Wednesday, April 07, 2021

From Ian:

US to restore UNRWA funding when it gives Palestinians $150m. - report
The Bidden administration is prepared to restore funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinian refugees, thereby reversing US president Donald Trump's 2018 decision to cut such assistance, Reuters reported on Wednesday.

US President Joe Biden had promised during his campaign for the presidency that he would resume such funding, but has yet to make good on his pledge.

Palestinian Authority Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour said he was pleased to hear from Reuters about the US policy change, when he spoke at UN event on UNRWA in New York on Wednesday.

Until the Trump era the US had been the largest single county donor to the UNRWA, spending over $350 million annually on the organization.

According to Reuters the State Department could announce the $150 million assistance package as early as Wednesday.

The Trump administration and many on the Israeli Right are opposed to UNWA, primarily because it classifies as refugees, descendants of some 750,000 Palestinians who fled their homes as a result of the 1948 War of Independence and who now live in east Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.
Exposing the EU and Palestinian Authority’s Plans to Takeover Judea and Samaria, and Jerusalem
After a year of documentation, infiltration, and surveillance of Palestinian Authority senior officers, we reveal the European Union’s masterplan of taking over the Judea and Samaria Judea and Samaria Territories and Jerusalem

Photographic Evidence Shows Palestinian Leader Amin al-Husseini at a Nazi Concentration Camp
In 2017, Jerusalem’s Kedem auction house posted three of six previously unknown photos on the internet, in which the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husseini, inspects a Nazi concentration camp along with Nazi senior officials and government figures. According to the auctioneers, an expert was of the opinion that these inmates performed forced labor at the Trebbin camp near Berlin, which was, from 1942 to 1945, an SS artillery training place with a branch of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Oranienburg. Built after World War I as a Christian “City of Peace,” it was taken over by the SS in 1935. Among the prisoners were Jews from Hungary. Forced labor, terror and violence characterized their daily lives. Kedem hoped viewers would help identify men in the photos.

As it turns out, I can now shed light on five of the foreign guests in the pictures—global leaders whose presence reflects the transregional history between Europe, the Middle East, India, and America. The photographs also provide irrefutable proof that all of the men present had precise knowledge of the fate of Jews in Hitler’s Germany—and of the likely fate of Jews in their own home countries under Nazi rule. According to Kedem, the photos are stamped “Photo-Gerhards Trebbin.” This stamp indicates that they were probably photographed in Trebbin, 30 kilometers south of Berlin, “around 1943.” The six photos were auctioned for $12,300 to a private individual who, I would argue, should post the remaining three images on the internet as a humanitarian gesture to families of the prisoners.

Only three of the seven men pictured survived World War II and its immediate aftermath. The two German officials in uniform were both directly involved in the Holocaust. Before and after their trip to the camp, Adolf Hitler met separately with each of the foreign guests, who included the Palestinian leader al-Husseini, the former Iraqi Prime Minister Ali al-Kailani, the Croatian Ustasha ideologue Mile Budak, and the Indian Hindu leader Subhas Chandra Bose. So who were they?
True Grit in Lebanon
When Mrs. Browning published “A Court Lady” 161 years ago, the contemporary concept of individual human rights did not yet exist. But we recognize its seed in the innate human drive to make right what is wrong not only in personal relationships, but in relations among nations. It is well we should remember Browning’s words at a time of renewal for human rights in U.S. foreign policy, for while applying human rights is rarely a straightforward exercise in a world of competing equities, values and interests do at times fully converge. The case of Kinda El-Khatib is one of those convergences.

Kinda El-Khatib, a twenty-three-year-old Lebanese citizen from the northern province of Akkar, was arrested on June 20, 2020, by the internal security arm of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). Sixteen masked men barged into her home and took her away to be interrogated at length, deprived of food for two days, denied counsel and contact with her family, and brought to a court-martial—though she is a civilian—without being apprised of the charges against her.

When finally informed of the charges in court—“violating the law boycotting Israel” and “communicating with enemy agents”—Ms. El-Khatib was astounded. The LAF indictment contained a scintilla of truth, several partial truths, and a bumper crop of outright falsehoods, including a purported trip to Israel and liaison with “agents” of several states.

What was Ms. El-Khatib’s real offense? She had been politically active on social media, accusing Hezbollah and its allies of responsibility for most of Lebanon’s governmental dysfunction, corruption, and suborning of its armed forces. Earlier run-ins as her popularity grew enabled her detractors to get permission to tap her phone. She was not intimidated.

Ms. El-Khatib’s efforts attracted the attention of an Israeli TV journalist. Roi Kais asked Ms. El-Khatib via Twitter to consent to a virtual interview, to be aired on Israeli media. She declined, but suggested Mr. Charbel El-Hajj, a dual Lebanese-U.S. citizen then living in Portland, Oregon, as an alternative. Mr. El-Hajj did the interview. Ms. El-Khatib had never personally met either Mr. Kais or Mr. El-Hajj. The LAF indictment’s only hint of truth is that she did communicate, albeit at a remove, with an Israeli.

Although Ms. El-Khatib was convicted of no crime, she was held in prison anyway awaiting trial. News of her arrest triggered a wave of protest by her sympathizers in Akkar Province. Still, on December 14 the LAF tribunal sentenced Ms. El-Khatib to three years’ prison and forced labor. (Mr. El-Hajj was sentenced in absentia to ten years’ prison and forced labor.)
Pinsker Centre PodCast: Ep. 8 - Turkey on the World Stage: an Insider's Perspective - with Ceren Kena?r?
Ceren Kenar is a Turkish journalist and columnist. In this week's episode, she sits down with Lawrence, the Associate Director of the Pinsker Centre, to discuss Turkish-Israeli relations, Turkey's role as a bridge between the West and East, and more.

US defense chief Lloyd Austin to visit Israel next week — report
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will visit Israel next week for the first Middle East trip by a member of President Joe Biden’s cabinet, according to a Tuesday report.

While in Israel, Austin is expected to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, according to the Axios news site.

Austin, a retired general, headed US Central Command, which operates in the Middle East, during some of Gantz’s tenure as IDF chief of staff. The two spoke shortly after Austin assumed office in January.

Israeli officials quoted in the report said Austin’s meetings will focus on Iran and other regional issues, as well as ensuring the Biden administration will honor understandings reached during the final weeks of the Trump administration for the United States to guarantee Israel’s so-called qualitative military edge in the region.

It was not clear if Austin will visit other regional countries.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez meets with top NYC Jewish group for 1st time in office
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sat down for a public interview with a top New York City Jewish group, ending what some had considered a snub of Jewish leadership since the progressive New York Democrat’s election in 2019.

In her April 1 talk with Michael Miller, head of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, Ocasio-Cortez acknowledged that she hadn’t engaged with national and citywide Jewish groups, saying “I was really focused on our backyard.”

But she did say she worked on projects with local Jewish groups, including community centers in her Bronx and Queens district, as well as J Street, the liberal Mideast policy group.

Discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the lawmaker said “we value the safety and the human rights of Israelis, we value the safety and human rights of Palestinians in that process,” and suggested the settlements are an obstacle to the two-state solution.

Ocasio-Cortez also said she objected to the detention of minors. She has praised Rep. Betty McCollum, a Minnesota Democrat, for legislation that would withhold funding from Israel over its detention of Palestinian children.

Miller’s group and the New York Board of Rabbis, representing the pro-Israel mainstream, had complained that Ocasio-Cortez had not met with them after her surprise victory. Concern intensified after she pulled out of an Americans for Peace Now memorial for slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin after saying she consulted with far-left Jewish groups.

US lawmakers introduce bill to make State Dept. review PA textbooks
A bipartisan group of lawmakers reintroduced on Monday the Peace and Tolerance in Palestinian Education Act. The bill requires the Secretary of State to submit a report to Congress reviewing textbooks produced by the Palestinian Authority. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) sponsored the bill along with Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL) and Rep. David Trone (D-MD).

There are concerns that such textbooks produced by the Palestinian Authority “include language and imagery that encourage violence and hatred toward other nations and ethnic groups,” Sherman said in a statement. “Such content is particularly concerning given the use of such materials in educational settings for children as young as primary school age.”

“The United States has provided millions of dollars to support the education of Palestinian children with the stated goal of equipping Palestinians with the tools to build a democratic, secular, and politically moderate Palestinian civil society as a driver for peace,” Sherman said in a statement. He noted that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has raised concerns about the content of such materials.

“As a result of the GAO’s findings, it is necessary for Congress to request additional reports from the State Department to ensure US taxpayer dollars promote dignity and tolerance, and that the educational materials such schools employ do not incite hatred,” Sherman continued. “Last Congress, this bill passed the Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously. I hope to work with my colleagues to build on this support and secure the passage of this bill in the 117th Congress.”

“We are glad to see Congress raising the alarm about Palestinian educational materials that are antisemitic and contain language delegitimizing Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,” ADL CEO and National Director Jonathan Greenblatt said. “Teaching hateful content in schools is simply inexcusable. The Palestinian Authority must proactively take steps to stop the teaching of intolerance and to advance peace and acceptance – including in its schools,” he added.
UAE launches official Hebrew-language news service
The official news agency of the United Arab Emirates launched a Hebrew-language news service Tuesday that will focus on information relating to the normalization of ties between the countries.

The Emirates News Agency (WAM) said in a statement that the service will “provide comprehensive media content in Hebrew, including news and written and audio-visual reports.”

Updates will be posted to the news site and on the agency’s social media accounts.

WAM CEO Mohammed Jalal Al Rayssi said that the service will provide content on the bilateral ties between Israel and the UAE following the signing in September 2020 of a normalization deal.

The first articles published on WAM’s Hebrew webpage dealt primarily with regional financial and UAE diplomatic news.

With the addition of Hebrew to its services, the Abu Dhabi-based WAM now has services in 19 languages, the statement noted.

UN Accuses Israel of Committing Genocide Against Coronavirus (satire)
With Israel leading the world in coronavirus vaccination rates, the United Nations General Assembly has passed a resolution condemning Israel for its ongoing genocide against COVID-19 virions.

“The illegal apartheid state of ‘Israel’ is once again committing crimes against humanity, ethnically cleansing innocent coronavirus particles from their homes in the human body,” the resolution states. “We call on the occupation regime to end its ‘vaccination’ program immediately and to allow these virions to move without restriction across the population.”

The resolution comes after “87% of over 50s have been inoculated, 70% of people over 20, and 50% of the 16-19 age group, with the Middle Eastern nation now seen as a model for the world.

While the largely symbolic condemnation easily passed in the General Assembly, it has little chance of advancing in the UN Security Council, where Israel’s allies including the US and UK have veto power. Some American political figures, however, are calling for a direct intervention to save Israel’s coronavirus from extinction.
Vivian Bercovici: Israel’s Political Purgatory
Netanyahu’s allies have made no secret of their distaste for what they consider to be an activist court, which they claim works consistently to subvert the will of the legislature. Why there’s even talk of introducing a law that would prohibit the Israeli Supreme Court from striking down or even being heavily critical of legislation.

That, to many, sounds frighteningly like a form of government that has little to do with democracy. Virtually every robust democracy experiences varying degrees of tension between the judiciary and legislature, but safeguarding the independence of each branch from the other is fundamental. Truth is, the Haredi leaders care much more about upholding religious law in Israel than democratic standards. That’s simply not important to them and they won’t squander any political capital on preserving this sacred separation of powers.

Nor, of course, do they think–as do the majority of Israelis–that there should be a greater separation between religion and state. Quite the opposite, in fact. They want greater religious influence in all aspects of Israeli life. And, if they sit in a government with Bibi at the helm, they will likely be handsomely rewarded for their support.

Rivlin openly acknowledged that many Israelis are disturbed by the fact that a prime minister on trial may lead the country. “This is not an easy decision on a moral and ethical basis,” said Rivlin. “[But] the president of the State of Israel is not a substitute for the legislature or for the judiciary.” His hands are tied by law, which makes no allowance for such a bizarre situation.

This is where the rubber hits the road and leaves indelible skid marks. This possible governing coalition will have little legitimacy in the eyes of Israelis. According to recent polling, an overwhelming majority of Israelis strongly prefer less religious influence in the affairs of state. Such a sentiment is more a reflection regarding the Haredi disregard for democratic values as well as their very outsized influence in return for supporting Likud.

The Haredim constitute 12 percent of the population yet are widely perceived to be in an overly controlling position in key government functions and allocations. This perception was reinforced in the last year when ultra-Orthodox rabbis and leaders openly encouraged their followers to flout public health directives limiting communal gatherings, leading to wildly disproportionate rates of infection and death in their communities.

Rivlin also speculated, gratuitously, that he was not hopeful that Netanyahu would cobble together a majority coalition in the 120-seat Knesset. Sadly, I expect that most Israelis share that sentiment.

Meaning, yes, that Israel would go to the polls, yet again, come the fall.
Smotrich: Muslims who don’t agree Israel belongs to Jews, won’t remain here
Muslims who do not recognize that the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people will not continue to reside in the land,said head of the Religious Zionist Party Bezalel Smotrich on Wednesday, just hours before Israel bowed its head to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day. Smotrich made the comment in a heated Twitter exchange with Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi.

“A true Muslim must know that the Land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel and over time, people like you who don’t recognize that will not remain here,” Smotrich said. Smotrich leads the most extreme right-wing party in the Knesset and sits alongside Itamar Ben-Gvir, a former Kahanist and Avi Maoz, head of the homophobic Noam faction.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was scheduled to meet with Smotrich on Thursday as part of his efforts to form what he has called a “true right-wing government.”
PMW: Hijacking Holocaust terminology to perpetuate falsities and demonize Israel
An integral part of the Palestinian Authority messaging is to adopt terminology associated with the actions of the Nazis towards the Jews of Europe during the Holocaust, and to claim that Israel is conducting the same actions against the Palestinians.

Echoing the PA messaging, a claim of this nature, accusing Israel of “Judaizing” the town of Hebron and turning it into a Nazi style ghetto was recently made on official PA TV by a Palestinian from Hebron, Badi’a Dweik, who presents himself as a “human rights defender.” Dweik continued by claiming that there is no “apartheid” in the world like that he claims exists in Hebron.

“The occupation has significantly succeeded in Judaizing a large part of Hebron and turning Hebron into a ghetto. Therefore we must dismantle this ghetto, which is the settlements, and which is similar to the Nazi period… I have twice visited South Africa, to which apartheid is compared in the world. I also went to Northern Ireland, which is occupied by Britain. There is no apartheid like there is in Hebron… There is nothing like it in the entire world.”

[Official PA TV, Lovers of the Land, March 1, 2021]

In order to fully understand the depths of this libel, it is important to provide a historical, factual and comparative context.

The Jewish connection to Hebron

Jews have lived in Hebron on an almost continuous basis for over 3,000 years, only leaving the town when expelled by the periodical foreign invaders. While King David is often exclusively associated with Jerusalem, in fact, he was anointed King over all Israel, in Hebron.

The Jewish presence in Hebron in the last 500 years, with the exception of the years 1948 to 1967 when the city was occupied by Jordan, is well documented.

The main synagogue in the Jewish area of Hebron, the "Abraham Our Father" synagogue, was built in 1540, shortly after the town came under the rule of the Ottoman empire. Many of the Jews of Hebron left the town in 1929, after Arabs murdered 67 of the town's Jews, including children and babies, and mutilated their bodies. The PA regularly glorifies the most cruel of the participants in the 1929 massacre, who were executed by the British government because of the particular brutality of their crimes.
Allah told all of humanity that Palestine is a pure right of its Muslim owners, says Shari’ah judge

Fatah demands Israel let terrorist prisoners run and vote in PA elections

MEMRI: Former Palestinian Ambassador To The U.N. Nasser Al-Qidwa: Israel Is Our Main Threat – Not Iran; Gaza Weapons Serve Palestinian National Interests
Palestinian Politician and former Palestinian Ambassador to the United Nations Nasser Al-Qidwa said that Iran is not biggest threat to the Palestinians, but Israel is. He said that any disagreement with Iran must be resolved through dialogue. Al-Qidwa made these remarks in an interview that aired on Mayadeen TV (Lebanon) on April 4, 2021. Al-Qidwa is Yasser Arafat's nephew. Recently he was expelled from the Fatah movement by Mahmoud Abbas, when he challenged the Palestinian president's decision to present only one Fatah list in the coming elections. In the interview, he said that the weapons of the "resistance" in Gaza serve the Palestinian national interests and must not be taken away.

"I Completely Oppose The Theory That Iran Is [Our] Main Threat; The Main Threat Is And Will Continue To Be Israel"

Nasser Al-Qidwa: "I completely oppose the theory that Iran is [our] main threat. The main threat is and will continue to be, Israel. Regardless of any disagreement, our relations with Iran must be subject to a positive and constructive dialogue in order to resolve any disagreement that may arise.

"Iran constitutes a key element in the region and we must deal with it accordingly."

"The Existence [Of Weapons In Gaza] Serves The Palestinian National Interest"

Interviewer: "What is your position with regard to the weapons of the resistance in Gaza?"

Al-Qidwa: "They must not be taken away. They must not be taken away. The question of using these weapons must be subject to dialogue, and this dialogue should lead to an agreed-upon Palestinian decision. However, the existence of these weapons serves the Palestinian national interest. When we achieve national independence we will have different things to say about this."

Gaza’s second wave: 35% of coronavirus tests positive, mass vaccination far off
Even as Israel races toward herd immunity, the Gaza Strip is seeing coronavirus infections reach record heights, with only enough vaccines for some two percent of the population.

“We began to enter this wave of coronavirus during March. Right now, we’re still seeing a rise in infections and in serious cases, and we expect that number to continue to rise,” said Rami al-Abadleh, one of the officials charged with overseeing the anti-coronavirus effort in the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry.

According to the Gaza health ministry, there were 15,475 active coronavirus cases present in the Gaza Strip as of Wednesday morning. A previous wave of infections, in December, peaked closer to 10,000 active cases.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 75,375 Gazans were known to have been infected with the novel coronavirus, and 642 are reported to have died.

Around 35% of tests came back positive over the past week, indicating that the virus is likely spreading widely undetected among Gazans.

Officials blame fast-spreading coronavirus variants whose presence was confirmed in Gaza last week.

Hamas officials announced tightened restrictions on Tuesday night, imposing a nightly curfew on vehicle traffic and ordering schools to close.

But with infections continuing to spike, and with the month-long Ramadan holiday around the corner, officials have not ruled out a return to lockdown.
Jordan's volatility alerts the US to Middle East reality
The bottom line
*According to Prof. Fouad Ajami, the late Director of Middle East Studies at Johns Hopkins University, who was one of the leading Middle East scientists (The Arab Predicament): Middle East reality constitutes “a chronicle of illusions, despair and politics repeatedly degenerating into bloodletting.”

Thus, in the pursuit of peace, alliances and interests, well-meaning western policy-makers tend to sacrifice the perplexing Middle East reality upon the altar of convenience, oversimplification and wishful-thinking, which has fueled regional fires.

*Connecting the dots of the boiling Arab Street exposes the systematic failure of well-intentioned peace negotiators, who mistake the Arab Tsunami for a liberty and democracy-driven Arab Spring. They believe that a signed agreement can override a 14-century-old shifty and devious political culture. They ignore the fact that intra-Arab conflicts – not the Arab-Israeli conflict - have been "the Middle East conflicts," and that the Palestinian issue has never been a core cause of regional turbulence, neither a crown-jewel of Arab policy making, nor the crux of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

*Connecting dots in the Middle East reaffirms the non-Western security requirements for Israel, which must withstand the (Middle East) worst-case-scenario, not the (Western) best-case scenario. Hence, security requirements must respond to relatively-frequent and unpredictable occasions, when peace accords are abrogated. Moreover, security requirements must bolster Israel's posture of deterrence in a region prone to transient regimes, policies and agreements.

*Connecting the dots on the stormy Arab Street highlights Israel's unique role as the only effective, reliable, unconditional, democratic and stable ally of the USA, whose military and technological capabilities have become a unique force-multiplier for the USA without the need to station additional GIs in the region, while producing for the US taxpayers an annual-rate-of-return of a few hundred percent on the US annual investment in Israel (erroneously defined as "foreign aid").
Seth Frantzman: Hezbollah wants a representative office in Moscow
Iran’s Press TV reported on Tuesday that “the Russian government and Lebanon’s Hezbollah resistance movement are reportedly considering the possibility of opening a representative office for the Lebanese popular organization in the capital, Moscow, following high-level meetings between the two sides last month.”

This would be a serious development for Hezbollah to achieve more political legitimacy at the hands of Russia. The Press TV report is actually based on an Al-Akhbar report in Lebanon, but Iran’s pushing of the report appears to give it weight.

The report notes that Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov received on March 15 a delegation of senior Hezbollah figures led by Mohammad Raad, “the head of the Loyalty to the Resistance Bloc, the political wing of Hezbollah, and media reports indicated that the two sides had held ‘open and friendly’ talks.”

The meeting at the time was held at Russia’s request, Iran said.

“The two sides stressed the need to strengthen means of communication between them and to adopt direct channels of communication between the party and Moscow, while studying the possibility of establishing a representative office for the party in the Russian capital,” Al-Akhbar said in a report on Tuesday.

Hezbollah also talked to Russia about Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Israel. This means that Hezbollah is discussing the whole region.
How did Hezbollah lay its hands on vaccine vials from Israel?
Vials of the Russian-made COVID-19 vaccine Sputnik-V made their way from Israel to Hezbollah, the Saudi new outlet Elaph reported on Wednesday.

According to the report, Israel bought some 1 million doses from Russia and had them handed over to the Syrian regime as part of the deal to secure the release of an Israeli woman who had crossed into Syria.

But instead of being used to vaccinate Syrians, many ended up in Lebanon and reached terrorist group Hezbollah, which is now offering them at a rate ranging from $38 to $40.

The report said that Syrian officials made sure hundreds of thousands of vials would be handed over to Hezbollah for free, and it, in turn, has begun administering them only to supporters of the terrorist group.

An intelligence official in Israel who reportedly spoke to the Saudi site said that millions of dollars went into the Shi'ite group's coffers due to this scheme, but it is now facing a backlash by Lebanese who feel that they are being denied access to the vaccine.
Assad: The Shebaa Farms Are Syrian, Whatever Hezbollah Claims
One of the more memorable things I experienced during my attempt to mediate Syria-Israel peace a decade ago was listening to the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, explain to me why Hezbollah’s post-May 2000 justification for keeping its arms — its claim that Israel was still occupying Lebanese land in the “Shebaa Farms” and “Kfar Shuba Hills” — was false. His explanation was straightforward: The land in question was Syrian.

Al-Assad shared this startling revelation during a one-on-one meeting in his “Tishreen Palace” on Feb. 28, 2011. On the one hand, hearing this territorial claim — long since taken up by the government of Lebanon and verbally recognized by Syria — described as spurious surprised me not in the least. This I had known since the time of its invention in 2000. But what shocked me as I listened to al-Assad was his straightforwardness and his lack of hesitation in telling an American diplomat point-blank that the land in question — the entire basis for Hezbollah’s claimed status as the “Lebanese Resistance” — was not Lebanese; it was Syrian.

Indeed, al-Assad’s clarification of who really owned the “Shebaa Farms and Kfar Shuba Hills” was a small part of a conversation that seemed, at the time, to add much needed octane to a peace mediation starting to sputter. He also made it clear that, in return for a peace treaty committing to Syria’s recovery from Israel all land lost during the 1967 June War, he would dissolve Syria’s military relationship with Iran and oblige Lebanon to make peace with Israel, thereby putting Hezbollah out of the “resistance” business altogether.

The full story of this critical meeting, and the peace mediation of which it was a part, will be told in a forthcoming book. Yet, as Lebanon struggles to reform and even reconfigure a political system that has brought nothing but failure and misery, perhaps the time is right to shed light on the false pretenses of a key driver in the country’s precipitous downfall: Hezbollah.
Seth Frantzman: US and Iraq set to continue strategic dialogue
Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi ended his short tenure after protesters were shot in 2019. Mustafa al-Kadhimi came to power in a divided country where pro-Iranian militias rule part of it. US forces have largely left or been confined to several bases due to Iranian-backed rocket attacks.

This leaves things in a complex place. The US wants an Iraq that is secure, but other countries are seeking to use it for their own agendas. Turkey has sent troops into the Kurdish region to fight the PKK. Iran has its tentacles throughout central and southern Iraq. The US position is not strong, but many countries in the region want America to stay in Iraq.

Israel is one of those countries because there are concerns that pro-Iranian groups could use Iraq to move weapons to Syria or even build up ballistic missile arsenals in Iraq to threaten the Jewish state. In 2019, Iraqi political parties linked to Iran accused Israel of airstrikes in Iraq.

It is not known what “strategic dialogue with the US” actually means. Washington is committed to a strong Iraq that is independent, and the US uses lots of keywords and talking points when referring to this imaginary entity. It is imaginary because the real Iraq is beset by corruption, infrastructure failure, militias and sectarian divisions.

Many Iraqis want a brighter future, but that has been hijacked by Iran. There is no real ability of Baghdad to also stop Turkish airstrikes or Iranian weapons trafficking. When Kadhimi tried confronting militias back in June, he was threatened. He has tried outreach to the Gulf in the past month, but it is not clear what may come next.

The US wants dialogue to underpin the ability for it to stay in a limited way, at least at Asad base and in Erbil. It also wants to continue fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Iraq needs the US to balance Iran, but only in a quiet way. When Trump said that the US could use Iraq to “watch” Iran in December 2018, many Iraqis were angry. When Rex Tillerson, the former US secretary of state, told the pro-Iranian PMU militias – which are on the government payroll – to “go home,” he was summoned to Baghdad for a dressing down.

This is the real struggle for US dialogue with Iraq. It remains to be seen what might come next.

National Review Editorial: Iran Has a Reason to Be Happy with Biden
In the weeks leading up to Vienna, top Biden officials have clearly signaled that such concessions are in the offing. Additionally, they are repeating one of the core mistakes made by Obama’s national-security team. That is, out of a desperation to sign a deal that they could claim dealt with the nuclear issue, the Obama administration looked the other way when it came to Iran’s malign behavior around the world and jumped at every chance to grease the wheels of negotiations.

Similarly, under Biden, U.S. officials reportedly held discussions with South Korea about unfreezing Iranian assets tied up by oil sanctions there. They’ve declined to oppose a potential $5 billion IMF loan to the country, and have apparently turned a blind eye to Iranian oil sales to Chinese firms that would violate sanctions.

All the while, the administration has telegraphed that it will do very little to apply pressure to Iranian proxies, and that it’s even reducing the U.S. military footprint in the Gulf region. Unlike the Trump administration, the Biden team has failed to link Iran’s regional activity with its nuclear problem. It has already removed the Foreign Terrorist Organization designation of the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, and the sanctions on the chopping block are reportedly terrorism-related.

From the start, the administration has promised to seek a “longer and stronger” deal to address these matters after both sides return to full compliance with the JCPOA. The trouble is that once the U.S. implements sanctions relief, Tehran will have no incentive to negotiate an additional agreement. The Biden administration will have squandered hard-won leverage with nothing to show for it.

The only way this strategy makes sense is if it is by design. It’s no secret that Obama officials envisioned a realignment in the Middle East away from traditional alliances with Israel and Arab Gulf states toward a region in which Iran is more influential. And there is reason to believe that the Biden administration, which includes many of the same officials, shares a similar mentality. Concessions that make Iran more economically powerful are consistent with this vision.

Either way, it is clear that when Washington and Tehran eventually sit down for direct talks, the latter will have the upper hand, undermining U.S. regional allies and making it easier for Iran to achieve its nuclear ambitions and threaten the world.
JCPA: The Iran Nuclear Talks Restart in Vienna
Ahead of the talks and with the aim of increasing pressure on the United States, the Iranian Press TV quoted a source close to the Iranian delegation that Robert Malley, the U.S. special envoy for Iranian affairs, was in Vienna, but that he was not expected to participate in the Joint Commission talks.9 “Malley is expected to leave with empty hands unless he removes all American sanctions,” the source stated. At the same time, the Iranian media all carried the same message: “All the cruel sanctions must be removed.”10

Until recently, the U.S. administration was able to withstand the Iranian pressure and demand in return at least a gradual return to the framework of the negotiations. Given Iran’s determination and uncompromising stance, accompanied by the continued violations of the nuclear deal, perhaps the administration’s firm stance on full Iranian compliance as a condition for lifting sanctions will crack. Against this background, it seems that the chances of the United States “expanding and improving” the agreement to include the issue of missiles, Iran’s harmful regional activities, and human rights violations in its territory are very slim.

Looming in the background is Iran’s presidential elections in two months, which toughens Iran’s stance demanding the lifting of all sanctions and opposing “amendments” to the nuclear deal. This position puts the American administration under domestic pressure, especially in Congress, and sharpens the dilemmas it faces not only regarding policy vis-à-vis Iran, but also in the Middle Eastern and Asian arenas in which Iran operates – especially in Yemen (where missiles and drones continue to be fired at Saudi Arabia), Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, and the strategic economic agreements Iran signed with China.
Elliott Abrams: Will Biden’s Return to the Iran Deal Abandon American Prisoners Held There — Again?
Last Friday a spokesman for the State Department made moving remarks about Siamak Namazi, an American held prisoner in Iran:
This weekend marks 2,000 days since Iran arrested Siamak Namazi for being a U.S. citizen. Siamak Namazi was a businessman living in Tehran when he was arrested in October of 2015. When his father, 84-year-old Baquer Namazi, traveled to Iran to help free his son, the Iranian Government arrested him too.

Both Siamak and Baquer . . . were sentenced to 10 years in prison on baseless charges. As a result, the Namazi family has suffered for five and a half years while the Iranian Government continues to treat their husband, father, son, and brother as political pawns. This terrible milestone should offend all who believe in the rule of law.

Nicely said, but there is every indication that the Biden administration is planning to do exactly what the Obama administration did just over five years ago: Make a deal with Iran that abandons Americans held hostage there.

That is in fact exactly what happened when President Obama and then–Secretary of State John Kerry negotiated the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015. Consider the incredible sequence of events: July 14, 2015, was “Finalization Day,” when the Iran deal was concluded and announced. October 19, 2015, was “Adoption Day,” when all parties to the deal considered themselves to have adopted its terms. In July 2015, Siamak Namazi was blocked from leaving Tehran after a visit. On October 13, 2015, he was formally arrested and on October 18, he was sentenced to ten years in prison — one day before “Adoption Day.” A clearer Iranian gesture of scorn for the United States is hard to imagine.

When I met with Siamak’s brother, Babak Namazi, in Abu Dhabi last year, he told me that John Kerry had promised him that his brother would be released as part of the Iran deal. That pledge was evidently false, as Siamak has just completed his 2,000th day in prison. Worse yet for the family, the Iranian despots won’t allow their father, Baquer Namazi, to return home either. He’s now placed under house arrest, despite being 84 years old.

We all know what this says about Iran — the manufactured prison sentences, the kangaroo courts, the cruelty. But also note their contempt for the United States, signaled by their sentencing of Siamak Namazi to ten years just one day before “adoption” of the JCPOA in 2015. They guessed correctly that American talk about doing all we can to get our hostages returned did not include delaying the lifting of U.S. sanctions by one single day.
WFB Editorial: The March to Appeasement
Elections have consequences, and one consequence of the 2020 election will be a return to the foreign policy of the Obama era that seeks to punish Israel, isolate the Arabs, elevate Iran as a regional power, and assure friend and foe alike that tough talk from American leaders is just that: talk.

Representatives of the United States will return to Vienna this week with the aim of lifting sanctions on an Iranian regime led by religious fanatics hellbent on acquiring nuclear weapons, dominating its neighbors, and eliminating the Jewish state.

Appeasement is never a slog, so it's a mission they are all but certain to accomplish.

It also reveals the hollowness of the tough talk President Joe Biden offered up on the campaign trail, when he said he would not drop sanctions on Iran without first strengthening the Obama-era nuclear deal. His secretary of state, Tony Blinken, assured the Senate just weeks ago that he would not allow terrorism sanctions against Iran to be held hostage to any fresh nuclear talks. Of course these were lies and all sides knew it. Easy promises to make and easier to break.

Already, Iran envoy and friend of Hamas Rob Malley has lowered the bar: He told PBS News on Sunday that the United States would return to the deal if the Iranians agreed to do so. "Our goal is to see whether we can agree on a roadmap back to compliance on both sides," Malley said, adding that the administration's goal is to get on "the same page" as the mullahs.
Iran Claims Victory Over United States as New Nuke Talks Begin
Iranian officials are claiming victory over the United States as diplomats gather this week for negotiations over a revamped nuclear deal, discussions that are likely to result in the Biden administration lifting tough economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei said Tuesday that his country's leaders will not sit down for talks with the Americans, including U.S.-Iran envoy Robert Malley. American diplomats, however, expect indirect communications through intermediaries. Rabiei said the negotiations, which will occur in Vienna, represent a victory over the United States and the former Trump administration's "maximum pressure" campaign on Iran, which included some of the most wide-ranging economic sanctions in history. The Iran spokesman predicted the Biden administration will have no choice but to lift these sanctions in the near future.

Iran's posturing is accompanied by increased nuclear work, moves likely meant to further pressure the Biden administration into granting concessions during the talks in Vienna. Iran's Atomic Energy Organization said Tuesday that it is ready to unveil "133 new nuclear achievements," including "quantum, enrichment, heavy water, radiopharmaceuticals, [and] lasers," according to state-controlled press. The country is also pressing forward with the installation of IR-9 centrifuges, an advanced type of nuclear enrichment device that more quickly and efficiently turns uranium into fuel for a nuclear weapon.

Biden administration officials say they are ready to grant Iran sanctions relief before the country even halts its growing nuclear program and comes back into compliance with the original 2015 accord. Iranian leaders see that readiness as a rebuke of the former Trump administration and its hardline policies. Rabiei, for instance, said the Americans' willingness to sit down for indirect talks in Vienna represents a victory for the mullahs and vindicates his country's nuclear program.

PreOccupiedTerritory: Biden Admin Sure Iran Doesn’t REALLY Mean All That Terrorism, Repression (satire)
Foreign policy officials in the White House and State Department sought to reassure Americans and American allies in the Middle East that the regime in Tehran might be engaged in a decades-long effort to attain regional hegemony, destroy Israel, deprive its population of human rights, and intimidate opponents of its ambitions throughout the world through shootings, bombings and other violence, but that’s not where the regime’s heart is.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken addressed questions from reporters Thursday in a brief interactive session during which he shared President Joe Biden’s view that Iran’s doesn’t really mean it when it sows instability and violence throughout the region in an attempt to create power vacuums it can exploit and attain effective control of the Middle East.

“We know that at heart the Iranian leadership is full of goodwill,” stated Blinken. “It is past time to cease viewing the terrorism-support of the Ayatollahs as solely a malign set of policies that others must counter or forestall; we urge our allies and our citizens, some of whom may have suffered from violence perpetrated with Iran’s support, to keep in mind the humanity we share with the mullahs.”

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan sounded a similar theme the day before. “The body count of US soldiers, citizens, and others who fell in incidents sponsored or directed by Iran isn’t really the salient point,” he insisted. “You can’t take just one aspect of the Khamenei administration and paint everything else with it. You also have to take into account other policies. Also please ignore the decade-plus of violent, brutal repression of internal dissent that’s been going on there, because, well, context or something.”
Quizzed on Iran ship blast, Gantz says Israel acts ‘wherever there’s a need’
Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Wednesday said Israel would take military action anywhere there was a threat against it, after an American official attributed a mine attack on an Iranian ship in the Red Sea the previous day to Israeli naval commandos.

On Tuesday morning, limpet mines were reportedly detonated on the MV Saviz, a cargo ship off the coast of Yemen that has been allegedly used for years by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a command-and-control center for its operations in the region.

Israeli officials have refused to comment on the matter, in line with a longstanding policy of ambiguity regarding its military actions against Iran in the region, save for those that are direct, immediate retaliations for attacks on Israel.

Speaking to reporters, Gantz also refrained from discussing the alleged Israeli attack on the Saviz specifically — twice saying that he wouldn’t comment on the matter — but said generally that the military would take action anywhere it determines it needs to.

“The State of Israel must defend itself. Every place we find an operational challenge or operational need, we will continue to act,” Gantz said.

The defense minister made his remarks following a ceremony marking 10 years since the Iron Dome missile defense system made its first interception of an incoming rocket.

“We are preparing ourselves at this time on numerous fronts: at our southern and northern borders, as well as vis-à-vis the threats that Iran is presenting, whether directly or indirectly via its proxies in the Middle East,” Gantz said in his speech, held at an active Iron Dome battery in central Israel.

“To our enemies I want to say: We are here today marking 10 years of active service of the Iron Dome, but this isn’t the only system we have. We have offensive capabilities that operate 24/7, 365 days a year. They are ready for use on any front, at any range and for any action that the IDF needs,” he said
Israeli forces carried out strike on Iranian ship in Red Sea, NY Times reports
Israeli forces carried out a strike on an Iranian ship in the Red Sea in retaliation for previous strikes by Iran against Israeli vessels, according to a Tuesday report.

A US official told The New York Times that Israel notified the US that Israeli forces attacked the ship around 7:30 a.m. local time on Tuesday.

The development came as the US and Iran opened indirect talks aimed at rescuing the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal. Israel strongly opposes the deal’s revival.

The anonymous US official said Israel called the strike a retaliation, and that the ship had been hit below the water line.

Israel has not officially commented on the incident. Israel rarely confirms or denies strikes against Iran-linked targets, but sometimes claims credit for attacks that are a direct response to aggression by Iran or its proxies.

Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency reported Tuesday that the Iranian-flagged ship, the Saviz, was hit by a limpet mine.

Arabic media reports claimed the ship was an intelligence-gathering vessel linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Tasnim said Saviz “has been stationed in the Red Sea for the past few years to support Iranian commandos who are sent to escort commercial vessels.”

Seth Frantzman: Will Red Sea incident mobilize pro-Iran-deal Israel critics in the US?
An article in The Wall Street Journal appeared to indicate that some US officials are concerned about the timing of an alleged attack on an Iranian ship in the Red Sea.

The ship is known as an IRGC forward base, according to previous reports by expert analyst H.I Sutton.

“It is clear what the timing intends to achieve,” a US official was quoted saying by the WSJ.

The incident could harm those who support “rapprochement,” the article noted.

This would cast the attack in the Red Sea as somehow harming the exploration of talks between Iran and the US that could lead to a reduction in US sanctions. This could serve those who are critical of Israel and see the Jewish state as somehow harming US-Iran relations or even causing US-Iran tensions.

In the past, anti-Israel voices in the US, some of them former officials, have alleged that pro-Israel voices have been behind Iran tensions and have tried to implicate Israel in “driving” US wars in the Middle East. This conspiracy tends to pop up in whisper campaigns that allege that pro-Israel policies of the US are against American interests, as though they align with Iran in some way.


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