cohen – whose acts were mostly shrouded in mystery until a major speech in July 2019 – who was leading the Israeli push by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

There have been multiple narratives about who really got the ball rolling between Israel, the US and the UAE, and about when was the critical turning point.

Of course, part of the complex answer is that each country in the Israel, UAE, US triad played its part.

Also, each of the countries that came afterward made its own contributions which helped form the order of who would be “in” during the Trump era and who would play “wait and see.”

But to properly understand what happened in 2020, Israeli intelligence sources would say that it is imperative to understand the behind-the-scenes role of Cohen and the Saudis and what happened in September-November 2017, and in July 2019.

TRADITIONALLY, CLANDESTINE developments with countries with which Israel has no diplomatic relations fall under the realm of the Mossad.

In that respect, the Post has learned that Cohen especially distinguished himself from his start in January 2016 by not only marking goals, but establishing a unit to focus on the normalization goal.

Reports of Cohen’s travels to Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, Morocco and other countries without diplomatic relations with Israel started coming in the middle of his term, but he was on the travel circuit even earlier.

There were precursors like former National Security Council chief Yaakov Amidror and former Foreign Ministry director-general Dore Gold. There were also other Israeli intelligence figures, who are conventionally less involved with foreign countries, who got involved in the game in important ways in recent years.

One interesting departure from Mossad dominance of the normalization trend related to Sudan and Morocco.

Cohen was virtually the sole key figure paving the early path which led to normalization with the UAE, and which brought the Saudis to actively support the trend, even as they themselves have not formally crossed the line.

He was also the early middleman for Sudan and Morocco.

But at an undefined point leading up to normalization with those countries, National Security Council chief Meir Ben Shabbat, represented by “R.” or “Maoz,” a Shin Bet agent on “loan” to the NSC, took a critical role in finishing those deals.

Ben Shabbat, Maoz and, according to reporter Barak Ravid, a British-Israeli lawyer named Nick Kaufman, who had connections with the Sudanese because of his expertise in dealing with some of their International Criminal Court issues, helped smooth over a range of rough patches along the way.

Cohen would not deny that Ben Shabbat and Maoz made contributions to those normalization pushes and helped save them at various points when the US and Sudan hit temporary walls.

However, the Post has learned that even once Ben Shabbat and R. were working the Sudan and Morocco angles, Cohen’s view would be that he was still the “project manager” for the normalizations, and that he merely “subcontracted” out aspects of implementation.

In Cohen’s narrative, his direct involvement in planning the meeting between Netanyahu and chairman of the Sovereignty Council of Sudan Lt.-Gen. Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman al-Burhan in Uganda in February 2020, as well as being physically present there, shows that he had gotten most of the key work done before subcontracting out later implementation measures.

Further, even as Ben Shabbat, Maoz and their team helped put out fires down the stretch, Cohen still had his hands at least partially on the wheel with additional meetings, one of which with the deputy chairman of the Sudanese Sovereign Council, Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, was widely reported in August 2020.

Reports throughout the second half of 2020 noted Cohen hopping around the Gulf and elsewhere.

IN SOME ways, sources would say, this would lead to a new perspective on the July-December 2020 normalization wave.

Conventional wisdom is that no wave was coming until July 2020, and that there might have been no wave if UAE Ambassador to the US Yousef Al Otaiba, Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, senior adviser to the US president Jared Kushner, his aide Avi Berkowitz, Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and a variety of other players had not suddenly scrambled to a magic formula, which then paved the way for the other three normalization deals.

While recognizing each contribution to the Abraham Accords, Cohen’s narrative would be entirely different.

His version of events would look back to his major July 2019 speech at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya conference.

In that speech, he said, “The Mossad has identified at this time a rare opportunity, perhaps the first in the history of the Middle East, to reach a regional understanding that would lead to an inclusive regional peace agreement,” he said.

He added: “This creates a window of opportunity that is perhaps one-time only.”

While his speech made headlines, nothing immediately came of it. In fact, nothing came of it for another 13 months, and most viewed it as just giving out talking points which Netanyahu and a variety of other ministers were periodically issuing.

A point Cohen made in the speech saying the Mossad had set the stage for “a renewal of ties with Oman and the establishment of Foreign Ministry representation” was even met with a public rejection by Oman.

Yet, sources would indicate that in Cohen’s view, this speech was actually the key point.

He was not pontificating with generic hopeful aspirations or guessing, the way some other ministers might have been who were hearing things secondhand.

Cohen was delivering a hard-nosed assessment of the future which he knew firsthand to be on the way.

He could not predict the exact timing, but he knew that he had helped convince the Saudis as well as the UAE that normalization was the way forward, and that they would find the right moment.

The reason he could make that speech in July 2019, the Post has learned, is that ironically, even as they have not yet officially crossed the normalization line themselves, the Saudis were the key, and were committed.

In that sense, Israeli intelligence sources have indicated that a real turning point was the reported visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Tel Aviv in September 2017.

BY NOVEMBER 2017, this had led to a historic interview by then-IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot with a Saudi media outlet in which he proclaimed that Israel was now sharing classified intelligence on Iran with Riyadh.

In this light, insiders like Cohen could see the building of momentum for the events of 2020, even if they were far from inevitable, long before the general public caught on.

Then why didn’t Cohen make the July 2019 speech back in 2017?

Sources indicated that the plan was to get the other countries on board so it would build like a wave.

Saudi support in late 2017 laid the groundwork for the Mossad to have greater success in building that wave over the next 18 months, including visits by Netanyahu and other Israeli ministers to various countries.

The current Mossad chief might even say that the months when normalization happened were when it had to happen. This was because it was all part of a general vision of achieving certain common goals within the Trump administration’s framework for the Middle East.

No one knew who would win the US election in November 2020, but everyone knew that US President Joe Biden (then the Democratic challenger) had a strong shot.

From this perspective, the normalization wave had to start no later than around September, and July was about the latest it could start if time would be left for a series of countries to each make a splash by joining.

But the Palestinians needed to be given a chance first to accept the Trump administration’s peace plan, which kept getting delayed by Israeli elections, until it was finally unveiled in January 2020.

From then until July 2020, with a boost of cooperative activity between Israel and the UAE in March relating to the coronavirus, the question was timing.

Also, from that perspective, as crucial as the Kushner-Friedman-Berkowitz group, Otaiba and Ben Shabbat, “Maoz” and his team were, the big leaps forward were already made by the Mossad with the Saudis by 2017 and were getting revved up by the time of Cohen’s July 2019 speech.

Undeniably, the US, UAE and Ben Shabbat’s team helped put out major fires and used out-of-the-box thinking to create new opportunities.

The Mossad would be happy to share credit with the full cast. Certainly, the Trump administration’s approach of making deals between Israel and its neighbors at all costs created opportunities that would not have otherwise existed.

In addition, not every prediction Cohen made has come true.

After naming Oman in 2019, he was on record again in fall 2020 that Oman would sign a normalization agreement with Israel, and that still has not yet panned out.

Still, some of the key US actors saving, salvaging and signing the Abraham Accords in 2020 were not even in office in 2016, and in 2017 were still learning the lay of the land – this while the Mossad was already paving the road.

But, by and large, if many of Cohen’s seemingly audacious 2019 predictions about normalization have come true, it could be because, as a director and producer, he was already holding much of the script.

2021: The Year Israel And Iran Go To War?

January 7, 2021

Bit of a click-bait title for the article, answer is “appears unlikely”.

I like this from the author of the articles’s twitter account:

Israel and Iran Go to War.

In recent weeks, tensions in the Middle East appeared ready to spill over into a larger conflict.

The U.S. turned around an aircraft carrier strike group that was supposed to be heading home and American B-52s transited over Israel in a mission that served as a warning to Tehran. This comes after a mid-December report that an Israeli submarine might be heading towards the Persian Gulf and Iranian warnings of provocations in Iraq.

Could a conflict erupt before President Donald Trump leaves office?

Reports have indicated that Iran appears to think a conflict is possible and the region is on edge. However, history illustrates that these kinds of tensions often blow over.

A Region Filled with Tension, and Bombs

Overall, recent military maneuvers and saber-rattling appear more like complex chess moves than the opening to a real conflict. This is because Iran and Israel have been doing this kind of dangerous dance for years. Iran considers Israel and the United States its greatest adversaries and Iranian leaders often make statements threatening Israel. Iran’s allies in the region, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, also threaten Israel with statements. In July, tensions with Hezbollah grew after the group accused Israel of killing one of its members in Syria. Hezbollah members operate in Syria and Iraq with groups linked to Iran.

Israel has accused Iran and these allies of Tehran of entrenching in Syria and moving Iranian weapons via Iraq to Syria and Lebanon. Israel’s former chief of staff Gadi Eizenkot said in January 2019 that Israel had conducted more than 1,000 airstrikes in Syria against Iranian targets. This is what Israel calls the “campaign between the wars,” to deter and degrade Iran’s entrenchment in Syria. Israel’s annual Israel Defense Forces operational data for last year says the country carried out 50 strikes on targets in Syria. This shows that the conflict between Iran and Israel is not only a war of words. Iranian proxies in Syria have fired rockets at Israel from near the Golan and an Iranian drone entered Israeli airspace from Syria in 2018. Any one of these incidents could have spiraled into a larger conflict.

Tough Talk

Hardly a week goes by without tit-for-tat statements by Israel and Iran. IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi has said Iran is the most dangerous country in the region and warned Tehran that the IDF has rehearsed and prepared retaliation for any eventuality. Towards this end, Israel launched unprecedented air defense drills in December using its Iron Dome and David’s Sling air defense systems. These systems, along with the Arrow 3, act as a multi-tiered series of interceptors with radar and command and control that can stop ballistic missiles, drones, cruise missiles, and other threats. Integrating them, as Israel has, illustrates the country is prepared for the kind of complex attacks that the Middle East has seen in recent years. For instance, Iran used drones and cruise missiles to attack Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq facility in 2019 and Iran used ballistic missiles to target a base in Iraq where U.S. troops were located in January 2020.

While Iran and its allies talk tough on Israel they also know that a new U.S. administration is coming into office. Iran has detained a South Korean tanker and announced it is increasing its enrichment of uranium, two actions that appear designed to wring financial concessions from the West and South Korea. Provoking a conflict with either Israel or the U.S. is not in Iran’s interests if its goal is sanctions relief and financial windfalls. Iran also doesn’t have the conventional capabilities to conduct a major war with Israel.

Israel’s Military Goes All in on the F-35, and More

Meanwhile, Israel, which has more than two dozen advanced F-35s, is seeking more of the aircraft and has fielded new army units with multidimensional capabilities using the latest in artificial intelligence and precision weapons. Any kind of conflict between Iran and Israel is more likely to involve the kinds of small operations and precision strikes, or tension with Iran’s allies such as Hezbollah than direct confrontation. Nevertheless, Israel has set up a special headquarters, as part of a recent multi-year plan, to deal with what it calls “third circle” threats, the euphemism for Iran. Israel and Iran appear to have more long-term considerations looking at the battlespace around them. While Iran is increasing its drone and ballistic missile forces, Israel is seeking more F-35s and building a new fleet of corvettes to protect its coastline. Such investments are part of a long-term strategy and mitigate against the outbreak of a major war.

The Arab-Israeli conflict may finally be over

January 5, 2021

The dawn of the new year is rising on a world that would have been unrecognisable 12 months ago. The scourge of Covid, the fall of Trump, the resolution of Brexit; all have carved history in unpredictable ways. But nowhere has seen greater changes than the Middle East, where, for the first time, people are daring to believe that the Arab-Israeli conflict is over.

In January 2020, Israel was as isolated as ever in the region. Its ‘cold peace’ agreements with Egypt and Jordan, which were not matched by affection on the street, were as good as it got. The Arab League’s notorious threefold rejectionism — no to peace, no to recognition, no to negotiation — seemed unmovable.

Trump’s peace plan was dismissed out of hand by the Palestinians in February, and things hit a new low in May. When a new Knesset considered annexing parts of the West Bank, an impotent Palestinian Authority suspended all security co-operation. Then, with unprecedented masochism, it refused to accept more than half a billion pounds of Israeli tax revenues. Overnight, the Palestinian Authority deprived itself of 60 per cent of its budget, setting it on a course for self-imposed bankruptcy and impoverishing tens of thousands of its own citizens.

The act of self-harm brought to mind Mohamed Bouazizi, the despairing Tunisian street vendor who burned himself to death on the streets of Sidi Bouzid as a desperate act of protest [there was a bit more to it than that, and it involved a woman and dishonour…]. But the Palestinian Authority’s immolation did not trigger an Arab Spring. Instead, a different kind of regional revolution was already underway, one that would put the Palestinians and Israel in closer proximity to reconciliation than they had been for a quarter-century. For years, the Palestinians had held an effective veto on Arab relations with Israel.

For years, Benjamin Netanyahu — that caricatured bogeyman of the western left — had been quietly pursuing an ‘outside in’ strategy for peace. The first stage was to build bilateral links with countries outside the region, like India, Brazil and Japan. The second was to achieve normalisation with the Arab world. Finally, the theory went, with the Palestinians boxed in on all sides by cordiality, the last piece of the puzzle would slot into place.

The strategy dovetailed with the Arab Spring, which sounded the death knell for regional Arab unity. The uprisings were rooted in rage at the corrupt, inept leaders who had left the youthful population of the Middle East impoverished and with little hope. The ensuing crisis of the Levant — Syria a human abattoir, Lebanon collapsed under insoluble financial woes, Iraq riven by bloodshed and factional conflict — erased the last allegiances to the old pan-Arabism. The dream of Arab nationalists building successful, modern and cohesive states across the region had failed, and spectacularly at that. New answers were needed for new problems.

Slowly, Arab rulers became more open about the fact that it wasn’t Israel that was keeping them awake at night. Instead, it was the meddling of Iran and its proxies, the rise of a neo-Ottoman Turkey, the spread of ultra-Islamism and myriad economic woes. Normalising relations with the Jewish state would naturally ease these problems. Not only would they gain a powerful military and intelligence ally against a common enemy, but there would be significant economic advantages — Israeli tourists for Dubai, Israeli agricultural experts for Sudan — and enhanced ties with the United States.

For years, the Palestinians had held an effective veto on Arab relations with Israel. But where had it got them? Israel’s economy has boomed while the corrupt and incompetent Palestinian leadership, a victim of its own disunity and intransigence, had become a black hole for international aid dollars. Arab leaders had no wish to abandon the Palestinians, but they were no longer prepared to have them to dictate policy. The time was ripe for a new approach — one that would benefit the Palestinians as much as the rest of the Arab world.

Fast forward to the dawn of 2021, and the Abraham Accords have changed the face of the Middle East. The UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco are on board. Arab League states like Saudi Arabia, Oman, Mauritania, Djibouti and the Comoros are poised to make the jump, as is Somaliland. There is even talk that Qatar, despite its links to Turkey and fondness for Hamas, may eventually join the accords rather than be left isolated in the Gulf.

There are signs that the Palestinians may come to accept this new reality [I doubt that!]. The protests and burning of UAE flags that accompanied the signing of the Abraham Accords were brought to a sudden halt, I understand, by a telephone call from Saudi Arabia. After that, the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas turned on a sixpence. In November, he offered to reinstate the ambassadors he had withdrawn from UAE and Bahrain. Abandoning his policy of self-harm, he agreed to accept his half a billion pounds of tax receipts and resumed security co-operation with Israel. All of a sudden, the mood music was much improved.

The most stunning development has been the change of feeling on the Arab street. Traditionally, levels of anti-Semitism have soared across the Middle East, with a seminal 2014 study finding that 74 per cent of adults across the region harboured anti-Semitic beliefs. But as country after country has made peace with Israel, these attitudes have softened significantly. Recent polls report that about 80 per cent of Saudis are now in favour of normalisation, and 40 per cent of citizens across a range of Arab countries (excluding the Palestinian territories) want their leaders to take an active role in encouraging peace. This is a remarkable and rapid cultural shift.

Significant obstacles remain, of course. Foremost of these is Gaza, where Hamas continue to run the enclave as a belligerent outpost of Islamist extremism. There is also uncertainty over whether the incoming Biden team will build on Trump’s successes, or revert to the old model exemplified by John Kerry, who insisted on scotching regional peace unless a Palestinian state existed first.

But there are greater reasons for hope. With even the Palestinians showing less venomous opposition to the Abraham Accords, it would be very difficult for Biden to eschew them. Moreover, in some ways the normalisation deals have put the Palestinians in a stronger position [what?]. It is true that their concerns may become irrelevant as peace continues to break out around them. But at the same time, Netanyahu has effectively removed the most aggressive Israeli policies from the table himself; he will be unable to pursue annexation, or major settlement expansion, without risking the relationships with his new Arab allies. This time, the Palestinians may have a decent chance of a deal.

When the beleaguered Palestinian leadership sees the economic benefits enjoyed by other Arab states through co-operation with Israel and absorbs the idea that it now has friends as well as foes sitting across the negotiating table, the incentives will be hard to resist. The Emiratis and Bahrainis will make the point emphatically. And now that Israel has been elided into regional Sunni Arab interests, there can surely be no doubt that Jerusalem is a serious partner for peace.

Trump administration working on another normalization deal in January

January 2, 2021

Hmm, wonder who will be next?

If it was Indonesia, the world’s largest islamic country, that would be so jaw-dropping that the lamestream media would find it hard to bury amongst all their Biden adulation etc.

And right before he takes office would be such sweet, sweet timing…

US President Donald Trump speaks as Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, United Arab Emirates (UAE) Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed and Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani listen before the signing of the Abraham Accords. South Lawn of the White House in Washington, US, Septem (photo credit: REUTERS/TOM BRENNER)

Sources in Jerusalem and Washington have said in recent weeks that Indonesia, Mauritania or Oman could be the next country to join the accords.

The US is pushing for another Arab or Muslim state to normalize relations with Israel in the three weeks before US President  Donald Trump leaves office, a Trump administration source said on Wednesday.

“We’re working very hard on making it happen,” said the source, who has been involved in negotiations for the Abraham Accords, as the agreements are called. A second Trump administration source confirmed the ongoing efforts.

In the past four months, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco have all joined the Abraham Accords establishing – or in the case of Morocco renewing – open and official diplomatic ties with Israel.

Sources in Jerusalem and Washington have said in recent weeks that Indonesia, Mauritania, Niger or Oman could be next to join the accords. All three [err, should that be four?] have had a certain level of secret or unofficial ties with Jerusalem in the past. There have also been persistent reports of progress with Pakistan. [pfffttt! as my coffee gets sprayed onto monitor!]

Secret ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia have been warming in recent years and months, to the extent that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met in the Saudi city of Neom last month.

The Trump administration approved the sale of $290 million in precision-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia this week, and Israeli officials have speculated that the Saudis would seek maximum benefit from the US in exchange for normalization.

Vice President Mike Pence’s planned visit to Israel in a week and a half, which could have been the occasion to announce a new Abraham Accords agreement, has been called off, Yediot Aharonot reported.

A Prime Minister’s Office official said Pence’s visit had not been finalized.

An Extremely Puzzling Assassination

December 5, 2020

Hmmm, interesting...

The lack of a zillion bullet holes in the target’s car is certainly curious.

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, said to be Iran’s senior-most nuclear scientist, was assassinated Nov. 27. Iranian media announced Fakhrizadeh had been killed within 30 minutes of the attack.

It is unprecedented for Iranian state media to acknowledge an incident of this gravity so quickly. Fakhrizadeh was a mysterious figure who was rarely seen or photographed in public but the reports of his death quickly included several pictures of him never seen previously, as if they were ready to announce the news.

Moreover, the regime’s rapidly changing and improbable narratives of how he died, cast doubts on anything that has previously been officially stated about Fakhrizadeh.

The flurry of rapidly changing and even contradictory narratives put out by the Iranian regime and top officials raise doubts about who killed Fakhrizadeh and why. Iran’s past record of falsely blaming internal killings on Israelis and the CIA, or its pattern of complete silence, denial and Internet shut downs when other alleged acts of “terrorism” occur only add to the questions about this man’s death.

For seasoned Iran watchers, the pattern of contradictory narratives to hide the real truth is a familiar one. It happened when Iran shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 and would not immediately acknowledge its own missiles hit the plane. It happened last month when a top al-Qaida official was assassinated in Tehran, but the mullahs denied it ever happened.

In 2012, Iran tried to frame Majid Jamali Fashi as an Israeli spy who murdered the Iranian quantum field theorist Masoud Alimohammadi, who likely was killed by an Iranian government hitman. The Iranians similarly framed Mazyar Ebrahimi as an Israeli assassin for killing other Iranian nuclear scientists when he says he was tortured into a confession.

Judging by the regime’s previous track record in situations of such high sensitivity, one would have expected the internet to be shut down within minutes of Fakhrizadeh’s death. But pictures and videos of the scene were also immediately posted online by eyewitnesses without any security prevention or interference.

The killing quickly became headline news around the world, with the narrative that yet another “Iranian nuclear scientist” was assassinated by a foreign secret service agency, likely to be the Israelis. To back this conclusion, the mainstream media all pointed to the fact that the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had mentioned Fakhrizadeh by name three times in 2018 while unveiling Iran’s nuclear archive, which Israel shipped out from a secret outpost in Tehran’s outskirts. “Remember his name,” Netanyahu said.

Who was Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, full name Mohsen Fakhrizadeh Mahabad, and what exactly happened in Absard, 70 kilometers east of Tehran, in this green picturesque small town with its yellowish hills overlooking the Alborz mountains?

Little is known about Fakhrizadeh’s life before 1979. He was born in 1957, in the religious city of Qom, the main hub of Iran’s Shia seminaries.

After the 1979 revolution, he obtained a Master’s degree in solid state physics from Khajeh Nassir Toosi University of Technology in Tehran.

He then got involved with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and various military and defense projects. Since 2005-2006, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had asked to interview Fakhrizadeh, but Iran refused to make him available.

UN Security Council resolution in 2007 identified him as a senior scientist in Iran’s Ministry of Defense and Logistic of Armed Forces and as the former head of the Physics Research Center (PHRC) at Lavizan-Shian, an alleged undeclared nuclear site northeast of Tehran, where 140 metric tons of topsoil reportedly were removed to sanitize the site before an IAEA inspection.

More recently, Fakhrizadeh became the head of the AMAD project and then finally its successor, the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research, or known by its Persian acronym SPND.

Iran’s official narrative of his assassination has changed substantially in just a few days, raising questions about what happened. The contradicting versions raise fundamental doubts about what exactly happened and who was responsible for Fakhrizadeh’s assassination.

Initially, a truck driver interviewed by state media claimed he saw a blue Nissan pickup truck van explode, followed by a gunfight from both sides of the road. He then saw one of the assailants lying on the road shooting at him, which prompted him to reverse away from the scene. He told state TV that five or six people were involved in the shootout.

Fereydoon Abbasi-Davaani, the former head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, gave a more detailed account on Iran’s state television about a Nissan pickup truck stopping in front of Fakhrizadeh’s convoy and exploding to stop Fakhrizadeh’s car, and then an assault squad consisting of two snipers and four gunmen in a Hyundai Santa Fe opened fire. Four motorcycles were also reportedly used by the assailants.

The pro-regime Iranian documentary filmmaker, Javad Mogouei, who knew one of Fakhrizadeh’s bodyguards, then posted more details of what had happened on his Instagram account. Mogouei said there were 12 assailants in total, and only four bodyguards were protecting Fakhrizadeh and his family members. Mogouei also claimed that one of the bodyguards, Haamed Asghari, was killed after he threw himself on Fakhrizadeh trying to protect him.

Iranian news media also reported the death of the bodyguard and praised his ultimate sacrifice and martyrdom to protect the country’s top scientist.

State TV also interviewed Iran’s defense minister, Brigadier General Amir Hatami, who claimed Fakrizadeh was targeted “Because he had recently innovated a Corona test kit which was instrumental in our struggle against the coronavirus and they didn’t want us to succeed in this struggle.”

While the narrative of the 12 enemy assailants against only four heroic bodyguards explained the why the “enemy” won the day against an “invincible” Iranian security service, due to their superior numbers, it also raised questions as to how 12 attackers could have gotten away so quickly and disappeared into the thin air.

There is just one road between Absard and the nearest towns in both directions. How could 12 attackers manage to kill Iran’s top scientist in broad daylight and get away with it, in a high security designated area where many of Iran’s top rank revolutionary guards have their weekend homes?

Pictures of Fakhrizadeh’s Nissan Teana raise other questions. Taken from different angles, the pictures show a car that seemed remarkably intact with a few bullet holes in its windshield and the small rear window. The images do not match the dramatic shootout described by Iranian state media.

Later, official news denied that bodyguard Haamed Asghari had been killed, saying he suffered slight injuries as a result of his heroic action and will soon leave the hospital.

This report was followed by a completely revised narrative published by the official Fars News Agency. It claimed that there were no assailants at the scene, but Fakhrizadeh was killed by a remote controlled machine gun with Israeli military markings that was on the back of the Nissan pickup truck.

Later, Iran’s Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), Ali Shamkhani made a bizarre claim that Iran “knew Fakhrizadeh was going to be assassinated and when and where the hit was to take place and we were ready for it. However, they used a new professional specialized technique unknown to us.”

At the same time, the regime issued posters of four Arab separatists wanted in conjunction with the assassination.

Based on all the above, there can be many different scenarios as to what actually happened. Was he killed by a highly elite foreign agency? Or is it possible that it was yet another internal purge that got rid of Fakhrizadeh?

Without committing to any of the possible scenarios, there are definite advantages for the regime from Fakhrizadeh’s death. One is that if the Islamic Republic is keen to get back to renegotiating the nuclear deal, given the possibility of a new administration in the United States, they no longer have to worry about a precondition of letting the IAEA interview Fakhrizadeh.

Claiming Israel was behind the assassination also provides Iran with the justification to further violate the nuclear accords by enriching more uranium, for Iran lobbyists and Israel haters like the former CIA chief John Brennan to accuse Israel of violating international laws, and to justify possible Iranian retaliatory missile launches.

As the world collectively bemoans this “criminal act” and almost gives a license to Iran to retaliate against Israel, the only ones really smiling today are the mullahs in Iran.

Trump’s remarkable Middle East legacy

November 30, 2020

There is no denying the Trump team has done more than any previous administration to bolster Israel and its future.

Showing support for Trump at a pre-election rally in Beit Shemesh (photo credit: YAAKOV LEDERMAN/FLASH90)

Over the next few weeks, US courts will find themselves in the unenviable position of having to adjudicate challenges to the integrity of the presidential election process, a matter fraught with immense political and civic controversy.

Allegations of widespread voter fraud will be put to the test as President Donald J. Trump and former vice president Joseph Biden, as well as the rest of the country, seek some finality to the outcome of the balloting.

Regardless of how it plays out, this would seem to be a fitting time to look back at what the Trump administration has accomplished in the Middle East over the past four years. Simply put, it is nothing short of extraordinary.

Put aside for a moment whatever your feelings might be about Trump personally and place those emotions on hold. For anyone who values the US-Israel relationship, supports the Jewish state and cherishes it, there is no denying that the Trump team has done more than any previous administration ever did to bolster Israel and its future.

The list of achievements is lengthy, ranging from the symbolic to the substantive, and Jews everywhere owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Trump for his historic revamping of the region.

To begin with, the Middle East is a far safer place than it was just four years ago when Barack Obama resided in the White House.

Indeed, Obama bequeathed to Trump a region awash with rising Islamic fundamentalist extremism as the Islamic State controlled a large swath of territory in Syria and Iraq equivalent in size to Great Britain.

Just as promised, Trump succeeded in demolishing the would-be caliphate, quashing the evil regime that was responsible for beheading Americans, slaughtering Yazidis and committing unprecedented atrocities.

Then, on October 26, 2019, the president dispatched US special forces into Syria’s Idlib province, where they tracked down the Islamic State’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who died in the raid. The group hasn’t been the same since.

Similarly, when Obama turned over the keys to Trump, Iran was enjoying the windfall of the spurious nuclear deal it had reached with Washington. But Trump had the courage to pull out of the agreement and impose extensive and painful sanctions on the ayatollahs, which have left the tyrants of Tehran reeling.

And on January 3 of this year, Trump ordered an air strike on a convoy of vehicles at Baghdad International Airport which killed Qasem Soleimani, the mastermind of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and one of the most dangerous men in the Middle East.

Soleimani’s hands were drenched in blood and he bore responsibility for a wide array of terrorist activities ranging from the targeting of US troops in Iraq with roadside bombs to supplying Hezbollah with weapons and training. G-d only knows what other horrors he might have been planning.

Now neither he nor Baghdadi can ever again cause any mayhem.

But Trump has done far more than merely combating the bad guys. He has also expanded the circle of peace between Jews and Arabs in ways that once would have been inconceivable.

Over the course of just five weeks, Trump presided over the signing of historic peace deals between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on September 15 as well as the normalization of relations between the Jewish state and Sudan, which was announced on October 23.

For that alone he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.

By tossing out the old narrative according to which Arab-Israeli peace would only be achieved once the Palestinian conflict had been resolved, Trump helped to rewrite the destiny of millions. And by all indications, there are additional Arab states moving closer to recognizing Israel as well.

In changing the paradigm of peace, Trump immeasurably strengthened the Jewish state, further enhancing its legitimacy and rightful place in the region.

Perhaps his most stirring and symbolic move was the decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and then move the US Embassy to the Holy City in May 2018, steps that none of his predecessors had the fortitude to do and which paved the way for other countries to follow suit.

Then, on March 25, 2019, Trump signed a presidential proclamation conferring official US recognition of the Golan Heights as part of Israel. This helped to solidify Israel’s northern border with Syria, putting a huge dent in the Assad regime’s expansionist aims.

With regard to Judea and Samaria, the change in policy was no less dramatic. In November 2019, the US shifted its official stance regarding Jewish communities in Israel’s historical heartland and declared that they do not violate international law. And Trump’s plan for Middle East peace would enable Israel to apply sovereignty to 30% of Judea and Samaria, including nearly all the settlements.

Indeed, just last month, Washington lifted restrictions on providing American funding for scientific and agriculture projects in Judea and Samaria, thereby ending decades of discrimination. And last week, on a visit to Israel, Mike Pompeo became the first US Secretary of State to visit a Jewish community in Judea and Samaria. He also delivered a blow to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, labeling it “antisemitic” and declaring that the State Department would review its aid programs to ensure that no funds end up in the coffers of BDS supporters.

To be sure, not every step adopted by the administration has proven effective or even wise. Just ask America’s long-time Kurdish allies in Syria, who were summarily abandoned last year. The Iranians have continued to stockpile and enrich uranium, and an increasingly assertive Turkey has caused mischief throughout the region. And the Trump vision for peace includes the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state, which would create an unstable and hostile entity adjacent to Israel.

Nonetheless, when taken as a whole, the Trump administration has clearly transformed the Middle East, strengthening America’s national security interests while bolstering Israel’s position.

There are of course many other examples of the deep and lasting imprint that Trump has left on the region, from defunding UNRWA, which served to perpetuate the Palestinian refugee issue, to becoming the first sitting US President to visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem. And there is still time for him to formally recognize Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria, which would be a game-changer.

But regardless of whether his presidential tenure ends in January 2021 or not, Trump has profoundly changed the equation in the Middle East.

Love him or hate him, it is worth judging the man by his record, if only because the job of president is to be commander in chief, not compadre in chief.

And to paraphrase Ronald Reagan’s famous query from his 1980 presidential debate with Jimmy Carter: are Israel and the region better off than they were four years ago? The answer is clearly and overwhelmingly yes. 

Fakhrizadeh: Hit squads, car bombs and remote-controlled guns – analysis

November 30, 2020

Bit weird that he would get out of the car, regardless of what happened.

Three theories – and we’ll never really know the truth

Servants of the holy shrine of Imam Reza carry the coffin of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, in Mashhad, Iran November 29, 2020.  (photo credit: MASSOUD NOZARI/WANA VIA REUTERS)

Remote-controlled weapons killed Iranian nuclear scientist and key nuclear program chief Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, according to Iranian accounts. But, another account has it differently: a handful of assassins did it. Yet a third explanation has it that twelve men came with several vehicles, using one of them to blow up and block the security convoy that was protecting the high value target. 

The competing narratives over the killing of the man who was at the pinnacle of Iran’s nuclear industrial complex are befitting one who was anyway known to be in the spotlight. Since the 2000s, he was known to the US, and sanctioned and then highlighted by a UN nuclear watchdog in 2011, before being named in a speech by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

You don’t get better known in Iran than that. The UN, the US and the Israelis have all mentioned you. You can retire, or travel with security, but you’re on the wanted list.

So Mr. Fakhrizadeh knew that and those around him knew that. They knew that colleagues such as IRGC Quds Force head Qasem Soleimani had a deadly meeting with an American missile after travelling to Baghdad in January 2020. On the other hand, Iran also knew that attempted assassinations had been called off in the past for high value targets.

They had something else. Just days before, on November 14, the world had learned that Al-Qaeda’s number two had been killed in Tehran. How many assassin teams can possibly be operating in Tehran? That killing got international attention. It was carried out in August. Foreign reports claimed Israel did it in cooperation with the US.  

Thus the Fars News story of the exact details of how Fakhrizadeh was killed is a bit too much information. He was driving home with his wife. A nice Friday afternoon. His convoy had three cars. They were driving near Absard to a nice house for the weekend. The cars slowed for some reason, maybe a security check. One kept going.

And then Fakhrizadeh’s car struck something. He got out and there was a Nissan truck with a remote-controlled weapon in the back, sort of like the 1997 film The Jackal. Several bullets hit Fakhrizadeh. As he lay wounded and dying the truck exploded, also remotely. Only three minutes had passed. That would have been a lifetime for his guards in the two other cars and his wife. He was dead. 

A SECOND version, posted online under the name Abu Ali, claims to present another version from Iranian sources. In this estimation the hit squad included 12 personnel. They had military training equivalent to special forces outside Iran. More than 50 people supported their operation, maybe manning drones or satellites, or driving logistical support or moving weapons. 

The assault squad used a Hyundai Santa Fe jeep, a Nissan pickup truck (which was trapped – AA) and four motorcycles. The Hyundai Santa Fe can actually be rented in Tehran, with an extra charge of around 28 euros to return it to the Imam Khomeini Airport. An extra driver costs another 10 euros. In the case of an assassination, one definitely needs to get the full coverage, collision and personal protect. Deductible is another 900 euros in this case.  

According to these sources, the story is that the Iranian nuke chief was on his way to a private village. The hit team cut the power to the area and waited for the convoy to arrive. They deployed two snipers and four members of the team with the jeep. As the convoy passed, the first security vehicle continued on. At this moment the Nissan blew up to stop the convoy. Then, the members of the assassination team poured gunfire into Fakhrizadeh’s car and the security vehicle. The nuclear chief was even pulled out and shot, to make sure he was dead. The security details of the trip were known beforehand via some sort of cyber hack.  

Some details of the story seem comparable. In both versions, the Nissan truck appears. In both it explodes. The difference is that in one account a large number of other vehicles and shooters were present. Is it reasonable to conclude that an entire assassination would be done remotely with a rifle mounted in a truck, like in a movie?

Clearly if one wanted to actually succeed, and not have the rifle jam or the truck to be uncovered, that would be risky. Why go to such lengths to find and eliminate such an important person and leave it up to chance that some kind of signal might jam and the rifle malfunction? On the other hand, four motorcycles and two extra vehicles running around parts of Iran might be a bit large of a presence.

What is clear is that like so many well-known assassinations, the full details of this one may never be known. That they are suddenly presented in a blow-by-blow just 48 hours later appears to be a message to Tehran. It’s about showing Iran how easily it was to do. That means the stories and details are messaging, not necessarily connected to reality. It feeds into the regime’s sense of failure – and feeling that its highest members are vulnerable.