Netanyahu urges ‘military sanctions’ threat against Iran


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the international community on Wednesday to threaten Iran with “military sanctions,” saying economic measures are failing to curb Tehran's nuclear drive.

“I believe it is incumbent upon the international community to intensify the sanctions and clarify that if Iran continues its program, there will be military sanctions,” Netanyahu said.

He did not, in a statement released by the prime minister's office, specify what military measures he envisages.

“I don't think there are any other means that will make Iran heed the international community's demands,” he said, in his first remarks on the issue after two days of nuclear talks between Tehran and world powers in the Kazakh city of Almaty.

Netanyahu has long said that only a credible military threat, coupled with tough economic sanctions, could dissuade Iran from acquiring what Israel and the West believe is a capability to build atomic weapons.

Iran says it is enriching uranium for peaceful purposes only.

In Almaty, the first negotiations between Iran and six world powers in eight months ended without a breakthrough on Wednesday. They agreed to meet again at expert level in Istanbul next month and resume political talks in Kazakhstan on April 5.

Israel, widely believed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed power, has strongly hinted it might attack Iran if diplomacy and sanctions fail to halt its nuclear program.

Netanyahu, setting a “red line” at the United Nations last September, has said Iran could by the middle of this year reach the point where it has enriched enough uranium to move quickly toward building an atomic bomb.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Ori Lewis

Former IDF commander: Iranian nuclear threat not imminent


Gabi Ashkenazi, the former Israeli military chief of staff, said that the threat to Israel from a nuclear Iran was not imminent.

Ashkenazi, who was chief of staff from 2007 until February 2011, was filmed saying at a recent lecture: “Anyone who thinks that there’ll be an Iranian nuclear weapon when we wake up tomorrow morning – well, we aren’t there yet.”

The footage, obtained by the Israeli newspaper Makor Rishon, was broadcast on Channel 2 News on Thursday. “This threat that emerges in the east, and all the darkening on that horizon – we aren’t there yet,” Ashkenazi was also filmed saying.

Israel should maintain a multi-pronged strategic approach — “a covert campaign” to thwart the Iranian nuclear drive; “diplomatic, political and economic sanctions; and a credible, realistic military threat,” he said. “We have to hope that this combination will keep Iran from going for the bomb.”

The comments marked Ashkenazi’s clearest expression to date of opposition to the imminent strike reportedly being contemplated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Meir Dagan, the former head of the Mossad, Israel’s spy agency, has also advised against a strike. Amos Yadlin, a former head of the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate, recently wrote in the Washongton Post that Israel had no choice but to prepare for a a possible strike on Iran.

Yisrael Hayom, another Israeli daily, reported that Shelly Yachimovich, chairperson of the Israeli Labor Party, met this week in Paris with French President Francois Hollande in Paris. She reportedly asked him to tighten the European Union’s sanctions on Iran.

Russia tells Syria Chemical Arms Threat Unacceptable


Russia has told the Syrian government clearly that it is unacceptable to threaten to use chemical weapons, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday in its strongest condemnation of a recent warning by a Syrian official.

In a meeting with Syria’s ambassador to Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov “laid out in an extremely clear form Russia’s position on the inadmissibility of any threats of the use of chemical weapons”, he ministry said.

Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi acknowledged on Monday that country had chemical weapons, saying it would not use them to crush rebels but could use them against forces from outside Syria.

Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Nastassia Astrasheuskaya

Iran says test-fires missiles over threats of attack


Iran said on Tuesday it had successfully tested medium-range missiles capable of hitting Israel as a response to threats of attack, the latest move in a war of nerves with the West.

Israel says it could attack Iran if diplomacy fails to secure a halt to its disputed nuclear energy programme. The United States also has military force as a possible option but has repeatedly encouraged the Israelis to be patient while new economic sanctions are implemented against Iran.

The Islamic Republic announced the “Great Prophet 7” missile exercise on Sunday after a European embargo against Iranian crude oil purchases took full effect following another fruitless round of big power talks with Tehran.

Iran’s official English-language Press TV said the Shahab 3 missile with a range of 1,300 km (800 miles) – able to reach Israel – was tested along with the shorter-range Shahab 1 and 2.

“The main aim of this drill is to demonstrate the Iranian nation’s political resolve to defend vital values and national interests,” Revolutionary Guards Deputy Commander Hossein Salami was quoted by Press TV as saying.

He said the tests were in response to Iran’s enemies who talk of a “military option being on the table”.

On Sunday, Iran threatened to wipe Israel “off the face of the earth” if the Jewish state attacked it.

Analysts have challenged some of Iran’s military assertions, saying it often exaggerates its capabilities.

Senior researcher Pieter Wezeman of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said Iran’s missiles were still relatively inaccurate and of limited use in conventional warfare. With conventional warheads, “their only utility is as a tool of terror and no more than that”, he said by telephone.

He added, however, that they could be suitable for carrying nuclear warheads, especially the larger ones.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies, said in a 2010 report that all Tehran’s ballistic missiles were “inherently capable of a nuclear payload”, if Iran was able to make a small enough bomb.

Iran denies Western accusations that it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons capability. The world’s No. 5 oil exporter maintains that it is enriching uranium only to generate more energy for a rapidly growing population.

OIL MARKETS ON EDGE

Iran has previously threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, through which more than a third of the world’s seaborne oil trade passes, in response to increasingly harsh sanctions by the United States and its allies intended to force it to curb its nuclear research programme.

Fars said dozens of missiles involved in this week’s exercises had been aimed at simulated air bases, and that Iranian-built unmanned drones would be tested on Wednesday.

Iran repeated its claim to be reverse-engineering the sophisticated U.S. RQ-170 drone that it says it brought down during a spying mission last year.

“In this drone there are hundreds of technologies used, each of which are valuable to us in terms of operations, information and technicalities,” General Amir Hajizadeh was quoted by the ISNA news agency as saying.

Wezeman said Iran had a large standing armed force, but that its weapons were generally outdated. “And those weapons only get older and older and they don’t have access to new technology because they are under a United Nations arms embargo.”

In his first comments since the European Union oil ban took force, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said sanctions would benefit Iran by lessening its dependence on crude exports.

“We must see the sanctions as an opportunity … which can forever take out of the enemy’s hands the ability to use oil as a weapon for sanctions,” Fars news agency quoted him as saying.

Negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme continued in Istanbul on Tuesday with a meeting of technical experts from Iran and six world powers.

The discussions follow a round of political talks in Moscow last month at which the sides failed to bridge differences or agree on a further round of talks at that level.

The experts have no mandate to strike agreements but the six powers – the United States, China, Britain, Germany, France and Russia – hope that by clarifying technical aspects of Tehran’s work they can open way for more negotiations in the future.

Diplomats in Istanbul said discussions in the Turkish capital were “detailed” and would most likely be followed by a meeting between a senior negotiator from the European Union and Iran’s deputy negotiator Ali Bagheri. Such a meeting could, at a later date, be a prelude to talks on a political level, diplomats have said.

“We hope Iran will seize the opportunity … to show a willingness to take concrete steps to urgently meet the concerns of the international community,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said ahead of the meeting. Ashton and her team represent the six powers in dealings with Iran.

As a priority, the powers want Iran to stop enriching uranium to levels close to weapons-grade, ship out any stockpile, and close a secret facility where such work is done.

Iran denies its programme has a military dimension and wants relief from economic sanctions before it makes any concessions.

IRANIAN CALL TO SHUT OIL LANES

On Monday, Iranian parliamentarians proposed a bill calling for Iran to try to stop tankers taking crude through the Strait of Hormuz to countries that support the sanctions.

However, the Iranian parliament is relatively weak, analysts say, and the proposal has no chance of becoming law unless sanctioned by Iran’s clerical supreme leader.

That is seen as unlikely in the near term given that Western powers have said they would tolerate no closure of the Strait while Iranian leaders, wedded to strategic pragmatism for the sake of survival, have said they seek no war with anyone.

“It’s a gesture at this stage,” said independent British-based Iran analyst Reza Esfandiari.

“They want to emphasise that Iran can make life difficult for Europe and America. I think this is more of an attempt to offset falling crude prices. Financial markets are very sensitive to such talk.”

On Tuesday, the price of Brent crude, which has been on a downward trend for the last three months, broke $100 for the first time since early June.

“A lot depends on nuclear talks,” said Esfandiari. “If there’s no progress and the initiative is deadlocked, then these kind of actions will intensify.”

Additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati in Dubai, Fredrik Dahl in Vienna and Justyna Pawlak in Brussels; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Kevin Liffey and Michael Roddy

EU bans Iranian oil, Tehran responds with threats


The European Union banned imports of oil from Iran on Monday and imposed a number of other economic sanctions, joining the United States in a new round of measures aimed at deflecting Tehran’s nuclear development program.

In Iran, one politician responded by renewing a threat to blockade the Strait of Hormuz, an oil export route vital to the global economy, and another said Tehran should cut off crude shipments to the EU immediately.

That might hurt Greece, Italy and other ailing economies which depend heavily on Iranian oil and, as a result, won as part of the EU agreement a grace period until July 1 before the embargo takes full effect. Angry words on either side helped nudge benchmark Brent oil futures above $110 a barrel on Monday.

A day after a U.S. aircraft carrier, accompanied by a flotilla that included French and British warships, made a symbolically loaded voyage into the Gulf in defiance of Iranian hostility, the widely expected EU sanctions move is likely to set off yet more bellicose rhetoric in an already tense region.

Some analysts say Iran, which denies accusations that it is seeking nuclear weapons, could be in a position to make them next year. So, with Israel warning it could use force to prevent that happening, the row over Tehran’s plans is an increasingly pressing challenge for world leaders, not least U.S. President Barack Obama as he campaigns for re-election in November.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has voiced skepticism about the chances of Iran being persuaded by non-military tactics, called the EU sanctions a “step in the right direction” but said Iran was still developing atomic weapons.

Israel, assumed to have the only nuclear arsenal in the Middle East, views the Iranian nuclear program as a threat to its survival.

Meeting in Brussels, foreign ministers from the 27-state EU, which as a bloc is Iran’s second biggest customer for crude after China, agreed to an immediate ban on all new contracts to import, purchase or transport Iranian crude oil and petroleum products. However, EU countries with existing contracts to buy oil and petroleum products can honor them up to July 1.

EU officials said they also agreed to freeze the assets of Iran’s central bank and ban trade in gold and other precious metals with the bank and state bodies.

Along with U.S. sanctions imposed by Obama on December 31, the Western powers hope that choking exports and hence revenue can force Iran’s leaders to agree to curbs on a nuclear program the West says is intended to yield weapons.

EU SEEKS TALKS

The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, confirmed plans for a visit next week by senior inspectors to try and clear up suspicions raised about the purpose of Iran’s nuclear activities. Tehran is banned by international treaty from developing nuclear weaponry.

“The Agency team is going to Iran in a constructive spirit, and we trust that Iran will work with us in that same spirit,” IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said in a statement announcing the December 29-31 visit. “The overall objective of the IAEA is to resolve all outstanding substantive issues.”

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said of the new sanctions: “I want the pressure of these sanctions to result in negotiations … I want to see Iran come back to the table and either pick up all the ideas that we left on the table … last year … or to come forward with its own ideas.”

Iran has said lately that it is willing to hold talks with Western powers, though there have been mixed signals on whether conditions imposed by either side make new negotiations likely.

The Islamic Republic insists it is enriching uranium only for electricity and other civilian uses.

It has powerful defenders against the Western action in the form of Russia and China, which argue that the new sanctions are unnecessary, and can also probably count on China and other Asian countries to go on buying much of its oil, despite U.S. and European efforts to dissuade them.

Russia Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, classifying the EU embargo among “aggravating factors,” said Moscow believed there was a good chance that talks between the six global powers and Iran could resume soon and that Russia would try to steer both Iran and the West away from further confrontation.

Iran warns against rumored Israeli military strike


Iran’s top military chief warned that his country would retaliate harshly against an Israeli strike on its nuclear sites, as Israel successfully test fired a new ballistic missile.

Responding to reports that Israel was preparing to launch an attack against Iran, the Islamic Republic’s Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Hassan Fairouz Abadi on Wednesday reportedly told Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency that Iran would strike back hard against Israel and the United States.

“America knows that a Zionist military strike in Iran would cause it major damages in addition to the damages caused to this regime,” Abadi said.

A report by the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, is due next week, and reportedly will offer new details about Iran’s nuclear program.

Also on Wednesday, Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in an interview on Israel Radio that most reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are pushing the Cabinet to approve an attack on Iran “have no connection to reality.”  Reports to that effect had surfaced the previous day in the Israeli and international media and have caused “tremendous damage,” Lieberman said.

Lieberman also said that Iran continues to pose a dangerous threat to the entire world and that Israel expects the international community to do “much more” regarding Iran, including imposing sanctions.

Saying that the test of a new ballistic missile was preplanned and had no connection to a possible attack on Iran, the Israeli military successfully test fired a ballistic missile Wednesday from Palmachim Airbase in central Israel, according to a statement from the Defense Ministry.

Foreign media believe Israel has missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu: Only ‘credible’ military threat led by U.S. can stop nuclear Iran


Only the convincing threat of military action headed by the United States will persuade Iran to drop plans to build an atomic bomb, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday.

Speaking to foreign journalists, he said that although the latest round of international sanctions were hurting Iran, they would not be enough to force a u-turn on nuclear weapons.

“You have to ratchet up the pressure and … I don’t think that this pressure will be sufficient to have this regime change course without a credible military option that is put before them by the international community led by the United States,” he said.

Read more at HAARETZ.com.

Thousands protest Ahmadinejad in New York — no Clinton, no Palin [VIDEO]


NEW YORK (JTA)—Thousands of protesters filled Dag Hammarskjold Plaza opposite the United Nations for a rally against Iran’s president, who came to town to address the General Assembly.

“The message to him is please go home,” Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel said at Monday’s demonstration. “Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, go home and stay home. We don’t want you here.”

Wiesel called for U.N. members to declare Ahmadinejad persona non grata and to exit the General Assembly hall in protest when he speaks Tuesday afternoon.

“In truth, the proper place of Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is not in the U.N.,” Wiesel said. “His place is before an international tribunal which will charge him with inciting crimes against humanity.”

The Jewish-sponsored rally was meant to highlight the Iranian regime’s threats to Israel and the rest of the world with its pursuit of nuclear weapons, as well as its Holocaust denial, and to send a message to Ahmadinejad, organizers said.

Rally speakers stayed on message, slamming the visiting Iranian leader and warning of the threat a nuclear Iran would pose to the United States, Israel and the world.

There was little sign of the

Iran Missiles Graver Security Threat Than ‘Spy’


The building tempest surrounding Israel, the United States, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and allegations of spying shouldn’t obscure the real problem at the root of it all: Iran’s WMDs.

The most urgent question is this: Will Iran attack Israel if its nuclear sites are attacked by the latter or the United States?

Iranian military commanders have been outspoken on the issue in recent weeks: Yadollah Javani, head of the Revolutionary Guards political bureau, said that the “entire Zionist territory” was currently within range of Iran’s missiles. Guards commander Gen. Rahim Safavi warned that Iran will crush Israel if it was “mad enough to attack Iran’s national interests.” Bagher Zolghadr, second in command of the Guards, said that if Israel dared attack nuclear centers in Iran, the army would not hesitate to demolish the Dimona nuclear reactor, along with Israel’s nuclear arsenal.

Iran’s Defense Minister, Ali Shamkhani, 49-year-old Guards commander-turned-rear admiral, announced two weeks ago yet another successful test of the country’s Shahab-3 missile, capable of carrying an 800 kilogram conventional or NBC (nuclear, biological or chemical) warhead 1,200 kilometers away.

Shamkhani said: “The Israelis are trying hard to improve the capacity of their missiles, so are we.”

Some experts say Iran tested the Shahab-4, a missile believed to be based on the Russian SS-4 or the North Korean Nodong-2, the existence of which is denied by the regime but is confirmed to be under secret development. The missile is thought to have a range of more than 2,000 kilometers and is capable of carrying a warhead possibly weighing more than 1.5 tons.

Naturally, the test raised concerns in Washington. Although some experts hinted that it amounted to more of a political statement than a real display of new capabilities, Israel was quick to announce it was going to test again its Arrow anti-missile system.

But regional developments say Israel has to wait for its turn to be “dealt with.”

The anti Israeli flare-up came at a time when in Iraq, the Shiite Medhi Army led by firebrand pro-Iran cleric Moqtada al-Sadr was entrenched in the holy mosque of Ali in Najaf, the country’s sacred Shiite capital. Worried not to hurt religious sentiments, Iraqi and U.S. government forces were trying to smoke them out, with little success. They had to wait for Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali Sistani’s interference to end the duel. Other Shiite cities were also engulfed in unrest.

A senior Iraqi government official played videotapes for reporters showing seized boxes of weapons intended for Mehdi Army. Iraqi minister Wael Abdel Latif, said the weapons came from Iran. Scores of Iranians were arrested among the Mahdi Army’s fighters, according to press reports.

Iran’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, accused the United States of “shamelessly” massacring the Shiite population in Najaf, in spite of its preaching democratic values. Other top religious leaders in the country followed suit. If their remarks served as spiritual and political ammunition for those fighting U.S. and other forces in and around Najaf’s holy shrines, then the military commanders’ remarks would be more than simple saber-rattling. Those entrenched die-hards encircled by the world’s most powerful army, and others scattered all over Iraq, would certainly do with some military backup as well.

Shamkhani told the al-Jazeera satellite television network on Aug. 18: “America is not the only one present in the region. We are also present, from Khost to Kandahar in Afghanistan; we are present in the Gulf and we can be present in Iraq.”

He very cleverly chose al-Jazeera for the lengthy interview. In fact, his flawless Arabic is much more clearly heard and understood in Najaf and Baghdad than in Tel Aviv.

The next day, Abdolrahman Rashed, former editor in chief of the prestigious Arab daily Asharqalawsat, wrote in London: “Iran’s missiles might be aimed at Israel, but let us not forget that Iran has never, even by mistake, had any clash with Israel. The only possible probability is that their objective lies among their neighbors. And then there is Iraq. “

At least one such example occurred in April 18, 2001, when Iran launched more than 70 Scud-3 missiles in a matter of hours against more than seven targets in southern and eastern Iraq, aiming to eliminate bases of the Iranian opposition Mujahidin Khalq Organization in Iraq.

Unlike Saddam Hussein, the clerics ruling Iran are excellent strategists. They think that now is their chance to aim their adversary’s Achilles’ heel, which they call the “Iraqi quagmire.” In this battle, anti-Israeli rhetoric is a weapon second to none.

But, unlike Rashed’s conclusion, they certainly would not stay there. It certainly has to be “Iraq first,” but there would certainly be others next. Let us not forget their famous mobilizing motto during their eight-year war with Saddam Hussein: “The road to Jerusalem passes through Karbala.”

Iran’s clerics think much the same way today.


Nooredin Abedian taught in Iranian higher-education institutions before settling in France as a political refugee in 1981. He writes for a variety of publications on Iranian politics and issues concerning human rights.

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