With Iran held in check by Biden hopes, Israel grabs chance to hit hard in Syria

Posted January 14, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

With the changing of the US administration, the IDF sees Tehran as less likely to retaliate, and is making hay of the opportunity by expanding and intensifying its air campaign

By JUDAH ARI GROSSToday, 1:23 pm  1

F-16 jets fly above the Herzliya airport on November 15, 2019. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

F-16 jets fly above the Herzliya airport on November 15, 2019. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Over the past two and a half weeks, Israel has reportedly conducted at least four rounds of airstrikes on Iran-linked sites in Syria, including a major bombardment in the predawn hours of Wednesday morning according to media outlets there, in a major step up from the normal frequency of attacks.

Wednesday’s attack was a major operation, one of the largest reported Israeli airstrikes in years, with over 15 sites bombed in eastern Syria some 500 kilometers (300 miles) from Israel, according to Syrian reports.

The bombing was both more intense than normal — in comparison, the Israel Defense Forces said it struck some 50 targets in all of 2020 — and took place much farther from Israel than most attacks attributed to the Jewish state. The three other rounds of airstrikes in last few weeks took place in areas closer to Damascus and the Syrian Golan.

The IDF had no comment on the late-night strikes, in accordance with its policy to neither confirm nor deny its operations in Syria save for those in retaliation to an attack on Israel from the country.

The significant increase in the frequency and scope of the attacks stems from an assessment by the Israel Defense Forces, shared with The Times of Israel, that Iran is unlikely to retaliate in a major way to these strikes in the short term.

In general over the past year, Iran has not responded to Israeli airstrikes — either not finding a way to do so or being stopped by Israel from doing so — and currently Tehran appears to be preparing to enter into negotiations with US President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration, which would be more difficult were it to be actively engaged in fighting with Washington’s key ally in the region. While Iran takes a wait-and-see approach, Israel is taking advantage.Syrian Air defenses respond to alleged Israeli missiles targeting south of the capital Damascus, on July 20, 2020. (AFP)

Even if the frequency of IDF strikes decreases in the coming weeks, it would more likely be due to operational restrictions than the incoming Biden administration trying to curb Israel. The same window of opportunity is expected to remain as long as Tehran holds out hopes of talks with the new president, allowing Israel to continue its efforts in Syria, which are intended to keep Iran from entrenching itself militarily in the country and using it to move weapons that would threaten the Jewish state.

“The Biden administration won’t stop Israel from striking [in Syria],” Amos Yadlin, a former Military Intelligence chief, told the Times of Israel.

U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, talk before a dinner at the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem, Tuesday, March 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Baz Ratner, Pool)

According to Israeli officials, the campaign against Iran in Syria has been on the whole successful, stymieing Tehran’s plans for the country and largely keeping the bulk of its forces further from Israel’s borders.

“They wanted to shape [Syria] in the model of Hezbollah, to have masses of soldiers there, with missiles, with the ability to strike Israel, to exhaust Israel,” Minister Tzachi Hanegbi told the Kan broadcaster Wednesday.

“In the past four years… they failed to turn Syria into something like the second Hezbollah. They tried to build there a military force and Israel — time after time — destroyed those attempts and that infrastructure. They haven’t given up, they haven’t quit, but they have failed,” he said.

Last month, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi made a similar claim, telling reporters in a year-end briefing that the IDF has noted a marked drop over the previous two years in the number of Iran-backed fighters in Syria, an increase in the number of Iranian military bases being closed in the country, and a significant decrease in the amount of weaponry being transported into and through Syria.

“Iranian entrenchment in Syria is in a clear trend of slowing down as a direct result of IDF activities, though we still have a way to go to reach our goals on this front,” Kohavi said


Satellite images showing an alleged Iranian tunnel on a military base near the border crossing in Syria’s Boukamal region, near the Iraqi border, on December 10, 2019. (ImageSat International)

Yet the Islamic Republic has not thrown in the towel and still maintains a significant military presence in the country, even if it is smaller than it desires.

According to Syrian media reports, the targets of the Wednesday strike were primarily weapons warehouses around the Deir Ezzor and Boukamal regions, areas known to contain significant numbers of Iran-backed militias, which are more difficult for Israel to strike due to their greater distance from the border.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/index.html?dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-0&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1349417509359906817&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.timesofisrael.com%2Fwith-iran-held-in-check-by-biden-hopes-israel-grabs-chance-to-hit-hard-in-syria%2F&siteScreenName=timesofisrael&theme=light&widgetsVersion=ed20a2b%3A1601588405575&width=550px

Israeli and Western intelligence officials, as well as Syrian opposition media, have said that these areas are used by Tehran as part of a so-called land corridor to transport weapons from Iran through Iraq into Syria and, in some cases, on to Lebanon, where its most significant proxy, Hezbollah, is based.

Boukamal was also targeted multiple times in 2018 and 2019 in a failed bid to block the construction of the infrastructure likely used to transport missiles into Syria in recent weeks.This file photo released Sept. 3, 2017, by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian troops and pro-government gunmen standing next to a sign in Arabic which reads, “Deir el-Zour welcomes you,” in the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, Syria. (SANA via AP)

“The other side, as I understand, is not prepared to surrender because they invested a huge fortune and massive resources in the success of Assad and they want to collect their fee from Assad, which is their ability to operate freely from within Syria, which they saved from falling into the hands of the rebels,” Hanegbi said.

According to Omar Abu Layla, a Europe-based activist who runs DeirEzzor24, a pro-opposition media collective with researchers on the ground in eastern Syria, these warehouses contained a particularly large shipment of missiles that had been brought into the area by the Iran-backed Fatimiyeon militia in recent weeks.

In a highly irregular move, a senior US intelligence official confirmed to the Associated Press that Israel was behind the Wednesday strikes. The official said the intelligence behind the attack was provided by the US. It’s unlikely, though, that Israel would launch such a significant raid based solely on American intelligence, based on its standard operating procedure.

More curiously, the official also claimed the warehouses that were targeted were used to transport components that support Iran’s nuclear program — though not that these materials were themselves targeted in the strikes. This is an eyebrow-raising proposition, given the fact that Deir Ezzor was the site of Syria’s own nuclear reactor before it was destroyed by the Israeli Air Force in 2007.

Institute for National Security Studies Chairman Amos Yadlin attends the Annual International Conference of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv January 23, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

Yadlin, the current head of the influential Institute for National Security Studies, dismissed this claim as “fake news” and said that these were simply not the supply lines used by Iran for its nuclear program.

Asked if the attribution to a senior US intelligence official didn’t lend some credence to the claim, Yadlin told The Times of Israel: “A former senior Israeli intelligence official is saying this report has no logical [basis].”

Nuclear brinksmanship

Recent months have seen rising tensions between Iran and the US and Israel, amid speculation that outgoing US President Donald Trump would use his final week in office to launch a military strike against Tehran.

The US has deployed B-52 heavy bombers to the Middle East, sent an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf and sought to diplomatically challenge Iran by releasing intelligence tying the Islamic Republic to the Al-Qaeda terror group earlier this week. The US has also stepped up its sanctions on Iranian entities.

The head of Iran’s military nuclear program, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was also killed in November in an attack that was widely attributed to Israel.

This combination of photos shows US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) and Mossad chief Yossi Cohen. (Saul Loeb/Pool via AP and Miriam Alster/Flash90)

In a somewhat subtler move, Mossad chief Yossi Cohen traveled to Washington, DC, this week, meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a public space, prompting widespread speculation on what the two discussed.

Iran, in turn, has taken a number of provocative steps on the nuclear front, announcing that it was beginning to enrich uranium to 20 percent, a major breach of the 2015 nuclear deal, which it has been steadily violating since Trump abandoned the agreement in 2018. On Wednesday, Tehran announced it was also advancing research into uranium metal, a key component of nuclear weapons, with limited civilian uses.

In addition, the Iranian military has staged two large exercises, one focusing on drones and the other on the navy.

Iran also seized a South Korean oil tanker that had been sailing through the Persian Gulf, an apparent act of revenge for some $7 billion in Iranian assets that were frozen by Seoul.

Likud’s Tzachi Hanegbi attends an event at Kedem in the West Bank on September 5, 2019. (Hillel Maeir/Flash90)

Despite these growing signs of tensions, Hanegbi said Israel did not anticipate some kind of attack in the coming week.

“The [Israeli] assessment is that nothing dramatic will happen during this week,” he said. “This is the calm before the storm.”

The minister, who is considered a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, explained that the “storm” would be what comes as the United States negotiates a new nuclear deal with Tehran, saying that if Israel did not feel such an agreement ensured its security, it would attack Iran’s nuclear program.The exterior of the Arak heavy water production facility in Arak, Iran, 360 kilometers southwest of Tehran, October 27, 2004. (AP Photo)

Biden has publicly stated his intention to rejoin the accord — known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — provided Iran also returns to the terms of the deal and use that agreement as a jumping off point for further negotiations.

Those opposed to the JCPOA, as well as some proponents of it, argue that a simple return to the deal would give up the considerable leverage that Trump’s sanctions regime has achieved. Instead, those people argue, Biden should attempt to negotiate a far stronger deal, one that does not have the expiration dates of the JCPOA, with greater access for international inspectors, and also addressing Iran’s ballistic missile program and malign influence in the region. Supporters of Biden’s plan maintain that a significantly more robust deal is not feasible now, but could be negotiated going forward.

This is the calm before the storm

“If the United States government rejoins the nuclear deal — and that seems to be the stated policy as of now — the practical result will be that Israel will again be alone against Iran, which by the end of the deal will have received a green light from the world, including the United States, to continue with its nuclear weapons program,” Hanegbi said.

“This of course we will not allow. We’ve already twice done what needed to be done, in 1981 against the Iraqi nuclear program and in 2007 against the Syrian nuclear program,” he said, referring to airstrikes on those two countries’ nuclear reactors.

IAEA chief: Iran moving rapidly to enrich uranium, mere ‘weeks’ to save deal

Posted January 12, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Nuclear watchdog head Grossi says if talks are held when Biden takes office, ‘there will have to be clear understanding on how initial terms of accord will be recomplied with’

By TOI STAFF11 January 2021, 6:35 pm  0

Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Mariano Grossi at the IAEA board of governors meeting at the International Center in Vienna, Austria, September 14, 2020. (Ronald Zak/AP)

Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Mariano Grossi at the IAEA board of governors meeting at the International Center in Vienna, Austria, September 14, 2020. (Ronald Zak/AP)

The head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog said Monday that there were “weeks” left to salvage the nuclear deal with Iran.

Rafael Grossi, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said at the Reuters Next conference that Tehran was advancing “quite rapidly” toward enriching uranium to 20 percent, as it has announced it would, in breach of the accord. He said the IAEA has assessed Iran will be able to produce some 10 kilograms a month.

“It is clear that we don’t have many months ahead of us [to save the deal]. We have rather weeks,” he said.

If talks between the signatories of the accord are launched, “there will have to be a clear understanding on how the initial terms and provisions of the [nuclear deal] are going to be recomplied with,” Grossi said.

The comments came two days after Iranian lawmaker Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani declared that Tehran would expel IAEA inspectors in February unless the US lifts its sanctions on the country.

“If the sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran are not lifted by February 21, especially in the fields of finance, banking, and oil, we will definitely expel the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors from the country,” said Farahani in a television interview, according to an English translation of his remarks by the Mehr news agency.

UN inspections of Iran’s nuclear sites are a key part of a 2015 pact with world powers that saw sanctions lifted from Iran in return for its dismantling the weapons aspects of its nuclear program.

The United States unilaterally withdrew from the agreement in 2018, and the remaining countries that signed it with Iran — Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia — have been trying to keep the accord from collapsing. The Trump administration imposed crippling sanctions on Iran while demanding it renegotiate stricter terms to the deal. Iran has refused and responded by walking back its own commitments to the accord.US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at Georgia Tech, in Atlanta, December 9, 2020. (John Bazemore/ AP)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo responded to Farahani in a statement on Saturday that Iran has an obligation to allow the inspections to continue.

“Nuclear brinksmanship will not strengthen Iran’s position, but instead lead to further isolation and pressure,” Pompeo warned and urged that expulsion of the inspectors “be met by universal condemnation.”

On Sunday, the speaker of Iran’s parliament said that the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action “is not a sacred agreement; it is merely a deal to remove sanctions under the conditions accepted by the Islamic Republic.”

Last month, Iran began enriching uranium to levels unseen since the 2015 deal. The decision appeared aimed at increasing Tehran’s leverage during US President Donald Trump’s waning days in office.

Iran informed the IAEA of its plans to increase enrichment to 20 percent. Increasing enrichment at its underground Fordo facility puts Tehran a technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%.

The purpose of the deal was to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb — something Tehran insists it does not want to do.

US President-elect Joe Biden has said he hopes to return the US to the deal if Iran returns to compliance with it.

EU warns Iran’s enrichment of uranium to 20% ‘a matter of deep concern’

Posted January 12, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Union says Iranians undermining diplomacy surrounding 2015 nuclear pact, looks forward to working on issue with Biden’s incoming administration

By AFP and TOI STAFFToday, 11:08 am  2

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks during an EU-Serbia videoconference council at the European Council headquarters in Brussels, December 17, 2020. (Francisco Seco/AP)

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks during an EU-Serbia videoconference council at the European Council headquarters in Brussels, December 17, 2020. (Francisco Seco/AP)

The European Union said Monday that Iran’s recent move to ramp up uranium enrichment was undermining diplomacy over its nuclear program and urged Tehran to avoid any further escalation.

In a statement on behalf of the 27-nation bloc, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned Tehran that its 20 percent enrichment was “a very serious development” with “potentially severe proliferation implications.”

“We urge Iran to refrain from further escalation and reverse this course of action without delay. Continued full and timely cooperation with the (UN nuclear watchdog) IAEA remains critical,” he said.

Borrel said the EU was looking forward to working soon with US President-elect Joe Biden on resurrecting the Iran nuclear deal, and rejected Tehran’s accusation the EU had aligned with Washington’s sanctions.

The EU supported “intensive diplomacy with the goal of facilitating a US return to the JCPOA and Iran’s return to full JCPOA implementation,” he said, referring to an acronym for the deal’s official name.A satellite image from September 15, 2017, of the Fordo nuclear facility in Iran. (Google Earth)

Biden, who takes office on January 20, has suggested the United States will return to the Iran deal, which it withdrew from in 2018 under US President Donald Trump, who reinstated and increased US sanctions.

Iran from 2019 has increasingly breached its own commitments under the deal, arguing it has the right to do so under its terms because the US was no longer abiding by it.

Most recently, last week it started again enriching uranium to 20 percent at its Fordo nuclear site, a step just below what is needed to produce material for nuclear weapons.

It has also accused the European signatories — EU members France and Germany and former EU member Britain — of going along with the US sanctions, even as their governments defied Trump to keep the deal alive.

In a likely sign of Biden’s intention to quickly address the Iran nuclear deal, the US president-elect on Monday tapped William Burns, a retired diplomat, to be his CIA chief.

Burns helped lead secret talks with Tehran that set the stage for the 2015 accord with Iran.

Pompeo says US to designate Iran-backed Yemeni Houthis a terror group

Posted January 11, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Secretary of state says rebel group ‘destabilizing the region,’ as Israel gears up for potential Iranian attack from Yemen

By AFP and TOI STAFFToday, 7:56 am  1

Houthi fighters chant slogans as they take off to a battlefront following a gathering aimed at mobilizing more fighters for the Houthi movement, in Sanaa, Yemen, August 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

Houthi fighters chant slogans as they take off to a battlefront following a gathering aimed at mobilizing more fighters for the Houthi movement, in Sanaa, Yemen, August 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

The United States will designate Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a terrorist group, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday, a late-term move that aid groups fear will worsen a humanitarian crisis.

With just 10 days left before US President-elect Joe Biden takes office, the action appeared aimed at complicating the new administration’s efforts to restart diplomacy with Iran, which has ties to the Houthis and other terror groups in the region, and to reassess the US relationship with Saudi Arabia, which has led a brutal offensive in Yemen.

“The designations are intended to hold Ansar Allah accountable for its terrorist acts, including cross-border attacks threatening civilian populations, infrastructure and commercial shipping,” Pompeo said in a statement, using the official name of the Houthi movement.

It has led a brutal campaign that has “killed many people, continues to destabilize the region and denies Yemenis a peaceful solution to the conflict in their country,”

Pompeo pointed to a December 30 attack on an airport in Yemen’s second-largest city Aden, which killed 26 people and was blamed by the Saudi-backed government on the Houthi.

The rebel group controls much of Yemen and is already under US sanctions.

But a designation as a terrorist group is expected to scare away outside actors from many transactions with Houthi authorities, including bank transfers and buying food and fuel.

Aid groups as well as members of Biden’s Democratic Party have warned that the move will severely impede efforts to address what the United Nations calls the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.People run following an explosion at the airport in Aden, Yemen, shortly after a plane carrying the newly formed Cabinet landed on December 30, 2020. (AP Photo)

Pompeo insisted that the designations — which will come into effect a day before Biden takes office on January 19 — will not impact relief work.

“We are planning to put in place measures to reduce their impact on certain humanitarian activity and imports into Yemen,” Pompeo said.

“We have expressed our readiness to work with relevant officials at the United Nations, with international and non-governmental organizations and other international donors to address these implications.”

Earlier this month, the Israeli military deployed air defense batteries around the southern city of Eilat amid concerns of an attack from the Houthi militia.A Patriot anti-missile system in Israel (Photo credit: Shay Levy/Flash 90)

A Patriot anti-missile system in Israel (Shay Levy/Flash90)

Iran has indicated plans to exact revenge for the United States killing of Qassem Soleimani, the influential head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ expeditionary Quds Force, and Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the head of Iran’s military nuclear program, assassinated, allegedly by Israel.

The Israeli military assessed that such retaliation was likely to come from an Iranian proxy, potentially from the Houthis.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

PM aides said worried as Biden’s foreign policy team looking more like Obama’s

Posted January 8, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

While Netanyahu critics Rice and Kerry won’t be dealing with Iran or Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel reportedly concerned about role of former Iran deal negotiator Sherman

By JACOB MAGID7 January 2021, 7:58 pm  1

US President Barack Obama, accompanied by, from left, Secretary of State John Kerry, Vice President Joe Biden, and National Security Adviser Susan Rice, speaks during a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington on March 31, 2016.  (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

US President Barack Obama, accompanied by, from left, Secretary of State John Kerry, Vice President Joe Biden, and National Security Adviser Susan Rice, speaks during a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington on March 31, 2016. (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s closest advisers are reportedly concerned about the foreign policy team that US President-elect Joe Biden is putting together as it begins to look more and more like that of former president Barak Obama, who sparred frequently with the Israeli premier over Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On Tuesday, Politico reported that Wendy Sherman, a chief US negotiator for the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, will be nominated for the role of deputy US secretary of state. She’ll serve under Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, Tony Blinken, who was deputy secretary of state under Obama.

Biden has also tapped former Obama-era secretary of state John Kerry to serve as a special envoy on climate change and Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice to server as director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. Jake Sullivan, who was also involved in negotiating the Iran deal vehemently opposed by the Netanyahu government, will serve as Biden’s national security adviser.

The growing list of “Obama people” has members of Netanyahu’s National Security Council grumbling, Axios reported Wednesday.US Secretary of State John Kerry and Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman meet with foreign ministers of Germany, France, China, Britain, Russia and the European Union at a hotel in Vienna, Austria on July 7, 2015. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / CARLOS BARRIA)

Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer has told interlocutors in Washington that he’s less worried about Kerry and Rice, as they aren’t slated to be involved in forming Middle East policy, according to Axios.

He’s also not as concerned about Blinken and Sullivan, who are seen as having strong pro-Israel credentials, despite having served in the Obama administration. Dermer’s greater concern is Sherman as she is set to assume a role that will likely include a great deal of involvement in crafting policy toward Iran, the report said.

Dermer declined to comment for this story, as did Netanyahu’s office, Axios said.

Dermer and Netanyahu have both repeatedly called Biden’s plan to re-enter the nuclear agreement abandoned by US President Donald Trump a mistake.

Biden and his staff have said he will only re-enter the accord if Iran returns to compliance with it and that he hopes to negotiate a follow-up agreement that will address Iran’s ballistic missile program as well as its regional hegemony.

Tehran, which announced earlier this week that it has ramped up its uranium enrichment to 20% in violation of the deal, has asserted that it will not negotiate a subsequent agreement.

Netanyahu sparred with the Obama administration regularly over the latter’s determination to pursue a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear pursuit as well as a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based roughly on the pre-1967 borders.Violent protesters, loyal to US President Donald Trump, storm the Capitol, January 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Netanyahu enjoyed a near complete transformation of those policies when Donald Trump entered the White House in 2017. The Republican president would go on to withdraw from the Iran deal and propose a peace plan that envisions Israel annexing all of its West Bank settlements.

But the premier may be forced to distance himself from Trump against the backdrop of the attempt by the president’s supporters to stampede the Capitol to prevent the certification of his election loss.

Netanyahu condemned the attack on the Capitol as “disgraceful,” but only made mention of Trump in praising him as a “peacemaker” for his administration’s negotiating of the Abraham Accords.

As Biden inauguration nears, Netanyahu warns US against rejoining Iran nuke deal

Posted January 8, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Prime minister praises under-fire Trump during meeting with US Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, who is en route to the Persian Gulf

By JUDAH ARI GROSS7 January 2021, 7:54 pm  0

US President Donald Trump, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walk to a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House, January 27, 2020. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

US President Donald Trump, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walk to a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House, January 27, 2020. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised US President Donald Trump’s administration for its Middle East policies on Thursday, as the American leader faced widespread criticism at home after hundreds of his supporters stormed the Capitol building the day before.

“I want to thank President Trump and all of you in the administration for all you have done and are doing for peace. You’ve made a real difference, achieving one breakthrough after another, bringing the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan into the circle of peace. I have no doubt that more Arab and Muslim countries will follow,” Netanyahu said.

In recent months, the Trump administration has brokered normalization agreements between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco. Sudan, which recently saw regime change in favor of a government more aligned with the US, has also agreed to normalize ties with Israel, though no agreement between the two countries has been signed.

The prime minister made his remarks alongside US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who stopped in Israel on Wednesday and Thursday following a visit to Sudan, where officials agreed to advance their efforts to normalize ties with Israel, and before taking off to Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for meetings.

Netanyahu repeated his opposition to the United States rejoining the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as US President-elect Joe Biden has indicated he plans to do if Iran returns to compliance with the accord.US President Donald Trump, center, with from left, Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, during the Abraham Accords signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, September 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Trump withdrew the US from the agreement in 2018 — at the urging of Netanyahu — reimposing economic sanctions on Iran and prompting Tehran to begin violating the terms of the deal by enriching more uranium and to greater levels. This week, Iran announced it would begin enriching uranium to 20 percent, just a small technical step away from the 90% needed for a nuclear bomb.

Biden has said that if Iran returns to the terms of the agreement, he too would rejoin, removing the crushing economic sanctions that have wreaked havoc on the Iranian economy over the past two years.

Netanyahu, a staunch and vocal opponent of the JCPOA, warned that returning to the agreement would prompt further nuclear proliferation in the region. This claim was based on the criticism that the nuclear agreement grants legitimacy to Iran’s nuclear program, allowing portions of it to operate freely after a certain amount of time, though technically, under the deal, Tehran agrees to never pursue nuclear weapons.

“If we just go back to the JCPOA, what will happen and may already be happening is that many other countries in the Middle East will rush to arm themselves with nuclear weapons. That is a nightmare and that is folly. It should not happen,” Netanyahu said.

The premier thanked Mnuchin for his role in the imposition of economic sanctions on Iran and called for the strategy — known as “maximum pressure” — to continue.Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) addressing the media alongside US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in Jerusalem, January 7, 2021. (GPO)

“I also want to commend the maximum pressure campaign on Iran. Under your leadership, the US Treasury has played a crucial role in applying and enforcing sanctions on the Iranian regime,” Netanyahu said.

“It must be continued to prevent Iran from continuing its campaign of aggression and terror throughout the region and to prevent Iran from rushing to a nuclear arsenal,” he added.

During his remarks, Netanyahu also condemned the assault on the US Capitol building in Washington, DC, by a mob of Trump loyalists who sought to interrupt the certification of Biden’s victory in the November election.

The prime minister called the attack “disgraceful” and said it represented the “opposite of the values we know Americans and Israelis cherish.”Supporters of US President Donald Trump protest inside the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. (ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP)

Mnuchin also condemned the attack on the Capitol Building and indicated that he would not be resigning from his position in light of the attack on the Capitol, which both Republican and Democratic lawmakers blamed on incitement by the president, as Deputy National Security Adviser Matt Pottinger did Wednesday.

“The violence that occurred last night at the Capitol in Washington, DC, was completely unacceptable. Now is the time for our nation to come together as one and to respect the democratic process in the US,” the treasury secretary said.

“I look forward to getting back to Washington, DC, with our continued work on the transition,” he added.

Mnuchin’s office said that during his visit in Israel, he met with Netanyahu and Finance Minister Israel Katz to discuss the economic opportunities presented by the Abraham Accords and Israel’s improved ties with the Persian Gulf.

His spokesperson said the three also spoke about “national security issues, including cooperative efforts to combat terrorist financing.”

Iran Establishing New Facts on the Ground to Leverage Biden Administration

Posted January 8, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

by Meira SvirskyJanuary 6, 2021 Reading Time: 5min read 

The Islamic Republic just skyrocketed levels of uranium enrichment — all under the watch of the IAEA

Iranian FM Mohammad Javad Zarif (Photo: ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)
Iranian FM Mohammad Javad Zarif (Photo: ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)

With close to two weeks left in office for President Donald Trump, Iran is establishing facts on the ground to leverage the Biden administration with its announcement that it has begun to enrich uranium to a 20 percent level.

The level represents the “most significant and blatant violation to date” of the nuclear deal, according to former Israeli army intelligence chief Amos Yadlin.

Twenty percent represents “a technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90 percent,” according to a report by the AP. Astonishingly, the move – which consists of the highest level of enrichment since the nuclear agreement made between Iran and the world powers in 2015 – was made with the tacit approval of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“At Fordo, Iranian nuclear scientists under the watch of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors loaded centrifuges with over 130 kilograms (285 pounds) of low-enriched uranium to be spun up to 20%, said Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s permanent representative to the U.N. atomic agency.” – AP

According to the prestigious Washington think tank, the Institute for Science and International Security, once enough uranium is enriched to the 20 percent level, enriching it further to the 90 percent needed for bomb-grade material would only take six weeks.

The institute estimates, that with this new development at Fordo, it will take Iran only five to six and a half months to produce enough uranium necessary to make a bomb. From that point, it would take another month and a half for Iran to produce a bomb itself.

Some experts believe that Iran already has enough low-level enriched uranium for several nuclear bombs and that the further enrichment necessary to actually produce the bombs would take about three months.

In a clear move to leverage the incoming Biden administration, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted, “Our measures are fully reversible upon FULL compliance by ALL.

Members of Biden’s incoming administration have indicated that re-entering the 2015 nuclear agreement made under the Obama/Biden administration is “high on his agenda.”

“I believe that in the first months [of Biden’s presidency], we’ll either see him rejoin the deal fully or what I would call ‘JCPOA-minus,’ meaning lifting sanctions in exchange for suspending some of the Iranian nuclear programs [developed] in the past three years,” said Amos Hochstein, who worked at the State Department during the previous administration and oversaw energy sanctions on Iran.

Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018 and embarked instead on a program of crippling sanctions against Iran. The Trump State Department called Iran’s latest move a “clear attempt to increase its campaign of nuclear extortion.”

Lifting sanctions will give Iran access to the much-needed cash they need to purchase advanced weapons, which recently become legally available to them.

In October, a 13-year UN arms embargo on Iran was lifted as part of the nuclear agreement. This means that Iran – recognized as the largest state sponsor of terrorism – is now allowed to buy weapons from which it was previously restricted, as well as give them to its proxies, including the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah and the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Iran is demanding “full and unconditional implementation of the [nuclear agreement] and compensation for the events of the past,” said a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry.

Further, the spokesman said, “We will not renegotiate any parts of the [nuclear agreement].”

One of the biggest flaws of the agreement was that it did not address Iran’s ballistic missile program. Ballistic missiles can be fitted with nuclear warheads.

Incoming National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a recent interview on CNN that the U.S. would lift sanctions on Iran in exchange for negotiations on Iran’s ballistic missile program. Sullivan also said in the same interview that the assassination of Iranian terror mastermind Qassem Soleimani did not make America safer or protect U.S. interests.

What are we to make of Biden and members of his administration expressing such attitudes, as well as making such blatant overtures to the Iranian regime? Master negotiators, the Iranians managed to gut the 2015 nuclear agreement of any teeth, including:

  • Ruling out any inspections of its military sites (necessary for an assessment of possible nuclear dimensions of the existing Iranian nuclear program)
  • Getting immediate sanctions relief (making “snapback” provisions a moot point after Western nations immediately began investing in Iran)
  • Retaining centrifuges used for enriching uranium
  • Continued uranium enrichment
  • Retention of nuclear sites

In this second round of negotiations, Iran already has the upper hand – simply because the incoming administration has indicated their eagerness to rejoin the agreement. This is especially devastating considering the fact that Trump is leaving Biden with an enormous amount of economic leverage over Iran.

“They [Iran] are in deep, deep trouble, and to simply return to the status quo of the Obama administration, surrender all of that simply to return to a deal that in a space of a very few years is going to run out and allow Iran to surge forward with an industrial-strength nuclear program doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” said former Vice President Dick Cheney’s national security adviser John Hannah, speaking to FOX Business.

In addition to a severely weakened Iran, Trump has left Biden with a Middle East unified against Iran through the historic Abraham Accords, the peace agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and possibly more countries to come in the last days of the Trump administration.

The Trump team has also just negotiated the end of a years-long dispute between the Gulf States and Qatar (who, since the dispute, made overtures to Iran). They also just seized $7 million in Iranian assets after shutting down a money-laundering operation designed to get around American sanctions against the Islamic Republic. The Department of Justice plans to use the money to pay victims of Iranian state-sponsored terrorism.

After the nuclear agreement was made and sanctions were lifted, European companies invested deeply in Iran (apparently with no concern for effectively financing this terrorism). One thing Trump taught us is that America does just fine without playing international politics by European rules.

While Biden has made “restoring” America’s relationship with Europe one of the priorities of his foreign policy, it remains to be seen what the U.S. will get in return – particularly in light of the new trade agreement Europe just made with China. The agreement prioritizes Europe’s ties with the communist regime over those with the U.S.

The new administration would be better off staying the course and not get involved in negotiating with Iran. Historically, such negotiations have not ended well and there is no reason to believe this time will be any different.

Iran is driven by ideology, and no amount of Western largesse will change that.

2021: The Year Israel And Iran Go To War?

Posted January 7, 2021 by davidking1530
Categories: Uncategorized

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

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


Israel and Iran Go to War.

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

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

Could a conflict erupt before President Donald Trump leaves office?

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

A Region Filled with Tension, and Bombs

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

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

Tough Talk

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

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

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

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

IDF deploys air defenses to Eilat amid threats of attack from Yemen

Posted January 7, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Iron Dome and Patriot batteries seen in Eilat area in recent days over concerns Iran may seek revenge for killings of Soleimani, Fakhrizadeh with attack on Israel by Houthis

By JUDAH ARI GROSSToday, 8:53 am  0

A Patriot missile defense battery sits in the desert in the Ovda air base in southern Israel during the international Blue Flag exercise on November 9, 2017. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

Illustrative. A Patriot missile defense battery sits in the desert in the Ovda air base in southern Israel during the international Blue Flag exercise on November 9, 2017. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

The Israeli military has deployed air defense batteries around the southern city of Eilat in recent days amid concerns of an attack from the Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen.

The move came around the first anniversary of the United States killing of Qassem Soleimani, the influential head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ expeditionary Quds Force, in an airstrike in Iraq and a month and a half after Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the head of Iran’s military nuclear program, was killed, allegedly by Israel.

Iran has indicated plans to exact revenge for these two high profile killings. The Israeli military assessed that such retaliation was likely to come from an Iranian proxy, potentially from the Houthis, a Yemeni group that has conducted a number of attacks over the years against Tehran’s other rival in the region, Saudi Arabia.

Last month, IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman told a Saudi news outlet that Israel had information indicating Iran was developing unmanned aerial vehicles and “smart missiles” in Iraq and Yemen, and that the weapons could have the ability to strike Israel.

In light of this threat, Iron Dome and Patriot missile defense batteries have been deployed near Israel’s southern tip of Eilat in recent days. The Iron Dome is generally used against rockets and mortar shells, but can also intercept small drones and cruise missiles. The Patriot system is used primarily to defend against ballistic missiles and larger aircraft like fighter jets and unmanned aerial vehicles.

In recent weeks, the Israeli military has also reportedly sailed a submarine through the area, sending the vessel through the Suez Canal and into the Red Sea. Due to the shallow depth of the canal, submarines can only pass through it above the water, where they can easily be spotted. As such, the move was generally seen as a show of force directed toward Iran.

In his interview last month, Zilberman said Israel was tracking Iranian movements around the region, and that Israeli submarines were quietly “sailing everywhere.”

Iran says it’s installing 1,000 more centrifuges as US slaps on new sanctions

Posted January 6, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Day after upping uranium enrichment to 20%, Islamic Republic’s atomic chief announces steps to increase production further

By TOI STAFF and AGENCIES5 January 2021, 9:07 pm  1

Illustrative. Centrifuges enriching uranium. (Public Domain/US Department of Energy/Wikimedia Commons)
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  • Illustrative. Centrifuges enriching uranium. (Public Domain/US Department of Energy/Wikimedia Commons)

After Iran confirmed that it has stepped up its uranium enrichment in breach of the 2015 nuclear deal, the head of Iran’s atomic agency said Tuesday the Islamic Republic is in the process of installing 1,000 new centrifuges to help increase production.

“One thousand centrifuges are being installed inside the country,” Ali Akbar Salehi said, according to the semi-official Fars News Agency.

“We are currently installing one thousand IR-2m centrifuges, but two cascades are installed and working,” he added.

Salehi also said that Iran had increased its supply of yellowcake, a precursor to enriched uranium, eight-fold in the past two years.

“Until three or four years ago, we used to produce an average of 4 to 5 tons of yellowcake, but for the past two years, we have increased the production of yellowcake to 30 tons,” he said in his reported comments. “This year, the production of yellowcake will be between 35 and 40 tons, which means that we have 8-folded the production of yellowcake.”

Yellowcake is a uranium concentrate in powder form and an early step in uranium processing. It is produced by mining uranium ore from rocks and separating the uranium from the rocks by bathing them in acid. The yellowcake can then be converted, enriched to raise its purity, and then used for weapons or energy production.File: The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi delivers his speech at the opening of the general conference of the IAEA in Vienna, Austria, September 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

Salehi’s comments came a day after Iran said it had begun enriching uranium to 20 percent purity — far above the level permitted under its 2015 agreement with world powers — in a step the US State Department condemned as “nuclear extortion.” The 2015 deal capped enrichment at 3.75%. The jump from 20% to the 90% required for an atomic bomb is actually rather quick compared to the work needed to move from approximately 4% to 20%.

Increasing enrichment to 20% was the most striking suspension yet of Tehran’s commitments under its landmark deal with six nations, which has been fraying since US President Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions.

Responding to the uranium announcement, the US Treasury imposed new sanctions targeting Iran’s steel sector Tuesday, slapping penalties on a dozen Iranian companies, three foreign holding companies of Iranian firms, and one China-based manufacturer that supplies graphite electrodes to the Islamic Republic.

“The Iranian metals sector is an important revenue source for the Iranian regime, generating wealth for its corrupt leaders and financing a range of nefarious activities, including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, support for foreign terrorist groups, and a variety of human rights abuses, at home and abroad,” the US Treasury said in a statement.

“The Trump Administration remains committed to denying revenue flowing to the Iranian regime as it continues to sponsor terrorist groups, support oppressive regimes, and seek weapons of mass destruction,” said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin.

The European Union noted Iran’s step “with deep concern” and said it planned to “redouble our efforts to preserve the agreement and return to its full implementation by all parties.”Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. (Agencies)

Iran’s conservative-dominated parliament voted in favor of increasing uranium enrichment after the November killing of its top nuclear physicist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, an assassination Iran blamed on Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has charged Iran’s latest nuclear move proves it is seeking to build an atomic bomb — a claim Iran has always strongly denied — and pledged the Jewish state “will not allow” it to do so.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Tehran took the latest enrichment step “after years of non-compliance” by other parties and that “our measures are fully reversible upon full compliance by all.”

Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement it “paid tribute to the regular declarations by Iranian leaders of their willingness to return to full respect for the requirements of the agreement”.

It added, however, that “additional efforts and costs will now be required to bring the Fordo site in line with the terms of the agreement.”