Thursday, March 04, 2021

From Ian:

ICC undermines its own legitimacy
It is not justice the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda is after. Are there not enough real war crimes around the world? Hamas has sworn in its treaty to eradicate Israel down to the very last Jew. It launches tens of thousands of missiles at our citizens and uses its citizens as human shields, yet only Israel is barred from defending itself. The Palestinian Authority supports our killers with its budgets, a sort of family insurance for all those who want to harm us, but Israel is the problem. This is a moral disgrace under legal cover.

For months, the Foreign Ministry, including all of its emissaries and ambassadors, as well as the Prime Minister's Office have been working to blunt the outrageous determination by two justices at The Hague against the minority opinion of the head of the tribunal that played into the hands of a prosecutor overly eager to build her reputation at Israel's expense. Even when the court ruled it had the jurisdiction to open a war crimes investigation against Israel, and although we told policymakers in Italy that Bensouda had not yet decided to open an investigation, something that was true at the time, I said in deliberations at the Israeli Embassy in Italy it was clear she would announce the opening of an investigation precisely because Bensouda was nearing the end of her tenure. This was also the reason she chose not to handle other cases pertaining to Nigeria and Ukraine. Bensouda had to think of her next career move, and hatred of Israel has always been a good catalyst for advancing one's career.

The ICC drew its moral authority from the reason for its establishment following the atrocities of World War II and the genuine crimes carried out against our people. This decision harms its legitimacy and the reasons for which it was established because it is a politicization of the court and morality to be used against Israel.

The ICC's crude interference in Israel's affairs when Israel is not a member-state and Palestinian affairs when they do not have a state is an attempt to force the semblance of a solution on a yearslong conflict that has left cultural, religious, and historical scars. The cruel irony is that now, at a time when moderate Arab states have understood they cannot give in to the Palestinian refusal to move forward on the normalization of ties with Middle Eastern states when all that is needed is confidence-building steps, in walks the ICC and gives the warmongers who reject peace a prize.
The International Criminal Court Violates Its Statute
At present... the ICC renders itself irrelevant by adjudicating "national jurisdictions" perfectly capable of doing so while refusing to adjudicate or indict the world's worst violators of human rights.

The ICC has already provided its critics with plenty of ammunition to question the Court's legitimacy as a consequence of additional violations of its founding statute. Neither Israel nor the United States ratified the Rome Statute (the ICC's founding treaty). The Court therefore has no jurisdiction whatsoever over the state actions of either country.

State parties dissatisfied with the ICC's dismal record should be encouraged to discontinue financial support for the Court or to withdraw altogether from the Hague-based institution.

Meanwhile, at least four Gulf Arab states and other Muslim-majority countries appear far more concerned, with good reason, about Iran's drive for regional supremacy, while welcoming warming relations with Israel, which will prove a most loyal friend.
JINSA PodCast: The United States, Israel, and the International Criminal Court
The International Criminal Court (ICC) recently made several controversial decisions regarding investigations into alleged Israeli and U.S. war crimes.
• How does a case land in the ICC?
• What are the bases of jurisdiction?
• What is the relationship between the authorization to investigate Israel and the authorization to investigate the United States?
• What does the potential politicization of the ICC mean for the realm of international law (including law of armed conflict?)?

Professor Geoffrey Corn of South Texas College of Law Houston joins host Erielle Davidson in an effort to answer these questions.




ICC opens war-crimes probe; Netanyahu blasts it as ‘anti-Semitic’ and ‘hypocritical’
By choosing June 13, 2014, as the start date for the investigation, it will not look into the murder of three Israeli Jewish teenagers—Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frenkel—that happened the day before.

“The decision to open an investigation followed a painstaking preliminary examination undertaken by my office that lasted close to five years,” wrote Bensouda. “During that period, and in accordance with our normal practice, the office engaged with a wide array of stakeholders, including in regular and productive meetings with representatives of the Governments of Palestine and Israel, respectively.”

“We have no agenda other than to meet our statutory duties under the Rome Statute with professional integrity,” she added.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blasted the ICC investigation, calling it “the epitome of anti-Semitism and hypocrisy.”

Similarly, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin called the decision to investigate Israel “scandalous.”

“We will not accept claims against the exercise of our right and our obligation to defend our citizens. The State of Israel is a strong, Jewish and democratic state that knows how to defend itself and to investigate itself when necessary,” he said in a statement.


Israel must fight the ICC diplomatically, not legally
ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda is still on duty and apparently decided not to wait for her replacement, who is a Pakistani national. The identity of the prosecutor, however, isn't important. The process at hand is an automatic political bureaucratic one, which will ultimately lead to indictments. The Israeli government, for its part, must declare that Israelis who cooperate with the ICC's investigation will face criminal prosecution.

This step can be implemented, first and foremost, to deter government or military officials. Can such a measure be applied against individuals who head anti-Israel non-governmental organizations engaged in political and legal warfare? This is another question.

We mustn't repeat the mistake from a few years ago when Israel allowed ICC officials into the country to explain Israel's position on the matter. The ICC, however, apparently won't require any investigations on the ground, which Israel should certainly prohibit. Palestinian and Israeli or international organizations, or the Palestinian Authority itself, can submit material to the ICC. The process isn't comprehensively against Israel, rather needs to specifically target certain individuals. It will take them time to translate the material into specific indictments.

We need to take into account, however, that the process, as stated, will inevitably lead to indictments. Israeli officials such as Zeev Elkin, who organized the government's handling of the ICC problem, incredulously think Israel's response to the legal proceedings against us should be drastic steps regarding the settlements in Judea and Samaria. Prof. Avi Bell, however, who has been active on this front for years now, says he doesn't see a connection between the two issues.

No settlement-related action will deter the Palestinians from pursuing their goals in the international legal arena. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also believes this track is irrelevant and views this position as demagoguery. What is needed, on the other hand, is an all-out diplomatic effort against the ICC, which was proven effective under former US President Donald Trump.

Ultimately, when the indictments do arrive, they will be baseless because the accused individuals will never appear before the court, and it won't be possible to try them in abstention. The movement of Israeli officials in certain countries will become a permanent hassle, but a tolerable one. What will happen is that the process will open the gates of endless persecution by the international Left, the Palestinians and their helpers in Israel. Anti-Semitism will rise, and along with it Israelis' sense of being under siege.
The gross hypocrisy of the ICC
The decision of the International Court of Justice in The Hague to launch an investigation against Israel affirms Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda's anti-Israel bias, despite her statements that the investigation will be "independent."

Bensouda ignored evidence presented to her by Israeli officials on the crimes committed by the heads of Palestinian terrorist organizations since the beginning of the intifada: suicide bombings, systematic indiscriminate shooting of civilians, the thousands of missiles fired at civilians- all crimes that under international law are as defined as genocide.

The prosecutor loses sleep over the issue of the Judea and Samaria settlement enterprise, but has yet to even consider promoting any review, let along an investigation, of the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus, despite the dozens of complaints filed on the matter with the ICC and despite the fact that Cyprus is signatory to the Rome Statute from which The Hague derives is power.

Cyprus, in should be noted, joined the ICC upon its inception in the early 2000s, while the Palestinian Authority only joined it in 2015.

Worse, Bensouda has refrained from investigating the grave crimes that have been and are being committed around the world, in Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere. True, Syria is not a member of the Roman Statute, but the thousands of jihadists who have gathered there from all over the world – from countries that are party to the ICC treaty are undoubtedly under The Hague's authority. So is Yemen.

Alas, genocide, beheadings, kidnappings and rapes, Islamic State's reign of terror in Syria and the Houthis' one in Yemen – none of these are as important as the return of Israelis to the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem.

Israel has filed dozens of complaints with the ICC over war crimes and they have been consistently and persistently ignored, all while Bensouda had regularly met with pro-Palestinian "rights groups."

It seems that Palestinian officials have immunity in her court, while Israeli complaints over Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas complicity in Fatah rocket fire on Israel during Operation Protective Edge in 2014 is still pending, as is the Israeli demand that the PA be made to cease its pay-for-slay policy.

Bensouda met with Abbas – that is a fact. How is it possible that the chief ICC prosecutor met with an individual against whom complaints she has to rule on have been filed and discusses them?
Blinken: US stands with Israel, ICC lacks jurisdiction to hold investigation
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed the US's opposition to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court's (ICC) decision to open a full war crimes probe against Israel and the Hamas terrorist group in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday night.

"The United States firmly opposes and is deeply disappointed by this decision. The ICC has no jurisdiction over this matter," Blinken said in a statement issued early Thursday morning. "Israel is not a party to the ICC and has not consented to the Court’s jurisdiction, and we have serious concerns about the ICC’s attempts to exercise its jurisdiction over Israeli personnel."

Blinken also stressed that the Palestinians don't qualify as a sovereign state and therefore cannot participate in the ICC.

The secretary of state stressed that the US remains "deeply committed to ensuring justice and accountability for international atrocity crimes" and recognizes "the role that international tribunals such as the ICC can play—within their respective mandates—in the pursuit of those important objectives."

"Moreover, the United States believes a peaceful, secure and more prosperous future for the people of the Middle East depends on building bridges and creating new avenues for dialogue and exchange, not unilateral judicial actions that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution," added Blinken. "We will continue to uphold our strong commitment to Israel and its security, including by opposing actions that seek to target Israel unfairly."


Western envoys warn ICC its future is at risk over probe of Israel, Palestinians
Unnamed Western diplomats reportedly warned Thursday that the International Criminal Court’s decision to open an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by Israel and the Palestinians could endanger the future of the Hague-based legal body.

The anonymous officials told Israel’s Kan public broadcaster that there have been growing concerns within the diplomatic community of the alleged increasing politicization of the court and its investigations, and that officials in The Hague have been told of the worries.

The probe will deal with the armed conflict of the summer of 2014, but notably excludes any investigation of the murder of three Israeli teenagers by Palestinian terrorists that started the escalation.

Furthermore, the diplomats said that the United States had been willing to reconsider its opposition to the court and the sanctions put in place in 2019 by then-US president Donald Trump, but that Wednesday’s announcement could influence such a decision being made by the current administration of Joe Biden.

A US State Department spokesman said Wednesday that the administration “firmly” opposes the court’s decision, but is still weighing whether to maintain sanctions against the body imposed by the Trump administration.

Like Israel, the US is not a member of the ICC and has found itself at odds with The Hague-based international court due to its ongoing probe into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan by Afghan forces, the Taliban and the American military.

In 2019, Trump imposed economic sanctions and visa travel restrictions against chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda as well as one of her aides.


US Jewish Groups Condemn ‘Disgraceful’ ICC Decision to Open War Crimes Probe Against Israel
Leading American Jewish and pro-Israel groups condemned the International Criminal Court’s decision Wednesday to open an investigation into alleged war crimes in the in the West Bank, Gaza and eastern Jerusalem.

“The ICC’s effort to intrude into matters outside its mandate undermine its credibility and legitimacy, and cast significant doubt on its future as an unbiased judicial forum,” said leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in a statement.

“By continuing these efforts to weaponize a judicial institution for political purposes, the Palestinian Authority inflames existing tensions and obstructs the path to peace,” continued Conference Chairman Arthur Stark, CEO William Daroff and Vice Chair Malcolm Hoenlein. “We call on the international community to speak out in forceful objection to this disgraceful action by the ICC.”

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda — whose term ends in June — announced the investigation in a statement Wednesday, several weeks after an ICC ruling that the court had jurisdiction in the territories.

B’nai B’rith International President Charles O. Kaufman and CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin argued that the ICC had no such jurisdiction, and that Israel’s legal system was capable of investigating any alleged offenses.

“The acquiescence of the prosecutor to politicize the ICC and exploit it as a propaganda tool not only batters the standing of the court and distracts it from truly grievous and systematic crimes around the world, but also intolerably stands to handicap law-abiding nations’ abilities, rights and fundamental duties to combat the brutal asymmetric warfare of terrorist organizations,” they said.


Nikki Haley: Joe Biden Is Going Backward at the United Nations
If China, Russia, and Cuba started an organization that celebrated their tyranny in the name of human rights, would the United States want to join?

If an organization that claimed to help refugees actually hurt them, while spreading antisemitism, would the United States want to fund it?

The obvious answer to both questions is no. But if you put the words “United Nations” in front of these two groups, suddenly people — including President Joe Biden — think they deserve US support.

After less than two months in office, Biden has already rejoined the UN Human Rights Council and is set to renew US funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). These are bad and dangerous decisions. They insult the American taxpayer, injure American interests, and harm one of America’s closest allies — Israel.

These actions speak to Biden’s naïve approach to engaging with the UN. He’s prioritizing feel-good actions over results and reforms. In an organization in which unfree countries outnumber free ones, it’s a great way to accomplish little and lose much.

In 2018, the US withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council and cut all funding for UNRWA. As I said at the time, these actions were more than justified. They were plain common sense. They still are.

Consider the Human Rights Council, which doesn’t deserve the name.
The Axis of Resistance to Israel Is Breaking Up
Iran's axis of resistance to Israel once comprised Hizbullah, Hamas, and Bashar al-Assad's regime. As Hamas backed the anti-Assad rebels in the Syrian conflict, the resistance broke apart. Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Back in 2012, Hamas was inspired by the success of the Muslim Brotherhood in placing their man, Mohamed Morsi, as president of Egypt, and hoped to cash in on the triumph of its parent organization by siding with them on the Syrian battlefield. But Hamas lost the gamble. Morsi was ousted in a coup in July 2013, and in Syria, too, they were eventually defeated by Assad and his Russian allies.

Hamas' rejection of Assad cost the community dearly. Assad's intelligence services imprisoned thousands of Palestinians it suspected of sympathizing with the Syrian rebels or who advocated political Islam. "Bashar al-Assad considered Hamas' refusal to support him as a stab in the back and perceived the whole community as unwanted guests in Syria," said one activist who subsequently moved to the UK. "They chased Palestinians everywhere."

Analysts say Assad's strong relationship with Russia and growing ties with the UAE, both of which want Syria to come to terms with Israel, has impacted the regime's thinking. Rami al-Sayed, a former human rights activist from the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, said, "It's not impossible we will see a formal normalization between the regime and Israel very soon."
Kissinger: Biden Must Uphold Trump Admin’s ‘Brilliant’ Success in the Middle East
Henry Kissinger said President Joe Biden should uphold the "brilliant" realignment in Middle Eastern politics achieved under the Trump administration during a Tuesday event.

Kissinger praised the Trump administration’s diplomatic corps for its strategy of pitting major Sunni Muslim countries in the Middle East against Iran. The strategy, Kissinger said, served to isolate Tehran and opened the door to a new approach to Middle Eastern foreign policy that advances American interests.

"I think that one of the great successes of the previous administration was that they had lined up, that they had achieved two things in the Middle East," Kissinger said. "One, to separate the Palestinian problem from all of the other problems so that it did not become a veto over everything else—and secondly, of lining up the Sunni states in actual or potential combination against the Shiite states, which is Iran, that was developing a capacity to threaten them. I think that this was a brilliant concept. We were just at the beginning of it."

Kissinger, who was secretary of state under the Nixon and Ford administrations, made the remarks during the first seminar of a new monthly series from the Richard Nixon Foundation focused on national security and foreign policy. Former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, former national security adviser Robert O’Brien, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R., Wis.), and former deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger also participated in the seminar.

Kissinger pointed to Washington's pressure on countries in the Middle East to pivot away from Iran as the major achievement of the Trump administration. The Abraham Accords, which were brokered in August 2020, brought Israel together with Muslim-majority countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in an implicit rebuke to Tehran.
Pro-Israel Group Opposes Biden Nominee for Top Defense Post
One of the nation's largest pro-Israel lobbying groups is opposing the Biden administration's nomination of Colin Kahl for a top Pentagon post, calling the former Obama administration official "plainly anti-Israel" and a "serial Iran appeaser."

Christians United for Israel, a grassroots advocacy group run by John Hagee with a reported membership of 10 million, issued an action alert to its members on Thursday morning asking them to call and write their senators to oppose Kahl's nomination for undersecretary of defense for policy.

The action alert was sent to CUFI members in states with senators who sit on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Kahl is set to appear before the committee on Thursday morning for his confirmation hearing.

"Kahl is a serial Iran appeaser with close ties to Tehran's allies in the U.S.," the organization wrote in the message to its members. "He helped advance the disastrous Iran nuclear accord and has even claimed that Iran has a right to enrich uranium, despite the Islamic Republic's infamous status as the world's leading sponsor of terror. As recent events show, appeasing Iran only emboldens Tehran. Kahl's approach to Iran would only encourage the Islamic Republic's worst instincts."

"It is vital that the Senate set aside partisan differences and loyalties and ensure this misguided nomination does not move forward," CUFI wrote.

The action alert described Kahl as "a key player in the effort to remove recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel from the Democratic Party platform in 2012."
Khaled Abu Toameh: Arabs Warn Biden: We Do Not Want Another Obama
The Biden administration, some Arab writers have said, "has adopted a policy of "antagonizing allies while appeasing enemies."

[Syrian journalist Abduljalil] Alsaeid said he believed that former Obama administration officials, who are now part of the Biden administration, are intentionally trying to damage US-Saudi relations.

"The Obama wing inside the ruling Democratic Party accepts the Iranian regime and turns a blind eye to Iran's terrorism in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon." — Abduljalil Alsaeid, Syrian journalist, Al-Ain, March 2, 2021.

"President Biden has the right to talk about America's democratic values, but why have these values ??not been expanded to hold Hezbollah accountable for the recent killing of [anti-Hezbollah Lebanese publisher] Loqman Slim or the slaughter of thousands of thousands of Syrians by pro-Iranian groups?" — Abduljalil Alsaeid, Al-Ain, March 2, 2021.

The Biden administration was "rewarding Iranian despotism while punishing Saudi Arabia." — Emad El Din Adeeb, a prominent Egyptian businessman and famous political television show host, elsharkonline com, March 3, 2021.

The Biden administration was dealing harshly with Riyadh "because of one crime, the killing of Khashoggi, while rehabilitating Tehran, which has carried out a million crimes worse than Khashoggi's crime." — Emad El Din Adeeb, al-ain.com, March 3, 2021.

Adeeb pointed out that Iran was continuing with its human rights violations while Saudi Arabia has in recent years embarked on large-scale reforms.

According to al-Sawafi, the release of the report on the slain Saudi journalist was a sign that the Biden administration "stands against the aspirations of the Saudi and Gulf people in achieving reform and stability.

"Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was right when he asserted that the Iranian regime understands only the language of force." — Zuhair Al-Harthi, Saudi columnist and political activist, Al-Arabiya, February 27, 2021.

The last three years of the Obama presidency were "catastrophic in every sense of this word," al-Harthi said. "Will Biden fall into the same trap? Washington's standing declined during the Obama presidency. Will Biden repeat Obama's fatal mistakes? The US dealings at the time with regional issues were a source of ridicule, as Washington delivered Iraq and Afghanistan on a golden platter to Iran and supported the Muslim Brotherhood." — Zuhair Al-Harthi, Al-Arabiya, February 27, 2021.
U.S. Balances Human Rights and Mideast Security
The new U.S. approach to Saudi Arabia - human rights sanctions together with security cooperation - is an indicator of how it will handle other key U.S. allies in the Middle East. In Egypt, the administration approved the sale of $200 million worth of missiles and, days later, stressed its commitment to human rights there.

"The minute there is outside pressure on authoritarian regimes of this type, it just opens the door for even more authoritarian figures to grab power," argued Dan Schueftan, head of the international graduate program in national security at the University of Haifa.

"There is no real option for democratic, liberal - or even much more moderate - regimes. If you pressure Egypt on human rights, you get the Muslim Brotherhood....If you want democracy in Bahrain, you'll get Iran."

He added, "the more the Biden administration pushes pro-American regimes in the Middle East into a corner, the more they will connect to Israel, since Israel is the only thing they can count on."

Israeli officials said Israel has in recent weeks encouraged Cairo and Riyadh to take constructive steps on human rights to "improve the atmosphere" with the Biden administration. One defense official told Walla, "Our message to the Biden administration will be: Go slowly, there have been dramatic changes, don't come with preconceived stances and don't hurt relations with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates."

David Pollock of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy concluded: "I'm pleasantly surprised by the way in which [the Biden administration] seems to have a realistic understanding of where this issue fits into their overall interests and into the world."
Eli Lake: New Report on Khashoggi Murder Is a Dud, Official Warns
After Fontenrose’s argument with the CIA, the agency then went on to produce a less classified version of the report, making it possible to spread it far and wide. “That meant that every senior national security adviser on the hill now had access to it,” Fontenrose said. “They released it on the day Congress came back into session, knowing that these guys would all come back from recess and it would cause an explosion.”

So why would the Biden administration throw a wrench in the U.S.-Saudi relationship? One answer is that the administration wishes to distance the United States from Saudi Arabia. Strategically, the administration’s announced intention to draw closer to Iran by reentering a 2015 nuclear deal necessarily means widening the distance between America and the Saudis—who fear and loathe the Iranian regime with whom they are currently fighting a proxy war in Yemen. The release of the assessment came after the Biden administration announced that it would stop supplying arms to Saudi allies in Yemen and would no longer list their Houthi opponents as terrorists.

From the CIA’s perspective, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman humiliated the agency in 2017 when he named MBS his heir. The agency had a long and fruitful relationship with Muhammad bin Nayef, who was crown prince from 2015 to 2017. When MBS was named as crown prince, bin Nayef was stripped of his titles and government duties. MBS, in an effort to consolidate his power, then targeted bin Nayef and other rivals to the throne, seizing his bank accounts in 2017 and last year ordering his arrest—greatly diminishing the CIA’s influence networks within the kingdom.

Close readers of the news would have known from the beginning that the foundations on which this morality play rested were cracked. As The Wall Street Journal’s Warren Strobel reported in 2018, the CIA’s assessment lacked “direct reporting of the Crown Prince issuing a kill order.” And while the headline read, “CIA Intercepts Underpin Assessment Saudi Crown Prince Targeted Khashoggi,” the story itself conceded that the CIA was in fact unable to read the crown prince’s communications with the adviser who oversaw the operation that resulted in Khashoggi’s gruesome murder. This kind of nuanced reading was rare in the Trump years. Judging by the response from many in the media to the declassified report on Khashoggi’s murder, it will remain rare in the Biden years as well.
Daniel Greefield: Biden Unveils Policy Honoring Osama bin Laden’s Old Friend
Secretary of State Antony Blinken began his confirmation hearing by reciting a family history of antisemitism. A month later he unveiled a ban named in the memory of an antisemite.

“Jamal Khashoggi paid with his life to express his beliefs,” Blinken claimed.

Those beliefs that Khashoggi gave his life for included his contention that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion were real, and that Jews were deceivers with no connection to Israel. It also included the Muslim Brotherhood member’s support for the Hamas war against Israel.

Last October, Biden falsely claimed that the world was “mourning Khashoggi’s death and echoing his call for people everywhere to exercise their universal rights in freedom.”

Jamal Khashoggi didn’t believe in universal rights or freedom. He believed in the absolute supremacy of Islam. He died in the service of two Islamist regimes, Qatar and Turkey, that have built their foreign policy around supporting Islamist terror and the suppression of human rights.

In conversations with American diplomats, he claimed that most Saudis supported Osama bin Laden because they hated America, and came out against education for women.

Osama bin Laden, Khashoggi’s old friend, also “paid with his life” for some similar beliefs.
Israel’s Environment Minister: Massive Oil Spill Was ‘Environmental Terrorism’ by Ship Sailing From Iran
A massive oil spill off Israel’s coast last month that severely polluted its beaches was “environmental terrorism” committed by a Libyan ship sailing from Iran, Israel’s environment minister said Wednesday.

Israeli public broadcaster Kan reported that Minister Gila Gamliel said that the ship was called the Emerald and had left Iran with its transponder off, and only turned it back on when it reached the Syrian coast.

Gamliel appeared certain that the spill was not an accident, saying, “There’s someone here who wanted to cause harm, definitely.”

She described the incident as “environmental terrorism.”

Gamliel added that the ship is two decades old and would not have been allowed to dock at US or European ports.

“The ship is now in Iran,” she said, and added that Israel “will demand compensation and sue for damages.”

However, an unnamed senior security official appeared to reject Gamliel’s claims, telling Kan, “There is no known Iranian involvement” with the ship.
Seth Frantzman: Could Iran really be linked to 'eco-terrorism' against Israel? - analysis
The ship was allegedly going from Iran to Syria where it was smuggling crude oil, Israel claims. Ships trying to get to Syria from Iran in the past have been interdicted so the transit can be illicit. The vessel also turned off its automatic identification system, a kind of transponder.

This is common in the shadow world of ships that conduct illicit business. According to reports, the Emerald came within tens of kilometers of Israel’s shores, within the exclusive economic zone. It spilled its oil on February 1 and 2 before continuing on to Syria. It took two weeks for the tar oil to reach Israel’s shores. Gamliel accused Iran of not just terrorizing Israel with nuclear enrichment but also harming nature. CAN A SHIP purposely dump containers of crude oil to harm Israel’s environment? Can countries begin to use environmental terror?

It is not out of the realm of possibility. In the past, Israel has had friction with Syria over water issues, including fishing, and the Jordan River was a cause for conflict in the early years of the state. Disputes over a dam in Ethiopia have led to a war of words in northeast Africa. However, the ability of a ship to purposely dump oil so that, two weeks later, it harms a country’s coastline appears very complex. That would require study of the currents off the coast and knowledge of where cargo needs to be dumped and at what time to end up in a certain place.

It leads to further questions about why such activity wasn’t judged to be suspicious when it was happening, rather than almost a month later. The chance that Iran would risk damaging the coastline of Gaza or its Hezbollah friends in Lebanon – who all share a coastline with Israel – would appear to be a major risk for Tehran.

Nevertheless, recent incidents like the reported Iranian cyberattack against Israel last year, could mean that the Islamic Republic is using every asymmetric means of attack at its disposal, including the environment.
Imagery appears to further implicate Iran in oil spill
A day after Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel accused Iran of orchestrating a deliberate oil spill that polluted Israeli shores, new evidence emerges tying the Islamic republic to the incident.

According to imagery provided by TankerTrackers, the suspected tanker Emerald can be see near an Iranian port on January 17.

It is believed that during this port call, near the island of Kharg Island, was loaded with Iranian oil that ended up contaminating Israeli beaches.

There is also satellite imagery showing the tanker in the high seas between Cyprus and Syria. That image appears to confirm that the tanker tried to transfer its oil to an Iranian-flagged tanker with the name Lotus through what is known as a ship-to-ship (STS) procedure.


Mossad, IDF blindsided by Gamliel's Iran 'eco-terror' accusation
Both the Mossad and the IDF were blindsided by Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel's accusation that Iran was behind the recent environmental disaster and oil spill that has hit Israel's shores.

Defense sources said they could not confirm the veracity of Gamliel’s claims and said that neither the IDF nor the Mossad had been part of the investigation upon which the minister based her allegations. Officials said they were frustrated by the lack of coordination within the government.

On Wednesday night, Gamliel said that Iran intentionally polluted the Mediterranean Sea and Israel’s shores in an act of ecological terrorism, causing the greatest environmental disaster in Israel’s history.

“This pollution has people who are responsible for it and have to pay the price. Our nature is damaged, our animals are harmed, thanks to merciless environmental criminals,” Gamliel said.

It was unclear what Israeli channels Gamliel went through to obtain her information, verify it and decide to announce it without first discussing the issue with the IDF, the Navy and the Mossad – traditionally the organizations responsible for the Iran file.
Greenpeace: Iran eco-terror allegation 'reeks of election propaganda'
Greenpeace Israel released a statement on Thursday dismissing Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel's recent claim that Iranian "eco-terrorism" was the cause of Israel's recent ecological disaster, claiming that it is irresponsible, lacks concrete evidence and "reeks of election propaganda."

While Greenpeace said that the Libyan oil tanker Emerald could very well be responsible for the spill, and that it could even be an act of terror, the organization said that not enough evidence has been gathered to determine either, adding that making such a determination at this point without having sufficient evidence is irresponsible.

"Gamliel's accusation that the tar crime on the shores of Israel is an 'act of terrorism by Iran' is scandalous and lacks a factual basis at this stage." The statement said.

The environmental activist group added that her accusation takes focus away from a more pressing environmental problem, saying that "the minister underestimates the well-known and widespread phenomenon of destructive sea pollution from oil spills by ships.
IDF completes underground wall as Israel readies for Hamas war
The IDF has completed the construction of the underground concrete wall between Israel and the Gaza Strip, as part of the effort to prevent terrorists from crossing into Israel via cross-border offensive tunnels.

The concrete wall is just one component in the 60 km.-long barrier, which also includes a fence above the ground, advanced sensors both above and underground, and uses cutting-edge technologies that are meant to tackle the tunnel threat and stop terrorist infiltrations. Senior IDF sources told The Jerusalem Post that almost 95% of the barrier has been completed and that it will be operational in the near future.

Hamas is believed to have a complex underground tunnel system throughout the Gaza Strip that will be used to attack Israeli soldiers in a future ground battle inside the Strip. As a result, the IDF is preparing its soldiers for a combination of above-ground and below-ground warfare.

The Engineering Corps’s elite Yahalom Unit and others are said to have learned from IDF experiences and are believed to master all the necessary skills to control the underground sphere.
PMW: Palestinian organization criticizes PA for nepotistic vaccine distribution, saying “Favoritism kills”
The Palestinian organization Aman – Transparency Palestine has criticized the PA for its unfair and nepotistic distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. It illustrated its point with the image above entitled “Favoritism kills.”

Aman, which describes itself as a “civil society organization” and “think tank” committed to combating corruption, has severely criticized the PA’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in general and of its formulating and implementing a vaccine program in particular. One central complaint is the lack of transparency: (All quotes are from Aman’s English original)
“Since the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, the civil society organizations (CSOs) have maintained that the government must adhere to the principles of transparency and integrity in managing the pandemic, since the countries that confronted the pandemic most effectively are those that adhered to the principles of partnership, disclosure and transparency with their citizens to manage the crisis.”
[website of Aman – Transparency Palestine, March 2, 2021]


Aman already early on requested of the PA’s Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh that he form “a public-private-nongovernmental committee to develop a vaccine distribution plan and criteria.” The group did so while warning of the danger of favoritism – referred to by the group with the Arabic term “Wasta” – “nepotism and abuse of power and positions in obtaining vaccines.”
In blow to Abbas, senior Fatah official to form separate bloc to run in election
Fatah Central Committee member Nasser al-Qidwa on Wednesday declared his support for a separate bloc to run in the scheduled Palestinian elections, in the latest blow to the unity of the West Bank’s ruling faction.

“I am in favor of forming an electoral slate within the framework of a broad democratic forum that includes various segments of society, not the Fatah movement alone,” al-Qidwa wrote on Twitter.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas issued a decree in mid-January ordering the Palestinians to head to elections. If held, they would be the first Palestinian national elections in 15 years. The first voting round, the legislative elections, is set to be held on May 22.

Many observers were skeptical that the Palestinians would actually head to elections, given years of failed electoral promises by the Palestinian leadership. But the suspicion is slowly growing in diplomatic circles that this time, it may actually happen.

Al-Qidwa and other activists call their new slate the National Democratic Forum. In a tweet, Al-Qidwa said he hoped that convicted Palestinian terrorist Marwan Barghouti “will stand at the head of it.”

Barghouti, who has yet to formally declare his candidacy, is currently serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison for masterminding terror attacks during the Second Intifada.

Al-Qidwa had previously called on Barghouti not to “hide from his responsibility” to get involved in the Palestinian legislative elections.


Walter Russell Mead (WSJ$): Biden's Iran Problem
Last week the Biden administration launched a carefully calibrated military strike against a Syrian border post used by Iran-linked militias involved in recent attacks on U.S. personnel in Iraq. The administration is signaling that it is willing to engage but is unwilling to let Iran dictate the terms of engagement.

Seizing the opportunities that chaos offers in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, Iran has moved effectively to expand its regional profile even as it accelerates its nuclear program. The intimate linkages between the religious hierarchy and the state make it hard for Iran to de-emphasize radical religion and hard-line resistance to the West as the regime's basis for legitimacy - and the military success of Iranian proxies around the region makes it hard to abandon a policy that seems to bring gains.

The Biden administration seems to be willing to drop Mr. Trump's maximum-pressure campaign against Tehran but wants both a "stronger and longer" nuclear agreement and more restraints on Iran's regional aggression than anything the Obama administration managed to produce. Iran, where hard-liners seem poised to consolidate even more power after the presidential election scheduled for June, has so far refused to engage. Knowing that the Biden administration has no appetite for another American war in the Middle East, Tehran seems convinced that Washington's only two real choices are the nuclear deal on Iranian terms or an Iranian bomb.
Iran Looms Over Senate Hearing for Biden Nominee for Senior US State Post
US senators peppered President Joe Biden’s nominee to be the No. 2 official at the State Department with questions about Iran on Wednesday, a sign she could face difficulty winning support from Republicans even as she warned against “nostalgia” for the Iran nuclear deal she helped broker.

Wendy Sherman, who helped negotiate the international accord in 2015, promised a new approach to Iran at her Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing.

The 2015 deal, aimed at preventing Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons, was fiercely opposed by Republicans and some Democrats, including Senator Bob Menendez, who is now the committee’s chairman. Former Republican President Donald Trump withdrew from the pact in 2018.

Sherman said she did not expect the Democratic Biden administration to duplicate the approach to Iran of former President Barack Obama, for whom Biden was vice president.

Biden’s approach must “be decided on the merits of where we are today, not nostalgia for what might have been,” she said.

The world had changed since 2016, when the deal was implemented, Sherman said. “The facts on the ground have changed, the geopolitics of the region have changed, and the way forward must similarly change,” she said.

Sherman said she did not know what the administration’s ultimate Iran policy would be, but stressed that Biden was determined not to let Iran obtain a nuclear weapon.

“Iran is a long way from compliance (with the nuclear agreement), as we well know,” she said.
Western Powers Scrap Plan for IAEA Rebuke of Iran to Make Space for Talks
Britain, France and Germany have scrapped a US-backed plan for the UN nuclear watchdog to criticize Iran for reducing cooperation with its inspectors, in a bid to avoid escalation and make room for diplomacy, diplomats said on Thursday.

Tehran and Washington are locked in a standoff over who should move first to revive Iran’s nuclear deal. Tehran has added to its breaches of the deal’s atomic restrictions in protest at US sanctions re-imposed when US President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal in 2018.

The European powers, all parties to the 2015 deal, have been lobbying for the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation Board of Governors to adopt a resolution at its quarterly meeting this week expressing concern at Iran’s latest breaches, including ending the basis for snap IAEA inspections.

The resolution also called on Iran to answer the IAEA’s questions on the origin of uranium particles recently found at several undeclared and apparently old sites. Just as time for a resolution was running out, the IAEA announced a new diplomatic push to get answers from Iran.

“We are trying to sit down around the table and see if we can resolve this once and for all,” IAEA chief Rafael Grossi told a news conference called at short notice, outlining a process that will start next month.

“We are going to be starting this process of focused analysis of the situation with a technical meeting which will take place in Iran at the beginning of April which I hope will be followed by other technical or political meetings.”
New Attack on Iraqi Air Base Fits Profile of Iran-Backed Militia, US Officials Say
Tensions between the United States and Iran simmered on Wednesday after a new rocket attack against Iraq’s Ain al-Asad air base that hosts US forces, which US officials told Reuters fit the profile of a strike by Iran–backed militia.

There were no reports of injuries among US service personnel but an American civilian contractor died after suffering a “cardiac episode” while sheltering from the rockets, the Pentagon said.

President Joe Biden said US officials were examining the incident closely.

“Thank God no one was killed by the rocket … We’re identifying whose responsible and we’ll make judgments at that point,” Biden told reporters before a meeting with lawmakers in the Oval Office.

Iraqi officials said 10 rockets landed at the base but the Pentagon was more guarded, saying there were 10 “impacts.” It said the rockets appeared to have been fired from multiple sites east of the Iraqi base, which was targeted last year by a ballistic missile attack directly from Iran.

In February, there were three rocket attacks in Iraq in just over a week that targeted areas that host US troops, diplomats or contractors. One attack on Feb. 16 on US-led forces killed a civilian contractor and injured a US service member.







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