Posts Tagged ‘Hezbollah’

Israel Says Shoots Down Drone Over Golan Heights Frontier With Syria — Patriot Missiles Takes Down Hezbollah Pilotless Aircraft

September 19, 2017

JERUSALEM — Israel shot down a pilotless aircraft that tried to enter its airspace at its Golan Heights frontier with Syria on Tuesday, the Israeli military said.

Israeli media said a Patriot interceptor missile was used in the incident.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller)


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Iran shows off one of its drones

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The military said that this was not the first time Hezbollah uses intelligence-gathering drones against Israel, but added that this time the drone was unusually close to the Israeli border.
The drone was downed over the border Syrian town of Quneitra.

“Israel will not allow Iran, Hezbollah or other forces to infiltrate or get near its territory in the Golan Heights,” the IDF Spokesperson’s Unite said in a statement.


Earlier this month, foreign media reports claimed that Israeli warplanes struck a chemical arms plant in Syria from Lebanese airspace. The Syrian army general command confirmed in a statement the attack on what they called a military facility, and said that two people were killed and extensive damage was caused. Israel refused to comment on the reports.

Last year, the Israeli military unsucessfully tried to intercept an unmanned aerial vehicle that breached its airspace. The drone entered 4 kilometers deep into Israeli territory before returning to Syria. The Israel Defense Forces tried to shoot down the drone three times – first with two Patriot missiles, and then with a fighter jet, which fired an air-to- air missile at it. But as far as the army can tell, the drone escaped unscathed.

In March, the Air Force said an Arrow missile intercepted an air-to-air missile that was fired at Israeli jets.


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Syria: Jihadists Launch Big Attack on Syrian Government Near Hama — While Russia tries to hold ceasefires

September 19, 2017

BEIRUT — Insurgent groups launched a big attack on government-held areas in northwestern Syria on Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and a media outlet run by the Lebanese group Hezbollah reported.

The attack north of Hama city spearheaded by jihadist groups marks the biggest offensive in that area since March, and underlines the complications facing Russian-led diplomatic efforts to preserve ceasefires in western Syria.

Several groups participated in the well-planned attack on government-held villages, the Observatory said, including Tahrir al-Sham — an alliance of Islamist groups spearheaded by the jihadist group formerly known as the Nusra Front.

The Hezbollah-run military news outlet said the army and its allies were repelling what it described as a large-scale attack in the area by the Nusra Front and factions affiliated to it.

The Observatory said warplanes were carrying out air strikes in the area and fierce clashes were underway. Insurgents had launched heavy bombardments of government-held positions, it said.

The insurgents taking part in the assault included the jihadist group the Turkistan Islamic Party and a group fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army, the Observatory said

Insurgents advanced within a few kilometers (miles) of the government-held city of Hama earlier this year, before the Syrian army and its allies retook the territory in April.

The northern Hama area is adjacent to the rebel-held province of Idlib, which is largely controlled by Nusra.

Ceasefires in western Syria — for years the main theater of the Syrian civil war — have helped the Syrian army and its allies advance against Islamic State in the east, where government forces are battling the group at Deir al-Zor.

Last week, Russia, Iran and Turkey agreed at talks in Kazakhstan to post observers on the edge of “a de-escalation zone” in Idlib region. The Nusra Front denounced ceasefire talks in Kazakhstan, and vowed to keep fighting.

(Reporting by Sarah Dadouch; Editing by Tom Perry and Catherine Evans)

Iran Accuses U.S. of Sabotaging Nuclear Deal Ahead of U.N. Talks

September 18, 2017

Comments by Iranian Vice President escalates clash with Washington ahead of talks

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Iranian Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi accused the U.S. of violating the spirit and letter of the 2015 nuclear deal in a speech at the annual conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna on Monday. PHOTO: RONALD ZAK/ASSOCIATED PRESS

VIENNA—Iranian Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi on Monday accused the U.S. of violating the spirit and letter of the 2015 nuclear deal, escalating a clash between the two countries at the start of a crucial week of talks on the accord’s future.

President Donald Trump has said he expects not to certify Iran’s compliance with the accord when a decision comes due next month, a move that could unravel the agreement.  Failure to certify the accord would give Congress an opportunity to decide whether to re-impose U.S. sanctions that were suspended as part of the 2015 deal.

Speaking in Vienna at the annual conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which oversees Iran’s compliance with the accord, Mr. Salehi said Iran is complying fully with the 2015 agreement. Under the pact, Tehran significantly reduced its nuclear program.

“The American administration’s overtly hostile attitude and actual foot-dragging policies and measures aim at undermining the nuclear deal and blocking Iran’s legitimate benefits from its full implementation,” said Mr. Salehi, who also heads Iran’s atomic agency. That is “contrary to the letter and spirit of the” nuclear deal.

Mr. Salehi’s comments took place as world leaders gather in New York for the annual United Nations General Assembly. A meeting of foreign ministers from Iran and the six countries that negotiated the agreement is planned for Wednesday in New York.  If  the U.S. and Iranian officials both attend, that would be the highest level meeting between the two countries since Mr. Trump took office.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also expected to discuss the agreement when he meets Mr. Trump later Monday. Both leaders have fiercely criticized the deal.

nuclear deal, who steers Iran’s foreign policy decisions, on Sunday warned that any “wrong move by domineering powers” on the 2015 accord would draw an Iranian response.

The United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York this week will be dominated by international concern about North Korea after the country fired a missile over Japan again last week. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib tells us what to watch out for during the meetings. Photo: Getty

Iran has complained that the U.S. is undercutting the accord by increasing sanctions on Iran and by pressing international partners not to do business with Iran. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said while Iran may be in “technical compliance” with the accord, it has violated the spirit of the accord through its missile tests, support for terrorism and its regional actions in Syria and Yemen.

So far, the body that oversees implementation of the agreement has said all sides are complying. That body, which comprises of senior officials from the countries who negotiated the deal, is set to meet again Tuesday in New York.

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, also speaking in Vienna, again pressed the IAEA to step up its oversight of Iran’s activities. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said last month, following a visit to the IAEA, that there were hundreds of sites in Iran where suspicious activities were taking place.

She said the U.S. “strongly encourages the IAEA to exercise its full authorities to verify Iran’s adherence to each and every nuclear commitments under the” agreement. “We will not accept a weakly enforced or inadequately monitored deal.”

The American administration’s overtly hostile attitude and actual foot-dragging policies and measures aim at undermining the nuclear deal and blocking Iran’s legitimate benefits from its full implementation.

—Iranian Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi

U.S. officials have also expressed concern about the agreement’s terms, specifically the expiry of key constraints on Iran’s nuclear activities from the middle of the next decade. Critics of the deal say that could open a pathway over time for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.

Washington has been pressing European governments to adopt a more aggressive stance against Iran, both over the nuclear accord and on Tehran’s other actions. European officials have said they support the current agreement.

IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano reiterated in his remarks on Monday that Iran is implementing its nuclear-related commitment under the deal.

Mr. Amano was re-elected unopposed to lead the agency for a third term on Monday, until late 2021.

The former Japanese diplomat, 70, has steered the IAEA during one of its most turbulent periods since 2009. He was in charge during the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan in 2011 and as North Korea expanded its nuclear program and expelled IAEA inspectors.

Write to Laurence Norman at


Islamic republic’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei


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Is Iran the new North Korea? Not even close

September 17, 2017

Israel is alarmed about Iran’s intentions — but that’s nothing new. Flawed as it is, the nuclear deal is holding

By Steven A. Cook

Is Iran the new North Korea? Not even close

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Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (Credit: Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Last Monday, the Washington Post ran a short article headlined “Israeli Official: Netanyahu Must Push Trump to End Iran Deal,” which covered remarks made by Yisrael Katz, Israel’s minister of intelligence and strategic affairs, at a conference near Tel Aviv. Perhaps signaling what to expect when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu travels to New York this week to attend the UN General Assembly, Katz advised his boss to press President Donald Trump to alter or walk away from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as “the Iran nuclear deal.”

According to the story, Katz used the North Korea crisis to make the case that the JCPOA is defective and in the process declared that “Iran is the new North Korea.” That Israel’s leaders are counseling the Trump administration to change or bust the Iran deal is hardly news. They spent the better part of President Barack Obama’s second term in office lobbying against the diplomacy that led to the deal and then working to undermine the JCPOA after it became a fact of life.

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It is also not exactly news that the Israelis have legitimate reasons to be concerned. The Iranians routinely threaten Israel and seemed determined to develop nuclear technology, at least until the JCPOA. Hezbollah, the Lebanese terrorist group, functions as an Iranian expeditionary force fighting in Syria, Iraq, and even Afghanistan, and has tens of thousands of rockets that can reach every part of Israel. This is particularly troublesome for the Israelis on two levels. First, there is the obvious specter of mass civilian casualties and infrastructure damage that those rockets can do to Israel. Second, the combination of a nuclearized Iran and a well-armed Hezbollah greatly diminishes Israel’s freedom of action to pursue its interests.

Since the Egypt-Israel peace treaty, the Israelis have acted with impunity around the Middle East as they saw fit. It has not always worked out well, but that’s beside the point. Israel faced few constraints when it decided to bomb Iraq’s nuclear facilities in 1981, invade Lebanon in 1982 and take out a Syrian nuclear facility in 2007. The combination of Iranian nuclear weapons plus Hezbollah, which represents Iran’s second-strike capability, severely compromises Israel’s ability to respond to threats. Yet while Katz’s alarm about Iran’s nuclear program is well grounded, his logic seems less so.

One could argue that North Korea now poses such a threat to South Korean, Japanese and American interests in East Asia precisely because there is no similar agreement to keep a lid on Pyongyang’s nuclear program as the JCPOA is presently constraining Iran’s nuclear program (though not Tehran’s capacity to make mischief in other ways). There was, of course, the 1994 “Agreed Framework,” under which the North Koreans agreed to halt the development of nuclear reactors that were believed to be part of their proliferation efforts, in exchange for reactors that could not be used for those purposes and for fuel oil. It worked for a while, but the combination of North Korean missile tests and a policy review in 2002 by the Bush administration that found the North Koreans to be cheating led to the end of the agreement. If Katz was making the argument that the JCPOA will eventually go the way of the Agreed Framework, he may have a case. But he is getting ahead of himself.

Debate over the JCPOA in Washington is typically polarized. Opponents claim that it is so deeply flawed that it was bankrupt from the start. The Iranians, they argue, have no intention of permanently mothballing their drive to develop nuclear technology. Iran hawks point out the acceleration of Iran’s missile development (not addressed in JCPOA, but subject to sanctions) as evidence of Tehran’s malign intent and continuing threat. The consolidation of Iran’s power and influence around the region — including of course the arming of Hezbollah — suggests that Iran is a bad actor that is not to be trusted.

Iran doves respond that there was no other way to arrest Iran’s nuclear development; that Tehran would be closer to nukes today if not for the JCPOA; that the deal gives the United States, Europe and Israel some breathing room for additional diplomacy and development of counter-measures, if necessary; and that bringing Iran in from the cold will improve regional security, obviating the need for Tehran (or anyone else) to possess nuclear weapons. This last point is based on an underlying logic of the deal, which bets that Iran will become a different country in the decade before the restrictions on its nuclear program are scheduled to come to an end.

Both camps make compelling arguments, creating a lot of ambivalence in between. It is unclear what the Trump administration is going to do, but it has now twice certified that Iran is upholding its commitments as outlined in the JCPOA, thus holding off on new sanctions. Although there has been a lot of tough rhetoric about Iran inside the Beltway recently, there is also a fair amount of support in favor of the status quo. These folks are supporters of the JCPOA by default. They regard the deal as a fact of life, even if it is flawed in certain and important respects, and fear that walking away would permit the Iranians to move forward with nuclear development under far fewer constraints than those imposed upon them under the JCPOA. That’s where Yisrael Katz’s logic in declaring Iran the new North Korea runs off the rails.

Kim Jong Un has a bomb, but Ayatollah Ali Khamenei does not. What is the difference between them? There is no broad multilateral agreement specifically targeting North Korea’s nuclear program like the one in place that seeks to prevent Iran’s proliferation. Maybe the history of the Agreed Framework proves that North Korea is immune to these kinds of efforts. Its leadership has demonstrated a willingness to let its people suffer enormously in the service of the regime’s goals. The Iranian leadership has also inflicted pain on that nation’s citizens, but they have also demonstrated that they are susceptible to both international pressure and incentives to freeze the Iranian nuclear program. It may be that Iran, like North Korea, is determined to obtain nuclear weapons no matter what, but so far, at least, Tehran is not following Pyongyang’s example. That does not mean that there is great reason to trust the Iranians, but it is exactly why the Iran nuclear deal, with its elaborate mechanisms for verification, is so important.

Steven A. Cook is the Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. His new book, “False Dawn: Protest, Democracy, and Violence in the New Middle East,” was recently published by Oxford University Press.


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Iran Recruits Afghan and Pakistani Shiites to Fight in Syria

September 16, 2017

ISLAMABAD — Thousands of Shiite Muslims from Afghanistan and Pakistan are being recruited by Iran to fight with President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria, lured by promises of housing, a monthly salary of up to $600 and the possibility of employment in Iran when they return, say counterterrorism officials and analysts.

These fighters, who have received public praise from Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, even have their own brigades, but counterterrorism officials in both countries worry about the mayhem they might cause when they return home to countries already wrestling with a major militant problem.

Amir Toumaj, Iran research analyst at the U.S.-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said the number of fighters is fluid but as many as 6,000 Afghans are fighting for Assad, while the number of Pakistanis, who fight under the banner of the Zainabayoun Brigade, is in the hundreds.

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In Afghanistan, stepped-up attacks on minority Shiites claimed by the upstart Islamic State group affiliate known as Islamic State in the Khorasan Province could be payback against Afghan Shiites in Syria fighting under the banner of the Fatimayoun Brigade, Toumaj said. Khorasan is an ancient name for an area that included parts of Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia.

“People were expecting blowback,” said Toumaj. IS “itself has its own strategy to inflame sectarian strife.”

Shiites in Afghanistan are frightened. Worshippers at a recent Friday prayer service said Shiite mosques in the Afghan capital, including the largest, Ibrahim Khalil mosque, were barely a third full. Previously on Fridays — the Islamic holy day — the faithful were so many that the overflow often spilled out on the street outside the mosque.

Mohammed Naim, a Shiite restaurant owner in Kabul issued a plea to Iran: “Please don’t send the poor Afghan Shia refugees to fight in Syria because then Daesh attacks directly on Shias,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.

Pakistan has also been targeted by the Islamic State in Khorasan province. IS has claimed several brutal attacks on the country’s Shiite community, sending suicide bombers to shrines they frequent, killing scores of devotees.

In Pakistan, sectarian rivalries routinely erupt in violence. The usual targets are the country’s minority Shiites, making them willing recruits, said Toumaj. The most fertile recruitment ground for Iran has been Parachinar, the regional capital of the Khurram tribal region, that borders Afghanistan, he said. There, Shiites have been targeted by suicide bombings carried out by Sunni militants, who revile Shiites as heretics.

In June, two suicide bombings in rapid succession killed nearly 70 people prompting nationwide demonstrations, with protesters carrying banners shouting: “Stop the genocide of Shiites.”

A Pakistani intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media, said recruits are also coming from northern Gilgit and Baltistan. Recruiters are often Shiite clerics with ties to Iran, some of whom have studied in seminaries in Iran’s Qom and Mashhad cities, said a second Pakistani official, who also spoke on condition he not be identified because he still operates in the area and exposing his identity would endanger him.

Yet fighters sign up for many reasons.

Some are inspired to go to Syria to protect sites considered holy to Shiite Muslims, like the shrine honoring Sayyida Zainab, the granddaughter of Islam’s Prophet Muhammed. Located in the Syrian capital of Damascus, the shrine was attacked by Syrian rebels in 2013. Others sign up for the monthly stipend and the promise of a house. For those recruited from among the more than 1 million Afghan refugees still living in Iran it’s often the promise of permanent residence in Iran. For Shiites in Pakistan’s Parachinar it is outrage at the relentless attacks by Sunni militants that drives them to sign up for battle in Syria, said Toumaj.

Mir Hussain Naseri, a member of Afghanistan’s Shiite clerics’ council, said Shiites are obligated to protect religious shrines in both Iraq and Syria.

“Afghans are going to Syria to protect the holy places against attacks by Daesh,” he said. “Daesh is the enemy of Shias.”

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In this Friday, Aug. 25, 2017 file photo, men carry a woman’s body after an attack on a Shiite mosque in Kabul, Afghanistan. Thousands of Pakistani and Afghan Shiites have been recruited by Iran to fight in Syria generating fears that their return could aggravate sectarian rivalries, say counterterrorism officials as well as analysts, who track militant movements. AP photo

Ehsan Ghani, chief of Pakistan’s Counterterrorism Authority, told The Associated Press that his organization is sifting through hundreds of documents, including immigration files, to put a figure on the numbers of Pakistanis fighting on both sides of the many Middle East conflicts, including Syria. But it’s a cumbersome process.

“We know people are going from here to fight but we have to know who is going as a pilgrim (to shrines in Syria and Iraq) and who is going to join the fight,” he said.

Pakistan’s many intelligence agencies as well as the provincial governments are involved in the search, said Ghani, explaining that Pakistan wants numbers in order to devise a policy to deal with them when they return home. Until now, Pakistan has denied the presence of the Islamic State group in Pakistan.

Nadir Ali, a senior policy analyst at the U.S.-based RAND Corp., said Afghan and Pakistani recruits also provide Iran with future armies that Tehran can employ to enhance its influence in the region and as protection against perceived enemies.

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In this Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 file photo, Pakistani Shiite Muslims mourn next to the bodies of their relatives, a victims of bombing that killed scores of people in Quetta, Pakistan. Thousands of Pakistani and Afghan Shiites have been recruited by Iran to fight in Syria generating fears that their return could aggravate sectarian rivalries, say counterterrorism officials as well as analysts, who track militant movements. AP photo

Despite allegations that Iran is aiding the Taliban in Afghanistan, Ali says battle-hardened Shiite fighters are Tehran’s weapon should relations with an Afghan government that includes the radical majority Sunni religious movement deteriorate.

“Once the Syrian civil war dies down Iran is going to have thousands, if not tens of thousands of militia, under its control to use in other conflicts,” he said. “There is a potential of Iran getting more involved in Afghanistan using militia because Iran is going to be really concerned about security on its border and it would make sense to use a proxy force.”

Pakistan too has an uneasy relationship with Iran. On occasion the anti-Iranian Jandullah militant group has launched attacks against Iranian border guards from Baluchistan province. In June, Pakistan shot down an Iranian drone deep inside its territory.

In Pakistan the worry is that returning fighters, including those who had fought on the side of IS, could start another round of sectarian bloodletting, said the intelligence official.


Associated Press writers Amir Shah in Kabul, Afghanistan; Munir Ahmed in Islamabad, Pakistan; Riaz Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan and Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran contributed to this report.




Iran Gives $830 Million to Hezbollah

September 15, 2017
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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.



Trump weighing aggressive Iran strategy — More than 80 experts urge Trump not to abandon Iran nuclear deal

September 14, 2017

WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – President Donald Trump is weighing a strategy that could allow more aggressive U.S. responses to Iran’s forces, its Shi’ite Muslim proxies in Iraq and Syria, and its support for militant groups, according to six current and former U.S. officials.

The proposal was prepared by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and other top officials, and presented to Trump at a National Security Council meeting on Friday, the sources said.

It could be agreed and made public before the end of September, two of the sources said. All of the sources are familiar with the draft and requested anonymity because Trump has yet to act on it.

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United States and Iran Relations throughout time

In contrast to detailed instructions handed down by President Barack Obama and some of his predecessors, Trump is expected to set broad strategic objectives and goals for U.S. policy but leave it to U.S. military commanders, diplomats and other U.S. officials to implement the plan, said a senior administration official.

“Whatever we end up with, we want to implement with allies to the greatest extent possible,” the official added.

The White House declined to comment.

The plan is intended to increase the pressure on Tehran to curb its ballistic missile programs and support for militants, several sources said.

“I would call it a broad strategy for the range of Iranian malign activities: financial materials, support for terror, destabilization in the region, especially Syria and Iraq and Yemen,” said another senior administration official.

The proposal also targets cyber espionage and other activity and potentially nuclear proliferation, the official said.

The administration is still debating a new stance on a 2015 agreement, sealed by Obama, to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The draft urges consideration of tougher economic sanctions if Iran violates the 2015 agreement.

The proposal includes more aggressive U.S. interceptions of Iranian arms shipments such as those to Houthi rebels in Yemen and Palestinian groups in Gaza and Egypt’s Sinai, a current official and a knowledgeable former U.S. official said.

The plan also recommends the United States react more aggressively in Bahrain, whose Sunni Muslim monarchy has been suppressing majority Shi’ites, who are demanding reforms, the sources said.

In addition, U.S. naval forces could react more forcefully when harassed by armed speed boats operated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s paramilitary and espionage contingent, three of the sources said.

U.S. ships have fired flares and warning shots to drive off IRGC boats that made what were viewed as threatening approaches after refusing to heed radio warnings in the passageway for 35 percent of the world’s seaborne petroleum exports.

U.S. commanders now are permitted to open fire only when they think their vessels and the lives of their crews are endangered. The sources offered no details of the proposed changes in the rules, which are classified.


The plan does not include an escalation of U.S. military activity in Syria and Iraq. Trump’s national security aides argued that a more muscular military response to Iranian proxies in Syria and Iraq would complicate the U.S.-led fight against Islamic State, which they argued should remain the top priority, four of the sources said.

Mattis and McMaster, as well as the heads of the U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Forces Command, have opposed allowing U.S. commanders in Syria and Iraq to react more forcefully to provocations by the IRGC, Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias, the four sources said.

The advisers are concerned that more permissive rules of engagement would divert U.S. forces from defeating the remnants of Islamic State, they said.

RELATED: Ballistic missile testing in Iran

Moreover, looser rules could embroil the United States in a conflict with Iran while U.S. forces remain overstretched, and Trump has authorized a small troop increase for Afghanistan, said one senior administration official.

A former U.S. official said Hezbollah and Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias in Iraq have been “very helpful” in recapturing vast swaths of the caliphate that Islamic State declared in Syria and Iran in 2014.

U.S. troops supporting Kurdish and Sunni Arab fighters battling Islamic State in Syria have been wrestling with how to respond to hostile actions by Iranian-backed forces.

In some of the most notable cases, U.S. aircraft shot down two Iranian-made drones in June. Both were justified as defensive acts narrowly tailored to halt an imminent threat on the ground.


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Trump’s opposition to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), poses a dilemma for policymakers.

Most of his national security aides favor remaining in the pact, as do U.S. allies Israel and Saudi Arabia despite their reservations about Iran’s adherence to the agreement, said U.S. officials involved in the discussions.

“The main issue for us was to get the president not to discard the JCPOA. But he had very strong feelings, backed by (U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations) Nikki Haley, that they should be more aggressive with Iran,” one of the two U.S. officials said. “Almost all the strategies presented to him were ones that tried to preserve the JCPOA but lean forward on these other (issues.)”


(Writing by Jonathan Landay.; Reporting by Arshad Mohammed,Jonathan Landay, and Steve Holland.; Additional reporting by Phil Stewart and John Walcott; Editing by Howard Goller)

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Donald Trump is pictured here. | Getty Images
President Donald Trump’s administration has been reviewing the Iran nuclear deal. | Andrew Harrer/Getty Images

More than 80 experts urge Trump not to abandon Iran nuclear deal

More than 80 experts on nuclear proliferation urged the Trump administration not to abandon the Iran nuclear deal in a statement on Wednesday.

The agreement, which was negotiated under former President Barack Obama in 2015, ended several sanctions against Iran in exchange for that country taking steps to dismantle its nuclear program. Iran is subject to regular inspections to monitor whether it adheres to those rules under terms of the agreement.

The signatories, which include many academics and some former State Department officials, wrote that they are “concerned by statements from the Trump administration that it may be seeking to create a false pretext for accusing Iran of noncooperation or noncompliance with the agreement in order to trigger the re-imposition of nuclear-related sanctions against Iran.”

Last week, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley described the deal as a “very flawed and very limited agreement” and contended that “Iran has been caught in multiple violations over the past year and a half.”

The experts who signed the letter, though, described the agreement as “an effective and verifiable arrangement that is a net plus for international nuclear nonproliferation efforts” and warned against leaving it.

“Abandoning the deal without clear evidence of an unresolved material breach by Iran that is corroborated by the other EU3+3 partners runs the risk that Tehran would resume some of its nuclear activities, such as enriching uranium to higher levels or increasing the number of operating centrifuges,” they wrote. “These steps would decrease the time it would take for Iran to obtain enough nuclear material for a warhead.”

President Donald Trump was a critic of the Iran deal as a candidate, but he has not taken steps to abandon it since taking office. His administration, however, has been reviewing the deal.

Iran Prepares for U.S. To Pull Out of Iran Nuclear Deal

September 13, 2017
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TEHRAN (FNA)- Geopolitical analyst James O’Neill says Washington will kill the nuclear agreement with Iran as part of its hawkish policy of threat to the country that is a heavy weight actor at the center stage of political equations and developments in the Middle East.

“Iran is uniquely placed to be a significant force for good in a volatile and rapidly changing region. It is this unique role that is a major reason why the US continues to make threats, uses proxy forces such as the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) to destabilize Iran, and will undoubtedly resile from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA),” O’Neill said in an exclusive interview with FNA.

The analyst further added that the US animosity towards Iran has pushed the latter towards stronger ties with other world powers. “Iran’s growing links with China and Russia are its best defenses against US aggression,” he said.

James O’Neill is a geopolitical analyst and a former academic who since 1984 has practiced as a barrister, first in New Zealand and since 2002 in Australia. He has appeared on international media outlets such as RT and Press TV. He is also a regular contributor to “New Eastern Outlook,” an online expert opinion journal.

FNA has conducted an interview with James O’Neill to discuss Syria and its allies in the war on terrorist groups, the possible geopolitical implications for regional and trans-regional players and the geopolitical trends in the Middle-East.

Below you will find the full text of the interview.

Q: From time to time we have been hearing about the so-called US-led coalition and Israel coming to help the terrorist groups operating inside Syria, the financial support coming from the US and its allies and the ideological support from the Wahhabi regime in Saudi Arabia. Why do you think with all that support, these days we keep hearing about their proxy forces failing and losing ground in Syria?

A: The US, Israel and Saudi Arabia will continue to support terrorist groups in Syria while pretending to be “fighting terrorism”.  This is because they are pursuing disparate goals, not always mutually consistent. The Saudis want to spread their Wahhabi version of Islam; Israel wants to break its neighbors up into smaller States and also expand its own borders (the Yinon Plan); the US wants regime change to have a government that is compliant with its wider geopolitical goals, including using for example, Qatari gas to undermine Europe’s reliance upon Russian natural gas. Syria and its allies are better motivated, better equipped, and are also fighting as a unified force against a fragmented opposition.

Q: Addressing the opening of a Conference of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has hailed the political, economic and military support of Syria’s allies, namely Iran, Russia and Hezbollah. How much do you think this alliance has helped Syria to fight back terrorists?

A: The support of Hezbollah, Iran and Russia has been crucial to the success of the Syrian government’s fight against its enemies, both internal and external. The respective militaries are highly disciplined and have the support of the local population. We see that in the return of more than half a million refugees to their homes once ISIS and the other multiple terrorist groups have been defeated. Without the intervention of Syria’s allies, and particularly the Russian intervention after September 2015, it is highly likely that the Syrian government would have been defeated. That would have had catastrophic consequences not just for Syria but also the wider region, including the Russian Federation.

Q: What do you think would be the implications of such continued failure for American foreign policy?

A: One definition of insanity is to repeat the same thing over and over and expect a different result. The US is a classic example of this as they repeatedly make the same mistakes. In one sense they do not care, as long as they retain their hegemonic status. A major impetus for these endless wars is the huge “defense” industry. The “military-industrial-intelligence” complex makes a profit regardless of the outcome. In at least one sense, failure is a “win” because it creates conditions that lead to further demand for military expenditure to protect themselves (and their allies) from the consequences of their catastrophic foreign policy misadventures. Such policies eventually destroy the society from within, as we have seen countless times with empires in the past. They eventually collapse from the weight of their internal contradictions. Their ability to in effect use other people’s money to fight their wars will rapidly diminish as the dollar loses its status as the world’s sole reserve currency. This is occurring rapidly right now.

Q: How do you think that would change the geopolitics of the Middle East?

A: That is a huge question. The Middle East is not a single entity. There are disparate interests, only some of which are religious. The region has also been the victim in the past of interference by different colonial powers (France and the UK in particular) and more recently by the US. Its oil and gas wealth is both a blessing and a curse. As the younger generation emerges into positions of more influence they will demand changes. During the transition phase there will be profound disruption in some of those countries. The majority however increasingly see that their better future lies in more cooperation.  There are a number of pointers in this direction, for example with the development of a Middle Eastern economic grouping that will link in turn to the Belt and Road Initiative. Another encouraging sign is the discussions between Iran and Qatar on the development of the Pars gas field. The demise of the petrodollar is probably the biggest single geopolitical development on the horizon. How that plays out will depend in part on how the Americans react. Their history is not encouraging in that respect, but there are now countervailing geopolitical forces that they have not encountered in the past. China is easily the most important in this respect. Russia has shown through its involvement in Syria that it is a reliable friend that is not there to exploit Syria’s resources. It is significant in this regard that Iraq is now seeking Russian help. The two biggest improvements in the Middle East would be the settlement of the Palestinian issue; and for the Americans to pack their bags and go home. Neither is likely in the near future. The other developments that I see as encouraging as noted will occur anyway. Whether that is hard or easy will depend on whether America accepts the transition or tries to fight it.

Q: How do you see the role of Iran in the region?

A: Iran is a critical link in the transformation of Eurasia that is occurring under the influence of projects such as One Belt One Road (OBOR), North-South Transport Corridor (NSTC) and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). As one of the world’s oldest continuous civilizations, its resources (human and natural) and its geography, Iran is uniquely placed to be a significant force for good in a volatile and rapidly changing region. It is this unique role that is a major reason why the US continues to make threats, uses proxy forces such as the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) to destabilize Iran, and will undoubtedly resile from the JCPOA. Iran’s growing links with China and Russia are its best defenses against US aggression.



Israeli leader in Argentina, lauds effort to solve 1994 Jewish center bombing

September 13, 2017

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Argentine President Mauricio Macri gives Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a box with hard drives containing all of Argentina’s government archives related to the Holocaust, during a ceremony at the Casa Rosada Presidential Palace in Buenos Aires Tuesday. | REUTERS

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday used the first Latin America visit of a sitting Israeli prime minister to praise President Mauricio Macri’s effort to solve the bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish center in 1994 that killed 85 people.

Argentine courts have blamed the attack on Iran. But no one has been brought to trial in either that case or the deadly 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires. Iran denies playing a role in either attack.

“We know without a doubt that Iran and Hezbollah initiated and backed up the attacks,” Netanyahu told reporters. Hezbollah is an Islamist militant group based in Lebanon.

He praised fellow conservative Macri for jump-starting efforts to solve the crimes. Critics accuse previous Argentine leader Cristina Fernandez of trying to improve ties with Iran rather than focusing on bringing the bombers to justice.

“He strengthened Argentina’s position compared with what it was before. I honor his commitment and the integrity of his effort to determine what happened,” Netanyahu said.

Under Fernandez, the prosecutor probing the attack on the AMIA Jewish community center was found dead in January 2015, just hours before he was to appear in Congress to outline his accusation that Fernandez had tried to clear the way for a “grains for oil” deal with Iran by whitewashing Iran’s role in the truck bombing.

The prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, was discovered on the floor of his Buenos Aires apartment with a pistol by his side and a bullet in his head. The death was classified as a suicide, but Nisman’s family and friends dismissed that idea as absurd.

Opinion polls show most Argentines believe his death was a homicide.

Macri won the presidency and succeeded Fernandez in late 2015. He has since boosted ties with the United States and Israel while trying to attract the foreign investment he says is needed to stimulate an economy damaged by the inflationary policies and heavy currency controls of the Fernandez years.

Macri has met with Nisman’s family and says he has made a high priority of solving his death and the AMIA bombing.

Netanyahu and Macri are also “in ideological harmony” on issues like free trade, development and security, Israel’s ambassador to Argentina Ilan Sztulman told local radio.

Netanyahu is traveling with executives of 30 Israeli companies looking to increase trade with Latin America.

They include cyber security, irrigation and other agricultural technology firms that could help Argentina reinforce its position as the world’s top exporter of soymeal livestock feed and a major supplier of corn and raw soybeans.

After Argentina, Netanyahu will visit Colombia and Mexico before addressing the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 19. The diplomatic flurry might take domestic attention off two corruption investigations centering on Netanyahu in Israel.

He was accompanied on the trip by his wife Sara Netanyahu. On Friday, Israel’s attorney general said he was considering indicting her on suspicion of using state funds for personal dining and catering services amounting to some $100,000.

Additional reporting by Eliana Raszewski in Buenos Aires and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Howard Goller

As Anti-Semitism Rises, Germany Says Hezbollah is a Right-Wing Extremist Group

September 9, 2017



 SEPTEMBER 9, 2017 02:24


Anti-Israel related antisemitism increased in 2017.

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A man wearing a yarmulke looks at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Germany’s government reported to Green Party MP Volker Beck on Friday an increase in the number of criminal antisemitic acts. This includes Israel-related antisemitism, and the classification of Hezbollah’s crimes as far-right extremism.

The federal government said 681 antisemitic incidents occurred in the first half of 2017–a 4% increase when compared to the same period in 2016 (in which 654 criminal antisemitic acts took place) .

Beck told the Jerusalem Post that “The antisemitic and anti-Israel criminal offenses are only the tip of the iceberg.” He added the registered offenses are only those that the victims came forward to report. “The estimated number of unreported cases, I fear, is clearly higher,” said Beck.

Dr. Emily Haber from the German federal interior ministry said that 20 “politically motivated criminal offenses under the category Israel” took place in the documented 2017 period. The police conducted investigations against 12 perpetrators. There were no physical injuries reported.

In the same period in 2016, the federal government said 17 political crimes against Israel were registered. The authorities investigated 6 suspects and no injuries were cited. Anti-Israel criminal acts were listed under the sub-topic “Israel-Palestine conflict.” Starting in January, 2017, politically-animated attacks against Israel are listed under the sub-rubric “Israel.” The cited suspects hailed from Germany, Jordan, Syria, and Turkey.

Antisemitic acts not related to Israel accounted for 681 offenses in the 2017 period. The authorities investigated 339 people and nine people were injured. In 2016, the government registered 654 anti-Semitic criminal crimes and 400 suspects were investigated. Eight people were injured because of antisemitic offenses in 2016.

According to federal statistics, 92.8% of criminal acts had a right-wing extremist background. However, critics say the federal government’s classification system is inaccurate.

Benjamin Steinitz, the head of the RIAS group in Berlin that tracks antisemitism, told Die Welt paper on Friday there is a “discrepancy between the perception of antisemitic attacks, insults, taunts and police statistics.” According to a 2017 federal government report on antisemitism, the crime of Jew-hatred is designated by the category of “politically motivated right-wing extremist crime.” A telling example, cited in Die Welt, was an outbreak of Islamic-animated antisemitism that was registered as right-wing extremism.

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Supporters of the US and EU classified terrorist organization Hezbollah participated in an anti-Israeli march during Operation Protective Edge in 2014. The Hezbollah supporters formed a 20-person group and yelled the pro-Nazi slogan “Sieg Heil” at a group of pro-Israel activists in Berlin. The “Sieg Heil” call violates Germany’s anti-hate law and was registered as a far-right extremist crime.

There are 250 active Hezbollah supporters and members in Berlin. Germany’s interior ministry declined to outlaw all of Hezbollah in Germany. There are 950 Hezbollah operatives spread across the federal republic.

According to the Die Welt report, “The Islamic part of antisemitic offenses in police statistics is clearly underrated.” Beck, who heads the German-Israel parliamentary caucus group, cited the high levels of antisemitism in Germany, including that 40% of Germany’s population of 82 million are infected with contemporary antisemitism – hatred of the Jewish state–according to the federal report.

 “We must fight all forms of anti-Semitism,” said Beck. He called on the federal government to appoint a commissioner for antisemitism, as well as for civic society to initiate “educational programs against modern forms of antisemitism, conspiracy theories and anti-Zionism.”

Charlotte Knobloch, the head of Munich’s Jewish community, said in a Friday statement: “The Muslim associations have for decades not only done nothing [to combat antisemitism] ,rather they have allowed that anti-Semitic hate-preachers from Muslim countries to bring their anti-Jewish ideology into German mosques and into the heads of young Muslims.”