Friday, January 17, 2020

01/17 Links Pt1: Right from wrong - Neda Soltan’s message from the grave; UK adds entire Hezbollah movement to terror blacklist; 120 Members of Congress Issue Letters of Support to CAIR

From Ian:

Ruthie Blum: Right from wrong - Neda Soltan’s message from the grave
ON JUNE 29, nine days after Neda’s cruel end, Iran’s Guardian Council conducted a “vote recount” at the behest of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei – who had declared Ahmadinejad’s victory a “divine assessment” – and concluded, of course, that the election results were sound.

Shouts of “death to the dictator” from balconies throughout Iran ensued. Though the chanting was in Farsi, placards denouncing Ahmadinejad all were written in English – a clear signal of the protesters’ plea for outside sympathy and aid.

Unfortunately for the trapped and subjugated Iranian people, however, the administration in Washington was now headed by Barack Obama. Obama had entered the White House a mere few months earlier with the aim of reversing the policies of his predecessor, George W. Bush, especially those relating to the Middle East in general and the Iranian threat in particular.

Believing that the path to ridding Iran of its nuclear and hegemonic ambitions would be through goodwill gestures to the mullahs, Obama not only abandoned the Bush-coined term “axis of evil” to define state sponsors of terrorism – with Iran at the top of the list – but referred to the militia-monitored election process there as a “robust debate.”

He then continued to stress that America was going to engage in diplomacy with the Islamic Republic, regardless of who was at the helm.

Well, the proud “leader from behind” certainly kept his word on that one. As the regime in Tehran jailed, tortured and mowed down enough demonstrators to make the others recoil in fear – and Neda’s image faded from global consciousness – Obama got busy with his P5+1 counterparts in China, France, Britain, Russia and Germany orchestrating and pushing for the bogus nuclear deal with Iran that was reached in July 2015.
There's a revolution going on in the Mideast. Why doesn't the West see that?
Surveying the anti-government protests in Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran, as well as the refusal of the Syrian revolutionaries to surrender, the Canadian journalist Terry Glavin writes:

There is a revolution going on. It has been underway in fits and starts for years. It unites Lebanese, Syrians, Iranians, and Iraqis. Its object is the sundering of a bloody Khomeinist despotism that runs from the [Islamist dictatorship] in Tehran through the Assad regime in Damascus to Hizballah in Lebanon, and Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, and the Hashd al-Shaabi militias in Iraq, which have now insinuated themselves into every branch of the Iraqi state.

It’s all very well for Canada’s Justin Trudeau and the United Kingdom’s Boris Johnson and Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Emmanuel Macron to want to force Tehran to get back in line with Barack Obama’s nuclear-rapprochement arrangement, which Donald Trump has renounced. But the genie will not be put back in the bottle so easily.

It was Obama’s nuclear deal that freed up [Iran’s] Quds Force to enforce its ghastly Khomeinist hegemony throughout the region in the first place, and now, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani is warning that European soldiers in the region, not just American soldiers, may soon find themselves on the Quds Force’s target list. Counseling a return to the Obama-era status quo is not a call to de-escalation. Don’t believe it.

It is profoundly ill-advised. It may suit the purposes of some Canadian and European firms that are scraping for a place for themselves in the Iranian economy, much of which is owned and controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. But it would be a profound betrayal of the people of Lebanon, Syria, Iran, and Iraq, who have already known little but betrayal from six successive Democratic and Republican administrations in the United States, and from the “West” generally, Canada included.
UK adds entire Hezbollah movement to terror blacklist
Britain's finance ministry on Friday said it had added Lebanon's entire Hezbollah movement to its list of terrorist groups subject to asset freezing.

The ministry previously only targeted the Shiite organisation's military wing but has now listed the whole group after the government designated it a terrorist organisation last March.

The change requires any individual or institution in Britain with accounts or financial services connected to Hezbollah to suspend them or face prosecution.

The group had "publicly denied a distinction between its military and political wings," the Treasury said in a notice posted on its website.

"The group in its entirety is assessed to be concerned in terrorism and was proscribed as a terrorist organisation in the UK in March 2019," it added.

"This listing includes the Military Wing, the Jihad Council and all units reporting to it, including the External Security Organisation."

A finance ministry spokesman said the change followed its annual review of the asset freezing register, and brought it into line with the 2019 decision by the interior minister to blacklist all of Hezbollah.

"The UK remains committed to the stability of Lebanon and the region, and we continue to work closely with our Lebanese partners," the spokesman added.

Trump's Middle East peace plan is still irrelevant
Regardless of the prospects for success, it’s now or never with the Trump plan. With only a year left in what will either be Trump’s first or only term in office, the scheme is either going to have to be announced soon or forever be consigned to the dustbin of history.

But there’s a better reason than that for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and O’Brien to publish the plan. Despite the fact that it will not lead to negotiations, it’s important that a US government go on record on the issue in a manner consistent with the reality of the Middle East, rather than the fantasies that have been the foundation of all past American efforts.

For decades, the foreign-policy establishment has taken it as a given that the region will be embroiled in conflict unless Israel is made to retreat to the lines of June 1967, and a Palestinian state put in place alongside it. But lately, the Arab world’s tacit renunciation of the Palestinian cause in the face of more important threats from Iran and Islamist terror groups show that assumption to be a fallacy.

The same is true for the notion that the appeasement of Palestinian territorial demands must be continued, regardless of whether the alleged moderates of Fatah and the Islamists of Hamas are ready to end their century-long war with Zionism and cease working for Israel’s destruction.

Whatever you may think of Trump, his foreign policy has recognized that the obstacle to peace has been Palestinian intransigence and not Israeli policies. He has also understood that actions that reinforce Palestinian fantasies about Israel’s destruction – like the United States not recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, or former President Barack Obama’s desire for more "daylight" between America and Israel – make peace impossible.

A year from now, a new Democratic administration determined to restore Obama’s policies may be about to take office. Still, it is important for the current administration to lay down a marker on peace that is rooted in realism, not the kind of magical thinking that actually fueled terror and intransigence in the past. Trump’s ultimate place in history on other issues notwithstanding, it will be to his credit if he can leave his successors a Middle East blueprint that makes far more sense that the ones his predecessors handed down to him.
Acting UNRWA head says U.S., Israel working against it
The interim head of the UN agency that aids Palestinian refugees on Thursday accused pro-Israel groups of lobbying foreign parliaments to stop donations, even as it struggled to recover from losing United States funding in 2018.

Christian Saunders, in an interview with Reuters in his Gaza office, also said Israel was seeking to replace United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) services for Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem with those of its own.

UNRWA has faced budgetary difficulties since 2018, when the United States, its biggest donor, halted its annual aid of $360 million. The United States and Israel have both accused UNRWA of mismanagement and anti-Israeli incitement.

Last November, UNRWA commissioner-general Pierre Krahenbuhl resigned amid an investigation into misconduct allegations.

In the interview, Saunders, now acting commissioner-general, said the inquiry by the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services was complete and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had confirmed there had been no corruption or misuse of funds.
More Than 120 Members of Congress Issue Letters of Support to Leading Anti-Israel Group
More than 120 members of Congress privately issued letters of support to a controversial Islamic-American advocacy group known for its involvement in one of America's most prominent terrorism financing cases, according to a copy of these official communications obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), an advocacy group with deep ties to the anti-Israel movement in America, touted its support among congressional leaders during its 2019 gala conference in November in Washington, D.C. Prominent opponents of the pro-Israel community, including anti-Israel activist Linda Sarsour and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.), headlined the conference.

A copy of CAIR's conference agenda, obtained by the Free Beacon and published here for the first time, includes well over 100 letters from Democratic and Republican members of Congress, all of whom expressed their support for the controversial organization. Democrats issued the majority of the letters, with only two coming from Republican members of Congress.

The breadth of congressional support for CAIR is likely to generate concern in the pro-Israel community, which has long been at odds with the advocacy group due to its promotion of anti-Israel activists and causes.
Why Democrats are leaving out Israel while debating the Mideast
US presidential debates, though long, are not deep. The candidates have 75 seconds to answer questions, 45 seconds for responses and rebuttals, and 15 seconds for clarifications. It is a format that encourages superficial, sensationalist comments. Not being a topic of that type of discussion is not a bad thing.

But this situation is not likely to last through the campaign until November. After the nominating conventions in the summer, when it becomes Trump vs the Democratic nominee, Israel will be an issue – regardless of what is going on here at the time – because Trump will want to make his strong support of Israel an issue.

Trump, unlike those running in the Democratic race now, will want his pro-Israel bona fides trumpeted far and wide, because this is something that his base – first and foremost the Evangelicals – wants and appreciates.

While none of the Democratic candidates have an interest in making Israel a campaign issue now, Trump will want to do so later in the year. Some are making the argument that his apparent interest in releasing his long-awaited peace plan, the “Deal of the Century,” before Israel’s elections on March 3 is not to give a boost to Netanyahu – as many have opined – but, rather, to help himself with his base.

In any event, while Israel was completely ignored in Tuesday’s debate and has not been an issue in the Democratic race, that will change when the race between the two parties’ nominees begins. And then Israel will likely find itself in an uncomfortable position: a wedge issue in an ugly political campaign.
New York Times Editors Press Democratic Presidential Candidates on Shutting Jerusalem Embassy
Democratic presidential candidates hoping to win the endorsement of The New York Times are being interrogated by Times editors about whether they’ll commit to shutting down the American embassy in Israel’s capital.

President Donald Trump moved the embassy to Jerusalem in May 2018, fulfilling a campaign promise and finally bringing America into compliance with the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995. The widely predicted violent reaction by regional Arabs rapidly fizzled out. But the Times editorial board members appear to be nursing a grudge about the matter, at least to judge by their questions to the Democratic presidential candidates.

Undoing the embassy move has emerged as a standard topic in the Times endorsement interviews, as much a part of the routine as questions on more traditional Democratic platform planks such as reproductive rights or antitrust enforcement against technology companies.

The Times has been trickling out transcripts of the candidate interviews in advance of its theatrical reveal of the newspaper’s endorsement, which is scheduled for Jan. 19.

The funniest of these interactions has been the Times interview with Amy Klobuchar, a senator from Minnesota. The Times deputy editorial page editor, Kathleen Kingsbury, asks Klobuchar, “President Trump has made several unilateral moves in relations to Israel. Things like moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem. If you took over would you reverse them as president?”

Klobuchar answered in part, “I would not reverse the embassy change.”

Kingsbury wouldn’t let it go: “I do actually want to go back to something you just said, to follow up. Why wouldn’t you move the embassy back?”
Republican Muslim former refugee launches bid to take Ilhan Omar's seat
A Muslim Iraqi refugee has launched her bid to enter Congress - and plans to unseat Ilhan Omar as the Representative for Minneapolis in the process.

Dalia al-Aquidi is tired of hearing the Democratic representative play a divisive identity politics game, so she has joined a growing field of Republicans determined to take the Somalian-born congresswoman out at the next election.

“She’s spreading hatred, and she is spreading racism throughout not only her district, not only her state, but throughout the whole country, and this is very important,” al-Aqidi, 51, told the New York Post on Thursday after announcing her bid. “She’s hurting the moderate Muslims; Muslims like myself. She doesn’t represent me as a Muslim.”

Speaking to Fox News, she added: "She needs to be stopped. I truly believe that I'm strong enough to beat her at her own game."
Ha'aretz: The Late Sultan of Oman Was Determined to Befriend Israel
With the death of Sultan Qaboos Al Said of Oman, at the age of 79, Israel lost a long-time friend and strategic partner.

Britain initiated diplomatic ties between Israel and Oman during the 1970s, when Oman was dealing with an invasion from Yemen into the southern part of the country.

Following the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty of 1979, Oman, along with Sudan, were the only Arab League members not to boycott Egypt over normalizing relations with Israel.

In 1994, Qaboos hosted then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in the first known trip by an Israeli leader to an Arab Gulf state.

In 1996, Qaboos invited then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres to inaugurate an Israeli trade office and the Middle East Desalination Research Center in Muscat. He also introduced Peres to the then-Emir of Qatar.

In 2018, Qaboos invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Muscat.
British Prime Minister Johnson Vows to ‘Stamp Out the Resurgence of Antisemitism’
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson emphatically pledged on Wednesday to “stamp out the resurgence of antisemitism.”

Johnson — during Prime Minister’s Questions at the House of Commons — was asked by Conservative MP Andrew Percy whether, in light of the approaching International Holocaust Remembrance Day, he would “commit to more action to stamp out antisemitism and all intolerance in this country.”

The prime minister replied, “We are in the government and in the House — I think across the House — wanting to do absolutely everything we can to stamp out the resurgence of antisemitism.”

“As someone who’s now 55-years-old,” he said, “I find it absolutely incredible that in the 21st century we have antisemitism rising again in this country.”

“It is a disgrace and we must stamp it out,” the prime minister emphasized.

On Tuesday, another statement rejecting antisemitism was made in the House of Lords.

The newly-installed Lord John Mann, a former Labour MP who was outspoken against antisemitism in the party under the rule of Jeremy Corbyn, said December’s elections — in which Labour was resoundingly defeated — showed the “true face of this country.”

Mann hailed the defeat of two virulently anti-Israel MPs, Christopher Williamson and George Galloway, both widely seen as antisemitic.
Italian Opposition Leader Salvini Seeks to Combat Anti-Semitism
Italian opposition leader Matteo Salvini of the League Party held an event on combating anti-Semitism at the Senate in Rome on Thursday. Salvini called on Italy to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism, and plans to propose the criminalization of anti-Semitic hate speech.

"It seems he is thinking of taking far stronger action on anti-Semitism than many of his European counterparts," said Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs President Dore Gold. Gold called the event an "important meeting" because "Salvini as a national figure in Italy taking on anti-Semitism is a big deal. He sets a tone now for conservative politics across Europe. That is something I hope others imitate."

Gold recounted that when he was director-general of the Israel Foreign Ministry, there were constant deliberations about Israeli relations with right-wing parties in Europe like the League.

"What I feel is that when somebody shows friendship for our most fundamental interests, we have to reciprocate. When I got the request to come to Salvini's seminar, I immediately said 'yes.' I think that will help promote more sympathetic views of Israel and our most important interests in future contacts with Europe. Imagine if he goes out on a limb and no one from Israel comes. That would be terrible," Gold said.

At the event, Gold said, "In recent years there has been a veritable explosion in the number of anti-Semitic the heart of Western civilization." He called to combat anti-Semitism from the "Red-Green Alliance," including Iranian influence around the world. He also pointed to connections between European NGOs and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, recognized as a terrorist organization in Europe.
'Israel is only a decade or two from impenetrable air defenses'
"Victory begins with defense," says Brig. Gen. Ran Kochav, commander of the IDF's air defense program.

"It's not the victory itself, but that's where it begins. My role is to allow the captain to stay calm while making decisions – not to attack based on public opinion or casualties, but calmly. The air defenses have racked up some 2,000 interceptions. Imagine what would have happened if those missiles had fallen and each one of them had killed someone. We would have been at war long ago."

Q: Have we become addicted to defense?

"The division and brigade commanders are angry with me. They say that I'm the reason they aren't on maneuvers. I think they're wrong. We should maneuver in the Gaza Strip for every rocket fired from Gaza? We should head to Damascus over every missile fired at Mount Hermon? If missiles are fired from Iraq, should we deploy there? The courage in launching an action isn't in the action itself, but in making the decision."

Q: Perhaps your phenomenal success has freed the captain from having to make a decision.

"The fact is, in Operation Protective Edge we launched an offensive. This year, too, with Operation Black Belt [in the Gaza Strip]. But we decided when we would launch the attack, and we were well–prepared, and we succeeded. That's proof we aren't addicted.

"Defense is the base. You can't win in soccer or basketball without defense. It's the starting point that allows for victory."
IDF strikes Hamas in Gaza in response to explosive balloons from Strip
Israeli aircraft attacked targets in the northern Gaza Strip on Thursday for the second day in a row, as tensions rose on the volatile border.

The strikes came in response to explosives-laden balloons that were sent from Gaza into Israel earlier in the day.

“A short time ago an IDF combat helicopter attacked infrastructure used for underground activity by the Hamas terror organization in the northern Gaza Strip. The attack was carried out in response to explosive balloons sent from the Gaza Strip into Israel territory today,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.

There were no immediate reports from Gaza on damage or casualties in the strikes.

Video published by Israel’s Kan news purported to show Hamas members leaving a post ahead of the strike.

Earlier Thursday, at least two clusters of balloons carrying explosive devices were apparently launched from the Strip into southern Israel, with one of them detonating soon after impact, police said.

One of the clusters landed in an open field and the other got tangled in a tree.

Police sappers were called to the scenes in the Sdot Negev region east of Gaza.
Police break up ‘disorderly conduct’ at Temple Mount after hundreds march, chant
Several hundred Muslim worshipers fomented unrest at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount Friday following pre-dawn morning prayers, police said.

Authorities said officers broke up a procession that included nationalistic chants at the holy site, after some 8,000 people concluded morning prayers.

“Police will not allow disorderly conduct at the Temple Mount and will act to prevent any unrest or nationalist calls,” a statement from police said.

The Hamas terror group had on Wednesday called for Palestinians to “mobilize” during Friday’s prayers against the “defilement” of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs by “the Zionist occupation.” The group said Israeli authorities must be warned that “our sanctities are a red line that cannot be tolerated.”

On Friday it welcomed the unrest at the compound, with a spokesman saying the morning prayers “support our people in their campaign against the Zionist occupation and thwart its racist plans.”
Global Survey Shows Young Israelis Not Optimistic About Resolution of Conflict With Palestinians
A survey of young people from around the world shows that young Israelis are less optimistic than any other group about resolving the conflict in their region, the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot reported on Thursday.

The poll conducted by the Red Cross showed that 65% of Israeli millennials believed that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would never be resolved.

Only 8% said that conflict would end sometime in the next 20 years, and an even lower 4.5% predicted it would end within the next five years.

Young Palestinians, on the other hand, were slightly more optimistic, although 52% said that the conflict would never end.

At the same time, 17% said the conflict would be resolved in their lifetimes, 11% in the next 20 years and only 5% in the next five years.

Regarding the ethics of war, a full 82% of young Israelis believed wars must be limited, and 61% felt soldiers must avoid harming civilians as much as possible. A similar 59% of young Palestinians agreed.

Only 32% of Israelis said that the military should do whatever is necessary to accomplish its goals, without regard to civilian casualties, while 22% of Palestinians felt the same way.
Gaza theme park’s new train ride simulates the ‘return’ journey to Jerusalem
An amusement park in the southern Gaza Strip recently unveiled a train ride that seeks to simulate a journey from the isolated coastal enclave to Jerusalem’s Old City, home to a number of Islamic holy sites.

The ride, which spans 550 meters and features two elevated tracks, is the newest attraction at the Asdaa City theme park in Khan Younis. It was built on land that formerly belonged to the Ganei Tal settlement, which was evacuated after Israel decided to withdraw from Gaza in 2005.

It took more than two years to construct and was named “The Train of Return to Jerusalem,” according to Wael al-Khalili, the chairman of Asdaa’s board of directors.

“This was the dream of every Palestinian in Gaza and now it has become a reality with the efforts of the Palestinian minds that built this project,” he said in a post on the amusement park’s Facebook page in early January.

While Israel controls Jerusalem and considers it to be a part of its sovereign territory, the Palestinians view it as their capital and a key center of Palestinian culture.

Before ascending to the train tracks, visitors see a large sign with the number 99, resembling the distance in kilometers from Asdaa to Jerusalem.

Remembering the Ethnic Cleansing of Egypt’s Jews
A January 13 article in the UK outlet The Times (“Prayers to be held as Jews mark return of synagogue”) touched upon the fact that over 99% of Egypt’s Jewish population left the country in the years following World War II:
During the liberal era in Egypt in the first half of the 20th century, Jews played important roles in Egyptian political, economic, and cultural life, with 25,000 of the country’s estimated population of 80,000 Jews living in Alexandria. Nearly all left after the founding of Israel in 1948 and during subsequent conflicts between the two countries. Magda Haroun, the head of the community in Egypt, says only five remain, all of them elderly women, plus another 100 who converted at some point to Christianity or Islam.

But this fails to note precisely why nearly 80,000 Jews left: the government’s imprisonment, torture, and expulsion of Jews; anti-Jewish violence; and other anti-Jewish policies that made it impossible for Jews to stay.

The website of JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa) provides a good summary:
With the establishment of Israel in 1948, the Egyptian government began enforcing aggressive and repressive measures against Jews including; confiscation of property, imprisonments, torture, and institutionalized discrimination. Riots against Jews were common leaving many injured and some dead. Black Saturday on January 26, 1952 started as a demonstration against the British and resulted in riots against Jews which left 500 businesses destroyed and many Jews injured or dead.

Gamal Abdel Nasser was appointed the second President of Egypt, from 1956 until his death in 1970, and with his rule began widespread pan-Arabism and worsening conditions for the Jews. The Suez Crisis in 1956 was an attack on Egypt by the French, British, and Israelis. As a result, Nasser declared that the Jews were enemies of the state and the massive expulsion of the Jews continued with 25,000 Jews fleeing. Jews were given two days to evacuate their property, which was later confiscated by the government, and were forced to leave with one bag and no more than twenty dollars in hand. Nearly 1,000 of those who remained in Egypt were imprisoned or tortured. Jewish refugees who had once prospered in Egypt were left with nearly nothing.
Erdogan's 'Make-Turkey-More-Islamic' Campaign Is a Failure
Turkey's Religious Affairs Presidency places the blame on the internet. "There is a lot of misinformation on the Internet. We are often shocked at the queries (the department receives from citizens)... they ask us if one can be a Muslim theist," said Ekrem Keleş, head of Supreme Board of Religious Affairs.

The AKP's effort to forge a new generation of young religious conservatives has been undermined by the party's own actions, offered İhsan Eliaçık, a left-wing Islamic theologian and a fierce critic of Erdoğan. "People saw that even though they claimed to be Muslims, they committed the worst sins," Eliaçık told Financial Times, accusing the ruling party of human rights abuses and corruption.

Erdoğan's government boasts of operating a huge network of state institutions for religious education, including the Education Ministry, Quranic courses and the Religious Affairs General Directorate. The state employs 100,000 imams, 40,000 Quran teachers, 3,000 religious orators and 1,250 muftis. There are 5,000 imam schools (of secondary school and high school level). Apparently this big army of Muslim faith purveyors has failed to impress many Turks. According to a survey by Ipsos, an international pollster, only 12% of Turks trust Islamic clerics, an embarrassing figure -- less than half the 26% of Turks who expressed trust in total strangers. The only less-trusted profession in Turkey, according to Ipsos, are politicians (only 11% trust them).

Half the population of Turkey is under the age of 32 -- a young population. Many of these young Turks are, it seems, pushing back against Erdoğan's state-imposed Islamization.

The more Erdoğan uses the state's police power to indoctrinate young Turks in favor of devout political Islam, the more they tend to put a distance between themselves and Erdoğan's "devout generations" campaign.

Perhaps Erdoğan's best service to his country is to show young Turks what it actually means to live under an Islamist regime.
France to Deploy Charles de Gaulle Aircraft Carrier to Support Middle East Operations
France will deploy the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier and its battle group from January to April to support French military operations in Middle East, Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday.

“The aircraft carrier will support Chammal operations (in the Middle East) from January to April 2020 before deploying to the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea”, Macron said at a New Year speech to the French military.

The deployment comes amid growing tensions between Iran and the United States and French concerns that the fight against Islamic State militants may be weakened within that context.
After Soleimani: Israel's challenges through the eyes of experts
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Israeli experts in security, intelligence, international law, history and politics, in off-the-record conversations about Israel’s current “war between the wars” with Iran and its challenges in managing its interests at home and abroad. With the demise of Iranian military chief Qasem Soleimani in a US airstrike at Baghdad International Airport, Israel and its experts are reassessing their strategies regarding Iran.

The one common denominator expressed by all the experts was the importance of maintaining the strength of the US-Israel relationship. As former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eizenkot wrote in a recent policy paper, Guidelines for Israel’s National Security Strategy, the special US-Israel relationship is a “cornerstone of the overall Israeli effort to attain national security by political means.”

Every authority I spoke with was concerned about the hyper-polarization of American politics, with Israel becoming a partisan issue.
That relationship will now be put to the test as everything in the Middle East has now changed and is more unpredictable with the assassination of the architect of Iran’s hegemonic ambitions who created the world’s most dangerous terrorist organization while perfecting asymmetric warfare.

Soleimani, who commanded the overseas Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, wrought destruction, death, civil war, and committed war crimes across the region, was justifiably eliminated.

Critics of US President Donald Trump, aside from making news by criticizing virtually everything he does, rightly worried about how Iran would respond, as did Israel, but targeting Soleimani – “the epitome of evil,” as Gen. David Petraeus described him a decade ago – should rise above partisanship.

The US was within its rights to pre-emptively strike a proven master terrorist with imminent plans to kill more Americans. It is now only a matter of time before the Israel-bashers further test the “unbreakable relationship,” claiming that the US is doing Israel’s work, the tail wagging the dog, and drawing Washington into another Middle East war.
IDF Sees Chance to Halt Iranian Entrenchment in Region with Soleimani Gone
On the nuclear front, the IDF does not believe that Iran is currently interested in rapidly “breaking out” and developing an atomic bomb as quickly as possible. Though the military sees Iran’s ongoing violations of the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as a troubling development, it does not assess that Iran is inclined to race toward a weapon.

Following Soleimani’s death, Tehran announced it would no longer abide by the limits on quantities and levels of enrichment for uranium of the JCPOA — the latest in a line of violations of the agreement since US President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018. Israel believes that these violations are not meant to signify an effort to develop a nuclear bomb as quickly as possible, but are rather meant to serve as a form of pressure on the other signatories of the JCPOA.

However, should it choose to “break out” rapidly, by the fall of 2020 Iran would be able to produce the 1,300 kilograms (2,900 pounds) of low-enriched uranium needed to get the 25 kilograms (55 pounds) of highly enriched uranium necessary for a bomb, assuming it continued at current projected rates, according to Israeli assessments. The overall current assessment is that Iran is potentially two years from a bomb — the same time frame that has been assessed for some time.

For Iran, while there is relatively broad consensus on the importance of its nuclear program, it is facing increasing pressure domestically to abandon or limit its expansionism as American sanctions wreak havoc on the Iranian economy.

The IDF sees the ongoing protests throughout Iran, which began in November, as the most significant challenge to the regime led by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei since the Islamic revolution that brought it to power in 1979.
US State Dept: Administration Continues Maximum Pressure Campaign Against Iranian Regime

How America can help Iranians free themselves
Bottom line: We can diminish the nefarious influence of the ­Islamic Republic, but we can’t end it without ending the ­regime. Even a weakened regime in Iran continues to pose a national security threat to the US.

Now imagine a world in which Iranians have an accountable government that upholds their dignity and pursues prosperity. A world where Iran functions as a normal nation-state and works with Israel and the US as partners. Such a change would make it dramatically easier for us to decrease our regional footprint.

America can’t “fix” Iran. It can’t create a new regime for the Iranians. And no one expects that after the “nation-building” disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Team Trump can assist Iranians — foremost, by not rushing to ink a new nuclear deal with a regime that is losing its grip by the day. Such a deal could stabilize the regime’s finances and prolong its life.

The policy of maximum economic pressure should continue, as it buys time for the opposition to organize itself around a clear vision for Iran’s future, one that is inclusive and nationalistic. More pressure on the regime will provide a space for Iranians inside and outside the country to merge their efforts and create the leadership that will be necessary to replace Iran’s current rulers.

Contrary to anti-Trump pundits’ claims, Trump’s words and deeds haven’t unified Iranians behind the regime. His most recent tweet in Persian, for example, was the most-liked tweet in that language in Twitter’s history. By continuing the economic pressure and steering clear of the regime’s bazaar-style nuclear tricks, Trump has a great chance of success. Success that only the likes of Ronald Reagan and Franklin Roosevelt have achieved in the history of American foreign policy.
Soleimani's Death Upsets Iran's Plan
Tehran's propaganda tries to sell Soleimani as a kind of superman who, almost single-handedly, brought Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and parts of Afghanistan and Yemen under Iranian control. Facts, however, offer a different portrait of the late general. Soleimani joined the Islamic revolution in 1980 at age 27. With no proper training, Soleimani found himself in command of a division of raw recruits. Under his command, Iranian forces suffered three of their biggest defeats in operations Al-Fajr 8, and Karbala I and Karbala II.

However, Soleimani, demonstrating his genius for networking and self-promotion, scored a lasting victory when he attached himself to Ali Khamenei, the mullah who was to become the Islamic Republic's "Supreme Guide." Thanks to Khamenei's support, Soleimani succeeded in securing an independent fiefdom in the Quds Force which, though formally part of the Revolutionary Guard, has its own separate budget and chain of command and is answerable to no one but Khamenei.

Soleimani seized control of Tehran's foreign policy in Arab countries, Afghanistan, North Korea, South America, and even Russia. Inside Iran, Soleimani built a state within the state. The Quds Force operates 25 jetties in five Iranian ports for its "imports and exports," with no intervention by the relevant authorities. A levy on imports of foreign cars is reserved for a special fund, controlled by the Quds Force, to cover expenditures in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and help pro-Iran Palestinian groups.

Hundreds of Iranian and Arab militants have enrolled in Western universities with scholarships from the Quds Force. The Quds Force runs banks, several shipping lines and an airline. Some analysts in Tehran believe that Khamenei was planning to make Soleimani president of the Islamic Republic in 2021.

11 U.S. Troops Treated After Iran Missile Attack, CNN Politicizes. There’s More To The Story.
Eleven U.S. service members reportedly received treatment for injuries that they sustained during the missile attack that Iran launched on January 8, 2020, which top officials stated at the time resulted in no causalities.

“No one was killed or wounded in the five barrages of multiple missiles that night, although several military personnel who were working were checked for concussions,” The New York Times reported. “The absence of casualties seemed to be the result of luck and warnings.”

Defense One reported that a spokesman for the U.S. military command in Baghdad said: “As previously stated, while no U.S. service members were killed in the Jan. 8 Iranian attack on Al Asad Air base, several were treated for concussion symptoms from the blast and are still being assessed.”

“Out of an abundance of caution, some service members were transported from Al Asad Air Base, Iraq to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, others were sent to Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, for follow-on screening,” said Col. Myles Caggins, spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve. “When deemed fit for duty, the service members are expected to return to Iraq following screening. The health and welfare of our personnel is a top priority and we will not discuss any individual’s medical status.”

A separate U.S. defense official speaking on background told Defense One that eleven Americans had been sent out of Iraq for treatment.
‘Trump effect’ takes over Iran as regime starts covering country with American and Israeli flags
Probably the most overlooked aspect of the “flags on the sidewalk” phenomenon in Iran is that, as the regime paints those flags everywhere, hoping Iranians will step on them, it is basically symbolizing its – the regime’s – effective “occupation” by its obsession with the Great Satan and the Little Satan.

Not focusing on that point is as it should be, of course. The nobility and honor of Iranians who refuse to tread on the foreign flags are what is most important. Americans and Israelis are awed to see such courageous signs of goodwill and respect. I know I speak for many when I say we wish we had more direct ways to convey our reciprocal admiration and support to the Iranian people.

But the “Trump effect” is still worth mentioning. In the U.S., it often manifests through something President Trump has said or tweeted (or is alleged to have said), which Trump himself doesn’t bother to address further, but which his media and political opponents then spend days repeating and amplifying, as if they just can’t help themselves.

A good example: the “sh**hole country” episode. There’s a dispute as to whether Trump even used that expression during a meeting at the White House with congressional leaders (some who were present insist he didn’t say it, and there was no clear video or audio evidence). But for days after the allegation was made – i.e., that Trump said it alluding negatively to poor, less-developed nations – the mainstream media said “sh**hole country” over and over and over and over again.

When they weren’t saying it amongst themselves in news talk segments, they were interviewing Democratic politicians who repeated it indignantly in order to call out Trump. It was as if a spell had been cast on them all, and they couldn’t break free of the compulsion to say “sh**hole country.”

The barrage of repetitions was so noticeable, some on the right made video compilations of them. Trump, meanwhile, went on about his business, like the stock character in comedy who wanders through scenes unintentionally leaving mayhem in his wake.
Flagging Support: Iranians Defy Officials By Refusing To Tread On U.S., Israeli Banners
Similar acts of defiance by people in Iran have been reported in recent years but the public refusal of large groups of students to walk on depictions of U.S. flags appears to be unprecedented.

Tehran University professor Sadegh Zibakalam, who in 2016 publicly refused to walk on U.S. and Israeli flags painted on the floor of a university building, reposted a video of his actions on his Instagram page while welcoming the recent public shows of defiance by Iranian students.

Zibakalam said in the past two years he's faced attacks from hard-liners who, he said, have called him a "traitor" and an "anti-revolutionary" for going to great lengths -- including climbing along a bannister -- to avoid stepping on U.S. and Israeli flags.

"When I saw that students in this country are not willing, like in the past, to step on American flags, the pain of all the insults [from people] went away," the outspoken Zibakalam said on Instagram on January 14.

Zibakalam said in an interview that his refusal to trample on the U.S. and Israeli flags had earned him praise from many ordinary Iranians.

"To put it bluntly, I had never received so much praise from Iranians," he said. "The volume of praise and approval was unbelievable."

Iran can take fight beyond its borders, Khamenei says in rare sermon
The Revolutionary Guards can take their fight beyond Iran's borders, the supreme leader said on Friday, responding to the U.S. killing of his country's most prominent commander and to anti-government unrest at home over the downing of an airliner.

In his first Friday prayers sermon in eight years, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also told thousands of Iranians who chanted "Death to America!" that European powers could not be trusted in Iran's nuclear standoff with Washington.

Iran's nuclear ambitions have been at the heart of a months-long crisis, which briefly erupted in January into tit-for-tat military strikes between Iran and the United States.

"Resistance must continue until the region is completely freed from the enemy's tyranny," Khamenei said, demanding that U.S. troops leave neighboring Iraq and the wider Middle East.

Washington's withdrawal in 2018 from Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers and the reimposition of U.S. sanctions that have crippled Iran's economy, led to the latest cycle of hostilities between Washington and Tehran, which have been at odds since the 1979 revolution toppled the U.S.-backed shah.
Iranian militia declares Iraq not for ‘filthy homosexuals, collaborators'
An official for the Iranian-sponsored Popular Mobilization Units declared in a video that Iraq is not a country for homosexuals or collaborators, and that his organization will obliterate government protestors.

The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) posted a video on Thursday that revealed PMU Official Ali Al-Husseini’s anti-gay diatribe. “Iraq is not a country for collaboration, espionage, Joker [gangs], or homosexuals," he said, according to MEMRI's translation. "Every day, I hear you call people filthy. [But] you are the filthy ones! Your families are filthy – filthy; You are the filthy ones! Your families are filthy. You were brought up in filth.

"You were brought up in the streets by the Baath [Party], by its female comrades, and by the filthy and accursed pro-Saddam Baathists," Husseini continued. "Inshallah [God willing], when we go to the squares for our million-man demonstration, we will end all this."

He continued, saying that, "If God so wills it, we will shut down [the anti-government protesters’] squares of prostitution, humiliation, Joker [gangs], spies, scandal and abasement. Our square is the square of resistance, heroes, mujahideen [jihadists], and rejection of the occupiers. Inshallah, we shall eliminate them and drive them out of Iraq, by the power of God, the Prophet’s family, the mujahideen, and the resistance axis.”

When Iran Took Americans Hostage, Bernie Backed Iran’s Defenders
Bernie Sanders, a top competitor in the Democratic primaries, has attacked Joe Biden for bringing “just a lot of baggage” into the race. But if past views are a major consideration, consider the baggage that Sanders drags into the campaign.

Go back over 40 years, to the start of Iran’s long conflict with the United States. On April 1, 1979, the theocratic Islamic Republic of Iran was proclaimed. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who had returned to Iran from exile to assume command of the revolt, became Supreme Leader in December of that year. His rise was accelerated by the seizure on Nov. 4 of 52 American diplomats and citizens, and citizens of other countries, at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. The hostage crisis became the means by which the Ayatollah crushed political opponents in Iran. Dealing with the hostage taking became the overwhelming political crisis for President Jimmy Carter. It lasted 444 days.

Virtually all Americans—Democrats, Republicans and independents—united in support of the hostages and the international call for their freedom. One prominent political figure on the 2020 stage, then almost completely unknown, stood apart by joining a Marxist-Leninist party that not only pledged support for the Iranian theocracy, but also justified the hostage taking by insisting the hostages were all likely CIA agents. Who was that person? It was Bernie Sanders.

Sanders would like the public to believe, as an AP story put it, that “democratic socialism [is] the economic philosophy that has guided his political career.” But that has not always been the case. In 1977, he left the tiny left-wing Liberty Union Party of Vermont that he’d co-founded, and in 1980 instead aligned himself with the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), the self-proclaimed Trotskyist revolutionary party, became its presidential elector in Vermont, and campaigned for its candidates and platform that defended the Iranian hostage seizure.

In fact, the SWP’s position on Iran is part of what distinguishes it from democratic socialist groups. When its presidential candidate, Andrew Pulley, came to speak at the University of Vermont in October 1980, Sanders chaired the meeting. Pulley attracted only 40 students to his rally, where he concentrated, according to the SWP’s newspaper The Militant, “on the Iran-Iraq war,” and condemned “anti-Iranian hysteria around the U.S. hostages.” Military action against Iran was not at that point theoretical—Pulley’s speech came six months after the attempt to free the hostages in Operation Eagle Claw had failed.

In his standard stump speech, Pulley condemned “Carter’s war drive against the Iranian people,” and said that the U.S. “was on the brink of war with Iran,” which would be fought “to protect the oil and banking interests of the Rockefellers and other billionaires.” Americans, he predicted, would soon “pay on the battlefields with our very own lives.” Their criticism of the Ayatollah was intended “to get us ready for war.” And, Pulley charged, the media who criticized those of us who were against “American imperialism” were “declared insane.” As for the hostages, Pulley said “we can be sure that many of them are simply spies… or people assigned to protect the spies.”

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