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

Posted July 18, 2022 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

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.

US would use force against Iran ‘as last resort,’ Biden tells Israeli TV

Posted July 14, 2022 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Speaking to Channel 12, US president says exiting 2015 nuclear deal was a ‘gigantic mistake’ by Trump; Democrats who call Israel an apartheid state are ‘few’ and ‘wrong’

By TOI STAFF13 July 2022, 10:57 pm  

Screen capture from video of US President Joe Biden, left, speaking with Channel 12 News anchor Yonit Levi at the White House in Washington, in an interview broadcast July 13, 2022. (Channel 12 News)

US President Joe Biden told Israel’s Channel 12 news that he would use force against Iran as a “last resort” to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons, but stressed his preference to negotiate with the Iranians instead.

The network’s anchor Yonit Levi interviewed Biden hours before he set off from Washington for his first visit as president to Israel. The interview was broadcast Wednesday evening after Biden had arrived in the Jewish state.

Asked if the US would use force to stop Iran’s nuclear program, Biden replied “as a last resort, yes.”

“Iran cannot get a nuclear weapon,” he said.

Biden explained why he believes the failing 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers should be resurrected, saying that “the only thing more dangerous than the Iran that exists now is an Iran with nuclear weapons.”

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It was “a gigantic mistake” for former US president Donald Trump to pull out of the pact, he said. The 2015 agreement, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, gave Iran relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program aimed to prevent it obtaining atomic weapons. It was signed between Iran and the US, UK, France, Russia, China, and Germany.

After Trump exited the JCPOA in 2018 and reinstalled stiff US sanctions, Iran dropped many of its own commitments, ramping up its program and increasing uranium enrichment to a point that experts say puts it close to the threshold of producing a bomb.

“They’re closer to a nuclear weapon now than they were before,” Biden said. But bringing the US back into the pact will enable it to “hold them tight.”

US President Joe Biden delivers a statement upon his arrival at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, on July 13, 2022. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Talks between the remaining signatories to the deal and Iran to revive the JCPOA have stalled, with a key issue said to be Washington’s rejection of Tehran’s demand that its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps be removed from the US terror blacklist.

Biden said that the US would walk away from the stalled nuclear talks if returning to the pact was contingent upon removing the IRGC from the roster.

Any agreement for the US to rejoin the deal is “up to Iran now,” Biden said.

Levi asked the president if he received any commitments from Prime Minister Yair Lapid or his recent predecessor Naftali Bennett that Israel would not act alone militarily against Iran’s nuclear sites, as it has threatened, without first notifying the US.

“I’m not going to discuss that,” Biden replied. He also would not speak to possible Israeli involvement in any potential military action by the US to prevent Iran going nuclear.

Biden said he understands Israel’s position, recalling that the late former prime minister Golda Meir once told him that Israel’s secret weapon is that “we have nowhere to go.”

Regarding his four-day trip to the Middle East that will include a stop in Saudi Arabia, Biden said the tour “is about stability in the Middle East.”

The US can’t walk away from the Middle East and let Russia and China “fill the vacuum,” he said.

“It is overwhelmingly in the US interest to have more stability in the Middle East,” Biden said, adding that it is also in Israel’s interest to be more integrated in the region.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and other Israeli security chiefs meet with US President Joe Biden and other American officials at Ben Gurion Airport, July 13, 2022. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Expectation has been building that during the visit an announcement could be made on a significant advance toward normalization between Israel and regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia.

“The more Israel is integrated in the region as an equal and accepted, the more likely there is going to be a means by which they eventually come to an accommodation with the Palestinians down the road,” Biden said.

Regarding Israeli ties with Saudi Arabia, he said “increasing the relationship in terms of acceptance of each other’s presence… it all makes sense to me.”

But he conceded that normalization is “going to take a long time.”

Levi also asked Biden, a Democrat, about members of his party who call Israel an apartheid state and are demanding that military funding for the Jewish state be cut.

“There are a few of them. I think they’re wrong, I think they are making a mistake. Israel is a democracy. Israel is our ally and a friend,” Biden said, adding that “there is no possibility” the Democratic party will turn its back on Israel. He said he would make no apology for billions of dollars in aid to Israel, and additional funding for Iron Dome: “It’s overwhelmingly in our interest that Israel be stable.”

As for a possible reelection matchup against Trump in 2024, Biden said “the one thing I’ve known about politics, and American politics in particular, is that there is no way to predict what is going to happen.”

Biden arrived in Israel Wednesday afternoon and immediately began a hectic agenda during which he will meet various regional leaders for talks.

US ‘alarmed’ at Iran’s nuclear progress, deal may become ‘thing of the past’ — envoy

Posted July 6, 2022 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Rob Malley says Tehran has enough uranium to build bomb within weeks if it chooses to, accuses Iranian negotiators of adding irrelevant demands in Qatar talks

By JACOB MAGID 5 July 2022, 9:04 pm  

US special envoy for Iran Robert Malley and United States’ top negotiator for Iran nuclear talks, center, speaks at the Doha Forum in Qatar, March 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Lujain Jo)

The United States and other Western powers are “alarmed” at the advancement of Iran’s nuclear capabilities, the Biden administration’s Iran envoy Robert Malley said on Tuesday.

“They’re much closer to having fissile material for a bomb,” Malley warned in an NPR interview.

“To our knowledge, they have not resumed their weaponization program, which is what they would need to develop the bomb. But we are of course alarmed, as are our partners, at the progress they’ve made in the enrichment field.”

He said Iran now has enough uranium to build a bomb within weeks if it so chooses. He added if that was to happen, the US would know and respond forcefully.

Malley described as a “wasted occasion” recent talks in Qatar on reinstating a nuclear deal resembling the 2015 agreement, which aimed to curb Tehran’s nuclear activity in exchange for sanctions relief.

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He said Iran “added demands that I think anyone looking at this would [agree] have nothing to do with the nuclear deal, things that they’ve wanted in the past, that clearly [we] and Europeans and others have said, ‘That’s not part of this negotiation.’”

Robert Malley, US Special Envoy for Iran, is shown in Vienna, Austria, June 20, 2021. (Florian Schroetter/AP)

“The discussion that really needs to take place right now is not so much between us and Iran, although we’re prepared to have that. It’s between Iran and itself. They need to come to a conclusion about whether they are now prepared to come back into compliance with the deal,” Malley said.

In this photo released by the Iranian Foreign Ministry, Enrique Mora, a leading European Union diplomat, second right, attends a meeting with Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani, third left, in Tehran, Iran, March 27, 2022. (Iranian Foreign Ministry via AP)

“They’re going to have to decide sooner or later, because at some point the deal will be a thing of the past.”

Also in Doha for the talks was EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who warned Tuesday that the window for an agreement to bring Iran back into compliance with the nuclear deal along with the US was closing.

“If we want to conclude an agreement, decisions are needed now. This is still possible, but the political space to revive the JCPOA may narrow soon,” he tweeted.

Former US president Donald Trump severely weakened the pact known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action when he pulled the US out of it in 2018, prompting Iran to drop its own compliance.

On Monday, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian insisted that a revived nuclear agreement with major powers remains achievable, even after the unsuccessful round of talks in Doha.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian speaks during a press conference with the EU’s top diplomat, at the foreign ministry headquarters in Iran’s capital Tehran on June 25, 2022. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Amir-Abdollahian said he believed the Doha talks had been “positive” and a deal could still be reached.

“We are determined to continue negotiating until a realistic agreement is reached,” he said after a phone call with his Qatari counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, who hosted the indirect talks.

“I insist on the fact that we are making serious efforts to reach a good, solid and lasting agreement,” Amir-Abdollahian added. “An accord is achievable if the United States is realistic.”

The two days of talks, in which the EU mediators shuttled between Iranian and US delegations, were intended to reboot wider negotiations between Iran and major powers in Vienna which have been stalled since March.

US President Joe Biden’s administration has “made clear our readiness to quickly conclude and implement a deal on mutual return to full compliance,” a US State Department spokesperson said after the talks wrapped up in Qatar.

“Yet in Doha, as before, Iran raised issues wholly unrelated to the JCPOA and apparently is not ready to make a fundamental decision on whether it wants to revive the deal or bury it.”

The talks in Doha came just two weeks before Biden makes his first visit to the region as president, with trips to Iran’s foes Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Agencies contributed to this report.

Alleged Israeli strike in Syria targeted ‘game changing’ Iranian air defenses — TV

Posted July 3, 2022 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

After airstrike Saturday morning, unsourced report names IRGC commander allegedly leading ‘new effort’ to deploy Iranian systems in Syria

By TOI STAFFToday, 1:27 am   

Illustrative: This photo released by the official website of the Iranian Defense Ministry on June 9, 2019, shows the Khordad 15, a surface-to-air missile battery at an undisclosed location in Iran. (Iranian Defense Ministry via AP)

An airstrike Saturday in Syria that was attributed to Israel targeted Iranian attempts to bring “game changing” air defense systems to Syria, Israeli television reported.

According to Channel 12 news, the location of the morning strike, which hit the Syrian town of al-Hamidiyah near the port city of Tartus, “implies that it [targeted] a weapon transported by sea, possibly using Iranian ships that docked at the port last week.”

The report added that the strike came amid “a new move by the Iranians in Syria to bring in air defense system to protect their military interests.”

The network provided no source for the assessment; according to Syrian state media, the airstrike destroyed “poultry farms” and wounded two civilians.

Military officials have said in the past that Syria has improved its air defense capabilities with upgraded Iranian-made components. In a 2018 strike, Israel reportedly targeted a soon-to-be-deployed Iranian advanced air defense system.

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Channel 12 said Saturday that this “new effort” was being led by a senior commander in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in cooperation with the Syrian army, with the aim of enabling Tehran to operate its own air defense systems in Syria.

The network named the IRGC officer as Farid Mahmads Sakai, saying “it’s no coincidence his name is being published now.” No details were provided on where the officer’s name was published nor any further information on his rank and position.

Israel has staged hundreds of strikes on targets in Syria over the years but rarely acknowledges or discusses such operations. It says it targets bases of Iran and allied militias, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah group that has fighters deployed in Syria, as well as arms shipments believed to be bound for various proxies.

In another unsourced report, Channel 12 said two explosions occurred at an IRGC base southeast of Tehran, causing “extensive damage” on Friday night.

There has been no official comment on the incident, which was widely circulated on social media and picked up by the opposition supporting Iran International, which is based in London.

Israel hoping for shift in US Iran policy from diplomacy to deterrence | Zohar Palti | The Blogs

Posted July 3, 2022 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

ANALYSIS: Security professionals believe it’s time for America to demonstrate its commitment to act militarily to prevent Iran’s nuclear progress

  • JUN 30, 2022, 4:47 PM

In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Ebrahim Raisi, second right, receives an explanation while visiting an exhibition of Iran’s nuclear achievements in Tehran, Iran, on Saturday, April 9, 2022. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

With Israelis already consumed with a new election campaign, Israel’s national security establishment – the men and women responsible for countering threats to the Jewish state – will welcome President Biden’s visit with a mix of hope and fear. They hope that the American leader brings with him a dramatically different approach to the Iran nuclear challenge; they fear, however, that the president will persist in a policy that may have made sense when he took office 18 months ago but has since lost any relevance.

This marks an important change for Israeli defense and security professionals. From the start of the Biden administration, Israeli security institutions acknowledged the rationale guiding Washington’s desire to return to the Iran nuclear deal – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – on a “compliance for compliance” understanding with Tehran.  This is not because the professionals thought the JCPOA was a brilliant diplomatic achievement; on the contrary, they recognized the huge and dangerous flaws in the deal. Rather, this is because they put a higher premium on the time that a renewed agreement would provide for Israel – both independently and with its allies – to better prepare for a potential reckoning with an Iran bent on achieving military nuclear capability.

But mid-2022 is a lot different than early 2021. Over the past year and a half, Iran has dragged its feet on diplomacy, refusing even to meet face-to-face with the Americans, while quietly advancing its nuclear program. Today, with centrifuges that are much more advanced than the ones they had when the nuclear deal was reached in the Obama administration, Iranians enrich uranium to 60 percent – a far cry from the 3.75 percent limit they accepted in the JCPOA. This is a small step away from 90 percent enrichment, the level which produces weapons-grade fissile material. And to hide their activities, the Iranians recently announced the removal of critical cameras and surveillance equipment installed by the International Atomic Energy Agency at their key facilities, essentially leaving the world in the dark as to their real nuclear progress.

Iran’s boldness extends beyond the nuclear realm into its regional strategy. From Lebanon to Syria to Yemen, they have invested heavily in building a network of terrorist cut-outs and militia proxies, who they have provided with advanced military capabilities, such as weaponized drones and precision-guided missiles. Israel looks across the border and sees more than 100,000 missiles and rockets in Hezbollah’s inventory; Gulf states have already suffered drone and cruise missile attacks on civilian targets, including airports and oil installations.

Setting aside the details of the deal itself, why did Iran agree to the original JCPOA in 2015 but rejected Biden’s offer to return to the agreement? The answer is simple – Iran today is no longer under the pressure that it felt seven years ago. Indeed, the record of diplomacy with Iran is clear: without pressure, the Iranians agree to nothing.

Today, Iran feels very little pressure to compromise. With energy prices sky-high, Iran has found buyers for its sanctioned oil that – even with discounts – has produced a windfall for the only institution that really matters in the country, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which supervises the clandestine oil trade. Meanwhile, the Biden Administration has held off on penalizing recipients of Iran’s illegal exports for fear of worsening the energy crunch that has already driven gas prices to unprecedented levels.

Iran feels very little pressure on its nuclear program, too. It has violated commitment after commitment, on enrichment, centrifuge development and production of uranium metals, without any repercussions from the international community.

And in terms of its regional military activity, Iran operates undeterred. The only response to Iranian attacks on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates has been defensive upgrades in the targeted countries’ anti-missile and anti-drone capabilities. Iran itself suffered no direct cost for its unprovoked attacks.

In light of all this, an assessment crystallized in the minds of most Israeli security professionals that the current US approach would probably not work. They reached the conclusion that only the application of massive additional pressure on Iran will convince the mullahs to compromise.

Applying pressure is something the West knows how to do. During the George W. Bush administration, when the US deployed a huge number of troops into next-door Iraq, fear of an American military invasion compelled the Iranians to suspend their nuclear weaponization program. And the application of massive economic pressure by the US and its European partners during the early years of the Obama administration is what forced the mullahs to the bargaining table and eventually into the original JCPOA.

Israel’s security professionals believe now is the time to return to a policy of pressure. Only if Iran’s leaders truly believe that something more valuable is at risk than the nuclear program – namely, the very stability of the regime – will they be open to compromise.

This can only be achieved if America can instill a sense of fear in Iran. This requires American contingency planning and military training operations to convince Iran that the US commitment to act militarily to prevent its nuclear progress is real.

At the same time, a policy of pressure would include reinvigorated sanctions, especially in the fields of energy and finance. This has to include a willingness to target Chinese purchases of Iranian oil, which may run counter to the short-term desire to tamp down gasoline prices but is necessary to convince Iran that the cost of its nuclear brinkmanship will not be tolerated.

And a policy of pressure would require extensive coordination – political, military, economic and diplomatic – with a wide array of countries. These need to include traditional allies and partners in Europe and the Middle East as well as the ring of countries that surround Iran – Turkey, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, even Afghanistan – that control the land bridges to the Islamic Republic and whose assistance in enforcing sanctions can make a huge difference.

Admittedly, this is a tall order. A policy of pressure on Iran is dramatically different from the one adopted so far by the Biden Administration, which hoped that benign diplomacy would push the Iran problem down the road. At a time when the world is focused on Russia’s war against Ukraine, rising anxiety over Chinese ambitions in the Pacific, and deepening fear of a global recession, it will be tough to convince the White House to invest the time, resources and energy to orchestrate this complex and potentially risky initiative.

But one thing the advocates of a pressure policy have in their favor is that staying the course – letting Iran proceed on its current path — is bound to be worse for US interests. If America doesn’t get its hands dirty now with restoring deterrence to its relationship with Iran, the Tehran leadership may decide to move forward to 90 percent enrichment, at which point Iran becomes a nuclear threshold state. Without American action before then, Israel will feel isolated, alone and compelled to consider measures to prevent what it would view as a strategic catastrophe, measures whose reverberations no one can confidently predict. All Israelis, regardless of their politics, hope America leads the world in preventing the Iran nuclear problem from crossing that dangerous line.

IDF had advance intel on Hezbollah attempt to launch drones at Karish gas field

Posted July 3, 2022 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Military spokesman says terror group suffered ‘significant operational setback’ in failed attempt to convey a message, as its three UAVs were downed over Lebanon’s waters

By EMANUEL FABIAN Today, 10:11 am  

An Israeli Sa’ar Class 4.5 missile boat guards the Energean floating production, storage and offloading vessel at the Karish gas field, in footage published by the military on July 2, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces had prior intelligence on Hezbollah’s Saturday launching of three unarmed drones at the Karish gas field off Israel’s Mediterranean coast, and believes it was an attempt to convey a message to Israel.

One of the aircraft was downed by an F-16 fighter jet and the other two by Barak 8 missiles launched from the Saar 5 Class Corvette INS Eilat. According to defense officials, all three were intercepted “at a safe distance from” the drilling platform.

Military spokesman Ran Kochav told the Kan public radio on Sunday morning that the terror group’s chief, Hassan Nasrallah, “thought he would catch [Israel] off-guard.”

“But we are ready, in terms of our early warning systems, and in terms of intelligence, the Navy and Air Force, to protect Israel’s assets,” Kochav said.

He said Hezbollah “suffered a significant operational setback” in its thwarted attempt to convey a message to Israel.

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Kohav added that Israel’s sovereignty was not breached in the incident, indicating that the UAVs were downed over Lebanon’s UN-recognized territorial waters.

Tensions have risen over Karish in recent weeks after a gas production vessel arrived in Israel to launch extraction operations in the offshore field. This drew condemnation from Lebanon, which had laid claim to parts of the field. Israel says Karish is in part of its UN-recognized exclusive economic zone.

Nasrallah recently threatened Israel over its plans to extract gas from the contested offshore reserve, saying that his organization is capable of preventing such action, including by force.

But both the Israeli military and Hezbollah said the drones launched on Saturday afternoon were not armed, and were used for surveillance purposes and to prove the terror group has the capability to approach the rig.

Hezbollah said that mission was accomplished successfully and “a message was conveyed.”

A sea-based Iron Dome air defense system is seen on a Navy ship, guarding the Energean floating production, storage and offloading vessel at the Karish gas field, in footage published by the military on July 2, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

Lebanon and Israel — which have no diplomatic relations and consider each other enemy states — have been holding indirect talks brokered by the US for close to two years to resolve a maritime border dispute.

But talks over the field have been frozen since last year, after Lebanon tried to move its claim further into the zone Israel claims as its own. Last month, the Biden administration said recent meetings held between its energy envoy and Israeli and Lebanese officials resulted in progress.

Israel and Lebanon each claim about 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea as within their exclusive economic zones.

Both countries have economic interests in the territory, which contains lucrative natural gas. Lebanon, which has been facing an economic crisis since late 2019, sees the resources as a potential lifeline.

Last month, the IDF held a major military exercise in Cyprus, simulating a ground offensive deep inside Lebanon in a potential war against the Iran-backed Hezbollah.

The terror group has long been a significant adversary for the IDF, with an estimated arsenal of nearly 150,000 rockets and missiles that can reach anywhere in Israel.

Saudi Press Speculates On Upcoming Biden Visit | MEMRI

Posted July 2, 2022 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

June 28, 2022

IranSaudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 1004

https://audio.beyondwords.io/e/4487680

Biden’s upcoming visit to Saudi Arabia, scheduled for July 15-16, 2022, is being widely discussed in the Arab media and particularly in the Saudi media, especially as it comes amid tension between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia that has prevailed since the beginning of Biden’s presidency. America’s current policy in the region, including towards Iran and its militias in the Arab countries, is perceived in Saudi Arabia as a betrayal of the strategic alliance between the two countries and as a threat to the security and stability of the region. Furthermore, a pall is cast over the visit by the tension resulting from the strained personal relations between Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, whom the U.S. considers responsible for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. This tension came to a head recently when bin Salman refused to accept a phone call from the American president.

However, while Biden has stated that he will not meet personally with bin Salman during the visit, but will only encounter him as part of a broader forum, he is expected to meet him as part of a summit with bin Salman’s father, Saudi King Salman bin ‘Abd Al-‘Aziz and his team.[1] The U.S. President is also scheduled to attend a summit in Jeddah with the leaders of nine Middle East countries: the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman – as well as Egypt, Jordan and Iraq.  

There are several reasons for this visit and for Biden’s bid to improve relations with Saudi Arabia, a country which he previously called a “pariah.” Biden reportedly intends to ask Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states to increase oil production in order to lower energy prices, which have skyrocketed in recent months, and in order to address the global energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine. It is unlikely that Saudi Arabia will agree to this request, which would mean siding with the U.S. in its struggle against Russia.

Biden will apparently also try to allay the Gulf states’ concern about the possible renewal of the stalled negotiations with Iran towards a return to the 2015 nuclear deal. In addition, many reports in the Arab press state that Biden and his fellow leaders are expected to discuss the forming of a NATO-like military alliance between the countries of the region, including Israel, in order to confront the shared security threats, chief of them Iran.  

In recent weeks there has been intensive diplomatic activity in the region, with leaders making reciprocal visits to coordinate positions ahead of Biden’s visit. On June 19, 2022 a summit was held in Sharm Al-Sheikh between Bahraini King Hamad bin ‘Issa Aal Khalifa, Jordanian King ‘Abdullah II and Egyptian President ‘Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi.[2]  Several days later, on June 23, the Jordanian king visited the UAE and met with its president, Muhammad bin Zayed.[3] Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman made a series of visits lately, to Egypt, Jordan and Turkey, and on June 26, Iraqi President Mustafa Al-Kadhimi visited Saudi Arabia and met with bin Salman. The same day, Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Aal Thani visited Egypt and met with President Al-Sisi.[4]  

Ahead of Biden’s visit, the Saudi press has published many articles discussing Saudi-U.S. relations, the topics to be addressed during the visit, and the kingdom’s expectations from it. The articles state that a series of factors – including the war in Ukraine, the mounting tension with Russia and the global energy crisis – have caused Biden to realize the importance of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries in the international arena and in maintaining  economic and energy stability and the existing world order. The U.S., they said, has understood that its policy of disregarding these countries and their security needs was a strategic mistake that must be corrected. Many of the writers stressed that Biden’s visit will be an opportunity to mend U.S.-Gulf relations, and that Biden is expected to renew his commitment to the security of the Gulf and to adequately address the issue of the Iranian threat. They also emphasized that, should these expectations be disappointed, the Gulf states can replace the U.S. with other strategic allies, namely America’s rivals Russia and China.

The following are translated excerpts from some of these articles.

Saudi Columnist: The Jeddah Summit – An Opportunity For Biden To Regain The Trust Of The Countries In The Region; Otherwise They Will Find Other Allies

Khaled Al-Suleiman, a columnist for the Saudi daily ‘Okaz, wrote: “The visit of the American president will be the main issue in the coordination [efforts] of the Gulf states, Egypt, Jordan and Iraq. This is because it marks an important turning point leading to the formulation of many positions regarding the situation in the region, especially regarding the Iranian issue, which is a major source of concern for the regional countries and impacts their security and stability. The summit between President Biden and the leaders of the Gulf, Egypt, Jordan and Iraq is likely to provide the Arab leaders with adequate answers about the future of the ties with Iran and about the extent of America’s responsibility for Iran’s conduct that is undermining the security of the region.

“It is inconceivable that the countries of the region, and especially the Arab Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, should tie their interests to unstable American positions and to a fickle [American] policy. This summit may be a golden opportunity for the American president to restore the [regional countries’] faith in America as a trustworthy historical ally with a solid policy that can be relied upon. For the alternative is that these countries will actually change the map of their international alliances in order to safeguard their interests and enhance their ability to overcome the miscalculations of some of their traditional Western allies regarding the need to defend them from the threat of Iran, whose aggression is known to all and which never stops threatening and igniting fires and wars in the region!”[5]

Al-Riyadh Editorial: Biden Administration Must Demonstrate Its Commitment To Gulf States And Their Security, Treat Them As Important Allies

The June 25, 2022 editorial of the daily Al-Riyadh, written by Ibrahim Al-Shamari, titled “An Error Belatedly Corrected,” stated: “During the presidency of Joe Biden, Gulf-U.S. relations have encountered a series of challenges unprecedented in the 80 years since the founding [of these relations]. But recently this administration realized that the Gulf is still important to the U.S., especially after the Russian-Ukranian war prompted a dramatic shift in America’s geopolitical calculations. The Gulf states’ main problem with Washington is not confined to the positions towards Russia, but also involves the growing doubts regarding the future of America’s historical commitment to the security of the region. These doubts are well-founded, since the Biden administration has removed the Houthis from the list of terror organizations, stopped supporting [the efforts of] the Arab coalition to restore the lawful regime [in Yemen] and ignored the Gulf states’ interests when it launched negotiations with Iran to renew the nuclear deal…

“Without a doubt, the Biden administration recently realized the mistakes of its policy in the region. Now it is now seeking to correct them, especially since it bears all the responsibility for the decline in Gulf-U.S. relations, because it displayed a [level of] apathy [towards the Gulf] that is unprecedented in the history of the relations [between the sides]. This was a powerful incentive for [America’s] allies in the Gulf to seek alternatives in their foreign policy, as a strategic precaution. However, although they took steps to diversify their options, [the Gulf states] are still interested in the historical partnership with the U.S. 

“Hence, the Biden administration must prove that its renewed interest in the Gulf states is not [just] circumstantial and is not just a constraint imposed by the need for oil. Moreover, it must prove with deeds, not just with words, that it is still committed to the security of the Gulf and [recognizes that] the Gulf [states] have urgent needs that must be considered. Their most pressing need is to safeguard their security interests in a way that addresses the threat posed to regional security by the Houthis. In addition, a renewal of the nuclear deal with Iran cannot bring long-term regional stability unless its terms force Tehran to halt its activity that destabilizes the region. [The U.S.] must treat the Gulf countries as allies important to America’s interests, regardless of the issue of oil, because the truth – which is as clear to the Gulf countries as it is to America – is that both sides still need one another and that there is no choice but to formulate a clear strategy that underscores the importance of these relations and of preserving them in the long term.”[6]

Saudi Journalist And Analyst: The U.S. Has Realized It Needs Saudi Arabia And The Gulf; Biden Must Address The Changes In The Region And The Needs Of The Gulf States

Dr. ‘Ali Al-Khashiban wrote in his column in Al-Riyadh: “Nobody can deny that a sense of disappointment is spreading in the Middle East countries due to the flagging of America’s support for its traditional allies, which are dealing with multiplying regional crises that directly threaten the stability of the region and the world. As Iran continues its policy of spreading its militias in prominent Arab capitals…  the important question that must be asked pertains to the turnaround [in the policy] of the American administration, under Biden, towards the Middle East and the Gulf.

“There are countries in the region – chief of them Saudi Arabia – that are difficult, if not impossible, to ignore, because they are simply important, not only for the U.S., but for the [entire] world… [The countries of] the Middle East, and the Gulf in particular, have questions regarding the nature of [Biden’s] visit, especially in light of the experience of the war between Russia and Ukraine, which has proved that [Biden] has no way to resolve this crisis, [which is taking place] thousands of kilometers from this region, except by flying to the Gulf. At the same time, we must admit that the pragmatic America is capable of fixing its mistakes at the appropriate moment…  

“The U.S. understands that our region holds keys… that can easily open doors for its rivals to come [and replace it] in this region. [At the same time,] America’s relations with the countries of the region are not built on the brink of a precipice, where they are bound to collapse. The relations between the Middle East and the U.S., which were build over the course of history, are anchored in strategic interests of America, which seeks to cement its global status as the main pillar of the world order that emerged after World War II. The Middle East, and especially the Gulf states, headed by Saudi Arabia, have a great deal of leverage…The Gulf is always the most important region for restoring global balances, whether in terms of energy, global trade or political alliances. Therefore, let us ask again: What do the Middle East and Gulf [countries] expect from the visit of the American president?  

“The region wants political stability and a solution to its most pressing crises. [The issues of] Iran’s nuclear weapons and Iran’s conduct in the region are a source of concern not only for the Arabs but also for Israel… [because the possibility that] Iran will possess nuclear weapons, and the silence over its conduct in the region, can lead to a regional conflict that will cause upheaval not only in the region but in the world…  

“The U.S. does not really have the option of turning its relationship with the Middle East and the Gulf into an open relationship involving other [partners] as well, since this will create a situation where its rivals can enter the arena of alliances [in the region], which is presently dominated exclusively by the U.S. But the U.S. still has the option of constructing a model that will return it to the region, now that the first global crisis that appeared [on the horizon, i.e., the war in Ukraine] led it to rediscover the importance of the Middle East…

“[Just as it did] throughout history, the region will [again] practice reciting the phrase ‘welcome to the Middle East, Mr. President’ when President Biden sets foot in his first Middle East destination. [But] President Biden must give us more in terms of addressing the changes in the region, especially the crises of security and political and economic stability…”[7]

Saudi Analyst: U.S. Should Better Appreciate The Contribution Of Saudi Arabia, Gulf States To Global Stability; The Summit Is An Opportunity To Improve Relations

Saudi journalist and analyst ‘Ali Al-Shihabi, who according to some reports is close to Saudi Crown Prince bin Salman, wrote in an article that appeared in Arabic and English on the Al-Arabiya website: “Saudi leaders have undertaken a critical and extraordinary transformation of the country that is crucial to the stability of the Middle Eastern and global economy. The Kingdom and its sister GCC countries also continue to be islands of stability and progress in a region littered with failed states that breed instability and pose a danger to the world.

“In this context, the president’s upcoming visit to the Kingdom will be a welcome and wise step forward in getting the US-Saudi relationship back on the right track.

“Here, the United States should bear in mind that the foundations of this relationship cannot be built on a total agreement on values in domestic governance or foreign policy; they should focus instead on shared interests and objectives, where both parties can deliver value that mutually benefits them and serves the common good.

“This includes not only oil market stability, which the Kingdom has diligently focused on for decades, but also an appreciation by the US for burden sharing, something that the Kingdom and the GCC perform constantly in supporting other critical countries such as Egypt, Ethiopia, Jordan, and Pakistan, along with many others, in terms of energy and food security, foreign direct investment, and balance-of-payments support, a factor that too often gets ignored by US policy makers, who tend to obsess over their most immediate demands at the expense of the wider picture.

“The US mindset need not be ‘you are either with us or against us,’ manifested as an unrealistic demand to sever all ties with Russia, while ignoring the critical role that GCC countries play to help countries suffering from the Ukraine crisis…

“The US-Saudi relationship has to be looked at in its totality, with an appreciation for history and a sensitivity to the needs and interests of America’s friends in the Gulf.

“Burden sharing is a critical role that the GCC plays in promoting a stable world order. But this fact is easily forgotten amid the passion of the moment as US politicians get caught up in their fleeting slogans and immediate political priorities. It would be difficult to find other allies or partners (call them what you may) like the GCC who continue to contribute positively to supporting a stable US-led world order at no financial cost to the United States…

“As US politicians today loudly and self-righteously preach ‘accountability’ to everybody but themselves, especially in regard to mistakes that the Kingdom has made in years past which are miniscule compared to the massive human suffering caused by the 2003 invasion of Iraq, (a war President Biden, Hillary Clinton and many others voted for) they may note that nobody in the US has been held accountable for this suffering and the associated war crimes, the collateral damage from hundreds of ‘targeted killings’ all over the region, or even other disastrous US actions going back to the Vietnam War. Not a single US official of consequence in living memory has faced any accountability for a single war crime, C.I.A ‘black sites’ and illegal renditions or other mistakes…

“Today we have an approaching visit by President Biden to the Kingdom to meet the King and Crown Prince, followed by a summit with key regional players. It will be a golden opportunity to prioritize the interests the GCC and the US share and to determine how best to move forward in upholding them to everybody’s mutual benefit, rather than dwell on a complicated past where no one is guilt-free, least of all US leaders.” [8]

‘Mess with Israel, you’ll pay a price,’ PM warns after Iran steel plant cyberattack

Posted June 28, 2022 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized


Speaking at Cyber Week conference, Bennett says ‘wreaking havoc in Tehran’ is not a policy, but Israel will respond to assaults; top cyber official says Iran a ‘dominant rival’

By EMANUEL FABIAN Today, 12:36 pm   

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Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at the Cyber Week conference in Tel Aviv, June 28, 2022. (Screenshot: Youtube)

Outgoing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned Tuesday, a day after Iran’s major steel companies were hit by a cyberattack, that anyone who attempts a cyberattack against Israel would “pay a price.”

“[The] approach with our enemies, especially Iran… we don’t go around wreaking havoc in Tehran — that’s never been our policy. Our policy is, if you mess with Israel, you’ll pay a price,” Bennett said at the Cyber Week conference in Tel Aviv.

Monday’s large cyberattack forced the state-owned Khuzestan Steel Co. to halt production, and two other major steel producers also reported being targeted.

An anonymous hacking group claimed responsibility on social media for the attack, saying it had targeted Iran’s three biggest steel companies in response to the “aggression of the Islamic Republic.”

The group, calling itself “Gonjeshke Darande,” shared what purported to be closed-circuit footage from the Khuzestan Steel Co. factory floor that showed the malfunction of a piece of heavy machinery on a steel bar production line, causing a massive fire.

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Israeli military correspondents, who are regularly briefed off-the-record by senior Israeli officials, hinted that Israel was directly responsible for the assault in retaliation to a suspected cyberattack that caused rocket sirens to be heard in Jerusalem and Eilat last week.

“Just like there’s nuclear deterrence, there’s going to be cyber deterrence… If anyone attacks us on cyber, we’re going to attack back,” Bennett said.

A screenshot from what is believed to be closed-circuit footage obtained from Iran’s Khuzestan Steel Co. factory floor where a piece of heavy machinery on a steel billet production line malfunctions and causes a massive fire, June 27, 2022. (Screenshot: Twitter)

Also speaking at Monday’s conference, Israel’s National Cyber Directorate chief Gaby Portnoy said Iran had become a “dominant rival” in cyberspace, amid relentless attempts to attack civilian infrastructure in the past year.

“There is no longer only one type of an ideological official enemy. On the one hand, Iran has become our dominant rival in cyber, together with Hezbollah and Hamas,” Portnoy said. “We see them, we know how they work, and we are there.

“On the other hand, the spectrum also was stretched to attackers, attack groups, proxies, independent crime organizations, and private people,” Portnoy added.

According to data presented by the directorate at the conference, 1,500 cyberattacks on the Israeli home front were foiled over the past year alone.

Brig. Gen. (ret.) Gaby Portnoy, director general of the Israel National Cyber Directorate, in Tel Aviv, May 2, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Israel and Iran have for years been involved in a largely clandestine cyberwar tthat occasionally bubbles to the surface. Israeli officials have accused Iran of attempting to hack Israel’s water system in 2020.

In turn, Iran has accused the United States and Israel of cyberattacks that have impaired the country’s infrastructure.

Iran disconnected much of its government infrastructure from the internet after the Stuxnet computer virus — widely believed to be a joint US-Israeli creation — disrupted thousands of Iranian centrifuges in the country’s nuclear sites in the late 2000s.

In a major incident last year, a cyberattack on Iran’s fuel distribution system paralyzed gas stations across the country, leading to long lines of angry motorists. The same anonymous hacking group, Gonjeshke Darande, claimed responsibility for the attack on fuel pumps.

AP contributed to this report.

Turkey reportedly busts Iranian cell planning attack on Israeli tourists

Posted June 23, 2022 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

By AFPToday, 2:09 pm   

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Two Turkish riot police officers walk in front of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, on June 14, 2022. (Yasin Akgul/AFP)

Turkey has detained eight people allegedly working for an Iranian intelligence cell that planned to assassinate Israeli tourists in Istanbul, according to local media reports.

The eight, who are not all Iranian nationals, were detained in a raid last week in three houses in Istanbul’s popular Beyoglu district, the private IHA news agency reports.

Israel has repeatedly urged its citizens in recent weeks not to travel to Turkey and to leave the country immediately because of “possible” threats from Iranian operatives.

IHA reports that Iran sent agents disguised as businessmen, tourists and students to Istanbul to assassinate Israelis. It says the Iranians split into four groups of two assassins who could better track their Israeli targets.

“The hitmen in the assassination team, who settled in two separate rooms on the second and fourth floors of a hotel in Beyoglu, were [detained] with a large number of weapons and ammunition,” IHA reports.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who is expected to take charge as prime minister of a caretaker government in the coming days, is on his way to Turkey to meet with officials.

PM warns Iran: ‘Those who send terrorists to attack Israelis will pay the price’

Posted June 19, 2022 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized


Bennett cites ongoing plots against Israelis abroad, says ‘danger is still great’; also warns Gaza terror groups of ‘painful’ cost to disrupting relative quiet in southern Israel

By TOI STAFFToday, 1:17 pm  

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett chairs a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, June 19, 2022. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday warned Iran against attempts to orchestrate terror attacks against Israelis abroad, threatening that anyone who tries to will pay the price.

“We are currently witnessing Iranian attempts to attack Israelis in various overseas locations,” Bennett said in public remarks at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

“Our new rule: Whoever sends, pays,” Bennett warned according to an English-language statement of his remarks provided by his office. “We will continue to strike those who send the terrorists, and those who send those who send them.”

Israel’s security establishment is acting to foil such attempts before they can be carried out, Bennett said.

Noting that the government had asked Israelis to avoid unnecessary travel to Turkey, and in particular Istanbul, Bennett said: “The danger is still great. I call on the citizens of Israel to show personal responsibility and safeguard their security.”

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Last week Israel urged its citizens in Turkey to leave immediately over concerns that Iranian agents were planning to kill or kidnap Israelis. The warnings came amid unverified reports in the press that Israeli and Turkish intelligence had together thwarted several planned attacks by a broad network of Iranian agents, nabbing some of the suspects.

Turkish riot police officers walk in front of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul on June 14, 2022. (Yasin Akgul/AFP)

The National Security Council raised the warning level for travel to Istanbul to its highest level, putting it alongside Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Iran as places that Israelis must leave immediately and may not visit.

Tensions between Israel and Iran have intensified in recent weeks, after the assassination of a top Iranian officer in Tehran last month that it blames on Israel, a number of other deaths of security and scientific personnel inside Iran, airstrikes against Iran-linked targets in Syria, threatening rhetoric from Iranian leaders and Iran’s increasing violations of nuclear agreements.

At the cabinet meeting, Bennett also commented on a rocket fired Saturday by Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip at the southern coastal city of Ashkelon. The missile was intercepted by Israeli air defense systems and hours later the IDF hit several Hamas targets in Gaza.

Screen grab from IDF footage of a strike on a terror group observation post in Gaza overlooking an Israeli border community. The strike was carried out on June 18, 2022 in response to rocket fire. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israel holds Hamas responsible for all fire and attacks emanating from the coastal enclave, no matter which terror groups claim responsibility.

“As far as we are concerned, Hamas is the address,” Bennett said.

The prime minister noted that the last year had been the quietest in a decade for southern residents, with rocket fire dropping from an average of hundreds of cases each year to just seven in the past 12 months that caused no injury or damage.

In addition, Hamas’s ability to arm itself “is the slowest for years” due to cooperation with Egypt and the US to prevent weapons from being brought into Gaza via the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

“We will take strong action against any attempt to undermine this quiet,” Bennett said. “The price that we will exact from the enemy for every action against our people will be high and painful.”

He attributed the relative peace to his government’s policy of “zero tolerance” for rocket fire at the country while at the same time opening Israel’s borders for some Gaza workers.

“This acts as quite a restraint and also differentiates between Hamas and the residents [of Gaza],” Bennett said.

Last week Israel said it would allow another 2,000 Gazans to enter the country for work or business dealings, bringing the total to 14,000. However, in the wake of the weekend rocket fire, that plan was put on hold.

The Defense Ministry has signed off on a tentative plan to eventually raise the number of Gaza permits to 20,000, a dramatic and unprecedented increase. In mid-2021, just 7,000 Palestinians from Gaza had permits to work or trade in Israel.

Defense officials say allowing more Gazans to work in Israel will pump much-needed income into the impoverished coastal enclave while encouraging stability.