Dagan in Beirut in 1982.

Excerpt From ‘Harpoon’

The 188th, along with infantrymen from the Golani Brigade, fought in  the battle of Kfar Sil, a close-quarter bare-knuckle brawl against well-entrenched Syrian commandos who were propping up Hezbollah’s forces; the battle was described by many as the toughest of the war. There were cease-fires and skirmishes, and sometimes all-out hellacious fighting. At the end of July the brigade was ordered to get ready to enter Beirut. It was the first time that Israeli forces were poised to seize an Arab capital. Days later, the 188th brigade advanced on Beirut International Airport. The control tower became [Col. Meir] Dagan’s headquarters. From there, according to one of his battalion commanders, he conducted and choreographed the opera of war.

The battle for the airport was hard fought. At dawn on the morning of August 4, Syrian commandos unleashed a lethal barrage of antitank missiles against one of Dagan’s battalions near the main terminal. Later that day, toward afternoon, Palestinian and Syrian artillery poured a deadly and pinpointed rain of fire onto the Israeli positions. Thirteen soldiers were killed in the barrage, including Captain Tuval Gvirtzman, the commander of a company of tanks codenamed “Crusher”; he had been killed rushing to the aid of an armored personnel carrier that had suffered a direct hit and had burst into flames.

Gvirtzman, known by the nickname of “Tuli,” was Dagan’s favorite officer in the brigade. “Dagan loved Tuli very much,” a former officer in the brigade remembered. “He was the most beloved officer in his command.” Lieutenant Colonel Eyal Ben-Reuven was Tuli’s commanding officer and had to break the news to Dagan. Under fire, Ben-Reuven climbed up the stairs leading to the control tower toward the brigade command post. Dagan was peering through high-powered field glasses; marked‑up maps were strewn about the floor amid broken glass. When Dagan heard that Tuli had been killed, he stopped what he was doing and his body slumped inward. He broke down in a loud and gut-wrenching cry that could be heard amid the gunfire. No one had ever seen Dagan cry before news of Tuli’s death reached him. Even though Dagan’s brigade lost twenty-five men in the conflict, and he had seen his men killed and wounded before, Tuli’s death changed Dagan forever.

Other events during his service in Lebanon made a lasting impression as well. Upon Dagan’s return home on leave in 1985, he informed his wife, Bina, that as a result of the fierce carnage he had witnessed in the fighting he no longer felt able to eat meat. It simply disgusted him, brought up difficult memories and images, and he insisted that he and his family become vegetarians. Just like that he swore off meat forever.

Thirty years had passed since the battle for Beirut International Airport. Israel endured numerous intifadas and suicide bombing campaigns, SCUD missiles from Iraq, and a second war in Lebanon against Hezbollah. The country also endured a ceaseless terrorist campaign of attrition in between. But the biggest threat Israel had to face now was Iran.

Meir Dagan hated war and wanted to do whatever he could to avoid it; this was part of the genius behind Harpoon — an effort to shock and awe the bankbooks of terror and not the crowded refugee camps where the perpetrators hid shielded by women and children. This revolutionized how nations waged war on terror. There were some in Israel pounding war drums to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Israelis well understood that much of the terrorism being waged against them was being funded directly by the mullahs in Tehran, and they had no illusions what kind of threat the Islamic Republic would pose with nuclear capabilities. Dagan knew when war was necessary and when it could be avoided. In the eighth year of his tenure as Mossad director, Dagan was in a position to put actions in motion that could prevent war — even if it meant that some had to die as part of a larger and more important policy of preemptive deterrence.

Excerpted from the book “Harpoon: Inside the Covert War Against Terrorism’s Money Masters” by Nitsana Darshan-Leitner and Samuel M. Katz, published on Nov. 7 by Hachette Books, a division of Hachette Book Group. Copyright 2017 Nitsana Darshan-Leitner and Samuel M. Katz.

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud poses for a photo with National Guard Minister Khaled bin Ayyaf and Economy Minister Mohammed al-Tuwaijri during a swearing-in ceremony in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, November 6, 2017. Saudi Press Agency/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.

Saudi Arabia: Iran and Lebanon Committed ‘Act of War’ Against Us

Saudi Arabia has accused Iran and Lebanon of committing an “act of war” against the Gulf Kingdom after a missile heading toward Riyadh was intercepted on Saturday.

The missile was aimed at Saudi Arabia’s Riyadh Airport, but ended up being harmless after the Gulf Kingdom shot it down. The Houthi rebels in Yemen, a faction supported by Iran in Yemen’s civil war, claimed responsibility for the missile.

“Iran cannot lob missiles at Saudi cities and towns and expect us not to take steps,” Saudi Foreign Minister Abdel Jubair told CNN.

Thamer al-Sabhan, the Gulf Kingdom’s Persian Gulf Affairs Minister, told a state news outlet that they’re considering the failed missile strike as Lebanon declaring war on the Gulf Kingdom.

“Lebanon is kidnapped by the militias of Hezbollah and behind it is Iran,” said al-Sabhan.

He did not elaborate on any action that Saudi Arabia plans to take against Lebanon, but he warned Lebanon that they “must all know these risks and work to fix matters before they reach the point of no return.”

Iran is denying the accusations, claiming that the Houthis acted on their own. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif blamed Saudi Arabia for the death and destruction occurring in Yemen.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri announced on Saturday that he was stepping down, a move that shocked even his aides. Hariri claimed his resignation was due to Hezbollah plans to assassinate him; Hezbollah is accusing Saudi Arabia of strong-arming Hariri into his resignation.

Released Hezbollah prisoners marching in a parade in their honor in Beirut, 2008. Photo by Salah Malkawi/Getty

Senate Passes Bill Leveling Sanctions Against Hezbollah

The United States Senate unanimously passed a bill on Thursday that levels sanctions against Hezbollah, the Iranian proxy group that has been dubbed by the State Department as a terrorist organization.

The bill, titled the “Hizballah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act of 2017”, was spearheaded by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NJ) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) and would implement economic sanctions toward people and businesses abroad that “provide significant financial, material or technological support to entities known to fundraise or recruit on behalf of” Hezbollah, per a press release from Rubio’s office. Hezbollah would also face sanctions for their various criminal activities, which include drug and animal trafficking.

Additionally, the bill would require President Trump to notify Congress about any foreign governments that are “facilitating transactions on behalf of” Hezbollah.

Rubio said in a statement, “Iranian-backed Hizballah terrorists are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans, and continue to pose grave threats to the United States and our allies, including the democratic state of Israel. The president and Congress should build on the successes of our 2015 law that targets Hizballah, its proxies and its enablers, and enact this new bill to strengthen international efforts to combat the financing and expansion of Hizballah’s terrorist and missile threats, as well as its narcotics trafficking and other transnational criminal activities.”

The Florida senator added, “I’m glad the Senate passed our bill, and I look forward to working with the House to enact these provisions into law.”

Shaheen said in a statement that “Congress should exercise every tool at its disposal to confront Iran’s destabilizing activity in the region outside of the Iran nuclear deal, particularly in Lebanon, where Hizballah continues to stockpile rockets and other weapons that directly threaten our ally Israel and provide military support to the murderous Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.” Crapo touted the bill as “economic and logistical sanctions on Hizballah, significantly cutting off the flow of resources toward its fundraising and recruitment activities.”

In 2015, Rubio and Shaheen co-sponsored a bill with Reps. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Eliot Engel (D-NY) that was signed into law by then-President Obama imposing sanctions against companies that do business with Hezbollah. The 2017 bill takes the 2015 bill and expands it even further.

The bill’s passage comes amidst the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) conducting drills and fortifying its borders in preparation for a possible war with Hezbollah. The Shia terror organization has developed more sophisticated methods of warfare from fighting in the Syrian civil war to keep Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power and has amassed over 100,000 rockets.

However, the IDF has noted that Hezbollah is in financial dire straits due to Iran’s financial problems and prior U.S. sanctions. Hezbollah is also facing internal conflict after the group’s leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, ordered the assassination of Moustafa Badreddine, one of the group’s top commanders in Syria.

The Shia terror group also has a wide network in the United States, where it has conducted cyber activities and orchestrated various money laundering schemes. Nasrallah himself recently accused the U.S. of “working to hinder the battle against Islamic State.”

People watch Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah as he appears on a screen during a live broadcast on May 25. Photo by Hassan Abdallah/Reuters

House committee to vote on Hezbollah sanctions bill

The House Foreign Affairs Committee announced that this coming Thursday it will vote on legislation that tightens sanctions against the Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah. H.R. 3329 enjoys wide bipartisan support and was introduced by the Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) along with Ranking Democrat on Committee, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY). The bill restricts Hezbollah’s ability to fundraise and recruit by cracking down on foreign states that do business with the Lebanese terror group, including Iran, while increasing pressure on banks that service Hezbollah.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced a companion anti-Hezbollah legislation in the Senate. The bill is still sitting in the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.

AIPAC has placed the Hezbollah sanctions bills on its legislative priorities list for 2017. In addition to fighting a bloody war with Israel in 2006, Hezbollah has repeatedly launchedstrikes at Jewish and Israeli civilian targets worldwide.

“Congress must close any possible loophole that could allow foreign funding of Hezbollah. Acting swiftly—and in a bipartisan manner—will show Hezbollah’s foreign sponsors that the United States will not sit by while Hezbollah grows stronger,” Engel said in a statement.

Additionally, the House Foreign Affairs Committee will also markup a bill on Thursday that condemns Hezbollah for its usage of civilian shields during warfare, while imposing sanctions on individuals who are involved in this practice.

Released Hezbollah prisoners marching in a parade in their honor in Beirut, 2008. Photo by Salah Malkawi/Getty

2 US men charged with finding Israeli and American targets for Hezbollah

Two men living in the U.S. have been charged for working for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

A release from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan on Thursday said Ali Kourani, 32, and Samer El Debek, 37, were arrested on June 1 for providing material support to and receiving military training from the Lebanese militia, which is designated by the United States as a terrorist group.

Kourani, the release said, identified possible weapons suppliers in the United States and obtained military training in Lebanon. He also identified Israeli army personnel in the United States and surveilled U.S. airports, military bases and police stations, it said.

El Debek was also charged with being trained by Hezbollah. In 2011, the release said, El Debek traveled to Panama where his assignment included “locating the U.S. and Israeli Embassies, casing security procedures at the Panama Canal and the Israeli Embassy, and locating hardware stores where explosive precursors could be purchased.”

A year later, El Debek returned to Panama allegedly to identify “areas of weakness and construction at the Panama Canal, as well as provide information about how close someone could get to a ship passing through the Canal.”

Each man was charged with an array of crimes, which could bring sentences of between five and 20 years each.

Kourani was arrested in the Bronx and El Debek was arrested in Livonia, Michigan. Each was subsequently charged in federal court in Manhattan.

Hezbollah created Palestinian terror cells on Facebook, Israel says after bust

Israeli security services in the past few months broke up two Palestinian terror cells formed on Facebook by Hezbollah, according to officials.

Nine suspected cell members were arrested earlier this summer, but information about the case was kept under court-ordered gag order until Tuesday.

Working out of Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, operatives for the Lebanon-based terrorist group recruited residents of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Israel through Facebook and other social media sites, the Shin Bet security service said.

“The Hezbollah organization has recently made it a priority to try to spark terror acts, doing so from far away, while attempting to not clearly expressing its involvement,” the Shin Bet said in a statement.

The West Bank terror cells, which received Hezbollah funding, planned to conduct suicide bombings and ambush Israeli army patrols in the West Bank, according to the Shin Bet. They had begun preparing explosive devices for attacks, said the security service, which claimed credit for thwarting attacks against Israeli targets in the West Bank and Israel.

After recruiting ringleaders on Facebook, Hezbollah and the recruits switched to encrypted communications to avoid detection, and the ringleaders went on to recruit other members, according to the Shin Bet.

The Shin Bet said it also detected multiple attempts by Hezbollah to recruit Israeli Arabs through a Facebook profile that featured anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian posts.

In response to the Shin Bet’s announcement, Israel’s United Nations ambassador, Danny Danon, called on the body to formally recognize Hezbollah as a terrorist group.

Israeli spy catalogues mistakes in Lebanon

This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

The Shi’ite Hezbollah movement this week released a new three-part documentary on the 2006 capture of two Israeli soldiers, which sparked a 34-day conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. The film includes interviews with several Israeli officials and an Israeli soldier wounded in the incident.

Israel’s Government Press Office, GPO, says it is investigating journalist Michaela Moni of the Italian ANSA news agency, for possible ties to the organization. Moni conducted the interviews, saying they were for Italian outlets, not Hezbollah. In any case, the fact that Hezbollah was able to arrange the interviews gave it a propaganda victory.

It was just the latest example of what is called in Israel, the “Lebanese swamp.” Israel fought two wars in Lebanon, in 1982 and 2006, and spent 15 years controlling a “security zone” in south Lebanon, before pulling out in 2000. In a book just translated into English, called Window to the Backyard, Israel’s former Mossad station chief, Yair Ravid, outlines a series of Israeli mistakes in Lebanon.

“There are several reasons for Israel’s failure in Lebanon,” Ravid told The Media Line. “Ariel Sharon (Israel’s Defense Minister in 1982) in his megalomania thought that he could get a separate peace with Lebanon, Menachem Begin (then Prime Minister) naively thought our help to the Christians would lead to a separate peace, and the Mossad on a political level didn’t understand Lebanon.”

Ravid, 71, was responsible for developing ties between Israel and the Christian villages in Lebanon. Those contacts eventually led to the creation of the South Lebanon Army (SLA), thousands of whom fled to Israel when Israel left Lebanon in 2000. About 2700 former SLA members live in Israel today.

“Israel divided the SLA into two groups – the officers and the regular soldiers,” Julie Abu Araj, whose father was killed fighting for the SLA and today lives in Israel told The Media Line. “The officers got a lot of assistance from the Israeli government, but the regular soldiers got much less.”

Araj came to Israel when she was 12, and speaks perfect Hebrew. She feels comfortable in Israel, although sometimes misses her home town. She has become active in advocating for the rights of former SLA fighters, some of whom feel abandoned by Israel.

Successive Israeli governments failed to understand the complexities of Lebanon, made up of Christians, Shi’ite Muslims, Sunni Muslims and Druze. Even today, Lebanon has been without a president since 2014, as the political blocs have been unable to agree.

Lebanon today is also struggling to house and feed more than one million refugees from Syria who have flooded the neighboring country of just four million. Hizbullah is the kingmaker in Lebanese politics, although Hizbullah is currently bogged down in fighting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Israeli intelligence has repeatedly warned that Hezbollah has upwards of 100,000 rockets that could hit any part of Israel. Israel in turn has warned Hezbollah it will destroy Lebanon’s infrastructure if there is another attack.

“Right now Hezbollah has no interest in heating things up because they are busy in Syria,” Ravid said. “They will only start up with us if it helps their sponsor Iran.”

Ravid’s book also offers some insights into what it is like to be an Israeli spy. He writes what it is like to recruit agents, describing what qualities a good spymaster needs.

“Among the most important characteristics an operator of agents must be equipped with are compassion and the ability to listen to their operatives’ difficulties and problems, alongside recognizing and understanding the operatives’ family structure and the relations within their families,” he writes. “On occasion an operator has to offer agents he operates a gesture. Bestow them with gifts for personal or family occasions, and during holidays. Tributes that are unexpected, that surprise the agents, bring fast return on the investment.”

He also writes that the new generation of spies relies more on technology and les son human interaction.

“I see myself as one who belongs to the old generation of agents’ operators. This is the generation which maintained close ties and often friendly ties with the Arab population. I was and still feel at home in many Arabs’ households, and many Arabs are very welcome in my home. These kinds of relationships and connections give the operator the right tools to make him an Intelligence officer,” he writes. “The younger generation of agents’ operators which is currently active is disconnected from the field and from the Arab population. This generation knows the use of computers much better than my generation, but the remoteness of the field makes them intelligence technicians and not intelligence officers.”

Ravid has not been back to Beirut since 1985. When asked if Israel currently has spies in Lebanon, he answered, “I certainly hope so.”

Jeremy Corbyn says he regrets support for Hamas, Hezbollah

Britain opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn said he regrets supporting Hamas and Hezbollah, and that comments by former London Mayor Ken Livingstone asserting that Hitler supported Zionism were “wrong.”

Corbyn testified on Monday before the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee hearing on rising anti-Semitism.

Corbyn, a harsh critic of Israel who in 2009 called Hezbollah and Hamas activists “friends” after inviting representatives from both terrorist groups to visit the British Parliament as his guests, is accused of encouraging vitriol against Israel and Jews by not distancing himself from groups such as Hamas.

“It was inclusive language I used which, with hindsight, I would rather not have used,” he said of using the term “friends” to describe Hezbollah and Hamas activists. “I regret using those words. I have done so on many occasions.”

Corbyn was asked about remarks that Livingstone made in April during a radio interview, in which he asserted that Hitler’s policy when he was elected in 1932 that Jews should be moved out of Europe and be moved to Israel was  “supporting Zionism.” Livingstone was suspended from the party for the remark.

“Ken Livingstone made remarks that are wholly unacceptable and wrong,” Corbyn said.

Corbyn rejected a question about whether he was fostering an atmosphere of anti-Semitism in the Labor Party that he heads.

“That is unfair. I want a party that is open for all,” Corbyn asserted. “A long time ago there were sometimes anti-Semitic remarks made, when I first joined the party and later on. In recent years, no, and in my constituency not at all.”

He rejected reports saying that he compared Israel to the Islamic State in a speech against anti-Semitism delivered last week.

It is reported to be the first time that an opposition leader has given testimony to a select committee hearing.

Berlin government to ban Hezbollah flags from anti-Israel march

The Berlin State Senate has agreed to ban Hezbollah flags, with their image of an upraised assault weapon, from an anti-Israel Al Quds march, likening the symbol to a call for genocide.

The announcement came following a request by the American Jewish Committee in Berlin. The march is scheduled for Saturday.

Berlin state interior minister Frank Henkel, on the advice of the Berlin police, said that the flags would be added to the propaganda material that is not permitted to be displayed publicly.


A spokesperson for the Berlin police, Thomas Neuendorf, told JTA that not only are Hezbollah flags banned, but  Hezbollah symbols themselves may not been shown at all – whether on flags or posters or clothing or any other manner.

This is due to the fact that  “the display of these flags and symbols can be tantamount to incitement to hate, in that they prompt people to chant hate slogans against a part of the population, namely Jewish fellow citizens,” he wrote in a statement. “In addition, such actions
represent an identification with and approval of Hezbollah and their acts that, in relation to the upcoming march, without current context, are not protected free speech.”

The AJC in Berlin greeted this as a step towards Germany recognizing that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization. “We should not stop halfway,” Deidre Berger, head of the Berlin office, said in a statement. “Germany should make every effort to have Hezbollah put on the EU terror list.”

Germany joined with other European countries in 2013 in calling for the group to be put on that list. Hezbollah is also considered a terrorist group by the Arab League, Bahrain, and the Gulf Cooperation Council, among others.

In his statement, Henkel said that past experience at the annual Al-Quds event in Berlin had shown that it made sense to bar the display of the flag, along with other statements or chants that incite hate. “Anyone who calls for the destruction of an entire people and promotes war and violence is abusing the right” of free speech and assembly, Henkel wrote, in part.

Al Quds Day, a protest against Israel’s existence, was established in 1979 by Iran’s Islamic revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini. Since then, his followers have marked the day in cities around the world with large Muslim populations, during or shortly after Ramadan. Since 1996, Berlin’s annual demonstration has attracted between 300 and 1,000 Islamists. Men and women march separately.

In its petition to the Berlin Senate, AJC also had asked that the march be rerouted away from one of Berlin’s major synagogues, where Sabbath services will be just concluding around the time of the event. This request was not granted.

This year’s counter demonstration is organized by several pro-civil society organizations and will take place one street away from the synagogue.

Hezbollah is broke thanks to US sanctions, says White House official

Non-nuclear U.S. sanctions against Iran and its allies have led to Hezbollah being in “its worst financial shape in decades,” the top sanctions enforcement official told Congress.

“After many years of sanctions targeting Hezbollah, today the group is in its worst financial shape in decades,” Adam Szubin, the acting Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence told the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday. “And I can assure you that, alongside our international partners, we are working hard to put them out of business.”

Szubin described sanctions introduced in recent months to further isolate Hezbollah, a Lebanese militia that in 2006 fought a war against Israel and that Israeli intelligence believes has tens of thousands of missiles in place for the next war.

The House committee asked Szubin and two other top officials handling the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal to testify. Congressional Republicans and a number of Democrats have expressed concerns about reports that the U.S. is going out of its way to accommodate Iran in the sanctions relief for nuclear rollback deal.

Stephen Mull, the top U.S. official charged with implementing the deal, acknowledged that the United States was making it clear to third parties that some sanctions are no longer in place.

“In an effort to provide greater clarity to the public and private sectors on what sanctions were lifted and what non-nuclear sanctions remain in place, the Departments of State and Treasury have been participating in extensive outreach with the public and private sectors, mostly at the request of other governments, in order to explain U.S. commitments,” he said.

Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., the chairman of the committee, lacerated the sanctions officials for what he said was “the length the Obama administration has gone to accommodate Iran.”

“The administration told us that sanctions on Iran’s terrorism, human rights and ballistic missiles would be fully enforced after the agreement,” he said. “Yet, it now says that non-nuclear sanctions would undermine the Iran agreement. The White House’s Iran policy amounts to walking on eggshells.”

Szubin rejected the claim. “We have not lifted any of our sanctions designed to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities outside the nuclear file,” he said. “These sanctions are not just words on paper. We are vigorously enforcing them.”

Szubin also rejected reports that the Obama administration is contemplating implementing a system to allow Iran to trade in dollars. He outlined a number of areas where the United States is blocking Iranian non-nuclear activities that are otherwise subject to sanction, including its backing for Hezbollah, Iran’s chief proxy in the civil war in Syria.

Thomas Countryman, an assistant secretary of state, revealed that the U.S. assisted Israel in intercepting a Panamanian flagged vessel in the Red Sea that was bearing Iranian weapons. Previous reports on the March 2014 interception by the Israel Defense Forces did not mention U.S. involvement.

Countryman also discounted claims that the U.S. was not doing enough to keep Iran from testing ballistic missiles.

“Our policy on Iran’s ballistic missile program has not changed – Iran must cease this work, including ballistic missile launches,” he said.

Netanyahu: Israel has carried out dozens of strikes in Syria

Israel has launched dozens of strikes in Syria, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday, acknowledging for the first time such attacks against suspected arms transfers to Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas.

Though formally neutral on Syria's civil war, Israel has frequently pledged to prevent shipments of advanced weaponry to the Iranian-backed group, while stopping short of confirming reports of specific air operations.

Visiting Israeli troops in the occupied Golan Heights near the frontier with Syria, Netanyahu said: “We act when we need to act, including here across the border, with dozens of strikes meant to prevent Hezbollah from obtaining game-changing weaponry.”

Netanyahu did not specify what kind of strikes Israel had conducted in Syria. He also gave no timeframe or other details regarding the strikes.

Israel welcomed the cessation of hostilities in Syria in February but has indicated it could still launch attacks there if it sees a threat from Hezbollah, which holds sway over southern Lebanon and whose fighters have been allied with President Bashar al-Assad.

Israeli leaders have sought assurances from Russia, which sent forces to Syria last year to help Assad, that it would not allow Iran and Hezbollah to be bolstered by the partial military withdrawal that Moscow announced last month.

Israel and Russia have maintained a hotline to prevent any accidental clash between their aircraft over Syrian territory.

Hezbollah and Israel last fought a war in 2006 that included rocket strikes inside Israel and an Israeli air and ground offensive in Lebanon.

Israeli leaders have said that since that conflict, Hezbollah has built up and improved the range of a rocket arsenal that can now strike deep inside Israel.

Arab League declares Hezbollah a terror group

The Arab League has declared the Lebanon-based Shiite group Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

Lebanon and Iraq, which expressed “reservations,” were the only two members of the 22-member pan-Arab group not to vote in favor of the declaration Friday, according to the Times of Israel.

Iran, which funds Hezbollah, is not a member of the Arab League.

The move follows a similar statement on March 2 from the six Gulf Arab states. Two of Israel’s Arab parties condemned the March 2 declaration, outraging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and many Israeli lawmakers. The parties, Hadash and Balad, said that designating Hezbollah a terror group benefits Israel.

Hezbollah leaders have frequently stated the group’s desire to destroy Israel, and the group currently is believed to have more than 100,000 rockets and missiles aimed at the country, according to the Times of Israel.

Iran says blacklisting Hezbollah may jeopardize Lebanon’s stability

Iran accused Gulf Arab neighbors on Thursday of jeopardizing Lebanon's stability by blacklisting the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group, state television said, a move likely to stoke tensions in the regional power rivalry between Tehran and Riyadh.

The six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) branded Hezbollah a terrorist organization on Wednesday, opening up the possibility of further sanctions against the group that wields influence in Lebanon and fights in Syria.

Leading Sunni Muslim power Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite Muslim Iran compete for influence across the region and back different factions in sectarian-riven Lebanon and in Syria's civil war.

“Lebanon's Hezbollah is the vanguard of resistance against the Zionist regime (Israel) and Iran is proud of the group, which is also the champion of the fight against terrorism in the Middle East,” Iranian state TV quoted deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian as saying.

“Calling Hezbollah a terrorist group … will harm the unity and security of Lebanon.”

Hezbollah's leader said on Tuesday Lebanon had been pushed into a new phase of political conflict by Saudi Arabia but was not on the brink of civil war and its government of national unity, of which Hezbollah is a part, should survive.

In 2013, the Sunni-dominated GCC – representing Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar – imposed sanctions on Shi'ite Hezbollah after it entered Syria's war in support of President Bashar al-Assad.

The GCC did not specify on Wednesday what action might be taken against Hezbollah. But last week Saudi Arabia, the biggest power in the GCC, said it had blacklisted four companies and three Lebanese men for having links to the group.

Relations between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia have been plunged into crisis since Riyadh halted $3 billion in aid to the Lebanese army – a response to the Beirut government's failure to condemn attacks on Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran.

In January, Riyadh led several Arab countries in cutting diplomatic ties with Tehran after demonstrators burned its embassy and a consulate in protest against the execution of a prominent, dissident Shi'ite cleric by Riyadh.

IDF chief: Hezbollah biggest threat on Israel’s borders

In a statement that reaffirmed the seriousness of Hezbollah’s threats toward Israel, the Israeli army’s chief of staff said the Shi’ite militia was the biggest threat on the Jewish state’s borders.

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot spoke about Hezbollah Wednesday during a talk with teenagers in Bat Yam near Tel Aviv, Israel Radio reported.

“Around the State of Israel, Hezbollah is the organization with the most significant capabilities,” Eisenkot said, adding that, “The IDF is succeeding in generating deterrence and over the past decade, the Lebanon front is quiet.”

Eisenkot’s statement about Hezbollah came one day after the group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said in a televised statement that Hezbollah could cause “an effect like that of an atomic bomb” by targeting a chemical factory in the Haifa area.

Nasrallah, Eisenkot said, “over years has built up the ability to target with missiles centers of population in the Tel Aviv area and elsewhere.”

Since 2012, Hezbollah, a traditional ally of Syria’s embattled president Bashar Assad, has lost thousands of combatants in Syria and Iraq, where it is fighting Sunni militias determined to overthrow Assad.

Military analysts believe that the organization, which is thought to have no more than 20,000 active members, is too vulnerable to fight on two fronts, and has therefore refrained from engaging Israel even in retaliation to Israeli strikes aimed against it or its allies.

Hezbollah leader threatens nuclear-type attack on Israel

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened to hit large ammonia gas tanks in Haifa that he said would wreak damage and casualties equal to a nuclear attack.

Nasrallah made the threats about a future attack on northern Israel during a speech in Beirut.

“This would be exactly as a nuclear bomb, and we can say that Lebanon today has a nuclear bomb, seeing as any rocket that might hit these tanks is capable of creating a nuclear bomb effect,” he said.

Israel’s environmental protection minister, Avi Gabbai, later told the Israeli media that he had ordered the ammonia storage facility be moved to the Negev Desert in the southern part of Israel.

Nasrallah added that Hezbollah’s military might is preventing attacks by Israel, and Israel would not attack unless it knew it could win and in a short amount of time.

He also accused Israel of planning to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad, saying those plans have failed.

Nasrallah condemned Arab countries that have or are working toward normalizing relations with Israel.

“Do you accept a friend occupying Sunni land in Palestine? Can you become friends with an entity that has committed the most horrible massacres against the Sunni community?” he asked. “You are free to consider Iran an enemy, but how can you consider Israel a friend and ally? This issue must be confronted in a serious manner.”

Hezbollah targets Israeli forces with bomb, Israel shells south Lebanon

Hezbollah set off a bomb targeting Israeli forces at the Lebanese border on Monday in an apparent response to the killing in Syria last month of a prominent commander, triggering Israeli shelling of southern Lebanon.

Israel has struck its Iran-backed Shi'ite enemy Hezbollah in Syria several times, killing a number of fighters and destroying weapons it believes were destined for the group, whose support for President Bashar al-Assad has been crucial in the country's civil war.

Israel's army said Monday's blast, targeting military vehicles in the Shebaa farms area, promptedIsraeli forces to respond with artillery fire. It made no mention of casualties.

Hezbollah said in a statement that the explosive device had been detonated in the Shebaa farms area and carried out by a group whom it named after Samir Qantar, a commander killed in December. The group has accused Israel of killing Qantar in an air strike in Syria, and vowed to retaliate. 

The U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, urged both sides to avoid an escalation, saying it had stepped up patrols on the ground after the incident.

In a statement, head of mission Major-General Luciano Portolano urged both sides “to exercise utmost restraint against any provocation.”

Lebanese media said Israeli shelling had hit the nearby town of Al Wazzani and other areas, with reports of material damage but no serious injuries.

Witnesses said at least 10 Israeli shells had hit Al Wazzani shortly after the blast.

A Reuters witness said the shelling had stopped later in the day. Al Manar TV reported that calm had returned to the Shebaa area.

An Israeli air strike killed Qantar on Dec. 20 in Damascus, Hezbollah said. Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said a week later that retaliation would be inevitable.

Israel stopped short of confirming responsibility for the strike that killed Qantar, but welcomed the death of the militant leader, who had been jailed in Israel in 1979 and repatriated to Lebanon in a 2008 prisoner swap.

Hezbollah did not say which role Qantar played in the Syrian conflict, but Syrian state media said he was involved in a major offensive earlier this year in Quneitra, near the Golan Heights.

Hezbollah is fighting on the side of Assad in Syria's civil war. The conflict has exacted a heavy toll on Hezbollah, with many hundreds of its fighters killed.

In January last year, an Israeli helicopter attack killed six Hezbollah members including a commander and the son of the group's late military commander Imad Moughniyah. An Iranian general was also killed in that attack. 

Two Israeli soldiers and a Spanish peacekeeper were killed later that month in one of the most violent clashes between the two sides since a 2006 war. 

Israel and Hezbollah have avoided large scale confrontation along their 80-km (50-mile) frontier since the 34-day war in 2006, which killed 120 people in Israel and more than 500 in Lebanon. 

Nasrallah has made repeated threats against Israel since then, part of what is seen as a calibrated policy of deterrence.

Israel wary of continued conflict in Syria

It’s been seven years since Israel and Syria were in talks mediated by Turkey.

Those negotiations in Ankara were premised on de-coupling Damascus from its alliance with Iran and Hezbollah and dislodging Israel from the Golan.

Neither side could envision paying the price required to seal a deal, and shortly after the talks ended, then-Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (now president) began to nurture a personal animosity against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad that only grew as Syria’s conflict turned sectarian and Israel went hard after Hamas in Gaza.

As the Syrian uprising got serious in 2011, Moscow presented itself as the mediator between Jerusalem and Damascus. Russia’s enhanced commitment to a presence in Syria may be the penultimate strategic legacy of this bloody chapter in Levantine history.

Details of the Damascus-Jerusalem interchange are outlined in the report by Seymour Hersh published earlier this month in the London Review of Books. The essay focuses largely on the debate inside Washington over the risks and rewards of arming the increasingly sectarian rebels, some of whom had clear al-Qaida antecedents.

Hersh writes that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) served as a conduit for United States intelligence to the Syrian government, since it was in Jerusalem’s interest to have Assad’s army instead of Islamist rebel battalions operating on the northern side of the Golan Heights. Hersh also writes the Kremlin relayed an offer from Assad to Netanyahu to resume talks over the territory.

It’s now known that Israel rebuffed the offer and moved to deepen its cooperation with Jordanian military intelligence, which was simultaneously supporting and monitoring the al Nusra Front in the southern Syrian governorates of Suwyeda, Daraa and Quneitra. It looked as if Assad was losing his grip, and the IDF took a realpolitik stance toward the rebels.

Gains by insurgents led the regime to deploy chemical weapons against the pro-rebel township of Ghouta in August 2013 and in the suburbs of Aleppo in March 2013.

At around this time, former Israeli diplomat Alon Pinkas made an impolitic comment to The New York Times.

“Let them both [sides] bleed, hemorrhage to death: That’s the strategic thinking here. As long as this lingers, there’s no real threat from Syria,” Pinkas said in an article that found a consensus in Israel for a “limited strike” against regime targets.

But the quote has been cited multiple times to bolster a line uniting supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, pro-Assad “leftists” and basic meat-and-potatoes anti-Semites to charge that a blood-thirsty “Israel wants the civil war in Syria to continue.”

Of course, it’s not just Pinkas’ cynical sound bite that drives the “Israel likes this war” trope. To advance their territorial claims, the Golan annexationists in the highest political echelons promote the notion that Syria will never again be reassembled.

This case was made explicitly by Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett at the Herzliya Conference in June and even floated by the prime minister when he met U.S. President Barack Obama in November.

But the prime minister must know there is no room for the Americans to “think differently” about the Golan, especially now that there’s actually a chance that the powers playing in the Syrian sandbox are ready to push their clients to the negotiating table.

Beyond the bluster, Israel and, more importantly, Israelis, demonstrated consistent unease over the destabilizing consequences of the war in Syria, an anxiety stemming from self-interested security concerns [ranging from DAASH to Hezbollah] and genuine humanitarian revulsion toward the carnage at their doorstep. 

A memo written this week by former Israeli National Security Advisors Yaakov Amidror and Eran Lerman gives a good glimpse into what Israel’s security establishment really thinks about Syria. Here’s what they said:

1) The continuation of the Syrian civil war poses a threat to Jordan and thus to Israel.

2) DAASH feeds off of the sectarian conflict in Syria, and chaos there makes al-Nusra look like moderates compared to what DAASH leader Al-Baghdadi and his followers have on offer.

3) Expanded operational territory for Hezbollah fighters is problematic.

4) Ultimately, Israel’s borders are more secure when state actors are on the other side — instead of terror groups.

Concrete signs of this policy are documented in the consistent Israeli lobbying for increased U.S. allocations to help Jordan deal with the Syrian refugees. Israel is concerned that these refugees neither starve in Jordan during the short term, nor settle there in the long term. It’s clearly not in Israel’s interest that an additional million radicalized Sunnis show up in Jordan.

So, logically, the new Damascus “blood libel” doesn’t match strategic thinking in the real Israel.

The shameful inability of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Netanyahu to do something for the Palestinians of the besieged Yarmouk Refugee Camp is a moral stain on both. The Syrian war has put the spotlight on the 1948 refugees and their descendants, and neither Jerusalem nor Ramallah can ignore this constituency indefinitely.

But the assistance provided by Israeli field hospitals to rebel fighters in the north and the volunteers of IsraAID on the Greek islands and in the Balkans to Syrian asylum seekers is well-known and appreciated by refugees and the exiled opposition leaders.

It is accepted that Israel shares intelligence on DAASH with the Russians, as well as the Jordanians.

 And of course they keep the Hashemite and Saudi courts briefed on Hezbollah and the Iranians.

While Russian President Vladimir Putin and Netanyahu navigate practical understandings over who can do what in Syria, it’s very clear that this war has aligned Israel to the Sunni Arab states to its east.

This week, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman said his government “was striving to maintain Syria as a unified nation inclusive of all sects.”

Petroleum politics and the perceived U.S. detachment from the Middle East have paved the way for an unprecedented Riyadh-Moscow dialogue.

It is Russia that will have to engineer a stage-left exit for Hezbollah and Iran if she wants to keep her assets in a transitional Syria and maintain credibility with the Sunni states.

“Saudi Arabia is ready to pay any price to bring down the Assad regime,” an exiled leader of the Assyrian Christian Community whose family has suffered from the ravages of both the Damascus government and Islamist fighters told the Jewish Journal.

“Israel’s interest is to satisfy the Sunni Arabs, and that means they, too, want to see a negotiated end to this war.”

Blaming operative’s death on Israel, Hezbollah chief vows revenge

Hassan Nasrallah, the top leader of the Lebanon-based terrorist group Hezbollah, blamed the killing of operative Samir Kuntar on Israel and said his group would retaliate.

“We reserve the right to respond to this assassination at the time and place of our choosing,” Nasrallah said Monday evening in a televised speech from Beirut, the Times of Israel reported. The newspaper cited an English translation from a journalist with the al-Mayadeen Arabic satellite television channel.

Nasrallah’s statement came hours after a Syrian rebel group claimed responsibility for the airstrike in Damascus that killed Kuntar, who was released in a 2008 prisoner swap after spending nearly three decades in Israeli prison for his role in a deadly terrorist attack.

“We have no doubt that the Israeli enemy was behind the assassination in a blatant military operation,” Nasrallah said, according to the Naharnet news site.

Israel has not confirmed whether or not it was involved in the attack, but several Israeli officials praised Kuntar’s death.

Kuntar was responsible for the deaths of four Israelis, including a 4-year-old girl and her father, in a 1979 attack in Nahariya. He is suspected of planning multiple attacks against Israeli soldiers in the Golan Heights.

Congress passes bill targeting Hezbollah’s finances

Legislation targeting the financing of Hezbollah passed both houses of Congress.

The House of Representatives unanimously approved the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015 on Wednesday. President Barack Obama is expected to sign it into law.

The act directs the president to prohibit foreign banks from doing business with the Shiite militant group. The treasury would further be compelled to ban or sanction financial institutions that facilitate transactions with Hezbollah, which the United States classifies as a terrorist organization.

The bill originated in the House and was approved by the Senate last month. Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Reps. Ed Royce, R-Calif., and Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., authored the original legislation in their respective chambers.

The American Israel Public Affairs committee commended Congress for passing the legislation in a statement Wednesday.

Israel says Arrow 3 missile shield aces test, hitting target in space

Israel's upgraded Arrow ballistic missile shield passed a full interception test on Thursday, hitting a target in space meant to simulate the trajectory of the long-range weapons held by Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, the Defense Ministry said.

The success was a boost for “Arrow 3,” among Israeli missile defense systems that get extensive U.S. funding. Its first attempt at a full trial, held a year ago, was aborted due to what designers said was a faulty deployment of the target.

“The success of the Arrow 3 system today … is an important step towards one of the most important projects for Israel and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) becoming operational,” said Joseph Weiss, IAI's chief executive officer.

Arrow 3 interceptors are designed to fly beyond the earth's atmosphere, where their warheads detach to become 'kamikaze' satellites, or “kill vehicles”, that track and slam into the targets. Such high-altitude shoot-downs are meant to safely destroy incoming nuclear, biological or chemical missiles.

The Arrow system is jointly developed by state-owned IAI and U.S. firm Boeing Co. <BA.N> and U.S. officials were present for the test. The earlier Arrow 2 was deployed more than a decade ago and officials put its success rate in trials at around 90 percent.

The United States has its own system for intercepting ballistic missiles in space, Aegis, but a senior Israeli official played down any comparison with Arrow 3.

While it “might be true” that the allies were alone in having such proven capabilities, “Israel is not on the level of the U.S.,” Yair Ramati, head of anti-missile systems at the Defense Ministry, told reporters.

Arrow serves as the top tier of an integrated Israeli shield built up to withstand various potential missile or rocket salvoes. The bottom tier is the already deployed short-range Iron Dome interceptor, while a system called David's Sling, due to be fielded next year, will shoot down mid-range missiles. 

Israel's strategic outlook has shifted in recent months, given the international deal in July curbing Iran's nuclear program, the depletion of the Syrian army's arsenal in that country's civil war and Hezbollah's reinforcement of Damascus against the rebels. Israel and Hamas fought a Gaza war in 2014 but the Palestinian enclave has been relatively quiet since.

Nonethless, a senior Israeli official said there was no sign of waning government support or weakening U.S. backing for the various missile defense programs.

“Everyone knows that you have to prepare with an eye well beyond the horizon, especially as the enemy's capabilities improve all the time,” the senior official told Reuters.

In the coming months the Defense Ministry and Israeli military will discuss a possible schedule for deployment of Arrow 3, Ramati said, adding that further tests of the system were expected.

Israel says 90 pct of Syria’s ballistic missiles used up on rebels

Syria has used up more than 90 percent of its ballistic missiles against rebels during a more than four-year-old civil war but a few were transferred to Hezbollah guerrillas in neighboring Lebanon, a senior Israeli military officer said on Wednesday. 

Israel, which is expanding its high-altitude Arrow air defence system with U.S. help, has been keeping an eye on Syria's Scud-type missiles as well as Iran's long-range Shehabs as potential threats. 

“The number of (Syrian) ballistic missiles left is less than 10 percent,” a senior Israeli officer told Reuters on condition of anonmity, but added: “That could still change. They could start making them again.” 

Syrian opposition activists say Damascus' army has fired dozens of devastating Scud-type missiles at rebel-held areas, out of a ballistic arsenal believed to have numbered in the hundreds before the insurgency erupted in 2011. 

Israel had a stable standoff with Syria's ruling Assad family for decades. It sees little chance of the now fractured Arab neighbour going to war with it now, but is still on guard for any accidental cross-border launches or deliberate attacks by jihadi rebels.

The Israelis are more worried about Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which fought their superior military to a standstill in a 2006 Lebanon war and has been building up its arsenal.

Hezbollah now has more than 100,000 rockets, including “around 10” advanced Scud-D missiles with conventional warheads supplied by Syria, the senior Israeli military officer said. 

Hezbollah does not comment publicly on its military capabilities but has confirmed improving them since 2006.

Martians attack ISIS: A Chanukah story

At first, ISIS commanders in Syria assumed the weird-looking jets came from America, the Great Satan. They’d never seen jets like that before — spherical and very agile. They could stop on a dime, explode at crazy speeds and release laser-like bombs that vaporize several targets at once. The ISIS weapons and the ferocity of its fighters were useless against this new strike force.

“Allahu Akbar!” became a desperate cry for help.

Via Twitter, ISIS commanders learned that this new force was focusing on the Middle East and attacking other countries in the region — Egypt, Jordan, Iran, Lebanon, Iraq and, yes, even the Little Satan, Israel. Word spread that Israel might have figured out a way to respond to this otherworldly threat with weapons of its own. The prime minister of Israel called a press conference for later that day, Sept. 12, 2025.

“We are aware of this new threat,” the prime minister said. “It comes from Mars. Our Interstellar Intelligence Division has been tracking them for years. We kept it under wraps so as not to alarm the planet.”

Thanks to its intelligence gathering, Israel had already developed innovative weaponry that could combat the Martian threat. The problem was, it didn’t have enough of these weapons. So, a program had to start immediately to replenish them on a scale grand enough to thwart the new enemy. America agreed to build them. Israel estimated that if the new weapons were ready within 60 days, they could keep the Martian forces at bay until then.

Secret meetings were held among Israeli commanders and leaders of major terrorist groups, including ISIS, Hezbollah and Hamas. Within a few days, it was decided to convene a major summit of Middle Eastern leaders in Jerusalem to hear more about Israel’s strategy for warding off this violent and mysterious new enemy.

Meanwhile, the Martians were pummeling Arab villages, cities and terrorist bases throughout the region. The Pyramids were laser-bombed into rubble. At the summit, the king of Saudi Arabia expressed alarm at the possibility that the Grand Mosque in Mecca would be destroyed.

“This is a holy site we must protect at all costs,” the king said. “If Mecca goes down, it would be as if our prophet were murdered, God forbid.”

“We must protect people first,” the Israeli commander responded. “But Israel will do what it can to protect your holiest sites. No promises. We are in crisis mode.”

As Israel’s defense systems were mobilized throughout the region, the tide began to turn. Terror groups were enlisted in the effort, primarily to keep peace in the streets and help feed the people. Israeli weapons destroyed three Martian jets over Iran. It was decided early on that nuclear devices would be useless because the collateral damage would kill millions of humans. Israel’s new weaponry was specifically designed to target Martian forces.

On the streets of the Middle East, word got out about Israel’s role. Arab media reported that Israeli forces were leading the fight against this “Green Satan,” as people were calling the Martian army.

Inside the surviving mosques, the imams’ sermons began to change. Fearful the Green Satan would demolish more holy sites, Muslim preachers prayed for the success of the Israeli forces. Millions of devout Muslims throughout the world joined in the prayers.

Then one Friday, the holiest day of the Muslim week, Martian forces launched an all-out assault on Mecca. Israel was prepared. Its intelligence had already alerted the IDF, giving Israeli commandos enough time to set up a 360-degree perimeter defense to thwart the attack. News spread around the world that the Jews of Israel had saved Mecca. A billion Muslims poured into the streets in cries of joy and gratitude. 

By now, America had mobilized the additional weapons and joined Israel in the fight. This helped secure the victory. The Great Satan and the Little Satan had joined forces to destroy the Green Satan. The last Martian jet could be seen fleeing planet Earth on the first night of Chanukah, prompting the whole world to embrace the Jewish holiday of light.

In the general euphoria, U.S. President LeBron James, after lighting a giant Chanukah menorah at the White House, announced that Middle East peace talks would finally resume. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority released a statement insisting that Israel return to the 1967 lines and stop building in the settlements.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Two suicide bombers hit Hezbollah bastion in Lebanon, 43 killed

At least 43 people were killed and more than 240 wounded on Thursday in two suicide bomb blasts claimed by Islamic State in a crowded residential district in Beirut's southern suburbs, a stronghold of the Shi'ite Muslim group Hezbollah.

The explosions were the first attacks in more than a year to target a Hezbollah stronghold inside Lebanon, and came at time when the group is stepping up its involvement in the Syrian civil war — a fight which has brought Sunni Islamist threats and invective against the Iran-backed Shi'ite group.

Hezbollah has sent hundreds of fighters to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces in the four-year-old conflict over the border. Government forces backed by Hezbollah and Iranian troops have intensified their fight against mostly Sunni insurgents, including Islamic State, since Russia launched an air campaign in support of Assad on Sept. 30.

Syria's civil war is increasingly playing out as a proxy battle between regional rivals, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, which supports the rebels. The two foes also back opposing political forces in Lebanon, which suffered its own civil war from 1975 to 1990, and where a political crisis has been brought about by factional and sectarian rivalries.

The blasts occurred almost simultaneously late on Thursday and struck a Shi'ite community center and a nearby bakery in the commercial and residential area of Borj al-Barajneh, security sources said. A closely guarded Hezbollah-run hospital is also nearby.

Health Minister Wael Abu Faour said 43 people were killed and 240 people were wounded.

Islamic State said in a statement posted online by its supporters that its members blew up a bike loaded with explosives in Borj al-Barajneh and that when onlookers gathered, a suicide bomber blew himself up among them. The group said the attacks killed 40 people.

Hezbollah vowed to continue its fight against “terrorists”, warning of a “long war” against its enemies.

Medics rushed to treat the wounded after the explosions, which damaged shop fronts and left the street stained with blood and littered with broken glass.

Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said a third suicide bomber had been killed by one of the explosions before he could detonated his own bomb. His body was found nearby.

It was a blow to Hezbollah's tight security measures in the area, which were strengthened following bombings last year. The army had also set up checkpoints around the southern suburb entrances.


A series of bomb blasts struck Lebanon in 2013 and 2014, including attacks on Hezbollah strongholds. Most of them were claimed by Sunni militants in response to Hezbollah sending fighters to Syria to fight in support of Assad.

Hezbollah's involvement has brought many threats against it in Lebanon.

Security forces say they have foiled a number of attacks inside the country recently and dismantled terror cells. A security source said a man wearing a suicide vest was arrested in Tripoli on Thursday, and a bomb dismantled in the northern city.

The attacks drew a wave of condemnation across the country's political spectrum, including some of Hezbollah's opponents. 

Lebanonese Prime Minister Tammam Salam condemned the attacks as “unjustifiable”, and called for unity against “plans to create strife” in the country, urging officials to overcome their differences. France's foreign ministry also condemned the attacks.

The war in Syria, with which Lebanon shares a border of more than 300 km (190 miles), has ignited sectarian strife in the multi-confessional country, leading to bombings and fighting between supporters of the opposing sides in Syria.

Gun battles broke out in Tripoli last year in clashes that involved the army and Islamist militants, and regular infiltrations of Islamists from Syria into a Lebanese border town still draw army or Hezbollah fire.

The bombers also struck as Lebanese lawmakers held a legislative session for the first time in over a year. A political crisis has left the country without a president for 17 months, with the government failing to take even basic decisions.

Religious leaders warned last year that in the absence of a head of state, sectarian strife was threatening a country that was gripped for 15 years by its own civil war.

Syrian rebels to Russia: Stop bombing us

An alliance of Free Syrian Army-related insurgent groups said on Monday it was skeptical about a Russian proposal to help rebels, and that Moscow must stop bombing rebels and civilians and withdraw its support for President Bashar Assad.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday the Russian air force, which has been bombing insurgents in Syria since Sept. 30, would be ready to help the “patriotic” Syrian opposition.

“Their words are not like their actions. How can we talk to them while they are hitting us?” Issam Rayyes, spokesman for the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army, told Reuters.

Russian warplanes have bombed a number of FSA-affiliated groups in northern areas of Syria since intervening in the war on the side of Assad. The Russian air force is providing air cover for several major ground offensives being waged by the Syrian army and allied Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters.

Rayyes added that there was no contact between the rebels and the Russians, clarifying an earlier remark to the BBC that the rebels had not turned down a Russian offer. “There is no offer, there is no communication,” Rayyes said. 

“We don't need the help now, they should stop attacking our bases and then we can talk about future cooperation,” Rayyes said in his earlier BBC interview.

His comments echo the views of other Syrian rebels towards the Russian statement, with Assad's opponents suspicious that Moscow is working purely to shore up its ally. 

The Southern Front alliance operates mostly near the border with Jordan and Israel – an area thus far not targeted in the Russian air strikes, but where the rebels are continuously fighting the Syrian army and allied militias.

The FSA is a loose alliance of groups, some of which have received military aid from Assad's foreign enemies. They are often led by former Syrian army officers and espouse a nationalist vision for the country.

Such groups have, however, been eclipsed in much of Syria by jihadists including the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and the Islamic State group – the stated target of the Russian intervention in the war.

Israel faces potential challenge from Russia over Syria

This article first appeared on The Media Line.

Periodically throughout the four and half years of the Syrian civil war weapon shipments destined for Hezbollah were intercepted and decimated by airstrikes inside Syria. In each instance Israel, whose air force has enjoyed unrivalled dominance of the airspace around the Jewish state’s borders, was believed responsible. But with the deployment of Russian combat aircraft to bases in Syria several weeks ago this hegemony may have ended.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent visit to Moscow underscores Israel’s uncertainty over the future in Syria. Israeli officials worry that, inadvertently or otherwise, Russian fighter jets and air defense systems may act as a screen for Hezbollah to move new arms convoys into Syria.

Several days ago Israeli artillery units fired on Syrian army positions in response to errant shells crossing the border. This represented the first time Israel has attacked Syria since Russian President Vladimir Putin deployed troops and jets into the country. Yet the incidents took place in the Golan Heights, far south of any Russian units which are stationed on the coast.

“The most immediate issue is one of having Israeli flights over Syrian territory (and) ensuring that Russia flights won’t have any confusion or accidental fire incidents (with them),” Yezid Sayigh, a Senior Associate with the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, told The Media Line. But, he added, “This doesn’t need Netanyahu to visit Moscow.” In a similar manner to back channel communications between the US and Syria, Israel and Russia could have cooperated quietly to ensure that both states air forces operated in the same airspace without coming into conflict. A high level visit by Netanyahu demonstrates a deeper agenda, Sayigh said.

“(Its) more a question of working out how far will Russia go in protecting the regime (of President Bashar Al-Assad) – air defenses, new high tech combat aircraft,” Sayigh explained. Of chief concern to Israel would be the delivery of the S-300 air defense system to the Syrian military, something Russia has repeatedly said it will do, Sayigh said. The Russian built anti-aircraft system is capable of targeting planes and cruise missiles and is considered one of the most capable air defense systems in the world. The Israeli government has stated in the past that it would not accept the S-300 being transferred to the Syrian army.

Although Israel has not actively sought to undermine the Assad regime during the ongoing conflict the two countries are still technically at war. Israelis debate whether Assad’s fall or his survival is better for Israel. Russia, on the other hand, has stated that it will work to ensure Assad remains in power, with Putin declaring that supporting the regime is the most effective way to both fight Islamic State and end violence in the region.

A possibility exists that Russian and Israeli jets could come into conflict over Syrian skies but such a scenario is highly unlikely, Zvi Magen, a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, told The Media Line. “Russia is not fighting on the ground and in the air there is enough technical solutions (to ensure an accidental clash would not occur),” Magen said.

On the issue of Hizbullah, Israel retains the right to strike at weapon shipments and this will be understood and accepted by Russia, Magen said. “Russia is not looking for war,” and understands that Israel has certain requirements, the researcher explained. But this is not a disadvantage for Hizbullah however. “It’s good for them because they are part of this coalition – Russia, Iran, Syria and Hezbollah,” Magen concluded.

Israel’s freedom of action over Syria could be curtailed by the Russian deployment, Raymond Hinnebusch, the director of the Centre for Syrian Studies at the University of St. Andrews, told The Media Line. “To the extent a Russian air defense umbrella reaches outward from their base in the coastal areas… this would potentially limit Israeli options,” the professor said.

The boost to the beleaguered Syrian regime that Putin’s actions represent could have far reaching implications for the whole of the region if they are enough to ensure Assad’s survival. This could alter Israel’s view of the near future and reverse assessments previously made by Israeli intelligence chiefs that Assad’s demise was inevitable.

“The main strategic change is… that the Russian presence will tend to push back against those pressuring for turning the US/Western airstrikes from (targeting) ISIS to hitting Assad,” Hinnebusch said.

Putin is “hoisting the Americans on their own petard,” by lauding the US sentiment that all states must work together to combat ISIS and then including Syria in this equation, Yezid Sayigh argued. Effectively, the Russians have created a “back window” for Assad to survive by, he suggested.

Fighting for the soul of the Jewish people

These are challenging times for the Jewish people.

Despite our being the wealthiest and most privileged Jews in our 3600-year history, and despite the state of Israel being the most powerful, democratic and humane nation in the Middle East, we Jews feel vulnerable and afraid, and we are more divided in how we respond to our circumstances than any period in my lifetime.

It’s this state of our people that I want discuss with you this morning.

Our challenges as a people are many and serious. The state of Israel is today more isolated internationally than it has been in decades. The anti-Israel BDS (Boycott, Divestiture and Sanctions) movement is growing around the world and on American college campuses. The lack of a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, continuing Israeli settlement construction, and a political marriage between Israel’s ultra-Orthodox political parties and an increasingly violent settler movement is provoking negative and hostile world reaction and Jewish consternation.

In the context of a violent and destabilized Middle East, many Jews are unsure of what to really think about the Iran Nuclear Agreement given that we don’t trust Iran whose mullahs have sworn to destroy the state of Israel and have armed Hezbollah with 100,000 missiles aimed at the heart of the Jewish state.

Is it any wonder that so many Jews are agitated, frightened, angry, resentful, and confused? We are a people, after all, with a long memory and none of us who’s conscious of our historic experience can dismiss the threats of hardened anti-Semites.

The wide range of Jewish reactions to these threats, however, is stunning. One would think that given all the forces confronting us that we’d be of one mind – but, of course, we aren’t. Many Jews believe that liberal elements of the Jewish community have lost their bearings, are in denial and refuse to understand our enemies for who they really are and what they could do to us if we aren’t aggressively vigilant.

Others believe that conservative elements of the Jewish community have lost their moral compass, and that Israeli security challenges have overwhelmed every other consideration and excused behaviors that neither advance our people’s security nor comply with Judaism’s moral standards.

On each side, the left and the right, there’s a feeling of self-righteous certainty about the truth of what’s really going on. It’s that certainty that shines a light on both the left’s and the right’s weakness. No one is prescient and able to tell the future.

I’m not here to argue for or against the Iran Nuclear Agreement. I know that there are thoughtful, loyal and deeply concerned Jews on both sides of this debate. Of course, I’m very concerned as a citizen and a Jew that loves Israel about what this agreement will mean over time, but frankly, I’m just as worried about what’s happening within our own community in our relationship with each other and the state of Israel.

I remember so clearly the days when the American Jewish community was unified. Today, we’ve become more Balkanized, isolated and alienated from one another, and we’ve turned against each other to a degree I’ve never seen before.

The consequences of our intensifying American Jewish infighting spurred on primarily by the right-wing policies in the state of Israel and by the harsh Israeli occupation of the West Bank, are turning off far too many Jews and potentially a generation of young American liberal Jews who we as a people can ill afford to lose.

A year ago I exchanged emails with a young woman in our congregation who had entered rabbinic school and was spending her first year of study in Jerusalem. She is bright, kind and passionate. Her family includes long-time Zionists and former leaders of the state of Israel. But being in Israel and witnessing the right-wing policies of this and the last Israeli government, she had become disheartened.

Though Israel proper within the Green Line is a strong democracy, my young friend was witnessing a growing corruption of the classic liberal Zionist principles on which she was raised and the state was founded. She was shocked by growing racism in Israeli society, dismayed by the Israeli government’s conceptualization of the situation with the Palestinians, befuddled by ongoing settlement building, theft by Jews of documented Palestinian-owned land, demolition of Arab homes in East Jerusalem, a different legal standard for Palestinian west bank residents and their Israeli settler neighbors, and horrified that a liberal democracy can tell Israeli Arab citizens that they could no longer work in Israeli Jewish communities because they pose a “security threat.”

My young friend was fearful that demagogic and oppressive forces are gaining popular currency in Israel itself and that the Israeli government is increasingly intransigent in dealing effectively with its many challenges.

She was disheartened, as well, that the chief rabbinate maintains coercive monopolistic control over religious life in the state, and she wonders whether it would be preferable to give up Israel’s Jewish character for the sake of preserving Israel’s progressive democracy.

All these trends had caused her emotionally to disengage from Israel while living there, in the very heart of Jerusalem, and she confided that she felt like a heretic. She didn’t know what to do or how to think about Israel going forward.

In response, I wrote her an email and then posted it, with her permission, on my blog and I am talking about it with you today also with her permission. I titled the blog “An Open Letter to American Liberal Jewish Young Adults” who feel, like her, disconnected from the state of Israel. This blog went viral because, apparently, it resonated not only with my intended audience of young American Jewish adults, but with their parents and grandparents who worry mightily that their children’s and grandchildren’s relationship to the Israel they love is weakening.

I wrote the following:

“First, I want you to know that I’m proud of you, of your critical thinking, of your commitment to live an enriched Jewish religious and ethical life, to be a learned Jew, and that you yearn to make sense of what Israel means to you.

Second, you aren’t alone. Shabtai Shavit, a former director general of Mossad, Israel’s security service, recently confessed his own concerns about the “future of the Zionist project” and the threats against it in the region and international community. Shavit harshly criticized Israel’s political leadership’s ‘…haughtiness and arrogance, together with more than a bit of the messianic thinking that rushes to turn the [Israel-Palestinian] conflict into a holy war.’

Shavit worried aloud that ‘…large segments of the nation … have forgotten… the original vision of Zionism: to establish a Jewish and democratic state for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel…’ and that ‘the current defiant policy [of settlement building] is working against [this vision].’

He called upon Israel to enter into conversation with moderate Arab nations (i.e. Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia) and negotiate, based on the Saudi Peace Plan of 2002 (despite its problems), a two-states for two peoples resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that will augur, as promised in the plan, the complete normalization of relations between Israel and the moderate Arab and Muslim world.

Shavit concluded soberly: ‘I wrote the above statements because I feel that I owe them to my parents, who devoted their lives to the fulfillment of Zionism; to my children, my grandchildren and to the nation of Israel, which I served for decades.’” (Former Mossad Chief: For the first time, I fear for the future of Zionism – Haaretz, November 24, 2014 – http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.628038)

I told my young friend, among other things, that she had to find a way to hold at once her conflicting thoughts about Israel while maintaining her active engagement with the Jewish state not only because Israel is the home of the entire Jewish people, but for the first time in 2000 years we Jews world-wide can test the most exalted moral principles of prophetic Judaism within a democratic Jewish state and thereby fulfill Isaiah’s prophesy that the Jewish people become an or lagoyim, a light to the nations of the world (Isaiah 42:6).

I told her that the Jewish people cannot afford for her, our future leadership, to disengage from Israel, that we liberal lovers of Israel need her to become our next generation’s leaders in American Zionist organizations, and the advocate that Israel deserves and we and the Jewish people need.

When I wrote to her, the American Jewish community was starting to come apart at the seams. Since then, in only a year, division has intensified because of the debate, heightened rhetoric and fears around the Iran Nuclear Agreement.

Many of you know that I support the Agreement even with its flaws, but I don’t for a moment doubt that those against the agreement love the state of Israel as I do. I do, however, doubt many of their love and tolerance for me and those who think like me based on the slanderous, dismissive and intimidating rhetoric that they are using against us for their political ends.

What’s happening within our community isn’t good. We need to turn down the decibels of the rhetoric and speak with far greater humility and civility to and about each other even when our passions are piqued and when we think the other side is sorely mistaken. We need to regard the other side of the debate not as our enemy, but as part of the same team that seeks what is best for America and Israel.

Let me say, however, that there are some within the broad Jewish community who I believe are not part of big-tent Judaism; namely, extremists on the right in the ultra-Orthodox community who say, as Israel’s Minister of the Interior David Azoulai said this summer, that Reform Jews aren’t Jewish, and those in the settler movement who think nothing of stealing Palestinian land and throwing fire bombs into Palestinian homes thus murdering entire families. I also question those Jews on the far left who have disassociated themselves with the Jewish people and are cavalier about legitimate Israeli security concerns. Everyone else, and that’s a lot of people, are part of our Jewish and pro-Israeli tent.

Heightened passions in our debate with each other, in Hebrew we call this a machloket, are being fed mostly by right-wing American Jews who fear that this agreement is not in either Israel’s or America’s best interest, that we’ve given away the store to a mortal enemy in Iran that with a nuclear weapon would create a new Holocaust. That position has been the stance of Prime Minister Netanyahu, his right-wing allies and the increasingly fanatic, violent and now murderous settler movement.

For the Prime Minister and his allies here and in Israel and the West Bank, everything has become equal existential threats to the state of Israel and the Jewish people: Iran, ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah, terrorism, Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas, the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel international BDS movement, left-wing Israeli NGOs, the New Israel Fund, Israeli Arab citizens coming in droves to vote, and even President Obama and the P5+1.

This absolutist one-size-fits-all us-versus-them attitude is playing powerfully to age-old Jewish fears. The debate in the United States has turned particularly ugly very fast, and doomsday rhetoric has escalated so dramatically that two of our region’s most thoughtful and serious Congressional Representatives and pro-Israel advocates, Adam Schiff who supports the agreement and Ted Lieu who opposes it, told me and a small group of people in the last month that debate on the nuclear agreement’s merits and flaws has been made far more difficult because of the heated over-blown rhetoric.

Left-wingers calling Senator Schumer a traitor marching to the orders of the Israeli government is just as outrageous and false as those on the right who accuse Congressman Jerry Nadler of new York a traitor and President Obama of appeasement and cloaked anti-Semitism.

There is, however, believe or not, a potential silver lining within all the ugliness because we Jews aren’t new to inner conflict and internecine warfare. From the earliest stages of Jewish history we’ve fought with one another, sometimes viciously.

From the conflict between Joseph and his brothers to Absalom’s attempt to dethrone his father King David, to the civil war between radically Hellenized Jews and the Maccabees, to the struggle for authority and legitimacy between the Sadducees and the Pharisees, the Rabbinites and Karaites, the Hasidim and Mitnagdim, the Zionists and early Reform anti- Zionists, and now between the very different visions of Zionism and Judaism, controversy has characterized every Jewish generation and has been a usual state of the Jewish people for millennia.

So…what’s the silver lining? Jewish controversy often has yielded constructive new Jewish narratives and timeless advice and wisdom to move us forward as a people and as a religious and ethical tradition. Controversy has refined us as a community, and the history of conflicts resolved reassures us when we we’ve been divided and under threat as we are now that we can still come together.

We especially need wisdom and advice today because of all our divisions, in what Jewish identity means, in what the state of Israel means, in how we think about the non-Jewish world, in how we accommodate ourselves to life here in America and around the globe.

None of us should be so surprised by the depth and breadth of arguments today, for it’s come with the emergence of Jewish national self-determination over the last century. National policies in Israel affect us here as what we do affects Israelis, and those policies always are subject to strong debate and opinion.

Add to the mix the fact that we Jews are by nature and nurture an edgy, argumentative, opinionated, critical, and self-critical lot, and the result is conflict. We’re lovable too, of course; but we’re very tough and probably way too stubborn for our own good.

When I think about how complicated we Jews are and how difficult are the challenges we face, I take a small measure of comfort in what Yehudah Bauer, a scholar of Jewish history and the Holocaust, recently wrote:

“The Jews were always in opposition to the whole world. The Jewish people would be endangered by unity. The quarrels and disputes are the engine that drives [our] culture forward, backward or sideways. That is its elixir of life. If we are deprived of the constant ability to quarrel, we will be finished. The endless debates, from the Middle Ages to our own time, constitute the vitality of this people…” (Haaretz -February 26, 2013):

Bauer is right. We are a vital and contentious people, but we can’t leave it there because if we do our divisions will grow wider and we could lose our Jewish community here and the state of Israel as a democracy and our national home.

Putting the extremists aside, many of us to their left and to their right need to turn away from the precipice and back towards each other. We have to agree to disagree while recognizing that we are still one people and that we share common interests in the security, viability, democracy, and Jewish character of the state of Israel and the health, vitality and unity of our people worldwide. Said simply, we have to regard each other as part of the same team or we will lose what is most important to the people of Israel, our sense of unity and the Jewish democratic state of Israel.

The classic example of how we Jews have respectfully disagreed with each other is the relationship between two early first century BCE sages, Hillel and Shammai, and the schools of thought that followed them. They and their students debated vigorously everything of consequence, on belief, religious practice, ethics, and Jewish law. At times they were able to reconcile their differences, but so often their positions were at polar extremes.

In one of their most famous cases recorded in the Talmud, after a lengthy debate that carried on for three years, their argument was at last settled by what the Talmud called a bat kol – a heavenly voice – that declared, “Eilu v’Eilu divrei Elohim chayim – These and these are the words of the Living God, but the law is in agreement with Beit Hillel.” (Babylonian Talmud, Eruvin 13b)

The Talmud explained that Beit Hillel’s decisions were not necessarily better than Beit Shammai, only that Hillel predominated because his disciples were “kindly and modest and studied their [own] rulings and those of the School of Shammai… teach[ing] that the one who humbles oneself is raised up by the Holy One.”

Hillel and Shammai gave rise to Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai and generations of rabbis who were compassionate, loved justice and walked humbly before God. The Zealots fought to the death against Rome on Masada and everyone else died there while the rabbis saved Judaism from annihilation.

The most extreme West Bank settlers are the Zealots of today, and given that the Israeli government isn’t stopping them from their hostilities and violence, they are leading the state of Israel over a cliff.

Their defiance has infected otherwise reasonable Jews worldwide. Hillel’s humility and respectful debate is what we need now, but increasingly it’s rare in Jewish life today. The recalcitrance that has, from the Israeli side, resulted in failed negotiations for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, understanding that the Palestinians too are responsible, is as serious an existential threat to the Jewish people as anything that ISIS and Iran can do to us.

Yes, there are many on the left who believe that the right wing has lost its moral bearings. And there are many on the right who dismiss and delegitimize those with whom they disagree.

I’m trying to be as objective and self-critical as I can be, and I’m convinced that most of the responsibility for the serious division amongst our people is coming from the right wing that not only advocates policies in Israel and the West Bank that will doom the democratic and Jewish character of the state of Israel but has also crossed the line of civility.

In the early 1960s, the historian Richard Hofstadter characterized a “paranoid style” of politics as leading to “heated exaggeration, suspiciousness and conspiratorial fantasy” (“The Paranoid Style in Politics,” Harper’s Magazine, November, 1964). It’s that kind of paranoia in Israel’s leadership today and in the right wing of the American Jewish community coupled with the belief that only its side holds the truth that has led to Israel’s increasing international isolation and a head-to-head argument with the President of the United States, arguably the best proven friend the state of Israel has in the world.

What should be of special concern to every Jew today is how the extremism on the right, here and in Israel, is damaging the fabric and soul of our community and of the Jewish state itself.

Hillel and his disciples along with the loyal opposition represented by Shammai and his followers ought to serve as the corrective to those who prefer intolerance to tolerance, militarism to negotiation and a winner-take-all attitude as opposed to compromise and accommodation.

We Jews have too much at stake not to insist that our leaders and community step away from the precipice and restore humility to our politics and civility towards our opponents as modeled by both the followers of Hillel and Shammai.

May that, at the very least, be our people’s mission in this New Year.

L’shanah tovah.

Obama in landmark interview: Hezbollah will be a focus of post-Iran deal

A focus of security enhancement once the Iran nuclear deal goes through will be neutralizing Hezbollah’s threat to Israel, President Barack Obama said in a landmark interview with The Forward.

“As soon as this debate is over, we will, I think, be able to invigorate what has been an ongoing conversation with the Israelis about how we can do even more to enhance the unprecedented military and intelligence cooperation that we have with them, and to see, are there additional capabilities that Israel may be able to use to prevent Hezbollah, for example, from getting missiles,” Obama said in the interview published Monday — the first with the Jewish media since he became president.

“Where Iran has been effective in its destabilizing activities, it’s not because it’s had a lot of money,” Obama said, countering criticism that the sanctions relief for nuclear restrictions deal that will unfreeze $50 billion in funds will increase Iran’s capacity for disruption.

“It’s because they’ve effectively used proxies; it’s because they’ve invested in places like Lebanon for decades and become entrenched,” the president said. “And the reason we haven’t done a better job of stopping that is not because they’re outspending us. The reason is, is because we haven’t been as coordinated, had as good intelligence and been as systematic in pushing back as we need to be.”

Hezbollah, a Lebanon-based militia, has stockpiled tens of thousands of missiles on Lebanese territory since its 2006 war with Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who vigorously opposes the Iran nuclear deal, has rejected Obama administration efforts to coordinate post-deal defense strategies regarding Iran, preferring to wait until he is certain that Congress will not reject the deal.

Republicans mostly oppose the deal, so there has been a concerted effort by both sides to win over Democrats, in part by appeals to the Jewish community, a key constituency of the party. Congress has until late September to consider whether to reject the deal reached July 14 between Iran and six major powers.

Obama spoke on Friday, the same day he gave the Forward the interview, to a webcast jointly sponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

“This deal blocks every way, every pathway Iran might take to obtain a nuclear weapon,” said Obama during the 50-minute webcast, which was filmed live from the White House. “We’re not giving away anything in this deal in terms of our capacity to respond if they chose to cheat.”

In additions to concerns about how Iran will spend its unfrozen funds, Netanyahu and other opponents, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, say the expiration dates for some of the deal’s components, in 10, 15 and 25 years, will leave Iran a nuclear threshold state.

In his Forward interview, Obama said that tensions between the Israeli and U.S. governments surrounding the deal would not last.

“People will look back and say as long as we implemented it with care and precision that it was the right thing to do,” he said. “The one thing I do want to make sure is that your readers and everybody who cares about the U.S.-Israeli relationship retain the understanding that I think is one of the foundations of this relationship, which is, is that this is not a partisan issue; the bipartisan support of Israel is critical to a strong U.S.-Israeli relationship.”

After Israel talks, Pentagon chief says: ‘Friends can disagree’

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter never expected to win over Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the merits of the nuclear agreement with Iran but tried to put a brave face on their sometimes blunt, closed-door exchange on Tuesday.

“We don't agree on everything. And the prime minister made it quite clear that he disagreed with us on with respect to the nuclear deal,” Carter said at an airbase in Jordan.

“But friends can disagree.”

Since arriving in Israel on Sunday, Carter has sought to look beyond the political tensions between Israel and the United States that have only deepened since last week's announcement of a deal curbing Iran's nuclear program.

Carter, the first U.S. cabinet secretary to visit Israel since the deal, traveled to the northern border with Lebanon on Monday and promised to help counter Iranian proxies like Hezbollah.

Israel fears Iran-backed groups like Hezbollah will benefit from Iranian sanctions relief.

Netanyahu looked stern as he received Carter in Jerusalem and the two did not deliver expected public remarks to gathered reporters. Once behind closed doors, the prime minister, without referring to notes, detailed his objections.

“The Secretary did of course respond to those (objections) … we just agreed to disagree on certain issues,” a senior U.S. defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe the talks.

The official described Netanyahu as “blunt” and “passionate,” offering the same kinds of arguments privately that he has made at length in public. In his latest U.S. media offensive, Netanyahu has urged lawmakers to hold out for a better deal.

The U.S. Congress has 60 days from Monday to decide whether to approve or reject the deal. Republicans who control Congress have lined up in opposition, but Obama says he will veto any attempt to block it.

Israel has a strong army, is believed to have the region's only nuclear arsenal, and receives about $3 billion a year in military-related support from the United States.

That amount is expected to increase following the Iran deal, but the U.S. official said that issue did not come up.

“There was no discussion of money at all,” the official said.

Carter visited Jordan on Tuesday and will travel next to Saudi Arabia, which is engaged in a contest for power with Iran stretching across the region. Like Israel, Saudi Arabia fears the deal will bolster Iran's allies.

Lebanese man pleads guilty in Cyprus ammonium ‘plot’

A Lebanese-Canadian man accused of stockpiling explosives in Cyprus pleaded guilty on Monday in a case that Israel said bore the hallmarks of a failed Hezbollah plot.

Cyprus's criminal court was expected to sentence Hussein Bassam Abdallah, 26, later on Monday.

He was arrested in late May after police discovered a huge quantity of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, a potential explosive, in the basement of a house in the coastal city of Larnaca.

Abdallah pleaded guilty to charges of possessing explosives, conspiracy to commit a crime, aiding and abetting a terrorist organization and participation in a terrorist group, the state Cyprus News Agency reported.

Cyprus's foreign minister told Reuters earlier this month that the government believed it had thwarted a plot by Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shi'ite militia hostile to Israel.

Ammonium nitrate, if mixed with other substances, can become a very powerful explosive. Authorities discovered 8.2 tonnes of the substance stored in icepacks.

Police sources said they believed the fertilizer had been accumulated at the site since 2012. Cyprus authorities have not speculated about its probable use or target, but Israel has said it was to have been used to target Israelis or Jews.

Cyprus says Hezbollah plot against Israelis or Jews likely foiled

A Hezbollah bomb plot against Israel or Jews “most probably” was foiled last month, the foreign minister of Cyprus said.

Cypriot police arrested a 26-year-old Lebanon native with a Canadian passport on May 27 after authorities discovered nearly two tons of ammonium nitrate — a fertilizer that in large quantities can be mixed with other substances to make a powerful explosive — in the basement of a house belonging to the man. The suspect remains in custody.

Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides on Monday confirmed the arrest and the discovery of the explosives, Reuters reported. Asked whether a Hezbollah bomb plot had indeed been foiled, Kasoulides said, “Most probably.”

The fertilizer was to be used by Hezbollah to create explosives to be used against Israelis or Jews on Cyprus, Cyprus authorities told Israel, according to Reuters.

An unnamed senior Israeli official told Reuters that the chemical was to be saved for future attacks.

“It does not look like there was an immediate terrorist action planned in connection with this haul,” the official told Reuters.

The suspect arrived in Cyprus in the third week of May and was staying at the two-story house in a residential suburb of the coastal town of Larnaca.

In 1988, an attack on the Israeli Embassy in Cyprus left three people dead.

In 2013, a Swedish citizen of Lebanese descent was jailed in Cyprus on charges of plotting an attack on Israeli tourists. He said he had been asked by Hezbollah to track the movements of Israeli tourists on the island, but denied he was planning any attack.