Posts Tagged ‘Hamas’

Bet on Trump or Challenge Israel? Palestinians Mull Strategy

September 21, 2017

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinians increasingly question their leaders’ strategy of reaching statehood through negotiations with Israel following over two decades of failed attempts.

Most believe that the “two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no longer possible, despite pledges by President Donald Trump that he would try to broker a deal and a new round of Mideast meetings on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly this week.

Such skepticism largely stems from continued Israeli settlement in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, which some say has passed the point of no return. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who in the past said he doesn’t want to rule the Palestinians, recently declared that Israel cannot give up control over the West Bank.

Three senior Palestinian officials and a leading pollster have explored Palestinian options.


Since 2000, there have been two unsuccessful high-level U.S.-led efforts to broker a final deal on borders between Israel and a state of Palestine, roughly comprising the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in 1967.

Each time, the sides were unable to close gaps. Israel accused the Palestinians of turning down generous offers. Palestinians note the territories they seek make up less than a quarter of historic Palestine.

Israel kept building settlements, with some 600,000 Israelis now living on war-won lands, while Palestinian militants tried to derail talks through deadly attacks on civilians and soldiers.

A Palestinian political split in 2007, with the militant Hamas group seizing Gaza, further undermined the process. Palestinians also complained of lack of leverage in negotiating with their occupiers whose strategic ally, the United States, is sole mediator.



Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also bears responsibility for the deadlock because he has been unwilling to challenge Israel and the U.S., said pollster Khalil Shikaki.

He said it relates to Abbas’ conflicting roles as both head of a national movement that seeks to end Israeli occupation and as leader of an autonomy government dependent on foreign aid and Israeli acquiescence to provide services to millions.

Shikaki argued Abbas has been too invested in the status quo and should push harder to translate the General Assembly’s 2012 recognition of Palestine along pre-1967 lines into achievements on the ground.

For example, Abbas could make a statement by issuing passports emblazoned with “State of Palestine” in place of the current “Palestinian Authority,” Shikaki said.

“What we need is to give ourselves the ability to free our decision-making from these constraints and be in a position to take risks. This is not where the Palestinian Authority is today,” he said. “So our leadership lacks credibility, in the eyes of its own public, in the eyes of the Israelis and in the eyes of the international community.”

A new survey by Shikaki’s Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that 67 percent of Palestinians want Abbas to resign, up 5 points from June. The poll, which had an error margin of 3 percentage points, also found 52 percent still support a two-state option, but 57 percent believe it’s no longer possible because of Israel’s settlements.

Abbas has been silencing dissent, drawing criticism that he is mainly focused on staying in power.

Political debate has been stifled by the erosion of institutions, such as parliament, after the 2007 split with Hamas-ruled Gaza. Shikaki said Abbas has become sole decision-maker, leaving other figures as “cheerleaders, rather than critics.”



President Donald Trump exuded optimism early on, promising the “ultimate” Mideast deal without providing contours or a plan to restart negotiations.

On Wednesday, ahead of a meeting with Abbas, Trump said there is a “pretty good shot” he can broker a deal, but was again short on specifics.

In his speech to the General Assembly, Abbas accused Israel of “flagrant disregard for the two-state solution” and warned that Palestinians would be compelled to review the entire peace process, but stopped short of saying he would abandon it. In addressing the plenum earlier this week, Netanyahu referred only briefly to the conflict, saying that “Israel is committed to achieving peace with all its Arab neighbors, including the Palestinians.”

Abbas has courted Trump and projected willingness to engage with Israel, dropping a long-standing condition that Israel must significantly curb settlement building before talks resume.

Nabil Shaath, an Abbas adviser, said Palestinian expectations have been dampened by Trump envoys telling them recently that they need another three or four months to come up with a plan.

Mohammed Ishtayyeh, a former negotiator, said it’s pointless for the Palestinians to engage in U.S.-led negotiations as long as Trump can’t rein in Israel on settlements.

Ishtayyeh said the only hope is with new talks mediated not by the U.S. but a consortium of global powers. But there is no clear path to getting Israel, or the U.S., to accept such a formula.

Shikaki warned that damage to the two-state option caused by settlements could be “massive” by the end of Trump’s term, an outcome inadvertently enabled by Abbas’ sticking to the status quo.


Saeb Erekat


Veteran negotiator Saeb Erekat said Abbas was to date right to stick to a mix of negotiations, rejecting violence and seeking international recognition for Palestine.

He accused Netanyahu of trying to destroy the possibility of a two-state solution by tightening Israel’s grip on occupied lands. But he said that the Palestinians will never accept Israeli rule and the international community “doesn’t have the stomach” for what would become an apartheid system.

He said he hopes Israelis will eventually realize that Palestinian statehood is the best option for both peoples. If they don’t, Palestinians can always shift strategy and fight for equal rights in a bi-national state.

“I cannot specify the date (of such a shift), but I think those in Israel who are destroying the two-state solution must realize this will be the outcome,” he said.

Such a state would have, by the current numbers, a population of about 13 million equally divided between Jews and Palestinians.

It’s a scenario most Israelis reject as the end of the Zionist dream, while Israeli supporters of the status quo hope it can somehow remain in effect without giving the Palestinians in the occupied lands citizen rights.


Hamas Dissolves Gaza Administration in Palestinian Unity Bid — Changing the leopard’s spots?

September 17, 2017

CAIRO — Palestinian Islamist Hamas group said on Sunday it has dissolved its administration that runs Gaza and agrees to hold general elections in order to end a long-running feud with President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement.

The last Palestinian legislative election was held in 2006 when Hamas scored a surprise victory, which laid the ground for a political rupture. Hamas and Fatah fought a short civil war in Gaza in 2007 and since then Hamas has governed the small coastal enclave.

Numerous attempts since 2011 to reconcile the two movements and form a power-sharing unity government in Gaza and the West Bank have so far failed. Hamas and Fatah agreed in 2014 to form a national reconciliation government, but despite that agreement, Hamas’s shadow government has continued to rule the Gaza Strip.

Hamas said in a statement on Sunday that it has dissolved its shadow government, that it will allow the reconciliation government to operate in Gaza and that it agrees to hold elections and enter talks with Fatah.

Mahmoud Aloul, a senior Fatah official welcomed cautiously Hamas’s position. “If this is Hamas statement, then this is a positive sign,” he told Reuters. “We in Fatah movement are ready to implement reconciliation.”

Hoping to pressure Hamas to relinquish control of Gaza, Abbas has cut payments to Israel for the electricity it supplies to Gaza. This means that electricity has often been provided for less than four hours a day, and never more than six.

Representatives for Abbas, who is in New York ahead of the U.N. General Assembly this week, could not be reached for comment, nor could Fatah representatives presently in Egypt, which has been hosting talks with Hamas.

Some polls show that if parliamentary elections were held now, Hamas would win them in both Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the seat of Abbas’s Palestinian Authority.

The Western-backed Abbas, 82, is now 12 years into what was to be a four-year term and is an unpopular leader according to opinion polls. He has no clear successor and there are no steps being taken toward a presidential election any time soon.

(Reporting by Mohamed El Sherif and Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Susan Fenton)


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Leader of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh

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Haniyeh with Turkey’s Erdogan

Turkey Looking East For New Alliances, Money — Turkey’s ongoing drift away from its traditional strategic position

September 16, 2017
 SEPTEMBER 16, 2017 09:57


Three factors underlie Turkey’s ongoing drift away from its traditional strategic position in the region as a NATO and US ally.

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan arrive for a joint news

Turkey this week announced its purchase of the S-400 antiaircraft missile system from Russia. The deal, according to Western media reports, is worth $2.5 billion. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Turkish media that the first deposit on the system has already been paid.

The S-400, which has a range of 400 km. and can down 80 targets simultaneously, is widely considered to be the world’s most advanced air defense system at the present time. This surprise development is the latest milestone in Ankara’s ongoing drift in recent years away from its traditional strategic position in the region as a NATO and US ally.

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The recent visit of Iranian Chief of Staff Mohammad Hossein Bagheri to Ankara, accompanied by a large military delegation, was an additional recent indicator of the direction of events. This was the first such visit since the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

Turkey’s close involvement in the Russian-brokered Astana diplomatic process regarding Syria reflects this trend, as does the signing in Moscow in mid-August of a contract between the Turkish Unit International company, Russia’s state-owned Zarubezhneft and the Iranian Ghadir Investment Holding for the joint development of three oil fields and a large natural gas field in Iran.

© TURKISH PRESIDENT PRESS OFFICE/AFP | Iranian armed forces chief of staff General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on August 16, 2017

So what are the factors underlying Turkey’s repositioning away from the West and toward its enemies and adversaries? The explanation lies in three areas: Turkey’s perceived immediate interests, the eclipse of its hopes for the region in recent years, and the long-term internal direction of Turkish society and politics.

Regarding the first issue, Turkish concerns at the growing Kurdish power in Syria and Iraq bring it closer to Iran’s agenda and further from that of the West. Ankara has anxiously watched the rise of the Syrian Kurdish PYD (Democratic Union Party) in recent years in northern Syria. The party is an affiliate of the same Kurdish movement as the PKK (Kurdish Workers’ Party), which has been engaged in an insurgency against Turkey and for greater Kurdish rights since 1984. The Syrian Kurds are now ruling over the greater part of the 911-km. border between Syria and Turkey. Only a Turkish military intervention in August 2016 prevented their probable acquisition of the entirety of the border.

Yet more disconcertingly from the Turkish point of view, the Syrian Kurds are today engaged in a flourishing military alliance with the United States and the Western coalition in the war against Islamic State in Syria. From tentative beginnings in the urgent days of late 2014, the Pentagon-organized cooperation between the Kurdish YPG and US air power and special forces has turned into a doggedly effective military blunt instrument, which is currently destroying ISIS in the capital of its dying “caliphate” in Raqqa city.

The Turks have looked on helplessly as this alliance has grown. Their own attempts in early 2017 to propose an alternative partnership between the US and Turkey’s Syrian rebel clients foundered on the low military abilities of the latter and the lack of a clear dividing line between the rebels and Sunni jihadi extremists in northern Syria.

So Turkish prioritization of the need to contain and turn back Kurdish achievements in Syria, as well as its staunch opposition to the emergence of a Kurdish state in northern Iraq, bring it into line with Iran’s agenda in these countries, and against that of the West. The West, too, does not support Iraqi Kurdish moves toward independence, but its level of hostility to this and its determination to prevent it fall short of those of Tehran.

In the past, Ankara and Tehran’s joint opposition to Kurdish aspirations did not lead to improved relations between them, because they found themselves on opposite sides of the war between the Assad regime and the Sunni Arab rebellion against it. Similarly, this placed Ankara at loggerheads with Moscow.

But this restraining factor no longer applies. The Sunni Islamist regional project that placed Turkey on a collision course with Iran and Russia has, for the moment at least, largely been eclipsed. Once, it was common among Israeli strategists to count among the region’s alliances a group of countries and movements broadly aligned with Muslim Brotherhood-style Sunni political Islam. This emergent power bloc was a product of the Arab Spring revolts of the post-2010 period. At its high point in 2012, the crystallizing alliance consisted of Turkey, Qatar, Egypt, Tunisia and Hamas-controlled Gaza. Ankara and the others hoped that the Sunni Arab rebels would swiftly destroy the Assad regime and create an additional conservative Sunni Islamist regime.

This didn’t happen. The Sunni Islamic revolutionary energies of 2010-2012 are now largely spent. There is little to show for them. Egypt is back in the hands of its army. Tunisia is ruled by a coalition government dominated by non-Islamists. Hamas is trying to rebuild its alliance with Iran. Qatar is facing a counterattack from the UAE and Saudi Arabia, because of its stances. And the Syrian Sunni Arab rebels have no further chance of victory and are currently fighting for survival.

Turkey emerges from all this as a major loser. It had hoped to ride the wave of Sunni grassroots revolt to a position of regional dominance. (It also, in the initial phase, flirted with the more radical jihadists of Nusra and ISIS in Syria.) But the wave has spent itself. There is nothing to be gained from further support for the destruction of Assad, which will not happen. This clears the way for rapprochement between Iran, Turkey and Russia, through which Ankara will hope to thwart or contain Kurdish gains.

At the same time, the latest evidence suggests that Turkey will seek to use Russian mediation to prevent the total defeat and eclipse of the Sunni rebels. This is a matter both of Turkey’s Sunni identity and of a simple desire to avoid the humiliation of witnessing the destruction of its clients.

The final element underlying Turkey’s drift away from the West relates to internal matters. Erdogan is in the process of dismantling much of Turkey’s republican societal model, and is building in its place an Islamist society. Forty-thousand people have been jailed since the failed coup of July 15, 2016. A state of emergency remains in place. The free media has been silenced, legal immunity for members of parliament removed, journalists and academics arrested.

This new Islamic Turkey will not find its natural home in alliance with the United States and the West, still less with Israel, of course. So there should be no surprise at the sea changes under way in Ankara’s regional and global orientation.

Turkey is too big and too Sunni to ever become a charter member of the Iran-led regional bloc. There remain sharp differences with Tehran over the future of Sunni communities in Syria and Iraq. But all those still entertaining hopes for a return to Turkey’s status as a bulwark of Western security in the Middle East should revise their analysis. The emergent evidence points in a single direction. The Second Turkish Republic is on its way – and its face will be turned toward the East.


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Iran Gives $830 Million to Hezbollah

September 15, 2017
 SEPTEMBER 15, 2017 05:35

Iran is also “the largest backer financially and militarily” to Hamas’s militant wing.

SUPPORTERS OF Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah

SUPPORTERS OF Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah display Hezbollah and Lebanese flags in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley. . (photo credit:REUTERS)

Two years after the nuclear deal was signed by Iran and world powers, the Islamic Republic is reported to have boosted its financial support to Hezbollah to $800 million a year, a dramatic increase from the $200m. it was said to be giving its proxy when sanctions were in place.

Hezbollah, one of the most prominent terrorist organizations in the world, has become bogged down fighting in Syria for Bashar Assad. Of its approximately 22,000 fighters, about 7,000 are fighting for the Assad regime, and some 2,000 have been killed in the four years the group has spent in Syria.

The US and European countries lifted sanctions against Iran in January 2016, releasing roughly $100 billion in assets after international inspectors found that Iran had dismantled large parts of its nuclear program. According to US media, officials say President Donald Trump is ready to extend those waivers that were issued under the Obama administration.

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According to IDF assessments, while Hezbollah has increased its military capabilities due to its fighting in Syria, the group has spread its troops across the entire Middle East and is hurting financially.

The finances of the Lebanese Shi’ite group, designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by dozens of countries around the globe, also has been hit hard due to years of sanctions by the United States.

In June, a US congressional committee met to discuss enhancing sanctions targeting Hezbollah met with four security experts for advice on additional legal actions against the group’s financial network.

According to the committee, the 2015 Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act (HIPA), which threatens sanctions against anyone who finances the group in any significant way, was a good start but needs enhancing because Hezbollah continues to remain a significant threat to Israel.

Iran also is reported to be spending hundreds of millions of dollars for its militias in Syria and Iraq, as well as supporting Houthi rebels in Yemen who are fighting pro-government forces backed by a Saudi-led coalition.

Although HIPA placed major restrictions and other measures of the Lebanese banking sector, lawmakers in Washington believe it needs to be widened to cripple the group, which is involved in fighting in those countries.

Tehran, which froze its financial support to Hamas in the Gaza Strip after the group refused to support the Assad regime in 2012, is now reported to be providing the Gazan terrorist group some $60m.-70m.

In August, Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar said ties have been restored and that Iran is “the largest backer financially and militarily” to Hamas’s military wing.

Meanwhile, the IDF on Thursday afternoon announced the end of the large-scale Or Hadagan military drill in northern Israel. The exercise, with tens of thousands of soldiers from all branches of the army simulating a war with Hezbollah, was the largest IDF drill in almost 20 years.

“The objective of the exercise was to improve the Northern Command, the Northern Corps and the ability of its divisions to fight the multi-branch operational system in the Northern Command, with an emphasis on the Lebanese front,” the Spokespersons Unit said.

During the drill, large numbers of aerial, naval and land vehicles and equipment were used and troops were trained in joint exercises. Both defense and offensive capabilities, as well as fire power, intelligence and simultaneous military maneuvers were practiced in several sectors of the northern front.

The Home Front Command also practiced implementation of the plan to evacuate residents of communities that sit on the border with Lebanon.

Although the primary threat posed by Hezbollah remains its missile arsenal, which has been rebuilt with the help of Iran since the 2006 Second Lebanon War, the IDF believes the next war will see the group try to bring the fight to the home front by infiltrating Israeli communities to inflict significant civilian and military casualties.



Two Hamas militants die in Gaza tunnel collapse

September 15, 2017


© AFP/File | Palestinians walk inside a tunnel used for military exercises during a Hamas-run youth camp in Gaza City on July 21, 2016

GAZA (PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES) (AFP) – Two Hamas militants died in separate tunnel collapses in the Gaza Strip overnight, the Palestinian Islamist group, which controls the territory, said on Friday.

Khalil al-Dimyati, 32, and Yusef Abu Abed, 22, were killed after two “resistance tunnels” collapsed, Hamas said, referring to tunnels used for military purposes.

It did not give details of the locations or causes of the collapses, but confirmed the two men were members of Hamas’s armed wing.

A security source said one collapse was in Gaza City, while the other was near the city of Khan Yunis.

Hamas has run Gaza for a decade and fought three wars with Israel, which maintains a crippling blockade of the territory.

Hamas has built a network of tunnels inside Gaza, as well as some under the Israeli border.

During the last round of conflict in 2014 attack tunnels were one of Hamas’s most effective weapons.

Other tunnels are used for smuggling from Egypt, although many have been destroyed by the Egyptian authorities in recent years.

Several dozen Hamas members have died in tunnel collapses in the past year.

Hamas Leader in Cairo to Discuss Gaza Blockade

September 9, 2017

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Leaders of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh

GAZA — The new chief of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, arrived in Cairo on Saturday to hold talks with senior Egyptian officials about the blockade of Gaza on his first such visit as leader, a Hamas spokesman said.

In the past few months Hamas has sought to mend relations with Egypt, which controls their one international border crossing from the Gaza Strip. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has been wary of ties between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, ousted from power by Sisi after mass protests.

Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, a densely populated coastal territory that shares borders with Egypt and Israel, with which it has fought three wars since 2008.

For much of the last decade, Egypt has joined Israel in enforcing a partial land, sea and air blockade of Gaza.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the talks with Egypt will focus on alleviating the blockade and mending a longstanding rift with rival group Fatah, headed by Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

An Egyptian source confirmed Haniyeh’s arrival with a delegation for talks on the border crossing, security and power supplies.

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Haniyeh with Turkey’s Erdogan

Haniyeh was elected Hamas leader in May. The group maintains a sizeable armed wing in Gaza since seizing the enclave from Fatah in 2007.

Hoping to pressure Hamas to relinquish control of Gaza, Abbas has cut payments to Israel for the electricity it supplies to Gaza. This means that electricity has often been provided for less than four hours a day, and never more than six.

Abbas has vowed to keep up sanctions against Gaza, saying measures are aimed against Hamas and not ordinary people. In turn, Hamas is trying to make a crack in the wall of sanctions by improving its relations with Egypt and other Arab countries.

Israel, which signed a 1979 peace treaty with Egypt and coordinates closely with it on security, is maintaining a close watch on discussions between Egypt and Hamas. Like the United States and the European Union, it regards Hamas as a terrorist group.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; editing by Maayan Lubell and Ros Russell)

Qatar in bid to boost ties with Israel, US — “Public affairs and marketing effort”

September 7, 2017

Gulf News

Doha hires a PR company to improve its relations with the Jewish community worldwide

Image Credit: AP
FILE Picture: A traditional dhow floats in the Corniche Bay of Doha, Qatar. While Israel has always feigned disagreement with Qatar, reportedly over its pro-Palestinian coverage of Al Jazeera TV — a closer look exposes a much more complex relationship than what appears on the surface.

Published: 12:54 September 7, 2017Gulf News

Gulf News

Dubai: Qatar has reportedly hired a public relations company to improve relations with the Jewish community worldwide while strengthening relations with the United States.

According to O’Dwyer’s PR News, the news outlet for public relations, public affairs and marketing communications, Qatar hired Stonington Strategies for $50,000 (Dh183,663) a month for the campaign.



Stonington is headed by Nick Muzin, a doctor, lawyer and Republican strategist who is active in Jewish affairs.

“Engagement with Qatar can only be in the best interests of the United States and the Jewish community,” Muzin was quoted as saying by the news outlet.

Under the contract, Muzin will “advise on ways to build a closer relationship with the United States and improve ties with the Jewish community worldwide.”

“He will explore opportunities for political, cultural and economic cooperation with the US and Israel, especially in the areas of trade, real estate, job creation and technology.”

Among Muzin’s responsibilities while he served as deputy chief of staff for Texas Senator Ted Cruz during his GOP primary run, was outreach to the Jewish community.

While Israel has always feigned disagreement with Qatar, reportedly over its pro-Palestinian coverage of Al Jazeera TV — a closer look exposes a much more complex relationship than what appears on the surface.

Recently, a leaked report emerged in the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, saying that Tel Aviv was toying with the idea of closing down Al Jazeera’s Occupied Jerusalem bureau — comparing it to Nazi propaganda.

That has not happened, however — the story is increasingly appearing to be aimed at giving Qatar a facelift in the Arab world by appearing to be a foe of Israel.

In fact, Tel Aviv remains supportive of the Qatari regime, albeit discretely.

The two countries have maintained cordial relations, with former President Shimon Peres twice visiting Qatar.

The first was in 1996 when he inaugurated Israel’s trade mission to Qatar, followed by a 2007 trip to appear on Al Jazeera’s popular Doha Debates.

Former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni visited Doha in 2008, meeting with Shaikh Hamad, and in January 2008 Defence Minister Ehud Barak met with former Qatari Prime Minister Abdullah Bin Khalifa Al Thani in Switzerland.

Qatar unilaterally closed the Israeli Trade Mission in Doha in 2000, during the highest violence of the second intifada, but low-profile trade links remain open between Tel Aviv and Doha, which Qataris hope to tap into now, as other Gulf markets have been sealed off since June.

Doha also signalled that Israeli athletes would be welcome to participate in the Fifa games, and a stadium was named after the Qatari capital in the Israeli city of Sakhnin in the Galilee.

Four years ago, Qatar transported 60 Yemeni Jews to Israel, at the direct request of the Israeli Government, giving them a connection via Doha, while in 2015 they hosted talks between Israel and Hamas.

This relationship can be very useful to break Qatar’s current isolation and save Tamim’s government from collapse.

In turn, Qatar has proved willing to jump to Israel’s assistance at any time by triggering conflict in the Middle East when needed or mediating with non-state players who have the ear of Qatari royals, like Hezbollah and Hamas.


 (Turkey seems more devoted to Iran, Qatar, Russia than to the EU and Nato…)

Netanyahu tells Red Cross chief of unbelievable Hamas ‘cruelty’

September 6, 2017

In meeting with Peter Maurer, PM says terror group’s continued holding of citizens and bodies of slain soldiers ‘in contravention of all international norms’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, meets with Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on September 6, 2017. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, meets with Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on September 6, 2017. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Jerusalem on Wednesday, during which he accused the Hamas terror group of “unbelievable cruelty” for holding a number of Israeli citizens and the bodies of two IDF soldiers.

“We are concerned about this unbelievable cruelty. We have bodies of our slain soldiers that are kept [by Hamas] and even information about them is kept. And no less important, we have innocent, defenseless Israeli civilians held in Gaza,” Netanyahu told the organization’s president Peter Maurer.

“[They are] kept in a very closed and cruel way,” he added.

Netanyahu also thanked Maurer for his organization’s efforts to return the bodies of the IDF soldiers and Israeli citizens “in the face of this Hamas cruelty” and said the terror group was holding the Israelis “in contravention of all international norms and all the ideals the Red Cross has been established for.”

Responding to Netanyahu, Maurer said the mission to return the Israeli citizens and IDF soldiers’ bodies was one of the “longest running operations” of the Red Cross and that his organization is mandated by international law to work towards their return.

On Tuesday, Maurer visited the Gaza Strip, during which he asked senior Hamas officials to let him meet with the Israeli civilians believed to be held by the terror group.

Peter Maurer made the request as he met with Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas political leader in the coastal enclave, the Ma’an news agency reported, citing Palestinian sources. The two men talked for an hour together with senior Hamas official Ghazi Hamad.

Sinwar told Maurer that “all institutions will be open before the Red Cross to ensure the standards of international humanitarian law are being applied,” according to a Hamas statement.

It was not immediately clear whether the Red Cross director was seeking to be presented with evidence on the soldiers’ bodies, the living captives, or both.

The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer left, shakes hands with Hamas chief in Gaza Yahya Sinwar following a meeting in Gaza City, September 5, 2017. (AFP/Mohammed Abed)

Last month, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who has in the past criticized the Red Cross for not helping with the missing Israelis, caused a media storm by saying that Israel must not repeat the “mistake” of the 2011 Shalit prisoner exchange deal, which saw the release of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit after five years in Hamas captivity in exchange for over 1,000 Palestinian security prisoners.

Sinwar responded by declaring in a press release there could be no deal without Israel releasing Palestinian prisoners in reference to a number of the terror group’s operatives Israel has rearrested since their release in the Shalit deal.

Liberman’s comments drew the ire of the families of those held, with the father of one of the deceased IDF soldiers calling the defense minister “weak” and “cowardly.”

Hamas is thought to be detaining three Israelis — Avraham Abera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, as well as Juma Ibrahim Abu Ghanima, all of whom entered the enclave on their own accord over the past several years — as well as the bodies of two IDF soldiers — Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin — who were killed during the 2014 war between Israel and the terror group.

Oron Shaul, Hadar Goldin and Avraham Mengistu. (Flash90/The Times of Israel)

As part of the efforts to return the bodies of Shaul and Goldin, Israel has reportedly been holding indirect talks with Hamas about a possible prisoner deal.

At a memorial in July marking three years since the 2014 Gaza conflict, Netanyahu hinted at recently increased Israeli efforts to return the Israeli citizens and the bodies of IDF soldiers being held by Hamas.

“Our commitment to return home Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul is still firm. We have not let up from this sacred mission, in particular in recent days. The same applies to Avraham Abera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, Israeli citizens who are held in the Gaza Strip by a brutal enemy,” he said, failing to mention Abu Ghanima, the third Israeli civilian held by Hamas.

Since the capture of their sons’ bodies, the Shaul and Goldin families have waged public campaigns for their return, with the Goldins recently releasing a video urging the government to up its pressure on Hamas until the two soldiers’ bodies are returned.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

Obama’s Mideast legacy: Iran’s puppets all around Israel with war on the way

August 31, 2017

By Jonathan S. Tobin

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There are some mistakes for which the world never seems to stop paying.

When the United States chose to let Syria slide into chaos while simultaneously seeking to end the isolation of Iran with a nuclear deal, President Barack Obama thought he was avoiding trouble and giving Iran a chance to “get right with the world.”

But it turns out those blunders are still paying dividends for Iran, creating new dangers in the Middle East and threatening the hopes of the Trump administration. That was made clear this week when Yehya al-Sinwar, the leader of Hamas, announced in Gaza that the terror group had reconciled with Iran.

Prior to the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, Iran was Hamas’ main source of money and weapons and helped the terror group transform Gaza into a fortress bristling with rockets and missiles that rained terror on Israeli towns and cities.

Though Obama repeatedly called for Bashar al-Assad’s ouster, he did nothing to aid those trying to make it a reality, especially when a little help would have gone a long way. He ultimately stood by as Russia and Iran intervened to save Assad.

By backing down on his “red line” warning on the use of chemical weapons and then punting responsibility for that issue to Russia (which allowed Assad to continue using them), Obama also ensured that Syria would become a land bridge between Tehran and its Hezbollah auxiliaries in Lebanon.

Obama thought intervention would have been an obstacle to his hopes for a rapprochement with Tehran. Nor did he let Iran’s refusal to give up its nuclear program stop his push for a deal that vastly enriched the regime while only delaying its quest for a nuclear weapon.

The result: Iran is stronger and bolder than ever and building weapons factories in Lebanon and Syria. By reconciling with Hamas, it has the capacity to create what might be a three-front war against the Jewish state whenever it chooses to heat up the conflict. With Iran behind it, Hamas, which has already re-armed and re-fortified Gaza since its 2014 war with Israel, is not only better able to re-start hostilities but also now more of a threat to its Fatah rivals in the West Bank.

What does that mean for the United States?

The administration continues to believe that the shared fears of Iran that caused Arab states like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to make common cause with Israel will enable them to pressure the Palestinians to make peace. But as the Temple Mount crisis proved this summer, it’s the Palestinians who have the ability to push them away from the Israelis.As we saw last week when his adviser/son-in-law Jared Kushner visited the region, President Trump still harbors hopes of brokering the “ultimate deal” between Israel and the Palestinians that eluded his predecessors.

And with Hamas back in its pocket, Iran has the ability to veto peace with the Jewish state they still vow to eliminate.

What can Trump do? The options are limited but he must begin by realizing that sticking to Obama’s decision to let the Russians and Iranians have Syria is a mistake. The same applies to listening to those who have so far persuaded him not to start the process of rolling back the nuclear deal.

Trump will probably never get the Middle East peace deal he wants. But doubling down on Obama’s mistakes will only increase the risks of more Middle Eastern wars that he wishes to avoid.

The Iran-Hamas reunion is a warning that policies that strengthen Russia and its Iranian allies are blunders Israel and the West will keep paying for in blood and treasure.

Jonathan S. Tobin is opinion editor of and a contributing writer for National Review.



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Fatemeh Bahrami | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
A Iranian woman walks past a wall painting in the shape of Iranian flag in Tehran, Iran on the first anniversary of nuclear deal between Iran and world powers on January 16, 2017.

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Iran has boasted about its ballistic missiles, many of which are on mobile launchers

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© Saudi Royal Palace/AFP/File / by Ali Choukeir | A handout picture provided by the Saudi Royal Palace on July 30, 2017 shows Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) receiving prominent Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in Jeddah

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Iran’s FM Blasts John Bolton For Plan To Kill JCPOA (Iran Nuclear Deal) — Would only lead to “a fiasco” for the United States

August 30, 2017
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Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

Iran’s foreign minister has slammed a “game plan” drawn up by a veteran US diplomat for the Washington administration to exit the 2015 multilateral nuclear agreement, saying John Bolton’s strategy would only lead to “a fiasco” for the United States.

“This plan will definitely be a huge failure for the United States and it will lead to the further isolation of America in the international arena,” Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a Wednesday interview.

Bolton, a hawkish ally of US President Donald Trump, elaborated on what he called the game plan in an op-ed published on Monday in the National Review, laying out a “strategy” for the campaign to leave the Iran deal and “its execution.”

He openly stated that he shares Trump’s strong antipathy toward the 2015 the nuclear deal, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), between Iran and six world powers, including the US.

He claimed the plan had to be presented publicly as Trump declined to meet him and receive his suggestions regarding the issue amid staff changes at the White House.

Zarif pointed to Bolton’s previous plan over a decade ago to halt Iran’s uranium enrichment program, saying, “Mr. Bolton should remember that if his policy had been successful, the US would not have had to come to the negotiating table with Iran after 10 year of pursuing that policy and reach an agreement.”

The Iranian foreign minister argued that Washington’s decade-long pursuit of Bolton-engineered policy to halt Iran’s uranium enrichment eventually had no result but a significant increase in the number of Iran’s centrifuges from 200 to nearly 20,000.

This shows that pressure and sanctions will not affect the political will of the Iranian nation, Zarif said.

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Former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton speaks at a conference in Maryland on February 24, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Trump President took over from his Barack Obama as America’s leader in January. He rose to power mainly on the platform of undoing every major policy achievement of the former administration.

Trump intensely campaigned against the Iran deal and remains a steadfast critic of the landmark deal, which is viewed internationally as a major win for diplomacy; however, Iran’s full compliance has forced the US president to twice certify the deal to Congress.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), tasked with monitoring Iranian compliance, has consistently verified that Iran has been holding up its end of the bargain.

In what is seen by analysts as an attempt to find pretexts to escape a third certification, the new US administration is currently lobbying with the IAEA to request access to Iranian military sites as part of the deal.

Trump has also set up a team of his White House confidantes to present him with “options” other than certifying Iranian compliance with the deal to the Congress. Such certification is needed by US law every 90 days in order for the Congress to continue to withhold nuclear-related sanctions against Iran, itself a US commitment under the JCPOA.

The White House is also pressuring intelligence officials in the United States to produce intelligence that could be used to declare Iran in violation of a nuclear deal the president despises.


National Review

How to Get Out of the Iran Nuclear Deal

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Iranian flag at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. (Reuters photo: Leonhard Foeger)


August 28, 2017 1:30 PM

Although candidate Donald Trump repeatedly criticized Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear agreement, his administration has twice decided to remain in the deal. It so certified to Congress, most recently in July, as required by law.

Before the second certification, Trump asked repeatedly for alternatives to acquiescing yet again in a policy he clearly abhorred. But no such options were forthcoming, despite “a sharp series of exchanges” between the president and his advisers, as the New York Times and similar press reports characterized it. Many outside the administration wondered how this was possible: Was Trump in control, or were his advisers? Defining a compelling rationale to exit Obama’s failed nuclear deal and elaborating a game plan to do so are quite easy.

In fact, Steve Bannon asked me in late July to draw up just such a game plan for the president — the option he didn’t have — which I did. Here it is. It is only five pages long, but like instant coffee, it can be readily expanded to a comprehensive, hundred-page playbook if the administration were to decide to leave the Iran agreement. There is no need to wait for the next certification deadline in October. Trump can and should free America from this execrable deal at the earliest opportunity.

I offer the Iran nonpaper now as a public service, since staff changes at the White House have made presenting it to President Trump impossible. Although he was once kind enough to tell me “come in and see me any time,” those days are now over.

If the president is never to see this option, so be it. But let it never be said that the option didn’t exist.

— John R. Bolton is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.


I. Background: The Trump Administration is required to certify to Congress every 90 days that Iran is complying with the July 2015 nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — JCPOA), and that this agreement is in the national-security interest of the United States.1 While a comprehensive Iranian policy review is currently underway, America’s Iran policy should not be frozen. The JCPOA is a threat to U.S. national-security interests, growing more serious by the day.

If the President decides to abrogate the JCPOA, a comprehensive plan must be developed and executed to build domestic and international support for the new policy. Under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, the President must certify every 90 days that:

(i)  Iran is transparently, verifiably, and fully implementing the agreement, including all related technical or additional agreements;

(ii)  Iran has not committed a material breach with respect to the agreement or, if Iran has committed a material breach, Iran has cured the material breach;

(iii)  Iran has not taken any action, including covert activities, that could significantly advance its nuclear weapons program; and

(iv)  Suspension of sanctions related to Iran pursuant to the agreement is – (I)  appropriate and proportionate to the specific and verifiable measures taken by Iran with respect to terminating its illicit nuclear program; and (II) vital to the national-security interests of the United States. U.S. leadership here is critical, especially through a diplomatic and public education effort to explain a decision not to certify and to abrogate the JCPOA.

Like any global campaign, it must be persuasive, thorough, and accurate. Opponents, particularly those who participated in drafting and implementing the JCPOA, will argue strongly against such a decision, contending that it is reckless, ill-advised, and will have negative economic and security consequences. Accordingly, we must explain the grave threat to the U.S. and our allies, particularly Israel. The JCPOA’s vague and ambiguous wording; its manifest imbalance in Iran’s direction; Iran’s significant violations; and its continued, indeed, increasingly, unacceptable conduct at the strategic level internationally demonstrate convincingly that the JCPOA is not in the national-security interests of the United States.

We can bolster the case for abrogation by providing new, declassified information on Iran’s unacceptable behavior around the world. But as with prior Presidential decisions, such as withdrawing from the 1972 ABM Treaty, a new “reality” will be created. We will need to assure the international community that the U.S. decision will in fact enhance international peace and security, unlike the JCPOA, the provisions of which shield Iran’s ongoing efforts to develop deliverable nuclear weapons.

The Administration should announce that it is abrogating the JCPOA due to significant Iranian violations, Iran’s unacceptable international conduct more broadly, and because the JCPOA threatens American national-security interests. The Administration’s explanation in a “white paper” should stress the many dangerous concessions made to reach this deal, such as allowing Iran to continue to enrich uranium; allowing Iran to operate a heavy-water reactor; and allowing Iran to operate and develop advanced centrifuges while the JCPOA is in effect.

Utterly inadequate verification and enforcement mechanisms and Iran’s refusal to allow inspections of military sites also provide important reasons for the Administration’s decision. Even the previous Administration knew the JCPOA was so disadvantageous to the United States that it feared to submit the agreement for Senate ratification. Moreover, key American allies in the Middle East directly affected by this agreement, especially Israel and the Gulf states, did not have their legitimate interests adequately taken into account.

The explanation must also demonstrate the linkage between Iran and North Korea. We must also highlight Iran’s unacceptable behavior, such as its role as the world’s central banker for international terrorism, including its directions and control over Hezbollah and its actions in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. The reasons Ronald Reagan named Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1984 remain fully applicable today.

II. Campaign Plan Components

There are four basic elements to the development and implementation of the campaign plan to decertify and abrogate the Iran nuclear deal:

1.     Early, quiet consultations with key players such as the U.K., France, Germany, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, to tell them we are going to abrogate the deal based on outright violations and other unacceptable Iranian behavior, and seek their input.

2.     Prepare the documented strategic case for withdrawal through a detailed white paper (including declassified intelligence as appropriate) explaining why the deal is harmful to U.S. national interests, how Iran has violated it, and why Iran’s behavior more broadly has only worsened since the deal was agreed.

3.     A greatly expanded diplomatic campaign should immediately follow the announcement, especially in Europe and the Middle East, and we should ensure continued emphasis on the Iran threat as a top diplomatic and strategic priority.

4.     Develop and execute Congressional and public diplomacy efforts to build domestic and foreign support.

III. Execution Concepts and Tactics

1.  Early, quiet consultations with key players

It is critical that a worldwide effort be initiated to inform our allies, partners, and others about Iran’s unacceptable behavior. While this effort could well leak to the press, it is nonetheless critical that we inform and consult with our allies and partners at the earliest possible moment, and, where appropriate, build into our effort their concerns and suggestions.

This quiet effort will articulate the nature and details of the violations and the type of relationship the U.S. foresees in the future, thereby laying the foundation for imposing new sanctions barring the transfer of nuclear and missile technology or dual use technology to Iran. With Israel and selected others, we will discuss military options.

With others in the Gulf region, we can also discuss means to address their concerns from Iran’s menacing behavior. The advance consultations could begin with private calls by the President, followed by more extensive discussions in capitals by senior Administration envoys. Promptly elaborating a comprehensive tactical diplomatic plan should be a high priority.

2.  Prepare the documented strategic case

The White House, coordinating all other relevant Federal agencies, must forcefully articulate the strong case regarding U.S. national-security interests. The effort should produce a “white paper” that will be the starting point for the diplomatic and domestic discussion of the Administration decision to abrogate the JCPOA, and why Iran must be denied access to nuclear technology indefinitely. The white paper should be an unclassified, written statement of the Administration’s case, prepared faultlessly, with scrupulous attention to accuracy and candor.

It should not be limited to the inadequacies of the JCPOA as written, or Iran’s violations, but cover the entire range of Iran’s continuing unacceptable international behavior. Although the white paper will not be issued until the announcement of the decision to abrogate the JCPOA, initiating work on drafting the document is the highest priority, and its completion will dictate the timing of the abrogation announcement.

A thorough review and declassification strategy, including both U.S. and foreign intelligence in our possession should be initiated to ensure that the public has as much information as possible about Iranian behavior that is currently classified, consistent with protecting intelligence sources and methods.

We should be prepared to “name names” and expose the underbelly of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard business activities and how they are central to the efforts that undermine American and allied national interests. In particular, we should consider declassifying information related to activities such as the Iran-North Korea partnership, and how they undermine fundamental interests of our allies and partners.

3. Greatly expanded diplomatic campaign post-announcement

The Administration, through the NSC process, should develop a tactical plan that uses all available diplomatic tools to build support for our decision, including what actions we recommend other countries to take. But America must provide the leadership.

It will take substantial time and effort and will require a “full court press” by U.S. embassies worldwide and officials in Washington to drive the process forward. We should ensure that U.S. officials fully understand the decision, and its finality, to help ensure the most positive impact with their interlocutors. Our embassies worldwide should demarche their host governments with talking points (tailored as may be necessary) and data to explain and justify abrogating JCPOA. We will need parallel efforts at the United Nations and other appropriate multilateral organizations.

Our embassies should not limit themselves to delivering the demarche, however, but should undertake extensive public diplomacy as well. After explaining and justifying the decision to abrogate the deal, the next objective should be to recreate a new counter-proliferation coalition to replace the one squandered by the previous Administration, including our European allies, Israel, and the Gulf states.

In that regard, we should solicit suggestions for imposing new sanctions on Iran and other measures in response to its nuclear and ballistic-missile programs, sponsorship of terrorism, and generally belligerent behavior, including its meddling in Iraq and Syria.

Russia and China obviously warrant careful attention in the post-announcement campaign. They could be informed just prior to the public announcement as a courtesy, but should not be part of the pre-announcement diplomatic effort described above. We should welcome their full engagement to eliminate these threats, but we will move ahead with or without them.

Iran is not likely to seek further negotiations once the JCPOA is abrogated, but the Administration may wish to consider rhetorically leaving that possibility open in order to demonstrate Iran’s actual underlying intention to develop deliverable nuclear weapons, an intention that has never flagged.

In preparation for the diplomatic campaign, the NSC interagency process should review U.S. foreign-assistance programs as they might assist our efforts. The DNI should prepare a comprehensive, worldwide list of companies and activities that aid Iran’s terrorist activities. 4.

4. Develop and execute Congressional and public diplomacy efforts

The Administration should have a Capitol Hill plan to inform members of Congress already concerned about Iran, and develop momentum for imposing broad sanctions against Iran, far more comprehensive than the pinprick sanctions favored under prior Administrations. Strong congressional support will be critical. We should be prepared to link Iranian behavior around the world, including its relationship with North Korea, and its terrorist activities.

And we should demonstrate the linkage between Iranian behavior and missile proliferation as part of the overall effort that justifies a national-security determination that U.S. interests would not be furthered with the JCPOA. Unilateral U.S. sanctions should be imposed outside the framework of Security Council Resolution 2231 so that Iran’s defenders cannot water them down; multilateral sanctions from others who support us can follow quickly.

The Administration should also encourage discussions in Congress and in public debate for further steps that might be taken to go beyond the abrogation decision. These further steps, advanced for discussion purposes and to stimulate debate, should collectively demonstrate our resolve to limit Iran’s malicious activities and global adventurism.

Some would relate directly to Iran; others would protect our allies and partners more broadly from the nuclear proliferation and terrorist threats, such as providing F-35s to Israel or THAAD resources to Japan.

Other actions could include:

End all landing and docking rights for all Iranian aircraft and ships at key allied ports;

End all visas for Iranians, including so called “scholarly,” student, sports, or other exchanges;

Demand payment with a set deadline on outstanding U.S. federal-court judgments against Iran for terrorism, including 9/11;

Announce U.S. support for the democratic Iranian opposition; Expedite delivery of bunker-buster bombs; Announce U.S. support for Kurdish national aspirations, including Kurds in Iran, Iraq, and Syria;

Provide assistance to Balochis, Khuzestan Arabs, Kurds, and others — also to internal resistance among labor unions, students, and women’s groups;

Actively organize opposition to Iranian political objectives in the U.N.

 IV. Conclusion

This effort should be the Administration’s highest diplomatic priority, commanding all necessary time, attention, and resources. We can no longer wait to eliminate the threat posed by Iran.

The Administration’s justification of its decision will demonstrate to the world that we understand the threat to our civilization; we must act and encourage others to meet their responsibilities as well.   1 Although this paper will refer to “the JCPOA,” the abrogation decision should also encompass the July 14, 2015, statement by the Security Council’s five permanent members and Germany, attached as Annex B to Security Council Resolution 2231. The JCPOA is attached as Annex A to Resolution 2231.

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