Posts Tagged ‘Hezbollah’

France urges tough EU approach on Iran to save nuclear accord

March 19, 2018

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FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani shakes hands with French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, in Tehran, Iran, March 5, 2018. via REUTERSREUTERS


BRUSSELS (Reuters) – France urged the European Union on Monday to consider new sanctions on Iran over its involvement in Syria’s civil war and its ballistic missile program, as Paris tries to persuade Washington to preserve a 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.

U.S. President Donald Trump has given the European signatories a May 12 deadline to “fix the terrible flaws” of the deal, which was agreed under his predecessor Barack Obama, or he will refuse to extend U.S. sanctions relief on Iran.

In response, the three European signatories – France, Britain and Germany – have proposed new EU sanctions targeting Iranians who support Syria’s government in that country’s civil war and Tehran’s ballistic missile program, according to a confidential document seen by Reuters.

“We are determined to ensure that the Vienna accord is respected,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters on arrival for talks with his EU counterparts, referring to the city where the 2015 deal was signed.

“But we must not exclude (from consideration) Iran’s responsibility in the proliferation of ballistic missiles and in its very questionable role in the near- and Middle East,” he said. “That must also be discussed to reach a common position.”

The confidential document cites “transfers of Iranian missiles and missile technology” to Syria and allies of Tehran, such as Houthi rebels in Yemen and Lebanon’s Shi’ite Hezbollah.

Iran’s foreign ministry criticized Le Drian’s comments, saying there could be no negotiation over what Iran says are purely defensive weapons.

“We were hopeful that after his recent visit to Tehran and negotiations with Iranian officials, he would understand the realities of the Islamic Republic’s defense policies,” Fars news agency quoted Iranian spokesman Bahram Qasemi as saying.


The United States has unilateral sanctions on Iran over missile tests it says violate a U.N. resolution against developing weapons capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

Any EU-wide measures would be the first significant punitive steps since the bloc lifted broad economic sanctions on Iran last year following the 2015 accord to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions for at least a decade.

But new sanctions would need the support of all 28 EU member states and could complicate new business deals with Iran.

Some EU countries, including Italy and Greece, are keen to rebuild a business relationship that once made the EU Iran’s top trading partner and its second-biggest oil customer.

U.S. Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Sunday he expected Trump to pull out of the nuclear agreement in May unless European governments “really come together on a framework”.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who chaired the final stages of the nuclear negotiations between Iran and Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States, stressed that there was no formal EU position on new sanctions.

But other foreign ministers in Brussels hinted at discussions that diplomats said were underway in EU capitals.

“We have to explore all the possible measures to have the same type of pressure as we had in the nuclear dossier,” Belgium’s Foreign Minister Didier Reynders told reporters.

(Additional reporting by Samantha Koester, Alissa de Carbonnel, Bozorgmehr Sharafedin Nouri; Editing by Gareth Jones)


Hezbollah leader accused of saying Shiite law more important than Lebanese constitution

March 15, 2018

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah’s statement has been retracted by the website.
BEIRUT: An Iranian news website has caused controversy in Lebanon by claiming Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah told his followers that Shiite Islamic law is more important than the Lebanese constitution and “it is mandatory to implement its orders.”
Nasrallah’s comments, allegedly made during a meeting with Iranian supporters living in Lebanon, were reported by the Iranian Farda News website. However, the website later retracted the statements and issued an apology to its readers. Hezbollah’s media office also issued a statement rejecting the Farda News article.
According to the original story, Nasrallah made a series of controversial remarks addressing the religious and political situations in Lebanon and Syria. While praising Lebanese President Michel Aoun, he complained that many Shiites in the country had “converted to Christianity or become Sunni Muslims.”
Nasrallah was quoted as saying that “the principles of Wilayat Al-Faqih,” in which religious scholars qualified in Shiite Islamic law make legislation and issue socially binding edicts, “are above the Lebanese constitution.”
Lebanon is one of the Middle East’s most diverse countries, with a population including Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites, Druze, Maronites and Copts. Under Lebanese law, the president must be a Maronite, the prime minister a Sunni and the speaker of Parliament a Shiite.
— Originally Published in Asharq Al-Awsat


Russia’s conflict-laden foreign policy

March 12, 2018

Russian foreign policy has hardened under President Vladimir Putin. Although Russia is looking for cooperation, it is not afraid of confrontation, which has often led to difficult foreign relations. DW has the lowdown.

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United States

Russia has an ambivalent relationship to the US. During the US presidential elections in the fall of 2016, Russia apparently tried subtly to influence public opinion to benefit the future president Donald Trump. At least, that is the gist of special investigator Robert Mueller’s work to date.

But since Trump’s inauguration, the relationship between the two heads of state has been strained. At the beginning of March, Putin announced in his speech on the state of the nation that he wanted to turn new, and what he described as impossible to attack, nuclear missiles against the West.

This was also a reaction to the US’ withdrawal from the treaty with Russia on missile defense in 2002. In any case, the US did not seem surprised by this move. Trump announced the construction of new nuclear missiles with reduced explosive force. Political scientist Susanne Spahn told DW that she suspects it is important to Putin to strengthen his country’s position of power specifically in relation to the US.

“The main enemy is the United States. Putin has used very threatening rhetoric towards the West along the lines of, ‘in the past you did not want to listen to us, then at least listen to us now’.”

Middle East

Russia’s ambition to become an international political heavyweight again is most evident in the Middle East. Russia strongly supports the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is at war with sections of his own population. Russia has set up a substantial military contingent to protect Assad and his established political order.

Read moreWhat foreign powers want from the war in Syria

There are several reasons for Moscow’s involvement: Firstly, it is about having a military foothold in the Mediterranean region. Above all, however, Russia has become an actor in the region that no one can avoid. Together with Assad’s other key ally, Iran, Russia now has considerable influence in the region between Iran and Israel.

Russia’s authority holds significantly more weight than at the beginning of the Syrian war, in Iraq, Syria and in areas of Lebanon controlled by Iran-backed Hezbollah. Russian authority also counts in Turkey, which intervened in northern Syria in January. The US had largely withdrawn from the Middle East under the Obama administration. They left behind a gap that Russia is increasingly filling.

Central and Eastern Europe

Russia has rather difficult relations with the former satellite states of the Soviet Union. Lithuania has barely had any political contact with Russia since the Ukraine crisis. Around 65 percent of Lithuanians regard Russia as an “unfriendly” neighbor, while around 18 percent do not rule out the possibility that Russia could invade their country. This has made them all the happier about the 1,000 NATO soldiers who have been deployed to Lithuania.

Lithuania has also distanced itself economically. For a long time, the Baltic country was heavily dependent on Russian energy exports. It has systematically reduced this dependence.

Russian relations with Poland are also at a low point. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, whose role as chairman of the right-wing conservative ruling PiS party makes him a kind of eminence grise of Polish politics, is a staunch anti-communist. He has also distanced himself from Putin’s Russia. For example, he is a strong supporter of the EU’s sanctions against Poland’s neighbor to the east. Neither country has any discernible interest in rapprochement.

On the other hand, Russia enjoys good relations with Serbia, which is in large part due to the good personal relationship between Putin and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. Serbia also gets a substantial part of its arms and energy imports from Russia.


Russia has had a difficult relationship with Germany since the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis. Germany supports the EU’s decision to impose trade sanctions on Russia, despite the fact that German firms have suffered heavily as a result; around 40 percent of trade losses affect Germany.

Nevertheless, Germany is maintaining its critical stance on the annexation of Crimea and the conflict in Ukraine, SPD foreign policymaker Rolf Mützenich told DW. The breach of international law in Crimea is unacceptable, he said. However, he explained that the relationship with Ukraine and Russia generally remains a focal point of German foreign policy. “We must not put ourselves at the mercy of domestic political actors in either country,” said Mützenich.

Russia’s President Putin has an unclear relationship with Germany. On the one hand, Moscow maintains a close dialogue with Berlin. On the other hand, Putin questioned Germany’s sovereignty in June 2017. “There are not that many countries in the world that enjoy the privilege of having sovereignty. I don’t want to offend anyone, but what Mrs. Merkel said [in a previous speech – Ed] is an expression of the resentment of a limited authority that has accumulated over a long period of time.” The relationship is also strained by alleged Russian hacker attacks on German government computers.


Since relations with the EU have cooled as a result of the Ukraine crisis, Russia has increasingly turned its attention to China. Both countries want to expand their trade relations. Russia also wants to participate in the expansion of the “New Silk Road” — the dynamism of this primarily Chinese-European trade route should also benefit the Russian economy.

Read moreAre China and Russia challenging US military dominance?

In political terms, both states maintain a similar style, in particular, authoritarian dealings with critics and opponents within the country and a robust representation of their own interests to the outside world. Both states have repeatedly spoken out against Syria’s condemnation in the UN Security Council. They argue that interference in the country’s internal affairs is not admissible.

The two states have also come closer to each other militarily. They conducted several joint maneuvers — not only in central Asia, but also in the East China Sea. As a result, Russia has moved away in part from its previously cultivated neutrality in the dispute between China and Japan over islands in the South China Sea — a state of affairs that weighs heavily on Russian-Japanese relations, but that has further strengthened those with China.

Eastern Ghouta massacre: Mattis says ‘either Russia is incompetent or in cahoots with Assad’

March 11, 2018

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Children are treated in Eastern Ghouta after the Assad regime apparently used chemical weapons on the civilian population. AFP photo


MUSCAT/BEIRUT: The Assad regime and its Russian allies are either incompetent or acting illegally by killing civilians in Eastern Ghouta, the US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Sunday.
Mattis also issued a new warning about the regime’s use of chemical weapons. “Right now we’re getting reports — I don’t have evidence that I can show you — but I’m aware of the reports of chlorine gas use,” he said before arriving in Oman on a trip to the Middle East.
“There’s an awful lot of reports about chlorine gas use or about symptoms that could be resulting from chlorine gas.”
Asked whether the US would respond militarily, as it did last year with missile strikes on a Syrian air base, Mattis said: “I’m not going to strictly define it, but we have made it very clear that it would be very unwise to use gas.”
Mattis said the bloodbath in Eastern Ghouta, the opposition enclave near Damascus where the civilian death toll in the 22-day regime offensive rose on Sunday to at least 1,111, showed that regime troops were “at best indiscriminately” attacking and “at worst targeting hospitals.”
“I don’t know which it is, whether they’re incompetent or whether they’re committing illegal acts or both,” he said.
Russia could be complicit, Mattis said. “Either Russia is incompetent or in cahoots with Assad.”
US President Trump Donald has said he will not tolerate chemical weapons attacks but has not yet made a decision about the latest reports, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said in Washington.
“In this case, the intelligence community is working diligently to verify what happened there.
“I’ve seen the pictures. You’ve seen the pictures as well. We have a higher standard to make sure we understand precisely what took place, precisely who did it, so that our response can meet the threat.
“The president asks me nearly every day what it is the intelligence community knows about the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons and who else — the Russians or the Iranians — who might be responsible for them.”
Assad regime forces have carved Eastern Ghouta into two, dealing a major setback to the opposition and threatening to exacerbate an already dire humanitarian situation.
A military media outlet linked to the Syrian regime and its ally Hezbollah said pro-regime forces had broken through opposition lines to establish a corridor through the besieged region.
In three weeks of fighting, regime forces have overrun more than half the area and split the remainder into three pockets, isolating the urban hub of Douma. On Sunday, regime troops battered the edges of each pocket with air raids, barrel bombs and rockets.


Syrian army completely surrounds Douma: Hezbollah military media unit

March 11, 2018


Smoke rises in Rajo, Syria March 3, 2018. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

BEIRUT (Reuters) – The Syrian army has completely surrounded the major town of Douma in the eastern Ghouta region after advancing from Mesraba to Mudeira, two other towns in the area, a military media unit run by the government’s ally Hezbollah said on Sunday.

That army advance met up with another from the area around the town of Harasta, cutting the remaining rebel area in eastern Ghouta in two, it said.

Reporting by Angus McDowall; Editing by Mark Potter


UK, Saudi Arabia ‘call to disarm Hezbollah, rein in Iran’

March 10, 2018

Times of Israel and AFP

In a joint statement reported upon by Saudi media, governments agree Lebanese terror group’s destabilizing influence must be addressed

.Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May (L) greets Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) outside 10 Downing Street, in central London on March 7, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Tolga AKMEN)

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May (L) greets Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) outside 10 Downing Street, in central London on March 7, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Tolga AKMEN)

Saui Arabia and the UK vowed in a joint statement Saturday to deepen ties and strategic cooperation on issues of common interest, including efforts to disarm Hezbollah and weaken Iran’s regional influence, Saudi press reported.

According to the Saudi Press Agency, British Prime Minister Theresa May and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, at the end of the latter’s state visit to London, agreed that the Lebanese government should be supported in extending its control over Lebanese territory, and stated that it was important to “disarm the Hezbollah militia and confront its destabilizing role.”

The two countries also discussed the need for Iran “to abide by the principles of good neighborliness, non-interference in the internal affairs of countries” and to “take concrete and practical steps to build confidence and resolve its differences with its neighbors by peaceful means.”

The two nations further agreed on various avenues of future cooperation, including education, science, technology and finance.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah delivers a televised speech during a ceremony held by the terror group in Beirut commemorating its killed leaders on February 16, 2018. (AFP Photo/Joseph Eid)

Bin Salman was also greeted in the UK by Queen Elizabeth II.

But his arrival drew protests on the streets of London over the brutal Yemen conflict.

May defended the invitation when she was grilled in parliament over why Prince Mohammed was being afforded the red carpet treatment during his three-day visit.

“The link with Saudi Arabia we have is historic, it is an important one and it has saved the lives of potentially hundreds of people in this country” due to anti-terrorism cooperation, she told MPs.

“Their involvement in Yemen came at the request of the legitimate government of the Yemen, it is backed by the UN Security Council and as such we support it.”

The three-year conflict, which began with the Saudi-led intervention to fight Iran-backed Huthi rebels, has left 22.2 million people dependent on food aid, according to UN figures.

Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accused May’s government of “colluding” in war crimes by selling arms to Saudi Arabia, and even suggested that British military advisers were “directing the war.”

May responded that her relationship with Prince Mohammed had already helped alleviate the humanitarian crisis by convincing him to ease Saudi blockades of ports in Yemen during a meeting in December.

The pair met at Downing Street for talks on reforms in Saudi Arabia, trade and investment relations and defense and security cooperation.

The crown prince noted there were now “huge opportunities” to boost trade ties post-Brexit.

“I have no doubt that it’s a very deep relationship,” he added. “And it’s different and it’s not only about politics, or military, or intelligence, but also socially and economically.”

Following the talks, a Downing Street spokeswoman said May “welcomed recent reforms in Saudi Arabia, including on women” and had raised Britain’s “deep concerns” at the humanitarian situation in Yemen.

“The prime minister and crown prince agreed on the importance of full and unfettered humanitarian and commercial access, including through the ports, and that a political solution was ultimately the only way to end the conflict and humanitarian suffering in Yemen.”

The spokeswoman said the summit yielded “a landmark ambition” for around £65 billion ($90 billion) of mutual trade and investment opportunities in coming years in areas ranging from education to defense.

She added this would include direct investment in Britain and “new Saudi public procurement with UK companies.”


Israeli Army Sets Up ‘Consciousness Ops’ Unit to Influence Enemy Armies, Foreign Media and Public Opinion

March 9, 2018


With eye on hearts and minds, Israeli army sets up a new ‘soft power’ psychological warfare unit

A woman sits near a sign at Mount Bental, an observation post in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights that overlooks the Syrian side of the Quneitra crossing, Israel February 10, 2018. REUTERS/ Ammar Awad     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A woman sits near a sign at Mount Bental, an observation post in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights that overlooks the Syrian side of the Quneitra crossing, Israel February 10, 2018. REUTERS/ Ammar Aw\ AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS

As the new year began, the operations branch at Israel Defense Forces Central Command cut the ribbon on a new department, called the Center for Consciousness Operations. It is a reincarnation of another division that had engaged mainly in international legitimization and legal aspects of Israeli military activity, and had been subordinate to the Planning Branch.

The structural reform was the recommendation of Brig .Col. K, until recently a senior intelligence officer, who was appointed to study the issue. The idea was to concentrate planning all “soft” activity – with foreign armies, diplomats, the foreign press and public opinion – under one military roof. This was done as part of Israel’s effort to influence the enemy and Western opinion over Israel’s military moves on the northern front and in the territories.

At the height of the second intifada, the chief of staff at the time, Moshe Yaalon, was asked how we’d know that Israel had vanquished Palestinian suicide bombings. Yaalon answered that victory would be achieved through “cognitive etching” – Palestinian acknowledgement that the terror attacks wouldn’t drive Israel to capitulation.

>> Collision course in the north between Israel and Iran | Analysis <<

Yaalon was roundly mocked in the press but in retrospect, he was right. The terror attacks subsided mainly because both halves of the Palestinian leadership, in the Palestinian Authority and finally in Hamas, too, reached the conclusion that the price Israel was exacting from Palestinian public in response to terrorism was too high.

The incumbent chief of staff, Gadi Eizenkot, also has keen interest in the battle over consciousness. It’s even mentioned in the latest IDF strategy paper. His close friend, Col. Gabi Siboni, recently published an article about the cognitive shaping drive, through INSS. Siboni and another researcher, Gal Perl Finkel, wrote that the “IDF has intensified its cognitive-related activity recently, significantly building up process in this area and developing technological tools. Technological development enables a wide range of focused means of influence vis-à-vis various target audiences, and in effect creates another combat arena beyond the classic kinetic combat arenas,” they wrote.

“Armies and states have to contend with the enemy’s attempts to gain influence using technology and social media” rather than traditional war. Armies and states must work defensively, countering enemy efforts proactively and on the offensive plane, “in order to achieve objectives by influencing enemy target audiences, including decision makers, commanders, combatants, and domestic and world public opinion.”

The army could stand to learn from civilian PR campaigns for selling things from products to politicians, they suggest.

Of course, it’s a slippery slope, one the army already went down, and not well, under the days of Miri Regev as IDF spokeswoman. But their conclusion, that technological changes and social media require the army to contend there too, is hard to contest. The broad coverage of the recent moves in the Arab press – from IDF spokesman Ronen Manelis’ article warning Hezbollah and Iran on Arab websites, to intelligence widely disseminated in Western media – indicate that this is just the beginning.


Iran is pushing Israel into war

March 7, 2018

If a Mideast war breaks out anytime soon, Israel’s critics will likely accuse Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of wagging the dog. They’ll be wrong.

As Netanyahu makes the rounds in Washington and New York this week, his aides are keeping him abreast of the corruption investigations against him back home. Police have already recommended a criminal indictment against the premier.

Yet Bibi appeared unruffled — beaming Monday next to his old buddy, President Trump; basking in the admiration of AIPAC conventioneers Tuesday; scheduling a visit to the United Nations, Thursday.

In all, he displayed a single-minded focus on a career-defining topic. “Our greatest challenge,” he said at the White House Monday, is “encapsulated in one word: Iran.”

Beyond Bibi’s (and Trump’s) constant push to do away with, or at least repair, Barack Obama’s nuclear deal, Iran is becoming an ever-present menace on Israel’s borders. With up to 100,000 missiles stationed in Lebanon’s Hezbollah-land, the Revolutionary Guard’s growing presence in Syria and Tehran’s influence in Gaza, Iranians and their proxies can now attack Israel from three fronts.

Shaken after a visit to Israel, Sen. Lindsey Graham told CBS on Sunday, “I would focus on containing Iran rather than pushing a peace process that is broken.” He warned, “If we don’t come up with a strategy against Iran, we’re going to make Israel go to war here pretty soon.”

The power vacuum into which Iran has stepped was opened by a decade-long American withdrawal from the Mideast. As Ofer Shelah, the ranking member of the Knesset’s foreign affairs and defense committee, told me recently, “America’s absence in the region is the biggest threat we face.”

Shelah, of the opposition Yesh Atid party, notes that when Israel’s strongest ally is a nonfactor in Syria and Yemen, or in the peace process with the Palestinians, other, more cynical players — Russia, Sunni terrorists, Iran — rush in.

It’s not all bad news for Israel. With 4.4 percent GDP growth, its economy is stronger than ever. Despite its enemies’ constant calls to boycott the Jewish state, Israel marked the highest number of tourists in its history last year. High-tech titans are still investing in the “silicon wadi.” Countries cool to Israel in the past — most notably India — are warming up to it. Arab leaders quietly see it as an ally.

And Guatemala announced it’s following Trump’s lead and relocating its embassy to Jerusalem in May.

Yet, despite a considerable military edge over its enemies, Israel is under threat.

Tehran constantly vows to do away with the Jewish state. Iran’s growing arsenal on Israel’s borders might overwhelm its advanced missile defenses.

So the next war, as Graham learned last week, will be brutal. The Israelis will likely absorb more civilian casualties in the first hour than in several entire past wars.

They’ll also be forced to attack missile batteries that Hezbollah deliberately positions among Lebanon’s civilians. The chorus of global condemnation of Israel’s war tactics will be deafening.

And surely, if that next blood-letting starts, like the successful 1967 Six-Day War, in a life-saving preemptive strike, critics will say Netanyahu launched a war of choice to distract from his legal troubles.

It’s true that, after nine long years in office (and three years in the 1990s) the investigators may finally catch up to Netanyahu. True, too, that Bibi and his hordes of fans unhealthily believe only he can lead Israel. Yet nothing in his career indicates Netanyahu has any desire for unnecessary war.

For decades he’s warned about missiles the United Nations never sees in Lebanon. He’s been telling anyone who’ll listen that Iran and its proxy militias can’t remain in Syria after ISIS’s defeat. And, of course, Netanyahu famously rails against Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, soon to be globally kosherized if the nuclear deal remains in place.

His warnings fell on deaf ears as Barack Obama chased a legacy. Trump is yet to devise a coherent Mideast strategy. Russia only sees its own interests. Europe couldn’t care less, and while Arab leaders quietly urge Israel to hit Iran while it’s still feasible, they’ll condemn it once it does.

America should know better. Let Israel’s justice system do its thing. Meanwhile, we must end our Mediterranean vacation from history.

Twitter @bennyavni


March 5, 2018

Israel, the U.S. and some Arab states have stepped up. Europe needs to show much more resolve.

A Tehran military parade for the anniversary of the 1980-88 war with Iraq, Sept. 22, 2017.
A Tehran military parade for the anniversary of the 1980-88 war with Iraq, Sept. 22, 2017. PHOTO: STR/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

The Israeli military was forced last month to engage an Iranian drone launched into Israeli airspace from Syria. Israel’s defensive actions in this case were limited, but the world should take note. There will be more such incidents if Tehran is permitted to continue projecting force throughout the Middle East. To prevent a full-scale crisis, North America and Europe must join Israel in stopping Iran.

Iran is a revolutionary theocratic state committed to spreading religious extremism throughout the Islamic world. It combines this ideological mission with pragmatic tactics, projecting political and military power from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean and Red seas. To support its ambition, Iran has illegally pursued nuclear weapons and fought wars using terrorist proxies. Iran’s leaders have threatened Israel time and again with total destruction, and now, for the first time since the Islamist revolution of 1979, Iranian power has arrived at Israel’s border.

Despite Tehran’s quest for regional control, popular protests in December and January showed that most of the nation’s citizens don’t share their leaders’ designs. The regime’s destabilizing actions have also triggered resistance from Saudi Arabia and other regional powers. Iran’s own citizens and neighbors are convinced of Tehran’s malice, and all concerned nations should heed their warning.

The first objective must be to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. The Friends of Israel Initiative, of which we are members, has always maintained that the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement does not adequately prevent the regime’s progress. The nuclear inspections for which the agreement provides grant Iran too much time to conceal evidence of illicit activity. And the agreement doesn’t prohibit the development of delivery mechanisms such as ballistic and cruise missiles. Worst of all, the agreement’s sunset clause provides a clear horizon for Iran to resume its race toward a nuclear bomb.

Rather than preventing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the 2015 agreement gave the regime a road map to achieving them. Predictions that the agreement would de-escalate tensions and improve cooperation have proved wrong. Since signing the agreement, Iran’s aggression and hostility have increased.

But fixing the agreement and stopping Iran from going nuclear would not eliminate the threat. The U.S. and its allies must also roll back Iran’s aggression and influence throughout the Middle East. Tehran continues to wage war using terrorist proxies in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.

Thankfully, the U.S. has demonstrated its ability to rally its Middle Eastern partners in stabilizing the region. Iranian theocracy appeals mainly to a few neighboring Shiite Islamic factions, and Iran’s long-term conflicts with other sects have made many states eager to cooperate in restraining its influence. Numerous allies can be mobilized in the struggle against Iran, from the Kurds and tribal elements to many Sunni Arabs and Shiite forces not co-opted by Tehran. These factions must collaborate to contain Iran’s hegemonic ambitions.

Israel remains the greatest bulwark against Iran, and Iran remains committed to destroying the Jewish state. The recent border skirmish was the first time Iranian weapons directly infiltrated Israeli space. Iranian operatives have established themselves ever closer to Israel’s northern border and pose a growing threat to Israeli security.

President Trump seems to understand instinctively how poorly the Iran deal is playing out. He also seems to understand that the U.S. and its allies have a broad interest in standing firmly behind Israel. And he is right to say that the nuclear agreement must be renegotiated. The U.S. must demonstrate its leadership by increasing the pressure on Iran and resisting the interference of countries, including many in Europe, that prefer the status quo.

Applying halfhearted diplomatic fixes to grand-strategic problems creates impossible situations like the one in North Korea. Iran is already emulating North Korea by using Hezbollah’s missiles to hold Israeli cities hostage. If left unchecked, Iran’s aggression will ultimately threaten Europe and North America as well. All should urgently work together to counter this threat to global security.

Mr. Aznar is a former prime minister of Spain. Mr. Harper is a former prime minister of Canada. Both are members of the global Friends of Israel Initiative.


U.S. to Open Nuclear-Energy Talks With Saudi Arabia – and Iran Deal May Pay the Price

February 27, 2018

Associated Press and Harretz

Energy Secretary Rick Perry will lead an interagency U.S. delegation to talks with the Saudis in London as it explores a civilian nuclear energy program, possibly without restrictions on uranium enrichment

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry delivers a speech during the general conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Austria, September 18, 2017.
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry delivers a speech during the general conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Austria, September 18, 2017.Ronald Zak/AP

The Trump administration is opening talks with Saudi Arabia on a potentially lucrative atomic energy agreement that’s inextricably linked to an Obama-era nuclear deal with Iran. At stake: billions of dollars in contracts for U.S. companies and bigger questions about America’s ability to keep friend and foe alike from reaching nuclear weapons capability.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry will lead an interagency U.S. delegation to talks with the Saudis in London on Friday, two administration officials and three outside advisers said. The meeting comes as the Arab powerhouse explores a civilian nuclear energy program, possibly without restrictions on uranium enrichment and reprocessing that would be required under a U.S. cooperation deal.

But there’s a catch: The Saudis have indicated they might accept such curbs if a separate nuclear deal with its arch-foe Iran is tightened, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

The separate negotiations, over Saudi and Iranian nuclear capabilities, put American officials in the middle of the great balance-of-power of the modern Middle East. The Saudis are loath to sign away their ability to move closer to bomb-making capability while Iran is bound by a 2015 nuclear accord that will become increasingly lenient next decade.

When President Barack Obama blessed the nuclear compromise with Tehran, his officials insisted they weren’t weakening nonproliferation standards for everyone else. But that difficult task has fallen to President Donald Trump. And the Saudis, among his closest allies, are now asking a simple question: If Iran can enrich, why can’t we?

“Our objective is we want to have the same rights as other countries,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said this month at a security conference in Munich.

At issue on Perry’s trip is what’s known as a “123 agreement.” Without one, U.S. nuclear energy firms like Westinghouse would lose out on business opportunities with the Saudis. American officials and outside advisers said the Saudis have dangled the prospect of such contracts if new restrictions are imposed on Iran’s nuclear activity.

Trump shares many of the Saudi concerns over the Iran deal, which he’s called the worst ever and repeatedly threatened to walk away from. In January, he vowed he wouldn’t issue more waivers of U.S. sanctions — an Iran deal requirement — unless it’s amended to prevent Tehran from gradually resuming a variety of currently banned nuclear activities.

Such talks, primarily with Europe, are thus taking on added importance ahead of a mid-May deadline for more Trump waivers.

Trump has identified four specific problems that must be addressed, including two not covered by the deal: Expiration dates on some nuclear restrictions, inspection rules for Iranian military sites, ballistic missile work and Iranian activity in countries around the Middle East — where it has helped Syria’s government in a civil war and aided Yemeni rebels in another.

A team led by the State Department’s policy planning chief Brian Hook has met twice recently with European officials, in London last month and Paris last week. It’s seeking Europe’s commitment to re-impose sanctions with the U.S. if Iran violates a new set of nuclear restrictions. A third meeting is set for Berlin in March.

British, French and German official have been receptive to the ideas, according to the U.S. officials and advisers. The focus is on a supplemental agreement addressing Trump’s concerns without unravelling the original Iran deal, padded by European promises to consider tougher responses and sanctions for Iranian missile activity, support for Hezbollah and other non-nuclear matters.

As it is now, Iran can use thousands of centrifuges and enrich uranium, albeit to levels far short of weapons-grade material. Under 123 agreements, foreign countries can buy U.S. nuclear technology and the nuclear know-how that comes with it if they agree not to enrich uranium and reprocess plutonium. Both can be used for nuclear weapons fuel.

The irony that an agreement designed to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon lets it do more than its rivals isn’t lost on Saudi Arabia — or other countries that have voluntarily limited the scope of their programs. At least 23 countries have such agreements with Washington, including South Korea, South Africa and Vietnam.

The United Arab Emirates entered into a 123 agreement with the U.S. in 2009, one of the strictest ever reached. When the Iran deal was reached, the Emirati ambassador to Washington told Congress his country “no longer felt bound” by provisions preventing the UAE from enriching.

While Trump has aggressively courted the Saudi government, seeing the Sunni-led powerhouse as a bulwark against Shiite Iran, there is near universal agreement among national security experts that allowing any country to introduce nuclear weapons in the volatile Middle East would be a terrible idea. Currently, the only Mideast country believed to possess a nuclear arsenal is Israel.

But there are also concerns a U.S.-Saudi disagreement will lead the kingdom to turn to U.S. rivals Russia and China, whose state-owned nuclear companies are competing to build reactors in Saudi Arabia. That would give the United States even less insight into Saudi Arabia’s nuclear activities in the future.

The overlapping issues have Iran deal opponents insisting tougher rules on Iran is the easiest solution.

“A fix puts the administration in a much better position with the Saudis,” said Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. “It’s a critical step in demanding adherence to the ‘gold standard’ as opposed to the Iran standard.”