Rob Eshman: What’s next for Iran?


By Monday morning, the Israeli reaction to the nuclear deal with Iran had changed from “What happened?” to “Now what?”

And that reaction makes a lot more sense.

The interim agreement signed by Iran and the group of negotiating nations known as P5+1 on Saturday night, Nov. 23,  Iran committed to halt uranium enrichment above 5 percent, to neutralize its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium, to suspend its installation of updated centrifuges and its plutonium enrichment, to suspend development of its Arak heavy water reactor and to allow for highly intrusive inspection and monitoring of its nuclear program.

In return, Iran will receive between $6 billion and $7 billion in sanctions relief, while still facing some $30 billion in lost oil revenue.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can call the historic deal a “historic mistake,” but the ink is dry, and there’s no going back.  

The dogs bark, as the old Middle East proverb goes, the caravan moves on.

Critics are comparing the interim deal to the 1938 Munich Agreement—but, to be fair, the President’s critics compare everything he does to the 1938 Munich Agreement. 

The reality is far more complicated.  There are serious weaknesses in the deal, as well as strengths.  We can harp on the drawbacks or use the six-month window before the next planned agreement to secure a better deal.

The deal’s weaknesses are legion — the agreement barely shortens the time Iran needs to “break out” and develop a nuclear weapon. Iran can still maintain its 19,000 centrifuges. It still reserves the right to enrich uranium. The deal’s language is vague enough on this point and others for the signatories to become bogged down in interpretations over what the agreement means, rather than focus on its execution.  And relaxing  international sanctions makes it that much more difficult to set them back in place.

Worst of all, the accord puts us in business with a regime that crushes the rights of its people, sows havoc and terror from Gaza to Lebanon to Syria, and that has, of course, lied openly and consistently about the very existence of its nuclear weapons program. 

But there is good news here, too.  The interim agreement allows for the most intrusive inspections ever.    It stalls Iran’s otherwise relentless march toward nuclear capability.  And the sanctions are reversible— easier said than done, yes, but possible — especially if the world sees the alternative is war. 

The accords, by the way, do not limit a military response to Iranian nukes—which still remains the biggest threat hanging over the regime’s head. 

These positive developments are one reason the Israeli reaction was not all negative. The agreement, former Israeli Military Intelligence Chief Amos Yadlin said,  “was neither the dream agreement nor the fall of the Third Temple.”

“If this were the final agreement – then it would really be a bad agreement, but that’s not the situation,” Yadlin told Israeli reporters.

So, to repeat, now what?

Looking forward, not backward, these are the next steps to insure a much safer world.  Among them must be:

1. Parchin:  The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) believes Iran is using the Parchin military complex for secret nuclear weapons development.  Inspectors have to get in there and reveal the truth.

2. Fordo: Inspectors must be allowed access to the Fordo underground enrichment facility whose only possible purpose, experts say, is the development of nuclear weapons capability.

3. Sanctions:  Congress and the international community need to keep the pressure on by preparing a list of crippling sanctions that can be triggered with little more than a Skype call.  Critics say sanctions will be impossible to revive, but the original fear that led to the sanctions was the threat of a U.S. or Israeli military action.  As long as that doesn’t go away, neither will sanctions.

4. Treaties:  The United States can use this opportunity to strengthen its relationships with Israel and other Mideast allies.  That, UCLA Professor and Israel Policy Forum scholar Steven Spiegel wrote, would go a long way toward reassuring our allies and putting Iran on notice that it would face unified opposition to any provocations.

5.  A Final Deal:  This interim deal is for six months.   A final deal should come in month seven.  If the Iranians try to extend, weaken or back out of that – then Obama will know he’s been had.  After all, the outlines of a comprehensive deal aren’t mysterious: An end to Iran’s ability to build and deploy nuclear weapons.   For Yadlin, that means Iran will agree to maintain as few centrifuges as possible, preferably none at all. It will also agree to strict limits on the level of enrichment and the amount of enriched material.

Then, Yadlin said, “if the Iranians decide to violate the agreement, it will take them years rather than months.”

Six months from now is June 2014.  Critics of the interim accord need to stop barking, and start working.

Iran, six powers may be edging toward compromise nuclear deal


Iran and six world powers appeared closer on Friday towards clinching an elusive interim deal under which Tehran would curb its contested nuclear program, with diplomats saying a major sticking point may have been overcome.

A compromise deal over Iran's insistence that its “right” to enrich uranium be internationally recognized has been proposed, they said, possibly opening the way to a breakthrough in intensive negotiations that began in Geneva on Wednesday.

The United States and other Western powers say there is no such thing as a right to enrich – a process that can yield both electricity and nuclear bombs – but Iran views it as a matter of national sovereignty and crucial to any deal that would resolve a decade-old standoff over its nuclear intentions.

The Islamic Republic also wants relief from economic sanctions in return for any nuclear concessions that could allay the West's suspicions that its nuclear fuel-making program has military rather than its stated civilian goals.

In another sign the sides could be edging towards an agreement, Western diplomats said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was tentatively planning to join the high-stakes talks in Switzerland although he had yet to confirm his plans.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrived in Geneva on Friday evening and planned to participate, spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said. “I can confirm that we are staying Friday and Saturday. That is the plan,” she told reporters. Zakharova did not rule out Lavrov staying even longer.

Foreign ministers from the six nations negotiating with Iran – the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany – waded into the previous talks on November 7-9 and came close to winning concessions from Iran which they count on to reduce the risk of Iran honing a nuclear weapons capability.

In the days running up to the talks, policymakers from the six powers said an interim accord on confidence-building steps could be within reach to start a cautious process of detente with Iran and douse the specter of a wider Middle East war.

Under discussion is Iranian suspension of some sensitive nuclear activities, above all medium-level uranium enrichment, in exchange for sanctions relief. That could involve releasing some Iranian funds frozen in foreign bank accounts and allowing trade in precious metals, petrochemicals and aircraft parts.

The United States might also agree to relax pressure on other countries not to buy Iranian oil. Tehran has made clear it wants more significant gestures diluting the stifling superstructure of sanctions blocking its lifeblood oil exports and use of the international banking and financial system.

Diplomacy on Tehran's nuclear aspirations has revived remarkably since the election of Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, as president in June on promises of winning sanctions relief and diminishing Iran's international isolation.

POLITICALLY CHARGED DETAILS

But the sides have struggled to wrap up a deal, bogged down in politically vexed details and still hampered by a long legacy of mutual mistrust.

Diplomats said new, compromise language of a deal being discussed did not explicitly recognize a right to produce nuclear fuel by any country. “If you speak about the right to a peaceful nuclear program that's open to interpretation,” a diplomat told Reuters without elaborating.

No other details were available, but Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Tehran's chief negotiator, said earlier in the day that significant headway had been made.

“We are negotiating our differences and we have made considerable progress,” he said. “In some cases we have had results … but still we have three, four differences.”

The fate of Iran's Arak heavy-water reactor project – a potential source of an alternative bomb material, plutonium – and the extent of sanctions relief were among the other stumbling blocks, diplomats said.

The OPEC producer rejects suspicions it is covertly trying to develop the means to produce nuclear weapons, saying it is stockpiling nuclear material for future atomic power plants.

Asked whether he believed there would be an agreement this week, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said: “I think it's a possibility. It's not final yet. I'm always optimistic. It depends on many factors.”

IRAN SEES “EXCESSIVE DEMANDS”

A senior European diplomat told reporters earlier that foreign ministers of the six states would come to Geneva only if there was a deal to sign. “We have made progress, including core issues,” the diplomat said, adding that “there are four or five things still on the table” that need to be resolved.

Zarif and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is coordinating the talks on behalf of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, met throughout the day on Friday to explore ways to narrow differences on the outstanding sticking points.

There was no immediate word on what was the outcome of their meetings; Ashton's spokesman only described the meeting as “useful”. But one Iranian delegate said “this morning's session was better than the one last night”.

A senior Western diplomat said late on Thursday it would “not be a tragedy” if the third round of Geneva talks within a month adjourned without a deal and reconvened in a few weeks for another try.

ISRAEL FEARS “DAMAGING” AGREEMENT

Israel continued its public campaign of criticizing the offer of sanctions rollbacks for Iran, voicing its conviction that all it would achieve would be more time for Iran to master nuclear technology and amass potential bomb fuel.

“We think it's not a useful agreement, perhaps even damaging,” Deputy Foreign Minister Ze'ev Elkin told Israel Radio. “Even those who support the agreement say the only goal of the agreement is to play for time.”

He appeared to be referring to France, which has taken a harder line than other Western powers and repeatedly urged the six-power group not to make too many compromises with Tehran.

For the powers, an interim deal would mandate a halt to Iran's enrichment of uranium to a purity of 20 percent – a major technical step towards the bomb threshold, more sweeping U.N. nuclear inspections in Iran and an Arak reactor shutdown.

The United States has only limited flexibility during the talks, however, because of skepticism in U.S. Congress about the benefits of cutting any deal with Tehran.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on Thursday he was committed to pursuing a tougher Iran sanctions bill when the Senate returns from a recess early next month – even though President Barack Obama has warned that could derail diplomacy in Geneva.

The White House said on Friday it hoped a deal can be reached in Geneva. If a preliminary agreement is reached for a six-month suspension of some of Iran's most sensitive nuclear activity, the six powers and Tehran will use that time to hammer out a broader and longer-term accord.

Additional reporting by Justyna Pawlak, Fredrik Dahl and John Irish in Geneva, Marcus George in Dubai, Steve Gutterman in Moscow and Allyn Fisher in Jerusalem; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Iran, powers aim to seal deal on ending nuclear standoff


Iran and six world powers were closing in on a long-elusive deal on Friday aimed at allaying international fears about Tehran's atomic aims and reducing the risk of a new war in the volatile Middle East.

After the first day of a November 7-8 meeting, they said progress had been made towards an agreement under which the Islamic state would curb some of its nuclear activities in exchange for limited relief from sanctions that are damaging its economy.

Negotiators cautioned, however, that work remained to be done in the coming hours in very complex negotiations and that a successful outcome was not guaranteed. Iran rejects Western accusations that it is seeking the capability to make nuclear weapons.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said it was too early to say with certainty whether a deal would be possible this week, though he voiced cautious optimism.

“Too soon to say,” Araqchi told reporters after the first day of talks between Iran and the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. “I'm a bit optimistic.”

“We are still working. We are in a very sensitive phase. We are engaged in real negotiations.”

The fact that an agreement may finally be within reach after a decade of frustrated efforts and mutual hostility between Iran and the West was a sign of a dramatic shift in Tehran's foreign policy since the election of a relative moderate, Hassan Rouhani, as Iranian president in June.

The United States and its allies are aiming for a “first step” deal that would stop Iran from further expanding a nuclear program that it has steadily built up in defiance of tightening international pressure.

The Islamic Republic, which holds some of the world's largest oil and gas reserves, wants them to lift increasingly tough punitive measures that have slashed its daily crude sales revenue by 60 percent in the last two years.

Both sides have limited room to maneuver, as hardliners in Tehran and hawks in Washington would likely sharply criticize any agreement they believed went too far in offering concessions to the other side.

U.S. SENATE MAY SEEK MORE SANCTIONS

Lending urgency to the need for a breakthrough soon, a U.S. Senate committee said it would pursue a package of tough new sanctions on Iran after the current Geneva talks end on Friday.

President Barack Obama has been pushing Congress to hold off on more sanctions against Iran, demanded by its arch-enemy Israel, to avoid undermining the diplomacy aimed at defusing fears of an Iranian advance towards nuclear arms capability.

A spokesman for the European Union foreign policy chief – who is presiding over the talks – said on Thursday evening that the powers and Iran were “making progress” towards easing the decade-long standoff.

Michael Mann said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton would meet Iran's foreign minister and chief negotiator, Mohammad Javad Zarif, on Friday morning “to allow more time to work through some issues”. Diplomats from the six nations would also meet early on Friday to prepare Ashton's talks with Zarif.

Zarif told Reuters earlier in the day: “I'm hopeful that we can move forward. We are making progress, but it's tough.”

In an interview with CNN later, Zarif suggested that a partial suspension of Iran's contested uranium enrichment campaign might be possible – a concession it ruled out before moderate Rouhani's landslide election.

“There won't be a suspension of our enrichment program in its entirety,” Zarif said, rejecting Israel's central demand.

But he said he hoped the sides would agree a joint statement on Friday stipulating a goal to be reached “within a limited period of time, hopefully in less than a year”, and a series of reciprocal actions they would take “to build confidence and address their most immediate concerns.

Iran says it is enriching uranium only to fuel future nuclear power stations and for medical purposes. But its refusal to halt activity which can also have military applications has drawn the increasingly tough sanctions.

The United States said it also held “substantive and serious” bilateral talks with Iran in Geneva – direct dialogue inconceivable before Rouhani took office pledging to build bridges abroad and end a slide towards conflict with the West.

Iran and the United States have had no diplomatic ties since soon after the 1979 Islamic Revolution that overthrew the U.S.-backed monarchy, and their mutual mistrust and enmity has posed the biggest obstacle to any breakthrough nuclear accord.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said that in exchange for “concrete, verifiable measures” of restraint by Iran, the six powers “would consider limited, targeted, and reversible relief that does not affect our core sanctions architecture”.

The broader sanctions regime would stay pending a “final, comprehensive, verifiable” accord, Carney told reporters In Washington. If Iran did not follow through towards this end, modest sanctions relief could be reversed and stiffer penalties imposed.

ISRAEL SEES 'HISTORIC' MISTAKE

The U.S. Senate Banking Committee chairman declared the panel was moving forward on a proposal for new sanctions, a step likely to please Israel which has campaigned against compromise proposals under discussion in Geneva, describing them as potentially “a mistake of historic proportions”.

Senator Tim Johnson, a Democrat, said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid instructed him to bring the bill closer to a vote by the full Senate by calling for a debate on it.

Araqchi, the Iranian deputy foreign minister, said after the morning meetings that he hoped a deal could be struck but “the differences are widespread and deep. This is undeniable”.

The Iranian delegation held a series of meetings – one with all three European delegations, then, separately, with the Russians, the Chinese and the Americans.

Araqchi met for an hour with U.S. delegation chief Wendy Sherman, under secretary of state for political affairs, in a meeting that a senior State Department official described as a “substantive and serious conversation”.

The United States and its allies say they are encouraged by Tehran's shift to softer rhetoric since the election of Rouhani. But Western allies say Iran must back its words with action and take concrete steps to scale back its atomic work.

Washington says that would buy time for Iran and the powers to reach a broader diplomatic settlement and avert any war that could cause global economic upheaval.

“It remains our assessment that Iran would need at least one year to acquire one nuclear weapon from the time that Iran decides to pursue one,” Carney said, describing the U.S. view of a potential “breakout move” by Tehran toward building an atomic bomb. “In other words, we would be essentially buying time.”

The exact nature of a possible first step remain unclear. But the six global powers are unlikely to agree on anything less than a suspension of enrichment of uranium to 20 percent fissile purity, a level that constitutes a technical milestone not far from the threshold for a nuclear warhead.

They want Iran to convert its stockpile of 20 percent uranium to an oxide form suitable for processing into reactor fuel, and take other measures to slow the program.

A U.S. official said Iran at this stage must address important aspects of its nuclear activity, including more intrusive U.N. inspections. Iran's construction of a research reactor near the town of Arak is also a growing concern for the West because of its potential to yield plutonium for bombs.

A senior aide to a U.S. senator briefed by the White House and State Department said Washington would offer to work with Iran in a six-month confidence-building period. During that time Washington would offer Tehran, among other things, relaxed restrictions on Iranian funds held in overseas accounts.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he disliked the outlines of an initial deal being hinted at in Geneva since it would allow Iran to keep a nuclear capability.

“Israel totally opposes these proposals,” he said in a speech. “I believe that adopting them would be a mistake of historic proportions. They must be rejected outright.”

Widely assumed to be the Middle East's only nuclear power, Israel views Iran as a threat to its existence and has warned it could carry out pre-emptive strikes on Iranian nuclear sites if diplomacy fails to restrain the program.

Additional reporting by Justyna Pawlak and Yeganeh Torbati in Geneva, Timothy Gardner in Washington,; Marcus George in Dubai, Michelle Nichols in New York; Editing by Mohammad Zargham

Syria destroys chemical weapons facilities, watchdog group confirms


Syria reportedly has completed destroying or permanently disabling all of its chemical weapons production and mixing facilities.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which won the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this month for its involvement in the Syrian chemical weapons crisis, reported that Syria had met its first deadline for divesting itself of chemical weapons.

The group has inspected all but two of the chemical weapons sites throughout Syria, Reuters reported. The remaining two sites are too dangerous to access, but the chemical equipment was moved to other sites and destroyed, the watchdog group said.

By Nov. 15, Syria must agree to a plan for destroying its massive stock of toxic agents and munitions.

The destruction of its chemical weapons comes amid Syria’s nearly three-year-long civil war; Syria was accused of turning its chemical weapons on its own citizens.

Israel finds tunnel dug under its Gaza border, blames Hamas


Israel displayed on Sunday what it called a Palestinian “terror tunnel” running into its territory from the Gaza Strip and said it was subsequently freezing the transfer of building material to the enclave.

“The discovery of the tunnel … prevented attempts to harm Israeli civilians who live close to the border and military forces in the area,” Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said in a statement, accusing Gaza's ruling Hamas Islamist movement of being behind construction of the 1.5 mile-long tunnel.

There was no claim of responsibility in Gaza but a spokesman for Hamas's armed wing wrote on Twitter that “the determination deep in the hearts and minds of resistance fighters is more important than tunnels dug in the mud”.

Hamas, along with other militant groups, tunneled into Israel in 2006 and seized an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was held for five years before being exchanged for 1,400 Palestinians in Israeli jails.

The Israeli military said it found the tunnel along its fortified Gaza border last week near a kibbutz, or communal farm. It invited journalists to view it on Sunday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who launched an eight-day war against militants in the Gaza Strip last November with the declared aim of curbing rocket attacks against Israel, publicly congratulated the army “for uncovering the terror tunnel”.

The military said the tunnel, dug in sandy soil, had been reinforced with concrete supports, and Yaalon announced that he was immediately halting the transfer of building material to the Gaza Strip.

For years, Israel had refused to allow these goods into the territory because it said militants would use them to build fortifications and weapons.

In 2010, as part of its easing of its internationally-criticized Gaza blockade, Israel gave foreign aid organizations the green light to import construction material for public projects. Last month, Israel resumed the transfer of cement and steel to Gaza's private sector.

Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in 2007, a year after winning a Palestinian election, from forces loyal to Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas. The movement is shunned by the West over its refusal to renounce violence and recognize Israel.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem, Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Matthew Tostevin

Beersheva bank attack spurs gun reforms in Israel


Israel would require security guards to leave their weapons at work under gun reforms unveiled in the aftermath of a Beersheva bank attack that killed four.

Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch announced the planned reforms on Tuesday, the day after a former Border Police captain’s rampage at a Bank Hapoalim branch.

Along with the requirement for security guards, the reforms would limit to one the number of guns that civilians could possess at one time. Also, gun owners renewing a license would have to prove their need for the weapon.

Aharonovitch said his ministry would establish a committee to perform medical tests for gun-license applicants, the Times of Israel reported.

Nearly 170,000 Israelis are licensed to carry a gun, including 40,000 security guards for schools, supermarkets and malls. Most other gun licenses are issued to those who work or live in what are characterized as high-risk areas, including the West Bank and communities on the border with the West Bank.

“Limiting gun ownership is at the top of our agenda, and I intend to hold a weekly follow-up meeting on the subject,” Aharonovitch said.

U.S. to provide Israel with advanced weapons, Hagel announces


The United States will make available to Israel advanced new military capabilities, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said.

The advanced weapons include anti-radiation missiles, advanced radars for its fleet of fighter jets,  KC-135 refueling aircraft  the V-22 Osprey, which the US has not released to any other nation, Hagel told reporters Monday following a meeting in Tel Aviv with his Israeli counterpart, Moshe Yaalon.

Hagel said the new equipment, as well as Israel's participation in the joint strike fighter program “ensures that Israel will maintain air superiority for the next generation.”

“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.

When questioned about Iran, the two leaders stressed that the Islamic Republic must be prevented from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

“All military options and every option must remain on the table when dealing with Iran,” Hagel said. “Our position is Iran will not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon,” he added.

Hagel reiterated Israel's right to defend itself in the face of Iran's nuclear aspirations. “Israel is a sovereign nation. Every sovereign nation has the right to defend itself. That calculation has to be made by the sovereign nation,” he said. He added that the United States and Israel “are not only in complete agreement on the policy about Iran but also we are in total agreement on if a time should get to a point here where we will then have to develop other strategies or other options, and I don't think there is any daylight there, any gap.”

Israel's strategy regarding the military nuclear aspirations of this Iranian regime is very clear,” Yaalon said. “By one way or another, the military nuclear project of Iran should be stopped. Having said that, we believe that the military option which is well discussed should be the last resort anyhow.”

“But without a credible military option, there is no chance that the Iranian regime will realize that he has to stop the military nuclear project. And in certain circumstances the military option should be exercised. So this is our very clear policy, and of course we keep our right, and capability, to defend ourselves by ourselves,” Yaalon added.

Hagel met Monday evening with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

He is scheduled to visit Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates during this Middle East trip.

Iron Dome upgrade tests called successful


Israel said it successfully completed tests of the Iron Dome missile defense system following a system upgrade.

The announcement of the successful tests came in a statement from its Defense Ministry issued on Jan. 21.

“The series of tests is aimed at broadening and improving the capabilities and performance of the system in the face of an unprecedented array of threats,” the statement said. “The test, which was declared a success, will contribute to the improved operational capacity of 'Iron Dome.' “

The decision to upgrade Iron Dome was announced shortly before Israel's Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza in which Israel said the system intercepted more that 80 percent of the hundreds of rockets fired at southern Israel.

Jews and guns: A day on the firing range


Susanne Reyto carefully loaded her rifle and switched the safety off. Peering into the scope attached to the top of the weapon, she pulled the trigger while former U.S. Army platoon leader Charlie Jasper looked on to ensure she was handling her weapon safely.

To their right, 29-year-old Sean Constine loaded bullets into his rifle’s magazine. Then he picked up the rifle and, having located his target — a steel plate attached to the top of a pole approximately 50 yards away — fired away.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Stern, a former member of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), corrected the shooting stance of a 20-something who’d never fired a weapon before.

They were among 25 individuals who visited the gun range at the Oak Tree Gun Club in Santa Clarita on Dec. 2 to fire rifles and handguns. Organizers of the daylong event said its purpose was to show that learning how to fire a gun can be a powerful experience that Jews, in particular, can benefit from.

“We wanted an event that was empowering, and we wanted an event that also discussed the moral imperative of Jewish self-defense,” said Orit Arfa, who organized the event. “Learning how to use a gun is, hopefully, not something that every Jew will have to take upon themselves, but we think learning how to use a weapon and not being afraid of using a weapon will influence people toward a certain courage.”

Arfa called the event timely, too, casting it as a way to celebrate Chanukah, which begins at sundown on Dec. 8 and commemorates a “Jewish victory achieved by Jewish warriors who took it upon themselves to rise up in arms.”

Zionists of Los Angeles, a Los Angeles-based ad hoc group created by Arfa, put on the event after the original sponsor, the Zionist Organization of America’s (ZOA) Western Region, opted out before the event took place, according to Arfa. (A former executive director of the ZOA-Western Region, Arfa was fired from the position last month.)

Jessica Felber, chair of ZOA-West’s young professionals group, helped plan the event, and most of the participants included adults in their 20s and 30s who regularly attend its programs. But others turned up as well, including Reyto and her husband, Robert, who is in his 70s. 

Hired instructors included Jasper, whose service in the Army included a 2008 stint in Iraq, and Stern, a professional shooting trainer who fought in the IDF during the Second Intifada as part of an infantry unit and as a sharpshooter.

Other instructors also had connections to the IDF. Shimi Baras, a shaliach (emissary) for Bnei Akiva of Los Angeles, a Zionist youth group, was a former member of the IDF, and several participants claimed that Avichai Perez serves on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s personal security team. (When asked if this was true, he said it was classified, but showed identification indicating that he works in the Defense Department in the office of the prime minister.)

The instructors weren’t the only ones with prior shooting experience. Some of the participants drew on a range of firearm knowledge.

Constine came in with so much experience firing guns, in fact, that he became a de facto instructor, showing other participants how to hold their weapons properly. A graduate of Emory University, Constine made aliyah in 2005 with the help of Garin Tzabar, a program that facilitates serving in the IDF for Diaspora Jews. He then served in the army.

“The idea of a strong Jew very much appeals to me,” said Constine, who saw combat in Lebanon and in the West Bank while serving in an infantry unit. He currently lives in Los Angeles.

Robert Reyto may have been the oldest person in the pack, but that certainly didn’t put him at a disadvantage. Born in Hungary, he suffered through Nazi Germany and communist Hungary. During the ’60s, Reyto served in the U.S. Navy, working as a dentist in a naval construction battalion unit. 

But, for some, it was their first time handling a weapon. That included Paula Perlman, 26, a graduate of California State University, Northridge; Tamar Union, 27, college campus coordinator at the Jewish outreach group Aish Los Angeles; and Susanne Reyto.

The latter struggled to see through her weapon’s scope, everything appearing as a blur. Still, she said, she was grateful for the opportunity to learn how to protect herself. Like her husband, Susanne, 68, who was born in Budapest one week before the Nazis invaded Hungary, lived through the Holocaust, during which she hid in a cellar with her mother. 

Gunshots filled the air as the group walked past the outdoor gun club’s shotgun skeet-shooting range and approached the rifle range. As they waited in a line to rent weapons and ammunition, the gunshots startled those who had never been to a shooting range before.

Before meeting at the gun range — where they took turns firing M4 semiautomatic rifles for nearly an hour, then moved on to handguns — the group gathered at a sports-memorabilia clubhouse owned by Marvin Markowitz, who also owns Factor’s Famous Deli. There, Stern, a member of the National Rifle Association, led a training session on gun safety and spoke in strong support of gun ownership. 

Not everyone agreed. Constine said he is in favor of gun control. 

“Israel and America are vastly different places. In Israel, you need to carry a gun. Here, you don’t,” he said.

Stern also spoke about what he called the problem of American Jews viewing themselves as victims of persecution. Learning how to operate a gun is a way to change that mindset, he said.

The people who participated in the event won’t be turning into Moshe Dayan overnight, he said, referring to Israel’s famous military leader. But, he concluded, this was a step in the right direction.

Report: Iran nearly done installing centrifuges at nuclear plant


Iran appears to be nearly finished installing centrifuges at one of its underground plants, drawing it still closer to making weapons-grade uranium.

Reuters quoted Western diplomats who said they have heard indications that Iran finished putting in place the remaining uranium centrifuges but had not starting running them yet.

According to the unnamed diplomats, while there may be more centrifuges located deep inside a mountain at its Fordow plant, the preparations needed to operate them have not been completed.

The United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency in its last report, in August, said that Iran had doubled the number of centrifuges at Fordow to 2,140.

Palestinian injures Israeli man with axe


An Israeli man was injured when a Palestinian man attacked him with an axe.

The Israeli was hit in the chest and taken to a Jerusalem hospital, according to reports.

The attack occurred near a Palestinian village in the West Bank. The victim, reportedly from a nearby settlement, was documenting Palestinian building violations in the village, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Onlookers held the attacker until security forces arrived, the newspaper reported.

Israel strike on Iran would be disaster, Shaul Mofaz says


A former deputy of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday a pre-emptive military strike against Iran over its nuclear program could embroil Israel in a “disastrous war”.

Shaul Mofaz, a parliamentary opposition leader who quit Netanyahu’s cabinet last month where he served as vice premier, said on Israeli television he thought Israel was “planning a hasty, irresponsible event”.

The former general and defense minister said he thought Israel could not do anything to force a strategic change in Iran’s nuclear program, which the West suspects is aimed at producing atomic weapons. Tehran says it is for peaceful purposes.

As a member of Netanyahu’s security cabinet for two months, Mofaz was privy to deliberations on Iran’s nuclear program.

He told Channel 2 television in a studio interview that any Israeli military action “can at the most delay it (Iran’s program) by about a year, and it can bring upon us a disastrous war”.

Naming both Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, he said he was “very worried at what they are preparing”. He added: “I hope very much we don’t reach such a war because it would be a disaster.”

Days after he quit the cabinet late in July in a dispute about military conscription policy, Mofaz, who heads the centrist Kadima party, cautioned he would not back any Israeli military “adventures”.

His comments echoed those of other former Israeli security officials who have spoken against any unilateral attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, with some saying such an assault could spur Tehran to speed up uranium enrichment.

Some officials have also voiced concern that any strike could prompt Iran’s proxies in the region, such as Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, to launch rocket attacks on Israel.

Israel, widely believed to be the only atomic power in the Middle East, views Iran’s nuclear program as an existential threat, citing threats made by leaders of the Islamist nation to destroy the Jewish state.

There has been an upsurge in rhetoric from Israeli politicians this month suggesting Israel might attack Iran’s nuclear facilities ahead of U.S. presidential elections in November.

Netanyahu is frustrated that Western diplomacy to try to force Iran to rein in its program has so far proved fruitless. Reported intelligence leaks that Tehran has been accelerating rather than scaling back its program have added to tensions.

However senior Israeli officials have said that a final decision about whether to attack Iran has not yet been taken, with ministers disagreeing over the issue and the military hierarchy unhappy about the prospect of going it alone without full U.S. backing.

Jews and guns


It is a given among liberal and progressive Jews that gun ownership among the general population is a bad thing. The ideal is near-universal disarmament with only a handful of individual exceptions and, of course, the police.

The majority of Americans have the opposite view. They believe that gun ownership is a fundamental American right, and that the more law-abiding Americans who own guns, the safer the society. This view is so widely held — even among many Democrats — that few Democratic politicians take anti-gun positions.

Like the great majority of American Jews I grew up in a home with no guns, no hunting, no target shooting or any other use of guns. Moreover, no one I knew had a gun or even knew how to use one. Diaspora Jewish culture is almost pacifist. And the general Jewish view is that non-Jews play with guns, not us Jews. A home with guns is as foreign to a Jewish liberal as gefilte fish is to a Mississippi Baptist.

Over the course of my lifetime I have come to side with the majority of Americans. I would hope that Jews are open to rethinking what has become, like most liberal beliefs, an essentially religious position.

I support gun ownership for two reasons — one American and the other Jewish.

First, I have come to admire the American value of the armed citizen. It is part of the great American value of independence and self-reliance. If I am armed, I can better protect myself, my loved ones and my neighbors.

America is great in large measure because Americans relied much less on the state than any other nation.

Jewish and other progressives see the state as a much more wonderful thing than do Americans who believe in traditional American values such as a small state and gun ownership (it would take a rewrite of American history to deny that gun ownership has been a traditional American value). Of course, the state can and must do good things. You cannot protect a country with armed militias; you protect it with a national army, navy and air force.

Progressives, taking their values from Europe, came to regard the state as the vehicle to a nearly utopian society. Gradually it displaces individual responsibility, parental authority and communal institutions.

But the traditional American view was that the state should do as little as possible, while the individual and the community should do as much as possible — including having the ability to protect ourselves against those who would do us harm. Of course police are indispensable. But the police almost always show up after an innocent has been murdered.

My Jewish reason largely emanates from the Holocaust.

Just as it amazes me that Jews can believe that people are basically good — after the Holocaust and all the other unspeakable evils inflicted on us Jews (and so many others) — it also amazes me that Jews can believe that it is a good thing that the state prohibits any of us from owning arms.

Both beliefs show how dogma trumps reality.

How many Jews the Nazis would have murdered if most European Jews had guns is impossible to know. But common sense suggests that the number would have been much lower. The Warsaw Ghetto revolt was begun with 10 old pistols and very little ammunition. Later a few hundred pistols and rifles and a few machine guns were smuggled into the ghetto. Himmler told Hitler he would quell the revolt in three days. It took four weeks. Many hundreds of German troops — perhaps a thousand — were killed or wounded.

If the Nazis knew that Jews refused to go to roundup areas and that many Jews were armed, awaiting Nazis to enter every apartment, it is difficult to imagine that the Nazi genocidal machinery would have been nearly as effective. And, vitally important, even had the number of Jews murdered been near 6 million (which I doubt), not all ways of dying are equal. There is a world of difference between being gassed or shot to death while standing naked beside the mass grave you were forced to dig and getting killed while shooting a Nazi.

The first thing every totalitarian regime does is confiscate weapons. As long as evil people have guns, good people will need to have them. This is true for nations (which is why it is so important for America and for the world that America have the strongest military) and it is true for individuals.


Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the Internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

Iran closer to attaining nuclear weapon than previously thought, new intelligence reveals


New intelligence information obtained by Israel and four Western countries indicates that Iran has made greater progress on developing nuclear weapons than the West had previously realized, according to Western diplomats and Israeli officials who are closely involved in efforts to prevent Iran from building a nuclear bomb.

A Western diplomat who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to discuss intelligence information said the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Israel agree on that assessment.

According to the source, this assessment began to take shape in February, when Iran refused to allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to visit the base at Parchin, where it is believed Iran is carrying out part of the research and development of its military nuclear program. Visits of IAEA inspectors in Iran, and especially revelations of information the Iranians had been trying to hide, intensified suspicions that Tehran was developing nuclear weapons at a faster pace than it had previously seemed.

Read more at haaretz.com.

Major powers and Iran start nuclear talks in Baghdad


The major powers launched a new round of talks with Iran on its suspected nuclear weapons program.

The sides hope to emerge from the session in Baghdad on Wednesday with the outline of a plan that would lead to increased Iranian transparency in exchange for a degree of relief on sanctions.

Iran experts say that the major powers, including the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, may offer a deal that requires Iran to give up enriching uranium to 20 percent, a few steps shy of weaponization, in exchange for being allowed to enrich uranium to 3.5 percent for medical and research purposes as well as an intrusive regimen of inspections.

Iran indicated Tuesday that it may soon agree to allow United Nations inspectors to examine its nuclear facilities.

Israel wants all enrichment to stop and the dismantling of a reactor near the Shiite holy city of Qom uncovered in 2009 by Western intelligence.

Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. Western powers cite increasing evidence of a weapons program, including signs that Iran is testing a trigger mechanism for a bomb.

Netanyahu: No sign Iran will stop nuclear weapons path


Nothing suggests that Iran is ready to stop its nuclear weapons program, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said ahead of talks between Iran and a U.S.-led negotiating coalition.

“Nothing would be better than to see this issue resolved diplomatically,” Netanyahu said Friday during a state visit to the Czech Republic. “But I have seen no evidence that Iran is serious about stopping its nuclear weapons program. It looks as though they see these talks as another opportunity to deceive and delay just like North Korea did for years.”

Representatives from Iran and six major powers—the United States, Russia, China, Germany, Britain and France—are scheduled to meet in Baghdad on May 23 to discuss an outline of a deal that would relieve Iran’s isolation in exchange for more transparency about and international access to its nuclear program. Iran insists its program is peaceful.

The Obama administration has been pressing Israel not to go ahead with a military strike while it seeks to end the crisis through sanctions and diplomacy.

In his statement, Netanyahu laid out Israel’s goal for negotiations: Freeze all uranium enrichment inside Iran, remove all enriched material outside of Iran and dismantle an enrichment facility at Qom.

House committee to propose Iron Dome boost


The House Armed Services Committee reportedly is proposing $680 million in additional funds for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.

A number of news outlets reported over the weekend that the Republican-majority Armed Services Committee plans to increase the funding in addition to the $205 million that was appropriated under President Obama’s 2013 defense budget.

Capitol Hill sources told JTA that a final figure has yet to be determined.

Two congressional leaders pushed for the increase in funding the Iron Dome system when they introduced legislation in March.

The Iron Dome Support Act was introduced by Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, and the committee’s chairwoman, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.). The act currently has 66 co-sponsors.

A week following the introduction of the legislation, the Pentagon announced that it would “request an appropriate level of funding from Congress … based on Israeli requirements and production capacity.”

The Armed Services Committee will begin marking up the defense budget on Thursday.

IDF Chief of Staff Gantz: Iron Dome a game changer


IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz called the success of the Iron Dome system in intercepting incoming missiles from Gaza a “serious and historical military change.”

Speaking Tuesday night in the Israeli city of Ashdod via satellite to the New York gala dinner of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, Gantz also warned that if rocket fire from Gaza continues, Israel would retaliate.

A tense calm had been holding, with limited rocket fire from Gaza and no Israeli retaliation since Egyptian officials announced that they had brokered an informal truce between Israel and the Hamas regime in Gaza. In four days of fighting before the truce took effect, Iron Dome intercepted the vast majority of the long-range missiles fire from Gaza to Israeli cities, Israeli officials said. The cross-border rocket barrages began after the IDF’s killing in an airstrike of Zuhair Qaisi, leader of the Palestinian Resistance Committees.

[10 things you should know about Israel’s Iron Dome]

“Right now it’s fairly quiet, I’m pleased to say,” Gantz said Tuesday night against the backdrop of one of Iron Dome’s anti-missile batteries. “If fire will continue we will retaliate as we did before.”

A few hours after Gantz spoke, however, Israel carried out at least two airstrikes in Gaza, which IDF officials said targeted terrorist sites in response to rocket fire on Israel.

The $1,000-a-plate Friends of the IDF dinner Tuesday raised $26 million, according to organizers.

Liberal Academics Blind to Terror Threat


The professor narrowed his eyes, leaned back in his chair and yawned.

“You don’t really believe that do you?”

I stared back perplexed.

“What?”

“That there is really some terrorist conspiracy poised against the United States.”

There was a short silence. I took a deep breath, not sure if he was serious. But when I looked in his eyes, I detected no trace of humor.

“Well, the events of Sept. 11 would certainly seem to point to it.”

He suddenly sat forward, his face growing flushed.

“Come on, Mr. Davis,” he said with an edge now in his voice. “You should know better. You’re a journalist. That neocon crap is just as easily disproved as Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. It’s clear fabrication — used by Bush and his cronies to justify an unjustifiable war. Better to check the terrorism coming out of Washington before looking elsewhere.”

I had to do a double take to remember where I was sitting and to whom I was speaking. Was this Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein or some other fringe American intellectual of the far left? Was I in Northern California or Vermont, where such pabulum passes as standard rhetoric?

No. I was in America’s intellectual heartland, Harvard University. And I was addressing one of the most noted political scientists in the country.

After a year at Harvard University, I have come to understand that the professor’s world view represents far more mainstream opinion in the intellectual community than I had ever imagined. For many of the professors, students and general community leaders in this high-brow enclave, the events of Sept. 11, 2001, are a distant memory — the stuff of nightmare perhaps but something more akin to a natural disaster than a deliberate and unprovoked attack on the United States.

Gone is any outrage against the Muslim extremists who perpetrated the atrocities of that day. Absent is any sense in which America is at war with a pitiless force pledged to the elimination of democracy and its replacement with a totalitarian system based on religious law.

Instead, the wrath of the Cambridge liberal community is taken out against the American president himself. George W. Bush, whose election is universally regarded in these circles as tainted and illegitimate, has emerged as the personification of deceit and the cause of world turmoil.

It is not unusual in such elite society to hear Bush described as Adolf Hitler reincarnate; the United States under the Bush administration as an imperialist, racist, capitalist pariah, or that Bush is needlessly spilling American blood for the sake of Middle East oil. In addition to his bungling of American foreign policy, he is saddled with the responsibility for the melting of the polar ice caps, for the human rights violations of prisoners of war in Cuba and Iraq, the despoliation of the world’s rain forests and the exploitation of child labor in Southeast Asia.

In short, it is Bush and the policies of his imperialistic thugs who revolve the spindle on the axis of evil, not Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein or any of the more nefarious leaders of the Third World.

There was once hope that Harvard would change its orientation under a more open and even-handed administration. But even the installation of the former secretary of the Treasury, Lawrence Summers, as Harvard president, has had little impact on the status quo. While Summers pledged to shake up the university, there has been no significant shift in hiring practices or in the selection of professors for tenure.

In most departments, liberal orthodoxy reigns virtually unchallenged, and in the department of government, only three professors out of 60 could be identified as conservative. When I suggested to one conservative Harvard professor that she must, because of her political views, endure great conflict with her colleagues, she looked at me glumly and could only answer, ” I wish I did have conflict. Unfortunately, nobody talks to me.”

How is it possible that during a military conflict, catalyzed by the most violent attack against America since Pearl Harbor, there could be such unparalleled denigration of a sitting U.S. president among academics?

While all previous wartime presidents had their detractors, none of them — including Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson or Franklin Delano Roosevelt — endured such a level of disparagement amounting to a characterization as fascist. The vilification of Bush among academics surely transcends normal election year politics and adds new understanding to the term “ivory tower detachment.”

Part of the answer is that for many, America’s adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq are not perceived as a response to a real military threat. In this regard, both Iraq and Afghanistan are not real wars but punitive missions, representing failure, much like Gen. John F. Pershing’s fruitless invasion of Mexico in 1916 or America’s involvement in Vietnam in the 1960s and ’70s.

Then, as now, the invasion of another country, albeit on much smaller scales, was derided as folly that threatened the peaceable reputations of sitting presidents — one who campaigned in an election year on the platform that his diplomacy had kept his country out of the World War I, and the other who had built a name as a humanitarian by pioneering legislation in civil rights and social welfare.

More than likely, the academic antipathy to Bush stems from an inability to appreciate that the rules of war have changed. Invisible enemies who operate in small, isolated units; who can plot and execute a major military assault against a superpower from a cave; who rely on highly sophisticated technologies to communicate commands to underlings; who are capable of marshaling vast financial resources to procure nuclear weaponry, and who are driven not as much by ideology as “martyrology” is a form of military conduct still largely unrecognized by academia in this century.

Seen in this light, liberal academics mistake as anomalies the events of Sept. 11 and the dozens of other major terrorist attacks around the world since then. They are unable to connect the dots between these events, because the pattern of attack does not conform to a standard military campaign, nor does it represent a serious injury to a seemingly impregnable political system.

Liberal academics, because of their grounding in the dialectics of the Cold War, are not yet capable of viewing the power of terrorist organizations in the 21st century to threaten democracy, because there is no precedent for either its success in toppling elected governments or of achieving significant military objectives.

But the result of the Spanish general election in April provides an important warning. It should make clear that the terrorist menace is no longer restricted to performances of mere political theater but is also now geared toward acts of direct political intervention. Under these circumstances, the threat to Western Civilization is as real as fascism’s was to the democracies of the 1930s.

We can now ruefully reflect on the tragic ill preparedness of the Free World to Hitler’s designs in the 1930s. Academics and intellectuals in Europe and elsewhere largely stood on the sidelines as the Nazi threat swelled.

No one should pretend that the terrorist menace, if excused and ignored by this country’s intellectuals, could not have the same devastating consequences for the United States and its allies in the future. Portraying the American president or any other American leader as a terrorist may provide cartoonists and columnists with spiteful ammunition to hurl at conservatives. But in the end, it only serves to deflect attention from the real battle and lends support to a source of evil that threatens us all.