An undated handout picture shows the Iranian supersonic ballistic missile launching during a war-game in an unknown location in Iran. Photo by Fars News/Reuters

Iran says missile can reach Tel Aviv in 7 minutes

A senior Iranian official threatened immediate retaliation against Israel if it is attacked, warning that Iranian missiles can reach Tel Aviv in seven minutes.

Mojtaba Zonour, a senior member of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission and a former Revolutionary Guards official, made the remarks over the weekend to Iran’s Fars news agency. Zonour also threatened to destroy the American military base in nearby Bahrain if Iran is attacked.

“The U.S. Army’s 5th Fleet has occupied a part of Bahrain, and the enemy’s farthest military base is in the Indian Ocean, but these points are all within the range of Iran’s missile systems and they will be razed to the ground if the enemy makes a mistake,” Zonour said Saturday. He added: “And only seven minutes is needed for the Iranian missile to hit Tel Aviv.”

The comments came in the wake of Iran’s testing last week of a ballistic missile, a move that prompted President Donald Trump to impose a new round of sanctions on the Islamic Republic. The test also set off a flurry of tweets from Trump, included one on Feb. 2 saying that “Iran has been formally PUT ON NOTICE for firing a ballistic missile.” The following day, Trump tweeted that Iran is “playing with fire.”

On Friday, the U.S. Treasury Department announced a new round of sanctions targeting individuals or entities it said had assisted Iran’s missile program.

White House senior advisor Steve Bannon attends as U.S. President Donald Trump signs executive orders in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Sunday Reads: Steve Bannon’s book club, The new red-line with Iran, Netanyahu’s flattery for Amona


Marc Tracy crossed paths with Steve Bannon and found it interesting that he was reading David Halberstram:

Mr. Bannon was carrying a book, and when an incoming president’s guru is reading a book, you should find out what it is. I walked by and peeked. It was “The Best and the Brightest,” David Halberstam’s 1972 history of the strategic errors and human foibles that birthed the disastrous American involvement in the Vietnam War. It begins with John F. Kennedy’s transition to the White House, in December 1960.

Now I really knew it was him.

Adam Chandler writes about Trump’s non-policy on Israeli settlements:

Four days after Donald Trump’s inauguration, the Israeli government announced that it would build 2,500 new housing units in the West Bank. In another era—as in anytime before two weeks ago—this kind of announcement would have immediately drawn censure from the State Department and perhaps even the president. Instead, the White House said nothing. Palestinian officials, international observers, and some Israelis were dismayed. On the Israeli right, there was jubilation: “We’re going back to normal life in Judea and Samaria” Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in a statement, referring to the West Bank by its biblical names.


Yossi Shain writes about the growing ideological disparity between American Jewry and the Israeli government:

There is a big, dangerous gap between the passionate embrace US President Donald Trump is receiving from the Israeli government and the great amount of hatred towards him among liberal elements and many in the American political center. This situation could create an even bigger split among American Jewry, which mostly votes Democrat.

Mazal Mualem criticizes the Israeli right’s “flattery fest” for Amona:

During the late afternoon of Feb. 2, as harsh images of the violent evictions from the Amona outpost and reports of wounded police officers flooded the media, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a speech in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, at a memorial for Ron Nahman, the town’s former mayor. Having avoided the Amona eviction for a few weeks, Netanyahu took advantage of the forum to talk about it. During the eviction, activists threw cleaning liquids, acid, oil and glass bottles at the police, but anyone expecting to hear Netanyahu disavow their shameful actions, never mind condemn them, was soon disappointed.

Middle East

Derek Chollet thinks that the US will come to regret the new red-line with Iran:

As some of my Shadow Government colleagues have correctly observed, there is a good reasons for calling out Iran’s destabilizing behavior, even if the Trump administration could have done so more artfully and with a greater chance of bringing other countries along (including Russia). But the challenge for Trump now will be similar to what Obama faced: By sending such a message, every step over the line on Iran’s part can be portrayed as a test of manhood — with the press, national security hawks, and certain allies goading the president into action.

Saeed Kamali Dehghan believes Trump is playing into the hands of Iranian hardliners:

Iranians have paid a high price for the inflammatory statements of their statesmen, but they have paid a bigger price for the ignorance of the opposite side to domestic politics in Iran, its lack of knowledge about the country’s history. Trump’s behaviour only plays into the hands of hardliners in Iran, particularly those who want to show the president, Hassan Rouhani, was wrong to find peace with the west.

For nearly 38 years, Iranian leaders have failed to convince their people that the US, which they call “the Great Satan”, was their “enemy” too. Trump’s first fortnight in office suggests that he may do that job for them.

Jewish World

Alon Pinkas believes that American Jews are just not that into Israel:

There is a false and misleading premise, adopted conveniently by most Israelis and some in the American Jewish community according to which American Jews wake up in the morning, spend their productive day and go to sleep at night thinking about Israel and what they have done for it today. That was never the case.

Sue Eisenfeld visits some of America’s most endangered Jewish communities:

I have traveled to more than 10 dead and dying Jewish communities, mostly in the Deep South, some of which are too-far gone or too-long dead for JCLP to work with. What is heartbreaking is witnessing the remains of Jewish life where there is still something left to save, if only a savior would appear. These are places where the synagogue has been torn down or sold or is having trouble staying afloat due to a dwindling population, or where the old Jewish cemetery — once on the outskirts of town and now in the middle of a development that doesn’t necessarily value it — has only one person, or no one, left to care for it and pay for maintenance or restoration.


U.S. President Donald Trump gives a thumbs-up to members of the news media before boarding Marine One and departing the White House Feb. 3 (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Is Trump reversing course on settlements and Iran?

Israeli settlements are no big problem. Wait — maybe they are, after all.

The Iran deal is trash. No, the deal is here to stay, despite being “weak.”

On Thursday, the White House pronounced on Israel’s announced settlement expansion that it “may not help” peace, and it put Iran “on notice” for testing ballistic missiles and announced new sanctions while the president fought with the regime on Twitter.

Was the settlements announcement a back-to-Obama moment, auguring renewed U.S.-Israel tensions? Was it a return to Bush — W, that is — setting the stage for a compromise and anticipating resolution of an issue that has dogged U.S.-Israel relations for decades?

Is the Iran nuclear deal, reviled by the Netanyahu government, on its last legs? Or is it getting a new lease on life?

Let’s have a look at what President Donald Trump said and what was actually done.


What’s new:

The Trump administration for the first time since his election pronounced on settlements.

“While we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal,” the White House said in a statement.

Back to Obama?

No, not even close.

The Obama administration repeatedly and pronouncedly said settlements were an impediment to peace, and into its final days, it allowed a U.N. Security Council resolution to pass that condemned the settlements.

“It is not this resolution that is isolating Israel, it is the pernicious policy of settlement construction that is making peace impossible,” former Secretary of State John Kerry said in December in one of his final speeches in the job.

Back to Bush?

Closer, but not quite.

Focusing on “the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders” sounds a lot like the policy President George W. Bush is said to have endorsed after he sent then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a letter in 2004, saying the United States recognized that some settlements constituted “realities on the ground.”

Israeli and U.S. officials at the time said Bush quietly agreed that this formulation would allow for “natural growth” in existing settlements. (What’s at dispute is whether Bush adhered to this formula throughout the rest of his presidency. Some officials have said he believed that Sharon took too many liberties with what constituted “natural growth” and that by the time Bush left office in 2009, the agreement to abide “natural growth” was not active.)

The departure from the policies of George W. Bush – considered, with Bill Clinton, the friendliest president to Israel – and their predecessors is in the use of “impediment.” Bush used the word in 2008, at least to describe settlements built beyond existing settlement boundaries.

Sean Spicer, Trump’s spokesman, appeared to say Friday during a briefing that what’s built — established settlement, recent outpost, the whole shebang — can stay in place. The key word is “current.”

“We don’t believe that the existence of current settlements is an impediment to peace, but we don’t believe the construction or expansion of settlements beyond current borders is helpful,” he said.

Another major departure from the policies of both Clinton and George W. Bush is the absence of any mention of a two-state solution. Trump has said he wants to broker a deal, and has tapped his Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as his point man. But as of Friday, Spicer would not be pinned down on two states.

“At the end of the day the goal is peace, and that’s going to be a subject that they discuss, and that’s all I’m going to say,” he said in response to a reporter’s question, referring to the White House meeting scheduled for Feb. 15 between Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

This might not be the final word. There was a jarring sentence at the end of Thursday’s White House statement.

“The Trump administration has not taken an official position on settlement activity,” it said, rounding out a statement that of itself was an official position on settlement activity. Translation: Wait until Netanyahu and Trump pow-wow and we may know more.


What’s new:

On Sunday, Iran tested ballistic missiles. On Wednesday, National Security Adviser Mike Flynn said Iran was “on notice.” The next two days, Trump followed up with tough-talking tweets. The Iranians dished back, also on Twitter.

Back to Obama?

More or less, without the rhetoric.

The last time Iran tested a ballistic missile, in January 2016, Obama slapped sanctions on 11 entities and individuals. On Friday, Trump more than doubled that to 25.

The effect is the same: An acknowledgment that the missile tests do not directly violate the Iran nuclear deal, but a reminder nonetheless that because they do violate U.N. Security Council resolutions, they will trigger penalties.

Spicer acknowledged Friday that the sanctions were an Obama redux, noting that their architect in the last administration, Adam Szubin, who ran the sanctions regime for Obama, is acting Treasury secretary.

The sanctions were “in the pipeline,” Spicer said, and Szubin had lined them up well before Trump was inaugurated in anticipation that Iran would launch a provocation of some kind.

“He served in the last administration,” Spicer said of Szubin, “and these kind of sanctions don’t happen quickly.”

That said, there was a ratcheting up of rhetoric. Szubin, as an Obama official a year ago, was specific in describing the penalties.

“We have consistently made clear that the United States will vigorously press sanctions against Iranian activities outside of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — including those related to Iran’s support for terrorism, regional destabilization, human rights abuses and ballistic missile program,” he said at the time.

Flynn, by contrast, was more vague – and, as a result, at least seemed more threatening.

“As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice,” he said Wednesday.

Announcing the sanctions Friday, Flynn again sounded a warning but did not make clear any precise actions.

“The Trump Administration will no longer tolerate Iran’s provocations that threaten our interests,” he said. “The days of turning a blind eye to Iran’s hostile and belligerent actions toward the United States and the world community are over.”

Trump sounded a similarly belligerent if unspecific tone on Twitter on Thursday and Friday, and like Flynn took swipes at the Obama administration for being too soft on the Iranians.

“Iran is playing with fire,” Trump said in his tweet Friday. “They don’t appreciate how ‘kind’ President Obama was to them. Not me!”

“We will never use our weapons against anyone, except in self-defense,” he said in the same forum. “Let us see if any of those who complain can make the same statement.”

Spicer was asked at his briefing whether the tough talk meant Trump was ready to scrap the Iran nuclear deal.

“The deal that was struck was a bad deal, that we gave Iran too much and we got too little for it,” he said. Spicer did not say, however, whether Trump was ready to take that leap.

That’s consistent with the posture of Trump’s secretary of defense, James Mattis, who has agreed the deal is weak but advised that scrapping it would be unwise.

Dual Tragedy of the Plasco Building Fire

For many Iranian-American Jews, the fire in and collapse of the historic Plasco Building in Tehran on Jan. 19 was a tragedy many times over.

The heartbreak comes not only from the loss of 75 innocent lives who tried to fight the fire or were trapped in the building; the building’s demise also rekindled the painful memories of the unjust execution of Habib Elghanian, the Jewish community leader who originally built the structure. The Plasco Building was one of the remaining symbols of the Jewish community’s height of success in Iran during its modern “golden age.” Not to acknowledge the Elghanian family’s role in this building’s creation and the tragedy that befell Habib Elghanian at the hands of the Iranian regime is also a travesty.

Media outlets worldwide have not extensively acknowledged the important role of the Elghanian family in the Plasco Building’s creation or only briefly mentioned Habib Elghanian’s name in passing. Elghanian and his brothers were among the most affluent and successful Jewish businessmen in Iran before the 1979 Iranian Revolution. They not only imported an array of goods from the West into the Iranian market and expanded infrastructure but also brought new technologies to Iran that helped the country manufacture its own goods and, as a result, helped employ thousands of Iranians in their businesses. The Elghanian family was equally generous in giving back to countless needy causes in Iran, Jewish and non-Jewish.

The Plasco Building, completed in 1962 and standing 17 stories, was the first privately built “high rise” of the modern era created in Iran. It was also the first modern “mall” of that early era in Iran, with floors that were home to many new stores for various goods and services. The Plasco Building was elegant and modern in design and structure for its time, and a huge departure from the ancient slum-like “bazaars” of Iran’s past where people typically went to buy their goods. At a time when Iran was beginning to modernize, the building was a powerful symbol of both the country’s positive transformation and the immense achievement of Iranian Jews.

It was likewise a symbol of great pride for Iranian Jews who, just four decades before, had been forced by the Qajar kings of Iran to live in poverty and in run-down ghettos.

“Jews were proud, of course, that a Jewish person had built this iconic building, but many elders in the community were apprehensive about its implications and the much expected backlash by Muslims, envious of Jewish accomplishments,” Frank Nikbakht, an Iranian-Jewish activist living in Los Angeles, told me this week.

Jewish community leaders in Iran worried about the Plasco Building’s backlash because, according to Shahrzad Elghanayan, Habib Elghanian’s granddaughter, Iranian Shiite cleric Mahmoud Taleghani “objected to the idea that a Jew had built the tallest building of its time in Iran.” No doubt Taleghani, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and other Shiite clerics were furious at the Pahlavi kings, who had created an environment of co-existence and tolerance among Muslims and non-Muslims in Iran. The late Shah of Iran and his father had essentially set aside the old Islamic Shariah laws, which were designed to impose or ensure superiority of Muslims over Jews or other “infidels.” The Plasco Building, built and owned by a Jew, was a direct slap in the face to that radical Islamic dogma at the time because the notion of a Jewish building being taller in size than Muslim-owned buildings was a totally unacceptable notion for the fanatic Iranian religious clerics.

When Elghanian was executed, the news spread like wildfire among Iran’s 80,000-strong Jewish community and sparked the first massive wave of Jews fleeing the country.

Those fears turned out to be prescient. On May 9, 1979, Elghanian was executed by a firing squad of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard after being accused on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel and the United States. Elghanian first was given a 20-minute sham trial in front of the Iranian Revolution Court and TV cameras, but never was allowed to consult with an attorney, nor any chance to defend himself from the baseless charges. When Elghanian was executed, the news spread like wildfire among Iran’s 80,000-strong Jewish community and sparked the first massive wave of Jews fleeing the country. On that disastrous day, the lives of Iran’s Jews were forever transformed for the worse. It was then that they realized when their beloved community leader could be so easily executed with no real evidence, they too were no longer safe in a country where they had lived for nearly 3,000 years.

In 2009, on the 30th anniversary of his execution, I had the unique opportunity to interview Elghanian family members, Iranian-Jewish leaders and Iranian Muslims who knew Habib Elghanian well and who recalled their memories of his imprisonment and execution. One of the most revealing interviews I had was with Sion Elghanian, Habib Elghanian’s brother, who told me that Habib had left Iran during the initial chaos of the revolution but then returned to Iran because of his patriotism and commitment to Iran’s Jews as their leader.

“We all begged him not to go back to Iran — including Israeli Prime Minister Begin, because we all knew the new regime would execute him if he returned,” Sion Elghanian said. “He said, ‘I have done nothing wrong for them to execute me. I’ve created jobs and businesses to help the country grow and helped many Iranians of all faiths. Why should they kill me?’ ”

Sion revealed his family had made plans to bribe officials to help Habib escape the prison and country, but Habib refused to go along with the plans.

“He told us he would not go along with the plan to escape because if he did, the Iranian regime would take revenge by executing Jews in Iran. In this way, he sacrificed his life for the community.”

Another revealing interview was of an Iranian-Muslim businessman named Nasser Oliae, who was a longtime Elghanian friend and had nothing but praise for him. “One day they must create a giant statue of Habib Elghanian in the middle of Tehran for all of the great things he did for that country! He brought the plastics manufacturing industry to Iran, he hired thousands of people, he gave generously to thousands of Iranians of all religions who were needy. He was a man who truly loved Iran and wanted to see the country’s success,” Oliae said.

Habib Elghanian

Habib Elghanian

Habib Elghanian was an innocent Jew who was executed for no reason by the evil Iranian regime, and that regime still has not apologized to Iranian Jewry for this injustice.

Elghanian family members sold the building in 1975 to Hojabr Yazdani, an affluent Iranian-Baha’i businessman. After the revolution, the Iranian regime’s official “nonprofit” organization, called Bonyad-e Mostaz-afaan, confiscated the Plasco Building from Yazdani in 1979, and has been operating it since then. Bonyad-e Mostaz-afaan, which translates to “organization for the oppressed people,” was a front established by the Iranian regime’s ayatollahs after the 1979 Revolution to expropriate the assets of any person who they believed was an “infidel” in order to allegedly “redistribute” it to the poor or needy in Iran. Unfortunately for Iran’s poor, the Bonyad-e Mostaz-afaan has in the past 38 years never given a penny to them. Instead, the money and assets this group has confiscated over the years from Jews, Muslims, Christians and Baha’is have all gone into the pockets of the ruling Iranian ayatollahs. All of the Elghanian family assets and properties were also confiscated by the Bonyad-e Mostaz-afaan.

What is truly unfortunate about the recent Plasco Building fire was the fact that, since it was owned by the Iranian regime, no one will be brought to justice for the failure to upkeep the building and prevent the fire hazards that brought it down. We will never know what caused the fire or explosion that destroyed this iconic building in Tehran, and sadly, the ayatollahs who profited from the building for the past 38 years will never be held accountable for the fire code violations that resulted in the loss of so many innocent lives.

In the end, the Plasco Building fire disaster not only caused the death of many individuals but the loss of one of the remaining symbols of Jewish contributions to Iran during the 20th century. The building was also a symbol of the bygone era of modernity and new development that an Iranian Jew named Habib Elghanian and his brothers brought to Iran. Today, we cannot forget the calamity that befell Habib Elghanian at the hands of the current Iranian regime, nor can we forget the tremendous contributions thousands of Iranian Jews made to the betterment of the nation of Iran during the 20th century. 

Thank you, Obama

Thank you, President Barack Obama, for serving the country for the past eight years.

Thank you, Obama, for not moving the American embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. You were wise enough to follow the lead of your Democratic and Republican predecessors and realize the chaos such a move could cause would not be worth the cost. There is no doubt the embassy should be in Jerusalem. There is no question that Jerusalem is the eternal and contemporary capital of Israel. But thank you for knowing that not every right must be claimed at any cost.

Thank you for protecting Israel when and where it mattered most: with off-budget millions for Iron Dome, for standing up for Israel’s right to defend itself in the Gaza war, for a record-setting $38 billion in aid. 

Thank you for declaring as eloquently as any president ever has, and in as many international forums as possible, the value and justice of a Jewish state. Thank you for trying to protect that state from pursuing policies that will endanger its own existence.

Thank you for the Iran deal. Before the deal, Iran was weeks from attaining nuclear bomb capability. Now the world has a decade before the mullahs have the capability of developing a bomb. You tackled a problem that only had gotten worse under previous American and Israeli leaders. Despite fierce opposition, you found a solution that even those Israelis who hated it have grown to see as beneficial. 

Thank you for killing Osama bin Laden. And for taking out al-Qaida’s senior leadership. And for stopping and reversing gains by ISIS. You know who’s really happy to see you go? Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. 

Thank you for standing up to Vladimir Putin. You saw the expansionist, anti-democratic nature of Putin’s actions in Ukraine and quickly confronted him. Perhaps that opposition slowed what may have been an inevitable march through the Baltics. There is nothing wrong with having positive relations with Russia, but “positive” cannot mean giving the Putin regime a pass. 

Thank you for recognizing our Cuba embargo was a failed policy and that the time for change had come. 

Thank you for steering the country through the recession. Thank you for cutting unemployment in half. And for doing so in the face of Republican obstructionism on the kind of infrastructure bill that your successor now likely will get through. 

Thank you for doubling clean energy production. For recognizing that our dependence on fossil fuels can’t help but degrade our environment and hold us back from being competitive in the green energy future, and embolden corrupt and backward regimes from Venezuela to the Middle East to Russia. 

Thank you for saving the American auto industry. You revived General Motors with $50 billion in loans, saving 1.2 million jobs and creating $35 billion in tax revenue so far. Have you checked out GM’s Chevy Bolt? All electric, 240 miles per charge, drives like a rocket and made in Detroit. They should call it the “Obamacar.”

Thank you for the Paris Agreement to address climate change. Thank you for throwing America’s lot in with the rest of the planet.

Thank you for the Affordable Care Act. It has brought the security of health care to millions. It has saved lives. It has kept the rate of cost increases in premiums lower in the past eight years than they were in the previous eight years. It needs to be fixed — what doesn’t? — but only with better ideas, not worse ones.

Thank you for Merrick Garland. It was a great idea while it lasted.

Thank you for trying to get immigration reform through Congress, and for pursuing the policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which let 5 million people already living and working here come out of the shadows. 

Thanks for Michelle. Not just her brains and biceps, but her choice of causes. Your wife saw all the good the food movement had accomplished from the grass roots up and planted it squarely in the front yard of the White House, where it would grow even more from the top down.

Thank you for trying. You grappled with one great chaos after another, and sometimes you fell short. In Syria, you needed a smarter course of action. In Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, you underestimated the need, early on, to deal with Israeli fears and Palestinian obstructionism. As for ending the Sudan embargo, the jury is out. Stateside, your administration should have put some of the bad guys of the recession behind bars and found fixes that better addressed the wealth gap. 

Time will reveal more blemishes — and heal some of the scars. But in the meantime:

Thank you. Thank you for not embarrassing us, your family or yourself. Though your opponents and their friends at “Fox and Friends” tried to pin scandals to you, none could stick. In my lifetime, there has never been an administration so free from personal and professional moral stain. 

Thank you for the seriousness, dignity, grace, humor and cool you brought to the Oval Office. Thank you for being my president.

ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism and @RobEshman.

Meant2Be: From war to wedding day

In late 1987, I sat on the cold steps outside of our home in Tehran and held a transistor radio tightly in my small, 5-year-old hands. My mother begged me to come back inside, but I adamantly refused, as I wanted some notice via radio of the expected time of the next Iraqi air raid against Tehran. 

It was the height of the devastating “War of the Cities” during the Iran-Iraq War, and I had developed such a terrifying aversion to the Iraqi ballistic missiles that pounded my neighborhood that I would sit outside for hours and listen to the latest news of impending attacks. 

There was only one thing that could draw me back inside.

“They’re playing your favorite song,” my mother would solemnly say, and I would rush back into the house and hear the heavenly contralto of the Iranian singer named Hayedeh. Of course, she herself had escaped Iran shortly before the Islamic Revolution and her music, deemed illegal by the regime, was now being recorded in Los Angeles. Like thousands of Iranians, our family was treated to all kinds of illegal music courtesy of the Voice of Israel program on our short-wave radio.

All of life has a soundtrack, even war. For me, the melody of those traumatic Iraqi attacks was trapped in a Hayedeh song called, “Shabe Eshgh,” or “Night of Love,” in which she remembered her beloved and lamented, “This one night of love / We only have this night / Why not leave the tales of despair and pain / Until tomorrow?” 

Besides the haunting vocals and rich instrumentation, the song itself was an emblem of everything the Islamic Revolution and the war against Iraq signaled for Iranians — namely, the loss of love, home, and family bonds. Hayedeh’s sweet voice offered a comforting reminder for us to live with love as she sang, “How good would it be if in the world / One tomorrow belonged to us?”

I listened to “Shabe Eshgh” until I fell asleep in my mother’s arms, and I was almost always awakened by the boom of another Iraqi bomb. 

That same year, in a city 600 miles south of Tehran named Shiraz, a 5-year-old boy spent hours huddled beneath furniture in his home as the Iraqis mercilessly targeted his once-serene neighborhood. His name, Payam, meant a “prophetic message.” I met that boy in 2013 in front of a Starbucks in Beverly Hills.

It was literally a blind date for me; I removed my eyeglasses to appear more sexy as I walked up to him, only to find that he was wearing glasses thicker than mine. As we talked that night, we felt a sense of wonder about each other, almost as if we were thinking: Who are you, and why didn’t I meet you sooner? 

We closed down Starbucks, which was full of Reform Jews. We closed down Urth Caffe, which was full of Persian Jews (and a few Saudis). And when Payam suggested that we grab some kosher schnitzel, I knew I had to play hard to get.

Payam challenged every ridiculous rule I had set up for myself, namely: Never marry a Persian guy. I mostly abided by this rule to protect myself, because Persian men never seemed to like me. Payam also defied my second rule: Never marry someone who understands Persian. I was no fool. I knew the boundaries my mother pushed in her native tongue. 

And yet, my affection for the tall, bespectacled Shirazi grew like the mustache I had tried so desperately to shed since I was 12.

Payam had arrived from Iran to Arizona (of all places) in the late 1990s, and was one of three Iranians in his high school. My alma mater, Beverly Hills High School, closed for Persian New Year. 

He had lived in Seattle for years and, having had no luck finding his soul mate there, had sacrificed evergreen trees and Mount Rainier for Pico-Robertson and a chance to meet a nice Jewish girl in L.A. He was the kindest man who had ever bought me tea. In fact, he was so kind and humble that I was sure that he was not from L.A.

We were married in 2014, exactly nine months after our first date, and exactly 25 years to the day after my family and I had arrived in Los Angeles as protected Iranian-Jewish refugees. Our little (by Persian standards) wedding was held in Yedidia Shofet Hall at Nessah Synagogue, named for the same holy rabbi, z”l, who had married my mother and father in Tehran in the late 1970s. Payam walked down the aisle to “Shah Damad,” a wonderful, classic Persian song about a glorious groom. 

As for me, I entered the hall just as the soft light of the summer day danced into the large synagogue windows and the exquisite melody of “Shabe Eshgh” played in the background, infusing my every step with peace, security and an eternal, wondrous gratitude for our tomorrow.

Tabby Refael is a Los Angeles-based writer.

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Iran looks dominant, for now, in Middle East’s proxy war

This story originally appeared on

At a time when Iran and Saudi Arabia continue to wage a proxy war against each other that has bled into, and enflamed, many of the Middle East’s conflicts, Iranian media responded positively to a surprise announcement last week that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) would cut production of oil, a move that was interpreted as a diplomatic defeat for Saudi Arabia. 

Were Iranian newspapers merely playing to the home side bias or are they right to have sensed that the initiative in the Middle East’s cold war is swinging behind Tehran, the capital of Iran? OPEC’s 13 members agreed to a combined production cut of 1.2 million barrels of oil per day in an attempt to reduce the oversaturation of the market and increase oil prices. As part of the deal, Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest exporter of petroleum, agreed to cut its output by half a million barrels per day. Iran on the other hand was told it could increase production by up to 90,000 barrels per day as it complained of lost market share during years of economic sanctions, out of which it has only recently emerged. 

But spats over the cost of oil are not the start and end of the regional powers’ rivalry. In a number of the region’s most violent conflicts, the hand of both can be seen influencing players on the ground. Like the USSR and the United States before them, Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia are taking shots at each other through a number of warring factions in several conflict zones. In each of these theaters, the regional powers are backing groups linked by sectarian ties to their own cause, though the extent and nature of their support is often contested.

This raises the question: Who appears to be winning the proxy war? 

In Yemen, Saudi Arabia launched a campaign of airstrikes 18 months ago, targeting the Houthi faction in the country’s internal power struggle. A Shiite paramilitary group, the Houthi are allegedly backed by the Iranian government. Despite showing off a newly purchased fleet of military aircraft, Saudi Arabia’s intervention has caught more headlines for concerns over civilian casualties than for the defeat of the Shiite group. 

By contrast, in Syria, where the Iranian government has invested heavily, recent defeats for Sunni rebels in Aleppo appear to show that Tehran’s desired outcome is making progress. Although the bolstering of the Syrian regime currently has more to do with Russian intervention, it nonetheless supports the objectives of Iran. While Russia supported Bashar Assad, Syria’s president, through airpower, Iran has provided military personnel as advisers — and possibly fighters — and has encouraged a number of Shiite militias to enter the fight, providing much-needed ground troops. 

In neighboring Iraq, Iran has the ear of the government and has close ties to a number of paramilitary groups, which are fighting against ISIS and upon which the government is reliant.

The news from the battlefields, when combined with the diplomatic and economic wrangling over sanctions and oil prices, might give the impression that Iran is in the driver’s seat. But this can depend on whom you ask.  

“Nobody has yet thrown a knockout punch. It’s ongoing with one scoring here and the other scoring there,” Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a retired professor of politics and chairman of the Arab Council for Social Science in the United Arab Emirates, said. In Yemen, Saudi Arabia’s intervention prevented the worst-case scenario, the creation of “an Iranian satellite state in their own backyard,” the professor said. While in Syria, he pointed out the loss in blood and treasure that Tehran had borne for its support of the Syrian government. 

Trita Parsi, the founder and president of the National Iranian American Council, took a different view, arguing that Saudi Arabia was in decline already and had been for the last decade due to its reliance on Washington. 

“U.S. power has been dwindling since the ill-conceived invasion of Iraq … [and] Saudi Arabia is dependent on that power for its own protection and standing,” Parsi wrote by email. If you were to examine Saudi Arabia’s action in Yemen and its failure to block Iranian objectives in Syria then, as Parsi put it, “Saudi’s resistive decline becomes target evident.” 

The Middle East’s cold war would continue for some time to come, and with the inauguration of Donald Trump on the horizon, the balance of power could shift considerably.

“I’m sure Iran is not very happy. They’ve lost [U.S. President Barack] Obama … a great strategic asset,” Abdulkhaleq Abdulla commented, noting that the next administration would be very different. Trump is gathering a team that could be described as “very much an anti-Iran team,” the retired professor said. 

On this point, Parsi agreed. “Many of the cold warriors Trump is bringing to the White House wish to re-establish America’s hegemony in the Middle East,” he argued, noting this gives Saudi Arabia an edge. “If you subscribe to that objective, you will see Iran as an enemy since it challenges America’s leadership, and you’ll see Saudi as a friend since it wants and begs for Pax Americana.”

Letters to the Editor: Election and immigration

The Left, the Right and the Election

Dennis Prager declares Good triumphed over Evil by stating: “Turns out the whole Democratic Party lost hugely on Election Day” (“Please Keep Calling Us Racists and Misogynists,” Nov. 18). He failed to look at the numbers. As of late November, the Democratic candidate had garnered more than 2 million more votes than his president-elect. Therefore, the Democratic Party is the majority party. The Republican candidate was saved by the Electoral College likely to give him 282 votes. 

I wish his president-elect good luck. I hope he will rise above his questionable utterances made during the campaign and be a good president for Americans of both sexes, all races and all religions.

And, who knows, maybe his Jewish grandson will be a Democrat and be the first Jewish president 50 or 60 years from now.

Ken Lautman, Los Angeles

While Republican Party apologist Dennis Prager bloviates about his party’s wins on election night, he misses the point in his urgency to again demonize the left for its “half-century [of] libeling and labeling conservatives” and “the harm the left has done to … Judaism, Jews, America and to Western civilization.”

Over 70 percent of eligible, registered voters either didn’t vote at all or voted against Donald Trump. In the face of this non-mandate, which Hillary Clinton would have inherited, as well, Mr. Prager has curiously chosen to strafe the left and to ignore perhaps a greater task at hand: to use his voice to help heal his own Republican Party, and, rather than chastising caring Jews who sat shivah last week, lead by example in words and deeds why we should do teshuvah and return to the Republican Party. Essentially, Mr. Prager missed a golden opportunity.

Graham Becker, Oak Park, Calif.

Dennis Prager writes, “For eight years, many on the left have described criticism of Barack Obama as racist. … For the left, it is not possible that conservative opposition to [Obama] has been rooted in public policy and moral differences that have nothing to do with race.”

Numerous polls have shown that more than 40 percent of Republicans believe President Barack Obama was born in Kenya and is a Muslim. Donald Trump and the conservative media who propagated these calumnies (and Republicans who embraced these lies) did so solely to delegitimize the presidency of Barack Obama. And they did it for only one reason: because he is Black.

This has nothing to do with “public policy and moral differences” and everything to do with race. 

Michael Asher via email

It is amazing that after all the information came out, no thanks to the mainstream media, about Hillary Clinton, (“The New Political Reality,” Nov. 18) that The New York Times reported that 71 percent of “Jews” still supported her candidacy! 

But, again, not all the Jews of Mitzrayim left with Moses.

This election was a beautiful morality play, and thank God, it turned out right.

Enriqué Gascon, Los Angeles

An Iranian Jew’s View of Immigration

As a fellow American Jew with an Iranian heritage, Gina Nahai’s series of “do you ever think” admonitions posing as “questions” would have been demeaning were they not devoid of intellectual rigor and evident of a pervasive bubble mentality among the left’s elite (“Appeasing the Crocodile,” Nov. 18). Immigration laws of any nation are intended, first and foremost, to protect the safety and well-being of its citizens. A charitable and moral country such as ours (perhaps the most in the history of mankind) also welcomes the benighted and offers a haven to the persecuted, but not at the risk or to the detriment of its citizens. A nation without borders cannot remain a nation. I doubt Ms. Nahai leaves her home door unlocked anytime during the day. If a minority voice among my cultural cohort exhibited anti-American sentiments, I would 1) expect my government’s vigilance in monitoring its immigration, and 2) speak up against its perversion, not cast dispersion from the luxury and safety of my Westside home. Ms. Nahai is disingenuous by claiming she has only “one question” and is “not attempting to make a point here,” but the real question is why isn’t the answer self-evident to the intellectual left?

Ramin Kianfar via email

He reached into his pockets to give back

As members of Iran’s Jewish community fled their home nation over the years and settled in places like Los Angeles and New York, they brought with them both an entrepreneurial spirit and a philanthropic one.

Take the example of David Merage, who did more than build up a multibillion-dollar business; he has spent the last decade donating money and hands-on planning to projects funded by his nonprofit foundation.

“I believe everyone has an obligation to give back to their community and especially to the Jewish community and Israel,” Merage wrote in an email to the Journal while he was traveling overseas. “The satisfaction one receives from giving is by itself motivation to give even more.”

The 67-year-old Merage came to the U.S. in 1968 in pursuit of a college education. Along with his brother, Paul, and late father, Andre, he founded Chef America, a San Fernando Valley-based frozen foods company, in 1977. The business achieved substantial success after manufacturing and selling nationwide the popular Hot Pockets microwavable frozen snacks. 

After selling the company to Nestlé in 2002 for $2.6 billion, Merage set up a Denver-based investment firm focusing on Wall Street and real estate investments but also began his philanthropic work with his wife, Laura, through the David and Laura Merage Foundation. As part of its work, the foundation develops partnerships with governments and other donors to support an array of causes, including early childhood education, arts and culture, community development and various projects in Israel.

“[The Merages] are very focused on solutions and really want to make an impact or change to various causes they find important,” said Sue Renner, the foundation’s executive director. “They are not necessarily seeking accolades for the philanthropic work that they do and many of the causes they support are not glamorous. And they are not just giving money to a cause, but they put their brain trust, their time and strategy into making a real difference.”

Merage is joined in giving back by his brother, Paul, who now lives in Orange County. He founded and oversees the Merage Institute, a nonprofit that sponsors educational programs such as the U.S.-Israel Technology Bridge and High Hopes for Children. 

David Merage and his family, who split their time between Denver and Southern California, have given to various Jewish and non-Jewish causes. Their work with The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles includes the development of an initiative to keep young adults involved with Israel issues after they have visited the country through the Birthright program, Renner said. Their foundation also has donated to JConnectLA, the Jewish networking group for young singles, as well as to ETTA, which offers programs and services for people with special needs. 

In Israel, the Merage Foundation has provided interest-free loans to needy but academically advanced Israeli graduate students studying at universities there. This was the result of a partnership with the Magbit Foundation, a nonprofit started in 1990 by members of L.A.’s Iranian Jewish community.

Merage’s roots are part of his passion when it comes to philanthropy. In October 2008, Merage was one of a dozen Iranian-Jewish businessmen in Los Angeles who spearheaded an event that raised raised nearly $1 million for Mikveh Israel, an Alliance Israelite Universelle (AIU) school in central Israel. Established in 1870 to help new immigrants learn Hebrew and new trades, it was suffering from financial difficulties.

The AIU was first set up in 1860 by affluent French Jews to provide education to Mizrahi Jews living in many Islamic countries, and Merage wrote in his email to the Journal that a primary reason he supported the AIU was because it provided key education to his parents in Iran that, in turn, resulted in his own pursuit of higher education and success. 

According to Habib Levy’s “A Comprehensive History of the Jews of Iran,” between 1898 and 1979, the AIU provided critical secular and Jewish education to the impoverished Jewish communities living throughout Iran, an effort that indirectly resulted in Iranian Jews gaining financial security and leaving their ghettos. This first generation of Iranian Jews educated by the AIU later sent their children to the U.S. and Europe to obtain higher education.

Merage said his contribution and those of other Iranian Jews to the AIU school — 350 attended the fundraiser he helped organize — was just an example of Jewish philanthropy coming full circle after the Iranian Jewish community benefited so much from the AIU’s work in Iran.

“This is a small payback to those who had the foresight to create the Alliance schools [in Iran],” Merage wrote. “One day, history will remember the support of the Iranian Jewish community for this school in Israel and the impact of this support for many thousands of students today and in the future.”

Many local Iranian Jewish activists and leaders praised David Merage not only for his generosity to the Iranian Jewish community in Southern California, but for setting an excellent example for the new generation of Iranian American Jews by pursuing tikkum olam (healing the world) through his philanthropic work.

“Iranian Jewry’s acculturation has been refined with the help of noted community philanthropists such as David Merage, where their umbrella of contribution has surpassed their immediate community,” said Morgan Hakimi, past president of the Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills.

Renner said in addition to supporting U.S.-based nonprofits, the Merage Foundation also has been heavily involved with giving to and developing new programs in Israel, specifically those focused on developing the Negev region.

“David and Laura, at their hearts, are true Zionists,” Renner said. “They have deep commitments to Israel and to the future of the Negev and there are hundreds of projects that they are involved with in the Negev. Their focus has been in the development of small businesses, arts, culture, technology and the future needs of the Negev — an area which is a big part of Israel’s future.”

For his part, Merage said he hopes his example of philanthropic giving will inspire others to take a hands-on approach and give back to worthy causes in whatever capacity they can.

“I hope the young Jews, both in the U.S. and Israel, will become more generous and become involved in support of their communities here and in Israel,” Merage wrote. “We are the fortunate generations. Many in the past have given to us and I hope the chain of tzedakah will not be broken by us and our children.”

Trump vs. Clinton, Round 2: Iran, Syria, dog whistles and deplorables

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump did not shake hands, and then they did. The Republican nominee called his rival the devil and said he would jail her. Clinton said that three minutes of a 2005 video in which Trump bragged about committing what constitutes sexual assault “represents exactly who he is.” He said it was “locker room talk” and – pressed hard by a moderator – said he did not commit the acts that he claimed in the video.

Those “highlights” from the debate are strewn throughout social media and are making headlines on Monday morning.

But sown throughout Sunday evening’s presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, already dubbed the most intensely negative in modern history, were notes of substance and tone. Jewish and pro-Israel readers may want to heed a number of them.

Donald Trump mentioned Iran, often.

Trump slammed the Iran nuclear deal three times, emphatically, as had his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, in his debate last week with the Democratic vice presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia.

The deal reached last year between Iran and six major powers led by the United States, which exchanges sanctions relief for rollbacks in the Iran nuclear program, has become the Trump campaign’s exhibit A in depicting the Obama administration as a foreign policy failure.

On Sunday night, Trump called it “the dumbest deal perhaps I’ve ever seen in the history of deal-making” and again said it converted Iran within three years from a weak nation to a powerful one.

It’s a notable transition: Throughout the Republican primaries, Trump said the agreement was a bad one, but was coy about whether he would rescind it, saying he would first consult experts once he was in office. It wasn’t a foreign policy priority like renegotiating trade deals or walling off Mexico.

Now the deal has become a front-and-center issue, and while Trump still is not specific on whether he would scrap the agreement altogether or attempt to renegotiate it, it is nearing the top of his to-do list.

Hillary Clinton mentioned Iran, in passing.

Clinton’s main foreign policy thrust was to remind viewers of Trump’s coziness with Russian President Vladimir Putin and present herself as a tougher alternative. She mentioned the Iran deal as a means of showing that she is capable of cooperating with Russia, while confronting it as well.

“It’s how we got the sanctions on Iran that put a lid on the Iranian nuclear program without firing a single shot,” she said of her role as secretary of state in getting a reluctant Russia on board with the sanctions regime.

The Democrat’s notation was not the seven robust mentions her running mate gave the deal in last week’s debate. Kaine, who is close to J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group that backed the deal, was instrumental last year in shepherding the deal through Congress.

Clinton instead has emphasized her role in setting up the sanctions regime and has also sought to present herself as more of a hawk than President Barack Obama. The latest dump of hacked Clinton-related emails includes one from an adviser, Stuart Eizenstat, counseling just such a distancing on the Iran deal last year.

“Hillary cannot oppose the agreement given her position as the President’s Secretary of State and should urge its approval by Congress,” Eizenstat said in an email to Clinton’s top foreign policy adviser, Jake Sullivan. “But she can and should point out concerns with it … More broadly, she should appear more muscular in her approach than the President’s.”

Did Trump just hand Syria to Iran?

Trump delivered a rambling and at times inchoate response when a moderator asked him what he would do to stop the carnage in Syria.

One clear takeaway: He does not want to confront the regime of Bashar Assad, which is principally responsible for the nearly 500,000 lives lost in the civil war that has ravaged the country since 2011. Instead, he said, the United States should solely be focused on hitting the Islamic State terrorist group. Trump said, as he has in the past, that Russia should be a partner in that enterprise. He also said he outright disagreed with Pence, his running mate, who last week said the United States should hit Assad’s military if Russia continues to slam civilians with airstrikes.

More alarmingly for Israel, Trump appeared to say that Syria is otherwise a lost cause and should be left to Assad and his allies, Russia and Iran.

“I think you have to knock out ISIS,” he said. “Right now, Syria is fighting ISIS. We have people that want to fight both at the same time. But Syria is no longer Syria. Syria is Russia and it’s Iran.”

Israel sees few good outcomes in the Syrian war. One of the worst, though, is leaving Iran, its deadliest regional enemy, indefinitely in place on its northern border.

The Syria exchange provided a notable moment for Clinton as well. Not only did she robustly differentiate herself from Obama, counseling a no-fly zone and increasing arms and training for some rebels, the sole moment she interrupted Trump (he interrupted her 18 times, according to Vox) was when he charged that she was with Obama when he violated his “line in the sand” pledge to use the military to hit Assad should his regime use chemical weapons. Assad crossed that line and Obama blinked in 2013.

Clinton pointed out that she was no longer secretary of state in 2013.

“I was gone,” she said. “I hate to interrupt you, but at some point we needed to do some fact checking.”

Ears were perked up. Was Donald whistling?

Trump, whose mentor was Roy Cohn, a counsel to the Wisconsin Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s, has exhibited a McCarthy-like penchant for guilt by association.

Many of the associations he cited Sunday evening were Jewish. Among them: Sidney Blumenthal, Clinton’s longtime friend, whom Trump (again) falsely blamed for having “started” the so-called birther rumor that Obama was born in Kenya — a rumor that Trump more than anyone else perpetuated (one mention); Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman forced out when hacked emails revealed her antipathy toward Clinton’s primaries rival, Bernie Sanders (two mentions); financier, philanthropist and Democratic Party donor George Soros, cited by Trump as, like him, a rich guy who takes advantage of tax loopholes (two mentions), and Goldman Sachs, the Jewish-founded bank that paid Clinton top dollar for her speeches (one mention).

Was Trump’s substantive following among anti-Semites within the alt-right paying attention? Jewish Twitter sure was and, like the notorious Star of David tweet and the Pepe the Frog meme, Trump may have been passing along names and themes that mean more to the alt-right than he is aware of or is willing to acknowledge.

On the other hand, Trump did not start the false rumor about Blumenthal and the Kenya birth; Wasserman Schultz was indeed DNC chairwoman, and her “victim,” in Trump’s narrative, Sanders, also is Jewish; Trump mentioned the non-Jewish billionaire Warren Buffett, another Clinton backer, when he brought up Soros, and while Goldman Sachs is only one of a number of banks that hosted Clinton, the most salient leaks in the recent batch of hacked emails were from her appearance at an event hosted by Lloyd Blankfein, the bank’s CEO.

The moderators asked Clinton about her comment last month at a fundraiser that half of Trump’s followers were “deplorables” motivated by race hatred, among other factors. At the time the former New York senator almost immediately apologized for saying it was “half,” and now she appeared to say it was down to one, Trump.

“My argument is not with his supporters,” she said. “It’s with him and with the hateful and divisive campaign that he has run, and the inciting of violence at his rallies, and the very brutal kinds of comments about not just women, but all Americans, all kinds of Americans. And what he has said about African-Americans and Latinos, about Muslims, about POWs, about immigrants, about people with disabilities, he’s never apologized for.”

Trump countered that “she has tremendous hate in her heart.”

Did Trump miss the Jewy moment?

As long as we’re circling back to the juicy bits, there was one moment I predicted would take place – but it didn’t go down exactly the way I thought.

It was a town hall forum, where undecided voters were supposed to ask questions (they kind of got lost in the sniping among the candidates and the assertive questioning by the moderators). One who stood out was the final questioner, Karl Becker, who asked: “My question to both of you is, regardless of the current rhetoric, would either of you name one positive thing that you respect in one another?”

I predicted this question and Clinton’s answer – past debates have featured similar questions, and usually the reply has to do with how one’s rival is a decent family man, if nothing else. Why would it be Jewy, this time? Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, is Jewish; his son, Eric, is married to a Jewish woman, and Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea, is married to a Jewish man.

“I think that’s a very fair and important question,” Clinton said, going first. “Look, I respect his children. His children are incredibly able and devoted, and I think that says a lot about Donald. I don’t agree with nearly anything else he says or does, but I do respect that. And I think that is something that as a mother and a grandmother is very important to me.”

Trump’s reply was that Clinton was a “fighter” who “doesn’t give up” (a little at odds with his multiple jabs about her “stamina”). But he appeared reluctant to accept Clinton’s reply as the compliment it was.

“I consider her statement about my children to be a very nice compliment,” he said. “I don’t know if it was meant to be a compliment, but it is a great — I’m very proud of my children. And they’ve done a wonderful job, and they’ve been wonderful, wonderful kids. So I consider that a compliment.”

It was an odd reply: Clinton was not saying that his good children were an anomaly, or that they turned out well in spite of him. “That says a lot about Donald,” she said, presumably crediting his parenting. (Chelsea and Ivanka are good buddies, so Clinton presumably knows whereof she speaks.)

Donald, parenting is the hardest job there is. When someone says you’ve made a good go of it, just run with it.

Iran is a contentious issue in first Clinton-Trump debate

The Iran nuclear deal was a key topic of contention in the first debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

In the national security portion of the debate Monday evening at Hofstra University in Long Island, New York, Trump raised the deal reached last year between Iran and six major powers, led by the United States, which exchanged sanction relief for limits on Iran’s uranium enrichment and other nuclear activities.

“You started the Iran deal, that’s another beauty, they were about to fall” because of sanctions, Trump said. “They were choking on the sanctions and now they’re probably going to be a major power.”

The Republican nominee cited the opposition to the deal by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, referring to a meeting he and Netanyahu had on Sunday.

“I met with Bibi Netanyahu the other day, believe me, he is not a happy camper,” Trump said.

Clinton forcefully defended her role in shaping the sanctions. “We had sanctioned them. I voted for every sanction against Iran when I was in the Senate,” said the Democratic nominee, who was the senator from New York from 2001-2009, “but it was not enough. So I spent a year forming a coalition, including Russia and China … to drive them to the negotiating table.”

She said the deal freed the United States to deal with other Iranian acts, including the Islamic Republic’s backing of terrorism and record of interfering in other countries.

“Personally, I would rather deal with the other problems having put that lid on their nuclear program,” she said.

The debate, moderated by NBC anchorman Lester Holt, covered a range of issues, including international trade, crime and race relations. Trump sought to portray Clinton as a status quo politician, and Clinton made pointed attacks on Trump’s temperament and controversial record on race and women.

Lew on cash payment: ‘Iran wanted to be paid quickly’

U.S. Secretary of Treasury Jacob Lew on Monday defended the $1.7 billion cash payment to Iran as the quickest method to pay off a settlement reached between the two countries.

“In a world where you’ve cut Iran off of much of the global financial system, they wanted to be paid quickly – which is not unusual when there is a settlement – and cash was the method that was chosen,” Lew said during a question-and-answer session at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, DC, on Monday. “I think that the issue is the same whether it was a wire transfer or cash. It was a settlement that saved the American people billions of dollars, and it resolved a long-standing legal dispute.”

“Separately, there was a negotiation to have Americans brought home,” he continued. “The fact that these things all happened at the same time is in part because the doorway to the discussions was opened at the same time.”

In a briefing to congressional officials last week, the Obama administration “>blasted the Iran nuclear deal anew after reports emerged that Iran was secretly allowed to evade certain restrictions in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) so that it could begin receiving sanctions relief.

Speaking on Monday, Lew suggested that the Iran deal and the economic sanctions that followed has done more to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon than any other action that the U.S. could have taken.

“Americans should be glad that we have a nuclear agreement with Iran. They should be relieved that a lawsuit that could have meant billions of dollars is settled. And they should be happy that, separately, Americans who wanted to come home were able to come home,” Lew concluded.

Lew also addressed recent North Korean nuclear missile tests. “We’re not taking any option off the table,” he said. “We continue to review constantly what are options are to put more effective pressure on North Korea, but one of the things in sanctions generally that I’ve given a lot of thought to and I think is going to be incumbent on whoever is the steward of our sanctions program is getting the balance right between multilateral and unilateral action. If you go it alone and don’t have the cooperation of the world, it could look tougher, but perhaps have less impact. You need to have the cooperation of the global community to have maximum impact. That doesn’t mean you take any of your unilateral options off the table, but getting the mix right.”

“North Korea is an enormous challenge. We are going to do everything we can to try and keep the pressure on North Korea. It’s unacceptable for North Korea to have a nuclear weapon,” he added.

Jerusalem synagogue vandalized with spray-painted crosses

A Jerusalem synagogue was vandalized with black crosses spray-painted on its outside walls.

The vandalism occurred on Sunday night at an Iranian-run Orthodox synagogue in the Katamon neighborhood in southern Jerusalem.

Police have opened an investigation into the incident after being notified by the synagogue. A police spokesman told the Israeli media that there were no suspects or known motives.

The crosses were also spray-painted on the synagogue windows.

Synagogues elsewhere in Israel also have been vandalized in recent months, including in Petach Tikvah and Safed, where Jews were believed to be the perpetrators, and in Tel Aviv.


Several attacks of vandalism have hit church property in the Jerusalem area and northern Israel in recent years, as well as mosques in the West Bank.

Poll: Israeli Jews favor Hillary, but say Trump is better for Israel ‘policy’

Most Israeli Jews would prefer Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump as the next president of the United States — even though more of them think Trump would be better for the “Israeli government’s policy.”

According to a poll released Wednesday, 43 percent of Israeli Jews prefer Clinton as president, compared to 34 percent who want Trump, when asked to choose between the two candidates. But 38 percent say Trump would be better for Israel, compared to 33 percent who say Clinton would be.

On both questions, a large number of people don’t pick a candidate.

The Israel Democracy Institute think tank and Tel Aviv University released its latest Peace Index monthly survey after polling 600 Israelis at the end of August. The margin of error is 4.1 percent.

Some respondents support Clinton, the former first lady and secretary of state, even though they don’t think the Democratic candidate “will be better from the standpoint of the Israeli government’s policy,” as the survey puts it. Thirteen percent of the Jews who say Trump, the Republican nominee, would be better for Israel want Clinton to be president. Only 2 percent of Jews who said Clinton would be better for Israel want Trump to be president.

“There seem to be people who support Clinton even though they think she will put more pressure on Israel or be less easy for Israel to deal with in terms of all the support we need from the United States,” Chanan Cohen, a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute who helped lead the survey, told JTA.

Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and the Green Party’s Jill Stein were not included in the survey .

In April, Jewish opinion on the subject was nearly reversed. The Peace Index that month found 40 percent thought Clinton would be better for Israel’s interest and 31 percent thought Trump would be.

Since the primary season, when Trump pledged to be a “neutral” broker of Israeli-Palestinian peace, he and the Republican Party have tried to boost their pro-Israel bona fides. On Monday, Republican Trump supporters opened their fifth campaign office in Israel, the first in the West Bank. They predict 85 percent of Americans living in Israel, who they say number 300,000, will vote for the developer and reality TV star.

Still, Trump does not have a plurality of Israeli Jewish support. Even on the political right, only 49 percent support him, with 23 percent preferring Clinton, according to the survey. The left (86 percent) and center (57 percent) have an “overwhelming preference” for Clinton, according to the Israel Democracy Institute.

“I expected the right-wing voters to support Trump in bigger numbers, but we can see less than half did,” said Cohen. “I know that in the United States, the right has concerns about Trump’s personality, and we can see this also on the Israel right.”

Among Israeli Arabs, who make up about 20 percent of Israel’s population, 58 percent prefer the Democratic nominee and 11 percent the Republican.

Donald Trump speaking at the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

The poll also probed other issues. Asked about Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier who is standing trial in a military court for shooting dead a downed Palestinian terrorist in Hebron, most Jewish Israelis “justify” what he did (42 percent strongly and 23 percent moderately). Just a quarter of Israelis “do not justify” the shooting (14 percent strongly and 11 percent moderately).

Jewish Israelis are almost evenly divided on executing captured Palestinian terrorists. Forty-seven percent lean toward killing such a terrorist on the spot, “even if he has been captured and clearly does not pose a threat.” Forty-five percent say he should be handed over to legal authorities.

Support for killing terrorists is highest among right-wingers (62 percent), young people (69 percent ages 18-24) and observant Jews (63 percent of haredi Orthodox and 72 percent of religious or traditional Jews). In April, the Peace Index found that 67 percent of Israelis agreed with the Sephardi chief rabbi’s assertion weeks earlier, which he later took back, that it is a religious imperative to kill Palestinian terrorists.

“We phrased the question differently this time, so you can’t say support has gone down,” Cohen said. “It’s more or less the same I think. It is a really high amount actually to be supporting an illegal action that every soldier is taught is against the army’s rules.”

Though many Israelis disagree with the army’s prosecution of Azaria, the Israel Defense Forces remains by far the most trusted official body in the country. Eighty-seven percent of Israeli Jews put “a lot” or “quite a lot” of trust in the army. Forty-seven percent of Israeli Arabs feel the same way. But Arabs put the most trust in the Supreme Court (64 percent “a lot” or “quite a lot”) — even more than Jews (54 percent).

Amid the controversy over dozens of French towns banning Muslim women from wearing the burkini, a full-body swimsuit, 62 percent of Israelis are against regulating what people wear in public, “including in the case of traditional and conservative clothing,” the survey found. Just 26 percent support the French bans.

Support for freedom of attire is consistent across the Jewish political spectrum — left (73 percent), right (59 percent) and center (61 percent) — and among Arabs (71 percent).

In honor of the start of the school year on Sept. 1, the survey asked Israelis to grade the education system, and both Jews and Arabs gave it a failing grade. Jews gave the system a 5.5 and Arabs a 5.9 out of 10.

In another poll released Wednesday, a CNN/ORC survey of likely American voters showed Trump with a 45-43 percent advantage over Clinton.

Trump: Nuclear deal turned Iran into dangerous ‘world power’

The Iranian regime was on the verge of being eliminated as a threat to the U.S. and Israel before the nuclear deal was signed, Donald Trump said on Tuesday.

“The deal is one of the worst negotiated deals of any kind that I have ever seen,” the Republican presidential nominee said at a town hall event in Virginia. “What we have done is created a monster. If you take a look at Iran from four-five years ago, they were dying. They had sanctions. They were being choked to death and they were absolutely dying. They weren’t even going to be much of a threat. They didn’t have anything going and now they are a power. We have made them a power, overnight.”

According to Trump, Iran has become a world power after the nuclear deal and are “highly threatening to the state of Israel.”

“They are going to have nuclear weapons and this path, in my opinion, is going to be a quicker path to nuclear weapons,” Trump suggested. “The deal is grossly incompetent.”

Trump further charged that “Crooked Hillary Clinton wanted this deal,” which, he said, puts Iran on “a shorter road to nuclear weapons.”

Asked by the moderator, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, what he’s going to do about Iran and the nuclear deal, Trump assured the crowd: “We will solve that problem if I get the chance, believe me. If I get the chance, you will be very happy. You will be very happy.”

While Trump spoke in Virginia, Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine spoke in North Carolina where he  ” target=”_blank”>Subscribe here.

Trump, Clinton campaigns redouble on tough Iran posture after report of exemptions

The Trump and Clinton campaigns issued tough-on-Iran statements in the wake of a report that alleges that negotiators allowed Iran secret loopholes in the nuclear agreement.

The Institute for Science and International Affairs, a think tank founded by a former United Nations nuclear weapons inspector, David Albright, said in a report released this week that Iran complied with most of the sanctions relief for the nuclear rollback deal when it was implemented in January, but it said, citing anonymous sources, that there were a number of exemptions.

The Obama administration strongly denied the thrust of the report, saying the deal was being implemented according to the letter. Parties to the deal were Iran, the United States, Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia.

The campaign of Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, pounced on Thursday, taking a shot at Trump’s Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, who as secretary of state in President Barack Obama’s first term helped set the stage for the deal.

“The deeply flawed nuclear deal Hillary Clinton secretly spearheaded with Iran looks worse and worse by the day,” said a statement by the campaign attributed to Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency who is now advising Trump.

“It’s now clear President Obama gave away the store to secure a weak agreement that is full of loopholes, never ultimately blocks Iran from nuclear weapons, emboldens our enemies and funds terrorism,” he said.

Republicans have strongly opposed the deal. A number of candidates during the GOP presidential primaries pledged to trash it, but Trump, while decrying it as a giveaway, has said he would first consult with his national security advisers should he be elected president.

Clinton has in subtle ways sought to differentiate herself from the deal’s outcome, praising the deal, but suggesting she would be more vigilant in keeping Iran on track.

In a statement sent to JTA, Clinton’s campaign did not address the report co-written by Albright directly, but called for reauthorization of sanctions and sounded a tough note about how she would oversee its implementation.

“Hillary Clinton supports a clean reauthorization of the Iran Sanctions Act and believes Congress should get this done in short order when they return from recess,” said her spokesman, Jesse Lehrich. “And as president, she will also continue to enforce, and strengthen as necessary, sanctions on Iran’s support for terrorism, human rights abuses, and ballistic missile activity.”

The Obama administration says it does not need a reauthorization of sanctions first passed in the 1990s and enhanced over the years, in order to force compliance, but would not oppose a reauthorization. Many – but not all – of the sanctions have been waived as part of the deal.

Democrats in Congress favor a “clean” reauthorization that they say would allow any future president to quickly “snap back” sanctions, while Republicans want to add new provisions to address Iranian misbehavior not addressed by the deal, including backing for terrorism and activities in other countries.

Democrats and Clinton oppose the Republican proposals, saying they are stealth maneuvers to undercut the deal.

“She has always made clear that while the historic deal passed last year represents a crucial step forward toward preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, we must proceed with a ‘distrust and verify’ approach,” Lehrich said of Clinton. “Maintaining the infrastructure to immediately snap back sanctions if Iran violates the terms of the deal is essential. Congress should put partisanship aside and send the president a clean ISA reauthorization bill for his signature.”

Citing a single anonymous “knowledgeable” government source, the report — first covered in the general media by Reuters – said the joint commission administering the deal allowed Iran to keep more than the prescribed amount of low enriched uranium. The joint commission comprises representatives of Iran, the six major powers and the European Union.

Under the deal, Iran is allowed to keep up to 300 kilograms of low enriched uranium, an amount too small to be turned into material sufficient to make a bomb. The report did not say how much uranium more than the 300 kilograms Iran was allegedly allowed to keep.

The report said also that the joint commission allowed Iran to continue to operate 19 “hot cells,” protected enrichment devices, that were larger than the six cubic meters prescribed by the deal. The deal allows Iran to keep the smaller hot cells to continue plutonium enrichment for medical purposes. The report said the larger hot cells “can be misused for secret, mostly small-scale plutonium separation.” It also noted that Iran under the deal was permitted to maintain the larger hot cells with the approval of the joint commission.

The report also noted that the joint commission allowed Iran to export a larger amount of heavy water than agreed under the deal, although this was previously reported. The report cited a “senior knowledgeable official” as saying that the exemptions were granted because Iran was not yet in full compliance by implementation day, Jan. 16 of this year.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee said it was “troubled” by Albright’s report. “If the report is accurate, this unwarranted leniency sets a dangerous precedent concerning adherence to the agreement,” it said in a statement. “No further concessions should be granted to Iran, and complete transparency related to the deal’s implementation must be provided.”

The Obama administration, in its responses, said that there were no shortcuts. The major powers “didn’t allow Iran any shortcuts implementing @TheIranDeal, and Iran’s commitments have not changed,” Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser, said in a tweet.

John Kirby, the State Department spokesman, speaking Thursday to reporters, said that the parameters of the deal had not changed, but that the joint commission was empowered to “address implementation issues when they arise.” He noted that the workings of the joint commission were confidential.

Obama administration ‘concerned’ about Iran’s deployment of anti-aircraft missiles

The Obama administration expressed “concern” over the deployment of powerful anti-aircraft missiles near an Iranian enrichment facility ostensibly shuttered under the Iran nuclear deal, but said it did not violate embargoes.

Iran over the weekend announced the deployment of the Russian-made S-300 missiles around the Fordow facility.

“We’re concerned about the provision of sale to Iran of sophisticated defense capabilities such as this S-300,” John Kirby, the State Department spokesman, said on Monday.

“As we get more information, obviously, we’re going to stay in close consultation with partners going forward,” he said. Russia, like the United States, is one of the six major powers that negotiated the sanctions relief for nuclear rollback deal reached last year.

Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser, speaking separately at the White House, also expressed concerns but said the sale did not violate arms embargoes on Iran.

“The arms embargo that had been in place under the previous regime would not have been applied to the S-300 system because it’s a defensive system,” Rhodes said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t have concerns with any increased Iranian military capability, and we’ve expressed those concerns.”

Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., an architect of the sanctions regime, said in a statement he believed Russia may be subject to sanctions because of the sale. “The Administration is failing to enforce U.S. laws that mandate sanctions against countries that export destabilizing advanced conventional weapons to Iran,” he said.

President Barack Obama in 2009 exposed Fordow as a bunker-style underground uranium enrichment facility and used its existence, kept secret for years by Iran, to persuade an alliance of nations to sanction Iran.

The sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table, and once the deal was reached last year, Russia lifted a ban on the sale of the S-300s to Iran in place since 2010, when Israel and the United States prevailed on Russia not to make the sale.

Iranian regime statements said the deployment of the missiles was “defensive.” Iran maintains civilian uranium enrichment capabilities, but has shut down military-level enrichment.

Rhodes said that United Nations nuclear inspectors continue to monitor Fordow, and that Iran has kept its part of the deal, saying enrichment has stopped and centrifuges “have been, in many cases, removed and put under monitoring and storage.”

U.S. says payment to Iran used as leverage for prisoners’ release

The State Department said on Thursday it released $400 million in cash to Iran under a tribunal settlement only once it was assured that American prisoners had been freed and had boarded a plane.

“The payment of the $400 million was not done until after the prisoners were released,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

“We took advantage of that to make sure we had the maximum leverage possible to get our people out and get them out safely,” Kirby added.

It was the first time the administration has said publicly that it used the payment as leverage to ensure the prisoners were released by Iran.

Three of the five prisoners, including Jason Rezaian, the Washington Posts's Tehran bureau chief; Saeed Abedini, a pastor from Idaho and Amir Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine from Flint, Michigan, as well as some family members, were part of a prisoner exchange that followed the lifting of most international sanctions against Iran following a nuclear deal in 2015.

One more prisoner, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, chose to remain in Iran, while a fifth prisoner, American student Matthew Trevithick, was released separately.

Both U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have denied that the payment was ransom for the release of the prisoners or tied to the Iran nuclear deal.

The White House announced on Jan. 17 it was releasing $400 million in funds frozen since 1981, plus $1.3 billion in interest owed to Iran, as part of a settlement of a long-standing Iranian claim at the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal in The Hague.

The funds were part of a trust fund Iran used before its 1979 Islamic Revolution to buy U.S. military equipment that was tied up for decades in litigation at the tribunal.

The payment was made by the United States in cash due to international sanctions against Iran.

The administration has maintained that negotiations over the funds and the prisoners were conducted on separate tracks and were in no way linked.

Representative Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has asked Kerry to appear at a future committee hearing to discuss the payment.

Russia uses Iran as base to bomb Syrian militants for first time

Russia used Iran as a base from which to launch air strikes against Syrian militants for the first time on Tuesday, widening its air campaign in Syria and deepening its involvement in the Middle East.

In a move underscoring Moscow's increasingly close ties with Tehran, long-range Russian Tupolev-22M3 bombers and Sukhoi-34 fighter bombers used Iran's Hamadan air base to strike a range of targets in Syria.

It was the first time Russia has used the territory of another nation, apart from Syria itself, to launch such strikes since the Kremlin launched a bombing campaign to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in September last year.

It was also thought to be the first time that Iran has allowed a foreign power to use its territory for military operations since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The Iranian deployment will boost Russia's image as a central player in the Middle East and allow the Russian air force to cut flight times and increase bombing payloads.

The head of Iran's National Security Council was quoted by state news agency IRNA as saying Tehran and Moscow were now sharing facilities to fight against terrorism, calling their cooperation strategic.

Both countries back Assad, and Russia, after a delay, has supplied Iran with its S-300 missile air defense system, evidence of a growing partnership between the pair that has helped turn the tide in Syria's civil war and is testing U.S. influence in the Middle East.

Relations between Tehran and Moscow have grown warmer since Iran reached agreement last year with global powers to curb its nuclear program in return for the lifting of U.N., EU and U.S. financial sanctions.

President Vladimir Putin visited in November and the two countries regularly discuss military planning for Syria, where Iran has provided ground forces that work with local allies while Russia provides air power.


Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Tuesday Iraq, which lies between Iran and Syria, had granted Russia permission to use its air space, on the condition the planes use corridors along Iraq’s borders and not fly over Iraqi cities.

Abadi told a press conference the same permission has been given to air forces of a separate U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State flying to Syria from Kuwait.

Russia also gave advanced notice to the U.S.-led coalition battling Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, complying with the terms of a safety agreement meant to avoid an accidental clash in the skies, the U.S. military said.

“They informed us they were coming through and we ensured safety of flight as those bombers passed through the area and toward their target and then when they passed out again,” said U.S. Army Colonel Christopher Garver, a Baghdad-based spokesman for the U.S-led coalition.

“They did not impact coalition operations in either Iraq or Syria.”

The Russian Defence Ministry said its bombers had taken off on Tuesday from the Hamadan air base in north-west Iran.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Russian bombers were believed to have returned to Russia.

The ministry said Tuesday's strikes had targeted Islamic State as well as militants previously known as the Nusra Front in the Aleppo, Idlib and Deir al Zour provinces. It said its Iranian-based bombers had been escorted by fighter jets based at Russia's Hmeymim air base in Syria's Latakia Province.

“As a result of the strikes five large arms depots were destroyed … a militant training camp … three command and control points … and a significant number of militants,” the ministry said in a statement.

The destroyed facilities had all been used to support militants in the Aleppo area, it said, where battle for control of the divided city, which had some 2 million people before the war, has intensified in recent weeks.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based war monitor, said heavy air strikes on Tuesday had hit many targets in and around Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria, killing dozens.

Strikes in the Tariq al-Bab and al-Sakhour districts of northeast Aleppo had killed around 20 people, while air raids in a corridor rebels opened this month into opposition-held eastern parts of the city had killed another nine, the observatory said.

The Russian Defence Ministry says it takes great care to avoid civilian casualties in its air strikes.

Zakaria Malahifi, political officer of an Aleppo-based rebel group, Fastaqim, said he could not confirm if the newly deployed Russian bombers were in use, but said air strikes on Aleppo had intensified in recent days.

“It is much heavier,” he told Reuters. “There is no weapon they have not dropped on Aleppo – cluster bombs, phosphorus bombs, and so on.”

Aleppo, Syria's largest city before the war, is divided into rebel and government-held zones. The government aims to capture full control of it, which would be its biggest victory of the five year conflict.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians are believed to be trapped in rebel areas, facing potential siege if the government closes off the corridor linking it with the outside.

Russian media reported on Tuesday that Russia had also requested and received permission to use Iran and Iraq as a route to fire cruise missiles from its Caspian Sea fleet into Syria, as it has done in the past. Russia has built up its naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean and the Caspian as part of what it says are planned military exercises.

Russia's state-backed Rossiya 24 channel earlier on Tuesday broadcast uncaptioned images of at least three Russian Tupolev-22M3 bombers and a Russian military transport plane inside Iran.

The channel said the Iranian deployment would allow the Russian air force to cut flight times by 60 percent. The Tupolev-22M3 bombers, which before Tuesday had conducted strikes on Syria from their home bases in southern Russia, were too large to be accommodated at Russia's own air base inside Syria, Russian media reported.

Executed Iranian nuclear scientist unfairly tried, said he was innocent, mother says

Iranian security forces may have pressured nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri, hanged last week for spying for the United States, to admit to crimes he did not commit, his mother said in an interview this week.

Amiri leapt to the global spotlight in 2010 when he claimed first that U.S. agents had abducted him and then that he was in the United States of his own free will.

The same year, he returned to Iran where he was welcomed as a hero but then detained and tried on charges that he divulged nuclear secrets.

“When I was saying goodbye to him before his execution, he told me not to be sad as he had done nothing wrong,” Marzieh Amiri told Reuters in a telephone interview.

“He asked me to tell everyone that he was innocent. He was saying his conscience was clear,” she said.

Her son's closed-door trial was unfair and he was not properly represented, she said. She did not know the full name of the lawyer, who as a result could not be reached for comment.

“They should have held a public trial,” she said. “I am not angry with the government or the Supreme Leader (of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei). I am angry with extremist security forces who were on his case, trying to prove he was a spy and who maybe forced him to confess to things he hadn't done.”

Iranian judiciary officials could not be reached for comment. Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, spokesman for Iran's judiciary, told reporters Amiri received a fair trial and the case followed standard judicial procedure.

“He … had contacted Iran's number one enemy, America, and had given our most secret and vital information to them,” Mohseni Ejei said on Sunday, according to the state broadcaster.


In June 2010, Iranian state television showed Amiri, then 32, saying in a video he was in Arizona after U.S. and Saudi intelligence forces kidnapped him a year earlier during a religious pilgrimage abroad.

In a second video soon afterwards, Amiri said he was in the United States voluntarily and wanted to dispel “rumors” that had been spread about him.

“I am an Iranian, and I have taken no step against my homeland,” he said.

As a young man with a talent for electronics in the Iranian city of Kermanshah, Amiri would tote his toolbox to friends' houses and fix their broken appliances, his mother said. 

He won a coveted scholarship from the defense ministry to further his studies and eventually became a researcher in radiation safety at the defense ministry-affiliated Malek Ashtar University of Technology, visiting sites associated with Iran's nuclear program. 

According to a U.S. official involved in the case, the Central Intelligence Agency recruited Amiri in Iran and helped extract him using the pilgrimage.

But U.S. officials had doubts about the depth of Amiri's knowledge and access to the most sensitive information.

Amiri was questioned, given a new identity and a home in Arizona, and paid around $5 million, the officials said.

However he began telling his handlers he missed his young son and wanted to return to Iran, though they warned he likely would face imprisonment or worse and might never see his son.

Arriving in Tehran in July 2010, he was greeted by his son, reporters and Iran's deputy foreign minister. Someone placed a wreath around his neck and he flashed a “V” for victory while clutching his son.


Marzieh Amiri said her son was free on his return and even took a vacation in Iran with his family. “But one day they suddenly arrested him … When we followed up, (the security forces) said, 'It's for his own protection. He is our guest'.”

He was held in isolation in Tehran, his mother said. His wife filed for divorce, and he became nervous and suffered from high blood pressure

“His loneliness was killing him,” she said, adding she visited him once or twice a month. “He told me he prefers to die as he could not tolerate the isolation any more.”

Last week, officials brought his corpse to Kermanshah. Rope marks on his neck indicated he had been hanged, his mother said.

Obama defends Iran cash payment story: ‘It wasn’t a secret’

President Barack Obama on Thursday strongly defended the nuclear deal and hostage arrangement with Iran amid an uproar over reports that the U.S. delivered $400 million in cash to Tehran in January.

“We announced these payments in January – many months ago. That wasn’t a secret,” Obama said in a press conference at the Pentagon on Thursday. “We announced them to all of you. This wasn’t some nefarious deal. And at the time, we explained that Iran had pressed a claim before an international tribunal about them recovering money of theirs – that we have frozen – that as a consequence of them working its way through the international tribunal, it was the assessment of our lawyers that we were now at a point where there was significant litigation risk and we could end up costing ourselves billions of dollars. It was their advice and suggestion that we settle, and that’s what these payments represent.”

On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Obama Administration sent $400 million dollars – in “wooden pallets stacked with euros, Swiss francs and other currencies” – to Iran at the same time four American hostages were released. The paper quoted Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, as accusing the Obama administration of paying a “ransom to the ayatollah for US hostages.”

Obama defended the administration’s decision to send cash and disputed the notion that it was a ransom payment for the release of American hostages. “We do not pay ransom. We didn’t here, and we won’t in the future,” Obama said. “Those families know we have a policy that we don’t pay ransom. And the notion that we would somehow start now, in this high-profile way, and announce it to the world, even as we’re looking in the faces of other hostage families whose loved ones are being held hostage, and saying to them we don’t pay ransom, defies logic.”

The president also pointed out that the nuclear deal has been working for over a year despite initial warnings and pessimistic predictions that the Iranians would violate the terms of the agreement. “It’s now been well over a year since the agreement with Iran to stop its nuclear program was signed and by all accounts it has worked exactly the way we said it was going to work,” Obama said. “It’s not just the assessment of our intelligence community, it’s the assessment of the Israeli military and intelligence community – the country that was most opposed to this deal that acknowledges that this has been a game changer and that Iran has abided by the deal, and that they no longer have the sort of short-term breakout capacity that would allow them to develop nuclear weapons.”

If there is some news to be made,” Obama continued, “why not have some of these folks who were predicting disaster say, you know what, this thing actually worked. Now that would be a shock. That would be impressive. But of course that wasn’t going to happen. Instead what we have is the manufacturing of outrage in a story that we disclosed in January.”


Report: U.S. airlifted $400 million in cash to Iran when prisoners released

The U.S. government secretly airlifted $400 million in cash to Iran at the same time as the release in January of four Americans detained in the Islamic Republic, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

The report cites U.S. and European officials and congressional staff briefed on the operation after it was completed.

The money, in euros, Swiss francs and other currencies, was flown to Iran stacked on wooden pallets. It had been procured from the central banks of the Netherlands and Switzerland, according to the report.

The money was part of a $1.7 billion settlement the Obama administration reached with Iran   over a failed arms deal signed in 1979, before the fall of Iran’s last monarch, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

The settlement was reached on the same weekend in January as the formal implementation of the Iran nuclear deal.

In his announcement of the settlement, immediately after the release of five American hostages in Iran including the Washington Post’s Tehran bureau chief, Jason Rezaian, President Barack Obama did not mention the cash payment.

Since the cash shipment, the intelligence arm of the Revolutionary Guard has arrested two more Iranian-Americans. Tehran has also detained dual-nationals from France, Canada and the U.K. in recent months, according to the Journal.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said that the two negotiations, including negotiating teams, were different and separate and that the cash settlement and the prisoner release were not related.

But the newspaper reported that U.S. officials also acknowledge that Iranian negotiators on the prisoner exchange said they wanted the cash to show they had gained something tangible in the nuclear deal.

The settlement was paid in foreign currency and in cash because continued U.S. and global sanctions complicate Iran’s access to global banks.

The $400 million represents a return of the exact amount that the Shah’s regime deposited with the Pentagon in 1979 to purchase U.S. fighter jets, an unnamed U.S. official told the post.

Obama reportedly approved the shipment of the $400 million.

10 reasons Persian Jews support Trump

For many American Jews, #NeverTrump is the only slogan that matters. His shameful, unfiltered words have them running to Hillary Clinton.

For those of us with political honesty, the choice is the lesser of two evils. We are not choosing between Mother Teresa and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Our choice is between a liar who can be bought and a brash, uninformed egomaniac. The question becomes: Whose faults can we forgive?

[A response from Karmel Melamed]

[A response from Susan Esther Barnes]

Although I am not among them, my strong impression is that most Persian Jews in Los Angeles support Donald Trump. My impression is not based on any scientific poll. But while Clinton supporters allege that Trump supporters are all uneducated, I regularly meet doctors, attorneys, engineers, entrepreneurs and highly successful businesspeople whose reasons for supporting Trump I summarize below.  You may agree or disagree with their reasoning, but based on my interactions with Trump supporters, this is how they feel:

1. “The accusations against Trump are overblown by a biased and hostile media that easily forgive Clinton’s criminal investigation but exaggerate Trump’s speech.” In all of his years in business and during his television show, “The Apprentice,” not once was Trump accused of bigotry or misogyny. This political bullying was also used with past Republican candidates, most recently calling George W. Bush “dumb.”

2. “I prefer an ugly truth to a beautiful lie. As a lifetime politician, Clinton sugarcoats her lies, whereas Trump speaks with honesty.” Nixon’s Watergate pales in comparison to Clinton’s email leaks. Former CIA Director David Petraeus was prosecuted for sharing intelligence, while the media and President Barack Obama protect Clinton. Democrats dismiss her WikiLeaks lies because she is well composed when she lies, and they focus on Trump’s harsh and unedited speech because it’s raw.

3. “We ran away from radical Islam and don’t want it to follow us here.” Unlike Europe, Trump will deal with Jihadists head on. Islamist extremists respond only to strength. The left’s political correctness shows Islamists our weakness and helps them thrive. Clinton’s policies led to the rise of ISIS. She led the invasion of Libya. Trump wants to protect the United States and hates terrorists. America can’t become Europe. Look at Chancellor Angela Merkel’s troubles in Germany. Listen to the people of England. Brexit was a vote against radical Islamists entering as refugees from countries known to export terrorists. We need a better vetting process. We need more secure boarders.

4. “Clinton has been fully supported by Arabs.” Palestinian flags flew over the DNC convention and Israeli flags were burned outside by protesters. This was not the case with the GOP convention. It was no coincidence. Clinton owes Arab countries so much that she can’t be trusted. 

5. “All who compare Trump to Hitler are disingenuous and hurtful to the memory of survivors.” We witnessed Democrats give rise to President Jimmy Carter, who despite the dubious Nobel Prize, has blood on his hands. His policies prompted Persian Jews to flee Iran after 2,500 years, led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iranian Muslims in the Iran-Iraq war, the mass persecution and killing of minorities, Christians and Baha’is, and the public hanging of innocent members of the LGBT community. Carter directly caused Iran to become an extremist Islamic country that is now the biggest funder of terrorism around the world and routinely burns the American flag and threatens the destruction of Israel with nuclear weapons. The Democrats may be great speakers, but actions speak louder than words. Obama and Clinton handed monies to the Iranian government via the Iran deal and threw Israel under the bus.

6. “In Iran, people took to the streets to foster a revolution.” In the United States, it’s done through the election process. Obama was an American revolution against Bush. Trump is a revolution against the policies of Obama. The pendulum needs to swing back.

7. “Trump will rebuild our military and protect us against Russia, China, Iran and ISIS. America needs to become stronger again.” The weakness of America through the Obama-Clinton plans have led China, Iran and Saudi Arabia to start negotiations with Russia, turning their backs on the United States.

8. “Trump advocates cutting taxes to 15 percent from current 35 percent.” Clinton wants to raise them. Lower taxes mean more economic stimulus. Under Obama, the rich got richer and poor got poorer. We need smaller government. We entered this country empty-handed and worked hard. Private companies are more competitive and more efficient.

9. “Trump knows how to manage groups and will build teams of excellence.” Trump is independent and will not be bought by any special interest groups. Trump started with some $300 million and turned it into $4.5 billion. He understands capitalism and business.

10. “Trump will repeal Obamacare, which has been disastrous for many patients.” He will replace it with affordable, free-market systems whereby insurance companies can compete across state lines, bringing down premiums.

As I personally, remain torn on my choice of a candidate, I look forward to the debates to shed clarity on these contested issues. I am not with her. I am not with him. I am with America. And I stand with Israel.

Afshine Ash Emrani is assistant clinical professor at UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine. He blogs at This op-ed was further edited for clarity after posting. 

Booker blasts Christie for attacking Clinton on Iran Deal

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker on Thursday blasted his governor, Chris Christie, for finding Hillary Clinton “guilty” of launching diplomatic negotiations with the Iranian regime over their nuclear program during a “>condemnation he drew from NATO leaders over

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State Department: No ‘secret document’ on Iran

The U.S. State Department denied that a “secret document” in the Iran nuclear deal will enable the Islamic Republic to develop nuclear weapons in just over 10 years.

Responding to a report Monday by The Associated Press describing such a document, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement, “There is no secret document or secret deal.”

The AP article said the news agency had obtained a document saying that when the restrictions are lifted, Iran will need only six months to build a bomb — lower than the current estimates of a year. The unnamed diplomat who shared the document — whose work has focused on Iran’s nuclear program for more than a decade — said it was an add-on agreement to the main deal that is formally separate but actually is an integral part of the deal.

According to Toner’s statement, the document “appears to be Iran’s long term enrichment R&D plan that was submitted by Iran to the [International Atomic Energy Agency] as part of its initial Additional Protocol declaration.” While the document is “not public,” it “was closely reviewed by the [powers that negotiated the deal] and Iran” and its content made “available to Congress on multiple occasions — both before the deal was implemented and again once Iran submitted the plan to the IAEA earlier this year.”

The statement notes that the State Department does not believe that the breakout period — the time Iran would need to be develop the capacity for building a nuclear weapon — would be “cut in half, to six months, by year 11,” as the AP article indicates.

“Without a deal, Iran would be free to pursue unconstrained R&D on advanced centrifuges and field second generation centrifuges within months and third generation centrifuges within years,” the statement notes, adding that under the deal, “Iran has shipped out 98 percent of its enriched uranium, dismantled two-thirds of its centrifuges, filled its plutonium production reactor with concrete, and adopted the most intrusive inspection and verification program ever negotiated for a nuclear program.”

The authenticity of the document shared with the AP on the add-on agreement was confirmed by another diplomat. Iran and the six countries that negotiated the deal, including the United States, approved the add-on.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, reached on July 14, 2015, lifts economic sanctions in exchange for Iran curbing its nuclear program. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and many in the American Jewish community opposed the deal.

House Dems: GOP sanctions bill undermines bipartisan stance on Iran

House Democrats are urging Republican leaders to forgo a vote on new Iran sanctions before the House adjourns on July 14 in order to maintain Congress’s traditionally bipartisan approach to Iran.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is expected to bring three Iran-related bills to the floor for a partisan vote exactly one year after the Iran nuclear agreement was announced in an effort to shine light on Iran’s illicit behavior and alleged violations of the nuclear deal, the Washington Post first 

Obama vows to veto Iran trade restrictions

President Barack Obama pledged to veto three pieces of legislation because they contain language that would scuttle implementation of the Iran nuclear deal.

A White House news release on Tuesday said the bills passed this month by congressional Republicans, with little resistance from Democrats, contradict the easing of sanctions that the U.S. promised Iran in return for rolling back its nuclear program.

The measures would expand existing sanctions, hinder Iran’s international financial transactions and prevent the United States from procuring Iran’s heavy water.

The White House said the bills would undermine the ability of the United States to meet its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the nuclear deal is called.

“The President has made it clear that he will veto any legislation that prevents the successful implementation of the JCPOA,” the news release said.

An amendment to the Iran Accountability Act, which sanctions Iran for its sponsorship of terrorism and human rights abuses, was deemed objectionable by the administration because it reintroduces economic sanctions that were lifted in January on “Implementation Day” — when the International Atomic Energy Agency verified Iran’s completion of key nuclear-related steps. The White House also said it could undermine the sanctions that remain.

An amendment made to the the United States Financial System Protection Act would hinder financial transactions between Iran and the international community, the White House said.

Earlier this month, Republicans passed legislation to block Boeing and Airbus from selling commercial aircraft to Iran and to limit the president’s authority to implement sanctions relief.

The deal with Iran keeps in place most bans on U.S. entities dealing with Iran. An exception is Boeing, which is to sell civilian aircraft to Iran reportedly for $25 billion.

Obama also asserted that if the U.S. did not have the ability to take Iran’s excess heavy water — the deuterium oxide water often used in nuclear reactors — Iran could potentially stockpile it for use in weaponry.

Iranian commander: Missiles ready for the ‘annihilation’ of Israel

The deputy commander of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard said the country has over 100,000 missiles in Lebanon alone readied for the “annihilation” of Israel.

Speaking before Friday prayers on Iran’s state-run IRIB TV, Hossein Salami also said that Iran has “tens of thousands” of additional missiles that are ready to wipe the “accursed black dot” of Israel off the map, according to a translation from the Farsi by the Middle East Media Research Institute.

Salami is deputy head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is under the command of the country’s Supreme Leader.

“Today, more than ever, there is fertile ground — with the grace of God — for the annihilation, the wiping out and the collapse of the Zionist regime,” Salami said, according to the MEMRI translation. “In Lebanon alone, over 100,000 missiles are ready to be launched. If there is a will, if it serves [our] interests, and if the Zionist regime repeats its past mistakes due to its miscalculations, these missiles will pierce through space, and will strike at the heart of the Zionist regime. They will prepare the ground for its great collapse in the new era.”

He also boasted that “tens of thousands of other high-precision, long-range missiles, with the necessary destructive capabilities, have been placed in various places throughout the Islamic world. “

“They are just waiting for the command, so that when the trigger is pulled, the accursed black dot will be wiped off the geopolitical map of the world, once and for all,” he said, referring to Israel.

Salami’s remarks came as Germany’s foreign ministry said it is closely watching Iran’s attempts to procure nuclear and missile technology, the Associated Press reported.

German intelligence agencies reported dozens of such attempts last year, according to the A.P. A separate report by a German domestic intelligence agency said that counter-espionage officials had spotted 141 procurements attempts in one German state in the last year.

Martin Schaefer, a spokesman for Germany’s Foreign Ministry, said that Germany and its partners would work to enforce the agreement signed in Vienna last July meant to curb Iran’s nuclear program.

“We are already talking to our partners in New York and elsewhere, and we won’t hesitate to discuss this with Tehran,” he said.

Jewish dems pleased with Israel language on dem platform

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) on Friday released a draft of the party’s 2016 platform as “> promised by the Clinton campaign – reflects the Democratic Party’s longstanding support of Israel and Hillary Clinton’s vision for peace and security in the Middle East.

“We will continue to work toward a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiated directly by the parties that guarantees Israel’s future as a secure and democratic Jewish state with recognized borders and provides the Palestinians with independence, sovereignty, and dignity,” the draft reads. “While Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations, it should remain the capital of Israel, an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths.”

“Israelis deserve security, recognition, and a normal life free from terror and incitement. Palestinians should be free to govern themselves in their own viable state, in peace and dignity.”

The language is reflective of Clinton’s stance as expressed in a speech she “>praised the Democratic Party for affirming America’s “longstanding commitment to Israel’s security” and the pursuit of the two-state solution, and urged the Republican Party to approve “similarly strong and unifying language” in its platform “so that both platforms reflect America’s strong bipartisan support for Israel.”

Below is the language in the platform draft re: Israel and the Iran deal: 

Iran: “We support the nuclear agreement with Iran because, if vigorously enforced and implemented, it verifiably cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to a bomb without resorting to war. We reject Donald Trump’s view that we should have walked away from a deal that peacefully dismantles Iran’s nuclear program. We will continue the work of this administration to ensure that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon and will not hesitate to take military action if Iran violates the agreement.

“Democrats will also address the detrimental role Iran plays in the region and will robustly enforce and, if necessary, strengthen non-nuclear sanctions. Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism. It violates the human rights of its population, denies the Holocaust, vows to eliminate Israel, and has its fingerprints on almost every conflict in the Middle East. Democrats will push back against Iran’s destabilizing activities including its support for terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, counter Iran’s ballistic missile program, bolster the capabilities of our Gulf partners, and ensure that Israel always has the ability to defend itself.”

Israel: “We will continue to work toward a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiated directly by the parties that guarantees Israel’s future as a secure and democratic Jewish state with recognized borders and provides the Palestinians with independence, sovereignty, and dignity. While Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations, it should remain the capital of Israel, an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths. Israelis deserve security, recognition, and a normal life free from terror and incitement. Palestinians should be free to govern themselves in their own viable state, in peace and dignity.”

Advisor: Trump Not Going to Get Rid of Iran Deal

Donald Trump, if elected as president in the fall, would not cancel the Iranian nuclear deal, one of Trump’s top foreign policy advisors said on Monday.

“No, he’s not going to get rid of an agreement that has the institutional signature of the United States,” Walid Phares told “>Trump said. “I have all my life — I love to buy bad contracts where … and I make those contracts good. This is a perfect example of taking over a bad contract. I will find something in that contract that will be very, very well-scrutinized by us, and I think they will not be able to do it, whatever it may be.”

At one point, Trump also “>told voters a day before Trump became the ultimate presumptive nominee, “If you agree with the Iranian nuclear deal; if you think it’s a good idea to send $150 billion to Ayatollah Khamenei, a radical Islamist terrorist who chants ‘Death to America,’ then you should vote for Donald and Hillary.”