July 16 was Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s birthday. He celebrated it by calling for Israel’s destruction on Twitter.
Khamenei began the four-tweet thread by stating that the “satanic and vicious” deal that the Trump administration has planned for the Israel-Palestinian conflict “will never happen.”
“The turbulent dream that Al-Quds would be given to the Zionists will never come true,” Khamenei wrote. “The Palestinian nation will stand against it and Muslim nations will back the Palestinian nation, never letting that happen.”
The supreme leader added, “By God’s grace, the Palestinian nation will certainly gain victory over the enemies and will witness the day when the fabricated Zionist regime will be eradicated.”
Everyone should know that the satanic and vicious plot that the U.S. has for #Palestine— calling it the Deal of Century— will never happen.
— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) July 16, 2018
— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) July 16, 2018
The turbulent dream that Al-Quds would be given to the Zionists will never come true. The Palestinian nation will stand against it and Muslim nations will back the Palestinian nation, never letting that happen.
— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) July 16, 2018
By God’s grace, the Palestinian nation will certainly gain victory over the enemies and will witness the day when the fabricated Zionist regime will be eradicated.
— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) July 16, 2018
Such rhetoric is not new for Khamenei; on June 3 he tweeted, “#Israel is a malignant cancerous tumor” that must be “removed and eradicated.”
Khamenei’s tweets come as the Iranian regime is struggling with ongoing protests opposing the regime. The Trump administration re-imposed sanctions on the regime following the United States’ exit from the Iran nuclear deal. The Iranian regime has signaled that they will increase their uranium enrichment if talks falter with the Europeans to save the deal.
Iranian Brigadier General Gholam Reza Jalali is blaming Israel for Iran’s water shortage, claiming that the Jewish state is stealing clouds from Iran.
According to the Times of Israel, Jalali said in a July 2 press conference, “Israel and another country in the region have joint teams which work to ensure clouds entering Iranian skies are unable to release rain. On top of that, we are facing the issue of cloud and snow theft.”
However, Ahad Vazife, who leads Iran’s meteorological service, acknowledged the obvious reality that “it is not possible for a country to steal snow or clouds.”
“Iran has suffered a prolonged drought, and this is a global trend that does not apply only to Iran,” Vazife said. “Raising such questions not only does not solve any of our problems, but will deter us from finding the right solutions.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has previously offered to share Israeli technology with Iran to alleviate the water shortage. He blamed the Iranian regime for depriving its people of much-needed water.
Meanwhile, the Iranian regime has been struggling to deal with ongoing protests stemming from the dearth of water and an ailing economy. The U.S. and Israel are working to capitalize on the protests and strongarming the regime in Tehran into reining in its nuclear capabilities.
A new investigation conducted by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations has found that the Obama administration granted a permit that gave the Iranian regime access to the United States financial system.
According to the Associated Press (AP), Iran yearned to convert $5.7 million held up in an Omani bank to dollars and then to euros. They were also complaining that despite the lifting of sanctions under the Iran deal, there were still enough sanctions on the regime that discouraged investment in the country.
The Obama administration had promised that Iran would never have access to the U.S. financial system, so they quietly gave a license that allowed Iran to use two American banks to convert that money.
However, the banks declined to participate out of fear that doing so would harm their reputations.
“Issuing the license was not illegal,” the report states. “Still, it went above and beyond what the Obama administration was required to do under the terms of the nuclear agreement, in which the U.S. and world powers gave Iran billions of dollars in sanctions relief in exchange for curbing its nuclear program.”
Former Obama administration officials argued to the AP that the move “adhered to the spirt of the deal” and that the license did not necessarily grant Iran access to the entire U.S. financial system.
However, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) told the AP, “The Obama administration misled the American people and Congress because they were desperate to get a deal with Iran.”
The AP report is the latest controversy to stem from the Iran deal; others include reports that the Obama administration inhibited law enforcement’s efforts to crack down on Hezbollah, Iran’s terror proxy, in order to achieve their desired deal and the administration gave pallets of cash to the regime in exchange for hostages.
President Trump announced in May that the U.S. would be exiting from the deal. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, recently announced that Iran has completed a new enrichment centrifuge.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei called Israel a “cancerous tumor” on Twitter, prompting Israel to clap back with a gif from “Mean Girls.”
On June 3, Khamenei tweeted, “Our stance against Israel is the same stance we have always taken. #Israel is a malignant cancerous tumor in the West Asian region that has to be removed and eradicated: it is possible and it will happen.”
Our stance against Israel is the same stance we have always taken. #Israel is a malignant cancerous tumor in the West Asian region that has to be removed and eradicated: it is possible and it will happen. 7/31/91#GreatReturnMarch
— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) June 3, 2018
The Israeli embassy in the United States responded with only this:
— Embassy of Israel (@IsraelinUSA) June 4, 2018
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also addressed Khamenei’s tweet.
“Just yesterday, Iran’s leader said again that Israel is a cancer that has to be and will be eradicated,” Netanyahu said. “It’s amazing that in the 21st century, somebody talks about destroying Israel. It means destroying another six million plus Jews. This is what we face.”
Just yesterday, Iran’s leader said again that Israel is a cancer that has to be and will be eradicated. It’s amazing that in the 21st century, somebody talks about destroying Israel. It means destroying another six million plus Jews. This is what we face.
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) June 4, 2018
Khamenei’s tweet was issued in response to the violence ongoing at the Gaza border, where a well-known female medic was shot and killed by Israeli gunfire. The IDF is investigating the matter.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a new video on May 31 criticizing the Iranian regime for inhibiting the country’s Silicon Valley-esque potential.
Netanyahu began his video by declaring that the Iranian people are “among the most gifted and successful people in the world.”
“In Silicon Valley, entrepreneurs of Iranian heritage are among the founders and CEOs of Uber, Ebay, Dropbox, and many other outstanding companies,” Netanyahu said.
And yet, Iran is an impoverished nation thanks to the regime in Tehran.
“Iran’s dictators plunder the country’s wealth. Isn’t it a shame that Iran doesn’t invest in its people?” Netanyahu said. “Instead, they divert tens of billions of dollars to their nuclear program, to the spread of terror around the world, to their aggression throughout the Middle East. Meanwhile, the Iranian people are the ones that suffer.”
Netanyahu concluded the video by stating that hopes that the day will come where the Iranian people “don’t need to go there to build the most successful companies in the world.”
“Imagine Iranian and Israeli entrepreneurs working together, in Iran and Israel, for the betterment of all humanity,” Netanyahu said. “That’s my hope. That is my vision. And that can be our future.”
The full video can be seen below:
This may surprise you coming from the Prime Minister of Israel… pic.twitter.com/zVWOjJCAeb
— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) May 31, 2018
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatened the Iranian regime with harsher sanctions should they fail to comply with the United States’ set of demands.
In a speech at The Heritage Foundation, Pompeo explained that they were going to call on Iran to end their ballistic missile program, allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to have access to all of their nuclear developments sites and end their support of terrorists like Hezbollah and the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Should Iran fail to acquiesce to these demands, they will face additional sanctions.
“Iran will be forced to make a choice: either fight to keep its economy off life support at home or keep squandering precious wealth on fights abroad,” Pompeo said. “It will not have the resources to do both.”
Pompeo also warned Iran that they would face “bigger problems” if they restart their nuclear program and made it clear that the U.S. would not accept Iranian aggression in the Middle East.
“We will ensure freedom of navigation on the waters in the region,” Pompeo declared. “We will work to prevent and counteract any Iranian malign cyber activity. We will track down Iranian operatives and their Hezbollah proxies operating around the world and crush them.”
Pompeo told the Iranian people that the U.S. stands with them.
“Is this what you want your country to be known for? For being a co-conspirator with Hezbollah, Hamas, the Taliban, and Al Qaeda?” Pompeo said. “The United States believes you deserve better.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was not pleased with Pompeo’s speech.
“Who are you to decide for Iran and the world? The world today does not accept America to decide for the world, as countries are independent… that era is over…” Rouhani told Iranian state media. “We will continue our path with the support of our nation.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on the other hand, praised Pompeo’s speech at an event celebrating Paraguay moving their embassy to Jerusalem.
“No enrichment, tough sanctions and Iran should get out of Syria,” Netanyahu said. “We believe that it’s only policy that can ultimately guarantee peace. We call on all countries to follow America’s lead here.”
For 30-plus years, the Conservative movement has not seriously addressed why younger Jews have left this branch and its philosophy.
As writer Steven Windmueller assesses the situation, one of his ways is to build from the bottom (“Reinventing Liberal Judaism,” May 11). I did this in the Philadelphia area 30 years ago, but the elders did not support it.
In less than nine months, we grew a 30-ish crowd from 10 to 60, including their families.
This is the only way to introduce Judaism to those who resist and to listen to the younger population so that the institution provides for their needs.
Baby boomers must give way to the needs of the millennials or Conservative Judaism will not be viable in the near future (10 years).
Warren J. Potash, Moorpark
Insight Into Torah Portion
I would like to thank the Journal for publishing Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ Table for Five commentary in the Journal’s May 11 issue. It provides deep insight into the parsha. However, the rabbi goes much further, enunciating simply and clearly God’s role and rights as the creator of the universe and in consequence, linking core principles of Judaism to these rights. It is, for me, an unforgettable “teaching moment,” beautiful in its simplicity, clarity and importance.
Hopefully, the Journal will provide more of Sacks’ commentaries and insights in the future. Table for Five is one avenue to accomplish this, but I am sure the Journal has others. We need them.
Edward Gomperts, Glendale
Complex Issues in the Mideast
I read the May 4 edition of the Jewish Journal with great interest. As a non-Jew, I was happy to read the Leon Wieseltier view that “the merit of a view owes nothing to the biography of the individual who holds it” (“Should American Jews Criticize Israel?”).
So here goes. I read in Rick Richman’s story (“The Second and Third Israeli Miracles”) that the Palestinian Arabs have rejected six offers of a state. My question is: How many of these offers would have stopped settlement in the West Bank and dismantled the settlements and removed the settlers?
And the other question: Suppose California were occupied by, say, Mexicans. How many Californians would have supported the “offer of a state” that would leave more than half a million Mexican settlers in hilltop strongholds and withheld a slew of powers over the economy, security and policing?
Christopher Ward via email
When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed Iranian duplicity with respect to Iran’s nuclear program, he was preaching to the converted. This is much ado about nothing, since the P5+1 took Iranian mendacity into strict account when fashioning the inspection regime that is part of the Iran nuclear deal.
The nuclear agreement with Iran that slows its development of atomic weapons is a bad accord for many reasons. President Donald Trump is right to force the issue now. He does not need a primer on Iran and its penchant for lying. The president has decided it is better to scrap the agreement altogether and re-impose sanctions, or try to amend the agreement as our allies prefer.
Brian J. Goldenfeld, Woodland Hills
I would strongly encourage journalists to emulate the unflinchingly centrist style of Michael Berenbaum’s recent column (“Pity Mahmoud Abbas,” May 11). Most who criticize the Israeli government’s approach to the conflict with Palestinians tend to forget or ignore just how awful and intransigently anti-Semitic the leadership is on the other side. And most who decry the wrongs of Abbas or other Palestinian leaders tend to forget or ignore the suffering of the very people they lead.
If only we could stop being so one-sided in our rhetoric and attitudes, we might lessen the number of people so brainwashed by the “left” that they forsake the need to defend Israel from her truest enemies, or so brainwashed by the “right” that they forsake the need to prevent Israel from emulating said enemies.
Michael Feldman, Los Angeles
I am very confused. It feels like if I support Israel’s existence, then I am supposed to be pro-current administration (i.e., President Donald Trump), which I definitely am not! But if I support peace and freedom for everyone in the Middle East, I am supposed to do that by opposing the “occupation” of the West Bank and by supporting activities and groups that all lead to Hamas — a group defined as working to destroy the Jewish state.
All my left-wing friends support “anti-Zionism,” which translates to pro-Hamas, but they insist that they like Jews and will defend the rights of Jews. My right-wing friends (yes, I have some) support the idea of a Jewish homeland but they support many other things that I find odious.
Strange bedfellows, no? I want to find a place in the middle. I think maybe we should move the homeland to Antarctica but someone will surely accuse us of oppressing the penguins.
Lynne Bronstein, Van Nuys
Notwithstanding his fighting words in a recent mosque sermon that Tel Aviv and Haifa will be totally destroyed by the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami should sit down and shut up. Israel’s air force did serious damage to Iranian military installations in Syria last week in retaliation for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard assault, seemingly launched against the advice of Russia and their Syrian hosts, when it fired 20 rockets at Israel.
Sadly, the murderous threats emanating from imams in mosques all over the world, that Israel/America/Jews must be destroyed, have a “blowback” effect in making Muslims who are innocent of such hatred look like extremists. One might hope that the moderates would be able to suppress those imams who preach hatred from their pulpits.
Maybe they’re too afraid, or worse, maybe they don’t want to. It’s difficult to know which, but also easy to feel compelled to defend against vile religious leaders who can’t seem to be shut down by those who wail about Islamophobia.
Desmond Tuck, San Mateo
Less Shouting, More Listening
I read on the Journal website “Pro-Palestinian Protesters Attempt to Shut Down Israeli Speakers and Fail” by Aaron Bandler, and I agree totally with the reporter. I believe that the Palestinians’ chanting was unacceptable. I think it was great of UC Irvine’s Students Supporting Israel to point out that they would show their perspective and not keep silent. Also, they said that they will continue to make the voices of the pro-Israeli students heard. That shows peace, not hate, which is what the world needs.
Eliyaou Eshaghian, Tarzana
Israelis in the Diaspora
This is another in a long line of letters disputing wild, unsourced journalistic estimates of Israelis living in the Diaspora, which Danielle Berrin has repeated as “more than 1 million” (“Wandering Israelis,” April 13).
The most trusted demographic estimate done by Pew Research in 2010 was 230,000 Jewish emigrants from Israel living in other countries, with the most, 110,000 in the U.S. This aligns with my 1982 published estimates for Israeli emigrants in the U.S. and about my estimate of 25,000 living in and around Los Angeles.
Fun fact: Using Berrin’s source data from the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics of about 2.2 million flying abroad in a six-month period, and the U.S. nonimmigrant Israeli entry estimates for roughly the same period, fewer than 1 in 10 Israeli tourist flyers eventually landed in the U.S. As we are all learning, visiting or immigrating to the U.S. is a pain.
While the Los Angeles Israeli community has become much more organized, now raising tens of millions of dollars yearly through the Israeli-American Council (IAC), in the 36 years since a realistic estimate of numbers has been published, I have not found any evidence that the number of Israelis has changed substantially from being about 1/20th of the Los Angeles Jewish community.
Pini Herman, Beverly Grove
(This letter originally appeared in the April 20 edition.)
Berrin responds: Pini Herman asserts that my column includes “wild, unsourced journalistic estimates” regarding the number of Israelis living in the Diaspora. This is untrue. While it is difficult to estimate the exact number of Israelis living in the Diaspora for a variety of reasons, the upward trend is clear. Estimates from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, the Israeli Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, the prime minister’s office and a Pew Study suggest the number could be as low 300,000 and as high as 1 million. Just last week, Newsweek reported that from 2006 to 2016, more than 87,000 Israelis became U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, according to data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. This is up from 66,000 from the previous decade. For a long time now, rumors of a so-called Israeli “brain drain” have permeated public discourse. In 2011, Foreign Policy ran a story headlined “The Million Missing Israelis.” Last August, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency wondered, “Can Israel bring home its million U.S. expats?” Many of these articles examine the ways the Israeli government has tried to stanch the brain drain by enticing the best and brightest Israelis back home, sometimes through ad campaigns or initiatives like the 2011 I-CORE program, a $360 million initiative to lure Israeli scholars back to Israeli universities. According to Newsweek, “Results were so underwhelming that the program was ended after three years.”
None of these facts is wild or unsourced; we ought to pay attention to the trend suggested by even inexact statistics.
A story about the death of Rabbi Aaron Panken (“Remembering Rabbi Aaron Panken,” May 11) mistakenly reported the date of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion New York ordination ceremony as May 7, two days after Panken’s death. The ceremony was held May 6, one day after his death.
An item in the May 11 edition of Movers & Shakers incorrectly identified Tanya Waldman as the co-director of Witness Theater: Voices of History. Her name is Talya Waldman. Also, a photo caption accompanying the May 1 Israel Bonds luncheon mistakenly identified Marlene Kreitenberg as Ruth Low.
A headline on a Q-and-A with Rabba Sara Hurwitz failed to include her honorific (“An Orthodox Woman in the Time of #Metoo,” May 11). The Journal regrets the oversight.
The Trump administration reportedly urged Qatar on May 12 to cease supporting Iran’s terror proxies after email unveiled ties between the two.
The Telegraph is reporting that they have seen emails between Qatari officials and the likes of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and Iranian Quds Force leader Qasem Solemani as being warm. Included in these emails are ransom payments from Qatar to Shia militias in Iraq to release members of Qatar’s royal family.
“What these emails show is that a number of senior Qatari government officials have developed cordial relations with senior figures in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, as well as a number of Iranian-sponsored terrorist organizations,” a senior US security official told the Telegraph. “At a time when the US government is trying to persuade Iran to end its support for terror groups in the Middle East, we do not believe it is helpful that Qatar continues to have ties with such organizations.”
The emails reflect the growing ties between Iran and Qatar, driven by trade relations as Qatar’s relations with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have soured.
The Trump administration calling for Qatar to end such ties is among their latest efforts to put economic pressure on the regime in Tehran after President Trump announced the United States’ exit from the Iran nuclear deal. On May 15, the administration announced that they would be slapping Iran’s central bank with sanctions for being used as a vehicle to funnel funds between Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah.
“It is appalling, but not surprising, that Iran’s senior-most banking official would conspire with the IRGC-QF to facilitate funding of terror groups like Hezbollah, and it undermines any credibility he could claim in protecting the integrity of the institution as a central bank governor,” Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said in a statement. “The United States will not permit Iran’s increasingly brazen abuse of the international financial system. The global community must remain vigilant against Iran’s deceptive efforts to provide financial support to its terrorist proxies.”
If the Trump administration can find a way to end Qatar’s funding of Iran’s terror proxies as well as its ties with Iran in general, it would help them in cracking down on Iran’s financial support of terrorism.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani reportedly doesn’t want “new tensions” after his country’s military bases were decimated by Israel on the evening of May 9.
According to Agence France-Presse (AFP), Rouhani made that statement to German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a phone call. However, the AFP report also notes that Allaeddine Boroujerdi, chairman of Iran’s parliamentary committee on foreign affairs issued a veiled threat toward Israel for “playing a dangerous game.”
Israel fired missiles into Syria after Iran’s Quds Force launched 20 missiles toward Israel, four of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome. No Israeli casualties occurred from Iran’s missiles, but Israel want to send a message that such strikes would not be tolerated.
According to Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, most of Iran’s military sites were destroyed by Israeli’s retaliatory strikes.
“If we get rain, you will get a flood,” Lieberman declared. “We will not let Iran use Syria as a base to attack us from.”
There were reportedly 23 fighters killed in Israel’s strikes against Iran in Syria
The United States, Britain and Germany all condemned Iran for their missile strikes against Israel. The United Nations has called for calm, but has not directly condemned Iran for their missile strikes.
“The international community must not stand idly by while a tyrannical regime attacks a sovereign nation and continues to threaten the very existence of a member-state of the United Nations,” Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon wrote in a letter to U.N. Chief Antonio Guterres.
Regardless of if the international community stands with Israel or not, Rouhani’s words suggest that Iran now understands that it will face the full fire and fury of Israel if they dare attack the Jewish state again.
U.S. Scraps Iran Nuclear Agreement
Let’s start with the proposition that Iran is a very bad actor. Let us also agree that without vigorous monitoring, Iran will not strictly adhere to any agreement. That being said, it is a terrible mistake for President Donald Trump not to recertify the Iran nuclear accord.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent dog-and-pony show was long on accusations but short on specific evidence. The binders and computer discs onstage with him aren’t proof that Iran is failing to honor its responsibilities under the nuclear deal. What Netanyahu and the various authors of the commentaries and articles that support scrapping the accord conveniently overlook is that there is a large element in the Israeli intelligence/military establishment that while acknowledging it’s not a perfect accord, it is working and is good for Israel.
It is also interesting to note the other signatories to the Iran nuclear accord say Iran is honoring its obligations. The only naysayers are Netanyahu and Trump.
Andrew C. Sigal, Valley Village
Kudos to the Jewish Journal for exposing the secrets and lies of the Iranian nuclear deal. The cover story would be enough to tell it all (“What Happens Now?” May 4). Dayenu. Beyond that, the articles describe in detail the lies that were foisted on Americans that were particularly painful for American Jews.
David Suissa gave some Trump haters and, in particular, Jewish Trump haters something to think about (“Why Tyrants Must Hate Trump,” May 4). Admittedly, Trump is brash and a rude tweeter. When it comes to foreign tyrants, as Suissa stated, Trump is just what the doctor ordered. As much as we all value decency, for 16 years the United States got burned by two very decent presidents — first by George W. Bush’s trillion-dollar fiasco in Iraq, and then by Barack Obama’s naïve deal with Iran that empowered the world’s biggest sponsor of terror.
We need somebody like Trump to stare them down and back out of the disastrous Iran deal if Iran does not make further concessions.
Marshall Lerner, Beverly Hills
The North Korean Dilemma
I disagree with David Suissa’s assessment in his column “Why Tyrants Must Hate Trump.” If President Donald Trump’s bluster had worked with North Korea, then it would have stopped testing its long-range ICBMs right away. Instead, despite Trump’s threats, they continued testing until they had proven to themselves that they had a missile that could reach most of the United States. The North Koreans offered to talk only after they had tested enough missiles to prove that their missile program was ready. Listen to the speech that Kim Jong Un delivered to his own country. This was his original intent.
Rabbi Ahud Sela via email
The Natalie Portman Issue
In her column (“Portman’s the Messenger, Not the Problem,” April 27), Danielle Berrin introduces the premise that the effect of Portman’s rejection of the Genesis Prize will lead to increased Jewish disunity on congregational matters, including political problems. Berrin warns that one of the problems is the collapse of peace talks and the promise of a two-state solution.
I have three questions for Berrin.
Does Fatah want a two-state solution?
Does Hamas want a two-state solution?
Does Hezbollah want a two-state solution?
Bernard Schneier, Marina del Rey
How American Jews View Israel
Danielle Berrin claims to rely on, but fundamentally misunderstands, Leon Wieseltier’s advice that the merit of a view “owes nothing to the biography of the individual who holds it” (“Should American Jews Criticize Israel?” May 4).
Wieseltier did not invent this notion. It is his way of restating the classic fallacy of the ad hominem attack: A good argument can’t be refuted because the speaker is bad. Nor can a bad argument be improved because the speaker is good. I have no doubt Berrin has deep love for Israel. But that does not mean her opinion has any merit just because it comes from a good place.
No, what Wieseltier is saying is that an argument — and criticism — must be judged solely on its own merits. What nuanced and insightful advice does Berrin offer for the complex military and diplomatic conundrum Israel is faced with? What is the “truth” that Berrin claims her “holy chutzpah” impels her to tell Israel? I honestly would like to know, but I’ll gladly take the advice of someone who may not love Israel as much as Berrin but has answers to challenges such as: the military land-bridge Iran is constructing through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to threaten Israel; the tens of thousands of Hezbollah missiles aimed at Tel Aviv; the tunnels being burrowed under the desert to snatch Israelis in their sleep; and the diplomatic and propaganda war waged against Israel by the United Nations, the European Union and nearly every American university campus.
Perhaps Berrin’s Israeli friend really meant that Israel does not want for critics but that if you are going to criticize, don’t assume that your love substitutes for sound analysis. Contrary to Berrin’s claim, film critic Pauline Kael was not respected “because everyone knew she loved” movies. Many people love movies. Kael was respected because she was a true expert on movies.
But even Kael wasn’t good at making movies. What Israel really needs, more than well-intended critics, is smart, practical and realistic solutions to massively complicated problems.
What is the role of love in all of this? If Berrin’s love for Israel drove her to develop these kinds of solutions,
I’m sure everyone, especially her Israeli friend, would be very grateful. But love alone, Wieseltier teaches, does not a helpful opinion make.
Ben Orlanski, Beverly Hills
Leftism’s Misguided Values
Karen Lehrman Bloch’s compelling column “The Golden Calf of Leftism” (May 4) exposes a new crisis among American Jews.
We’ve all been shocked by the increase in Israel-bashing and anti-Semitism at Democratic rallies, leading to feminist organizers’ recent praise of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. But many Jewish Democrats still support former President Barack Obama’s white-washing of Palestinian rejectionism, terrorism and contempt for Israel. Some Jewish feminists support Linda Sarsour, despite her anti-Semitism and reported endorsement of Sharia law. Wealthy Jews, many in the Hollywood community, are bankrolling Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions promotion.
It’s a cruel irony that while thousands of French Jews make aliyah to escape rising Muslim terrorism, Jewish “progressives” are abetting the terrorists and condemning Israel, the victims’ only refuge.
Rueben Gordon via email
History Lessons in the Journal
Thank you, Jewish Journal and David Suissa for your excellent publication.
I know a “lot” about Israeli and Jewish history up until about 70 B.C.E. I knew very little after that. Therefore, a few years ago, I decided to learn more about Jews and Israel today. I’d like to be as familiar with you and your culture as I am with my own English-American culture.
Recently, I discovered the Journal: It’s like Christmas, my birthday and Yom HaAtzmaut (a term I learned in the Journal) rolled up into one. Every article I read — even the advertisements — is interesting, informative and educational.
The one major problem I have with the Journal is that I’m not finished reading it before the next issue comes out. Oy vey!
Jerald Brown, Sylmar
How does an Iranian-American Jew who was born in post-revolutionary Iran, granted refugee asylum in the United States at the age of 7, and now remains unabashedly supportive of Israel, process the possibility of a hideous war between her former homeland and her eternal homeland?
She has a stiff drink every time Israel strikes an Iranian military base or arms shipment in Syria (to celebrate Israel’s miraculous might), and a stiffer drink every time an Iranian leader vows to “level Tel Aviv to the ground” (to aid with sleep).
Anxiety over Iran-Israel tensions is nothing new to Iranian-American Jews, many of whom struggle with the complexity of their triple identity as Iranians who lost their homeland, Jews who embrace Israel as their beloved, and fiercely patriotic Americans who can watch the horrible conflict between Iran and Israel unfold from the comfort of their patio chairs.
My final goodbyes — to my family, home, school and, basically, to everything — when we escaped Iran in the late 1980s have left me traumatized, and I am often confused over my own feelings toward Iran.
I was born after the revolution, into the murderous country we’ve known for 39 years as the Islamic Republic of Iran. I also was born into the mandatory headscarf, the reign of the Ayatollah Khomeini, and the heinous air raids of the Iran-Iraq War. It was truly a special time to be alive.
Even my grandmother’s first name was Iran. The irony was not lost on us when she escaped to Israel.
I should hate Iran, but like many who fled there, I compartmentalize the country. There’s the regime, which evokes my hateful repulsion; the people, most of whom are just looking to live free, normal lives filled with family, work and reasonable inflation rates. And then, there are my memories and my heritage; the fact that nearly every one of my ancestors was born and buried in the land; the romanticizing of the space that held my childhood flights and fears. Even my grandmother’s first name was Iran. The irony was not lost on us when Iran escaped to Israel.
It makes me sick to my stomach that the land of my birth poses the most violent threat to the land of my soul.
Do I miss Iran? Sometimes, although it often feels like missing your first tattoo (if your first tattoo ended up being a horrible disaster). The nostalgia that stems from the fact that it was your first always will remain, but so will the seemingly irreparable emotional pain and physical damage that it caused you, especially if you got your first tattoo on your posterior. Then, it forever remains … a pain in the ass. I guess that about sums up my relationship with Iran.
For me, Israel encompasses unparalleled pride over its might and morality, and palpable despair over anyone attacking the Jewish state. As an Iranian-American Jew, I also experience my share of guilt over Israel, because the closest that my community comes to sending its children into a war zone is when we drop them off at a kosher Persian market on a Friday morning.
For Iranian Jews in America, Israel is also tied to our past trauma, when we consider whether our safety in the U.S. would ever deteriorate so much that we would have to flee to Israel. We know exactly what it was like to have fled home because home was no longer habitable. The possibility that we would again have to flee (if the U.S. took a turn for the worse) after several decades here makes us cringe with pain as we wonder: How many times can one person flee “home” in a lifetime?! Cashing in on our miraculous insurance policy through Israel’s exquisite promise of protection for global Jewry isn’t something most Iranian-American Jews might want to do, because it means that America will have failed us. I hope that if I ever make aliyah, it will be through a joyful choice, and not persecution or war. I can’t take that again.
Of course, America’s miraculous embrace comes at a price: My community has everything it needs here, whether in Beverly Hills or Baltimore, which makes me wonder when exactly former homeland and eternal homeland will be replaced in our hearts and memories with the glorious country that took us in and gave us everything, including the Bill of Rights, UCLA and Costco.
I’m giving it two more generations.
Tabby Refael is a Los Angeles-based writer.
With European powers either unable, or unwilling, to meet his demand to “fix” the Iran nuclear deal, President Donald Trump on May 8 followed through on his threat to “nix” the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as it is formally known, and re-impose “the highest level of” economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran.
“At the heart of the Iran deal was a giant fiction — that a murderous regime desired only a peaceful nuclear energy program,” Trump asserted. “We will not allow a regime that chants ‘Death to America’ to gain access to the most deadly weapons on Earth.”
The president in January warned that he would scrap the accord unless its “disastrous flaws” were addressed, and, to this end, had for months been lobbying France, Great Britain and Germany to formulate a side agreement to eliminate the JCPOA’s so-called “sunset clauses” — which remove limitations on Iran’s ability to enrich uranium in just over a decade — as well as curb the Islamic Republic’s ballistic missile program and involvement in fomenting unrest in the Middle East.
The question now is: What comes next? While Tehran threatened to take measures “stronger than [Trump] imagines” now that the United States has backed away from the deal — including “vigorously” jump-starting its uranium enrichment program — the Iranian regime is believed to have contingency plans for the continuation of the accord without American participation. In fact, Iranian President Hasan Rouhani kept this door open, saying on May 7 that “what [Tehran wants] for the deal is that it’s preserved and guaranteed by the non-Americans.”
While Trump vowed to continue working with allies to find a “real, comprehensive and lasting solution to the Iranian nuclear threat,” most analysts agree that it is exceedingly unlikely that Tehran will abide by any such process. In fact, Iran’s foreign ministry issued a statement describing the White House’s move as “illegal and illegitimate.”
By contrast, initial contacts by The Media Line with opposition sources in Tehran suggest that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s critics were energized by Trump’s words, which included a direct address to the “long-suffering people of Iran … [with whom] America stands.”
The president in January warned that he would scrap the accord unless its “disastrous flaws” were addressed.
For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared on national television just moments after Trump’s speech in order to reaffirm his support for the “brave decision.” This, while no doubt cognizant of the fact that Washington’s move raises the heat on Iran, whose rulers may conclude that they have little to lose by unleashing their proxies on Israel.
Efraim Kam, a former colonel in the research division of Israel Defense Forces Military Intelligence and currently a senior fellow at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, said that “it is more likely than unlikely that the Iranians will respond,” although he does “not think there will be a major war, but instead a [tit-for-tat] exchange.”
Indeed, the Israeli army is on high alert in the north, where municipalities were ordered on the day of Trump’s announcement to unlock public bomb shelters over what the military called “unusual Iranian forces” in Syria. The Iranian mullahs may even determine that opening a front against Israel is in their best interest, using the conflagration as justification to restart their atomic program, if not make a full-out dash for a nuclear bomb.
Uzi Rubin, the former head of Israel’s Arrow defense program, developed jointly with the U.S. to neutralize the threat posed by longer-range ballistic missiles, concurs that “there is a very high potential for an intensification. Iran has spoken of a reprisal [against Israel] but the question is how it will be expressed. The Iranians are good chess players and will do something that will give them the maximum benefit with minimum damage.”
By ditching the JCPOA, then, Trump effectively opened Pandora’s box in the Middle East tinderbox. Many world leaders have warned that such action could lead to a large-scale military confrontation, not only involving the Jewish state and Sunni Arab countries, but also potentially the United States and Russia, which has re-emerged as a force in the region.
In the past, historians have described such conflicts — those involving multiple players and pitting global powers against one another — as world wars.
1. The Middle East suddenly looks different.
Note both the US and its controversial decision to pull out of the Iran deal – and Syria and the repetitive military blows that Iran absorbed in recent months.
Note these two developments and realize that something important has changed: Iran, after a long period of relative calm and easy choices, faces tough opposition from the US and Israel. Iran has to reconsider the benefit and the possible cost of its actions. On Tuesday – Trump drew a diplomatic red line. The status quo is over, and the ball is now in Iran’s court.
On Tuesday night, hours after Trump made his announcements, sites near Damascus were bombed again. Another red line was reemphasized: Israel would not permit a significant Iranian presence in Syria. The sites bombed were reportedly the sites from which Iran was ready to launch an attack on Israel. So the status quo of Iranian presence in Syria is also challenged.
Trump presented Iran with a choice: Resist and bear possibly grim consequences, or renegotiate a deal which the US is ready to accept.
Syria’s limited skirmishes present Iran with a choice: Insist and bear possibly grim consequences, or give up on your Syrian dream.
2. In February 2015, when Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel was about to speak about Iran before Congress, I pleaded with him to reconsider his speech. “Speaking up next month before the United States Congress”, I wrote, “would not serve Israel’s interests. Instead of being an opportunity to seriously address the risks of Iran’s nuclear program, such a speech would scuttle the discussion.”
Is now the time to say that he was right and I was wrong? I am not yet sure about that, but I think it is time to consider the possibility that he, indeed, was right. Yes, his speech was enraging to the administration. But at that point in time, Netanyahu correctly assessed that Obama and Kerry had crossed a point of no return concerning the agreement. They were going to sign it no matter what. Yes – Netanyahu also enraged Democratic legislators. It is still a problem for Israel that the Iran deal is perceived in the US (much less so in Israel) as a partisan issue. But at that point in time Netanyahu was ready to pay a political price with the Democratic Party to scuttle a deal he perceived as highly dangerous for Israel.
Did he achieve what he wanted? At the time of the speech he did not. A deal was signed. Israel was ignored. Netanyahu was ridiculed for his speech. Yet a seed was planted. His speech did establish Israel’s uncompromising position. And it did serve for many American politicians as an opportunity to state their own position on the Iran deal. Netanyahu can make a solid case that what we see today is at least partially the result of what he did three years ago. An honest observer must consider this case – and with it, his previous position.
3. Donald Trump made up his mind a long time ago that the deal was not an achievement but rather an embarrassment. He made up his mind a long time ago that what he wants is to ditch the deal. He should get credit even from rivals for being a man of his word – this is what we all want from our politicians, don’t we?
Well, that depends. We all like to commend the leaders who make good on promises they’ve made during election season. That is, unless we dislike these promises. If we dislike these promises, what we’d say is as follows: A good leader is a leader who can see the difference between promises given during election time, and the realities of having to govern.
In other words: Trump will be praised for doing as he said he’d do by those wanting him to do just that. He will be condemned by all others, and will not even get credit for, yet again, doing what he said he was going to do.
4. Trump deserves credit, but only if ditching the nuclear deal is a first step of many to follow. In fact, this is the most important fact we all need to understand as we assess the meaning of today’s news: These news items are just nuggets. They are but one step in a long process. Judging the wisdom and predicting the outcome of Trump’s action is something we all do, without noticing that for the time being, as we hear the sound of bombs going off near Damascus, and as Trump’s words still echo, our judgments and predictions mean little.
Think of it this way– a car beginning its journey to a faraway city. Is it going in the right direction? Maybe it did for the first ten miles– but if after ten miles it takes the wrong turn, or breaks down, or has no fuel, the car will never get where it needs to go. And, of course, the same is true if you believe that the car began its journey headed the wrong way. A sober driver can still recalculate and turn around. A wise driver might still take another way that is less crowded.
Is Trump’s car headed in the right direction? I think it is, but this doesn’t mean it will get to its final destination. You might think that it’s headed in the wrong direction, but this also doesn’t mean that Trump’s car is lost. One thing both supporters and opponents of Trump’s decision can agree on: It is a new day in the Middle East, a new day for Iran, and a day of reckoning.
As fears of an imminent Iranian attack against Israel are mounting, Israel launched an airstrike close Damascus on May 8.
The reported strike comes as the northern part of Israel in the Golan Heights area is currently on high alert as a result of “irregular activity” from Iran in Syria.
The Israel Defense Force (IDF) fears that Iran is planning to launch a retaliatory attack against Israel for striking their T4 base in Syria. On May 6, there were reports that Iran was planning to launch missiles into Israel; now reports indicate that there are also fears that Iran is plotting to infiltrate “military bases and communities in the north” through its terror proxies per the Times of Israel.
The Pentagon is also reportedly becoming increasingly concerned about an Iranian attack against Israel.
The Israeli government has already told communities in the area to dust off the bomb shelters, but for now they are urging residents to remain calm.
“There are challenges and many threats, but we know how to deal with all the threats and to cope with all the challenges,” Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said at the Knesset. “There is no room for euphoria or pride, but we are ready for any scenario.”
$150 billion in sanctions relief. $1.7 billion in pallets of cash.
Those are figures commonly cited by critics of the Iran nuclear deal, including President Trump. But what the figure that isn’t getting as much as attention that the deal allows Iran to cash in on up to $1 trillion over the next 10 years.
No, that is not a typo.
Israeli Ambassador to United States Ron Dermer told conservative radio host Mark Levin on April 30 that the $150 billion that Iran is receiving in unfrozen assets from the deal is only a “signing bonus” in the deal.
“The big money of the Iranian deal is that now they’re free to sell a lot more oil,” Dermer said. “When the sanctions were on Iran five years ago – before the deal was signed – they were only selling about a million barrels a day. After the deal was made, Iran now is already beyond 2.5 million barrels a day.”
Between their increase in oil sales and the price of oil now higher than $70 per barrel, the regime in Tehran is poised to receive gobs of cash in their coffers.
“That’s $100 million a day. That’s $3 billion a month. That’s over $35 billion a year,” Dermer said, noting that’s assuming that Iran’s oil output remains at 2.5 million barrels a day. With increasing investment, their oil output could reach back to a prior level of four million barrels per day.
“You could have Iran getting not 35, maybe 60, maybe $100 billion depending on the price of oil every single year,” Dermer said, “and over a 10-year-period you’re talking about a trillion dollars to go to a regime that has killed hundreds of Americans that leads masses of people in chants of ‘Death of America’ and is the greatest threat to peace and security in the world today.”
There is evidence to back up Dermer’s claim, as in June 2016 a McKinsey Global Institute report stated that Iran’s economy received “widespread attention” after the Iran deal was forged, and as a result economic could reach $1 trillion in a decade.
“We find that Iran has the potential to add $1 trillion to GDP and create nine million jobs by 2035,” the report states. “If it is to realize this potential, Iran will have to put in place key enablers of rapid growth, including measures to increase the attractiveness of the country to foreign investors, ensure macroeconomic stability, strengthen and deepen its financial system and its international connectivity, raise productivity, and upgrade its industrial infrastructure.”
Valiollah Seif, who heads Iran’s Central Bank, told Iran’s Financial Tribune in September 2017 that Iran could “attract more than $3.5 trillion worth of investments over the next two decades.”
And yet, Iran’s economy is in dire straits, as “prices have climbed more than 10 percent a year, unemployment hovers north of 12 percent, and having a job is no guarantee that one gets paid,” according to Commentary’s Sohrab Ahmari. Iran’s defense budget, on the other hand, has increased by 145 percent during Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s reign, putting credence to Dermer’s statement earlier in the interview that the Iranian regime is using the windfall in cash toward their “war machine” in the Middle East. This would explain why labor strikes have permeated throughout Iran on the heels of December’s anti-regime protests.
Trump is set to announce on May 8 whether or not the U.S. will exit from the Iran deal. If he does announce the U.S.’s exit from the deal, it could be a significant strike against a regime that appears to be hanging on a thread.
The full interview can be heard below:
Iran is reportedly planning to launch missile strikes against Israel in the coming days in response to Israel’s April 9 airstrikes against Syria.
The Times of Israel (TOI) reports that Iran is at “an advanced stage” with their plans to barrage a military base in northern Israel with missiles. Iran intends to arm Hezbollah with “heavy Iranian missiles” and then launch them toward Israel from Syria.
The TOI report suggested that the Israeli government leaked about Iran’s plans as a warning to Tehran that they better abandon their strikes or else. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly set to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin this week in order to persuade him into containing Iran, an ally of the Russian government.
The Israeli airstrikes against Syria were aimed at Iranian targets, as the Israeli government has made it clear that they will not let Iran develop a military stronghold in Syria, even if it means going to war.
“We are determined to block Iran’s aggression against us even if this means a struggle,” Netanyahu said on Sunday. “Better now than later. Nations that were unprepared to take timely action to counter murderous aggression against them paid much heavier prices afterwards.
“We do not want escalation, but we are prepared for any scenario.”
The reports about Iran’s planned missile strikes could be the beginning of a pivotal week in the Israel-Iran conflict, as President Trump could be exiting from the Iran nuclear deal on May 12. On April 30, Netanyahu unveiled Iran’s secret plans to develop nuclear weapons under the noses of the West.
Even if you happen to live in a trailer, Shuki Shlomi will convince you that you need a Persian rug. Rugs of all shapes and sizes fill every inch of the 70-year-old’s 100-square-yard store, located in the heart of Jaffa’s flea market and sandwiched between similar Persian rug stores on either side. He pulls out his phone and proudly shows a photo of himself posing with Israeli celebrity Chana Laslow, to whom he has sold a number of rugs.
His go-to tactic is convincing would-be customers that he’s dropping the price just to make a “siftah” — Hebrew slang for first sale of the day — even if it’s almost closing time. But his smooth talk, laced with a thick Persian accent, isn’t without reason. The Afghani rug I was eyeing cost three times the price in the posh design store around the corner.
By the end of our meeting, I walk away with two new rugs and a possible shidduch — suitable match — between my brother and Shlomi’s daughter, who is, by his account, a beautiful angel with two degrees and a high-flying career in finance.
Shlomi comes from Isfahan, Iran’s third-largest city, which is famous for producing fine carpets and textiles. Aside from the odd squabble with the Muslim children in his neighborhood, his childhood memories are generally positive and life was good for the Jews of Isfahan under the shah.
At the age of 16, Shlomi, who described himself as a staunch Zionist back then, persuaded his parents to immigrate to Israel so he could avoid the Iranian draft. So together with his parents and four younger siblings, he settled in the Negev city of Dimona.
In 1967, he was drafted into the Israeli air force and was stationed near the Egyptian border during the Six-Day War. He recalls a lot of praying and listening to the tiny transistor radio he brought with him from Iran.
“I asked God for all the Egyptian planes to fall from the sky.” — Shuki Shlomi
“I asked God for all the Egyptian planes to fall from the sky,” he said. “And then, I promise you, I turned on my radio to hear that we had bombed all their planes right out of the sky.”
After the war, Israel was hit with a recession. Nevertheless, the ever-resourceful Shlomi managed to set aside enough of his meager salary as a handyman to buy a Fiat. He became a traveling merchant, selling linens and rugs and, within a short amount of time, bought a house in Beersheba.
Shlomi married and divorced, and in his mid-30s, was seeking another wife.
“I was handsome, I had a lot of offers,” he said.
But, he said, he was extreme, and insisted on a virgin bride. “That was my No. 1 requirement.”
He went to meet a girl at her parent’s house in Tel Aviv but she turned him down for being a divorcee. It was to be another six years before their paths crossed again.
“In those years, I travelled a lot,” he said, “but I was fed up with the world.”
One day, at the suggestion of a friend, he called the home of a potential wife. The woman’s mother answered the phone, and he realized from her accent that she was also from Isfahan. He arranged to meet the woman’s daughter by the clock tower in Jaffa.
As it turned out, she was the same girl who had rejected him years earlier.
“But now she was 30 and that was very bad for her,” he said. “In Persia, they marry daughters off at 17.”
But Yael had not sat waiting for her Persian prince to rescue her from perpetual spinsterhood. Working 12 hours a day as a button and buttonhole maker, Yael had saved enough money to buy a house. A month and a half later, Shlomi asked her parents for permission to marry her.
“In the end I got what I wanted,” he said. “She is the best woman in the world.”
On April 30, less than two weeks before President Donald Trump was to decide whether to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood in front of a huge cache of files, computer discs and a large screen of graphics at a news conference in Tel Aviv, and accused Iran of lying for years about its efforts to build a nuclear weapon.
You must admire the people in charge of gathering information for Israel. You must admire the fact that they can show you thousands of documents from within the Iranian archives. And as you admire these creative, bold and daring intelligence gatherers, you also must consider the fact that they say they have documents that you don’t. They say they have information that no one else could gather. They know Iran well enough to obtain half a ton of copied secret documents from inside Iran and ship them to Tel Aviv. Maybe this also means that their sense of what Iran was doing, where it might be going, what its ambitions are like, are better than yours and mine. If these people tell you that Iran is cheating, if they tell you that the nuclear deal doesn’t work, you ought to listen. Agree or disagree, but listen carefully and humbly. There is very little chance that you know better than they do.
Timing is everything. Netanyahu tried and failed to prevent the Iran nuclear deal by addressing Congress in early 2015. It was a controversial move. Many of the speech’s opponents alleged that the prime minister’s main motive was political, that his true audience was Israelis (the election in Israel was held a few weeks after that speech). In a phone conversation I had with the prime minister not long after that speech, he defended his decision to go to Washington, D.C. This was an important enough issue in Israel for him to utilize all possible means, he said, and if that made then-president of the United States Barack Obama unhappy, then so be it.
The timing was off. Obama had no intention of giving up. Perhaps he thought he had a deal worthy of a second Noble Peace Prize. Then-Secretary of State John Kerry perhaps hoped to earn his first. Netanyahu gave a strong speech, but not strong enough. One could only speculate: Would Netanyahu have be more successful had he showed Congress then what he revealed this week?
What did you think about Netanyahu’s presentation on Iran? Most likely, this depends less on the material shown (shocking intelligence, but no evidence that Iran is violating the current nuclear pact), and more on your established opinion about Netanyahu and the Iran deal.
Search the internet and try to guess in advance what each person, pundit or leader is going to say about the presentation. In most cases, if you are familiar with the views of these pundits and leaders, you can skip the comment or the article. You know what they’re going to say (I assume some readers might say the same about this article).
Would more evidence of Iranian malfeasance make a difference? Sure, if Israel had rock-solid proof of recent Iranian violations (if it has such information, Netanyahu did not reveal it). But even then, people always could argue that there’s no proof the documents are real, that Netanyahu’s word isn’t worth a dime, that Israel — and most other countries — were wrong on Iraq’s WMD.
So did Netanyahu change many minds? He surely achieved two objectives: showing Israel’s intelligence prowess, and making Iran a main topic of conversation, for at least a day or two.
If these people tell you that Iran is cheating, if they tell you that the nuclear deal doesn’t work, you ought to listen.
He also annoyed some leaders, but then, many leaders are easily annoyed by him. Some of them were quick to point out that the information discussed by Netanyahu on April 30 didn’t include anything that wasn’t previously known about Iran. The question is: Known to whom? Netanyahu’s presentation clarified things that experts already knew but that politicians didn’t always know and that the public might not have been aware of.
Reportedly, the files concerned an Iranian nuclear weapons program called Project Amad, launched in 1999 and shelved in 2003.
The question remains: Can you alter the opinions of world leaders by showing them information — whether it is old, new, repackaged or re-explained? Are world leaders capable of admitting an error?
The deal with Iran was a mistake made in haste. But let’s be realistic: Do you think Obama changed his mind this week if he watched Netanyahu’s news conference? Do you think Kerry did? Timing is everything. Information — evidence — is hardly as important. Many Americans blame President Trump for bringing about the age of fake news, yet what Netanyahu showed us earlier this week is proof that the Iran deal was fake news. It was fake news produced by people more sophisticated than Trump, and thus more successful in selling their make-believe diplomatic achievement to a receptive audience.
It will take time to assess the impact of Netanyahu’s dramatic revelation. But some things are clear:
Netanyahu was well coordinated with the Trump administration when he staged his news event. He spoke on the phone with Trump two days before the presentation. He met with the newly confirmed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo the day before the presentation. The Trump administration was not taken by surprise. It was well informed, and it was ready to respond — as Trump did half an hour after Netanyahu went off the air.
What was the exact plan? Maybe Trump told him: Give me something to work with; give me something with which to pressure the Europeans. Maybe Trump told him: I can’t convince the Europeans — you try. Maybe Trump told him: I am going to do what’s right; it would be helpful if you can give me some more ammunition.
Can the Europeans, Russians and Chinese, all of which signed the agreement with Iran, be convinced?
I am skeptical and here is why: They knew all along that Iran cannot be trusted. They knew its leaders were lying. They knew it had an earlier, established nuclear weapons program. They were cynical when they hailed the deal, and there’s no reason for me to think that they aren’t cynical now. They decided to compromise with Iran not because they think it is a country of great values and respected leadership. They decided to compromise with Iran because they see economic potential and because they think Iran — and its belligerent behavior — is not really their problem.
I’d like to think that Trump is going to change all this, but this is far from assured. Trump can dump the deal and then lose interest — which isn’t a good outcome. He can maintain the deal — possibly with cosmetic changes to save face — which isn’t a good outcome. He can begin a process of pressuring Iran, and then lose the 2020 election and be replaced by a less vigilant leader — which isn’t a good outcome. The battle against Iran is long, and to win it, the United States or Israel must be persistent and must have a strategy. News conferences, speeches, statements, impressive intelligence achievements — all these have a role in this long battle. But no speech can win this battle.
Do you think Barack Obama changed his mind this week about the Iran deal if he watched Netanyahu’s news conference?
To Israel’s credit — if one believes the unconfirmed reports by the non-Israeli media — it is not merely talking. The same day as Netanyahu’s news conference, suspected Israeli strikes hit Iranian targets in Syria. This was not the first, second or third time Iran was the recipient of a clear message: Its military presence in Syria will not be tolerated.
Israel has made that clear in public statements and to foreign dignitaries including, in recent days, European leaders who were trying to understand why Syria is suddenly becoming such a hot potato. Israel told even the Russians that it is dead serious about not allowing an Iranian presence in Syria. A senior diplomat told his counterpart: We will not let Syria become a second Lebanon. In Lebanon, Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah, has thousands of rockets ready for use against Israel. This is hardly convenient, but since the war of 2006, the Israel-Lebanese border has been relatively stable and quiet. Israel has no interest in having to watch a second front to the east, this time not held by Iran’s proxies but rather by Iran.
Again, only time will tell if the Iranians got the message and decided that the benefit does not justify the cost — or maybe it’s the other way around: They got the message and are getting ready to up the ante.
What will Iran do if Trump scraps the deal? What will Israel do in response to Iran’s response?
What Netanyahu revealed was amazing, and also somewhat disappointing.
He told us that Iran is lying.
He proved that the official Iranian position was based on a pile of untruths.
Did we not know?
Netanyahu did not have a smoking gun. It’s disappointing but should be acknowledged. So, if you are still in the business of believing the Iranians — oh, they lied for three decades, they lied up until mid-2015, but now they are telling the truth and nothing but the truth — I would urge you to stay away from banks, insurance companies and flea markets. You are clearly easy prey for con artists. Still, Netanyahu can’t show you evidence that they are lying now. Or maybe he can:
Netanyahu did prove that Iran is still lying about its dishonest past. What he didn’t prove is that it’s lying about the present.
What Netanyahu revealed was amazing, and also somewhat disappointing.
If one wants to be suspicious of Netanyahu’s motive, it’s not impossible to do. The speech was made on the first day of the summer session of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. Netanyahu stole the show. While other politicians were dealing with petty maneuvers, he presented himself as a man of action, determination and big things.
If he has no choice but to call for early elections — because the coalition can’t compromise on issues such as drafting the ultra-Orthodox, or the conversion bill, or the Supreme Court bill — he now will do it as statesman. If his coalition partners were toying with idea of testing his power, they now will have to reconsider.
These are tense days in Israel. Pundits and politicians rush to the microphones to calm down the public, which of course has the opposite effect. If times were truly calm, there would be no need for such appearances.
Remember Israel Independence Day? It was just a week ago. Remember Passover? Four weeks ago. May is here, and with it a mountain of worries:
Will moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, a positive and welcome decision by Trump, ignite protest and violence?
Is Israel ready for the main show in Gaza on Nakba (Palestinians’ Day of Catastrophe) in mid-May, when thousands likely will again attempt to cross the border?
What will the president decide to do with the Iran deal, and what will be the repercussions of his decision?
How will Tehran and Damascus respond to attacks on sites in Syria? What will Iran do if Trump scraps the deal? What will Israel do in response to Iran’s response?
If you are just an observer, you should fasten a metaphorical seat belt as you prepare to watch a possibly dramatic show. If you live in Israel, fastening a seat belt is less an expression and more a statement of sober fact: Fastening a seat belt is what you do to save lives.
Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.
So, the Iranians lied.
So did the Obama administration.
On April 30, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed that in a stunning intelligence coup, the Israelis had somehow obtained 100,000 files from Iran’s secret atomic archive in Tehran. The files showed that Iran had ardently pursued nuclear weapons for years, lying about it all the while; that they had then failed to turn over the information showing the extent of their program during negotiations over the Barack Obama administration-pushed Iran deal; and that they had hidden those files in a secret warehouse with the obvious intent of reviving their nuclear program the minute they can get away with it.
According to Netanyahu, Iran “is brazenly lying when it says it never had a nuclear weapons program.” Furthermore, Netanyahu claimed that nuclear development “continued … in a series of organizations over the years, and today, in 2018, this work is carried out by SPND, that’s an organization inside Iran’s Defense Ministry.” The head of Iran’s earlier nuclear program currently heads the SPND.
Advocates for the Obama administration have come forward to contend that there’s nothing new here — that everyone knew Iran had been lying about its nuclear program. But when the deal was signed, Secretary of State John Kerry stated that Iran would have to disclose past military-related nuclear activities: “If there’s going to be a deal, it will be done. … It will be part of a final agreement.”
Other advocates say that Israel’s intelligence would be damaging to the Iran deal — but those nefarious Jews made it up. According to Tommy Vietor, former Obama National Security Council spokesman, “After years of bashing U.S. intelligence agencies for getting Iraq wrong, [Donald] Trump is now cooking up intel with the Israelis to push us closer to a conflict with Iran. A scandal hiding in plain sight.”
The Obama administration played propagandists for the Iranian government.
So, to get this straight, Vietor is claiming that Israel “cooked up” the intelligence information to bluff America into war — as always, it’s the devious Jews. Furthermore, Vietor is claiming that Trump went along with this Israeli manipulation. Also, the Iranians are complying with the terms of the awful deal. This from a key member of the same administration that admitted in print to having deceived the American public about the Iran deal. Former Obama national security guru and professional fiction writer Ben Rhodes bragged openly about lying to Americans regarding the supposedly more “moderate” Iranian leadership seeking a deal.
Here’s the reality: The Obama administration, desperate to cut a deal with the Iranian government, played propagandists for the Iranian government. They fibbed that the Iranians had gone moderate; they lied that the only alternative to their rotten deal was war; they signed a deal that gave Iran enormous quantities of cash to use for terrorism, and that did nothing to rein in Iran’s ballistic missile program. Finally, they looked the other way as Iran lied about its maintenance of secret nuclear information.
And yet we’re supposed to believe their protestations now?
The Iran deal was garbage from the start. It was a way for Obama to declare triumph in the region even as the world’s worst terror sponsor pursued utter carnage from Tehran to Beirut. Whether Trump kills the deal at this point is of secondary import — the Trump administration knows that the deal is dead, and it’s just a question of whether to declare it so. The real question is why the same international community that accepted Iran’s word should be trusted to verify Iran’s compliance.
The simple answer: They shouldn’t. The Iran deal was an outgrowth of motivated thinking, not evidence-based policymaking. The only question now is whether it’s too late to stop the Iranians from finally achieving their dream of placing Israel and Saudi Arabia within the radius of Iranian nukes.
Ben Shapiro is an author, editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire and host of “The Ben Shapiro Show” podcast.
Dr. Emily Landau, a senior research fellow and head of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) told reporters in an April 30 conference call that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech was “extremely important.”
Landau stated that while Netanyahu didn’t necessarily provide anything new, it provided “a lot of information and a lot of flesh in regards to Iran’s work in the past on nuclear weapons programs.” For instance, Netanyahu’s speech accentuated the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)’s “damning” 2015 report about Iran’s ambitions to develop nuclear weapons that the P5+1 nations swept under the rug.
Consequently, the fact that Iran has never had to answer for their nuclear weapons program means that pertinent information on the latest developments of their weapons program is not available. But what Netanyahu revealed on April 30 provides concrete proof that Iran was lying in their repeated denials of developing nuclear weapons.
“People should be standing up and saying no that’s a lie,” Landau said, adding that “breaking that false narrative of nuclear innocence is important.”
Landau then pointed out that the IAEA was never allowed to interview Dr. Mohsen Farkhrizadeh, the scientist who lead Iran’s Project Amad program to develop nuclear scientists continued to lead the regime’s efforts at nuclear development under the guise of “scientific knowhow.” She argued that the fact that Iran kept information on their nuclear weapons “in an orderly program” shows that they were never serious about nixing their program.
Therefore, the goal of Netanyahu’s speech was to show “the extent to which Iran has lied and cheated and deceived the international community in the nuclear realm for decades.”
“To think this deal will cause Iran to back away… like it’s on very, very shaky ground,” Landau said.
Landau also pointed out the speech was an “implicit message that Israel has access to inner workings inside Iran.”
Landau highlighted some of the flaws in the deal, including the “convoluted” provisions of the deal regarding IAEA since they can only go to “declared nuclear facilities.” The deal also didn’t cover Iran’s ballistic missiles program.
Despite the deal’s flaws, Laundau thought that the ideal course of action going forward is to “strengthen” the Iran deal since it would be difficult to negotiate a new deal altogether.
“Iran needs to get the message that American and Europe are not happy with a lot of Iran’s activities,” Landau said.
You must admire the people in charge of gathering information for Israel. You must admire the fact that they can show you thousands of documents from within the Iranian archives. And as you admire these creative, bold, daring intelligence gatherers, you must also consider the obvious fact: They have documents that you don’t. They have information that no one else could gather. They know Iran well enough to master such stint – getting half a ton worth of secret documents kept inside Iran and shipping them to Tel Aviv. Maybe, just maybe, this also means that their sense of what Iran is doing, where it is going, what its ambitions are like, are better than yours (and mine). If these people tell you that Iran is cheating, if they tell you that the nuclear deal does not work, you ought to listen. Agree – or disagree – but listen carefully, and humbly. There is very little chance that you know better than they do.
Timing is everything. Prime Minister Netanyahu tried and failed to stop the nuclear deal giving a speech to Congress in early 2015. It was a controversial move. The Prime Minister was blamed by many of the speech’s opponents that his main motivation was political, that his true crowd was the home crowd (election in Israel were held a few weeks after the speech). In a phone conversation I had with the PM not long after the speech he defended his decision to go to Washington. This is an important enough issue for Israel for me to utilize all possible means – he said – and if this makes the President of the United States unhappy, then so be it.
The timing was off. Obama had no intention of giving up. He thought he had a deal worthy of a second Noble Peace Prize. John Kerry was maybe hoping to get his first. Netanyahu gave a good speech, a strong speech, but not strong enough. One could only speculate: would he be more successful had he showed them then what he showed us now?
What did you think about Netanyahu’s presentation on Iran? Most likely, this depends less on the material shown (shocking intelligence, but no smoking gun on current Iranian violations), and more on what you previously thought about:
A. The Iran deal.
Try this theory. Look around the web and try to guess in advance what each person, pundit or leader, is going to say about the presentation. In most cases, if you are familiar with the views of these pundits and leaders, you can skip the comment or the article. You know what they are going to say (I assume some readers might same the same about this article).
Would more evidence of Iranian belligerence make a difference? Sure, if Israel had rock solid proof of recent Iranian violations (if it has such information Netanyahu did not show it). But even then, even then… People could always argue that there’s no proof the documents are real, that Netanyahu’s word isn’t worth a dime, that Israel – and most other countries – got it wrong on Iraq’s WMD.
So did Netanyahu change many minds? He surely achieved two objectives: showing Israel’s intelligence prowess, and making Iran a main topic of conversation, for at least a day or two.
He also annoyed some leaders. Many of them are easily annoyed by him. Some of them were quick to point out that the information revealed by Netanyahu did not include things that were not previously known about Iran. The question is: Known to whom? Netanyahu’s presentation clarified things that experts knew before, but that politicians did not always know and that the public was not always aware of.
And anyway, the question remains: Can you alter the opinions of world leaders by showing them information – whether it is old, new, repackaged or reexplained? Are world leaders capable of admitting great error?
The deal with Iran was a mistake. It was a rush mistake. But let’s be realistic: Do you think Obama changed his mind the other day if he was watching Netanyahu? Do you think Kerry did? Timing is everything. Information – evidence – is hardly as important. Many Americans blame President Trump for bringing about the age of fake news, yet what Netanyahu showed us earlier this week is proof that the Iran deal was fake news. It was fake news produced by people more sophisticated than Trump, and thus more successful in selling their make-belief diplomatic achievement to a willing audience.
We have a few days before we can truly assess the impact of Netanyahu’s dramatic appearance of world events. But some things are clear:
Netanyahu was well coordinated with the Trump administration when he staged his press appearance. He spoke on the phone with Trump two days before his presentation. He met with the new Secretary of State not many hours before his presentation. The administration was not surprised. It was well informed, and it was ready to respond – as Trump did half an hour after Netanyahu went off the air.
What was the exact plan? Maybe Trump told him: give me something with which to work – give me something with which to pressure the Europeans. Maybe Trump told him – I can’t convince the Europeans, you try. Maybe Trump told him: I am going to do what’s right, it would be helpful if you can give me some more ammunition.
Can the Europeans, and Russians, and Chinese be convinced?
I am skeptical and here is why: They knew all along that Iran cannot be trusted. They knew its leaders were lying. They knew it was working on a nuclear program. In short, they were cynical when they hailed the deal, and there is no reason for me to think that they are not cynical now. They decided to compromise with Iran not because they think it is a country of great values and honest to god leadership. They decided to compromise with Iran because they see economic potential, and because they think Iran – and its belligerent behavior – is not really their problem.
I’d like to think that Trump is going to change all this, but this is far from being an assured outcome of what we see now. Trump can dump the deal and them lose interest – not a good outcome. He can keep the deal – possibly with cosmetic changes to save face – not a good outcome. He can begin a process of pressuring Iran, and then lose an election and be replaced by a less vigilant leader – not a good outcome. The battle against Iran is long, and to win it the US (or Israel) must be persistent and must have a strategy. Press conferences, speeches, statements, dazzling intelligence achievements – all these have a role in this long battle. But no speech can win this battle.
To Israel’s credit – if one believes the unconfirmed reports by the non-Israeli press – it is not only talking. The same day Netanyahu was speaking, someone was also shooting missiles at Iranian targets in Syria. This was not the first, nor the second, nor the third time in which Iran was the recipient of a clear message: its military presence in Syria will not be tolerated.
Israel made it clear in public statements. It made it clear to foreign dignitaries, including, in recent days, European leaders that were trying to understand why Syria is suddenly becoming such hot potato. Israel told even the Russians that it is dead serious about not allowing Iranian presence in Syria. A senior diplomat was telling his counterpart these exact words: We will not let Syria become a second Lebanon. In Lebanon, Iran’s proxy Hezbollah have thousands of rockets ready for use against Israel. This is hardly a convenient situation, but since the war of 2006 the Israel-Lebanese border was relatively stable and quiet. Israel has no interest in having to watch a second front to the east – this time held not by Iran’s proxies but rather by Iran itself.
Again, only time will tell if the Iranians got the message, and decided that the benefit does not justify the cost – or maybe it’s the other way around: they got the message and are getting ready to up the ante.
What Netanyahu showed was amazing, and also somewhat disappointing.
You are telling us that Iran is lying?
You are proving that the official Iranian position was based on a pile of nontruths?
Did we not know?
Netanyahu did not have a smoking gun to present. It is disappointing but ought to be acknowledged. So, if you are still in the business of believing the Iranians – oh, they lied for three decades, they lied up until mid 2015, but not they are telling the truth and nothing but the truth – I would urge you to stay away from banks, insurance companies and flea markets. You are clearly an easy prey for con artists of all types. Still – Netanyahu can’t show you evidence that they are lying now. I mean, this week. Today. Or maybe he can:
Netanyahu did prove that Iran is still lying about its dishonest past. What he did not prove that it is lying about the present.
Politics: if one wants to be suspicious of Netanyahu’s motivation it is not impossible to do. The speech was made on the first day of the summer session of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. Netanyahu stole the show. While other politicians were dealing with petty maneuvers he presented himself as a man of action, determination and the big things.
If he has no choice but to call for early election – because the coalition can’t compromise on issues such as the draft of the ultra-Orthodox, or the conversion bill, or the Supreme Court bill – he will now do it as statesman. If his coalition partners were toying with idea of testing his power, they will now have to reconsider.
These are tense days in Israel. Pundits and politicians rush to the microphones to calm the public down – which of course has the opposite effect. If times were truly calm, there would be no need for such appearances.
Remember Independence Day? It was just a week ago. Remember Passover? For weeks ago. May is here, and with it a mountain of worries:
Will the moving of the US embassy to Jerusalem, a happy and well appreciated decision by Trump, ignite protest and violence?
Is Israel ready for the main show in Gaza, in mid-May, when thousands will once again attempt to cross the border?
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened the week with a bombshell of a speech on April 30 that exposed Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions.
Netanyahu told the world that Israeli intelligence was able to smuggle 55,000 files and 183 CDs from Iran that prove beyond a reasonable doubt that despite Iran’s repeated denials, the country has always sought to develop nuclear weapons and never strayed from that goal, even after the nuclear deal was forged.
“I’m here to tell you one thing: Iran lied,” Netanyahu said. “Big time.”
In a slideshow presentation that was only “a fraction” of the intelligence the Israelis had uncovered, the files showed that from 1999-2003, Iran had a secret operation called “Project Amad,” which the files described as “a comprehensive program to design, build and test nuclear weapons.” The project’s stated goal was to develop five nuclear warheads with 10 kiloton TNT yields, the equivalent of five Hiroshima bombs on missiles, per Netanyahu.
Project Amad was broken down into five elements: designing nuclear weapons, developing nuclear cores, building nuclear implosion systems, preparing nuclear tests and integrating nuclear warheads on missiles.
“These files conclusively prove that Iran is brazenly lying when it says it never had a nuclear weapons program,” Netanyahu said. “The files prove that.”
Netanyahu added that facing international pressure in 2003, Iran shelved Project Amad but continued to develop nuclear weapons under the guise of “scientific knowhow” led by Dr. Mohsen Farkhrizadeh, who had also led Project Amad, as well as a lot of the same personnel who led Project Amad.
Additionally, Iran continued their uranium development at the Frodow Uranium Enrichment Facility, which was hidden underneath the mountains so Iran could continue its development of nuclear weapons under the radar.
The Iran nuclear deal allowed Iran to keep Fordow running, so long as they came clean about their nuclear program. But the uncovered files showed that Iran had told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2015 that they “denied the existence of a coordinated program aimed at the development of a nuclear explosive device and specifically denied the existence of the Amada Plan.”
“Why would a terrorist regime hide and secretly catalogue their nuclear files if not to use them at a later date?” Netanyahu asked.
Netanyahu proceeded to slam the deal as “based on Iranian lies and Iranian deception.”
As Netanyahu had explained earlier in the speech, after the deal was implemented in 2015, Iran moved its secret nuclear files to a secret location in Tehran that only very few Iranians and Israelis knew about. It was from this location where Israeli intelligence was able to smuggle the nuclear files.
Netanyahu explained that the deal basically paves the way for Iran to develop a nuclear bomb, as it allows for Iran to enrich unlimited amounts of uranium after a certain date. The deal also doesn’t address Iran’s ballistic missile program at all, and the consequences of this are seen in Iran continually expanding its missile program.
“This is a terrible deal,” Netanyahu said. “It should never have been concluded.”
Netanyahu pointed out that President Trump will soon make a decision on whether the United States will exit the Iran deal.
“I’m sure he will do the right thing,” Netanyahu said.
With apologies to poet T.S. Eliot, May, not April, is the cruelest month. That is, if you care to believe the warnings — some grave, some not as dire — of Israeli officials and policymakers.
It will be the most dangerous month of the past 50 years, said former head of intelligence Amos Yadlin. It will be sensitive, but the 50-year pronouncement might be an exaggeration, said former head of intelligence — and also former lieutenant general, defense minister and prime minister — Ehud Barak.
And what “dangerous” means is that a war might break out, the result of deliberate designation or a miscalculation.
Why May? Because on May 12 President Donald Trump is likely to announce his decision to opt out of the Iran deal. He has said he hated this deal, was an early and fierce critic of it, and remained committed to see it dismantled. Some Israeli decision-makers are not pleased with the possibility of a vacuum; a better agreement is unlikely to materialize, they say, and with no agreement, the Iranians could decide to go back to enriching weapons-grade nuclear material. But the official government position, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reiterated, is that no agreement is better than a bad agreement under which the Iranians can advance their plans uninterrupted.
May is problematic for a lot of other reasons. The United States officially will move its embassy to Jerusalem mid-month; a few days later, the Palestinians will mark the Nakba — their Day of Catastrophe. More clashes near the Gaza border are expected around these dates, and a few days later, when Israelis mark Jerusalem Day — the anniversary of the city’s reunification.
All of this will be tense, and all of this comes in the wake of other tension-escalating developments. An attempted Iranian drone attack inside Israel, Israeli attacks on Iranian forces in Syria, the attack by the U.S., France and Britain on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces in Syria, Trump’s declared intention to pull U.S. troops out of Syria entirely, Russia’s role in the region, and the list goes on.
May is problematic for a lot of other reasons. The U.S. officially will move its embassy to Jerusalem mid-month; a few days later, the Palestinians will mark the Nakba – their Day of Catastrophe.
Would this lead to war? It might not. Last week, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, while blaming Israel for escalating “tension by violating Syrian airspace,” also negated the belief that “we are headed toward regional war.” But a warning followed: If Israel continues “to violate territorial integrity of other states, there’ll be consequences.”
Israeli military analysts believe that Iran already is looking for a way to punish Israel for previous attacks in Syria, and is not going to wait for another violation of “territorial integrity” to serve as a pretext for retribution. But even if Iran decides to wait for the next round before taking action, that doesn’t mean much because another Israeli attack is more a certainty than a possibility.
Of course, Israel is hardly keen about having a war with Iran, but it is even less keen about the alternative: letting Iran build a permanent base of operation in Syria, not far from the Israeli border. Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman described it colorfully by saying that “no matter the price, we will not allow a noose to form around us.” By “no matter the price,” he means war. The noose means Iran establishing its presence in Syria.
Simply put, the problem is that Iran seems determined to entrench in Syria, and Israel is determined to prevent this from happening. Thomas Friedman described it at The New York Times in similar fashion: “I’m sure neither side really wants a war. It could be devastating for Israel’s flourishing high-tech economy and for Iran’s already collapsing currency. But Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force seems determined to try to turn Syria into a base from which to pressure Israel, and Israel seems determined to prevent that.”
No one, or almost no one in Israel’s establishment, argues against the need to prevent Iran from building a base in Syria. Diplomats and officers, politicians and planners — all agree that a permanent and significant Iranian presence in Syria is a red line for Israel. And of course, when such consensus emerges, two possible conclusions can be reached: 1) this is a no-brainer: Israel truly has no choice but fight to remove this danger; 2) group-thinking prevents Israel from looking for alternatives or from realizing that Iranian presence in Syria is not such horrific scenario.
An anonymous former minister, quoted by columnist Ben Caspit, framed it in this way: “This arouses my suspicions. It creates an unhealthy situation in which the prime minister and ministers do not stop for a minute to ask themselves, ‘Is this scenario truly unavoidable? Do we have an iron-clad reason to embroil ourselves in a war that might cause thousands of deaths on the Israeli home front as well?’ ”
And remember — all this tension comes before the shockwave that could follow a decision by the U.S. to pull out of the nuclear agreement. All this comes before we know for sure what Iran’s response will be to this decision. Iran’s nuclear program is what makes some Israeli leaders lose sleep, makes them ponder doomsday scenarios, as Netanyahu did — he does almost every year — on Holocaust Remembrance Day. The agreement with Iran now under renewed consideration, “released the Iranian regime from its chains and since has devoured country after country, similar to what happened in Europe in the 1930s.” And while Israel continues to vow to prevent Iran from having the capabilities to annihilate Israel — Iranians continue to vow to do just that: ”If you provide an excuse for Iran, Tel Aviv and Haifa will be razed to the ground,” said Maj. Gen. Abdolrahim Mousavi of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Israel, he predicted, will be destroyed within 25 years. That is, five years short of its 100-year anniversary.
So what will Iran do if Trump opts out of the agreement? Iran’s leadership might say that if the U.S. opts out, so do we — and return to enriching uranium, thus rolling the ball back into Trump’s court. Or Iran could continue to operate as if there is still an agreement, so as not to give the U.S. or Israel a pretext to launch a large-scale attack on its nuclear infrastructure. A senior Israeli official who requested not to me named told me this week that he is quite certain that this will be the course Israel will take “because of Trump — they know that his actions cannot be predicted and do not want to risk war with the U.S. under him.”
Germany, Britain and France have tried without success to find a middle ground that will relieve Trump of having to make a decision on the agreement. This can still happen if the European Union hurries to impose a few additional sanctions on Iran, thus tossing Trump a lifeline he could use by announcing that he was able to strengthen the “weak” agreement signed by his predecessor, Barack Obama. Until now, the talks held in Brussels resulted in failure. It’s possible that Iran’s restrained response so far, amid Israel’s aggressive approach, is because of these talks. Iran does not want to give Trump more talking points with which to pressure Europe to alter the agreement.
The reluctance of the U.S. to have skin in this game of geopolitical battle for power sends an emboldening message to Iran. A less involved U.S. is Israel’s fear and Iran’s hope.
Trump’s role in this unfolding drama is interesting. On the one hand, he is the menacing presence that could tame Iran, merely because he is the current occupant of the White House. “They surely are more afraid of him than they were of Obama,” the senior official told me. On the other hand, it is Trump whom Israel can’t persuade to keep U.S. forces in Syria. The reluctance of the U.S. to have skin in this game of geopolitical battle for power sends an emboldening message to Iran. A less involved U.S. is Israel’s fear and Iran’s hope. A less involved U.S. means a more involved Russia — and Russia’s interests are not always easy to fathom.
Russia surely does not want an all-out war in the region. Not when it is about the host the World Cup, and political stability will play a major part in whether the event is successful. Not after the World Cup, when others might prompt Russia to urge calm. But calm under what circumstances? Will it be calm because Israel no longer worries about Iranian presence in Syria, or will it be calm because Iran no longer has to worry about Israel attacking its forces in Syria?
There is no way to confidently predict how this complex scenario will unfold. Iran must consider its weakened economy in its decision making. Israel must consider its whole northern front – Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Hezbollah — while keeping a watchful eye on Gaza and preventing any eruption of violence in the West Bank. Russia’s interests are global, and its decisions in Syria will be closely linked to its other objectives, including its relationship with the U.S. Trump has not made his intentions clear: Is he committed only to opting out of the agreement with Iran, or also to preventing Iran from gaining more power, including nuclear capabilities?
The reluctance of the U.S. to have skin in this game of geopolitical battle for power sends an emboldening message to Iran. A less involved U.S. is Israel’s fear and Iran’s hope.
For all of these players, war is a not an appealing prospect. For all of them, preventing war is a priority, but not necessarily the highest priority. Israel, wrote veteran military analyst Alex Fishman, “probably reached the conclusion the military and diplomatic tools it has been using so far to stop the Iranian entrenchment in Syria are not bearing fruit. What other avenues of actions are there? For example, putting out a fire using a lot of fire, in the hopes Israel could control the flames throughout the entire process of extinguishing the fire.”
In other words: Israel might decide that war, which is never desired option, is still better than the outcome if a war doesn’t break out. And what is true for Israel is also true for Iran (Iran doesn’t want war — it wants to win without having to fight a war), and for Russia (it doesn’t want war, but what will be the cost it pays for preventing it?), and the U.S. (why would the U.S. want war? Maybe to stop Iran from becoming a real threat to world stability), and Saudi Arabia (it already is fighting a proxy war with Iran in Yemen), and Lebanon (if Iran makes a decision, Lebanon will not have much choice), and Hezbollah (same as Lebanon), and Hamas (to divert the attention from its failure to govern) and all the others (yes, there are still others).
This policy of brinkmanship, of acceptance of the possible necessity of war, wrote Fishman, is one “with a very high level of risk and gamble.” He is right. May will be a dangerous month.
Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.
President Trump issued an ultimatum to the Iranian regime on April 24: they “will pay a price” if threaten the United States.
Trump gave the warning in a joint press conference he held with French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron, where the two discussed the Iran nuclear deal. Trump was asked on if he will exit from the deal on the May 12 deadline, prompting him to respond: “We’ll see.”
“It was a terrible deal,” Trump said. “It should have never ever been made.”
After Macron suggested that it was important to “contain” Iran, Trump remarked that Iran is the source of a lot of the problems in the Middle East, pointing to Syria and Yemen as examples. He also brushed off the suggestion from a reporter that nixing the Iran deal would re-ignite its nuclear program.
“They’re not going to be restarting anything,” Trump said. “If they restart it, they’re going to have big problems, bigger than they ever had before.”
Trump added, “If Iran threatens us in any way they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid.”
European leaders, such as Macron, have been urging Trump to stay in the deal, arguing that even a flawed deal is better none at all. Trump, however, has been adamant about nixing the deal unless specific changes are implemented.
In an April 23 interview with the National Interest, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif actually claimed that Trump had been violating the Iran deal just by criticizing it.
“Every statement that President Trump has made since coming to office—before coming to office, he was a candidate, but since coming to office he’s become the president of the United States, head of the executive branch, and there are specific provisions that prohibit senior members of the executive branch of the United States from making statements against the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action], from trying to undermine the provisions of the JCPOA, from talking to foreign leaders and foreign businesses to dissuade them from investing in Iran, and from other activity that would impede normal trade with Iran by others—not by the United States, by others,” Zarif said.
Bloomberg Columnist Eli Lake noted that the Iranian regime is in greater danger of losing its grip on power than people realize. While the Iran protests have fallen out of the media’s purview, they have been ongoing for five months and the regime has had difficulty in trying to stop them.
“The majority of Iranians want change,” Alireza Nader, the RAND corporation’s former Iran specialist, told Lake. “They no longer believe in the game of moderates versus hardliners. Right now is the perfect time for the U.S. government to establish an official connection with the Democratic opposition.”
The Iranian regime announced on April 16 that they will soon retaliate against Israel for their recent airstrikes against Syria.
According to the Times of Israel, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Bahram Qasem ominously declared that Israel “should not be able to take action and be exempt from punishment.”
“The Syrian and resistance forces will respond in a timely fashion and appropriately in the region,” Qasemi said.
Qasemi also lashed out at the United States for their airstrikes against Syria on April 13, claiming that the Iraq War in 2003 showed that the U.S. was willing to fabricate information to start wars.
Israel still has not directly stated they were the ones who had launched airstrikes against Syria on April 9, although an Israeli military official reportedly told New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman that Israel did in fact launch the strikes.
“We will not allow Iranian consolidation in Syria,” Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on April 16. “We won’t allow any restriction when it comes to Israel’s security interests.”
This is the latest in escalating tensions between Israel and Iran, as on April 13 the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announced that an Iranian drone that had penetrated Israeli airspace in February was laced with explosives and was set to attack Israel.
Iran seems to be becoming increasingly belligerent. According to the Washington Free Beacon, Iran will be flaunting more advanced ballistic missiles at a military parade on April 18.
“The range of the missile has doubled to fly 8 to 12km farther compared with the previous version and given the regional threats that we are facing, they can be highly effective in combats in short-range combat zones,” Iranian Airborne Commander Yousef Qorbani told Iranian media.
Iran has already entrenched itself in Syria, as the regime in Tehran has help prop up Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and use Syria as a supply line to its terror proxy Hezbollah.
State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert told Fox News on April 15 that the Trump administration sees “Iran as a destabilizing factor.”
“Other administrations failed to do this in the past — look at Iran through the totality of its bad actions around the world,” Nauert said. “And we see that clear every single day in Syria, what they’re doing and the misery they’re causing.”
United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley made the rounds on the Sunday morning show circuit and announced two pieces of news: the U.S. will be imposing new sanctions on Russia and more airstrikes could be coming Syria’s way.
On Fox News Sunday, Haley stated that the Russian sanctions would occur on Monday.
“If you look at what Russia is doing, they continue to be involved with all the wrong actors, whether their involvement in Ukraine, whether you look at how they are supporting Venezuela, whether you look in Syria and their way of propping up Assad and working with Iran, that continues to be a problem,” Haley said.
Haley was also asked by Fox News’ Chris Wallace on what the Trump administration would do if Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad continued to use chemical weapons, noting that President Trump and Defense Secretary James Mattis gave seemingly contradictory statements on the matter.
“What I can tell you is the president has made it very clear that when it comes to weapons of mass destruction, we have no tolerance for it,” Haley said. “We are going to watch out for the best interests of the American people. He made a point and hopefully Assad gets it. If Assad doesn’t get it, it’s going to hurt.”
Haley declined to say if military action in Syria is a possibility.
On Friday, a U.S.-led coalition launched airstrikes against Syria in response to Assad using chemical weapons against his own people. Three chemical weapons facilities in Syria were struck, although other chemical weapon facilities were left untouched. Trump has hailed the strikes as a blow against Assad, but the Syrian dictator is reportedly in “positive spirits” after the strikes because he doesn’t think his grip on power is being threatened.
The Israel Defense Force (IDF) announced on April 13 that an Iranian drone that breached Israel in February was on its way to attack Israel with explosives.
The IDF tweeted that the drone “was armed with explosives & was tasked to attack Israel.”
“By intercepting the Iranian UAV, IAF combat helicopters prevented the attack Iran had hoped to carry out in Israel,” the IDF wrote. “The UAV was identified & tracked by Israeli defense systems until its destruction, effectively eliminating any threat the Iranian UAV posed.”
After flight path analysis & an operational & intelligence-based investigation of the Iranian UAV that infiltrated Israeli airspace on 2.10.2018, the IDF concluded that the Iranian UAV was armed with explosives & was tasked to attack Israel
— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) April 13, 2018
By intercepting the Iranian UAV, IAF combat helicopters prevented the attack Iran had hoped to carry out in Israel. The UAV was identified & tracked by Israeli defense systems until its destruction, effectively eliminating any threat the Iranian UAV posed
— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) April 13, 2018
Here is video footage of the drone being captured:
#Breaking #IDF announces that following a thourough investigation it has concluded that the #Iranian drone intercepted on February 10, was loaded with explosives and was supposed to attack Israel. pic.twitter.com/VyDucRH2gr
— LTC (R) Peter Lerner (@LTCPeterLerner) April 13, 2018
According to YNet News, Iran claimed that the drone had “advanced intelligence gathering systems for electronic signals, images, communications and radar systems.”
The Iranian drone is eerily similar to a United States drone that Iran captured in 2011. The Obama administration meekly asked for Iran to return it, a request that was naturally shot down by the Iranian regime.
Back in February, Israel responded to Iran sending the drone by launching a flurry of 122 airstrikes against the Iranians in Syria. An Israeli F-16 was shot down by the Syrian Army, although the pilots survived.
“We dealt severe blows to the Iranian and Syrian forces,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defiantly said at the time. “We made it unequivocally clear to everyone that our rules of action have not changed one bit. We will continue to strike at every attempt to strike at us.”
The Iranian regime is threatening to resume their nuclear enrichment program soon – possibly days.
According to the Washington Free Beacon, the leader of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, told Iran’s media that it could only take a few days for Iran to reach the 20% enrichment level.
“If senior Islamic Republic officials issue an order to resume the 20% enrichment, we can do it in [the] Fordo [nuclear facility] within 4 days,” Salehi said.
Interestingly, Salehi made similar comments back in August.
“If we make the determination, we are able to resume 20 per cent-enrichment in at most five days,” Salehi said at the time.
President Hassan Rouhani also said at the time, “In an hour and a day, Iran could return to a more advanced level than at the beginning of the negotiations.”
Clearly, Iran thinks that such threats will cause President Trump to stay in the Iran nuclear deal.
Nuclear expert Mark Dubowitz told the Free Beacon that Salehi’s comments suggest that the Iran deal merely allows for Iran to bide time “to develop technologies that it hadn’t perfected such as advanced centrifuges and missiles.”
“His threats reveal what many deal skeptics have long argued: unless the JCPOA is fixed, Iran has pathways to dozens of nuclear-tipped missiles capable of striking U.S. forces, U.S. allies, and eventually the U.S. homeland,” Dubowitz said.
Last week, a report from the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies highlighted how the Iran deal was vaguely worded enough to allow Iran to advance its nuclear weapons program under the deal. Salehi’s remarks seemingly confirm that report.
Trump has been threatening to leave the Iran nuclear deal by the May 12 deadline if specific fixes aren’t made to it, including amending the deal so it targets Iran’s ballistic missile program. The Europeans, who support the deal in part because of trade, are reportedly becoming increasingly pessimistic that the deal will remain intact after the deadline passes.