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.”

After the Iran vote, now what?


Is it over?

Recently, during a KPCC radio talk show about the Iran deal, the host, Patt Morrison, asked me whether, now that President Barack Obama has the 34 votes he needs to support the Iran nuclear agreement, the rancor and vitriol within the Jewish community that marked the debate over it would subside. 

Honestly, I wish I knew the answer.

The truth is, the debate has opened up some wounds that are going to take some time to heal, assuming they will heal. We knew this day of reckoning would come, and the vote would go down one way or the other, but we acted as if the only thing that mattered was winning the fight, not how we’d live together after it ended.

“We were so busy fighting about days one through 60,” Rabbi Aaron Panken, the head of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion told me — referring to the number of days before the congressional vote — “we haven’t really thought about what happens on day 61.”

I suggest that on day 61, in the spirit of the Jewish New Year, we take a breath and take stock. This, it seems to me, is where we are:

First, we are divided. Right after the deal was announced in July, Jewish leaders, here and in Israel, proclaimed that the Jewish world stood united against it. This moment, they said, was a rare instance of 13 million Jews, one opinion. But shortly after that pronouncement, the Jewish Journal conducted a national poll that revealed a majority of American Jews favored congressional support for the deal by a wide margin — 53 percent to 35 percent. That revelation changed the conversation. It showed a significant political and ideological rift among American Jewry.

Second, it is now clear no single voice represents the Jews. As the debate intensified, mainstream American-Jewish organizations lined up against the deal in concert with the Israeli government. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee led the charge. The Anti-Defamation League also said no, albeit with a slightly more nuanced approach, as did the American Jewish Committee, and numerous local Jewish Federations all weighed in against it. Dueling petitions from hundreds of rabbis, competing op-eds and those pesky scientific polls showed there is a disconnect between the organized and, for lack of a better word, the disorganized Jewish worlds.

Third, a critical aspect of this schism is age. The Jewish Journal poll reported that Jewish adults under 40 supported congressional approval of the deal 59 to 25 percent. This next generation is going to take a long, hard look at organizations and leaders that speak in their name, and spend their donations, but don’t share their views.

Fourth, it is important to be clear who crossed the lines of civility and who didn’t. On Aug. 28, The New York Times ran a misleading article headlined, “Iran Deal Opens a Vitriolic Divide Among American Jews.” The reporters listed numerous examples of vitriol from those who oppose the deal. They wrote that longtime Israel supporter Rep. Jerrold Nadler had been called a “kapo” for siding with the president. The deal’s opponents, they wrote, also held rallies denouncing the pro-deal lobbying group J Street as traitors, and Obama as a terrorist. 

As for the other side, the reporters found that they … appealed for civility. There has been no equivalence to the meanness of tone and foulness of language expressed by what is, to be sure, a minority of the deal’s Jewish opponents. We have a vitriol problem, but the name-calling comes largely from one side. 

Fifth, our divisions are nothing new. Let’s not treat this like it’s the beginning of the end of Jewish unity. It is more like the continuing expression of historic Jewish disunity. We fought bitter internecine fights over how to react to the Holocaust as it was happening, over the formation of the State of Israel and over the Oslo accords. Those ideological divisions have transferred neatly to Iran. Once this debate is over, we won’t leave the ring, we’ll just go to our corners.  

Sixth, here’s the good news: We tend to fight with our mouths. There have been some anguished exceptions throughout history, but, most of the time, we seem to understand that words may hurt us, but sticks and stones are a lot worse.

Seventh, another thing The New York Times misunderstood is that the debate did not create two sides, but three — and that is a crucial point going forward. Some Jews hate the deal and oppose it. Some like the deal and support it. The third group doesn’t like the deal, but thinks it’s the best of all realistic options. In the Jewish Journal poll, even though a majority of Jews interviewed supported the deal, only 42 percent said they believe it would prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon over the next 10 years. This group views the deal with low expectations, raised suspicions and eyes wide open. 

If there is a way to go forward with some kind of unity, this third group, I believe, holds the key. Those who oppose the deal can stop fighting the reality of it and start pushing, pragmatically, for arrangements to improve security in America, Israel and among our other Mideast allies in the face of it. We need to learn from the Obamacare debate that, at some point, the fight’s just over. 

Or, at least, I hope it is. 

Shanah Tovah.


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @foodaism.

Israelis aren’t unified on Iran deal


One of the strongest arguments the Jewish opponents of the Iran nuclear deal have wielded is that Israelis are unified in their opposition to it.

If the famously fractious Israelis all agree that the Iran deal is bad, they argue, it must really be awful. This line of reasoning can be especially persuasive to American Jews and Israel-sympathizing representatives in Congress. Who are we to disagree when the people who face the greatest threat from a nuclear Iran categorically oppose this deal?

Except for one thing: It’s not true.

If you look at the polling results, you’ll see that the numbers tell a far more nuanced story. So do the actual statements by many of Israel’s political opponents to the deal, which have evolved from outright rejection to more of a regretful embrace. And perhaps most strikingly, dozens of Israeli security experts have publicly weighed in, all in favor of the deal.

The first breach in the Israeli Unified Agreement Theory came shortly after the deal’s announcement, as Israeli officials were trumpeting the fact that the Iran nuclear deal was a rare case of “6 million Jews, one opinion,” against it.

That’s when Ami Ayalon, the former head of Israel’s navy and its internal security services, Shin Bet, told the Jewish Daily Forward’s J.J. Goldberg that the imperfect deal actually made Israel safer.

“Reaching the agreement wasn’t a mistake,” Ayalon said. “It is the best of the available options, even though it strengthens Iran as a troublemaker. We in Israel need to differentiate between, on one hand, the problems in the Middle East and the understanding that we will have to continue fighting terrorism for the next 30 to 40 years, and on the other hand, the need to prevent the entry of nuclear weapons. I’m sorry to say this, but this is the price we need to pay to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons.”

Ayalon’s analysis was the first tear in a very flimsy façade of Israeli unanimity. By early August, dozens of former senior members of Israel’s defense establishment published an open letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urging him to accept the nuclear accord with Iran. They joined with numerous senior military and intelligence officials who had already come out in favor of the deal. These included Efraim Levy, former head of the Mossad; Eli Levite, deputy director general of Israel’s atomic energy commission; Shlomo Brom, a brigadier general, former director of the Israel Defense Forces strategic planning division and former deputy national security adviser; and Uzi Arad, national security adviser.

When I saw Arad’s name on the list, I thought: Wow. In 2009, Arad was appointed Israel’s national security adviser and head of the Israeli National Security Council — by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Why? Because he had established himself as a strong voice against Iran’s nuclear program.

“We shouldn’t see this as a bad deal,” Arad said recently. “For the security of Israel, the responsible and cautious way ahead is to understand that the agreement is what it is, and that’s it.”

Nothing makes the continued and, it looks like, pointless opposition to the Iran deal from many mainstream Jewish organizations look as ill-considered as these experts’ statements. Not one of these generals or intelligence officials needs to be reminded of the perfidy of the Iranian regime by a Jewish-American leader who knows more about Gulfstreams than about F-16s. Arad doesn’t need an education in Iranian terrorism, nor does a single one of his co-signers. And yet Arad and a long line of Israeli security experts have decided the deal is the best way, at least for the foreseeable future, to keep nukes out of the mullahs’ hands.

The Israeli public may not agree with that opinion, but that doesn’t mean opinion in Israel is unanimous behind Bibi’s approach to the deal. In the most commonly quoted poll, 69 percent of Israelis oppose the deal. But the same poll showed only a slight majority — like, 51 percent — thought Bibi should openly oppose the deal. The same poll showed a plurality of Israelis (37 percent) actually opposed the way Netanyahu handled the campaign against the deal, while only 34 percent believe he’s done a good job.

These sentiments were echoed in statements by opposition leaders Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, who initially joined Netanyahu in condemning the deal, but then split with him in how to go about lobbying against it. Opponents would have done far better working with President Barack Obama and deal supporters to strengthen the deal’s provisions and win extra security guarantees for Israel.

“The Iran deal will pass,” Herzog posted this week on his Facebook page, “the world is running to Iran to do business and open embassies, and no one is listening to Israel.”

Some of the security experts think it’s a pretty good deal; some don’t. Most Israelis, to be sure, don’t like it. But what has become increasingly clear is that, although Israelis may not support the deal, they support supporting the deal.

Meanwhile, American-Jewish organizations, who have continued to oppose the deal, are about to lose a war that didn’t need to be fought. Instead of fighting the president of the United States and other Jews, they could have taken a page from those pragmatic Israelis, and focused on fighting Iran.


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @foodaism.

Iran nuclear talks extended a week


Iran nuclear talks have been extended a week past their deadline for a final deal.

The talks, which were to have reached an agreement by Tuesday, were extended to July 7, Marie Harf, a State Department strategic expert attending the talks in Vienna, said on Twitter.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, are leading the teams in the Austrian capital. Both have described the negotiations in positive terms.

Zarif returned Tuesday from consulting with leaders in Iran.

“I am here to get a final deal and I think we can,” Zarif was quoted as saying by Al Monitor.

A deal would exchange sanctions relief for guarantees that Iran is not advancing toward a nuclear weapon.

Israel objects to the emerging deal, saying its terms will leave Iran a nuclear threshold state and increase its ability to disrupt the region.

Bipartisan panel, including onetime Iran deal defenders, urges improvements


A bipartisan panel of former government officials including some of the most steadfast defenders of the Iran-nuclear talks led by the Obama administration say the emerging deal falls short of a satisfactory plan.

“We know much about the emerging agreement,” said the statement, organized by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank. “Most of us would have preferred a stronger agreement.”

The signatories urge Obama’s negotiators to extend the June 30 deadline to get a better deal. “Stay at the negotiating table until a ‘good’ agreement that includes these features is reached,” the statement says, listing a number of bottom lines the major powers negotiating with Iran should preserve.

Among the bipartisan slate of 18 former officials are a number who have worked for the Obama administration and among these are several who until recently have vigorously defended its Iran strategy:

— Former U.S. Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), who as chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee in 2010 delayed a sanctions bill until the Obama administration had lined up backing for sanctions from other countries;

— Robert Einhorn, a top negotiator in Obama’s first term who has in recent years been a point man defending the Iran strategy in appearances before Jewish and Middle East policy groups;

— Dennis Ross, Obama’s top Iran adviser for much of his first term, who also has had a post-administration role in explaining Obama’s Iran policies;

— Gary Samore, the coordinator for arms control in Obama’s first term, who, like Ross, has been a go-to interviewee to explain Obama’s Iran strategy.

Also signing was Norm Eisen, the ambassador to the Czech Republic from 2011-2014 and a top fundraiser for Obama’s first election campaign; David Makovsky, a member of Obama’s Israeli-Palestinian peace talks team last year; and David Petraeus, the director of the CIA in Obama’s first term.

Also included are former George W. Bush administration officials, including his national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, but the inclusion of figures who helped shaped and who have defended the current strategy could sway congressional Democrats when approval of the deal is considered by Congress.

While saying they “know much” about the emerging deal, the signatories do not directly address its perceived inadequacies. Instead, they list bottom lines that a deal should include, suggesting that these may be absent:

— Nuclear inspectors “must have timely and effective access to any sites in Iran they need to visit in order to verify Iran’s compliance with the agreement,” including military sites and sites controlled by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps;

— The ability to review Iran’s past weaponization activity;

— Strict limits on research and development into advanced uranium-enriching centrifuges;

— Sanctions relief based on Iran’s performance, apparently a reference to reports that Iran will get some sanctions relief simply for signing the deal;

— “Serious consequences” should Iran violate terms of the deal.

“Most importantly, it is vital for the United States to affirm that it is U.S. policy to prevent Iran from producing sufficient fissile material for a nuclear weapon – or otherwise acquiring or building one – both during the agreement and after it expires,” the statement says. Obama administration officials have insisted that a number of key aspects of the agreement will be enforceable long after other provisions expire.

The statement also says there is “much to the argument” that a nuclear agreement would free Iran to expand its “bad behavior” in the region and counsels “doing more” to inhibit Iranian ambitions, including expanding U.S. military influence in the area.

With House set to approve Iran deal, options to shape outcome remote


The Iran deal may not be done, but bids by its opponents to shape it are all but buried.

Skeptics of the nuclear negotiations have all but given up on a congressional role before the June 30 deadline for an agreement between Iran and the major powers.

“I’m not sure there’s anything anyone can do now to ensure a better deal,” Mark Dubowitz, the director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think tank consulting with Iran skeptics in Congress, said in an interview.

Attempts to limit sanctions relief on Iran, to roll back further its uranium enrichment program, and to link the deal to changes in Iranian relations with Syrian and Yemeni leaders – all goals sought by skeptics – are off the table, at least for now.

Last week, the Senate in a 98-1 vote approved a bill mandating congressional review of any deal.

In order to secure the necessary bipartisan support, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, worked with Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., to strip out what the Obama administration had deemed “poison pills”: provisions that would determine what a deal looked like, for instance requiring Iran to give up its backing for terrorism. Instead, the bill simply gives Congress an up or down vote on the deal. Even if the Congress disapproves, President Barack Obama has veto power.

The U.S. House of Representatives is set to consider the bill as early as Wednesday, and insiders say the measure will likely pass overwhelmingly under a parliamentary maneuver that does not allow amendments.

“Leadership on both sides wants to avoid problems with it at this point,” a senior House staffer told JTA. Obama has said he will sign a bill clean of amendments.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel powerhouse that for two decades has led efforts to isolate Iran, signed off on the formula.

“Our priority is to make sure the bill gets passed with the strongest bipartisan majority as soon as possible so that Congress is guaranteed the opportunity to pass judgment on the final agreement,” an AIPAC source said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu still hopes to influence the outcome.

“We view the greatest challenge to the security of the Middle East, of Israel and of the world Iran’s quest for empire coupled with its quest for nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said Tuesday after meeting Ursula von der Leyen, the German defense minister. Germany and the United States, along with Russia, France, Britain and China, are negotiating the deal with Iran.

“We hope that this can be prevented, preferably by diplomatic means,” Netanyahu said. “We think a better deal is required than the one that is proposed in Lausanne [the city in Switzerland where the talks were being held], and I believe that this is important for our common future and our common security.”

How Netanyahu plans to go about shaping a better deal is unclear. He thought his best bet was speaking to Congress, and risked a rupture with the Obama administration when he accepted an invitation to address the body in March without consulting with the White House.

That avenue is now closed, according to opponents of the deal. Congress, under the Corker-Cardin bill about to pass, may disapprove of the deal, but is not likely to garner the two-thirds majority in both chambers to override a presidential veto of its disapproval.

“It won’t be easy for Congress to override a presidential veto of a joint resolution of disapproval on a final Iran agreement,” a senior GOP congressional staffer said. “It’s not even certain the Senate will get cloture for a resolution of disapproval,” the staffer added, referring to the 60 votes needed to end debate.

In the House, 151 Democrats signed a letter to Obama last week supporting diplomacy with Iran. The letter did not directly address the Iran deal, but leading the signatories was Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the minority leader. Leaders rarely sign letters, and her signature was a signal that Pelosi had more than the 149 votes required to avoid a veto override.

Dylan Williams, the vice president of government affairs for J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle east policy group that helped circulate the letter, said Democrats – and probably a handful of Republicans – would not want to kill a deal that comported with the terms governing the talks now underway, including an invasive inspections regime, an enrichment rollback and staggered sanctions relief.

“Sufficient numbers of Democrats will understand it’s a choice between the agreement and a complete breakdown in diplomacy and international sanctions,” Williams said.

Once a deal was in place – as early as next fall, given that Congress has up to 52 days to review a deal after the June 30 deadline – the avenue to register opposition would be the law’s requirement that the president certify to Congress Iranian compliance with the deal every 90 days.

Without existing sanctions in place, it would be difficult for Congress to reverse a bad deal, even should it find Iran is not compliant, Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Dubowitz said, noting the difficulties of corralling businesses and other countries into reimposing sanctions.

“The administration is putting the United States on a trajectory where it will be very difficult for a future president or Congress to fundamentally change the terms of this deal,” Dubowitz said.

“It will be very difficult if not impossible to reconstitute the sanctions regime and then there will be only be two options” should Iran breakout a nuclear weapons capability. “One is to concede an Iranian nuke, two is to use force to forestall that possibility.”

(Melissa Apter of the Washington Jewish Week contributed to this report.)

Bibi, you’re no Moses


So, he spoke.

And while his rhetoric soared, his ideas sank.

He gave us a thousand reasons why the deal whose details he may not know is a flawed one. He gave us not a single pragmatic better option.

Not one.

And life, they say, is not about what’s ideal. It’s about what’s possible. 

Bibi said he wants Iran to abandon its nuclear program, renounce its desire to obliterate Israel and stop supporting terrorism. Ideally the Iranian regime would react to continuing or increased sanctions by doing those things.  

But expert after expert tells us that if these talks fail, there’s a far better chance the sanctions regime, which is dependent on the cooperation of Russia, China and other ornery nations, will fall apart, and whatever hobbles are now on Iran’s nuclear development will fall away. 

In other words, the most dangerous thing for Israel, America and the world might possibly be for Bibi to get his way.

If Iran is as crazy, messianic and violent as Bibi spent a good third of his speech asserting — then his proposal makes even less sense. The most important thing you can do to protect yourself from crazy people is first keep them away from dangerous weapons — not make them promise to change. Maybe Bibi has the right ideas, but they’re in the wrong order.

In fact, Bibi’s speech — solid, stirring as it was — left me more perplexed than convinced. I couldn’t agree more with him about the historic levels of support the Obama administration has shown for Israel, and about the very real, existential danger the Iranian regime poses for Israel.  

But these other applause lines made me wonder:

“Now we’re being told that the only alternative to this bad deal is war,” Bibi said. “That’s just not true.”

Note that Bibi said, “war,” not “military action.” It is more likely a breakdown in talks will compel the latter, even if Israel and the United States are able to avoid the former. But in any case, unless Bibi can say — and he couldn’t — what a better deal is, his words here ring hollow. 

Remember Colin Powell testifying in the run-up to the Iraq war that Saddam Hussein was trafficking in yellow cake uranium — an assertion that proved false and helped lead us into a disastrous war? If Bibi’s planless plan fails, well, this might be Bibi’s yellow cake moment.

“The alternative to this bad deal is a much better deal. A better deal that doesn’t leave Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure and such a short break-out time. A better deal that keeps the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in place until Iran’s aggression ends.”

And that better deal is …? 

Barack Obama, as opposed to his predecessors, worked to get the world on board for a sanctions regime predicated on getting Iran to agree to a reasonable deal. 

If those countries aren’t on board, those sanctions, in the words of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, “are going to get leaky very soon.” 

With no deal and no sanctions, Iran will continue to develop its nukes uninspected. 

“Imagine 10 years of no deal,” said Zakaria, “and where will Iran be at that point?”

My friends, for over a year,” Bibi said, “we’ve been told that no deal is better than a bad deal.

Actually, the administration has made clear the opposite is the case.

“I have repeatedly said that I would rather have no deal than a bad deal, but if we are successful in negotiating, then in fact this will be the best deal possible to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Obama said, reacting to Bibi’s speech. “Nothing else comes close. Sanctions won’t do it. Military action would not be as successful as the deal that we have put forward.”

“Now, if Iran threatens to walk away from the table — and this often happens in a Persian bazaar‘— call their bluff,” Bibi continued. “They’ll be back, because they need the deal a lot more than you do.”

Bibi likes to paint Obama as the over-eager suitor to the borderline offensive stereotype of the wily Oriental bargainer.  But in doing so, he ascribes great rationality to a regime he just convinced us was nuts. The truth is, there is ample historical precedent for Iran choosing principle over payout. 

“This is why … as a prime minister of Israel, I can promise you one more thing: Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand.”

This hubris played well in Congress and perhaps back home — though we won’t know how well until Election Day in Israel two weeks from now.

There was a time in Jewish history when Israel tried to stand alone: It’s called Masada.  In modern Israeli history, Israel has never stood alone — it couldn’t survive five minutes without the backing of a superpower. Every prime minister has understood this.  That Bibi pretends otherwise — and, in recent weeks, has acted otherwise — endangers Israel’s security.

Bottom line:  Bibi provided a clear path away from negotiations, but not toward a non-nuclear Iran. 

At the end of his speech, he pointed to a painting of Moses that adorns the Capitol. You have to love the irony. Moses, you’ll remember, had a speech impediment. He never could have been as eloquent as Bibi. Then again, great speeches alone don’t get you to the Promised Land.


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Day 1 at AIPAC: Trusting Congress, expecting little from White House and anxious about Bibigate


The marching orders to the reported 16,000 attendees were clear on the first day of this year’s AIPAC policy conference: push legislators to pass a proposed bill that would give Congress the right to approve or reject any nuclear agreement signed between the Obama administration and the Iranian regime.

And the implications, too, were clear: AIPAC, an organization built on fostering bipartisan support for Israel in Congress and the White House, all but expects the president to sign a “bad” deal with Iran, one that the group believes would make Iran a threshold nuclear power and would endanger Israel’s existence.

This dynamic—relying on Congress to counterbalance the White House—along with the anticipation and anxiety over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Tuesday address to Congress, characterized the first day of AIPAC’s three-day conference in Washington, D.C.

While AIPAC’s top brass and politicians addressing the conference did not ignore the drama surrounding the circumstances of the speech—which has further frayed an already troubled relationship between Obama and Netanyahu—the focus was on the two bills AIPAC and its army of citizen lobbyists will push when they pack Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

First, the “Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015”, a bill introduced on Jan. 27 that would automatically introduce new sanctions on Iran if nuclear talks collapse. Second, the “Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015”, introduced last Friday, which would require Obama to obtain Congressional approval over any nuclear deal with Iran.

As Howard Kohr, AIPAC’s CEO, said, “Thank goodness for Congress.”

Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.), appearing together on stage Sunday morning in symbolic bipartisan fashion, praised the AIPAC members for what the two said is their influence on lawmakers.

“To my AIPAC friends, you’re going to make more difference than any speech any politician could deliver,” said Graham, a crowd favorite. “AIPAC is the glue that holds this relationship together.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) (R), interviewed by Director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University Frank Sesno in Washington on March 1. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

The South Carolina senator said that he will be in the “front row” of Netanyahu’s Tuesday speech to a joint session of Congress, which news reports have suggested he will use as an opportunity to inform lawmakers of particularly risky and dangerous elements of the deal.

“Let us commit ourselves to get as many eyes as possible on this deal before it becomes binding,” Graham said.

Cardin, stating that Israel must never become a “political wedge issue”, also helped pump up the crowd in preparation for their Tuesday lobbying mission. “We need you on Capitol Hill. We have to keep strong sanctions against Iran,” Cardin said. “We could use your help.”

For all the talk, though, about how support for Israel cannot become a Republican or Democratic issue, by putting its weight and resources behind Congress as a sort of nuclear negotiations watchdog, AIPAC's message is clear—the White House is headed toward a dangerous deal, and only Congress can stop it.

“There are some real strains in the relationships,” Kohr admitted. “There is a serious policy difference, particularly over Iran.”

About 30 Democrats reportedly plan to skip Netanyahu's Tuesday speech to Congress, which has further worsened an already toxic relationship between the current governments in Washington and Jerusalem. Netanyahu critics have argued that he’s using the speech as a political tool for upcoming elections in Israel, that he disrespected the Obama administration by not informing it beforehand of the address, and that he’s turning Israel into a partisan issue in Washington.

Netanyahu’s office has repeatedly said that he has an obligation to speak up for Israel because it stands the most to lose from a bad deal with Iran, and that it was not the responsibility of Netanyahu’s office to inform the White House, but of Speaker of the House John Boehner’s office, which officially invited Netanyahu. Boehner’s office reportedly informed the White House of Netanyahu’s acceptance two hours before it was publicly announced.

Sunday at AIPAC, although Kohr and politicians in attendance stressed the importance of attending Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, there were few, if any, public endorsements of his decision to address lawmakers.

“There’s no question that the way this speech has come about has created a great deal of upset among Democrats in Congress—House and Senate,” Kohr said. “It’s created some upset, frankly, outside the Capitol and, frankly, it may have upset some people in this room.”

On Feb. 26, Al-Monitor columnist Ben Caspit reported that AIPAC’s top officials “were in shock” after they learned of Netanyahu’s decision to address Congress, and that the group warned Netanyahu that some Democrats would “boycott” the speech.

And even though Kohr did not endorse Netanyahu’s decision, he stressed that AIPAC believes “it’s an important speech.”

“We have spent active hours lobbying for members of the House and Senate to attend this speech,” Kohr said. “When the leader of our greatest ally in the region comes to Washington to speak about the greatest challenge of our time, we hope and urge members of Congress to be there to hear what he has to say.”

Cardin, striking a similar tone, said that the “circumstances surrounding the invitation are not how it should’ve been.”

“But don’t lose focus,” he continued. “The bad guy is Iran.”

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Ca.), who represents a district in Los Angeles and sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in an afternoon panel session about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, that the “personal and partisan” nature of the hostility between Obama and Netanyahu makes it harder for Democrats to go against Obama and vote on sanctions while negotiations with Iran are ongoing.

“Back home they view this as a personality contest between two people, Bibi Netanyahu and President Barack Obama,” Sherman said. “It's hard for people in districts where the president got 60, 70, 80 percent of the vote to vote against Obama's position on sanctions now that it's such a personal, high profile issue.”

“It is much more difficult for me to go to Democrats,” he said.

Iranian leader Ayatollah Khamenei sent Obama secret letter


Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has responded to overtures from U.S. President Barack Obama amid nuclear talks by sending him a secret letter, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

Citing an Iranian diplomat, the paper said the Iranian cleric had written to Obama in recent weeks in response to a presidential letter sent in October.

Obama's letter suggested the possibility of U.S.-Iranian cooperation in fighting Islamic State if a nuclear deal was secured, the paper said, quoting the diplomat.

Khamenei's letter was “respectful” but noncommittal, it quoted the diplomat as saying.

Both the White House and the Iranian mission at the United Nations declined to comment on the report.

Khamenei said this week he could accept a compromise in the nuclear talks and gave his strongest defense yet of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's decision to negotiate with the West, a policy opposed by powerful hardliners at home.

The nuclear talks with the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany are aimed at clinching an accord that would ease Western concerns that Tehran could pursue a covert nuclear weapons program, in return for the lifting of sanctions that have ravaged the Iranian economy.

Negotiators have set a June 30 final deadline for an accord, and Western officials have said they aim to agree on the substance of such a deal by March.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is due to address the U.S. Congress on Iran on March 3 – to the annoyance of the Obama administration – has vowed “to foil this bad and dangerous agreement.”

Obama: Helping terror go nuclear


Last Tuesday’s terror attack on a Jerusalem synagogue killed five people: four rabbis (including three born in the USA) and a Druze police officer. Two Palestinians entered during morning prayers and attacked worshipers with knives, meat cleavers, and a handgun. Congress showed moral clarity when blaming the horrors on Hamas and Palestinian Authority incitement, but Obama’s statements were perfunctorily “balanced.” Obama warned of a “spiral” of violence – an obtuse refrain of those suggesting moral equivalency between terrorism and the fight against it. Obama also misleadingly claimed that “President Abbas…strongly condemned the attacks” omitting that Abbas did so only after pressure from the administration and with equivocation (Abbas suggested a link between recent terrorism and visits by Jews to the Temple Mount, as if to justify the attacks). It’s also worth noting that Palestinians celebrated the massacre (as they did after the 2013 Boston bombing and the 9/11 attacks).

Obama’s weak reaction is consistent with his mostly impotent response to ISIS terrorists who behead Americans and Mideast Christians and grow their Islamist empire by the day. Frighteningly, his approach to Iranian nukes follows the same meek pattern, but the stakes are exponentially higher, because when Iran goes nuclear, so does terrorism.

Iran is already the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, without nuclear weapons. Iran-supported Hamas has already tried to commit nuclear terror: last summer, Hamas launched rockets at Israel’s Dimona nuclear reactor. How much more dangerous will Iran become when it has nukes? Even if Iran doesn’t directly commit nuclear terrorism, an Iranian nuclear umbrella will embolden the regime and the terrorist organizations it sponsors. 

Obama has a long record of weakness towards Iran. In 2009, when Iran’s Basij paramilitary force brutalized demonstrators protesting Iran’s fraudulent presidential election, Obama kept his response irrelevantly mild for the sake of “engaging” Iran. That surely helped Iranian voters understand the risks of protesting the “free” election of 2012 (involving eight regime-picked candidates). It was indeed a very orderly rubberstamp.

In 2011, when a U.S. drone went down on Iranian soil, Obama cordially requested it back. The regime recently scoffed at such impotence by showcasing its knock-off based on that drone and some U.S.-made helicopters that it purchased,  highlighting just how useless sanctions have become.

President Hassan Rouhani’s election vastly improved the public face of Iran’s nuclear program, and Obama was charmed too. Obama has been unilaterally weakening the sanctions against Iran by not enforcing them. He has threatened to thwart any Congressional attempt to limit his nuclear generosity by simply lifting sanctions without Congressional approval. Yet despite these concessions and Rouhani's smiles, human rights abuses in Iran have actually worsened.  

Obama declared in 2012 (while running for reelection) that he doesn’t bluff when it comes to stopping Iranian nukes, and that containment was not an option, unlike military force. But the credibility of that statement collapsed after Obama shrunk away from his “red line” against Syrian chemical weapons use. In 2013, Basher Assad gassed his own people and Obama took no military action. So if Obama cowers against a disintegrating state, what are the chances that he’ll militarily prevent Iranian nukes?

And Obama has dangerously undermined the only military threat to Iranian nukes that anyone still takes seriously: Israel. On the Iranian nuclear issue, Obama has isolated Israel on how close Iran is to a nuclear capability with estimates that are far laxer. And as long as Obama continues negotiating (even if Iran is clearly playing for time as the U.S. offers ever more desperate proposals) or reaches a deal allowing Iran to become a threshold nuclear weapons state, an Israeli military option to defang Iranian nukes appears less legitimate. 

The media’s anti-Israel bias is well known (they can’t even get a simple story about vehicular terrorism against Israelis correct (compare how The Guardian writes accurate headlines when Canada suffers an Islamist car attack but not when Israel does). So if Obama accepts Iran’s nuclear program and Israel then attacks it, the media will be even harsher on Israel (even though the world will be silently relieved, if Israeli courage succeeds at neutralizing what scared everyone else).

Downgrading US-Israel relations seems to be part of Obama’s détente with Iran. Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei recently tweeted his plan for destroying Israel, but Obama grows even more determined to reach an accord that legitimizes Iran’s nuclear program. And the Obama administration’s diplomatic abuse of America’s closest Mideast ally is unprecedented – from his humiliation of Prime Minister Netanyahu in 2010, to Secretary of State John Kerry’s betrayal of Israel during Operation Protective Edge, to calling Netanyahu a “chickenshit” a few weeks ago, without even apologizing later (note the irony of calling Netanyahu a coward anonymously). Obama seems far more concerned by Israeli construction of apartments in Jerusalem than a nuclear Iran. And he has been pressuring Israel to retreat from more disputed territory, effectively rewarding Palestinians for launching the third missile war against Israel from Gaza in five years last summer and now the third Intifidah inside Israel in 17 years. That puts Obama just behind the European appeasers who think Palestinian bellicosity merits statehood. They all naively think — at Israel's peril — that peace is possible with raw hatred.

Obama indeed appears desperate to get a nuclear accord with Iran at any price. He has written letters asking for Iran’s help against ISIS after they hinted at an ISIS-for-nukes exchange, and has pursued an agreement at all costs. Obama’s top aide, Ben Rhodes, was caught saying how a nuclear accord is as important to Obama as “healthcare”; at least there’s a fitting slogan to sell the deal to Americans: “If you like your nukes, you can keep them.”

Russia, the serial spoiler, suggested extending nuclear talks past the November 24th deadline. Iran will undoubtedly agree to more enrichment time (while it keeps stonewalling the IAEA’s investigations into it nukes), as it did last July. For Obama, a bad agreement or an extension looks far better than concluding that talks have failed and issuing more empty threats to stop Iran militarily. And so U.S. foreign policy will continue its freefall, as the world’s bad actors will want to see what they can extort from a leader even weaker than President Carter. While Carter permitted Iran to hold 52 American diplomats and citizens hostage for 444 days, Obama may allow Iran to hold the world hostage with nuclear terrorism. It's now dreadfully obvious: without massive public pressure, Obama will help Iran get nukes. Anyone concerned about nuclear terrorism should sign this petition: http://www.nobombforiran.com

Noah Beck is the author of The Last Israelis, an apocalyptic novel about Iranian nukes and other geopolitical issues in the Middle East.

Russia, Iran sign nuclear construction deal


Russia will build two new nuclear power plant units in Iran under an agreement signed in Moscow on Tuesday between subsidiaries of the two countries' state atomic agencies.

The agreement precedes a Nov. 24 deadline for a deal at talks between Iran and world powers that would curb Tehran's nuclear program, which the West says may be aimed at building atomic weapons but Iran says is for peaceful purposes.

Russia, which is involved in those talks, will also cooperate with Tehran on developing more nuclear power units in Iran, and consider producing nuclear fuel components there, according to a memorandum signed by the heads of the state atomic bodies, Sergey Kirienko of Russia's Rosatom and Ali Akbar Salehi of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization (AEOI).

Iran already runs one Russian-built reactor in its Bushehr power plant.

Reporting by Andrei Kuzmin, Writing by Gabriela Baczynska, editing by Timothy Heritage

Netanyahu to Obama: Israel cannot allow nuclear Iran


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told President Obama that Israel cannot let Iran get a nuclear bomb and said an end to uranium enrichment is an Israeli demand of any agreement with Iran.

“If Iran is prevented from enriching uranium and dismantles fully its military nuclear capability,” Israel would accept the deal, the Israeli prime minister told Obama on Monday when they met at the White House in the Oval Office.

Obama and U.S. officials have said that Iran is likely to be left with a limited enrichment capability as part of any deal.

“Israel cannot permit such a state to have the ability to make a bomb,” Netanyahu said. “We just cannot be brought back to the brink of destruction. I as the prime minister of Israel will do whatever I must to defend the Jewish state.”

Netanyahu also appeared to push back against warnings from Obama in an interview published Sunday by Bloomberg View that Israeli settlement expansion and a failure to achieve a peace agreement with the Palestinians would lead to Israel’s international isolation.

“Israel has been doing its part, and I regret to say the Palestinians haven’t,” Netanyahu said, saying he expected an end to Palestinian incitement and recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

“That’s what the people of Israel expect me to do, to stand strong against criticism, against pressure.” he said.

Obama refrained from pushing back in the Oval Office appearance, confining his remarks to pledging to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and commending Netanyahu for his commitment to the peace process.

White House talks Iran deal with Jewish groups


The White House held at least two phone calls with Jewish leaders to explain aspects of the interim sanctions-for-nuclear-rollbacks deal between Iran and major powers.

Among the speakers on the conference calls Monday with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Jewish Federations for North America were Tony Blinken, a deputy national security adviser, and David Cohen, the top Treasury official in charge of implementing sanctions.

The off-the-record calls were a signal of the importance that the administration attaches to keeping pro-Israel groups on board for the six-month interim deal achieved over the weekend in Geneva, however skeptical the groups may be of the deal.

Generally, according to participants, questioners pressed the U.S. officials on the degree to which the deal impacts sanctions and whether the concessions to Iran could be reversed should Iran renege.

The officials said the deal’s sanctions relief affected only the “margins” of the Iranian economy, and that the main sanctions, targeting Iran’s energy and financial sectors, would remain in place.

The White House officials acknowledged differences with Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described the deal as “very bad,” but said the endgame was the same: incapacitating Iran’s nuclear capacity, according to call participants.

Another White House call was held Tuesday for leaders of faith groups; Jewish leaders joined the call.

Separately, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in a memo on Monday expressed concerns about the interim deal. AIPAC noted that the agreement allows Iran to keep enriching uranium, albeit at low levels, even though U.N. Security Council resolutions have called for a suspension of enrichment pending a final deal, and that it appears to preemptively allow Iran an enrichment capacity as part of a final status deal.

Also problematic, AIPAC said in the memo, is that the deal “includes an option to extend the negotiating window beyond an initial six-month period,” which “creates the possibility that the initial agreement will become a de-facto final agreement.”

The memo called on Congress to pass legislation that would impose penalties should Iran renege on the deal.

U.S. says ‘very hard’ to clinch deal as Iran nuclear talks resume


Major powers resumed talks on Wednesday on a preliminary agreement to curb Iran's nuclear program with the United States warning it would be “very hard” to clinch a breakthrough deal this week and Tehran flagging “red lines.”

Each side appeared to tempering anticipation of an imminent agreement after the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany came close to winning concessions from Tehran in the last round of negotiations two weeks ago.

Policymakers from the six governments have since said an interim accord on confidence-building steps could finally be within reach to defuse a decade-old standoff and dispel the specter of a wider Middle East war over the Islamic Republic's nuclear ambitions.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said remaining differences were narrow in the search for an interim deal that essentially would require Iran to limit its contested uranium enrichment program in exchange for limited relief from sanctions.

“It is the best chance for a long time to make progress on one of the gravest problems in foreign policy,” Hague told a news conference in Istanbul.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: “We hope the efforts that are being made will be crowned with success at the meeting that opens today in Geneva.”

A senior U.S. negotiator was more cautious, telling reporters: “I think we can (get a deal). Whether we will, we will have to see because it is hard. It is very hard … If it was easy to do, it would have been done a long time ago.”

The official, with an eye to prominent skeptics of deal-making with Iran, including Israel and hawks in the U.S. Congress, said the vast majority of sanctions – particularly on Iranian oil exports and banking – would remain intact after any initial pact and Washington would “vigorously” enforce them.

On the other hand, a Western diplomat said there was still a “very high probability” that foreign ministers would return to Geneva this week to try to nail down an agreement in the negotiations, expected to run through Friday.

A second Western diplomat expressed guarded optimism about a deal, but said “the ball is in the Iranian court.”

Western governments suspect Iran has enriched uranium with the covert aim of developing the means to fuel nuclear weapons, which Tehran denies. Refined uranium is used to run nuclear power stations – Iran's stated goal – but can also constitute the core of a nuclear bomb, if enriched to a high degree.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a speech as Western negotiators gathered in the Swiss city that Tehran would not step back from its nuclear rights and he had set “red lines” for his envoys in Geneva. By rights, he was alluding to nuclear fuel production on Iranian soil.

He added, according to his official website: “We want to have friendly relations with all nations and peoples. The Islamic system isn't even hostile to the nation of America, although with regards to Iran and the Islamic system, the American government is arrogant, malicious and vindictive.”

Khamenei also called Israel a “rabid dog”, and criticized France, which spoke out against a draft deal floated at the November 7-9 negotiating round, for “succumbing to the United States” and “kneeling before the Israeli regime”. France said the comments were unacceptable.

The U.S. official said Khamenei's remarks were “of course, of concern.” He said leaders in Iran and the United States should not engage in rhetoric that deepens mistrust between the two estranged nations, which have not had diplomatic relations for more than three decades.

TOUGHER TERMS

A senior U.S. State Department official said there would be a bilateral U.S.-Iranian meeting on Thursday. The official did not say who in the U.S. delegation, which is headed by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, would meet with the Iranians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Russia to appeal for tougher terms in any accord with Iran after failing to convince the United States that the world powers are pursuing a bad deal.

Israel, assumed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal, sees a nuclear-armed Iran as a mortal threat and wants its arch-enemy's uranium enrichment capabilities dismantled and its enriched uranium stockpile removed.

Israel worries that the initial deal being discussed in Geneva would buy Iran time to pursue nuclear weapons because it would not scrap its nuclear fuel-making infrastructure.

The six powers see it, however, as a way to cap Iran's nuclear activity as a stepping stone towards a broad final settlement that would eliminate any risk of Tehran “weaponising” uranium enrichment.

White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes sought to allay Israeli misgivings, saying negotiators needed the six months that an interim solution would provide to strike a comprehensive agreement.

“We share the end goal and that's the point of these whole negotiations, which is to prevent Iran getting nuclear weapons,” he told CNN.

The last meeting stumbled over Iran's insistence that its “right” to enrich uranium be explicitly recognized and over its building of a heavy-water reactor near Arak that could yield plutonium, an alternative bomb ingredient, once operational.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has since suggested a way around the first sticking point, saying Tehran has the right to refine uranium but is not now insisting that others recognize that right.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the issue of whether Iran will be allowed to enrich uranium in the longer term would not be decided in an interim deal.

A United Nation's inspectors' report last week showed Iran had stopped expanding enrichment and had not added major new components at Arak since August, when moderate Hassan Rouhani replaced hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president.

GOOD FAITH

Zarif, Tehran's chief nuclear negotiator, said on the eve of the meeting there was “every possibility” of a successful conclusion provided there was good faith and the political will among all involved to resolve problems.

American lawmakers urged President Barack Obama's administration to take a tougher line with Iran.

The talks in Geneva started on Wednesday with a meeting between Zarif and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who coordinates contacts with Iran on behalf of the six powers, before a full plenary meeting of Iran and those nations.

After years of confrontation, a shift towards meaningful diplomacy between Iran and the world powers took shape after Rouhani's landslide election victory on a platform to relieve the Islamic Republic's international isolation and try to lift sanctions, which are strangling Iran's oil-dependent economy.

Rouhani wants action soon: Western sanctions have reduced Iran's daily oil export revenue by 60 percent since 2011 and caused its currency to collapse.

Still, diplomats say Iran has so far refused to meet all of the powers' demands. They include suspending enrichment of uranium to 20 percent fissile purity – a significant advance towards the threshold for bomb fuel – as well as limiting its enrichment capacity and mothballing the Arak reactor project.

Western diplomats have kept many of the details of a preliminary deal under wraps but said this would not win Iran relief from the most painful sanctions on oil trade and banking that many believe finally forced it into serious negotiations.

Under an initial deal the OPEC producer is likely to temporarily regain access to precious metals markets and trade in petrochemicals and could see the release of some of its oil revenues frozen in oversees accounts.

The Iranian assets that would be unfrozen as part of any deal this week would amount to less than $10 billion, U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice told CNN.

Additional reporting by John Irish and Fredrik Dahl, in Geneva, Marcus George and Isabel Coles in Dubai, Steve Gutterman in Moscow, Dan Williams in Jeruselem, Sophie Louet in Paris, David Brunnstrom and Lesley Wroughton in Washington and Dasha Afanasieva in Istanbul; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Christopher Wilson

At G.A., Peres and Netanyahu strike different tones on Iran


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continued his hard line against Iran’s nuclear program in an address to the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly, repeatedly telling the gathering of American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem that the compromise being formulated is a “bad deal.”

“What is being proposed now is a deal in which Iran retains all of that capacity” to build a nuclear weapon, Netanyahu said Sunday. “Not one centrifuge is dismantled; not one. Iran gets to keep tons of low enriched uranium.”

Netanyahu’s comments came as negotiations between Iran and Western powers failed over the weekend to reach an agreement that would ease sanctions in return for the Islamic Republic freezing its nuclear program for six months.

Netanyahu said he would continue to criticize such an agreement and called on his audience to join him in advocating against it. Later he suggested that Iran has plans to attack the United States.

The prime minister’s sharp comments underscored what some perceive as a widening gulf between Israel and the United States on the Iranian issue — speculation that Israeli President Shimon Peres sought to downplay in his address to a plenary session at the G.A. on Monday.

“The United States is our best friend, and the friendship of the United States to us is deep and meaningful,” Peres said. “[Obama] committed himself not to permit the Iranians to become a nuclear power, not just for the sake of Israel but for the sake of humanity.”

U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, who also addressed the Monday plenary, took a similar line, emphasizing that the alliance between the two countries is “as close as it has ever been.”

“There is no greater priority for the United States and Israel than preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” Shapiro said. “On this issue the United States and Israel share an identical objective. [Obama] will not permit Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, period.”

In his speech Sunday, Netanyahu repeated his demand that in order for Israel to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians, the Palestinian leadership must recognize Israel as a Jewish state. He also called for a continued strong bond between Israel and the North American Jewish community.

“When it comes to Jewish survival and the survival of the Jewish state, I will not be silenced, ever,” he said to loud cheers from the crowd. “We are the Jewish state. We are charged with defending ourselves and speaking up. All of us, all of us, have to stand up and speak up.”

Netanyahu also said that Israel must have “robust security arrangements” in order to be confident that a peace with the Palestinians will last, and referred to Jerusalem as Israel’s “undivided capital.” The Palestinians claim the eastern half of the city as their capital and have slammed recent Israel announcements of building in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, as have the United States and others.

“The minimum thing we can demand is that the official position of the Palestinian leadership recognizes the Jewish state,” Netanyahu said. “This will be a long process but it must begin with that.”

At the end of the speech, Netanyahu praised the strong relationship between Israel and the U.S. and Canadian Jewish communities. He noted his government’s efforts to reach a compromise between feuding factions at the Western Wall, long a high priority of American Jewish leaders.

“The Kotel is in Israel, but the Kotel belongs to all the Jewish people,” Netanyahu said, using the Hebrew term for the wall. “We have to consult together and reach a solution together.”

Netanyahu appeared relaxed during the speech, cracking jokes, leaning on the podium and calling out audience members by name. And conference delegates speaking before Netanyahu echoed his speech’s main points, especially on Iran.

Speaking at a reception for the Ruderman Family Foundation before Netanyahu’s speech, former Netanyahu adviser Dore Gold called for the Jewish people “to unite on this issue of Iran.”

And introducing the prime minister, Jewish Federations Chairman Michael Siegal said the international community must oppose the Iranian nuclear program.

“A nuclear Iran is an unacceptable position,” he said. “It is unacceptable to Israel, it is unacceptable to the U.S., it is unacceptable to the world.”

On Sunday morning, at the start of the Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu called the deal on the table between the world powers and Iran “bad and dangerous.”

“It is dangerous not just for us, it is also dangerous for them [the world powers],” he said.

U.N. inspectors hold ‘very productive’ nuclear talks with Iran


The U.N. nuclear watchdog and Iran held “very productive” talks this week on how to advance a long-blocked investigation into Iranian atomic activities and will meet again in Tehran next month, they said in a rare joint statement on Tuesday.

The relatively upbeat announcement by Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency may further buoy hopes for a negotiated solution to the international standoff over Tehran's nuclear ambitions after the June election of moderate President Hassan Rouhani, who is seeking to reduce tension with the West.

The U.N. agency wants to resume an investigation, long stymied by Iranian non-cooperation, into what it calls the “possible military dimensions” of the Islamic Republic's nuclear program. Tehran says it is enriching uranium solely for electricity generation and medical treatments.

The IAEA and Iran “had a very productive meeting on past and present issues”, Tero Varjoranta, the agency's deputy director general in charge of nuclear inspections, told reporters at the end of the two-day session in Vienna.

Iranian Ambassador Reza Najafi said Tehran presented new ideas to overcome the dispute, which revolves around the U.N. watchdog's suspicions that Iran researched how to build nuclear bombs despite being part of a global non-proliferation treaty.

“I believe that, with the submission of these new proposals by Iran, we have been able to open a new chapter of cooperation,” he said, standing next to Varjoranta. The next meeting will be held in Tehran on November 11.

Their conciliatory comments marked a change in tone after a string of meetings since early 2012 failed to yield a deal giving the IAEA access to sites, files and officials in Iran relevant to its investigation.

The IAEA talks are distinct from Iran's negotiations with world powers, but both diplomatic tracks center on suspicions that Tehran may be seeking the capability to assemble nuclear bombs behind the facade of a civilian atomic energy program.

Rouhani, a pragmatist, took office in August promising to try to resolve the nuclear dispute and secure an easing of sanctions that have severely hurt Iran's oil-dependent economy.

The fact that the next meeting will be held in the Iranian capital may help raise expectations that Iran would start to resolve the IAEA's concerns, said David Albright of the U.S. Institute for Science and International Security.

But, he added, “I've been disappointed many times before.”

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said in Vienna on Monday that he had put forward proposals to IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano and pledged a “new approach” in dealings with the U.N. agency. But he gave no specifics.

IAEA SEEKS ARMY BASE ACCESS

Tuesday's joint statement said: “Iran presented new proposals of practical measures as a constructive contribution to strengthen cooperation and dialogue with a view to future resolution of all outstanding issues.”

Expectations for this week's Vienna talks, the first at such high level since Rouhani's election, had been relatively high. Diplomats believed Iran might soon offer concessions, perhaps by permitting U.N. inspectors to visit its Parchin military base southeast of Tehran – long an IAEA priority.

Taking advantage of the diplomatic opening enabled by Rouhani, Iran and six world powers have revived separate negotiations towards a broader political settlement of the nuclear dispute to head off any risk of a new Middle East war.

The last meeting between Iran and the United States, France, Britain, Germany, China and Russia was held on October 15-16 in Geneva, and another one is scheduled for November 7-8, just a few days before the next Iran-IAEA meeting.

An end to Iran's higher-grade enrichment of uranium is a central demand of the powers. Refining uranium to 20 percent is sensitive as it is a relatively short technical step to raise that to the 90 percent needed for a nuclear bomb.

Israel, believed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed power, wants arch-foe Iran to cease all enrichment and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon warned on Tuesday “against concessions that are liable to concede to the regime's charm offensive”.

Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Israel accuses Iran of deception to buy time for atom work


Israel accused Iran on Wednesday of using “deception and concealment” to buy time for its nuclear program, signaling skepticism that the Islamic state's new government would agree to curb its atomic activities.

The election of a relative moderate, Hassan Rouhani, as new Iranian president has raised hopes of progress in long-stalled efforts to find a peaceful solution to the decade-old dispute over Tehran's nuclear program.

But the head of Israel's Atomic Energy Commission said: “The picture that the Iranian representatives are portraying regarding openness and transparency of their nuclear program … stands in sharp contradiction with Iran's actual actions and the facts on the ground.”

The key issue was not whether Iran has “nominated new envoys, modified its diplomatic vocabulary … but whether it is addressing seriously and in a timely manner outstanding issues that have remained unresolved for too long,” Shaul Chorev told the annual meeting of the U.N. nuclear agency.

“So far the window of serious engagement offered by the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and the international community has been grossly abused by Iran,” he said.

Western powers and Israel accuse Iran of seeking to develop the capability to make nuclear weapons.

Iran says its program is entirely peaceful and says it is Israel, widely believed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed power, that threatens peace and security in the region.

Chorev accused Iran of “deception and concealment, creating a false impression about the status of its engagement with the agency … with a view to buy more time in Iran's daily inching forward in every aspect of its nuclear military program”.

Reporting by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Alison Williams

West lobbies U.N. nuclear meeting to reject Arab push on Israel


The United States said on Tuesday an Arab push to single out Israel for criticism over its assumed nuclear arsenal would hurt diplomatic efforts to ban weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.

Frustrated over the postponement of an international conference on ridding the region of atomic arms, Arab states have proposed a resolution at a U.N. nuclear agency meeting expressing concern about “Israeli nuclear capabilities”.

The non-binding text submitted for the first time since 2010 to this week's member meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency calls on Israel to join a global anti-nuclear weapons pact and place its atomic facilities under IAEA monitoring.

Israel is widely believed to possess the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal, drawing frequent Arab and Iranian condemnation. It has never acknowledged having atomic weapons.

U.S. and Israeli officials – who see Iran's atomic activity as the main proliferation threat – have said a nuclear arms-free zone in the Middle East could not be a reality until there was broad Arab-Israeli peace and Iran curbed its program.

Washington is committed to working toward a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and their delivery systems, the U.S. envoy to the IAEA said.

But the Arab resolution “does not advance our shared goal of progress toward a WMD-free zone in the Middle East,” Ambassador Joseph Macmanus said in a comment emailed to Reuters.

“Instead, it undermines efforts at constructive dialogue toward that common objective,” Macmanus added.

Israel and the United States accuse Iran of covertly seeking a nuclear arms capability, something the Islamic state denies.

Iran this week said Israel's nuclear activities “seriously threaten regional peace and security”.

World powers agreed in 2010 to an Egyptian plan for an international meeting to lay the groundwork for creating a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction.

But the United States, one of the big powers to co-sponsor the meeting, said late last year it would not take place as planned last December and did not suggest a new date.

Arab diplomats said they refrained from putting forward their resolution on Israel at the 2011 and 2012 IAEA meetings to boost the chances of the Middle East conference taking place last year but that this had had no effect. A vote on the text may take place on Thursday, one envoy said.

Editing by Andrew Heavens

David Suissa: On bombing Iran


“The Iranian regime supports violent extremists and challenges us across the region. It pursues a nuclear capability that could spark a dangerous arms race and raise the prospect of a transfer of nuclear know-how to terrorists. … The danger from Iran is grave, it is real, and my goal will be to eliminate this threat.”

Those powerful and unambiguous words were spoken by presidential candidate Barack Obama at the 2008 AIPAC convention. 

Since then, the danger from Iran has only gotten more “grave” as the regime has moved significantly closer to its nuclear dream.

How urgent is the threat? As Graham Allison, director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School, recently wrote in the Atlantic: “That Iran’s nuclear challenge poses the most urgent threat to peace and security today is widely agreed across the national security community.”

Allison quotes former Mossad head Efraim Halevy saying that “Israel has long believed that mid-2013 would be an hour of decision in its dealings with Iran,” while Henry Kissinger warned that “we are in the last year where you can say a negotiation can conceivably succeed. … If nothing happens, the president will have to make some really tough decisions.”

We’ve seen how Iran has been resolute in its mission to become a nuclear power. But what about President Obama’s mission to “eliminate this threat”?

The president has done an admirable job of rallying the global community to enforce tough economic sanctions on Iran. The problem is that these sanctions haven’t convinced the Iranian regime to stop or end its nuclear program.

I’m no expert on centrifuges and uranium enrichment, but I do know something about human nature. When a bad guy shows you his evil intentions, it’s best to assume the worst, especially when the stakes are so high.

But instead of assuming the worst, we’ve been hoping for the best.

In particular, we’ve hoped that the sanctions we’ve imposed on Iran are tough enough to induce its leaders to abandon their dream of ruling the region and bringing Islamic glory back to Persia. That’s a big hope.

The latest instance of wishful thinking is that Iran’s new, more “moderate” president, Hassan Rohani, will decide that the bomb is really not worth all the tsuris and, voila, no more nuclear threat!

White House spokesman Jay Carney put it a little more diplomatically:

“The inauguration of President Rohani presents an opportunity for Iran to act quickly to resolve the international community’s deep concerns over Iran’s nuclear program. Should this new government choose to engage substantively and seriously to meet its international obligations and find a peaceful solution to this issue, it will find a willing partner in the United States.”

Yes, and should Hamas choose to reform its anti-Semitic charter and seek Israeli investment to build a Riviera on the Gaza coast, it will find many willing partners.

Remember, Rohani is the same sneaky guy who “struck a conciliatory posture as Iran’s top nuclear negotiator under another reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, while presiding over the secret advance of the nuclear program,” as international jurist Irwin Cotler wrote recently.

Cotler even quotes Rohani boasting about it: “While we were talking with the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in parts of the facility in Isfahan [a crucial nuclear site]. In fact, by creating a calm environment, we were able to complete the work in Isfahan.”

Well, it looks like the shmoozing mullah is at it again, charming the West with wily words of reason while buying Iran more time to “complete the work.”

If the Obama administration was looking for an excuse to kick the can down the road and avoid making tough decisions, it certainly found it in Rohani.

So, this is where things stand: Even as Secretary of State John Kerry invests enormous energy trying to create a Palestinian state that he hopes won’t become another terror regime, a real terror regime dedicated to Israel’s destruction is continuing its headlong push for a nuclear bomb.

Is there anything the United States can do to get Iran’s attention, short of bombing its nuclear facilities?

I heard a good answer the other day from a prominent Jewish leader.

During a recent visit to the Jewish Journal offices, American Jewish Committee head David Harris explained that in this game of high-stakes poker, the crucial thing is to show Iran that you’re not bluffing — that you’re deadly serious about preventing a nuclear weapon. 

His idea? Explode a bunker-buster bomb — the kind of weapon the United States would use to take out the nuclear facilities — as a military “exercise,” and make sure everyone knows about it.

Could the move backfire and rally the Iranian people and the Shiite world behind the Persian regime? Sure, there are always risks, and the Iranian crisis has always been about picking the best of bad options.  

But here’s the essential point: An Iranian nuclear bomb is a deadly threat to Israel and the world. You can make all the tough speeches you want, and impose all the tough sanctions, but in the end, until the bad guy sees that you really mean business, he won’t take you seriously.

I think they call that human nature.


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

Report: Iran has new rocket site, ballistic missile tests possible


Iran has constructed a rocket-launching site that could be used for testing ballistic missiles, a report from a military intelligence publication said on Thursday.

Satellite imagery analyzed by Jane's Intelligence Review showed extensive construction over the last three years at a site of what Jane's says is a launch tower and pad, an area to prepare rockets for launch and an administration and support section.

The Islamic Republic has pursued ambitious goals to develop its space program in recent years. In January this year it demonstrated its missile delivery systems by launching a live monkey into space and returning it safely, officials said.

Western countries are concerned that long-range ballistic technology used to propel Iranian satellites into orbit could be put to delivering nuclear warheads.

Assertions about the site, near the town of Shahrud some 100 km (62 miles) northeast of Tehran, come weeks after Iranian officials said they would inaugurate a new space centre to launch satellites.

Jane's says the Shahrud site is one of three that will ultimately serve Iran's space program.

“Imagery analysis of the Shahrud site suggests it will be a strategic facility used to test ballistic missiles, leaving the other two sites free to handle Iran's ambitious program of satellite launches,” said Jane's editor Matthew Clements.

Iranian officials were not immediately available for comment.

Iran's efforts to develop and test ballistic missiles and build a space launch capability have contributed to Israeli calls for pre-emptive strikes on Iranian nuclear sites and billions of dollars of U.S. ballistic missile defense spending.

Reporting by Marcus George; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

House overwhelmingly votes to add new Iran sanctions


The U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to add new sanctions on Tehran that would drastically reduce Iran’s trade.

The bill, which passed Wednesday evening by a vote of 400-20, would expand sanctions to shut down U.S. trade with any entity that trades substantively with Iran. Until now, such sanctions were imposed on entities that traded with Iran’s energy sector. The law maintains humanitarian exceptions for food and medicine.

The House bill on sanctions will not be taken up by the Senate until September, after the congressional recess. The bill, initiated by Reps. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the committee’s senior Democrat, comes days before Iran’s new president, Hassan Rohani, is inaugurated.

[Related: Rohani or no Rohani, we must increase the pressure on Iran]

Rohani has said he wants to talk with the United States about making Iran’s nuclear program more transparent. The Obama administration has indicated that it might consider an alleviation of some existing sanctions.

Some 131 House members last week wrote Obama urging him to take up Rohani’s offer, and most of them also voted for the new sanctions. However, 14 House members, all Democrats, urged the House leadership to delay the vote, saying it would embolden Iranian extremists who seek to marginalize Rohani.

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House majority leader, said in his floor speech that conciliatory gestures should come after substantive moves by Iran, and not just as a result of statements.

“America’s policies must be based on facts and not some hope about a new government in Iran that will somehow change the nature of the clerical regime in Tehran,” Cantor said. “We must respond to Iran’s policies and behavior, not to its rhetoric.”

In a statement praising the House vote, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee urged the Senate to quickly take up the new sanctions.

“The window is rapidly closing to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability,” the AIPAC statement said.

Snowden says U.S., Israel created Stuxnet virus


Whistleblower Edward Snowden told a German magazine that Israel and the United States created the Stuxnet computer virus that destroyed nuclear centrifuges in Iran. 

Snowden made the statement as part of an interview with the German news magazine Der Spiegel in which he answered encrypted questions sent by security software developer Jacob Appelbaum and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras. Excerpts of the interview were published Monday on the Spiegel website.

Snowden was asked if the U.S. National Security Agency partners “with other nations, like Israel?” He responded that the NSA has a “massive body” responsible for such partnerships called the Foreign Affairs Directorate.

He also was asked,  “Did the NSA help to create Stuxnet?” Snowden responded, “NSA and Israel co-wrote it.”

Stuxnet in 2010 wrought havoc on equipment at Iran’s Natanz nuclear plant and complicated the manufacture of highly enriched uranium, which the West suspects is intended for making atomic weapons. The virus temporarily disabled 1,000 centrifuges being used by the Iranians to enrich uranium.

Snowden, a former technical contractor for the NSA and employee of the CIA, last month revealed the existence of mass surveillance programs by the United States and Britain against their own citizens and citizens of other countries.

He said Germany and most other Western nations are “in bed together” with the NSA.

Snowden said a private citizen would be targeted by the NSA based on Facebook or webmail content.

“The only one I personally know of that might get you hit untargeted are jihadi forums,” he said.

Snowden is a fugitive of the United States who is believed to be in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. Three Latin American countries — Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia — have offered him asylum, NBC reported.

Congressmen tell Obama to increase pressure on Iran over nukes


In the wake of Iran’s recent election, a bipartisan group of congressmen are calling on President Obama to increase pressure on Iran to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

The new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, was perceived to be the most moderate of the candidates and “while this was not a free and fair election, judged by international standards, its outcome reflected considerable dissatisfaction by the Iranian people with an autocratic and repressive government that has internationally isolated Iran,” the letter from the congressmen to Obama noted.

The June 28 letter was signed by Reps. Ed Royce, (R-Calif.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and 43 other members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The letter pointed out that “Iran’s election unfortunately has done nothing to suggest a reversal of Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capacity.” It also noted that Rouhani previously served as his country’s nuclear negotiator and had indicated his support for the program in a post-election news conference.

“Our diplomatic goal must be to reach a negotiated settlement in which Iran agrees to verifiably dismantle its nuclear weapons program. For this outcome to be realized, Iran must face intensifying pressure,” the congressmen wrote.

Nuclear enrichment among Iran’s ‘inalienable rights,’ new president says


Iran’s President-elect Hassan Rohani said he would strive for transparency in his country’s nuclear program but would not stop enriching uranium.

Rohani, in his first news conference following his upset victory over the weekend, also said he wants to reduce tension with the United States but would not talk directly with U.S. leaders until economic sanctions were lifted, The New York Times reported.

He said his government would continue to protect the country’s “inalienable rights,” including Iran’s nuclear rights.

“First, we are ready to increase transparency and clarify our measures within the international framework,” Rohani said during the news conference. “Of course our activities are already transparent, but still we increase it. Second, we will increase the trust between Iran and the world.”

In 1994, when he served as a nuclear negotiator, Rohani agreed to suspend nuclear enrichment as a trust-building measure. He called 2013 ” a different situation.”

Rohani will take office on Aug. 3.

Iran says its nuclear program is for domestic use only; the western world believes the program is leading to a nuclear weapon.

[Iran’s president-elect Rohani:
More of the same or a bridge to the West?]

Time to enter the Iranian bazaar on the nuclear issue


Iran’s new president still Khamenei-approved, Netanyahu says


The election of cleric Hassan Rohani as president of Iran does not change anything, since he was shortlisted by the country’s radical Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Candidates who did not conform to Khamenei’s extremist outlook were not able to run for the presidency, Netanyahu said Sunday at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting, a day after Rohani’s election.

Netanyahu pointed out that “among those whose candidacies he allowed was elected the candidate who was seen as less identified with the regime, who still defines the State of Israel as ‘the great Zionist Satan.’ ”

It is Khamenei who ultimately determines Iran’s nuclear policy, the Israeli leader said.

“Iran will be judged by its actions,” Netanyahu said. “If it continues to insist on developing its nuclear program, the answer needs to be very clear — stopping the nuclear program by any means.”

Rohani, who is seen as much more moderate than the incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will take office in August after receiving slightly more than 50 percent of the vote. Some 72 percent of the 50 million eligible voters turned out.

The combative Ahmadinejad was barred from running for reelection due to term limits.

“This victory is a victory of wisdom, a victory of moderation, a victory of growth and awareness, and a victory of commitment over extremism and ill temper,” Rohani said Saturday on state television.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that “Iran must abide by the demands of the international community to stop its nuclear program and cease the dissemination of terror throughout the world.”

In its statement on Saturday, the White House congratulated the Iranian people for participating in the political process and “their courage in making their voices heard.” The statement said it respected their vote.

“It is our hope that the Iranian government will heed the will of the Iranian people and make responsible choices that create a better future for all Iranians,” the White House said.

On Sunday, the British newspaper The Independent reported that Iran will  send 4,000 Revolutionary Guard troops to Syria to aid President Bashar Assad against rebel forces in his country’s two-year civil war. The decision reportedly was made before the start of the presidential election.

Iran also proposed opening up what it called a “Syrian front” against Israel in the Golan Heights, according to the Independent.

Russia’s Putin says Iran nuclear push is peaceful


Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday he has no doubt that Iran is adhering to international commitments on nuclear non-proliferation but regional and international concerns about Tehran's nuclear program could not be ignored.

Putin, whose country is among six world powers seeking to ensure that Iran does not seek to develop nuclear weapons, also said Iranian threats to Israel's existence were unacceptable.

His remarks appeared aimed to strike a balance between the interests of Iran, on the one hand, and on the other, Israel and global powers seeking to ensure Tehran does not acquire nuclear weapons.

“I have no doubt that Iran is adhering to the rules in this area. Because there is no proof of the opposite,” Putin, whose country is one of six leading those diplomatic efforts, told Russian state-run English-language channel RT.

But he criticised Iran for rejecting a Russian offer to enrich uranium for Tehran's nuclear programme and took aim at aggressive Iranian rhetoric about Israel, with which Putin has been improving ties in recent years.

“Iran is in a very difficult region and when we hear … from Iran that Israel could be destroyed, I consider that absolutely unacceptable. That does not help,” Putin said.

Putin suggested that Washington was exaggerating dangers posed by Iran, saying “the United States uses Iran to unite Western allies against some real or non-existent threat”.

Putin said that concerns about Iran's nuclear programme, which Tehran says is purely for peaceful purposes including power generation, must be addressed.

Last week, Russia joined China, the United States, Britain, France and Germany in pressing Iran to cooperate with a stalled investigation by the U.N. nuclear agency into suspected atomic research by the Islamic state.

In a June 5 joint statement intended to signal their unity in the decade-old dispute over Iran's nuclear programme, the six powers said they were “deeply concerned” about the country's atomic activities.

Reporting by Alexei Anishchuk, Writing by Steve Gutterman, Editing by Michael Roddy

The day the Earth stood stupid


Say goodnight, Earthlings.

That message — plus the slimmest of shots at an eleventh-hour reprieve — was announced to the people of the world last week. 

When this happens in science fiction — 1951’s “The Day the Earth Stood Still” is the classic — the planet pays attention.  The flying saucer lands; an alien, in this case played by Michael Rennie, emerges; a final warning is issued:  Stop it.  If you don’t, you’re doomed.

Back then, the “it” was violence — the Cold War, and the threat of nuclear midnight.  Last week, it was climate change — greenhouse gases, and the promise of ecological extinction.

“Heat-Trapping Gas Passes Milestone, Raising Fears,” ran the headline on the front page lead What does it take to grab us by the eyeballs?

It’s not that people who know our planet’s hair is on fire aren’t trying to get our attention. The “>National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's “>scientist after “>drought will spread and – in the “>The Climate Reality Project’s website features 18 disturbing but entertaining videos about the price of carbon and our addiction to fossil fuels.  ““>350.org “>The Years of Living Dangerously,” Showtime’s climate change documentary series now being shot, has producers who know a little something about how to capture audiences: James Cameron, Jerry Weintraub and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Those efforts use media to engage an informed, activist public.  Could such a citizenry make change?  There’s plenty we can do in our personal lives to reduce our carbon footprint.  Local and state policies in conservation, transportation, building design and urban planning can also curb greenhouse gas emissions.  But without federal leadership like killing the Keystone XL pipeline and putting a tax on carbon, and without global commitments with teeth to enforce them, it’s hard to imagine a path back from the brink. 

In the U.S., the same dysfunctions preventing anything else useful from happening — the Senate filibuster, the gerrymandered House, the corrupt campaign finance system — also hold climate change mitigation hostage.  So does denial.  And though some denial can be attributed to hoax propaganda funded by the fossil fuel industry, some comes from an infantile strain in the American psyche that should not be mistaken for religious freedom. 

Last week, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) gave a floor “>Reagan was a big fan of “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” and as president he often referred to it.  When he first met Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985, he speculated that the threat of an alien invasion might get the Americans and the Soviets to cooperate.  If Michael Rennie’s ““>Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Hosting U.S. defense chief, Israel hints at patience on Iran


Israel suggested on Monday it would be patient before taking any military action against Iran's nuclear program, saying during a visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel there was still time for other options.

With Iran's presidential election approaching in June there has been a pause in hawkish rhetoric by Israel, which has long hinted at possible air strikes to deny its arch-foe any means to make an atomic bomb, while efforts by six world powers to find a negotiated solution with Tehran have proved fruitless so far.

“We believe that the military option, which is well discussed, should be the last resort,” Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon told reporters at a news conference with Hagel.

“And there are other tools to be used and to be exhausted,” Yaalon said, listing diplomacy, economic sanctions and “moral support” for domestic opponents of Iran's hardline Islamist leadership.

Iran has denied seeking nuclear weapons capability, saying it is enriching uranium only for domestic energy purposes while calling for the elimination of the Jewish state. Israel is widely believed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal.

U.S. President Barack Obama has in the past clashed with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over how urgent the need may be to consider military action against Iran. Washington has suggested more time should be given for concerted diplomacy combined with sanctions pressure to produce a peaceful solution.

But with Obama recently installed in his second term, and Netanyahu in his third, the allies have publicly closed ranks. The United States projects more defense aid for Israel after the current disbursements of some $3 billion a year expire in 2017. And Hagel unveiled the planned sale to Israel of missiles, warplane radars, troop transport planes and refueling jets.

“These decisions underscore that the military-to-military cooperation between the U.S. and Israel is stronger than ever, and that defense cooperation will only continue to deepen in the future,” Hagel said.

By contrast, the Bush administration in 2008 declined to provide Israel with refueling tankers and missiles that might be used in a strike on Iran.

MILITARY OPTIONS REMAIN ON TABLE

Before taking the helm at the Pentagon, Hagel had stirred ire among pro-Israel Americans for remarks including skepticism about the feasibility and desirability of such military action.

But in Israel, the second foreign country he has visited as defense secretary after Afghanistan, Hagel hewed to Obama's line. “All military options and every option must remain on the table in dealing with Iran,” he said.

“I support the president's position on Iran. And it's very simple and I have stated it here … Our position is Iran will not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon – the prevention of Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Period.”

Iranian media reported on Monday that Iran and officials from the United Nations nuclear watchdog would hold a new round of talks on May 21 in Vienna. The International Atomic Energy Agency wants inspectors to restart a long-stalled investigation in Iran's suspected atomic bomb research.

From Israel, Hagel travels to Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The latter two Gulf Arab countries, which are also wary of Iran's nuclear ambitions, stand to win a major U.S. arms sale.

After lengthy disagreement, Israeli and U.S. estimates of when Iran might be able to produce a first nuclear weapon now largely dovetail to a time frame of about a year.

Hagel also said that non-military pressure on Iran has yet to be exhausted. “The sanctions on Iran are as potent and deep and wide a set of international sanctions that we have ever seen on any country. And those will continue to increase,” he said.

“Whether it leads to an outcome that we desire remains to be seen … and as I said, the military option is always an option.”

After the news conference, Hagel boarded an Israeli military helicopter for an aerial tour of the Golan Heights frontier.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mark Heinrich)

Iran moves to speed up nuclear program despite sanctions


Iran is increasing the number of advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges installed at its Natanz underground plant, despite tightening international sanctions aimed at stopping Tehran's nuclear progress, diplomats said on Wednesday.

Iran has for years been trying to develop centrifuges more efficient than the erratic 1970s era IR-1 machines it now uses, but introducing new models has been dogged by technical hurdles and difficulty in obtaining key parts abroad.

If launched and operated successfully, the new machines would enable the Islamic state to sharply speed up sensitive atomic activity which it says is for peaceful energy purposes but which the West fears may be aimed at building nuclear bombs.

“It is clear Iran can build them. The question is how many and how good are they,” one Western envoy said.

The planned deployment of next generation centrifuges underlines Iran's refusal to bow to pressure to curb its nuclear program, and may further complicate efforts to resolve the dispute diplomatically and avoid a spiral into war.

Iran announced early last month that it would build about 3,000 advanced centrifuges. But experts and diplomats said it was unclear whether it had the capability and materials needed to make so many, and also to run them smoothly.

Although still far from the target number, one diplomatic source estimated that roughly 500-600 so-called IR-2m centrifuges and empty centrifuge casings had now been put in place at the Natanz enrichment facility in central Iran.

That compares with 180 two months ago, according to the U.N. nuclear watchdog's latest report on Iran, issued in February. At the same time, Iran had more than 12,000 old-generation centrifuges installed at Natanz, but not all were enriching.

Two other envoys in Vienna, where the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is based, also said the number of installed IR-2m machines was growing but they did not have details. The next IAEA report on Iran is expected in late May.

The diplomats said the new centrifuges were not yet operating, but the increase in installation was still likely to add to Western alarm over Iran's nuclear advances. Centrifuges spin at supersonic speed to increase the fissile concentration.

How many Iran can make depends upon whether they have all the parts and materials they need, nuclear expert Mark Hibbs of the Carnegie Endowment think-tank said: “It is possible that they have accumulated an inventory of these things.”

NUCLEAR TECHNOLOGY BREAKTHROUGH?

Iran says it is enriching uranium to fuel a planned network of nuclear power plants, but the material can also provide the core of a nuclear bomb if processed to a high fissile level and the West wants it to suspend the work.

Talks between Iran and world powers this month failed to yield a diplomatic breakthrough, and the United States and Israel, widely believed to be the only nuclear-armed power in the Middle East, have not ruled out military action to prevent Tehran obtaining nuclear weapons.

If hundreds of new centrifuges had now been installed, “it indicates that Iran has made a significant breakthrough both in mastering the technology and in acquiring the raw materials,” said nuclear expert Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies think-tank.

“This development will be of major concern to countries that are worried about Iran's growing ability to quickly produce nuclear weapons.”

Iran had previously been believed to face a shortage of the high strength metals necessary to produce the new centrifuges in large numbers but it might have been able to obtain them on the black market, Fitzpatrick added.

One of the Vienna-based diplomats said the IR-2m machine was designed to reduce sanctions-related problems “in that they replace some hard-to-get materials with what are in theory easier to get or make materials.”

Editing by Jon Hemming