Wednesday, January 06, 2021

From Ian:

Sudan officially joins Abraham Accords to normalize Israel ties
Sudan signed the Abraham Accords, officially agreeing to peace and normalization with Israel on Wednesday.

Sudanese Justice Minister Nasredeen Abdulbari signed the document with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin present. Mnuchin is expected to visit Israel on Thursday. Mnuchin continued to Israel for "important meetings," as he characterized them on Twitter.

Sudan became the third of four countries to agree to sign on to the Trump administration-brokered accords, following the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and before Morocco.

Though Khartoum announced its willingness to join in late October, its government waited to proceed until the US removed Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terror last month, following the overthrow of dictator Omar al-Bashir in early 2019. Sudan paid $335 million in compensation for American victims of terror and their families as part of the removal process.

During Mnuchin’s visit, the countries also settled Sudan’s World Bank debt, a further step towards economic recovery for the African state, which has over $60 billion in foreign debt.

Mnuchin was in Khartoum “at a time when our bilateral relations are making historic leaps towards a better future. We plan to take concrete steps today to inaugurate the entry of our bilateral relations,” Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok tweeted.

The path to Sudan joining the Abraham Accords began in February 2020, when Sudan’s transitional leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Uganda.






Seth Frantzman: 2021: The Year Israel and Iran Go to War?
Hardly a week goes by without tit-for-tat statements by Israel and Iran. IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi has said Iran is the most dangerous country in the region and warned Tehran that the IDF has rehearsed and prepared retaliation for any eventuality. Towards this end, Israel launched unprecedented air defense drills in December using its Iron Dome and David’s Sling air defense systems. These systems, along with the Arrow 3, act as a multi-tiered series of interceptors with radar and command and control that can stop ballistic missiles, drones, cruise missiles, and other threats. Integrating them, as Israel has, illustrates the country is prepared for the kind of complex attacks that the Middle East has seen in recent years. For instance, Iran used drones and cruise missiles to attack Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq facility in 2019 and Iran used ballistic missiles to target a base in Iraq where U.S. troops were located in January 2020.

While Iran and its allies talk tough on Israel they also know that a new U.S. administration is coming into office. Iran has detained a South Korean tanker and announced it is increasing its enrichment of uranium, two actions that appear designed to wring financial concessions from the West and South Korea. Provoking a conflict with either Israel or the U.S. is not in Iran’s interests if its goal is sanctions relief and financial windfalls. Iran also doesn’t have the conventional capabilities to conduct a major war with Israel.

Israel’s Military Goes All in on the F-35, and More
Meanwhile, Israel, which has more than two dozen advanced F-35s, is seeking more of the aircraft and has fielded new army units with multidimensional capabilities using the latest in artificial intelligence and precision weapons. Any kind of conflict between Iran and Israel is more likely to involve the kinds of small operations and precision strikes, or tension with Iran’s allies such as Hezbollah than direct confrontation. Nevertheless, Israel has set up a special headquarters, as part of a recent multi-year plan, to deal with what it calls “third circle” threats, the euphemism for Iran. Israel and Iran appear to have more long-term considerations looking at the battlespace around them. While Iran is increasing its drone and ballistic missile forces, Israel is seeking more F-35s and building a new fleet of corvettes to protect its coastline. Such investments are part of a long-term strategy and mitigate against the outbreak of a major war.


IDF plans to demolish home of suspected killer of Esther Horgen
The Israel Defense Forces on Wednesday said it plans to knock down two floors of the building that was home to the Palestinian man suspected of killing Esther Horgen in a terror attack last month.

The suspected terrorist, Muhammad Mruh Kabha, was arrested shortly after Horgen’s body was found outside the Tal Menashe settlement where she lived in the northern West Bank.

The military said Kabha’s family has been informed of its intention to demolish the two floors and will have the right to challenge the order in court.

Israeli troops last month mapped out Kabha’s home in Tura al-Gharbiya, a town in the Jenin governate around 2.5 kilometers’ drive from Tal Menashe, ahead of the planned demolition.

On Monday, the Shin Bet identified Kabha as the main suspect in Horgen’s murder, after a gag order on his name was lifted. Kabha was arrested on December 24 and confessed to investigators.
Israeli NGO accuses UN agency of distorting data on terrorism
An Israeli NGO on Sunday accused the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs of distorting data regarding terrorist attacks against Israelis.

The agency, which reports on events worldwide yet has an entire department dedicated solely to Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip often publishes updates on the "occupied Palestinian territories," but while these reports are meant to inform the global community on acts of violence in the area, Betzalmo, an NGO that describes itself as a "Jewish human rights organization," claims that the OCHA systematically fails to accurately report on the murder of Israelis by Palestinians.

Betzalmo cites as the most recent examples the OCHA's report of the brutal murder of Esther Horgan, which the agency said was "found dead … and Israeli authorities suspect she was attacked by a Palestinian." The same report underscores an unrelated incident in which settlers threw rocks and Palestinians, despite the fact it has nothing to do with the murder.

The NGO further said that the OCHA completely neglected to report on the murder of Rabbi Shay Ohayon in central Israel in August, and only partially amended its report at the time after it was approached by Betzalmo.

Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan has undertaken a diplomatic effort to change the agency's biased reporting and has called on United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and UCHA Commissioner Mark Lowcock to ensure the agency's reports are updated and accurate.
Independent Arabia continues to portray kidnapped Israeli civilians as 'soldiers'
Once again, Izz ad-Deen Abu ‘Eisheh, the Gaza correspondent for Independent Arabia (a joint venture between the UK based Independent and the Saudi media group SRMG), has erroneously described the two Israeli civilians currently being held in the Strip, Avera Mengistu and Hesham Sha’ban as-Sayed, as “soldiers”.

Thus, his December 12th report (“Israeli proposals concerning the prisoner exchange deal with Hamas”) reads as follows:
“In practice, the movement [Hamas] has four captive Israeli soldiers: Hadar Goldin, Oron Sha’ul, Abraham Mengistu and Hisham as-Sayed. According to the narrative of Tel Aviv [sic] and Amnesty International, Goldin and Sha’ul were killed in 2014 during the Gaza military operation. Meanwhile, Hamas has not disclosed any information about the two, but it indicated more than once that they are alive. The others entered Gaza after 2014, on two separate occasions, and were taken captive.”

Interestingly, even their presentation of the widely accepted Israeli assertion (“narrative”) that Lt. Goldin and 1st Sgt. Shau’l are no longer alive is already a considerable improvement compared to Abu ‘Eisheh’s earliest IA report on the matter, where he ignored it altogether. In fact, much like ending the practice of calling Israeli towns and villages along the Gaza border “settlements”, this is likely the result of a series of communications with CAMERA Arabic.

Nevertheless, kidnapped, mentally-ill civilians Mengistu and as-Sayed are still falsely labeled “soldiers” by the Independent Arabia correspondent. This is despite the fact that Mengistu was never conscripted, and that as-Sayed was discharged as early as 2008 after having completed less than three months of voluntary service; this was more than six years before as-Sayed entered the Strip. According to their IDF registries, both were exempt from their military duties due to their mental conditions.
MEMRI: Palestinian Journalist And Former Official: The Muslim Brotherhood Endorses The Philosophy Of Sayyid Qutb, Just Like The Salafi-Jihadis
Following the November 2, 2020 terror attack in Vienna, 'Adli Sadeq, a former official in the Palestinian foreign ministry and former member of Fatah's Revolutionary Council,[1] published an article titled "What Satanic Mind Spawned This Terror?" in the London-based daily Al-Arab. In this article he bemoaned the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) continues to be active in the political arena in the Arab and Muslim world and even in non-Muslim countries, many of which refuse to designate it as a terror organization and even regard it as a moderate Islamic movement. The MB, he said, is not moderate at all, because it relies on the radical philosophy of Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966), which is also endorsed by the Salafi-jihadi movements, and which advocates takfir, namely accusing other Muslims of heresy and calling to kill them. The key to fighting terror, he added, is for all of Qutb's followers, chiefly the MB, to renounce his ideology and adopt a more moderate one. He warned them that if they fail to do this, they will pay the price.

The following are translated excerpts from his article:[2]
"The Monday night terror attack in Vienna has no [rational] explanation… In the past, we used to accuse [various] elements of causing the terrorists' [actions] by specifically targeting Islam, undermining the Muslims' causes, thwarting their aspiration for stability that enables the development [of their countries], and inciting the other peoples and societies against them… But as the phenomenon [of terror] persisted, things became stranger and more complicated, and we are [now] unable to answer simple questions, [such as]: What do [the terrorists] want from innocent passersby? What do they have against the Jewish synagogue in Vienna or against the mosque in Bir Al-'Abd in Sinai?[3] What Satanic mind spawned these crimes? After all, the Jewish synagogue is not in conflict with the Muslims and the Jews of Vienna do not attack the mosques there…What is the point of killing passersby and how can these crimes advance any [political] cause?

"In all honesty and realism, we must recognize the fact that our ills, especially the [disease] of terror, stem from the depraved [approach to] jurisprudence that drives the Islamist groups. It also stems from the stupidity of the [Arab] regimes, from [their] tyranny and from the absence of dialogue and democracy.

"In the field of Islamic jurisprudence, it is known that the so-called [movements of] political Islam laid the foundations for this disease [of terrorism], especially Sayyid Qutb and all those who adopted [his ideas] and based their statements on his writings. The result was [the emergence of] purported jurisprudents, lunatics who hate themselves and their societies, aspire to an imagined purity and delude themselves that they are worthy of being the patrons of [the Islamic] faith, when [in fact] they are ignorant demagogues and fools.
PMW: What is the PA definition of “a holy war for the sake of Allah”?
The official PA daily has devoted a lot of space recently to celebrate the 56th anniversary of its first terror attack, which it calls the launch of the Fatah Movement. Among the articles it chose to publish, was an op-ed that went out of its way to praise, glorify, and honor a terrorist who was involved in the murder of at least 9 Israelis, including a 9-month-old baby.

Terrorist Marwan Zalum was responsible for a number of terror attacks, including sending the terrorist who shot and murdered an infant in 2001. Zalum also organized the planting of a bomb which murdered one, and initiated a shooting attack in which an additional person was murdered. Zalum also provided the bomb used in a suicide attack in 2002, in which 6 people were murdered and 80 wounded. Zalum was killed by the Israeli army in 2002.

The recent article in the official PA daily described Zalum’s “career” as head of Fatah's designated terror organization, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, honoring him for being “responsible for many shooting operations” and “self-sacrificing operations” – the PA’s euphemisms for terror attacks and suicide bombings. The writer even singled out one such suicide bombing as “the most prominent.” The article referred to the PA's terror campaign from 2000-2005 in which more than 1,100 Israelis were murdered, "the blessed Al-Aqsa Intifada":


Algerian MP seeks to criminalize promoting peace with Israel
An Algerian lawmaker announced in a social media post that she intends to submit a bill to parliament seeking to criminalize "the promotion of normalization with the Zionist entity," referring to Israel, Algerian media reported.

In a message posted to her Facebook page, Amira Selim said that the bill aims to "prevent the promotion of normalization with the Zionist entity through mass media and social media, to the National People's Assembly [Parliament].

"This law is based on the positions of the Algerian state that rejects normalization with the Zionist entity, especially since normalization seriously affected the issue of Western Sahara through political bargaining, with commercial justifications and suspicious deals," she added.

If the law is passed, an offender could be "punished by imprisonment from three to 10 years," and may have their professional accreditations rescinded as a punitive measure.

Offenders may also be subject to a fine ranging from 300,000 to one million dinars ($2,273 to $7,619).

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The penalty can be extended to 15 years and the fine doubled in the event of a repeat offense," Selim notes.
Turkey and Israel: Premature Optimism for Normalization
It would be childish to believe that the man whose political formation was based on a militant expanse of anti-Zionism as raison d'être was not anti-Israeli, but had merely been under the influence of advisors who no longer hold sway. Erdogan is anti-Israeli today as he was 40, 30, 20 and 10 years ago.

In August, The Telegraph revealed that Ankara had granted citizenship and passports to "senior operatives of a Hamas terrorist cell" .... Also in August, Erdogan met in Istanbul with Hamas's senior military leader, Saleh al-Arouri, and senior political leader, Ismail Haniyeh.

These are not blurred memories from distant past.... They follow an ideological pattern of hostility along religious lines. They do not make Erdogan a reliable partner for peace.

As a matter of fact, none of the reasons why Erdogan preferred to steer otherwise friendly relations between Turkey and Israel into where they stand today has disappeared. Without their disappearing for good, a reset will remain but a sweet wish.
Honest Reporting: The Iran Deal: Repeated Violations of a Fragile Agreement
20 Percent Enrichment
Shortly after Netanyahu’s revelations, US President Donald Trump announced America’s departure from the nuclear agreement, asserting that the “disastrous deal” placed “very weak” limits on Iran’s nuclear activity. While the remaining signatories struggled to keep the accord alive, even launching efforts to bypass US sanctions, Iran quickly ramped up its production rate of enriched uranium. Although technically still party to the agreement, Iran quickly surpassed the cap of 3.67 percent enrichment, as set by the JCPOA.

After the assassination of its top nuclear scientist in November 2020, the Iranian parliament passed a law calling on the government to produce and store uranium enriched to 20 percent purity before February 2021. Reportedly, President Hassan Rouhani has already ordered to start this process at the Fordow nuclear facility.

This is the most significant step towards a bomb that the Islamic Republic has taken in the last few years, according to Israeli intelligence sources and nuclear weapons experts. Enrichment at 20 percent is only a short, technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90 percent.

The Media Angle
When reading the news, it’s possible to come away with the impression that Iran is reacting to draconian sanctions and provocations by the West. Repeatedly, media reports focus on the latest events, without providing the fuller context of Iran’s persistent violations of the deal it had signed with the United States, Russia, China, the UK, Germany, and France, together with the European Union. In some cases, widely-read media outlets have even claimed that Iran only began violating the deal in response to America’s withdrawal, an inversion of the facts, and a journalistic failure which misleads and misinforms the public about the reality and the severity of the Iranian threat.
US slaps Iran with fresh sanctions as Trump term nears its end
The United States on Tuesday blacklisted a Chinese company that makes elements for steel production, 12 Iranian steel and metals makers and three foreign-based sales agents of a major Iranian metals and mining holding company, seeking to deprive Iran of revenues as US President Donald Trump's term winds down.

In a statement, the US Treasury Department named the China-based company as Kaifeng Pingmei New Carbon Materials Technology Co Ltd. (KFCC), saying it specialized in the manufacture of carbon materials and provided thousands of metric tonnes of materials to Iranian steel companies between December 2019 and June 2020.

Among the 12 Iranian companies blacklisted are the Pasargad Steel Complex and the Gilan Steel Complex Co, both of which were designated under Executive Order 13871 for operating in the Iranian steel sector.

The others are: Iran-based Middle East Mines and Mineral Industries Development Holding Co (MIDHCO), Khazar Steel Co, Vian Steel Complex, South Rouhina Steel Complex, Yazd Industrial Constructional Steel Rolling Mill, West Alborz Steel Complex, Esfarayen Industrial Complex, Bonab Steel Industry Complex, Sirjan Iranian Steel and Zarand Iranian Steel Co.
Iran says it’s installing 1,000 more centrifuges as US slaps on new sanctions
After Iran confirmed that it has stepped up its uranium enrichment in breach of the 2015 nuclear deal, the head of Iran’s atomic agency said Tuesday the Islamic Republic is in the process of installing 1,000 new centrifuges to help increase production.

“One thousand centrifuges are being installed inside the country,” Ali Akbar Salehi said, according to the semi-official Fars News Agency.

“We are currently installing one thousand IR-2m centrifuges, but two cascades are installed and working,” he added.

Salehi also said that Iran had increased its supply of yellowcake, a precursor to enriched uranium, eight-fold in the past two years.

“Until three or four years ago, we used to produce an average of 4 to 5 tons of yellowcake, but for the past two years, we have increased the production of yellowcake to 30 tons,” he said in his reported comments. “This year, the production of yellowcake will be between 35 and 40 tons, which means that we have 8-folded the production of yellowcake.”

Yellowcake is a uranium concentrate in powder form and an early step in uranium processing. It is produced by mining uranium ore from rocks and separating the uranium from the rocks by bathing them in acid. The yellowcake can then be converted, enriched to raise its purity, and then used for weapons or energy production.
Europe says ‘no credible civil justification’ for Iran enriching uranium to 20%
Germany, France and Britain pressed Iran on Wednesday to reverse a decision to start enriching uranium to levels beyond the limits of a 2015 nuclear agreement, a move which they said “risks compromising” chances of diplomacy with the incoming US administration.

The foreign ministers of the three European nations said in a joint statement that the Iranian activity “has no credible civil justification.” They said the enrichment was a clear violation of the 2015 deal between Iran and six world powers and “further hollows out the agreement.”

The United States unilaterally withdrew from the agreement in 2018, and the remaining countries that signed it with Iran — Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia — have been trying to keep the accord from collapsing.

On Monday, Iran began enriching uranium to levels unseen since the 2015 deal. The decision appeared aimed at increasing Tehran’s leverage during US President Donald Trump’s waning days in office.

Iran informed the International Atomic Energy Agency of its plans to increase enrichment to 20 percent last week. Increasing enrichment at its underground Fordo facility puts Tehran a technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%.

The purpose of the deal was to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb — something Tehran insists it doesn’t want to do. The three European powers have expressed hope that with the change of administrations in Washington, the US might rejoin the agreement.

President-elect Joe Biden has said he hopes to return the US to the deal.
FBI probing Soleimani-related ‘threat’ to fly plane into US Capitol
The FBI is probing the breach of an air traffic control system after a broadcast from an unknown source threatened to fly an aircraft into the US Capitol building late Tuesday as revenge for the assassination of a top Iranian official a year ago.

The story was first reported by CBS news, but confirmed by other US media. However, most reports cite officials who believe that the specific threat to avenge the January 3, 2020, killing of Iran Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force Chief Qasem Soleimani is a hoax.

Still, officials referred to in the reports said the FBI was following up on the broadcast seriously to be safe and because even such a hoax broadcast could endanger air traffic control.

CBS reported that the audio recording said, “We are flying a plane into the Capitol on Wednesday. Soleimani will be avenged.”

The speculation was that whoever originated the broadcast may have been trying to undermine Wednesday’s special meeting of the US Congress to confirm the 2020 presidential election results.

The broadcast was picked up by air traffic controllers in New York, with FBI offices there and in Washington, DC, both involved in the investigation.

According to reports, the strange and isolated threat did not match any known chatter or intelligence that the US is tracking regarding Iranian potential threats.
U.S. Collects $7 Million in Iranian Assets for Terror Victims and Families
The Trump administration seized $7 million in Iranian assets after busting a money-laundering operation and plans to use the funds to pay victims of state-sponsored terrorism and their families.

Department of Justice officials took the funds from an American citizen and three Iranians attempting to circumvent American sanctions on Iran in a global criminal effort. Kenneth Zong and three unnamed Iranians are believed to have helped launder $1 billion in Iranian assets worldwide between 2011 and 2014, according to a Department of Justice press release.

Justice Department officials applauded the move as a stand against international terror that will also benefit victims of terror. The money collected from DOJ operations will also go to several terror-attack victims, including those in the 1979 Iranian embassy hostage crisis, and their families.

"The FBI will aggressively pursue those who aid terrorist financiers and those who abuse the U.S. financial system in the process," said Robert Britt, special agent in charge of the FBI's Anchorage Field Office, a locus of the investigation. "Due to the collaborative effort put forth by the FBI and our partners, it is with great satisfaction that a portion of these successfully forfeited funds will go to American victims of international state-sponsored terrorism."

A federal judge sentenced Zong's son, Mitchell, to over two years in prison in 2018 for his role in laundering nearly $1 million in Iranian funds. The elder Zong recently served a multi-year prison sentence in South Korea for illicit finance operations and faces a federal indictment in the United States.
Iran Asking Interpol to Apprehend President Trump for Killing General Soleimani
Iranian judiciary spokesman Gholam Hossein Esmaili announced on Tuesday that his country has requested Interpol to issue a “red notice” for individuals who were involved in the killing of military commander Lt. General Qassem Soleimani, and called President Donald Trump “the main culprit” in Soleimani’s assassination.

A Red Notice is a request to law enforcement worldwide to locate and provisionally arrest a person pending extradition, surrender, or similar legal action. It contains two main types of information: information to identify the wanted person, such as their name, date of birth, nationality, hair and eye color, and photographs and fingerprints if available; and information related to the crime they are wanted for, which can typically be murder, rape, child abuse or armed robbery. Red Notices are published by INTERPOL at the request of a member country and must comply with INTERPOL’s Constitution and Rules. A Red Notice is not an international arrest warrant.

Calling the assassination a “terrorist crime,” Esmaieli said Iran had identified 48 people in connection with the targeted killing, including President Trump and commanders and officials at the Pentagon and US forces in the Middle East.

The Iranian Judiciary spokesman said Tehran specified the role each individual had played in the “brutal assassination” and stressed that Iran plans to “seriously pursue the case to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

Iran’s Judiciary chief Ebrahim Raeisi said on Monday that Trump would ultimately have to pay for ordering the assassination of General Soleimani “whether he heads the US administration or not.”

Ayatollah Khamenei said recently that revenge for the Iranian general was certain and would be exacted “at the right time.”
REPORT: Iranian Official Threatens 'Decisive Response' Against Israel After Netanyahu Slams Uranium Enrichment
An Iranian security official threatened to deliver a “decisive response” to any Israeli action after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons and slammed Iran’s recent uranium enrichment efforts.

The unnamed security official told Iranian outlet Nour News in a statement Tuesday that Israel was “waiting for the consequences of its evils” and vowed that Iran would hold the “Zionist regime” accountable.

“This regime should be aware that any aggression against Iran’s interests and security from any side and in any way, whether [Israel] admits or denies responsibility, will face a decisive response from Iran against this regime,” the official said.

Nour News is reportedly close to the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, according to Reuters.

Iran’s top nuclear official announced Monday that the country was resuming its uranium enrichment program at the Fordo underground nuclear facility. Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the country’s Atomic Energy Organization, told state-backed media outlets that Iran would push toward enrichment levels of 20% or higher, according to Reuters. (RELATED: Iran Says It’s Showing Off ‘Suicide Drones’ In Major Exercises After Anniversary Of Soleimani Killing)

Iran currently enriches its uranium stockpile up to around 4.5% according to CNN. This figure is much lower than the 90% enrichment considered weapons-grade, but higher than the 3.67% cap imposed by the 2015 nuclear deal. Iran has breached the deal multiple times since President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018.





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