Posts Tagged ‘Iran’

UAE’s Battle-Hardened Military Expands Into Africa, Mideast

April 29, 2017

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates is better known for its skyscrapers and pampered luxuries, but its small size belies a quiet expansion of its battle-hardened military into Africa and elsewhere in the Middle East.

The seven-state federation ranks as one of Washington’s most prominent Arab allies in the fight against the Islamic State group, hosting some 5,000 American military personnel, fighter jets and drones. But the practice gunfire echoing through the deserts near bases outside of Dubai and recent military demonstrations in the capital of Abu Dhabi show a country increasingly willing to flex its own muscle amid its suspicions about Iran.

Already, the UAE has landed expeditionary forces in Afghanistan and Yemen. Its new overseas bases on the African continent show this country, which U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis calls “Little Sparta,” has even larger ambitions.

FROM PROTECTORATE TO PROTECTOR

The UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms, only became a country in 1971. It had been a British protectorate for decades and several of the emirates had their own security forces. The forces merged together into a national military force that took part in the 1991 U.S.-led Gulf War that expelled Iraqi forces occupying Kuwait.

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The UAE sent troops to Kosovo as part of the NATO-led peacekeeping mission there starting in 1999, giving its forces valuable experience working alongside Western allies in the field. Following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, it deployed special forces troops in Afghanistan to support the U.S.-led war against the Taliban. Emirati personnel there combined aid with Arab hospitality, working on infrastructure projects in villages and meeting with local elders.

Today, the UAE hosts Western forces at its military bases, including American and French troops. Jebel Ali port in Dubai serves as the biggest port of call for the American Navy outside of the United States.

BULGING RANKS

The UAE decided in recent years to grow its military, in part over concerns about Iran’s resurgence in the region following the nuclear deal with world powers and the Islamic Republic’s involvement in the wars in Syria and Yemen.

In 2011, the UAE acknowledged working with private military contractors, including a firm reportedly tied to Blackwater founder Erik Prince, to build up its military. The Associated Press also reported that Prince was involved in a multimillion-dollar program to train troops to fight pirates in Somalia, a program by several Arab countries, including the UAE.

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“As you would expect of a proactive member of the international community, all engagements of commercial entities by the UAE Armed Forces are compliant with international law and relevant conventions,” Gen. Juma Ali Khalaf al-Hamiri, a senior Emirati military official, said in a statement on the state-run WAM news agency.

Media in Colombia have also reported that Colombian nationals working as mercenaries serve in the UAE’s military.

In 2014, the UAE introduced mandatory military service for all Emirati males between the ages of 18 to 30. The training is optional for Emirati women.

“Our message to the world is a message of peace; the stronger we are, the stronger our message,” Dubai ruler and UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum wrote at the time on Twitter.

WAR IN YEMEN

In Yemen, UAE troops are fighting alongside Saudi-led forces against Shiite rebels who hold the impoverished Arab country’s capital, Sanaa. Areas where the UAE forces are deployed include Mukalla, the provincial capital of Hadramawt, and the port city of Aden, where the internationally recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi is stationed.

Additionally, the UAE appears to be building an airstrip on Perim or Mayun Island, a volcanic island in Yemeni territory that sits in a waterway between Eritrea and Djibouti in the strategic Bab al-Mandeb Strait, according to IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly. That strait, some 16-kilometers (10-miles) wide at its narrowest point, links the Red Sea and the Suez Canal with the Gulf of Aden and ultimately the Indian Ocean. Dozens of commercial ships transit the route every day.

Already, the waters have seen Emirati and Saudi ships targeted by suspected fire from Yemen’s Shiite rebels known as Houthis. In October, U.S. Navy vessels came under fire as well, sparking American forces to fire missiles in Yemen in its first attack targeting the Houthis in the years-long war there.

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French warship at Abu Dhabi, UAE

“More incidents at sea, especially involving civilian shipping, could further internationalize the conflict and spur other actors to intervene,” the Washington Institute for Near-East Policy warned in March.

UAE forces and aid organizations have also set foot on Yemen’s Socotra Island, which sits near the mouth of the Gulf of Aden, after a deadly cyclone struck it. It too represents a crucial chokepoint and has seen recent attacks from Somali pirates.

The UAE has suffered the most wartime casualties in its history in Yemen. The deadliest day came in a September 2015 missile strike on a base that killed over 50 Emirati troops, as well as at least 10 soldiers from Saudi Arabia and five from Bahrain.

Meanwhile, Emirati forces were involved in a Jan. 29 Yemen raid ordered by U.S. President Donald Trump that killed a U.S. Navy SEAL and 30 others, including women, children and an estimated 14 militants.

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Emirati soldiers are part of a Saudi-led campaign supporting Yemen’s government against Iran-backed rebels (AFP)

EXPANDING TO AFRICA

Outside of Yemen, the UAE has been building up a military presence in Eritrea at its port in Assab, according to Stratfor, a U.S.-based private intelligence firm. Satellite images show new construction at a once-abandoned airfield the firm links to the Emiratis, as well as development at the port and the deployment of tanks and aircraft, including fighter jets, helicopters and drones.

“The scale of the undertaking suggests that the UAE military is in Eritrea for more than just a short-term logistical mission supporting operations across the Red Sea,” Stratfor said in December.

UAE officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment on its military operations or overseas expansion.

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South of Eritrea, in Somalia’s breakaway northern territory of Somaliland, authorities agreed in February to allow the UAE open a naval base in the port town of Berbera. Previously, the UAE international ports operator DP World struck a deal to manage Somaliland’s largest port nearby.

Further afield, the UAE also has been suspected of conducting airstrikes in Libya and operating at a small air base in the North African country’s east, near the Egyptian border.

Meanwhile, Somalia remains a particular focus for the UAE. The Emiratis sent forces to the Horn of Africa country to take part in a United Nations peacekeeping mission in the 1990s, while their elite counterterrorism unit in 2011 rescued a UAE-flagged ship from Somali pirates. The unit has also has been targeted in recent attacks carried out by al-Qaida-linked militants from al-Shabab.

A UAE military expansion into Somalia is also possible, as Trump recently approved an expanded military, including more aggressive airstrikes against al-Shabab in the African nation. The UAE recently began a major campaign seek donations for humanitarian aid there.

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Associated Press writers Adam Schreck in Dubai and Maggie Michael in Cairo contributed to this report.

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Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellap . His work can be found at http://apne.ws/2galNpz .

The U.S. Navy Must Be Everywhere at Once

April 28, 2017

A recent mishap with the USS Carl Vinson is a case study for rebuilding the fleet to about 350 ships.

The USS Bataan fires a missile during exercises in the Atlantic Ocean, Jan. 11.

The USS Bataan fires a missile during exercises in the Atlantic Ocean, Jan. 11. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
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The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson was steaming toward North Korea, the Trump administration insisted two weeks ago. Except that it wasn’t. A Navy press photo showed it thousands of miles away, near Indonesia, and heading south. The official explanation was that the Carl Vinson had to complete a scheduled joint exercise with Australia before turning back to deal with the imminent threat to world peace. The error was compounded by President Trump’s statement that he would be sending submarines “far more powerful than an aircraft carrier”—which is of course absurd.

This episode is a small symptom of America’s weakened Navy. Today, as in the 1920s and ’30s, Washington has forgotten Teddy Roosevelt’s advice to speak softly and carry a big stick. Instead the U.S. lashes out at adversaries with ultimatums, sanctions and embargoes while disarming. Although all branches of the military went through budget and personnel cuts under the Obama administration, the Navy fared the worst. Today the American fleet is less than half the size it was under President Reagan.

Two independent bipartisan commissions have called for the fleet to be increased from its roughly 270 ships to 350, a number President Trump has said he supports. The Navy’s 2016 Force Structure Assessment calls for 355 ships. These proposals weigh budget constraints; otherwise the target would be higher.

During the 1960s the fleet numbered above 800. But after the Vietnam War, the U.S. sought a “peace dividend” and ordered the Navy to do more with less. Historically, a sailor’s maximum deployment was six months away from family in any 18-month period. Today deployments stretch to nine months or longer. Skilled sailors are being worn out, and many of the best are leaving. We have too few ships on too many crucial missions. Without the funding to keep them in repair, they deploy without being combat-ready and are eventually forced into early retirement. Many of the Navy’s combat aircraft are unable to fly without awaiting parts and repair.

Thankfully, Mr. Trump has promised to bolster America’s defenses as Reagan did in the 1980s. Let us hope for a bipartisan defense recovery. The first priority must be for the White House to settle on a national strategy to replace the ad hoc decision-making of the past 20 years. Then the new Navy secretary and the chief of naval operations can create a comprehensive naval strategy to match. This process will provide a framework to prioritize Navy and Marine programs.

As in the Reagan years, there are opportunities to rebuild rapidly. At least eight Perry-class frigates could be reactivated, along with a similar number of Aegis cruisers and a half-dozen supply ships. These combat craft were retired early, some at only half their service life. Outfitting them with updated weapons could create immediate work at ports on all three coasts.

The next step is to reform the overgrown defense bureaucracy and overhaul the Pentagon’s dysfunctional procurement process. According to the Government Accountability Office, cost overruns have ballooned to more than $450 billion over the past two decades. The Navy needs to take authority back from the bureaucracy, end the culture of constant design changes and gold-plating, and bring back fixed-price competition.

Recall the development of the Polaris nuclear-missile system in the late 1950s. The whole package—a nuclear submarine, a solid-fuel missile, an underwater launch system, a nuclear warhead and a guidance system—went from the drawing board to deployment in four years (and using slide rules). Today, according to the Defense Business Board, the average development timeline for much less complex weapons is 22.5 years.

A case in point is the Ford-class aircraft carrier. The program is two years delayed and $2.4 billion over budget. The ship was designed to include 12 new technologies, such as electric instead of steam catapults that had not yet been developed. Many of these systems don’t work after 10 years of trying, and the ship will be delivered to the Navy without fully functional radar and unable to launch or recover aircraft. Yet the defense firms involved still profit under cost-plus contracts.

The three stealthy Zumwalt-class destroyers—they are really heavy cruisers—are another example. The defense bureaucracy produced a seagoing camel costing three times its original estimate and delivered with questionable seaworthiness and without functional radar or a reliable propulsion system. The program should be terminated and the three contracted ships kept purely for special operations.

The Navy urgently needs to replace the Perry-class frigates, built in the 1980s and now all retired. Instead of designing a ship from scratch, the Navy could update the Perry plans to include modern sonar, radar and missiles. Or it could adapt one of two European frigates for American construction. The 26 small coastal LCS ships now under contract are enough. That design cannot be modified into a frigate, so the program should be terminated.

The Navy is also short on aircraft, with roughly half the number needed to maintain even the current force structure. The Pentagon should make the F-35 compete against the F-18 to establish the optimum—and lowest-cost—mix of both aircraft. In the future, drones will play an important role on carriers and may evolve into the dominant system. But that day is not yet here.

President Reagan showed that 90% of the benefits from restoring American command of the seas are reaped immediately. President Trump will learn the same. Russia, with its professional but small one-carrier navy, cannot challenge a rebuilt U.S. Navy. The Chinese are at least two decades away from matching American capabilities. With renewed commitment to naval and military superiority, American diplomacy will instantly regain credibility.

Mr. Lehman, secretary of the Navy under President Reagan, is the author of the forthcoming “Oceans Ventured, Oceans Gained” (W.W. Norton).

Appeared in the Apr. 28, 2017, print edition.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-u-s-navy-must-be-everywhere-at-once-1493331502

Israel’s Attack in Syria: Israel’s Policy of Ambiguity Could Be Nearing an End — Proxy “War” With Iran — Has Russia Allowed Israel’s Raids?

April 28, 2017

By Amos Harel

Strike in Damascus international airport attributed to Israel ■ Why isn’t Russia taking action? ■ defense chief draws a new red line: No Iranian and Hezbollah military presence on the Syrian border

Explosion in Syria

Explosion in Syria . (photo credit:ARAB MEDIA)

Witnesses said a total of five strikes occurred near the Damascus airport road, about 25km from the capital, early on Thursday.

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Iranian cargo planes land in Damascus hours before ‘Israeli strike’ on airport

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Syria confirms Israeli strike hit military compound near Damascus airport

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Israel destroyed dozens of Hezbollah-bound missiles in last Syria raid, officer says

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What has been done up to now with a degree of ambiguity, not to say discretion, is now being done for all to see. Syria confirmed on Thursday, in a report from its official news agency, that the Israeli airforce struck a military compound next to the Damascus airport before dawn.

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Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz implicitly acknowledged Israeli responsibility for the strike when he explained in a somewhat sleepy radio interview from the United States on Army Radio that “the incident totally fits with our policy for preventing weapons transfers to Hezbollah.” And all of this happened while Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman was away on a visit to Russia, the chief sponsor of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Katz’s comments followed an earlier, first acknowledgement of its kind by Israel, after numerous reports in the Arab media of an Israeli airstrike in Syria in late March. And this past Tuesday, a senior Israel Defense Forces officer told journalists that about a hundred missiles, some intended for Hezbollah, were destroyed in that March airstrike. But it is still not certain that a deliberate decision has been made to abandon the policy of ambiguity that Israel has adhered to for the past five years, neither denying nor confirming its responsibility for such air strikes.

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This policy of ambiguity seems to be based on the idea that Israel’s refusal to comment on these strikes makes them less of an embarrassment for the regime and thus does not whet the Syrians’ appetite for revenge as much. The recent deviations from this policy were likely random occurrences and not the product of long-range strategic thinking.

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An Israeli tank on the Golan Heights

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The initial reports from Damascus did not specify what types of weaponry was hit. Arab intelligence sources (quoted by an Amman-based reporter for Reuters) claimed that the targets this time were arms shipments from Iran being smuggled on civilian commercial flights via the international airport in Damascus.

Syrian reports denied that Israeli planes had penetrated Syrian airspace, and claimed their bombs were launched from within Israeli territory. This could explain the lack of an antiaircraft missile response from the Syrian and Russian air defenses, although Russian radar in northwest Syria can also identify aircraft movements in much of Israel.

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Why isn’t Russia taking action? After the March airstrike, Russia reportedly protested to Israel that the Syrian target in the Palmyra area came too close to a Russian military base. Possibly, Russia doesn’t really care that much, as long as these actions don’t directly threaten the Assad regime’s survival. Most of the Russian troops and aircraft are in the northwest, in the area of Tartus and Latakia, and hardly Israeli strikes have been reported in that area since the start of the Russian military deployment in September 2015.

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On the tactical level, Russia and Israel seem to be getting along quite well amid the general Syrian chaos. The military coordination mechanism for preventing aerial clashes between the two countries is working properly and Israeli officials, especially Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have held frequent consultations with their Russian counterparts. But on the long-term, strategic level, Israel has a problem: Russia’s military success in the war means the salvation of the Assad regime and a gain for Assad’s other allies, Iran and Hezbollah. Should Russia decide to promote the interests of these other members of the Assad alliance, it could come at Israel’s expense.

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In his talks in Russia, Lieberman has been emphasizing the new red line drawn by Israel: no Iranian or Hezbollah military presence near the Syrian border on the Golan Heights. As Assad’s forces have advanced southward, there have been initial reports of the arrival of members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah and related Shi’ite and Palestinian militias in the border area, mainly in the northern Golan Heights. Besides the arms smuggling, this is the matter of greatest concern for Israel right now. Should it decide to take action to enforce its stance, as Lieberman has spoken about, Israel will have to weigh the possibility not only of heightened friction with Iran, but also of a shift in relations with Moscow.

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read more: http://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/syria/1.786074

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Did Moscow Green-Light an Israeli Attack in Syria?

The Kremlin may be backing Bashar al-Assad and publicly denouncing Israel’s strike on Damascus’ airport Thursday, but the two sides are ‘tightly’ coordinating behind the scenes.
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By Benny Avni

An Israeli attack in Damascus on Thursday was evidently well coordinated with Russia, highlighting how transient alliances in the Middle East’s most consequential war can be.

Israel, in addition to Sunni Muslim countries opposed to the Syrian regime, is America’s close regional ally, while Russia backs some of Israel’s most formidable foes: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Iran, and Hezbollah.

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Loud explosions were reported near Damascus’ international airport Thursday morning, reportedly injuring three people.

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Syrian officials were quick to blame Israel for the attack, and in an apparent attempt to retaliate, an “object”—reportedly a drone—was sent over the Golan Heights that was destroyed by an Israeli Defense Force Patriot missile, according to an IDF spokesman.

Although Jerusalem officials normally refrain from confirming such attacks like the one in Damascus, this time they did not quite deny it.

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“The incident in Syria is consistent with our policy of preventing the smuggling of advanced weapons from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon by Iran,” Intelligence Minister Israel Katz told Israel’s Army Radio. He declined, in accordance with the long-held policy, to explicitly confirm that the IDF conducted the attack.

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Three weeks ago, in a rare departure from that Jerusalem’s policy of ambiguity, Israeli officials did acknowledge they fired missiles at Syrian targets. In Moscow, Kremlin officials publicly denounced that Israeli attack, leading some in Jerusalem to speculate that the tacit understanding between Jerusalem and Moscow could be at an end and that the Kremlin would no longer wink and nod at Israel’s routine incursions into Syria’s airspace, largely dominated by Russian and Syrian government air forces.

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On Thursday Russian spokesmen denounced the attack as well, though they were careful not to confirm Israel was behind it. And when asked Thursday whether Israel had notified Moscow in advance of the strike, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told Kremlin reporters that “Russia and Israel exchange information using various channels.”

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One likely such channel, according to Jerusalem sources, is Avigdor Liberman, the Russian-speaking, Moldovan-born Israeli defense minister who landed in Moscow on Wednesday for a pre-planned visit. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also speaks to Putin on the phone regularly and often visits Moscow.

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“The Russians know that our most important ally is the United States, and we know, of course, that Russia’s clients are Assad, Iran, and Hezbollah,” said an Israeli official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Yet, he added, “that doesn’t stop us from tightly coordinating with Moscow through well-established work mechanisms.”

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The IDF and Russia want to ensure there are no collisions in the skies above Syria, the official added, saying, “And yes, the Russians are very familiar with our red lines.”

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Those red lines include “preventing Iran from establishing a military foothold in Syria,” Katz, the intelligence minister, told The Daily Beast last week. Additionally, he said, Jerusalem has made clear it will not allow Iran to transfer heavy armaments through Syria to Hezbollah, which he characterized as “our most formidable non-state enemy.”

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 Hezbollah fighters. Reuters photo
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Speaking to the UN Security Council last week, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said Washington and its partners will resume their pressure on Tehran, documenting violations of several council resolutions that ban arms transfers from Iran to Hezbollah, as well as to its Yemen-based ally, the Houthis.

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Hours after Thursday’s Israeli attack in Damascus, Russian diplomats exchanged barbs with their British and French counterparts at the United Nations, while Haley sharpened her criticism of the Kremlin’s Syria policy.

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During a Security Council session on humanitarian aid to Syria, Haley blamed Russia for shielding Assad, even as the Syrian dictator prevents UN aid from reaching its destination and bombs hospitals. “Many of you said we need to put pressure on the Syrian regime,” she said. “That’s actually not the case. We need to put pressure on Russia, because Russia continues to cover for the Syrian regime”—does so even when Assad “uses chemical weapons on his own people.”

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The French UN ambassador, François Delattre, told reporters Thursday that Paris has conclusively determined that in a well-publicized April 4 attack at Khan Sheikhun, in Syria’s Idlib province, “sarin was used, and the presence of a substance called hexamine is characteristic of the sarin produced by the Syrian regime.” So, he added, “we have no doubt that the Syrian regime is responsible for this barbaric attack.”

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The United States fired 59 Tomahawk missiles in response to that chemical assault, hitting a Syrian airbase that according to Pentagon officials was used to launch the Idlib attack.

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On Wednesday, British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said that if Washington asked London to join in future military attacks against Syria, “It would be difficult for us to say no.”

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But Washington has yet to clarify its ultimate goal in Syria—and particularly its policy on Assad’s future, despite the atrocities he has committed. President Trump, who hosted the 15 members of the Security Council at the White House last week, said that while the Syrian dictator is clearly a “bad actor,” his removal “is not a deal breaker” for the U.S., according to an ambassador who attended the session. However, the ambassador, who requested anonymity, said that at a later session National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster told the visiting diplomats, “There can be no stable Syria as long as Assad stays in power.”

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2017/04/27/did-moscow-green-light-an-israeli-attack-in-syria.html

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Hezbollah Air Lines? Boeing Deal?

Israel Shoots Down Suspected Drone — Israel says it will not allow “concentration of Iranian or Hezbollah forces on the Golan border.”

April 27, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | According to the official Israeli army Twitter account “The Patriot Aerial Defence System intercepted a target above the Golan Heights”

JERUSALEM (AFP) – 

Israel shot down what it identified only as “a target” over the occupied Golan Heights on Thursday, hours after Syria accused it of hitting a military position near Damascus airport.

“The Patriot Aerial Defence System intercepted a target above the Golan Heights,” the official Israeli army Twitter account said, without elaborating.

A military spokeswoman refused to comment on Israeli media reports that the object was a drone.

Syria’s state news agency SANA said earlier that several Israeli missiles hit near Damascus airport at dawn.

Israel has not confirmed or denied the reported Damascus attack.

But Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz said it was consistent with Israel’s policy to prevent arms transfers through to Hezbollah, while stopping short of confirming his country was behind the incident.

“We are acting to prevent the transfer of sophisticated weapons from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon by Iran,” Katz told army radio.

“When we receive serious information about the intention to transfer weapons to Hezbollah, we will act. This incident is totally consistent with this policy.”

In Moscow, the Kremlin called for restraint and the foreign ministry condemned the attack.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not say if Israel had warned Moscow of the strike, saying only that their defence ministries “are in constant dialogue”.

In Moscow, visiting Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu that the Jewish state would not allow “concentration of Iranian or Hezbollah forces on the Golan border,” Lieberman?s office said.

Israel has conducted multiple air strikes in Syria since that country’s civil war erupted in 2011, most of which it has said targeted arms convoys or warehouses of its Lebanese arch-foe Hezbollah, which is a key supporter of the Syrian regime.

Last month, it said it had carried out several strikes near the Syrian desert city of Palmyra, targeting what it said were “advanced weapons” belonging to Hezbollah.

The strikes prompted Syria to launch ground-to-air missiles, one of which was intercepted over Israeli territory in the most serious flare-up between the two neighbours since the Syrian civil war began six years ago.

Israel seized 1,200 square kilometres (460 square miles) of the Golan from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.

Around 510 square kilometres of the Golan are under Syrian control.

The two countries are still technically at war, although the border remained largely quiet for decades until 2011, when the Syrian conflict broke out.

‘Huge’ blasts near Damascus airport blamed on Israeli strike — Israeli Intelligence Minister appears to confirm Israeli strike on Syria

April 27, 2017

Illustrative photo of flames and smoke at the Mezzeh military airport on the southwestern outskirts of the capital Damascus following an explosion early on January 13, 2017. (AFP)

April 27, 2017, 6:56 am
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Unnamed regional intelligence source says raid targeted Hezbollah weapons depot

Explosions were heard near Damascus’s airport on Thursday morning, in what some local Arabic-language media reports blamed on an Israeli airstrike.

An unnamed regional intelligence source, quoted by Reuters, said the strike was carried out by Israel and targeted an Iran-supplied Hezbollah arms depot.

The Hezbollah-linked Al-Manar news site also attributed the raid to Israel.

“Al-Manar’s correspondent reported that an explosion struck at dawn on Thursday in fuel tanks and a warehouse near Damascus International Airport and that it was probably the result of an Israeli strike,” the channel said.

It said it caused only material damage.

The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Rami Abdel Rahman said the explosion early Thursday has been heard across the capital, jolting residents awake.

“The blast was huge and could be heard in Damascus,” he said.

Activist-operated Diary of a Mortar, which reports from Damascus, said the explosion near the airport road was followed by flames rising above the area. A pro-government site Damascus Now said the explosion was near the city’s Seventh Bridge, which leads to the airport road.

Some opposition-linked media reports blamed the attack on Israel, saying an initial missile strike against a weapons warehouse belonging to government forces caused fuel silos to explode, leading to a cascade of explosions that damaged a few nearby homes.

Explosions were also reported in the Al-Mazzeh area of the Syrian capital, apparently at the Mazzeh Air Base, a military airstrip used by regime forces.

There was no immediate confirmation of the cause for the explosions from either Syrian or Israeli sources.

Video shows moments explosions start near Damascus airport tonight. Local media attributing to Israel. More details likely to emerge later.

Israel has been largely unaffected by the Syrian civil war raging next door, suffering mostly sporadic incidents of spillover fire that Israel has generally dismissed as tactical errors by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces. Israel has responded to the errant fire with limited reprisals on Syrian positions.

Israel is widely believed to have carried out airstrikes on advanced weapons systems in Syria — including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made missiles — as well as Hezbollah positions, but it rarely confirms such operations on an individual basis.

In April 2016, Netanyahu admitted for the first time that Israel had attacked dozens of convoys transporting weapons in Syria destined for Hezbollah, which fought a 2006 war with Israel and is now battling alongside the Damascus regime.

Late last month, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said the IDF only carries out raids in Syria for three reasons: when Israel comes under fire, to prevent arms transfers, and to avert a “ticking timebomb,” namely to thwart imminent terror attacks on Israel by groups on its borders.

http://www.timesofisrael.com/report-explosions-near-damascus-airport-may-be-israeli-airstrike/

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Intelligence minister appears to confirm Israeli strike on Syria

Yisrael Katz says preventing weapons from reaching Hezbollah is ‘completely compatible’ with Jerusalem’s policy; terror group says raid ‘probably’ by Jewish state

April 27, 2017, 9:53 am

A photo taken from the rebel-held town of Douma shows flames rising in the distance which are believed to be coming from Damascus International Airport following an explosion early in the morning of April 27, 2017.(AFP PHOTO / Sameer Al-Doumy)

A photo taken from the rebel-held town of Douma shows flames rising in the distance which are believed to be coming from Damascus International Airport following an explosion early in the morning of April 27, 2017.(AFP PHOTO / Sameer Al-Doumy)

Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz on Thursday appeared to confirm reports that Israel was behind an overnight airstrike near the Damascus airport.

Katz, who is also transportation minister, told Army Radio in an interview Thursday morning that “the incident is completely compatible with our policy of preventing weapons transfer to Hezbollah,” the Lebanon-based terror group supported by the Syrian regime and Iran.

“Every time we receive intelligence information on plans to transfer advanced weaponry to Hezbollah, we will act,” the minister added. “We must prevent Iran from establishing a military presence in Syria.”

Explosions rocked the area around Damascus’s airport earlier on Thursday morning, setting off fires.

An unnamed regional intelligence source, quoted by Reuters, said the strike was carried out by Israel and targeted an Iran-supplied Hezbollah arms depot.

The Hezbollah-linked Al-Manar news site also attributed the raid to the Jewish state.

In this Tuesday, March 7, 2017 photo, Israel's transportation and intelligence minister Yisrael Katz speaks during an interview with The Associated Press, in his office in Tel Aviv, Israel. (AP/Dan Balilty)

In this Tuesday, March 7, 2017 photo, Israel’s transportation and intelligence minister Yisrael Katz speaks during an interview with The Associated Press, in his office in Tel Aviv, Israel. (AP/Dan Balilty)

saying an initial missile strike against a weapons warehouse belonging to government forces caused fuel silos to explode, leading to a cascade of explosions that damaged a few nearby homes.

Explosions were also reported in the Al-Mazzeh area of the Syrian capital, apparently at the Mazzeh Air Base, a military airstrip used by regime forces.

Video shows moments explosions start near Damascus airport tonight. Local media attributing to Israel. More details likely to emerge later.

Israel is widely believed to have carried out airstrikes on advanced weapons systems in Syria — including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made missiles — as well as Hezbollah positions, but it rarely confirms such operations on an individual basis.

In April 2016, Netanyahu admitted for the first time that Israel had attacked dozens of convoys transporting weapons in Syria destined for Hezbollah, which fought a 2006 war with Israel and is now battling alongside the Damascus regime.

Late last month, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said the IDF only carries out raids in Syria for three reasons: when Israel comes under fire, to prevent arms transfers, and to avert a “ticking timebomb,” namely to thwart imminent terror attacks on Israel by groups on its borders.

The alleged Israeli airstrike on Thursday came a day after Liberman met with Russian ministers in Moscow. Despite Russia’s alliance with both Iran and Hezbollah, Israel and Russia have maintained a level of security coordination in order to prevent conflicts between their two militaries in Syria, where Moscow is fighting against opponents of the Assad regime.

http://www.timesofisrael.com/intelligence-minister-appears-to-confirm-israeli-strike-on-syria/

 

French intelligence says Assad forces behind April 4 sarin attack

April 26, 2017

Reuters

FILE PHOTO: A man breathes through an oxygen mask as another one receives treatments, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah/File Photo

French intelligence services have concluded that forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad carried out a sarin nerve gas attack on April 4 in northern Syria and that Assad or his closest entourage ordered the strike, a declassified report showed.

The attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun killed scores of people and prompted the United States to launch a cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base in response, its first direct assault on the Assad government in the conflict.

The six-page document – drawn up by France’s military and foreign intelligence services and seen by said it was able to reach its conclusion based on samples they had obtained from the impact strike on the ground, and a blood sample from a victim.

Among the elements found in the samples were hexamine, a hallmark of sarin produced by the Syrian government.

“The French intelligence services consider that only Bashar al-Assad and some of his most influential entourage can give the order to use chemical weapons,” the report said.

It added that jihadist groups in the area did not have the capacity to develop and launch such an attack and that Islamic State was not in the region.

Assad’s claim to AFP news agency on April 13 that the attack was fabricated, was “not credible” given the mass flows of casualties in a short space of time arriving in Syrian and Turkish hospitals as well as the sheer quantity of online activity showing people with neurotoxic symptoms, said the report.

(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Andrew Callus)

U.S. Navy fires warning flare at Iran vessel in Persian Gulf

April 26, 2017

The Associated Press

3:21 a.m. ET April 26, 2017

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – The U.S. Navy says a guided-missile destroyer fired a flare toward an Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessel in a tense encounter in the Persian Gulf.

Lt. Ian McConnaughey of the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet says the incident happened Monday.

He says the Iranian boat came within 1,000 meters (yards) of the USS Mahan.

The lieutenant says the Mahan “made several attempts to contact the Iranian vessel by bridge-to-bridge radio, issuing warning messages and twice sounding the internationally recognized danger signal of five short blasts with the ship’s whistle, as well as deploying a flare to determine the Iranian vessel’s intentions.”

The Iranian vessel later sailed away.

Iranian authorities did not immediately report the incident on Wednesday.

The U.S. Navy and Iran routinely have tense encounters in the waters of the Persian Gulf.

White House Intervened to Toughen Letter on Iran Nuclear Deal

April 26, 2017

President Donald Trump’s hard-line view on Iran was at odds with State Department diplomats

President Donald Trump told Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, pictured, to issue a strident public message that the new administration was planning a shift on policy toward Iran, officials said.

President Donald Trump told Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, pictured, to issue a strident public message that the new administration was planning a shift on policy toward Iran, officials said. PHOTO: GLEN JOHNSON/ZUMA PRESS
.

Updated April 25, 2017 7:20 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump told aides to toughen a State Department letter last week that declared Iran in compliance with a landmark nuclear deal, senior U.S. officials involved in a policy review said.

Top White House officials said the initial letter the State Department submitted was too soft because it ignored Tehran’s destabilizing activities in the Middle East and support regional terrorist groups, these officials said.

Mr. Trump personally weighed in on the redrafting of the letter, which was sent to Congress on April 18, the officials said. The final version highlighted Iran’s threatening regional behavior and called into question the U.S.’s long-term support for the multinational accord.

Mr. Trump also told Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to follow up the next day with a strident public message that the new administration was planning a shift on policy toward Iran, putting the nuclear deal in play, these officials said.

“An unchecked Iran has the potential to travel the same path as North Korea and take the world along with it,” Mr. Tillerson said at the State Department on April 19.

The episode highlighted the divisions between Mr. Trump’s hard-line position on Iran and the approach taken by some career State Department diplomats and many European allies. State Department officials didn’t respond to a request for comment on Mr. Tillerson’s role in the exchange.

The nuclear agreement, which was implemented in January 2016, constrained Iran’s nuclear capabilities in return for the lifting of most international sanctions, including some unilateral penalties imposed by the U.S. Treasury Department.

The White House is conducting a 90-day review of its Iran policy and considering steps to significantly ratchet up U.S. efforts to push back against Iran and its military operations in the Middle East.

Potential steps include sanctions against hundreds of Iranian companies that would be vetted for suspected ties to Tehran’s elite military unit, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, these officials said.

The Trump administration also is exploring ways to enhance international efforts to combat Iran’s ability to smuggle weapons to its military proxies in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen.

The Pentagon has announced its intention to more aggressively challenge Iran’s naval presence in the Persian Gulf, noting its threat to shipping lanes and commercial traffic in the oil-rich region.

In recent days, Mr. Trump and other senior administration officials have publicly questioned the terms of the nuclear deal, which was negotiated by the Obama administration over three years. They have hinted at the need to renegotiate it and voiced skepticism that the U.S. and its allies could separate Iran’s nuclear program from its other destabilizing activities.

In a White House where advisers have often been divided on security issues, the pursuit of a tougher Iran policy presents a rare case of broad consensus.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said on Monday that the White House policy review aims to look at “how we take a more comprehensive look at Iran and its bad behavior in the region.”

Some White House officials said they expect the U.S. won’t withdraw from the nuclear deal, but enforce it to the letter and possibly reinstate sanctions that were lifted as part of the accord under different reasons, such as human-rights abuses or Iran’s ballistic-missile tests.

Iran has ruled out any renegotiation of the nuclear agreement. It also has said any new sanctions imposed by the Trump administration would be viewed as a violation of the deal. Iran also says it’s in compliance with the nuclear deal and blames the U.S. for preventing other countries from investing in Iran by maintaining bilateral sanctions on Iran.

Congress requires U.S. administrations, via the State Department, to notify Capitol Hill every three months about whether Iran is in compliance with the terms of the nuclear deal.

The initial State Department letter on Iran, senior U.S. officials said, was drafted by career diplomats who played leading roles during the Obama administration in negotiating and implementing the Iran deal.

Key players on Iran at the State Department, both under former President Barack Obama and Mr. Trump, include Stephen Mull, who serves as lead U.S. coordinator for the deal’s implementation, and Chris Backemeyer, deputy assistant secretary of State for Iranian affairs.

The initial draft met swift resistance when it was sent to the White House for approval last week, the U.S. officials said.

It was taken by White House staff to National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who pressed for tougher language and raised the issue with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, the officials said.

Mr. Trump then reviewed the letter, they said. The final draft submitted to Congress last week said Tehran was in compliance with the agreement but highlighted Iran’s role in supporting international terrorism and said the Trump administration was reviewing whether lifting sanctions on Iran as part of the deal was in the U.S.’s “national security interests.”

Mr. Tillerson initially was skeptical of delivering a hard-hitting speech on Iran at the State Department, but relented, the officials said.

Iran is holding presidential elections in May. President Hassan Rouhani, who championed the nuclear agreement, is seeking to win his second four-year term. Some U.S. and European officials have warned the White House that Mr. Trump’s tough talk on Iran could hurt Mr. Rouhani. His chief opponent, Ebrahim Raisi, is a hard-line Islamic cleric who is viewed as promoting potentially an even-more-aggressive line internationally.

“We have no dog in this fight, but it’s obviously important that the moderates get the upper hand and win and get the benefits of the deal,” said a senior European diplomat who has discussed Iran with the Trump administration.

Top aides to Mr. Trump have discounted this analysis. They said they believe Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and top commanders in the IRGC make all major decisions on foreign affairs and national security. They have said Tehran’s military interventions in Syria, Iraq and Yemen have actually increased since the nuclear deal and Mr. Rouhani’s election. Iran says it is seeking to combat terrorism.

Mr. Khamenei said during a speech on Monday that Iran’s next president should limit engagement with the West, a rebuke of Mr. Rouhani’s policies.

The Trump administration met on Tuesday for the first time with Iranian officials as part of a coordinating meeting in Vienna for the implementation of the nuclear deal. Messrs. Mull and Backemeyer led the U.S. delegation.

Participants in the meeting said U.S. diplomats didn’t express any major shift in Washington’s policy toward Iran. But Iranian diplomats protested the sharp words made by President Trump and Mr. Tillerson in recent weeks.

Write to Jay Solomon at jay.solomon@wsj.com and Carol E. Lee at carol.lee@wsj.com

Appeared in the Apr. 26, 2017, print edition as ‘White House Ordered Tougher Iran Letter.’

https://www.wsj.com/articles/white-house-intervened-to-toughen-letter-on-iran-nuclear-deal-1493151632

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Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

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Obama’s hidden Iran deal giveaway — Politico Investigates

April 25, 2017

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By dropping charges against major arms targets, the administration infuriated Justice Department officials — and undermined its own counterproliferation task forces.

04/24/17 05:00 AM EDT

When President Barack Obama announced the “one-time gesture” of releasing Iranian-born prisoners who “were not charged with terrorism or any violent offenses” last year, his administration presented the move as a modest trade-off for the greater good of the Iran nuclear agreement and Tehran’s pledge to free five Americans.

“Iran had a significantly higher number of individuals, of course, at the beginning of this negotiation that they would have liked to have seen released,” one senior Obama administration official told reporters in a background briefing arranged by the White House, adding that “we were able to winnow that down to these seven individuals, six of whom are Iranian-Americans.”

But Obama, the senior official and other administration representatives weren’t telling the whole story on Jan. 17, 2016, in their highly choreographed rollout of the prisoner swap and simultaneous implementation of the six-party nuclear deal, according to a POLITICO investigation.

In his Sunday morning address to the American people, Obama portrayed the seven men he freed as “civilians.” The senior official described them as businessmen convicted of or awaiting trial for mere “sanctions-related offenses, violations of the trade embargo.”

In reality, some of them were accused by Obama’s own Justice Department of posing threats to national security. Three allegedly were part of an illegal procurement network supplying Iran with U.S.-made microelectronics with applications in surface-to-air and cruise missiles like the kind Tehran test-fired recently, prompting a still-escalating exchange of threats with the Trump administration. Another was serving an eight-year sentence for conspiring to supply Iran with satellite technology and hardware. As part of the deal, U.S. officials even dropped their demand for $10 million that a jury said the aerospace engineer illegally received from Tehran.

And in a series of unpublicized court filings, the Justice Department dropped charges and international arrest warrants against 14 other men, all of them fugitives. The administration didn’t disclose their names or what they were accused of doing, noting only in an unattributed, 152-word statement about the swap that the U.S. “also removed any Interpol red notices and dismissed any charges against 14 Iranians for whom it was assessed that extradition requests were unlikely to be successful.”

Three of the fugitives allegedly sought to lease Boeing aircraft for an Iranian airline that authorities say had supported Hezbollah, the U.S.-designated terrorist organization. A fourth, Behrouz Dolatzadeh, was charged with conspiring to buy thousands of U.S.-made assault rifles and illegally import them into Iran.

A fifth, Amin Ravan, was charged with smuggling U.S. military antennas to Hong Kong and Singapore for use in Iran. U.S. authorities also believe he was part of a procurement network providing Iran with high-tech components for an especially deadly type of IED used by Shiite militias to kill hundreds of American troops in Iraq.

The biggest fish, though, was Seyed Abolfazl Shahab Jamili, who had been charged with being part of a conspiracy that from 2005 to 2012 procured thousands of parts with nuclear applications for Iran via China. That included hundreds of U.S.-made sensors for the uranium enrichment centrifuges in Iran whose progress had prompted the nuclear deal talks in the first place.

When federal prosecutors and agents learned the true extent of the releases, many were shocked and angry. Some had spent years, if not decades, working to penetrate the global proliferation networks that allowed Iranian arms traders both to obtain crucial materials for Tehran’s illicit nuclear and ballistic missile programs and, in some cases, to provide dangerous materials to other countries.

“They didn’t just dismiss a bunch of innocent business guys,” said one former federal law enforcement supervisor centrally involved in the hunt for Iranian arms traffickers and nuclear smugglers. “And then they didn’t give a full story of it.”

In its determination to win support for the nuclear deal and prisoner swap from Tehran — and from Congress and the American people — the Obama administration did a lot more than just downplay the threats posed by the men it let off the hook, according to POLITICO’s findings.

Through action in some cases and inaction in others, the White House derailed its own much-touted National Counterproliferation Initiative at a time when it was making unprecedented headway in thwarting Iran’s proliferation networks. In addition, the POLITICO investigation found that Justice and State Department officials denied or delayed requests from prosecutors and agents to lure some key Iranian fugitives to friendly countries so they could be arrested. Similarly, Justice and State, at times in consultation with the White House, slowed down efforts to extradite some suspects already in custody overseas, according to current and former officials and others involved in the counterproliferation effort.

And as far back as the fall of 2014, Obama administration officials began slow-walking some significant investigations and prosecutions of Iranian procurement networks operating in the U.S. These previously undisclosed findings are based on interviews with key participants at all levels of government and an extensive review of court records and other documents.

“Clearly, there was an embargo on any Iranian cases,” according to the former federal supervisor.

“Of course it pissed people off, but it’s more significant that these guys were freed, and that people were killed because of the actions of one of them,” the supervisor added, in reference to Ravan and the IED network.

The supervisor noted that in agreeing to lift crippling sanctions against Tehran, the Obama administration had insisted on retaining the right to go after Iran for its efforts to develop ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads and cruise missiles that could penetrate U.S. defenses, and to illegally procure components for its nuclear, military and weapons systems.

“Then why would you be dismissing the people that you know about who are involved in that?” the former official asked.

A SHREWD CALCULATION

The saga of how the Obama administration threw a monkey wrench into its own Justice Department-led counterproliferation effort continues to play out almost entirely out of public view, largely because of the highly secretive nature of the cases and the negotiations that affected them.

That may be about to change, as the Trump administration and both chambers of Congress have pledged to crack down on Tehran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Last Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced a government-wide review of U.S. policy toward Iran in the face of “alarming and ongoing provocations that export terror and violence, destabilizing more than one country at a time.”

On Thursday, President Donald Trump declared that even if Iran is meeting the terms of its deal with the Obama administration and other world powers, “they are not living up to the spirit of it, I can tell you that. And we’re analyzing it very, very carefully, and we’ll have something to say about that in the not-too-distant future.”

Such reviews are likely to train a spotlight on an aspect of the nuclear deal and prisoner swap that has infuriated the federal law enforcement community most — the hidden damage it has caused to investigations and prosecutions into a wide array of Iranian smuggling networks with U.S. connections.

Valerie Lincy, executive director of the nonpartisan Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, said Obama administration officials made a shrewd political calculation in focusing public attention on just those seven men it was freeing in the United States, and portraying them as mere sanctions violators.

That way, she said, “They just didn’t think it was going to make too many waves. And I think they were right.”

But Lincy, who closely tracks the U.S. counterproliferation effort against Iran, said that by letting so many men off the hook, and for such a wide range of offenses, Washington has effectively given its blessing to Iran’s continuing defiance of international laws.

Former Obama administration officials deny that, saying the men could still be prosecuted if they continue their illegal activity. But with their cases dropped, international arrest warrants dismissed and investigative assets redirected, the men — especially the 14 fugitives — can now continue activities the U.S. considers to be serious threats to its national security, Lincy said.

“This is a scandal,” she said. “The cases bear all the hallmarks of exactly the kinds of national security threats we’re still going after. It’s stunning and hard to understand why we would do this.”

Even some initial supporters of negotiating with Iran said the disclosures are troubling.

“There was always a broader conceptual problem with the administration not wanting to upset the balance of the deal or the perceived rapprochement with the Iranian regime,” said former Bush administration deputy national security adviser Juan Zarate, who later turned against the accord. “The deal was sacrosanct, and the Iranians knew it from the start and took full advantage when we had — and continue to maintain — enormous leverage.”

Most, if not all, of the Justice Department lawyers and prosecutors involved in the Counterproliferation Initiative were kept in the dark about how their cases were being used as bargaining chips, according to interviews with more than a dozen current and former officials.

So were the federal agents from the FBI and departments of Homeland Security and Commerce who for years had been operating internationally, often undercover, on the front lines of the hunt for Iranian arms and weapons smugglers.

Read the rest:

http://www.politico.com/story/2017/04/24/obama-iran-nuclear-deal-prisoner-release-236966

Art at Top: Sean McCabe for POLITICO

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Levin: This BOMBSHELL report on the Iran deal is infuriating

Posted April 24, 2017 07:23 PM by Chris Pandolfo

Anton Watman | Shutterstock

Anton Watman | Shutterstock

There was a “blockbuster” story in Politico Monday that Conservative Review Editor-in-Chief Mark Levin wants you to know about.

In “Obama’s hidden Iran deal giveaway,” Josh Meyer reports that when President Obama released Iranian-born prisoners to secure Iranian support for his administration’s infamous nuclear deal, he portrayed the released prisoners as simple “civilians.” “In reality,” Meyer writes, “some of them were accused by Obama’s own Justice Department of posing threats to national security.”

Listen:

The bottom line is that President Obama lied to get support for the Iran Nuclear deal. “And his surrogates lied, and therefore the media lied,” Levin said.

“And [Obama] surrendered America’s national security to do it!”

There is Democrat and mainstream media hysteria over possible, unproven, connections between President Trump and Russia, and meanwhile, President Obama released dangerous Iranian fugitives to pass a deal that enabled the nuclear proliferation of the world’s number one state sponsor of terrorism.

And President Trump is somehow undermining American national security? Levin set the record straight:

“Barrack Obama did more damage to our national security, to the United States military, to our border security, to our internal security with our police, than any foreign enemy or opponent could possibly achieve!”

“This is a stunning story! And it gags me to say to Politico, I tip my hat. For once.”

Don’t miss an episode of LevinTV. Sign up now!

Chris Pandolfo is a staff writer and type-shouter for Conservative Review. He holds a B.A. in Politics and Economics from Hillsdale College. His interests are Conservative Political Philosophy, the American Founding, and Progressive Rock. Follow him on Twitter for doom-saying and great album recommendations @ChrisCPandolfo.

https://www.conservativereview.com/articles/levin-this-bombshell-report-on-the-iran-deal-is-infuriating

Iran nuclear deal reviewed as uncertainty grows

April 25, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | Critics of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani charge that the 2015 nuclear deal has failed to bring anticipated economic benefits

VIENNA (AFP) – Iran and major powers were set to review adherence to their 2015 nuclear agreement on Tuesday, as uncertainty grows about the landmark accord’s future under US President Donald Trump.

The regular quarterly meeting was expected to hear, as Washington confirmed last week, that Iran is sticking to its deal with the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.

The accord saw Tehran drastically curb its nuclear activities in return for the lifting of Western and UN sanctions.

However, Trump has ordered a 90-day review, saying last Thursday that Iran was “not living up to the spirit” of the “terrible” deal because of its actions in other areas.

This refers to Iran’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, rebels in Yemen and militias in Iraq and in Lebanon as well as Tehran’s ballistic missile programme.

US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Monday the review would examine the nuclear accord “in the larger context of Iran’s role in the region and in the world, and then adjust accordingly.”

Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last Wednesday expressed misgivings about the nuclear deal itself, in particular time limits in key areas.

Iran cut the number of centrifuges that “enrich” uranium — making it suitable for power generation and at high purities for a bomb — from about 19,000 to 5,000.

Together with other restrictions and ultra-tight UN inspections, Iran pledged to stay at this level for 10 years and not to enrich uranium above low purities for 15 years.

Its uranium stockpile will also stay below 300 kilograms — well short of what would be needed for an atomic bomb — for 15 years.

Tillerson said that the accord “fails to achieve the objective of a non-nuclear Iran” and had been a way of “buying off” Tehran “for a short period of time”.

– Tehran not satisfied –

Iran is not happy either, with critics of President Hassan Rouhani — facing a tough battle for re-election next month — charging that the nuclear deal has failed to provide all the promised economic benefits.

While nuclear-related sanctions were lifted, those related to human rights or missiles remained or have been expanded, frustrating Iran’s efforts to boost trade.

Last week Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded to Trump’s comments by saying that Washington was failing to live up not just to the spirit of the nuclear deal, but its wording too.

“So far, it has defied both,” Zarif said on Twitter.

Tuesday’s “Joint Commission” meeting from 0930 GMT among senior diplomats was to be held behind closed doors — in the same plush Vienna hotel where the deal was hammered out — with no press events planned.

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