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Dermer, said to be top pick for FM, heard bashing Biden ‘weakness’ on Iran 

November 19, 2022

Source: Dermer, said to be top pick for FM, heard bashing Biden ‘weakness’ on Iran | The Times of Israel

In podcast from August, former envoy to US accuses administration of being ‘hellbent’ on reviving nuke deal, ‘kicking the can down the road,’ and handcuffing Israel

Ron Dermer speaks to media at Trump Tower on November 17, 2016, in New York. (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

Ron Dermer speaks to media at Trump Tower on November 17, 2016, in New York. (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

The reported leading candidate to become Israel’s next foreign minister made comments harshly critical of US President Joe Biden’s administration and its policies toward Iran on a recent podcast, possibly complicating any efforts the incoming government might make to repair frayed ties between prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu and Democrats in Washington.

Ron Dermer, a former Israeli ambassador to the US, accused the White House of “project[ing] tremendous weakness,” “handcuffing Israel,” being “hellbent” on reaching a nuclear deal, and “wrong fundamentally strategically” by trying to negotiate in order to avoid an armed clash with Iran.

Dermer, who helped engineer Netanyahu’s ill-fated attempts to bypass the Barack Obama White House and argue against the deal directly to Congress and American voters, also pushed for a resumption of that strategy, indicating that he may pursue the same tack despite the fact that it led to what some described as a low-point in ties between Jerusalem and Washington.

“The administration of President Biden does not have a policy to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. They have a policy to contain a nuclear Iran,” Dermer said on the Diplomatically Incorrect podcast alongside Michael Makovsky, head of the Jewish Institute for National Security of America, a hawkish think tank based in Washington.

“The goal from them is to avoid a military confrontation at all costs. If you ask the senior people in the Biden administration which of these two scenarios is worse, a military confrontation with Iran or a nuclear-armed Iran, they will say a military confrontation is worse,” he said.

The podcast aired on August 26, when the US and Iran appeared to be mere days away from reaching a deal to revive the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which curbed Iranian nuclear activity in exchange for sanctions relief. Dermer’s comments drew little attention at the time, but have taken on additional relevancy since his name emerged this week as a leading candidate for Israel’s top diplomatic post, as Netanyahu puts together a coalition with his right-wing and ultra-Orthodox political allies.

Efforts to renew the deal, which former US president Donald Trump pulled the US out of in 2018, fizzled out in September and Washington now says it is not focused on negotiating with Iran amid widespread protests and a brutal crackdown there.

The Coburg Palais, the venue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) revival talks, in Vienna on November 29, 2021. (Vladimir Simicek / AFP)

The US-born Dermer, a close confidant of Netanyahu, described the administration’s commitment to trying to negotiate a deal as wrongheaded, claiming it would make armed conflict more likely by removing the deterrent effects of a credible military threat.

“Not only are they wrong tactically, they are also wrong fundamentally strategically, because the deal they are putting in place is a path to war,” he claimed, calling a nuclear deal “a threat to the survival of Israel.”

“You have to have clear red lines with Iran,” he added. “The problem we have now is [that] the worst fear of the Biden administration is a potential military confrontation with Iran… Anybody with an IQ above a speed bump gets that that’s how it works in the real world.

“And the Israeli policymakers don’t seem to understand there is no Plan B, because they are opposed to any military confrontation, so they are not going to work with Israel… seriously on contingency planning, other than to put handcuffs on Israel doing military operations,” Dermer charged.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) with Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, at the president’s guest house, in Washington, DC, February 14, 2017. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

He described the fact that negotiations were taking place despite belligerent Iranian actions, like the stabbing of author Salman Rushdie due to an Iranian fatwa on his head, as “obscene,” accusing the administration of “almost begging for a deal.”

“Have a sense of honor. You’re the superpower of the world, and an 8th-rate power is trying to kill people on your soil and you’re sitting down and negotiating with them,” he said. “But when you are just doing nothing in response to these provocations, I just think it projects tremendous weakness.”

Dermer also pointed to talk of a “longer, stronger deal,” initially espoused by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, as “absurd.”

“Somehow magically, with fairy dust, they are going to convince Iran to do a longer and stronger deal,” he said.

This September 1, 2014 file photo, shows a nuclear research reactor at the headquarters of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. (AP/Vahid Salemi)

He accused the administration of not actually seeking to keep Iran from getting a bomb, noting the fact that curbs on enrichment will be lifted over the next several years under the agreement.

“For an administration that wants to just bury their head in the sand, kick this can down the road and just say ‘well you know in two years, in six years, it’s gonna be somebody else’s problem,’ It’s a good deal from their point of view,” he said.

Many of Dermer’s comments echoed talking points espoused by him and Netanyahu as the Obama administration advanced toward the JCPOA, which was also signed by five other world powers.

President Barack Obama, accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden, speaks Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Their attempts to push the US away from a deal ended up having an opposite effect, according to a number of US lawmakers and others familiar with the thinking in Washington at the time.

A March 2015 address to Congress against the JCPOA by Netanyahu, orchestrated by Dermer and House speaker John Boehner, infuriated Democrats, who saw it as a major snub of Obama on his home turf.

One senior Democratic Congressional aide called the speech and the way it came about the “most damaging moment in the history of the bipartisan relationship between the US and Israel.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint meeting of Congress, Washington DC, March 3, 2015.  (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

It is still considered a watershed moment in the relationship between Netanyahu’s administration and Democrats, and some have expressed concerns that that bad blood could linger once Netanyahu assumes power.

Nonetheless, Dermer argued that the strategy was correct, complaining that attempts to make arguments behind closed doors fell on deaf ears from the Obama administration.

“They weren’t listening. The way you’re going to shift policy is you have to take your case to the American people. It’s a democracy,” he argued, criticizing Prime Minister Yair Lapid and former premier Naftali Bennett for trying to minimize friction with the US.

“The relationship between the US and Israel is strong enough that the prime minister, on an issue that is an existential issue, a threat to the survival of the country, can publicly make his case,” he said.

Iran’s president castigates Israel, hails Soleimani, at UN; Israeli envoy walks out 

September 24, 2022

Source: Iran’s president castigates Israel, hails Soleimani, at UN; Israeli envoy walks out | The Times of Israel

Raisi claims Tehran’s nuclear program is peaceful, calls killed Quds Force leader Soleimani a freedom-seeker; exiting hall, Erdan leaves photo of Holocaust survivor grandmothers

President of Iran Ebrahim Raisi holds up a photo of assassinated Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani as he addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly, at UN headquarters, Sept. 21, 2022.. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

President of Iran Ebrahim Raisi holds up a photo of assassinated Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani as he addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly, at UN headquarters, Sept. 21, 2022.. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

NEW YORK — Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi called Israel a “savage power” and insisted his country’s nuclear program is peaceful in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday.

Raisi further said the US had trampled the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers. He also vowed to obtain justice for the US assassination of Qassem Soleimani, a top Iranian general killed by a drone strike in 2020.

“The region has not seen an occupying savage power such as the Zionist regime in its midst in the past,” Raisi said. “The killing of children and women are present in the dark report card of the Zionist regime. It has managed to form the biggest prison in the world in Gaza and the expansion of settlements and housing illegally on Palestinian territories.”

“The killing of Palestinian women and children shows everyone that seven decades of Israeli occupation and savagery is still with us and not ending,” the Iranian president added. “The occupying Zionist power that has occupied Jerusalem and other lands in the region cannot be a partner for security and stability.”

He proposed a vote by all Palestinians — “Muslim, Christians and Jews” — to establish a single state. The suggestion comes in contrast to the two-state solution favored by Western nations and their allied Middle Eastern countries led by Saudi Arabia.

Raisi addressed the UN General Assembly as talks to revive the Iranian nuclear deal approached a take-it-or-leave-it moment.

President of Iran Ebrahim Raisi addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Sept. 21, 2022 at UN headquarters. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

Nuclear deal talks

“Our wish is only one thing: observance of commitments,” Raisi said, noting it was the US that pulled out of the accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

He asked whether Iran can “truly trust without guarantees and assurances” that the US will live up to its commitments this time if Washington returns to the JCPOA.

European Union officials have warned the window for securing a deal is about to close, as months of European-sponsored talks have failed to produce agreement on Iran resubmitting to JCPOA terms and the US rejoining the pact.

“America trampled upon the nuclear accord,” said Raisi, who was sworn in as president only a year ago. His speech marks the first time he has taken the podium at the UN in his role as president. Last year, he delivered remarks to the assembly virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“We are very serious about negotiations,” he said, while the West “keeps repeating the same old stories of the past which puts doubt on their commitment.

He also insisted Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful.

“We all know that it’s only for human and peaceful endeavors,” Raisi said of his country’s nuclear program. He claimed that sanctions have been ineffective but deplored them as a “punishment on the people of Iran.”

“Iran has neutralized in many ways the sanctions,” he said. “The maximum sanctions policy has suffered an embarrassing defeat.”

Western sanctions have eaten away at Iran’s reserves and exacerbated inflation in the country, which hit 40% last year. Over the summer, Iran’s currency hit its lowest level ever against the US dollar.

President of Iran Ebrahim Raisi holds up a photo of slain Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani as he addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly, at UN headquarters, Sept. 21, 2022. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

He also blasted what he said was lopsided scrutiny of Iran’s nuclear activities while other nations’ nuclear programs remain secret, a likely reference to Israel.

Regarding the death of Soleimani, Raisi blamed the US and vowed to seek justice.

“We seek a fair tribunal. We will pursue through a fair tribunal those who martyred our beloved General Qasseem Soleimani,” he said.

Raisi described Soleimani — who headed the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a US-designated terror group — as “a freedom-seeking man who became a martyr.”

Days after Soleimani’s death, Iran launched a ballistic missile attack targeting US soldiers in Iraq in response to the fatal drone strike.

Wearing a traditional black turban identified with Shiite clerics, Raisi told the gathered leaders that Iran wants to have “extensive relations with all our neighbors” — an apparent reference to foe Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries in the region.

Israeli envoy walks out

As Raisi took to the podium, Israel’s envoy to the UN Gilad Erdan walked out.

He left in his place a photograph of his Holocaust-survivor grandmothers, and carried another such photograph as he left.

“Ambassador Erdan placed a picture of his grandmothers, survivors of the Auschwitz concentration camp who both lost family members during the Holocaust, next to Israel’s sign on its table in the General Assembly Hall,” the statement said.

Israel’s desk at the United Nations with photographs showing Israeli envoy Gilad Erdan’s Holocaust-surviving grandmothers, which he placed as a protest during an address by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. (Israel Mission to UN)

Earlier this week, Raisi cast doubt on the Holocaust during an interview, saying the matter needed research.

“I showed Iran’s president a picture of my late grandmothers so he could see ‘a few more signs’ that the Holocaust happened and tell him that we will never allow the horrors that happened to us to happen again,” Erdan said in the statement.

He called on other envoys to also boycott Raisi’s address.

”This is a new moral low for the UN. A mass murderer who denies the Holocaust is allowed to spread his despicable hate on the UN platform,” Erdan said. “Any ambassador who stays in the hall to listen to him should be ashamed.”

Anti-regime protests

Hundreds of Iranian dissidents protested against Raisi outside the United Nations during his speech, as they have throughout the week, including by gathering outside of his New York hotel.

The anti-regime protesters, many from the MEK dissident group, said Raisi should be prosecuted for his role in the executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988, and Iran’s ongoing human rights violations, including against protesters this week.

“He should not come to the UN. It’s so shameful he’s here because if he gets to the US he will be legitimized,” said activist Batool Zamani.

“Raisi does not deserve a seat at the UN,” said Raha Heshmatikhah. “Raisi should be prosecuted.”

Raisi’s UN speech came amid widespread protests in Iran against the regime, after a woman was arrested by the morality police for not properly covering her hair, then died in custody.

The protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini have spread across Iran in the past five days. Rights groups say Iranian security forces have killed at least six demonstrators.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

US bolsters Israel’s strategic Qualitative Military Edge 

September 16, 2022

1) U.S. and European officials express frustration after an Iranian response to a document, aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear agreement, is labelled as “a step backwards”. 2) Pentagon Press Secretary Brigadier General Pat Ryder says the IRGC’s attempt to steal a U.S. Naval Sale-drone earlier this week is indicative of Iranian behavior in the region for many years. 3) Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz thanks the United States for approving the sale of four aerial tankers – which will significantly ratchet-up Israel’s qualitative edge versus Iran.

Blinken: Iran ‘unwilling or unable’ to finalize nuclear talks, deal ‘unlikely’ 

September 13, 2022

Source: Blinken: Iran ‘unwilling or unable’ to finalize nuclear talks, deal ‘unlikely’ | The Times of Israel

US secretary of state accuses Tehran of introducing extraneous issues in negotiations; State Department denies Israeli claims US is giving up on the talks

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, right, leave a joint news conference in Brussels on September 9, 2022, a day after US Secretary of State's unannounced visit to Ukraine. JONATHAN ERNST / POOL / AFP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, right, leave a joint news conference in Brussels on September 9, 2022, a day after US Secretary of State’s unannounced visit to Ukraine. JONATHAN ERNST / POOL / AFP)

In light of Iran’s latest reply to a draft proposal by the European Union, prospects for the revival of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in the near future are not looking good, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday evening.

“Iran seems either unwilling or unable to do what’s necessary to reach an agreement and they continue to try to introduce extraneous issues to the negotiations that make an agreement less likely,” Blinken said during a news conference in Mexico City.

The top US diplomat was in Mexico to advance talks on semiconductor supply cooperation and electric vehicle production. Speaking to reporters, Blinken answered questions about US support for Ukraine and ongoing efforts to secure a nuclear deal with Iran.

“What we’ve seen over the last week or so in Iran’s response to the proposal put forward by the European Union is clearly a step backward and makes prospects for an agreement in the near-term, I would say, unlikely,” he added, in comments reported by Bloomberg.

On Saturday, Blinken warned that Washington was “not about to agree to a deal that doesn’t meet our bottom-line requirements.”

While there had been initial optimism about prospects for reviving the nuclear deal in recent weeks, it has gradually dissipated, with world powers claiming that Iran made unreasonable demands at the last minute.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a news conference after the High-Level Economic Dialogue Second Annual Meeting in Mexico City, September 12, 2022. (Raquel Cunha/Pool via AP)

On Sunday, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom issued a statement expressing “serious doubts” over Iran’s sincerity in seeking a nuclear agreement.

Earlier Monday, a State Department spokesperson denied claims made by a senior Israeli official that the US was giving up on the talks.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Monday called on the US and Europe to stop pursuing the “failed negotiations with Iran.” The senior official, who was traveling with Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s delegation to Berlin, said in a briefing with reporters that the “Americans decided to toughen up after the dialogue with the Israelis.”

Speaking on condition of anonymity, he added: “We gave information to the Europeans that proved that the Iranians are lying while talks are still happening.”

Denying the comments, a State Department statement stressed that the US remains committed to “continuing to seek a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] because President Biden is convinced that this is the best way to deliver on his commitment not to allow Iran to possess a nuclear weapon.”

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, left, and Prime Minister Yair Lapid during a visit of the House of the Wannsee Conference memorial in Berlin, Germany, on September 12, 2022. (ANNEGRET HILSE / POOL / AFP)

Israel has long opposed a revival of the 2015 accord, which has been moribund since then-US president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew in 2018 and reimposed biting sanctions on Tehran. The administration claimed at the time that it would negotiate a better deal with Iran, but that effort never advanced.

Many of the US demands, such as clamping down on malign Iranian activities abroad, dovetailed with Israeli complaints about the 2015 JCPOA’s failings, but fell outside what Iran and much of the international community considered to be the scope of a possible deal.

A major sticking point has been Tehran’s insistence that the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency drop a probe into unaccounted-for traces of enriched uranium at three sites in Iran, which the agency and the West have rebuffed out of hand.

Biden has also recognized that the original deal fails to address Iran’s ballistic missile program along with its malign activities abroad. However, he maintains that the JCPOA at least keeps Tehran’s nuclear program “in a box” and that other issues are only compounded when the program remains unrestrained.

Jacob Magid and Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

Nuclear deal with Iran off the table for time being, US has indicated to Israel

September 7, 2022

Source: Nuclear deal with Iran off the table for time being, US has indicated to Israel | The Times of Israel

Message conveyed to PM Lapid in recent conversations with Biden and other US officials; Iranian demands to halt IAEA probes appear to have derailed talks

US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Yair Lapid meet in Jerusalem, July 14, 2022. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Yair Lapid meet in Jerusalem, July 14, 2022. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

A new nuclear deal between Iran and world powers is off the table and will not be signed in the foreseeable future, The Times of Israel’s sister site Zman Yisrael has learned. This is the message that was conveyed to Prime Minister Yair Lapid in his recent conversations with US President Joe Biden and other administration officials.

This emerging outcome of the nuclear negotiations, which would have major international implications, is likely to be touted by Lapid in the coming election campaign, particularly against opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who has repeatedly attacked the premier on the issue.

The potential new nuclear deal was at the center of Israel’s diplomatic and security consultations over the past year, with a concerned Jerusalem tracking the negotiations between Iran and representatives of the world powers in Vienna, as well as the exchange of draft agreements between the sides in recent weeks.

As Lapid became convinced in recent days that a deal was becoming increasingly unlikely, he reprioritized national security challenges to focus on escalating violence in the West Bank, the fight against terrorism and the urgent need to strengthen the Palestinian Authority as it increasingly loses clout.

The nuclear agreement that was being negotiated since Biden entered the White House in January 2021 focused on removing sanctions on Iran in exchange for limiting Tehran’s ability to reach the capability to build a nuclear weapon.

A technician works at the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran, 255 miles (410 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, February 3, 2007. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, file)

According to American comments given to Walla news reporter Barak Ravid two weeks ago, Iran would need to give up all uranium enriched to 20% and 60% in its possession as part of the agreement. Hundreds of kilograms of enriched uranium would need to be removed from Iran or diluted. The centrifuges to enrich uranium would be removed and stored on Iranian soil at a warehouse under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The Americans also said Iran would not be able to carry out any plutonium processing, which can be used for weapons purposes, and would redesign the plutonium reactor at Arak so it cannot produce material for a nuclear bomb.

Additionally, the Americans pledged that if a deal were signed, the International Atomic Energy Agency would be able to renew its strict monitoring of nuclear facilities in Iran, after it was significantly curtailed by the Iranians.

The IAEA monitoring is one of the major points of division that Israel has become involved in. The Iranians refused to let the IAEA continue its activities and the Americans insisted after Israeli pressure. Now a deal appears to be off the agenda.

The potential Iran deal has caused intense concern in Israel. Former prime minister Naftali Bennett appealed to the US administration last month to refrain from an accord. “I call on President Biden & the US administration to refrain, even now at this last minute, from signing the agreement with Iran,” Bennett tweeted on August 23.

“This agreement will send approximately a quarter of a trillion dollars to the Iranian terror administration’s pocket and to its regional proxies, and will enable Iran to develop, install and operate centrifuges, with almost no restrictions, in a mere two years,” he added.

“Throughout the past year, even when it was very close, we successfully convinced our White House counterparts not to give in to Iranian demands. I hope this will remain the case.”

Then-Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (right) and Mossad chief David Barnea meet at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on June 15, 2021. (Haim Tzach/GPO)

The emerging deal with Iran led to serious friction and arguments between Israel and the United States, and significant internal tensions in Jerusalem.

Two weeks ago, Mossad chief David Barnea briefed defense reporters and warned of the dangers of a restored nuclear deal. According to a report in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, Barnea warned during a meeting with the prime minister that the deal would allow Iran to obtain significant capabilities.

According to Barnea, hundreds of billions of dollars would flow to Iran after the removal of sanctions. The money would serve to strengthen terror groups that encircle Israel, including Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Furthermore, he said the Iranians would accelerate their vision of a “Shia crescent” running from their border with Iraq to the Mediterranean, strengthening the Houthis in Yemen and pro-Iranian militias in the region. Barnea added that a deal would be a “strategic disaster” and declared it does not oblige Israel.

The Mossad head, who is currently in the United States for talks on the Iranian issue, was later reprimanded by Lapid for his direct criticism of the Americans.

Netanyahu, who dealt with Iran extensively during his years as prime minister, has maintained that the emerging deal was worse than the original signed in 2015 under then-US president Barack Obama.

A week and a half ago, Netanyahu invited himself for a security briefing with Lapid on the Iranian issue, as is his right by law as opposition leader. After the meeting, Netanyahu claimed Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz had fallen asleep at the wheel and that they were responsible for the “Iranian nuclear failure.” Netanyahu demanded that officials meet with members of Congress, influential officials and senior media figures in the US in an effort to thwart the deal.

On Monday, a senior government official said that “Netanyahu taught us exactly what not to do. In 2015, he went to Congress, spoke with senior government officials and the media, and we got the nuclear deal shoved in our faces.”

This time, the official said, “We worked quietly. We put in tremendous efforts and reached the opposite result.”

Prime Minister Yair Lapid briefs opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu regarding Iran and the emerging nuclear deal, August 29, 2022. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

In a little over two weeks, Lapid will fly to participate in the UN General Assembly in New York. It is not yet clear whether he will meet with Biden while there. Biden is expected to be in New York on September 18-20; Lapid and his entourage will land there on the morning of September 20.

Lapid is due to speak at the General Assembly on Thursday, September 22, and Iran is expected to be at the center of his comments. Immediately after the speech, Lapid will quickly fly back to Israel to take part in his son Yoav’s wedding on Friday afternoon.

Russia said to tell Iran to leave Syrian sites amid rise in apparent Israeli strikes | The Times of Israel

September 2, 2022

Source: Russia said to tell Iran to leave Syrian sites amid rise in apparent Israeli strikes | The Times of Israel

Saudi-owned paper quotes Syrian officials as saying Moscow ordered Iran to leave bases in areas Russia sees as important, as it seeks stability

File: A fire is seen after an alleged airstrike near the Syrian city of Masyaf, on August 25, 2022. (Social media)

File: A fire is seen after an alleged airstrike near the Syrian city of Masyaf, on August 25, 2022. (Social media)

Russia has demanded that Iran and its militias withdraw from positions across Syria, amid an apparent uptick in airstrikes attributed to Israel in recent weeks, according to a Friday report.

A-Sharq Al-Awsat, a Saudi-owned daily published in London, cited Syrian officials as saying Russian officers called on their Iranian counterparts during a Wednesday meeting at the Hama Military Airport in central Syria, to leave several sites in the country.

The report said the three Russian officers demanded they evacuate the Iranian military headquarters in the western Hama province, which is situated next to the Syrian army’s Regiment 49 base.

The base is considered an important military site to Syria, as it is used to store missiles for the S-200 air defense system, as well as other Russian-made military equipment, the report said.

Another site the Russian officers demanded the Iranians evacuate was close to the coastal city of al-Hamidiyah, south of Tartus, the report said. In July, Syria accused Israel of targeting a site in the town, in a rare morning airstrike.

File: A Russian navy missile ship ‘Veliky Ustyug’ sails off from the Russian naval facility in Tartus, Syria, on patrol in the Mediterranean, September 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

As a rule, Israel’s military does not comment on specific strikes in Syria, but has admitted to conducting hundreds of sorties against Iran-backed groups attempting to gain a foothold in the country in recent years. It says it also attacks arms shipments believed to be bound for those groups, chief among them Lebanese Hezbollah.

A major airstrike last week targeted numerous buildings at a Syrian weapons base in the Masyaf area of Hama. The Scientific Studies and Research Center, known as CERS, has been reported to house an Iranian missile manufacturing plant.

Israeli strikes have continued in Syrian airspace, which is largely controlled by Russia, even as ties with Moscow have deteriorated in recent months. Israel has found itself at odds with Russia as it has increasingly supported Ukraine while seeking to maintain freedom of movement in Syria’s skies.

The most recent airstrike attributed to Israel occurred Wednesday night, when two major airports — one in the northern city of Aleppo and the second near the capital Damascus — were damaged.


Iran steps up uranium enrichment with new centrifuges at Natanz — report 

August 30, 2022

Source: Iran steps up uranium enrichment with new centrifuges at Natanz — report | The Times of Israel

IAEA reports to its members that three cascades of advanced IR-6 centrifuges have been brought online at underground facility

In this June 6, 2018 frame grab from the Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting, IRIB, state-run TV, three versions of domestically-built centrifuges are shown in a live TV program from Natanz, an Iranian uranium enrichment plant, in Iran. (IRIB via AP, File)

In this June 6, 2018 frame grab from the Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting, IRIB, state-run TV, three versions of domestically-built centrifuges are shown in a live TV program from Natanz, an Iranian uranium enrichment plant, in Iran. (IRIB via AP, File)

Iran has begun uranium enrichment with new advanced centrifuges at its underground Natanz nuclear site, according to a confidential International Atomic Energy Agency report seen by the Reuters news agency on Monday.

The report said Iran is pressing ahead with its rollout of IR-6 centrifuges at the site. The centrifuges are far more efficient, and can more easily switch between enrichment levels.

IAEA inspectors verified on Sunday that Iran was feeding uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas, the material centrifuges enrich, into the first of three cascades, or clusters, of IR-6 centrifuges installed at the Natanz underground Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP), Reuters said, quoting from the confidential IAEA report to member states.

The centrifuges are being used “for the production of UF6 enriched up to 5% U-235” the IAEA said.

Of the remaining two IR-6 cascades, one was engaged in passivation using depleted UF6, a process performed before proper enrichment is started, and the other has not yet been loaded with nuclear material, the UN agency reported according to Reuters.

IR-6 centrifuges, the country’s most advanced model, can enrich uranium to at least 60%. Iran has been using its existing devices at an above-ground site in Natanz for that purpose for nearly a year, Reuters reported. Uranium enriched to 60% is nearly weapons-grade.

In July, Iran announced it was using new IR-6 centrifuges to enrich uranium to 20%. The IAEA reported in June that Iran had 43 kilograms of uranium enriched to 60% purity — a short step to 90%. Nonproliferation experts warn that’s enough fissile material for one nuclear weapon if Iran chose to pursue it.

Under the terms of its 2015 nuclear agreement with world power, Iran is only permitted to enrich uranium to 3.67% purity. The deal gave Iran sanctions relief in return for curbs on its nuclear program to prevent the production of a weapon. However, after the Trump administration pulled the US out of the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2018 and reimposed its own sanctions, Iran dropped many of its commitments to the pact and has ramped up uranium enrichment.

Various centrifuge machines line a hall at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, on April 17, 2021. (Screenshot/Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting-IRIB, via AP)

The latest development came as talks to revive the JCPOA were said to be closing in on an agreement headed by the European Union as negotiations in Vienna culminated with what the EU said was a final offer to Iran last month. Tehran responded with its own remarks and the US last week gave its input too.

On Sunday, the Haaretz daily cited what it said was a draft of the EU proposal from before the final document was sent to Iranians and which stipulated that under a new agreement Iran would have to stop its uranium enrichment but would be able to keep the material it has already produced.

Israel has piled pressure on Western countries to halt talks on reviving the agreement, warning against the consequences of returning to the accord. Mossad chief David Barnea will travel to Washington next week as part of the efforts to shape the deal.

Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes, though UN experts and Western intelligence agencies say Iran had an organized military nuclear program through 2003.

Israel has vowed to do whatever is needed to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear-armed state, including taking military action.

Former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen said Monday that Israel carried out “countless operations” against Iran’s nuclear program when he led the spy agency between 2016-2021.

Mossad chief says looming Iran deal ‘based on lies,’ is ‘very bad for Israel’

August 26, 2022

Source: Mossad chief says looming Iran deal ‘based on lies,’ is ‘very bad for Israel’ | The Times of Israel

Barnea warns pact allows Tehran to amass nuclear material for a bomb within a few years, says his agency ‘is preparing and knows how to remove that threat’

Prime Minsiter Yair Lapid meets with the head of the Mossad David Barnea at the Defense Ministry, Tel Aviv, August 25, 2022. (Prime Minister's Office)

Prime Minsiter Yair Lapid meets with the head of the Mossad David Barnea at the Defense Ministry, Tel Aviv, August 25, 2022. (Prime Minister’s Office)

Mossad chief David Barnea has called an emerging Iran nuclear deal between the Islamic Republic and world powers “a strategic disaster” for Israel, in recent meetings about the agreement.

In comments carried by Hebrew-language media Thursday evening, the spymaster said the deal is “very bad for Israel” and the US “is rushing into an accord that is ultimately based on lies,” citing Iran’s ongoing claim that its nuclear activities are peaceful in nature.

Barnea added that an accord appeared to be inevitable “in light of the needs of the US and Iran.” Washington is seeking to prevent Tehran from acquiring the capability to build a nuclear bomb, while the Islamic Republic is seeking relief from crippling financial and economic sanctions.

According to Barnea, the deal, due to its sunset clauses, “gives Iran license to amass the required nuclear material for a bomb” in a few years, and will also provide Tehran billions of dollars in currently frozen money, increasing the danger Iran poses throughout the region via its proxies.

He stressed that a deal will not obligate Israel, and that the Jewish state will act however it sees fit to neutralize the threat against it. Israel has already begun preparations for a military strike against Iran if such action is deemed necessary.

“The Mossad is preparing and knows how to remove that threat,” Barnea said. “If we don’t take action, Israel will be in danger.”

Prime Minister Yair Lapid sat down for a discussion about the looming deal with Barnea earlier on Thursday.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid speaks during a faction meeting in Tel Aviv on August 25, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

On Wednesday, Iran announced that it had received the US’s response to its proposal for a return to the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which was ditched by then-US president Donald Trump in 2018.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby declined to characterize the administration’s response to the latest proposal, but noted that “we are closer now than we were even just a couple of weeks ago because Iran made a decision to make some concessions.”

Lapid told reporters on Thursday that Israel’s efforts to influence the outcome of negotiations had borne fruit, but that the accord was still “a bad deal” for Israel.

The prime minister pointed both to the trip to Washington this week by national security adviser Eyal Hulata for “very intensive discussions” on the issue and to Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s visit to the US, which began on Thursday.

Gantz met with US Central Command chief General Michael Kurilla in Tampa, Florida, to discuss ways to increase cooperation between Israel and the US military, as well as methods for countering the Iranian threat in the Middle East.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) arrives in Florida on his way to CENTCOM headquarters on August 25, 2022. (Courtesy: Israeli Defense Ministry)

Before departing for Washington, Gantz tweeted that the goal of his trip was “to send a clear message in regard to the negotiations between Iran and powers on the nuclear deal: A deal that does not knock Iran’s abilities back by years and does not restrain it for years ahead, is a deal that will harm global and regional security.”

While Gantz was in Washington, Iran conducted a second day of military exercises with combat drones. The drones successfully destroyed many of their intended targets during the drills, according to the semi-official Fars News Agency.

The Walla news site claimed that Israeli officials are slightly less worried about the possibility of the US granting major concessions to Tehran in the wake of Hulata’s visit to DC on Wednesday.

Citing a senior Israeli official, the report said that the US had “hardened their position” and refused to make concessions to Iran in response to pressure from Israel.

Channel 12 news reported Thursday that the emerging accord would not require the US to remove Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps from its list of foreign terror organizations, nor would it roll back Iran’s requirement to explain sites with suspected nuclear activity to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), speaks at the start of the tenth annual review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty at UN headquarters on August 1, 2022 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)

IAEA chief Rafael Grossi told the PBS network that the US “has not put pressure” on the nuclear watchdog to compromise on its demands of Iran regarding those sites and said that he believed investigators will eventually be allowed to conduct a probe.

“We will get there, I’m sure,” Grossi said.

Iran, on the other hand, repeated its call to the IAEA on Thursday to end its investigation into the unexplained traces of uranium at three undeclared sites.

“We are very serious about safeguard issues, and do not want to allow some of the IAEA’s baseless accusations to remain,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said, according to state news agency IRNA.

The issue has poisoned relations between the IAEA and the Islamic Republic, which considers the matter “political in nature, and which should not be used as a pretext to punish Iran,” an Iranian diplomat said, according to IRNA.

Negotiations for a return to the nuclear deal have intensified in recent weeks, after months of stalling following Iranian demands that were rejected by Washington.

The European Union-coordinated talks began in April 2021, came to a standstill in March, and picked up again in August. The Biden administration has repeatedly said it believes diplomacy is the best way to resolve the crisis.

In a briefing to foreign reporters on Wednesday, Lapid urged the US and the European Union to back away from the emerging deal, claiming it did not meet US President Joe Biden’s own red lines as it would not prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear-armed state.

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani (L) leaves after talks at the Coburg Palais, the venue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in Vienna on August 4, 2022. (Alex Halada/AFP)

“In our eyes, it does not meet the standards set by President Biden himself: preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear state,” Lapid said, while also attempting to downplay any rift between Jerusalem and Washington or Europe.

Lapid panned the EU’s negotiating position, claiming that it had reneged on its declaration of “take it or leave it” when it presented a supposed final draft of the deal, allowing the Iranians to submit counterdemands and changes.

Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who led a fierce campaign against the 2015 accord, also voiced staunch opposition to the deal on Wednesday, saying that the emerging new agreement is even worse than before.

“The terrible deal with Iran… casts a heavy shadow on our security and our future,” Netanyahu told reporters in Tel Aviv.

Israel has long opposed the deal, arguing that Iran is seeking to build a nuclear bomb, and has published intelligence it says reveals the Iranian weapons program. Iran has denied any nefarious intentions and claims its program is designed for peaceful purposes, though it has recently been enriching uranium to levels that international leaders say have no civil use.

Agencies contributed to this report.

US airstrikes target Revolutionary Guard-backed militias in eastern Syria 

August 24, 2022

Source: US airstrikes target Revolutionary Guard-backed militias in eastern Syria | The Times of Israel

Attack in Deir Ezzor province carried out in response to drone attack on al-Tanf base by IRGC,, Pentagon says

Two U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors fly above Syria on Feb. 2, 2018. (Staff Sgt. Colton Elliott/US Air National Guard)

Two U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors fly above Syria on Feb. 2, 2018. (Staff Sgt. Colton Elliott/US Air National Guard)

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) — The US military said early Wednesday it carried out airstrikes in eastern Syria that targeted areas used by militias backed by Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.

There was no immediate acknowledgment by Syria’s state-run media of the strikes hitting Deir Ezzor. Iran as well did not acknowledge the attack.

The US military’s Central Command said the strikes “took proportionate, deliberate action intended to limit the risk of escalation and minimize the risk of casualties.”

It did not identify the targets, nor offer any casualty figures from the strikes, which the military said came at the orders of President Joe Biden.

“Today’s strikes were necessary to protect and defend US personnel,” Central Command spokesman Col. Joe Buccino said in a statement.

A US Marine fires a shoulder-fired anti-tank missile during a live fire demonstration near At-Tanf Garrison, Syria, September 7, 2018. (Cpl. Carlos Lopez/US Marine Corps)

The strike came days after the US revealed that Iran had dropped its demand for the US to delist the IRGC in exchange for Tehran agreeing to return to compliance with the Iran nuclear deal.

Deir Ezzor is a strategic province that borders Iraq and contains oil fields. Iran-backed militia groups and Syrian forces control the area and have often been the target of Israeli war planes in previous strikes.

On Tuesday, Iranian state media confirmed that an IRGC general was killed in Syria.

“General Abolfazl Alijani, a member of the IRGC’s ground forces who was on a mission in Syria as a military adviser, was martyred on Sunday,” the state broadcaster said on its website.

It described Alijani as a “defender of the sanctuary”, a term used for those who work on behalf of Iran in Syria or Iraq, without providing more details of the attack in which he was killed.

Israel was blamed for several airstrikes in western and central Syria this month that left three soldiers dead.

A Syrian opposition war monitor, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the alleged Israeli airstrikes hit Syrian army positions where Iran-backed fighters are based.

US forces entered Syria in 2015, backing allied forces in their fight against the Islamic State group.

AFP contributed to this report.

IDF chief: ‘Diplomacy can fail,’ attack on Iran ‘at the center’ of IDF preparations

July 18, 2022

Aviv Kohavi acknowledges ‘possibility’ IDF will need to strike Iranian nuke facilities, says Israel has ‘moral obligation’ to be ready with military response

By EMANUEL FABIAN 17 July 2022, 10:31 pm   

IDF chief Aviv Kohavi speaks at a ceremony marking the change of the Home Front Command’s chief, July 17, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

Army chief Aviv Kohavi on Sunday said it was Israel’s “moral obligation” to prepare a military response against Iran’s nuclear program, hours after a senior Iranian official said his country has the ability to produce a weapon.

In light of growing uncertainty regarding a return by Iran to the 2015 nuclear deal due to long-stalled negotiations with world powers, the past year has seen the Israel Defense Forces ramp up its efforts to prepare a credible military threat against Tehran’s nuclear facilities.

In a speech at a ceremony marking the change of the military’s Home Front Command chief, Kohavi said, “Preparing the home front for war is a task that must be accelerated in the coming years, especially in light of the possibility that we will be required to act against the nuclear threat.”

“The IDF continues to prepare vigorously for an attack on Iran and must prepare for every development and every scenario,” he said.

Kohavi said “preparing a military option against the Iranian nuclear program is a moral obligation and a national security order,” adding that such preparation is “at the center” of the IDF’s preparations, and includes “a variety of operational plans, the allocation of many resources, the acquisition of appropriate weapons, intelligence and training.”

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Last month, dozens of Israeli Air Force fighter jets conducted air maneuvers over the Mediterranean Sea, simulating striking Iranian nuclear facilities.

Israeli F-35 fighter jets fly in formation during the military’s Blue Flag exercise in October 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

Iran is in the throes of negotiations to save a failing 2015 agreement it signed with world powers that was supposed to prevent it from producing a nuclear weapon. The so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action offered Iran relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

However, in 2018 the Trump administration pulled out of the pact — saying it did not go far enough to prevent Iran producing nuclear weapons and also due to its concerns over Iran missile development program. European-sponsored talks to bring the US back into the JCPOA have stalled for months and another recent round of negotiations between Iran and the US in Qatar also failed to make progress.

“Blocking Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon with diplomacy is preferred, but history has proven many times that diplomacy can fail or succeed for only a short period of time, followed by violation or betrayal,” Kohavi said.

Kohavi said the military was preparing to strike Iran’s nuclear program for two reasons. “First, if there is no agreement and the Iranian nuclear program continues to expand, and the second, in case there is an agreement identical or similar to the previous deal, which means a bad deal, giving Iran the conditions to become a nuclear state shortly after its expiration date,” he said.

“The IDF readies military capabilities for the day when the political echelon will decide,” he added.

Earlier Sunday, Kamal Kharazi, the head of Iran’s Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, told Al Jazeera’s Arabic channel: “It is no secret that we have the technical capabilities to manufacture a nuclear bomb, but we have no decision to do so.”

Screen capture from video of Kamal Kharazi, the head of Iran’s Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, during an interview with Al-Jazeera, February 2019. (YouTube)

“In a few days, we were able to enrich uranium up to 60 percent, and we can easily produce 90% enriched uranium,” he said.

On Thursday, US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Yair Lapid publicly disagreed over how to stop Iran from attaining the bomb, with Lapid declaring that diplomacy would not stop the ayatollahs and Biden insisting it remained the best means. Nonetheless, the two also signed a joint strategic declaration, in which the US vowed to use “all elements in its national power” to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

In an interview with Channel 12 news which aired during his visit, Biden said that the US would use force against Iran “as a last resort” to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Still, Israel, which opposes a US return to the JCPOA, has threatened to act alone in striking Iranian facilities if it feels there is an existential threat to the Jewish state from Iran equipping itself with nuclear weapons.

Maj. Gen. Rafi Milo replaced Maj. Gen. Uri Gordin during Sunday’s ceremony. Gordin will go on to command the IDF’s Northern Command.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.