Posts Tagged ‘Rouhani’

Iran vows ‘unpleasant’ response if US drops nuclear deal

April 20, 2018


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Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (left) and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov

ANKARA (REUTERS) – IRAN warned the United States on Thursday of “unpleasant” consequences if Washington pulls out of a multinational nuclear deal, Iranian state TV reported.

“Iran has several options if the United States leaves the nuclear deal. Tehran’s reaction to America’s withdrawal of the deal will be unpleasant,” TV quoted Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as saying on his arrival in New York.

Under Iran’s settlement with the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China, Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear program to satisfy the powers that it could not be used to develop atomic bombs. In exchange, Iran received relief from sanctions, most of which were lifted in January 2016.

US President Donald Trump has given the European signatories a May 12 deadline to “fix the terrible flaws” of the 2015 nuclear deal, or he will refuse to extend US sanctions relief on Iran.
Iran has said it will stick to the accord as long as the other parties respect it, but will “shred” the deal if Washington pulls out.

Iran has said it will stick to the accord as long as the other parties respect it, but will “shred” the deal if Washington pulls out.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Peter Cooney)


Israel turns 70 — “Benjamin Netanyahu is no longer a defender of Israeli democracy”

April 19, 2018

Israelis’ second-favorite choice for prime minister charges that the long-serving incumbent does not put the greater good of Israel ahead of his own political interests anymore

Something happened to him. Something changed. He’s not the same person that he was.

So says Yair Lapid, the country’s second most favored choice of prime minister, about the man he is determined to defeat: the seemingly perennial first choice, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Interviewed this week in a bustling Ramat Aviv cafe, Yesh Atid leader Lapid acknowledges helpfully that he’s not Netanyahu’s psychologist, but he ascribes that change to a combination of factors including the prime minister’s legal problems, the sheer length of his time in office, and the fact that the world is changing and he didn’t change fast enough with it.

Lapid insists that he’s not blind to Netanyahu’s many achievements, but ultimately, in his telling, what Israel is witnessing with Netanyahu now is the corrosive impact of a premier far too long in power. He can’t even think of another Western leader in office today who was first elected as far back as Netanyahu’s initial victory, in 1996. (Because there isn’t one, though it should be noted, of course, that Netanyahu was out of office for 10 of those 22 years, between 1999 and 2009.)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and finance minister Yair Lapid attend a signing ceremony for a new private port to be built in Ashdod, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on September 23, 2014. (Noam Revkin Fenton/FLASH90)

And while Lapid goes to considerable lengths to challenge Netanyahu’s persuasive assertion of Israel’s economic and foreign relations renaissance, and to highlight Netanyahu’s failures in tackling the threats posed by Iran, he says it is Israel’s domestic cohesion that is most threatened by the prime minister’s hold. What worries him most, as Israel turns 70 and he wonders how the country will fare in the years to come, is Israelis’ capacity “to work together towards a common good” — a critical factor in Israel’s survival and one he claims that Netanyahu cynically undermines by fueling division for narrow political gain.

Therefore, if elected prime minister, Lapid, 54, promises he’ll pass legislation mandating a two-term prime ministerial limit. And he’ll pass it early, he says, before he too succumbs to the typical Israeli prime ministerial delusion that the country’s very existence depends on him retaining the post, and that all means can be sacrificed to that end.

Under Netanyahu, Lapid asserts, the determination to retain power at all costs is coming to threaten Israel’s very democracy — with the courts, law enforcement and the media all under sustained attack. Asked what’s wrong with legislation, currently contemplated by Netanyahu, that would prevent the High Court from striking down Knesset legislation it finds to be undemocratic, he answers starkly, with a rather unhappy laugh: “Because if tomorrow the 66 members of the coalition vote through a law saying we’re hanging the other 54 opposition members of Knesset from a tree, who are we going to go to?”

Netanyahu and his government, he further charges, are exhibiting a “failure to understand politics as an ongoing process, in which sometimes you’re in power and sometimes you’re not, and that you have to protect the rights of the people who are not in power, including minorities.” Lapid’s most devastating critique? That Netanyahu is no longer a defender of Israeli democracy.

I’d have been happy to discuss these critiques, and a whole host of other issues, with the prime minister himself, needless to say. But the Prime Minister’s Office, as is its wont, did not respond to a request for an interview beyond acknowledging it. Netanyahu long since abandoned a tradition by which Israeli prime ministers made themselves available for multiple interviews by the Israeli media twice a year — around Passover/Independence Day and New Year. (Apart from a few brief minutes in China last year, the last time he spoke on the record to The Times of Israel was on the eve of the 2015 elections.)

And yet, the polls keep showing, this ostensibly dangerous Netanyahu is still far more popular than Lapid, and his coalition would triumph again if elections were called. Threat to democracy or not, it’s Netanyahu that Israelis plainly still want. Responds Lapid, determinedly, “Well, this is my job description — to convince them that I’m a better alternative.”

Lapid spoke in English. What follows is a transcript lightly edited for clarity and concision.

The Times of Israel: Here we are at that time of year again — the mourning and the celebration.

Yair Lapid: I wrote many years ago that this is the only country where the difference between the saddest day and the happiest day is only 60 seconds. We’ve debated whether or not to separate those two, but I think we’re better off with them touching each other.

The former enables the latter. It’s appropriate.


How do you think we should be feeling on our 70th birthday? Obviously it’s an amazing achievement to have reached 70 in this toxic part of the world, and, moreover, to be thriving. But we also have lots of problems.

Lapid with his father Tommy in the 1980s. (photo credit: Moshe Sinai/Flash90)

Lapid with his father Tommy in the 1980s. (photo credit: Moshe Sinai/Flash90)

On anniversaries you tend to think on a bigger scale. I’m 54 years old. When my grandfather was 54, he was already dead — ashes in Mauthausen concentration camp. When my father was 54, in 1985, the country was in a healing process from the first Lebanon war; the startup nation was not invented yet. There was a fragility to Israel that you don’t feel now. We’re doing well.

I look at my son and I recognize that we live in an amazing country and I’m happy for him that he’s here. I should believe that when he turns 54, in 23 years from now, he’ll be living in a country that’s better than the one I’m living in. But, for the first time in my lifetime, I’m not convinced that Israel’s future is necessarily better than its present or past.


Because nobody’s taking care of it. Because we have a totally dysfunctional system and leadership which is not as obligated [as its predecessors] to doing the right thing even if it has political consequences. We were brought to the amazing place we are now by people who led us in the right way, and I don’t think we have those kind of leaders now.

It’s the system or the personalities?

They have to do with each other. The political system is totally unsuitable, not only to what this country needs, but also to the soul and spirit of the nation.

That sounds like the sour grapes complaint of somebody who’s not winning. The public, in every poll that we see — despite Netanyahu’s reversals on the deportations of migrants, the corruption cases, the strains with the Diaspora, etc., etc. — seems to like him more and more. Don’t we have the leadership and the system that the people want?

First of all, the incumbent always has the advantage until election day; only then do we know what the public really wants.

I disagree with Netanyahu; I’m not a member of Likud. But to be fair to Netanyahu, he’s done a lot of good things for the country as well. The only problem we have is that something happened to him.

I think we can agree that if we want democracy to defend us, we need to defend democracy as well. He doesn’t do this anymore, which is alarming. And it’s twice as bad, because he wasn’t like that in the past. This is something that’s happened in the last two or three years, because he’s been in office too long

I’ve known him for more than 20 years. I’ve served [as finance minister in 2013-14] in his government. [In the Channel 10 Independence Day television series on Israel’s leaders] you can see the moment when [first prime minister David] Ben-Gurion had been there too long. It’s the same with Netanyahu. He’s been there too long.

Something happened to him? What does that mean?

Something changed. I’m not his psychologist.

Like all politicians, he had his own agenda, but if it was him or the country, the country came first. It’s not like that anymore. If he feels — and he does — that the divisions in Israeli society serve him politically, he has no problem contributing to these divisions instead of seeing it as his duty to heal the wounds. And if he feels it serves him politically to have an open attack on the police, the Supreme Court, on all the institutions…

I think we can agree that if we want democracy to defend us, we need to defend democracy as well. He doesn’t do this anymore, which is alarming. And it’s twice as bad, because he wasn’t like that in the past. This is something that’s happened in the last two or three years, because he’s been in office too long.

Don’t all of our prime ministers become convinced over the years that if they are not prime minister, the country is in terrible peril?


And therefore all means to that end? Is that what we’re seeing?

Yes and hence the term limits that some democracies have.

That’s what you would do here? You would change the system in that respect?

Yes. I introduced a bill in this Knesset for a two-term limit on the prime minister. And if I’m prime minister, this is something I would pass in the first three months. Because probably after three or four years, you’d also be in peril of convincing yourself [that only you can lead the country].

But the public, again, obviously likes him more than the alternatives.

Well, this is my job description — to convince them that I’m a better alternative.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and finance minister Yair Lapid during a press conference speaking about the reform at Israel’s ports, in Jerusalem, on July 3, 2013. (Flash90)

I’m not part of this anti-Bibi camp that thinks that everything he ever did in his life was wrong. I don’t have that instinct. I come from a right-wing family. I already served in his government. I know his family. It’s just he’s been there for too long and he’s taking the country on the wrong course now.

You said you don’t think there’s the fragility that there was before for Israel. So we are at least more certain of existing? Are you sure that we’re through the worst period in terms of physical threats?

We had worse times. Think of the atmosphere in this country in May 1967, when my grandparents called my parents from abroad and told them, the least you can do is send the children to us. It was so obvious to everybody, five minutes before this unbelievable triumph, that the country was going to be destroyed.

We do face things that are alarming. The Iranians in Syria. Hezbollah, the biggest terror organization on earth, with 140,000 missiles and rockets aiming at us as we speak, and some of them precision-guided. But if you ask me what is the biggest fear, it relates to Israeli society and our ability to work together towards a common good.

On the eve of the 1973 war, there was no sense here of existential peril, but we were in existential peril. You don’t think we’re overly complacent now? What happens if a few weeks from now hundreds of thousands march on the border from Gaza, and Hezbollah opens up a second front, and who knows what goes on in the West Bank. Are we as capable as we think we are, of meeting any grave physical threats?

Yes, we are. The things you’re describing are alarming, but they’re not existential threats. An existential threat is five Arab armies moving toward our borders. There’ll be no such war.

Palestinian men wave their national flags as smoke billows from tires burned by Gazans at the Israel-Gaza border during a protest, east of Gaza City in the Gaza Strip, on April 6, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

We live in a time in which the differentiation between peacetime and wartime is opaque. We need to have good answers to 50,000 Palestinians marching on our border in Gaza, but it’s not an existential threat. Israel is mightier than any of our enemies, including Iran.

So you’re most concerned about social cohesion and the stability of our democracy?

And our ability to work together, and to make sure that our best and our brightest are here.

It could all be so different internally if only what?

Countries don’t work like that. Countries are big boats and turning them takes time. What we need is a different leadership, really making plans and working for the future of the country, not the future of the politicians. That’s why we [in Yesh Atid] put forward the 7 point plan for the future of this country. It’s sad. When we issued it, I was eager for debate. But there is no debate. I don’t want to be one of those people who blames the media for everything. But basically we couldn’t even get a real debate going about the economy in the age of the machines, about social gaps…

Netanyahu would argue that he’s tackling all of this. That under him the economy is thriving. And that our foreign relations are great.

It’s fine to argue as long as your claims are correct. Let’s take the two examples you gave.

Israel’s economy is doing very well: the startup nation was established due to two processes created by two different governments. The Likud government in the 1980s, that created the Office of the Chief Scientist. And a Labor government in the 1990s, that created what they call the initiative program — essentially governmental hedge funds for the high-tech industry. Nobody’s doing anything right now to create the next economy. We’re living now on the fuel of the decisions that were made 20 years ago.

On that horrible night that you probably remember, when they passed the penultimate budget and gave money to everyone — [United Torah Judaism’s Moshe] Gafni took 80 million shekels and [Likud MKs] Micky Zohar 40 million and Oren Hazan 10 million which he hasn’t used to this day because he doesn’t know how. They gave money to anybody, to any politician, to any coalition agreement, but by the end of the night, they had no money left, so they cut from something which has no political price, which was the chief scientist budget. The budget that is supposed to create the next economy. Innovation. The economic air that we breathe. This is the kind of irresponsibility that this government is demonstrating.

As for the other example you cited, here things are even worse because there is no foreign policy renaissance. You’re not going to print this, but I’m going to tell you anyway. You’re not going to print it because it’s long and it’s complex, but it’s interesting.

Try me.

In Israel’s foreign policy we have eight arenas: the United Sates, American Jews, the European Union, international establishments such as the UN, the Middle East, Russia, China, and what we’ll call the rest of the world. Aside from an arena and a half, we’re not doing better than we were, say, two years ago. We’re doing a lot worse. We’re doing well in the United States because Donald Trump was elected and is a devoted supporter of Israel and I couldn’t be happier about that. The [scheduled opening next month in Jerusalem of the US] embassy is the perfect present for Israel’s 70th anniversary.

But [Trump’s election] had nothing to do with Israeli policy. The Republican candidate who we did support, Mitt Romney in 2012, lost, and it was a huge mistake supporting him. The Republican candidate we didn’t support, Donald Trump, won.

So we’re doing better [as regards the US president].

US President Donald Trump (right) welcomes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House on March 5, 2018 in Washington,DC. (AFP PHOTO / Mandel NGAN)

We’re doing horribly within the Democratic Party, and with more conservative Republicans, and with American Jewry — with everything that is not the president. If you don’t believe me, look at the complete failure to convince the Americans to get involved in what is happening in Syria, Iran’s establishment [of its military] in Syria, which according to Netanyahu is the number one goal of our foreign policy.

As for the European Union, we just gave up. Apparently nobody cares about our biggest trading partner. We need the Europeans  — including to tackle the money trail of Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations. But we’ve decided to declare [EU foreign affairs chief] Frederica Mogherini an enemy, the European Union an anti-Semite. That does not constitute a policy for a country. What you do if you have a problem somewhere, is go and work to make it better. The same goes for the UN. I support leaving the UN Human Rights Council. But anything else [you have to work on it]. You don’t appoint a second or third class politician to be your ambassador to the United Nations. You make sure you have the best diplomat on earth there, fighting the fight.

Russia is ignoring our most urgent security needs over Syria. China in the next few years will become Iran’s biggest trading partner.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi as Netanyahu arrives in India on January 14, 2018. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

In the rest of the world, where Netanyahu [ostensibly] did well, you have to distinguish between photo ops and policies. He got an unbelievable photo op in India and everybody was so impressed they missed the fact that a few weeks later [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi came from India to the Palestinian Authority, went to Arafat’s grave, and called him one of the greatest leaders ever. And Modi hosted [Iran’s President Hassan] Rouhani in India. It was unbelievable: The reception for Rouhani was a carbon copy of the one that Netanyahu had. But the deals they signed are ten times bigger, including for an Indian port inside Iran, meaning we’re being messed with again.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, left, wave after a ceremonial reception at the Indian presidential palace, in New Delhi, India, Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

And this is called a policy renaissance? There is no renaissance.

There is no one working on the economy. Or making an effort to minimize social gaps.

Having said all that, I’m not one of those leftists who thinks the country is terrible. The country is unbelievable. The army is fantastic. The people are the best. We live a good life.

Netanyahu would bitterly dispute that he is resting on the economic laurels of 20 years ago. For starters, he would stress Israel’s capacity in cyber, including to counter cyber threats, where we’re a world leader.

Well, that’s true. The IDF is at the heart of that.

It’s a good thing that Netanyahu focused on cyber when he did. It’s a very good thing that he was talking about Iran when nobody else wanted to. If he was the same person that he was then, I might have a weaker case

He’s done some good things. He started talking about cyber when nobody else was. But let’s not [try to claim credit that really goes to] the IDF. The IDF was the best army in the world in 1967. It was the army that almost broke, but then won, in 1973. It was the army that, in 1948, against all odds, created the country. This is not Benjamin Netanyahu’s doing. This is Ben-Gurion’s version of the iron wall: Part of the reason we won wars was that we were capable of maintaining our qualitative edge. The qualitative edge was always technological. Can you compare the cyber abilities we have to the fact that we built nuclear reactors here in this country in the 1950s? People had nothing to eat in the 1950s.

It’s a good thing that Netanyahu focused on cyber when he did. It’s a very good thing that he was talking about Iran when nobody else wanted to. If he was the same person that he was then, I might have a weaker case. But he isn’t. Unfortunately. For various reasons — including his legal problems, the fact that he’s been in office too long, and the fact that the world is changing and he wasn’t able to change fast enough with it. I can’t think of any other current democratic leader who was in power in 1996.

Do you think he’s a danger to democracy, that he’s destroying Israeli democracy, that he would destroy Israeli democracy to stay in power?

Israel’s democracy is strong and well established. But we are now the third generation from World War II. People don’t understand the risks and perils of not living in a democracy. So they want to live in a democracy, but they don’t want to pay the price.

Part of a strong, vital, vibrant democracy is change of leadership every now and then. The pendulum must move, and if somebody is trying to slow down or prevent the pendulum from moving by abusing his power of authority, then this is an undemocratic process

People tell themselves, I want to live in a democracy and I’m for a free press, but you can’t write everything, without understanding that the whole idea of a free press is that you can write everything. And they say, we want a strong Supreme Court, but they shouldn’t intervene in things they don’t understand. Without realizing that yes, the Supreme Court has to understand, but it is supposed to intervene. That is the purpose of the court. People say, yes, we should have a strong police force, but what’s wrong with the prime minister attacking the police? Well, there is something wrong with the prime minister attacking the police because if you don’t trust the police, who are you going to trust when the next intifada breaks out?

Part of a strong, vital, vibrant democracy is change of leadership every now and then. The pendulum must move, and if somebody is trying to slow down or prevent the pendulum from moving by abusing his power of authority, then this is an undemocratic process.

And that’s what you think is happening now?

We are seeing some of that now in Israel, yes.

And yet, when he attacks the police, he rises in the polls. Here’s a theory: Israelis hear you, and [Zionist Union leader] Avi Gabbay, and [Netanyahu’s former defense minister Moshe] Ya’alon, and others in the opposition, all telling us that it’s crisis time. That our leadership is bad for this country. But we don’t see you all as being so worried for this country as to put aside your egos and get together. If Moshe Ya’alon walked into Yesh Atid headquarters tomorrow, and said, Yair, I’m willing to be your number 2 because the hour is so critical, people might start to take it more seriously. Instead, we see all these dissenting egos who each warn that this is a terrible moment, but also all say that they have to be the one to oust the prime minister.

Yair Lapid (center), and Tzipi Livni (right), with Moshe Ya’alon (left) at a 2013 cabinet meeting. (photo credit: Emil Salman/Pool/Flash90)

You’re lumping two things together. You cannot get together with people with whom you have a very different ideological prism. I cannot unify with Labor because they’re on the left and I’m in the center. For the same reason, I cannot have a unified party with the Likud.

You would, surely, if the domestic crisis was severe enough. You would say, we have to put aside ideological differences over diplomacy and security, albeit temporarily, to save the country internally.

Well, then, it’s not on me, it’s on the voters. This is what happens in real life. The voters look around and say, who has got the best chance of winning and then they go there in the elections. Until then, it’s what we see now.

Secondly, all these moves [by politicians into the various parties], all these generals people are talking about — and I think these are good people and I want them in politics — everyone will make their decisions when we have an election date. (Lapid is referring to such potential politicians as former chiefs of staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Benny Gantz.) To maneuver just for the sake of maneuvering…

It’s premature?

Yes, but these things will happen.

What’s wrong with the argument made by Netanyahu about constraining the Supreme Court. People say, we voted in these politicians. They make the laws. Why is it unacceptable [for the government to advance the legislation it is considering] to say the Supreme Court should not intervene [to overturn laws passed by the Knesset]?

Because if tomorrow the 66 members of the coalition vote through a law saying we’re hanging the other 54 opposition members of Knesset from a tree, who are we going to go to? (Lapid laughs rather sadly.) The idea that democracy is only about the majority… When people talk about the tyranny of democracy, this is what they’re talking about. The entire idea of democracy is checks and balances.

Outgoing Supreme Court President, Miriam Naor (C-R), and incoming President Esther Hayut (C-L) at the Supreme Court during Naor’s last ruling and retirement ceremony, in Jerusalem, on October 26, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

But the problem with the bills that the government is discussing now is even greater because of the motive for the legislation. Why now? Netanyahu’s been prime minister on and off since 1996. Twenty-two years. Why now? Because of his legal problems, and [his belief] this will serve him when dealing with his legal problems.

When they ask me about the French bill [the notion that a prime minster would be immune from prosecution so long as he’s in office], I say, I’m willing to have that discussion when we have somebody [as prime minister] who is not under investigation.

The key difference is that France has term limits for its immune-from-prosecution president.

I would add, since they’re also discussing the British model [of the balance between parliament and the courts], that it also has to do with political culture. And besides (laughs), if they’re going to have the British model here, I want the queen as well.

So again, this is an attack on the rule of law, an attack for the wrong reasons, by the wrong people.

Do you think there is something systematic here when it comes to media? The most read Hebrew daily, Israel Hayom, has been largely working for Netanyahu; there was an effort to reorient Ynet and Yedioth; there was influence at Walla, the second biggest news site after Ynet, and all sorts of machinations relating to television news. Was this an effort by the prime minister to corral the media?

The prime minister is far too preoccupied with what is written or broadcast about him. When you’re prime minister, you’re supposed to be a little above all that. You know what? I get my fair share of attacks. And I cannot tell you I’m philosophical about it. But this is part of the democratic game. And saying I’m going to get involved in changing it, actively using the powers I have, is dangerous. Beyond that, this is all under investigation [in the corruption probes against the prime minister]. It’s for the state prosecution to decide.

Let’s go back to the Russians and the Syrians. What should be done differently? We seem to have been very robust in Syria. We’re even apparently directly confronting Iran in Syria. Why do you say this hasn’t been handled well?

There were two cornerstones in Israeli foreign policy. No nuclear agreement [that didn’t fully dismantle Iran’s rogue nuclear program], and no Iran in Syria. The prime minister or the government has failed in both. Regarding Russia, we were promised time after time that everything would be taken care of. Netanyahu was going back and forth to Sochi and to Moscow, and was very proud of the mechanism [for coordination between Jerusalem and Moscow] they had created, which is a good one. But it doesn’t seem like we are capable of convincing the Russians to take into consideration our part of the equation.

Which may not be the prime minister’s fault.

I don’t know if it’s his fault or not. This is his job. His job is to make sure the Russians understand. They have their own interests. We have our own interests. Friendship is nice, but basically it’s about interests. The Russians need to know that if their main goal is to stabilize Syria, they will not have a stabilized Syria so long as the Iranians are there because we will not let them. And for everyone who is saying now that Israel is pushing for military conflict, let us remember that we are ten years late — because Iran has been pushing for violent military conflict with us for a decade or so. So they use proxies. But is there anyone who doesn’t know that Hezbollah is an Iranian proxy, or that some of the terror attacks were premeditated in Iran?

A photo released by Iranian media reportedly shows the T-4 air base in central Syria after a missile barrage attributed to Israel on April 9, 2018. (Iranian media)

So yes, there’s going to be a conflict until they understand. There’s no point in red lines unless you stick by them. Apparently we were not successful in making the Russians understand that [for Israel, an Iranian military presence in Syria] is a red line. And that this will endanger Assad’s rule in the long term, that this will endanger the idea of a stabilized Syria.

Are you concerned that our elections could be manipulated via social media manipulation? I’m thinking Cambridge Analytica, Facebook and so on?

I have no doubt that there will be attempts to manipulate public opinion. There is always a certain amount of manipulation of public opinion, which is okay. But there is going to be foreign and not-foreign manipulation — with money.

Are you expecting to see your emails get hacked? That’s the kind of thing I’m asking you about.

Nothing would surprise me anymore. We monitor the social networks. Some of the stuff I saw about myself made my jaw drop. On the other hand, it was so obvious in France that they were trying to manipulate the election against Macron, and he went out and said to the French people, you know, somebody’s trying to manipulate you. And I think the Israeli people are at least as smart as the French, and we’ll make sure they understand what is going on and why it’s going on.

This government has convinced itself that it’s going to stay in power forever. And once you’ve said that to yourself, you have no reason to protect the rights of the opposition

All of a sudden every minister under the sun is advertising their work, and the work of their ministry, and the special events they’re holding, on the radio. It’s creating the sense that the minister is synonymous with the role, with the office, and therefore deepening this perception — because Netanyahu has been prime minister for so long — that they are the government and that nobody else is a credible alternative.

This is part of what we discussed before about the attrition of democracy. Why? Because part of living in a democratic society is the understanding, when you’re sitting in the Knesset, that sometimes you’re going to be in the coalition and sometimes you’re going to be in the opposition. So it makes sense that when you’re in the coalition, you’re going to make sure that at least some of the rights, or even the habits, that are protecting the opposition will be maintained, because it could be you [who needs them] in a year or two or three.

This government has convinced itself that it’s going to stay in power forever. And once you’ve said that to yourself, you have no reason to protect the rights of the opposition.

I’d like to see them, two years after, let’s imagine I’m prime minister. There is a coalition. They’re not in the coalition. And they have no Supreme Court to go to. They have to listen to our ministers all day long on the radio, glorifying themselves, using public money. And there’ll be no police to file complaints to, because the police would have been so weakened and frightened.

It’s that failure to understand politics as an ongoing process, in which sometimes you’re in power and sometimes you’re not, and that you have to protect the rights of the people who are not in power, including minorities.

Finally, respond to this government’s argument, this prime minister’s argument, that we’re the only people who can be trusted to run this country in this hostile region and this terrible era.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the opening of Israel’s 70th anniversary celebrations, at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, April 18, 2017 (GPO screenshot)

I’m not in the business of answering them. This is what I’m telling the Israeli public: You can trust us. You can trust me. You can trust us more than them because they are not to be trusted anymore.

And yet, Israeli voters went into the polling booths in 2015 and evidently decided they trusted Netanyahu and those around him to keep their kids in the army alive. I think that was a key factor.

You know what? Part of what trained me for the prime ministership is what happened to me in 2015 [when Yesh Atid fell from 19 seats to 11]. Because in 2015 we [in Yesh Atid] fell on our faces and everyone was standing around us and staring at the corpse and saying, they will never climb out of there. We did. Hard work. Going from place to place. Making sure we’d sharpened our ideas, our abilities, from a very low point. Until you’ve really fallen hard and climbed back up, you’re not prepared. That fall is part of the reason I’m prepared now.

Yair Lapid and his wife Lihi Lapid vote in Tel Aviv in the general elections on March 17, 2015. (photo credit: courtesy)

Iran president: we don’t intend any aggression — “We want friendly and brotherly relations with our neighbors”

April 18, 2018

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TEHRAN: President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday that Iran “does not intend any aggression” against its neighbors but will continue to produce all the weapons it needs for its defense.

“We tell the world that we will produce any weapons that we need, or if necessary we will procure them. We have not been waiting… and will not wait for your remarks or agreement,” said Rouhani at a military parade in Tehran to mark the annual Army Day.

“But at the same time we announce to our neighboring countries in the region… we do not intend any aggression against you.”

The United States and its allies have been demanding that Iran curb its ballistic missile program, but Tehran sees this as crucial to its defensive posture.

US President Donald Trump has threatened to tear up the 2015 nuclear deal that lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs to its atomic program unless new restrictions are imposed on its missile program and other areas by May 12.

“We want friendly and brotherly relations with our neighbors and we tell them that our weapons, our equipment, our missiles, our planes, our tanks are not against you, it is for deterrence,” said Rouhani.

“The only way to resolve problems is political negotiation and peaceful behavior,” he added.

Regional rival Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of seeking to dominate the Middle East through the expansion of proxy forces in countries like Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

Iran argues these forces operate with the permission of allied governments to fight jihadist groups and prevent the disintegration of states.

Rouhani did not appear to reference Israel, which Iran considers an “illegitimate regime” and whose dissolution is a top priority for the country’s Islamic rulers.

Israel has expressed concern over the growing presence of Iranian forces along its borders and has recently launched air strikes against Iranian positions in Syria.


Erdoğan, Iranian counterpart pledge to maintain alliance with Russia on Syria

April 18, 2018
Daily Sabah
emAP File Photo/em

AP File Photo

The presidents of Turkey and Iran on Tuesday vowed to press on with their alliance alongside Russia over Syria, the Turkish presidency said Tuesday, after Ankara backed strikes by the U.S. and its allies against the Assad regime.

“The two leaders emphasized the importance of continuing the joint efforts of Turkey, Iran and Russia… to protect Syrian territorial integrity and find a lasting, peaceful solution to the crisis,” a Turkish presidential source said following telephone talks between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani.

The two leaders also discussed bilateral relations, said the source, who refused to be named due to restrictions on speaking to the media.

Stating Turkey’s clear stance against the use of chemical weapons, Erdoğan said it is important to not allow tensions to escalate and evaluate the incidents within its context.

The leaders spoke about Syria’s territorial integrity, adding that it was important to continue the joint efforts by Turkey, Iran and Russia for a lasting political solution to the Syrian crisis as part of the Astana peace process.

Also, the leaders expressed their desire to boost bilateral economic relations.

The phone call came after the U.S. in coordination with France and the U.K. conducted on Saturday a series of military strikes targeting the Assad regime’s chemical weapons capabilities in retaliation to a suspected chemical attack in Douma, eastern Ghouta, earlier this month.


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China said in talks to build small nuclear reactors for Iran

April 16, 2018

The mini reactors could be used in nuclear submarines, with Tehran reportedly looking to develop seaborne atomic capabilities

Times of Israel
April 16, 2018 4:43 am  

Visitors look at the models of oil tanker shaped floating nuclear reactors and oil rigs showcased at the display booth of China's state-owned China National Nuclear Corporation during the China International Exhibition on Nuclear Power Industry in Beijing, Thursday, April 27, 2017. AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Visitors look at the models of oil tanker shaped floating nuclear reactors and oil rigs showcased at the display booth of China’s state-owned China National Nuclear Corporation during the China International Exhibition on Nuclear Power Industry in Beijing, Thursday, April 27, 2017. AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Tehran and Beijing are in talks to have China build several small nuclear power plants in Iran, an Iranian lawmaker said Sunday, amid concerns the Islamic Republic is seeking to build nuclear-powered submarines.

“Some negotiations have been held on mutual cooperation and building small nuclear power plants in Iran by China,” the Fars news agency quoted lawmaker Mojtaba Zonnou as saying.

Zonnour is the chairman of the Iranian parliament’s Nuclear Committee.

“The Chinese welcomed the proposal and it was decided that the issue be pursued at other (higher) levels,” Zonnour added.

According to Fars, the small nuclear reactors have uses in different industries, including shipbuilding and construction of submarines.

Iran’s Ghadir submarines are seen in the southern port of Bandar Abbas in Persian Gulf, Iran, Sunday, Aug. 8, 2010. (AP Photo/Iranian Defense Ministry, Vahid Reza Alaei)

The announcement comes as US President Donald Trump has threatened not to renew the nuclear deal with Iran.

According to the deal, Iran agreed to dramatically scale back its nuclear program, making it much more difficult for it to develop nuclear weapons.

Trump laid out four conditions that must be met for him to not abrogate the deal, including increased inspections, ensuring that “Iran never even comes close to possessing a nuclear weapon” and that there is no expiration date to the nuke deal. The current one expires after a decade.

In January, Trump threatened that if these changes were not made by May 12, the next deadline to waive sanctions under the deal, he would exit the accord.

In February the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a report that Iran was still sticking to the 2015 nuclear accord, but noted Tehran is looking to develop seaborne nuclear capabilities.

The IAEA report said that Iran informed it in January by letter of a decision to “construct naval nuclear propulsion in future.”

In this photo released by an official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani listens to explanations on new nuclear achievements at a ceremony to mark “National Nuclear Day,” in Tehran, Iran, Monday, April 9, 2018. Rouhani said Monday that despite many attempts, the U.S. has “failed to destroy” the landmark 2015 deal between Iran and world powers. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

The IAEA has asked Tehran for further details. Press reports in the past have said that Tehran wants to develop nuclear-powered ships and/or submarines.

This has created concern in the past because of the possibility that Iran might use highly enriched uranium, forbidden under the nuclear deal, to power such vessels.

In December 2016, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani ordered the country’s scientists to start work on nuclear-powered ships in response to the renewal of certain non-nuclear sanctions by the United States.

In letters read out on state television, Rouhani criticized the congressional move  and told Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization to start work on “planning the design and production of nuclear fuel and reactors for maritime transport.”

Uranium, when enriched to high levels of purity, can be used in a nuclear weapon. At low levels, it can be used for peaceful applications such as power generation — Iran’s stated aim.

Iran is currently contructing two nuclear plants in the country, as part of a deal with Russia announced two years ago called Bushehr Phase II.

In this photo released by the Iranian Presidency Office, President Hassan Rouhani, left, speaks as he is accompanied by the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi on a visit to the Bushehr nuclear power plant just outside the port city of Bushehr, southern Iran, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Iranian Presidency Office, Mohammad Berno)

The two additional plants are being built in the port city of Bushehr in southern Iran in additional to the one that is already operational. The Russian-built plant was completed in 2011.


Putin’s support for Assad paints Russia into a dangerous corner

April 16, 2018

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Insouciance after allied strikes fails to mask vulnerable position

Kathrin Hille in Moscow

After the chemical weapons facilities of Bashar al-Assad’s regime were hit by more than 100 missiles fired by the US and its allies, it was left to Russian politicians to respond on the Syrian president’s behalf.
“President al-Assad is in absolute positive spirits. He is in a good mood,” Natalia Komarova, governor of the Russian region of Khanty-Mansiysk, told Russian newswires after a meeting with Mr Assad in Damascus on Sunday, the day after the attacks.Dmitry Sablin, a Russian lawmaker who led the delegation to the Syrian capital, added that Mr Assad had agreed to visit Ms Komarova’s region and that last year his children had been on holiday to Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

On Russian television, this show of insouciance served to underline Moscow’s claim that the western missile strikes had not achieved anything. But, to outside observers, the unwavering support for Mr Assad has pushed Russia into an increasingly dangerous corner.

“They cast themselves as the protector of Syria’s sovereignty, the fighters against western schemes to push for regime change and partition that country, but they risk becoming partners with Assad in being international outlaws,” said a diplomat from a European country whose government is usually seen as Russia-friendly. “They are beginning to look like a pariah state, and more and more they are behaving like one,” he added.

Donald Trump orders precision strikes against Syria

Since the alleged chemical weapons attack in the Syrian town of Douma on April 7 which killed more than 70 people, Moscow has fiercely hit back at accusations against the Syrian military, and even denied that chemical weapons were used at all.

Those denials were the latest in a series of Russian steps to block the extension of a 2013 inspection regime for Syrian chemical weapons and shield Mr Assad from international pressure.

[Putin] has waded in so deep now that he has become Assad’s hostage

European diplomat

This staunch support for a dictator whom almost all countries in the region except for Iran view as an obstacle to a political solution to the Syrian war has frustrated many diplomats working on efforts for a peace process.
Now Moscow’s position appears set to create immense new risks for Russia both economic and political: The US said it was preparing further sanctions against Russia over its support for Syria, little more than a week after Washington triggered a sell-off in Russian markets with punitive measures that pushed the country’s largest aluminium maker to the brink of collapse.Meanwhile, the US has pledged not to pull its troops from Syria until its goals there are accomplished, while Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has sharply warned against further strikes.

It’s no longer about reason, it’s about guts, who has the stronger will. They might bluff — but we will all die …But maybe then, when they look into the abyss, like after the Cuban missile crisis, they’ll say gosh, and change the momentum

Russian experts said that although Moscow and Washington avoided a direct military clash in Syria at the weekend, their hardened positions on the Assad regime and its use of chemical weapons has pushed them into the most dangerous stand-off since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

“It’s no longer about reason, it’s about guts, who has the stronger will. They might bluff – but we will all die,” said Andrei Kortunov, director of the Russian International Relations Council, a state-backed think-tank. “But maybe then, when they look into the abyss, like after the Cuban missile crisis, they’ll say gosh, and change the momentum.”

And yet, observers in Moscow believe Mr Putin may well keep up his support for Mr Assad.

“He has waded in so deep now that he has become Assad’s hostage,” said a European diplomat.

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Mr Putin’s plan for Syria was a swift transition from armed conflict to economic rehabilitation and reconstruction. Despite the fact that three different initiatives for negotiating a political transition have failed to produce progress, Moscow continues to believe it can force a political transition accompanied by Russia, Iran and Turkey in which Syrian opposition groups would be forced to acquiesce to elections in which Mr Assad would once again run and win.

“That remains the only reasonable option because the US-led coalition is bent on dismembering the country,” said a Russian former ambassador involved in Moscow’s talks with Syrian opposition groups.

“Russia’s military tactics were driven by the idea that saving the Assad regime from complete collapse was the only way to prevent Syria from going the way of Libya and Iraq,” Nikolay Kozhanov, an expert on Russia’s Middle East policy, wrote in a recent paper.

Financial Times (FT)
Latest strike called “soft option”

Syria’s axis of evil cannot be trusted

April 15, 2018

By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
Arab News

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There was a rumor ahead of the ‘tripartite’ (American, British and French) bombing of Syria that the Assad regime and the Russian government had offered the withdrawal of Iran and its militias from Syria as part of a suggested resolution, in exchange for the trio refraining from the attack and engaging in a new political exercise.

If we assume that such an offer was really on the table, would it have been acceptable? It is definitely better than a limited strike, but the problem is that the three parties involved in Syria are accustomed to promoting lies. Even the Russians lost their credibility as a result of their support for the allegations of Damascus and Tehran. After the chemical attack in Douma, they repeated the same old story that the opposition attacked itself and that the United Nations should inspect on the ground, with the aim of wasting time and diluting the problem.

PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hand with Syrian President Bashar Assad in the Bocharov Ruchei residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Nov. 20, 2017.Mikhail Klimentyev, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hand with Syrian President Bashar Assad in the Bocharov Ruchei residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Nov. 20, 2017.

The ‘axis of evil’, which lacks credibility, cannot be trusted with solutions or political resolutions. The Syrian regime escaped military sanctions in September 2013, when the Russians suggested that it delivered its stock of chemical weapons to UN inspectors. The stock was then removed from Syria, and the regime claimed that it was everything in its possession. Now we know, however, that it was hiding more.
The most dangerous part of this forgery is that this regime acts without any consideration of the consequences. This shows Assad has not changed, even though the world had wrongly assumed he might do so after the civil war. It is clear that the mentality of revenge and extermination still reigns in Damascus and Tehran; otherwise, there is no other justification for using chlorine and sarin gases against civilians in Douma.
The role of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ ‘Generals’ has been important in this war, as they have assumed the command in many of the battles throughout Syria over the past three years, and their reputation has preceded them in terms of carrying out horrible revenge massacres along with other pro-Iran militias.
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Well, let us talk now about the coming days, since the military action by three Western powers is over, and they believe the job has been done, even though it does not seem to have adversely affected the strength of the regime or its forces. American President Donald Trump wanted to convey a message to prove that he means what he says, and the message was well received.
It is clear that the mentality of revenge and extermination still reigns in Damascus and Tehran; otherwise, there is no other justification for using chlorine and sarin gases against civilians in Douma.
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
But what happens next? We are facing two interlocking issues: The expected US sanctions against Iran, which is a battle that is yet to begin; and the desire to put an end to the civil war in Syria with a peaceful resolution. The latter can be done either by reaching an agreement with the regime or by creating a new status quo through protected military zones, like the American plan for establishing a region in eastern Syria for monitoring and launching attacks against Daesh and others when needed.
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Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya. © Ruptly
American sanctions against Iran will definitely weaken the regime in Tehran and create an environment more favourable for finding a solution in Syria, while loosening Iran’s grip on Iraq and Lebanon. Without further sanctions, Iran will continue creating trouble in the region. Indeed, there is hope that Syria may prove to be the Iranian religious regime’s Achilles’ heel, as it boasts of being invincible there. The signs of this excessive confidence are  reflected in how Iran has turned Syria into a battlefront against the Kurds and Israel, and a base for its threats against the stability of Lebanon and Iraq. According to the Iranian plan, Syria is the key base for its militias, which will be used by the IRGC as a launch pad against its neighbors.
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Can we ever believe that the Syrian regime in Damascus would be able to eject the IRGC and Iran’s militias from Syria? It is too difficult to believe. The current chaos ensures that Syria remains a source of trouble, which is perfectly suitable for Iran and Russia to exploit as they look to add more cards, and become key players in the region through starting fires and extinguishing them.


  • Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Twitter: @aalrashed
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view
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Iran’s Rouhani says US ‘will regret it’ if it violates nuke deal — National Nuclear Technology Day in Tehran

April 9, 2018

Times of Israel/AFP
April 9, 2018

Tehran warns Americans that if sanctions are reimposed on regime, in ‘less than a week, they will see the result’

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a joint press conference with the leaders of Turkey and Russia as part of a tripartite summit on Syria, in Ankara, on April 4, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / ADEM ALTAN)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a joint press conference with the leaders of Turkey and Russia as part of a tripartite summit on Syria, in Ankara, on April 4, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / ADEM ALTAN)

TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Monday that if the United States violated the nuclear deal it would regret doing so, and that Iran would respond in “less than a week” if that happened.

“We will not be the first to violate the accord but they should definitely know that they will regret it if they violate it,” Rouhani told a conference to mark National Nuclear Technology Day in Tehran.

“We are much more prepared than they think, and they will see that if they violate this accord, within a week, less than a week, they will see the result.”

US President Donald Trump has threatened to walk away from the nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions by May 12 unless tough new restrictions are imposed on Iran’s nuclear and missile programmes.

Rouhani dismissed the threat, saying: “It’s been 15 months since this gentleman who came to power in America has been making claims and there have been many ups and downs in his remarks and his behavior.

“(But) the foundations of the JCPOA (nuclear deal) have been so strong that during these 15 months of pressure… the structure has remained solid.”

The other partners to the agreement — Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and the EU — all agree that Iran has stuck by its commitments, as does the International Atomic Energy Association which is tasked with inspecting Iran’s compliance.


‘Big price to pay,’ after ‘mindless’ Syria attack — Trump calls Assad an “Animal” — Seems to Threaten Action — Reminds World of Obama’s Chemical Weapons “Red Line”

April 8, 2018


© AFP/File | An image grab taken from a video released by the Syrian civil defence in Douma shows an unidentified volunteer holding an oxygen mask over a child’s face at a hospital following a reported chemical attack on the rebel-held town on April 8, 2018

WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President Donald Trump on Sunday said there will be a “big price to pay” after what he called a “mindless CHEMICAL attack” in Syria, allegedly involving chlorine gas.Trump also called Syrian President Bashar al-Assad an “animal.”

“President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay,” Trump said in a pair of tweets which began with a discussion of the attack in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta, where rescue workers alleged that regime loyalists had used chlorine gas.

“Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria. Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world,” the president said.

At least 80 civilians have been killed since Friday after the regime launched fresh air raids on rebel-held areas of Eastern Ghouta, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor.

Syrian state media and the regime’s ally Russia denounced claims of chemical use as “fabrications.”

“Open area immediately for medical help and verification,” Trump said. “Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!”

The latest alleged attack came a year after the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikun in northwestern Syria was hit by an air strike. A UN-commissioned report said many residents of the town suffered the symptoms of an attack from an illegal nerve agent and more than 80 or them died, convulsed in agony.

Trump responded to that attack three days later, when US warships in the Mediterranean fired 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase.

Assad denied ordering that attack and Russia has continued to give him diplomatic cover at the United Nations.

Trump on Sunday criticized his predecessor Barack Obama for not striking after warning that the use of chemical weapons in Syria was a “red line.”

“If President Obama had crossed his stated Red Line in The Sand, the Syrian disaster would have ended long ago! Animal Assad would have been history!” Trump said.

Turkey hosts critical summit on Syria with Russia, Iran

April 4, 2018


ANKARA (AFP) – The presidents of Iran, Turkey and Russia met on Wednesday for their second tripartite summit in under six months, aiming to speed the peace process for Syria and bolster their influence in the country.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hosted his Russian and Iranian counterparts Vladimir Putin and Hassan Rouhani in Ankara at his presidential palace for a meeting that could have a critical bearing on developments in Syria.

The meeting is the second such tripartite summit after the first hosted by Putin in November in the Black Sea city of Sochi and will be a new symbol of the increasingly deep cooperation.

The summit could be a deal-breaker or milestone for the Syrian Crisis PHOTO COURTESY: HURRIYETDAILYNEWS.COM

The summit could be a deal-breaker or milestone for the Syrian Crisis PHOTO COURTESY: HURRIYETDAILYNEWS.COM

The three powers have backed peace talks in the Kazakh capital Astana which they argue are a parallel process to support UN-supported discussions in Geneva.

Experts say that Ankara, Moscow and Tehran have quite different interests but have for now decided to team up to take advantage of the waning Western influence in Syria.

The Kremlin’s special envoy on the Syria peace process Alexander Lavrentiev said the summit would allow the chance to assess the current situation and set out future prospects.

Hours before the summit, US President Donald Trump said he wanted to “bring our troops back home” from Syria after indicating last week the US would withdraw from the country “very soon”.

Jana Jabbour, professor of political science at Sciences Po university in Paris, said the aim of the summit was to “reorganise and renegotiate the zones of influence in Syria as well as to reflect on the future of Syria’s north after US withdrawal”.

– ‘Key player’ –

Turkey drove out Kurdish militia from Afrin city on March 18, two months after it launched an offensive in northern Syria supporting Syrian rebels.

Erdogan has indicated Turkey could extend its operation to the YPG-held town of Manbij as well as Ayn al-Arab (Kobane) and Qamishli, all east of Afrin.

“Erdogan likely wants to use the summit to secure Russian and Iranian support for expanded operations in northern Syria or Iraq,” said Elizabeth Teoman, Turkey analyst at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

After bilateral talks with Putin on Tuesday, Erdogan said Turkey and Russia would continue their cooperation “focusing on our common interests” in Syria.

Jabbour said Iran and Russia would give free rein to Turkey in the north against the YPG in exchange for bringing the groups it controls to the negotiating table.

“Turkey remains a key player in the Syrian crisis especially because of the opposition groups it controls. A solution to the crisis is unimaginable without Ankara’s contribution,” she added.

– ‘Tensions to flare again’ –

While Moscow and Tehran support the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad politically and militarily, Turkey has repeatedly called for his removal and supported Syrian opposition fighters.

Last year, the powers agreed to set up “de-escalation areas” in western Idlib province, north of Homs province, parts of Deraa and Quneitra provinces in southern Syria and Eastern Ghouta near Damascus, which has come under heavy bombardment.

Lavrentiev said Ghouta would be retaken completely by the regime in “7-10 days”.

Cooperation between the three in Syria “may break down at some point” and disputes between Moscow and Ankara could come to the fore when the regime turns its attention to Idlib province, Teoman said.

Idlib’s civilian infrastructure is largely controlled by the jihadist alliance Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.

Turkey is keen to prevent a Russia-backed regime assault on the province home to around 2.5 million people who analysts say would have few places to flee after having already fled areas like Ghouta and Aleppo.

Turkish armed forces have now set up eight observation posts to keep the ceasefire intact but Moscow wants Ankara to also exert influence over the jihadists in control of Idlib.

Tensions may also be emerging behind the scene between Russia and Iran, with Moscow much more concerned to press for reform under Assad than Tehran.

More than 350,000 people have been killed since the war began following anti-government protests in 2011, while millions have been internally displaced or forced to flee.

by Raziye Akkoc and Maria Panina