November 19, 2018

Report: Obama Admin Gave Iran License to U.S. Financial System

REUTERS/Hassan Abdallah/File Photo

A new investigation conducted by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations has found that the Obama administration granted a permit that gave the Iranian regime access to the United States financial system.

According to the Associated Press (AP), Iran yearned to convert $5.7 million held up in an Omani bank to dollars and then to euros. They were also complaining that despite the lifting of sanctions under the Iran deal, there were still enough sanctions on the regime that discouraged investment in the country.

The Obama administration had promised that Iran would never have access to the U.S. financial system, so they quietly gave a license that allowed Iran to use two American banks to convert that money.

However, the banks declined to participate out of fear that doing so would harm their reputations.

“Issuing the license was not illegal,” the report states. “Still, it went above and beyond what the Obama administration was required to do under the terms of the nuclear agreement, in which the U.S. and world powers gave Iran billions of dollars in sanctions relief in exchange for curbing its nuclear program.”

Former Obama administration officials argued to the AP that the move “adhered to the spirt of the deal” and that the license did not necessarily grant Iran access to the entire U.S. financial system.

However, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) told the AP, “The Obama administration misled the American people and Congress because they were desperate to get a deal with Iran.”

The AP report is the latest controversy to stem from the Iran deal; others include reports that the Obama administration inhibited law enforcement’s efforts to crack down on Hezbollah, Iran’s terror proxy, in order to achieve their desired deal and the administration gave pallets of cash to the regime in exchange for hostages.

President Trump announced in May that the U.S. would be exiting from the deal. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, recently announced that Iran has completed a new enrichment centrifuge.

Columbia Professor Under Fire for Referring to Zionists As ‘Hyenas’

Screenshot from Facebook.

Columbia University is facing pressure to discipline Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature professor Hamid Dabashi after he referred to Zionists, among other things, as “hyenas.”

On May 8, Dabashi posted on Facebook, “Every dirty treacherous ugly and pernicious happening in the world just wait for a few days and the ugly name ‘Israel’ will pop up in the atrocities.”

Also on Facebook, Dabashi referred to Iran-deal critics as “Fifth Column Zionists working against the best interest of Americans and for the best interests of Israelis,” And, “These laughing hyenas — the Zionists the Saudis and the US neocons that are f***** with the wrong country [Iran].”

According to the pro-Israel watchdog Canary Mission, Dabashi has a history of anti-Semitic attacks, including calling Israel Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked “Neo-Nazi scum” in 2015, claiming Israel has engaged in “ethnic cleansing” and comparing Israel to ISIS. As the Journal has previously reported, Dabashi has also referred to Zionists as “master thieves.”

After Dabashi’s latest Facebook posts, the Anti-Defamation League’s New York regional director, Evan Bernstein, wrote in an email to the Journal: “Columbia Professor Hamid Dabashi’s statements accusing Israel of being behind ‘Every dirty treacherous ugly and pernicious act happening in the world’ are clearly anti-Semitic and deeply problematic. Statements like these don’t belong in academia, or anywhere, and there is no justification for this kind of hurtful rhetoric, particularly from someone who is entrusted with shaping young minds at such a respected institution of higher learning.’ ”

Alums for Campus Fairness, a pro-Israel watchdog, sent a letter to Columbia President Lee Bollinger calling on him to “confront” Dabashi.

“Professor Dabashi’s statements echo the common anti-Semitic canards and meet the working definition of anti-Semitism that the State Department has been using for years,” the letter states. “The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism, which has been adopted by the US and 30 other member states, clearly states that ‘accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations’ is anti-Semitic.”

The letter then issued four requests to Bollinger: denounce Dabashi’s comments; make it clear that Jewish and pro-Israel students are welcome on campus; discuss how campus climate can be improved; and forbid Dabashi from teaching at the school until he ceases his “anti-Semitic rhetoric.”

“This is not a free speech issue trying to prevent Professor Dabashi from espousing his personal opinions on his own time,” the letter states. “He does not, however, have the right to create a hostile environment on campus for Jewish, Israeli and pro-Israel students who are entitled — like every student — to a safe and welcoming learning environment.”

The signatories on the letter include representatives from StandWithUs, The Lawfare Project, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Students Supporting Israel as well as numerous Columbia faculty and staff.

“Having professors at major US universities that demonize Israel is more the norm today but depicting Zionists, including donors, colleagues, and students is beneath contempt,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean and global action head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center wrote in an email to the Journal. “Columbia and other institutions of higher learning are going to have to come up with strategies to respond to this ongoing demonization of the Jewish people.”

One signatory, Columbia’s Chabad co-director Rabbi Yonah Blum, told the Journal in a Facebook message, “My wife Keren and I have been fielding an increasing amount of student complaints: Students feeling intimidated by the growing anti-Israel and as of recent a more blatant anti-Jewish sentiment, on campus.”

“Comments from tenured faculty in the classroom and on social media, like the recent statements of Prof. Dabashi carry a different weight of legitimacy than the those from fellow students,” Blum wrote.

Dabashi and Columbia did not respond to the Journal’s requests for comment.

WHAT HAPPENS NOW: Comments On Netanyahu’s Iran Speech

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at the Ministry of Defence in Tel Aviv, Israel, April 30, 2018. REUTERS/ Amir Cohen

On April 30, less than two weeks before President Donald Trump was to decide whether to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood in front of a huge cache of files, computer discs and a large screen of graphics at a news conference in Tel Aviv, and accused Iran of lying for years about its efforts to build a nuclear weapon.

You must admire the people in charge of gathering information for Israel. You must admire the fact that they can show you thousands of documents from within the Iranian archives. And as you admire these creative, bold and daring intelligence gatherers, you also must consider the fact that they say they have documents that you don’t. They say they have information that no one else could gather. They know Iran well enough to obtain half a ton of copied secret documents from inside Iran and ship them to Tel Aviv. Maybe this also means that their sense of what Iran was doing, where it might be going, what its ambitions are like, are better than yours and mine. If these people tell you that Iran is cheating, if they tell you that the nuclear deal doesn’t work, you ought to listen. Agree or disagree, but listen carefully and humbly. There is very little chance that you know better than they do.

Timing is everything. Netanyahu tried and failed to prevent the Iran nuclear deal by addressing Congress in early 2015. It was a controversial move. Many of the speech’s opponents alleged that the prime minister’s main motive was political, that his true audience was Israelis (the election in Israel was held a few weeks after that speech). In a phone conversation I had with the prime minister not long after that speech, he defended his decision to go to Washington, D.C. This was an important enough issue in Israel for him to utilize all possible means, he said, and if that made then-president of the United States Barack Obama unhappy, then so be it.

The timing was off. Obama had no intention of giving up. Perhaps he thought he had a deal worthy of a second Noble Peace Prize. Then-Secretary of State John Kerry perhaps hoped to earn his first. Netanyahu gave a strong speech, but not strong enough. One could only speculate: Would Netanyahu have be more successful had he showed Congress then what he revealed this week?

What did you think about Netanyahu’s presentation on Iran? Most likely, this depends less on the material shown (shocking intelligence, but no evidence that Iran is violating the current nuclear pact), and more on your established opinion about Netanyahu and the Iran deal.
Search the internet and try to guess in advance what each person, pundit or leader is going to say about the presentation. In most cases, if you are familiar with the views of these pundits and leaders, you can skip the comment or the article. You know what they’re going to say (I assume some readers might say the same about this article).

Would more evidence of Iranian malfeasance make a difference? Sure, if Israel had rock-solid proof of recent Iranian violations (if it has such information, Netanyahu did not reveal it). But even then, people always could argue that there’s no proof the documents are real, that Netanyahu’s word isn’t worth a dime, that Israel — and most other countries — were wrong on Iraq’s WMD.

So did Netanyahu change many minds? He surely achieved two objectives: showing Israel’s intelligence prowess, and making Iran a main topic of conversation, for at least a day or two.

If these people tell you that Iran is cheating, if they tell you that the nuclear deal doesn’t work, you ought to listen.

He also annoyed some leaders, but then, many leaders are easily annoyed by him. Some of them were quick to point out that the information discussed by Netanyahu on April 30 didn’t include anything that wasn’t previously known about Iran. The question is: Known to whom? Netanyahu’s presentation clarified things that experts already knew but that politicians didn’t always know and that the public might not have been aware of.

Reportedly, the files concerned an Iranian nuclear weapons program called Project Amad, launched in 1999 and shelved in 2003.

The question remains: Can you alter the opinions of world leaders by showing them information — whether it is old, new, repackaged or re-explained? Are world leaders capable of admitting an error?

The deal with Iran was a mistake made in haste. But let’s be realistic: Do you think Obama changed his mind this week if he watched Netanyahu’s news conference? Do you think Kerry did? Timing is everything. Information — evidence — is hardly as important. Many Americans blame President Trump for bringing about the age of fake news, yet what Netanyahu showed us earlier this week is proof that the Iran deal was fake news. It was fake news produced by people more sophisticated than Trump, and thus more successful in selling their make-believe diplomatic achievement to a receptive audience.

It will take time to assess the impact of Netanyahu’s dramatic revelation. But some things are clear:

Netanyahu was well coordinated with the Trump administration when he staged his news event. He spoke on the phone with Trump two days before the presentation. He met with the newly confirmed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo the day before the presentation. The Trump administration was not taken by surprise. It was well informed, and it was ready to respond — as Trump did half an hour after Netanyahu went off the air.

What was the exact plan? Maybe Trump told him: Give me something to work with; give me something with which to pressure the Europeans. Maybe Trump told him: I can’t convince the Europeans — you try. Maybe Trump told him: I am going to do what’s right; it would be helpful if you can give me some more ammunition.

Can the Europeans, Russians and Chinese, all of which signed the agreement with Iran, be convinced?

I am skeptical and here is why: They knew all along that Iran cannot be trusted. They knew its leaders were lying. They knew it had an earlier, established nuclear weapons program. They were cynical when they hailed the deal, and there’s no reason for me to think that they aren’t cynical now. They decided to compromise with Iran not because they think it is a country of great values and respected leadership. They decided to compromise with Iran because they see economic potential and because they think Iran — and its belligerent behavior — is not really their problem.

I’d like to think that Trump is going to change all this, but this is far from assured. Trump can dump the deal and then lose interest — which isn’t a good outcome. He can maintain the deal — possibly with cosmetic changes to save face — which isn’t a good outcome. He can begin a process of pressuring Iran, and then lose the 2020 election and be replaced by a less vigilant leader — which isn’t a good outcome. The battle against Iran is long, and to win it, the United States or Israel must be persistent and must have a strategy. News conferences, speeches, statements, impressive intelligence achievements — all these have a role in this long battle. But no speech can win this battle.

Do you think Barack Obama changed his mind this week about the Iran deal if he watched Netanyahu’s news conference?

To Israel’s credit — if one believes the unconfirmed reports by the non-Israeli media — it is not merely talking. The same day as Netanyahu’s news conference, suspected Israeli strikes hit Iranian targets in Syria. This was not the first, second or third time Iran was the recipient of a clear message: Its military presence in Syria will not be tolerated.

Israel has made that clear in public statements and to foreign dignitaries including, in recent days, European leaders who were trying to understand why Syria is suddenly becoming such a hot potato. Israel told even the Russians that it is dead serious about not allowing an Iranian presence in Syria. A senior diplomat told his counterpart: We will not let Syria become a second Lebanon. In Lebanon, Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah, has thousands of rockets ready for use against Israel. This is hardly convenient, but since the war of 2006, the Israel-Lebanese border has been relatively stable and quiet. Israel has no interest in having to watch a second front to the east, this time not held by Iran’s proxies but rather by Iran.

Again, only time will tell if the Iranians got the message and decided that the benefit does not justify the cost — or maybe it’s the other way around: They got the message and are getting ready to up the ante.

What will Iran do if Trump scraps the deal? What will Israel do in response to Iran’s response?

What Netanyahu revealed was amazing, and also somewhat disappointing.

He told us that Iran is lying.

He proved that the official Iranian position was based on a pile of untruths.

Did we not know?

Netanyahu did not have a smoking gun. It’s disappointing but should be acknowledged. So, if you are still in the business of believing the Iranians — oh, they lied for three decades, they lied up until mid-2015, but now they are telling the truth and nothing but the truth — I would urge you to stay away from banks, insurance companies and flea markets. You are clearly easy prey for con artists. Still, Netanyahu can’t show you evidence that they are lying now. Or maybe he can:

Netanyahu did prove that Iran is still lying about its dishonest past. What he didn’t prove is that it’s lying about the present.

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at the Ministry of Defence in Tel Aviv, Israel, April 30, 2018. REUTERS/ Amir Cohen

What Netanyahu revealed was amazing, and also somewhat disappointing.

If one wants to be suspicious of Netanyahu’s motive, it’s not impossible to do. The speech was made on the first day of the summer session of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. Netanyahu stole the show. While other politicians were dealing with petty maneuvers, he presented himself as a man of action, determination and big things.

If he has no choice but to call for early elections — because the coalition can’t compromise on issues such as drafting the ultra-Orthodox, or the conversion bill, or the Supreme Court bill — he now will do it as statesman. If his coalition partners were toying with idea of testing his power, they now will have to reconsider.

These are tense days in Israel. Pundits and politicians rush to the microphones to calm down the public, which of course has the opposite effect. If times were truly calm, there would be no need for such appearances.

Remember Israel Independence Day? It was just a week ago. Remember Passover? Four weeks ago. May is here, and with it a mountain of worries:

Will moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, a positive and welcome decision by Trump, ignite protest and violence?

Is Israel ready for the main show in Gaza on Nakba (Palestinians’ Day of Catastrophe) in mid-May, when thousands likely will again attempt to cross the border?

What will the president decide to do with the Iran deal, and what will be the repercussions of his decision?

How will Tehran and Damascus respond to attacks on sites in Syria? What will Iran do if Trump scraps the deal? What will Israel do in response to Iran’s response?

If you are just an observer, you should fasten a metaphorical seat belt as you prepare to watch a possibly dramatic show. If you live in Israel, fastening a seat belt is less an expression and more a statement of sober fact: Fastening a seat belt is what you do to save lives.

Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

Lies and More Lies

President Barack Obama tweets his first tweet from the Oval Office, May 18, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

So, the Iranians lied.

So did the Obama administration.

On April 30, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed that in a stunning intelligence coup, the Israelis had somehow obtained 100,000 files from Iran’s secret atomic archive in Tehran. The files showed that Iran had ardently pursued nuclear weapons for years, lying about it all the while; that they had then failed to turn over the information showing the extent of their program during negotiations over the Barack Obama administration-pushed Iran deal; and that they had hidden those files in a secret warehouse with the obvious intent of reviving their nuclear program the minute they can get away with it.

According to Netanyahu, Iran “is brazenly lying when it says it never had a nuclear weapons program.” Furthermore, Netanyahu claimed that nuclear development “continued … in a series of organizations over the years, and today, in 2018, this work is carried out by SPND, that’s an organization inside Iran’s Defense Ministry.” The head of Iran’s earlier nuclear program currently heads the SPND.

Advocates for the Obama administration have come forward to contend that there’s nothing new here — that everyone knew Iran had been lying about its nuclear program. But when the deal was signed, Secretary of State John Kerry stated that Iran would have to disclose past military-related nuclear activities: “If there’s going to be a deal, it will be done. … It will be part of a final agreement.”

Other advocates say that Israel’s intelligence would be damaging to the Iran deal — but those nefarious Jews made it up. According to Tommy Vietor, former Obama National Security Council spokesman, “After years of bashing U.S. intelligence agencies for getting Iraq wrong, [Donald] Trump is now cooking up intel with the Israelis to push us closer to a conflict with Iran. A scandal hiding in plain sight.”

The Obama administration played propagandists for the Iranian government.

So, to get this straight, Vietor is claiming that Israel “cooked up” the intelligence information to bluff America into war — as always, it’s the devious Jews. Furthermore, Vietor is claiming that Trump went along with this Israeli manipulation. Also, the Iranians are complying with the terms of the awful deal. This from a key member of the same administration that admitted in print to having deceived the American public about the Iran deal. Former Obama national security guru and professional fiction writer Ben Rhodes bragged openly about lying to Americans regarding the supposedly more “moderate” Iranian leadership seeking a deal.

Here’s the reality: The Obama administration, desperate to cut a deal with the Iranian government, played propagandists for the Iranian government. They fibbed that the Iranians had gone moderate; they lied that the only alternative to their rotten deal was war; they signed a deal that gave Iran enormous quantities of cash to use for terrorism, and that did nothing to rein in Iran’s ballistic missile program. Finally, they looked the other way as Iran lied about its maintenance of secret nuclear information.

And yet we’re supposed to believe their protestations now?

The Iran deal was garbage from the start. It was a way for Obama to declare triumph in the region even as the world’s worst terror sponsor pursued utter carnage from Tehran to Beirut. Whether Trump kills the deal at this point is of secondary import — the Trump administration knows that the deal is dead, and it’s just a question of whether to declare it so. The real question is why the same international community that accepted Iran’s word should be trusted to verify Iran’s compliance.

The simple answer: They shouldn’t. The Iran deal was an outgrowth of motivated thinking, not evidence-based policymaking. The only question now is whether it’s too late to stop the Iranians from finally achieving their dream of placing Israel and Saudi Arabia within the radius of Iranian nukes.

Ben Shapiro is an author, editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire and host of “The Ben Shapiro Show” podcast.

Arms Control Expert: Netanyahu Speech ‘Extremely Important’

Screenshot from Twitter.

Dr. Emily Landau, a senior research fellow and head of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) told reporters in an April 30 conference call that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech was “extremely important.”

Landau stated that while Netanyahu didn’t necessarily provide anything new, it provided “a lot of information and a lot of flesh in regards to Iran’s work in the past on nuclear weapons programs.” For instance, Netanyahu’s speech accentuated the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)’s “damning” 2015 report about Iran’s ambitions to develop nuclear weapons that the P5+1 nations swept under the rug.

Consequently, the fact that Iran has never had to answer for their nuclear weapons program means that pertinent information on the latest developments of their weapons program is not available. But what Netanyahu revealed on April 30 provides concrete proof that Iran was lying in their repeated denials of developing nuclear weapons.

“People should be standing up and saying no that’s a lie,” Landau said, adding that “breaking that false narrative of nuclear innocence is important.”

Landau then pointed out that the IAEA was never allowed to interview Dr. Mohsen Farkhrizadeh, the scientist who lead Iran’s Project Amad program to develop nuclear scientists continued to lead the regime’s efforts at nuclear development under the guise of “scientific knowhow.” She argued that the fact that Iran kept information on their nuclear weapons “in an orderly program” shows that they were never serious about nixing their program.

Therefore, the goal of Netanyahu’s speech was to show “the extent to which Iran has lied and cheated and deceived the international community in the nuclear realm for decades.”

“To think this deal will cause Iran to back away… like it’s on very, very shaky ground,” Landau said.

Landau also pointed out the speech was an “implicit message that Israel has access to inner workings inside Iran.”

Landau highlighted some of the flaws in the deal, including the “convoluted” provisions of the deal regarding IAEA since they can only go to “declared nuclear facilities.” The deal also didn’t cover Iran’s ballistic missiles program.

Despite the deal’s flaws, Laundau thought that the ideal course of action going forward is to “strengthen” the Iran deal since it would be difficult to negotiate a new deal altogether.

“Iran needs to get the message that American and Europe are not happy with a lot of Iran’s activities,” Landau said.

11 Comments on Netanyahu’s Iran Speech

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at the Ministry of Defence in Tel Aviv, Israel, April 30, 2018. REUTERS/ Amir Cohen

1.

You must admire the people in charge of gathering information for Israel. You must admire the fact that they can show you thousands of documents from within the Iranian archives. And as you admire these creative, bold, daring intelligence gatherers, you must also consider the obvious fact: They have documents that you don’t. They have information that no one else could gather. They know Iran well enough to master such stint – getting half a ton worth of secret documents kept inside Iran and shipping them to Tel Aviv. Maybe, just maybe, this also means that their sense of what Iran is doing, where it is going, what its ambitions are like, are better than yours (and mine). If these people tell you that Iran is cheating, if they tell you that the nuclear deal does not work, you ought to listen. Agree – or disagree – but listen carefully, and humbly. There is very little chance that you know better than they do.

2.

Timing is everything. Prime Minister Netanyahu tried and failed to stop the nuclear deal giving a speech to Congress in early 2015. It was a controversial move. The Prime Minister was blamed by many of the speech’s opponents that his main motivation was political, that his true crowd was the home crowd (election in Israel were held a few weeks after the speech). In a phone conversation I had with the PM not long after the speech he defended his decision to go to Washington. This is an important enough issue for Israel for me to utilize all possible means – he said – and if this makes the President of the United States unhappy, then so be it.

The timing was off. Obama had no intention of giving up. He thought he had a deal worthy of a second Noble Peace Prize. John Kerry was maybe hoping to get his first. Netanyahu gave a good speech, a strong speech, but not strong enough. One could only speculate: would he be more successful had he showed them then what he showed us now?

3.

What did you think about Netanyahu’s presentation on Iran? Most likely, this depends less on the material shown (shocking intelligence, but no smoking gun on current Iranian violations), and more on what you previously thought about:

A.    The Iran deal.

B.    Netanyahu.

Try this theory. Look around the web and try to guess in advance what each person, pundit or leader, is going to say about the presentation. In most cases, if you are familiar with the views of these pundits and leaders, you can skip the comment or the article. You know what they are going to say (I assume some readers might same the same about this article).

Would more evidence of Iranian belligerence make a difference? Sure, if Israel had rock solid proof of recent Iranian violations (if it has such information Netanyahu did not show it). But even then, even then… People could always argue that there’s no proof the documents are real, that Netanyahu’s word isn’t worth a dime, that Israel – and most other countries – got it wrong on Iraq’s WMD.

So did Netanyahu change many minds? He surely achieved two objectives: showing Israel’s intelligence prowess, and making Iran a main topic of conversation, for at least a day or two.

4.

He also annoyed some leaders. Many of them are easily annoyed by him. Some of them were quick to point out that the information revealed by Netanyahu did not include things that were not previously known about Iran. The question is: Known to whom? Netanyahu’s presentation clarified things that experts knew before, but that politicians did not always know and that the public was not always aware of.

And anyway, the question remains: Can you alter the opinions of world leaders by showing them information – whether it is old, new, repackaged or reexplained? Are world leaders capable of admitting great error?

The deal with Iran was a mistake. It was a rush mistake. But let’s be realistic: Do you think Obama changed his mind the other day if he was watching Netanyahu? Do you think Kerry did? Timing is everything. Information – evidence – is hardly as important. Many Americans blame President Trump for bringing about the age of fake news, yet what Netanyahu showed us earlier this week is proof that the Iran deal was fake news. It was fake news produced by people more sophisticated than Trump, and thus more successful in selling their make-belief diplomatic achievement to a willing audience.

5.

We have a few days before we can truly assess the impact of Netanyahu’s dramatic appearance of world events. But some things are clear:

Netanyahu was well coordinated with the Trump administration when he staged his press appearance. He spoke on the phone with Trump two days before his presentation. He met with the new Secretary of State not many hours before his presentation. The administration was not surprised. It was well informed, and it was ready to respond – as Trump did half an hour after Netanyahu went off the air.

What was the exact plan? Maybe Trump told him: give me something with which to work – give me something with which to pressure the Europeans. Maybe Trump told him – I can’t convince the Europeans, you try. Maybe Trump told him: I am going to do what’s right, it would be helpful if you can give me some more ammunition.

6.

Can the Europeans, and Russians, and Chinese be convinced?

I am skeptical and here is why: They knew all along that Iran cannot be trusted. They knew its leaders were lying. They knew it was working on a nuclear program. In short, they were cynical when they hailed the deal, and there is no reason for me to think that they are not cynical now. They decided to compromise with Iran not because they think it is a country of great values and honest to god leadership. They decided to compromise with Iran because they see economic potential, and because they think Iran – and its belligerent behavior – is not really their problem.

7.

I’d like to think that Trump is going to change all this, but this is far from being an assured outcome of what we see now. Trump can dump the deal and them lose interest – not a good outcome. He can keep the deal – possibly with cosmetic changes to save face – not a good outcome. He can begin a process of pressuring Iran, and then lose an election and be replaced by a less vigilant leader – not a good outcome. The battle against Iran is long, and to win it the US (or Israel) must be persistent and must have a strategy. Press conferences, speeches, statements, dazzling intelligence achievements – all these have a role in this long battle. But no speech can win this battle.

8.

To Israel’s credit – if one believes the unconfirmed reports by the non-Israeli press – it is not only talking. The same day Netanyahu was speaking, someone was also shooting missiles at Iranian targets in Syria. This was not the first, nor the second, nor the third time in which Iran was the recipient of a clear message: its military presence in Syria will not be tolerated.

Israel made it clear in public statements. It made it clear to foreign dignitaries, including, in recent days, European leaders that were trying to understand why Syria is suddenly becoming such hot potato. Israel told even the Russians that it is dead serious about not allowing Iranian presence in Syria. A senior diplomat was telling his counterpart these exact words: We will not let Syria become a second Lebanon. In Lebanon, Iran’s proxy Hezbollah have thousands of rockets ready for use against Israel. This is hardly a convenient situation, but since the war of 2006 the Israel-Lebanese border was relatively stable and quiet. Israel has no interest in having to watch a second front to the east – this time held not by Iran’s proxies but rather by Iran itself.

Again, only time will tell if the Iranians got the message, and decided that the benefit does not justify the cost – or maybe it’s the other way around: they got the message and are getting ready to up the ante.

9.

What Netanyahu showed was amazing, and also somewhat disappointing.

You are telling us that Iran is lying?

You are proving that the official Iranian position was based on a pile of nontruths?

Did we not know?

Netanyahu did not have a smoking gun to present. It is disappointing but ought to be acknowledged. So, if you are still in the business of believing the Iranians – oh, they lied for three decades, they lied up until mid 2015, but not they are telling the truth and nothing but the truth – I would urge you to stay away from banks, insurance companies and flea markets. You are clearly an easy prey for con artists of all types. Still – Netanyahu can’t show you evidence that they are lying now. I mean, this week. Today. Or maybe he can:

Netanyahu did prove that Iran is still lying about its dishonest past. What he did not prove that it is lying about the present.

10.

Politics: if one wants to be suspicious of Netanyahu’s motivation it is not impossible to do. The speech was made on the first day of the summer session of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. Netanyahu stole the show. While other politicians were dealing with petty maneuvers he presented himself as a man of action, determination and the big things.

If he has no choice but to call for early election – because the coalition can’t compromise on issues such as the draft of the ultra-Orthodox, or the conversion bill, or the Supreme Court bill – he will now do it as statesman. If his coalition partners were toying with idea of testing his power, they will now have to reconsider.

11.

These are tense days in Israel. Pundits and politicians rush to the microphones to calm the public down – which of course has the opposite effect. If times were truly calm, there would be no need for such appearances.

Remember Independence Day? It was just a week ago. Remember Passover? For weeks ago. May is here, and with it a mountain of worries:

Will the moving of the US embassy to Jerusalem, a happy and well appreciated decision by Trump, ignite protest and violence?

Is Israel ready for the main show in Gaza, in mid-May, when thousands will once again attempt to cross the border?

Netanyahu EXPOSES Iran’s Nuclear Ambitions In Speech

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at the Ministry of Defence in Tel Aviv, Israel April 30, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened the week with a bombshell of a speech on April 30 that exposed Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions.

Netanyahu told the world that Israeli intelligence was able to smuggle 55,000 files and 183 CDs from Iran that prove beyond a reasonable doubt that despite Iran’s repeated denials, the country has always sought to develop nuclear weapons and never strayed from that goal, even after the nuclear deal was forged.

“I’m here to tell you one thing: Iran lied,” Netanyahu said. “Big time.”

In a slideshow presentation that was only “a fraction” of the intelligence the Israelis had uncovered, the files showed that from 1999-2003, Iran had a secret operation called “Project Amad,” which the files described as “a comprehensive program to design, build and test nuclear weapons.” The project’s stated goal was to develop five nuclear warheads with 10 kiloton TNT yields, the equivalent of five Hiroshima bombs on missiles, per Netanyahu.

Project Amad was broken down into five elements: designing nuclear weapons, developing nuclear cores, building nuclear implosion systems, preparing nuclear tests and integrating nuclear warheads on missiles.

“These files conclusively prove that Iran is brazenly lying when it says it never had a nuclear weapons program,” Netanyahu said. “The files prove that.”

Netanyahu added that facing international pressure in 2003, Iran shelved Project Amad but continued to develop nuclear weapons under the guise of “scientific knowhow” led by Dr. Mohsen Farkhrizadeh, who had also led Project Amad, as well as a lot of the same personnel who led Project Amad.

Additionally, Iran continued their uranium development at the Frodow Uranium Enrichment Facility, which was hidden underneath the mountains so Iran could continue its development of nuclear weapons under the radar.

The Iran nuclear deal allowed Iran to keep Fordow running, so long as they came clean about their nuclear program. But the uncovered files showed that Iran had told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2015 that they “denied the existence of a coordinated program aimed at the development of a nuclear explosive device and specifically denied the existence of the Amada Plan.”

“Why would a terrorist regime hide and secretly catalogue their nuclear files if not to use them at a later date?” Netanyahu asked.

Netanyahu proceeded to slam the deal as “based on Iranian lies and Iranian deception.”

As Netanyahu had explained earlier in the speech, after the deal was implemented in 2015, Iran moved its secret nuclear files to a secret location in Tehran that only very few Iranians and Israelis knew about. It was from this location where Israeli intelligence was able to smuggle the nuclear files.

Netanyahu explained that the deal basically paves the way for Iran to develop a nuclear bomb, as it allows for Iran to enrich unlimited amounts of uranium after a certain date. The deal also doesn’t address Iran’s ballistic missile program at all, and the consequences of this are seen in Iran continually expanding its missile program.

“This is a terrible deal,” Netanyahu said. “It should never have been concluded.”

Netanyahu pointed out that President Trump will soon make a decision on whether the United States will exit the Iran deal.

“I’m sure he will do the right thing,” Netanyahu said.

Will Trump Recertify the Iran Deal? It Doesn’t Matter

On Oct. 15, President Donald Trump will again accept the reality of a signed nuclear deal with Iran — or won’t.

Conflicting reports concerning his intentions confuse not only the media, they also confuse the governments involved in the deal. The Germans don’t know what Trump will do. The Russians don’t know. The Iranians don’t know. The Americans — yes, even those in Trump’s own government — are among the uninformed.

Asked in a recent interview if he had decided to pull the United States out of the deal, Trump responded with a vague “I won’t say that.” Maybe to maintain the mystery? Maybe because he hasn’t made up his mind?

The periodic certification of the Iran deal by the president is not a part of the deal with Iran. It is a requirement by Congress. So the Iranians don’t much care what the president reports to Congress; what they care about is the possible action by Congress after a negative report. They worry about new sanctions, and threaten to retaliate if such sanctions materialize. They worry about new demands, and clarify, for example, that demands to limit Iran’s missile program were not part of the deal.

The Iranians have a point. This wasn’t the deal. As Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gholamali Khoshroo, explained in a New York Times op-ed: “It was always clear that the path to reaching a nuclear deal meant setting aside other geopolitical concerns.”

Indeed, it was clear. It was clear to Iran, and that’s why it decided to sign the deal. It was clear to President Barack Obama’s administration, which ignored all other aspects of Iran’s problematic policies as it rushed to make a deal. It was clear to all critics of the deal, including Israel and Saudi Arabia. In fact, that was a main reason they opposed the deal.

What happens if Trump declines to recertify the deal? Nothing happens unless Congress acts. And if Congress acts, a lot depends on how it acts. Even more depends on how Iran responds to how Congress acts. And then, on how the U.S. responds to Iran’s response.

In other words: It doesn’t much matter if the Trump administration does or doesn’t certify the deal before Congress. The only thing that matters — and this was true before the deal was signed as it is true today — is the level of resolve on the part of the international community, or of countries such as the U.S., to prevent Iran from advancing its strategic objectives, such as having nuclear capabilities.

In other words, not much will change if Trump decides not to recertify the deal. What matters is whether Trump has a plan for how to thwart Iran’s malicious intentions or whether he has resolved to prioritize thwarting Iran’s malicious intentions.

When the U.S. decided to accept the deal, it was trying to ensure Iran didn’t turn nuclear on Obama’s watch. The administration was kicking the hot Iran potato to some future president’s court. Declining to recertify the deal, without having the aforementioned resolve and plan, isn’t much different. Trump, by not certifying the deal or by asking Congress to toughen the law overseeing Iran’s compliance with the deal (as Bloomberg reported), will be tossing the hot Iran potato to Congress — a body ill-equipped to make foreign policy. He will make sure that if Iran keeps moving toward achieving its objectives, he will not be the one to take the blame.

Of course, there is a symbolic significance to the way Trump handles the matter. And the fact remains that refusing to recertify the deal could be the ignition of a process aimed at curbing Iran’s belligerent behavior. But as Israel’s Deputy Minister for Diplomacy Michael Oren explained in his op-ed in The New York Times, “if canceled, the deal must be replaced by crippling sanctions that force Iran to dismantle its nuclear weapons capacity.” Canceling — without replacing the deal with something better — will not serve any goal.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/Rosnersdomain.

Iran attempted to buy illegal nuclear technology several times last year

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 9, 2015. Photo by Alexey Kudenko/Getty Images

Iran reportedly attempted to purchase illegal technology for its missile and nuclear programs numerous times in 2016, according to German intelligence.

The Jerusalem Post reports that German intelligence found that Iran tried 32 times to procure such technology in the German North Rhine-Westphalia state, most of which involved their missile program. Iran uses various “front companies in Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and China” to get around restrictions, according the Post.

According to German intelligence, Iran’s missile program has developed to the point where it will “be able to threaten not only Europe.”

Prior German intelligence reports found that Iran hasn’t completely changed their nuclear activity since the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal and that they are seeking “products and scientific knowhow for the field of developing weapons of mass destruction as well missile technology,” according to the Post.

The latest findings on Iran come at a time when President Trump will soon decide if the United States will re-certify the Iran deal. Should Trump go that route, Congress would have 60 days to decide if they will re-impose sanctions on Iran.

America’s European allies are urging Trump to remain in the nuclear deal, arguing that the deal is a necessary enforcement mechanism against Iran’s nuclear program. German diplomats argued to the Post that Iran’s efforts to ramp up its missile program are outside of the scope of the Iran deal and should be handled outside of the deal.

Critics of the Iran deal argue that Iran is in violation of the deal and that it paves the way for Iran to develop a nuclear arsenal. Trump has previously called the deal “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.”

Bumping Into Voices

Because this is my first issue as editor-in-chief, I’d like to give you a mini tour of what you’re about to see. One of the joys of being a journalist is that we’re always bumping into interesting voices, and this Sukkot issue reflects many of the voices and stories I bump into in the course of hanging out in our community.

The voice in this week’s cover story is that of my friend Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, who shares his personal take on the unusual holiday of Sukkot. Daniel and I share a love for coffee and books. We’re both Sephardic Jews attached to our Sephardic customs but also fascinated by the diversity of the Jewish tradition. His story gives you an inkling of this diversity. And right after his Sukkot story, you’ll get a sneak peek at the magical sukkah of local philanthropists Dina and Fred Leeds, who take the mitzvah of welcoming guests quite seriously.

In anticipation of my new role, I’ve been on the lookout for fresh new voices. Last year, I hosted New York author Karen Lehrman Bloch at my house for Shabbat. Karen, whose writing has appeared in The New York Times and The New Republic, has the voice of the classic liberal who understands the value of meeting in the center, or, as she puts it in her debut column, in the “radical middle.”

Over a shakshuka breakfast at Pico Café, I asked my friend Salvador Litvak, the filmmaker who has built a large following as the “Accidental Talmudist,” if he’d want to contribute something “talmudic” for this issue. His piece, “War at the Book Club,” does just that — examining how we can disagree without animosity.

Kay Wilson is a writer, cartoonist and musician who lives in Jerusalem. We were introduced recently by a mutual friend. Several years ago, Kay survived a horrific stabbing attack at the hands of Palestinian terrorists. I asked Kay if she felt comfortable enough to share thoughts that have come out of that horror. Her piece, “As I Lay Dying,” speaks to life’s deepest lessons.

I came across Alicia Jo Rabins on Facebook and was intrigued by her lyrical prose. Alicia is a writer, musician and Torah teacher based in Portland, Ore. Her piece, “The Sukkah as Spiritual Medicine,” is a poetic meditation connecting the sukkah to the human body.

My friend Aomar Boum is a Muslim associate professor at UCLA who’s a regular guest at our Shabbat table. He’s an expert on the Jews of Morocco, where I was born. My mother’s cuisine reminds him of his mother’s cuisine. I asked Aomar if he’d write something explaining his fascination for studying Jews. “I’m an academic writer,” he replied. “Will that work for your readers?” I told him to write from the heart, and he did.

I met the head of Chabad of Puerto Rico, Rabbi Mendel Zarchi, about 15 years ago on my way to a Caribbean cruise with my family. Two weeks ago, as Hurricane Maria tore into the island, I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I tried reaching him several times. When I finally did (thank you, WhatsApp), we spoke about the disaster, but also about a little miracle: How Zarchi and his wife found a way to hold Rosh Hashanah services and serve holiday meals after hundreds of gallons of water had flooded their shul. Reporter Kelly Hartog has the story.

Another voice I bumped into on Facebook is that of Israeli-born Yamit Behar Wood, the executive chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda. Yamit writes about food, but also about the cultures that surround food. Her first story is about her late Aunt Dora, her culinary mentor.

Right after Yom Kippur, we got the sad news of the passing of television personality Monty Hall. Monty was a friend of the Journal and of charitable organizations everywhere, as well as a storyteller extraordinaire. We pay tribute to this local hero in this issue.

On the day we went to press — as we were putting the finishing touches to the paper — we got news of the tragic massacre in Las Vegas. In addition to our last-minute coverage, we have a poem reflecting on the tragedy by Hannah Arin, a millennial writer who will be a regular contributor.

One of the looming political issues today is whether President Donald Trump will decertify the Iran nuclear deal as the Oct. 15 deadline approaches. Larry Greenfield, who served as executive director of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, and Dalia Dassa Kaye, a senior political scientist at the nonpartisan Rand Corp., debate the merits of both sides.

Steven Spielberg opens his own heart in “Spielberg,” the first feature-length documentary of his life, premiering Oct. 7. Our contributing writer Gerri Miller shares a few interesting anecdotes from the film, including the fact that Spielberg’s parents’ divorce influenced “E.T.” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

We also have book reviews about two great Jews this week. The Journal’s book editor,  Jonathan Kirsch, writes that “the late Shimon Peres calls to us from the grave” in his posthumously published memoir, “No Room for Small Dreams: Courage, Imagination, and the Making of Modern Israel.” Monica Osborne weighs in on William Kolbrener’s “The Last Rabbi: Joseph Soloveitchik and Talmudic Tradition,” a complex take on a complex man.

From Israel, our senior political editor, Shmuel Rosner, shares his latest insights on what’s going on in Israel as part of his expanded “Rosner’s Domain” page. We’re also adding a column titled “Humans of Israel,” where American expat writer Debra Kamin will profile Israelis of all stripes. Her first piece is on winemaker-philosopher Yonatan Koren, who runs an organic winery in western Galilee.

Closer to home, contributing writer Rebbecca Spence writes about three Jewish women who are leading the way in the legal cannabis trade, while Roberto Loiderman writes about a new recording of “Tales From the Forgotten Kingdom,” a musical-theatrical show that celebrates Ladino culture.

Reporting on the holiest day of the year, Senior Writer Eitan Arom covers an emotional episode at Temple Israel of Hollywood that resulted from its senior rabbi’s discussion of politics at Kol Nidre.

On a lighter note, we’re adding little “spice boxes” throughout the paper with things such as humor and big questions to ponder for dinner conversation.

As I begin my new journey, one of my aims will be to look for voices that try to open minds rather than change them. I want to provoke thought, not anger; curiosity, not cynicism; fascination, not smugness.

I want to touch every member of our incredibly diverse community. I won’t always succeed. Some voices you will like more than others. Some voices will return, others won’t. It’s a journey we will take together.

What I can tell you is that everything I do will come from the deep love I have for this community — and for all the interesting voices and stories I keep bumping into that I can’t wait to share with you.

Chag sameach.


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

European ambassadors in D.C. defend Iran deal

From left: European Union Ambassador to the U.S. David O’Sullivan, French Ambassador Gerard Araud, British Ambassador Kim Darrouch and German Ambassador Peter Wittig at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 25. Photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Ambassadors to Washington for America’s four European partners in the Iran nuclear deal said they opposed reopening the pact to negotiation, but would consider increasing pressure on Iran outside its framework.

“Iran is fully living up to its commitments,” David O’Sullivan, the European Union ambassador, said Monday at a forum convened by the Atlantic Council, a liberal foreign policy think tank. “This agreement is delivering on a very, very important objective, which is to make sure Iran does not develop nuclear weapons. I can think of no issue we have with Iran that would not be more difficult without the agreement.”

Joining in to agree at the sessions were the French, British and German ambassadors. The three countries and the EU, together with the United States, Russia, China and Iran, are signatories to the deal.

President Donald Trump has called the 2015 deal, which trades sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program, among the worst ever negotiated. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also opposes the agreement.

“Iran just test-fired a Ballistic Missile capable of reaching Israel,” Trump said on Twitter on Sept. 23. “They are also working with North Korea. Not much of an agreement we have!” (Trump apparently was referring to a broadcast on Iranian TV over the weekend of footage of a failed missile launch eight months ago, Haaretzreported.)

Trump has said he will decide next month what to do about the deal. Among his options: He could pull out of the deal altogether; he could continue to abide by it; or he could declare to Congress that Iran is not compliant, which would leave any decision on pulling out to Congress.

Absent a full scrapping of the deal, Trump and Netanyahu have said it should be renegotiated, with a focus on extending the “sunset clauses” that end some of the nuclear development restrictions in about a decade.

The envoys at the Atlantic Council event appeared frustrated at times at having been subject to intense lobbying to amend the deal by the Trump administration, some Republicans in Congress and anti-agreement think tanks.

“Neither the Iranians nor the Russians nor the Chinese” would agree to reopen the negotiations, said Gerard Araud, the French ambassador. “It’s a dead end.”

“This was a deal with difficult partners,” agreed Peter Wittig of Germany. “Most prominently Iran, but also China and Russia.”

The British ambassador, Kim Darroch, said Trump’s complaints have had a salutary effect in focusing world attention on bad Iranian behavior outside the deal’s constraints, including the ballistic missile testing as well as military adventurism and backing for terrorism.

“What the administration has said since it came in has changed the climate on Iran,” he said. “It’s succeeding, but let’s keep the JCPOA,” Darroch added, using the acronym for the deal’s formal name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Netanyahu prefers scrapping Iran deal over fixing it

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations on Sept. 19. Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Iran nuclear deal must be amended or canceled, but suggested that scrapping the deal may be preferable.

“Israel’s policy regarding the nuclear deal with Iran is very simple — change it or cancel it, fix it or nix it,” Netanyahu said Tuesday, addressing the launch of this year’s United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Netanyahu appeared to favor the cancel option, saying he “couldn’t agree more” with Donald Trump when the U.S. president said earlier from the same podium that the deal is an “embarrassment to the United States.”

The Israeli leader said canceling the deal would simply mean a return to massive sanctions as a means of pressure on Iran. The 2015 deal, negotiated by the Obama administration, traded sanctions relief for a rollback to Iran’s nuclear option.

Defenders of the deal say it would be near impossible to re-establish the international sanctions regime that brought Iran to the negotiating table.

Fixing the deal, Netanyahu said, would mean broadly expanding the number of sites available for impromptu visits by international nuclear inspectors, immediate penalties for any violations of the deal and ending the “sunset” clause — the restrictions on Iran that begin to lapse within the next decade.

Netanyahu said Iran’s rulers should be wary of their constant threats against Israel.

“Those who threaten us with annihilation put themselves in peril,” he said.

Netanyahu also said that Israel would not allow a permanent Iranian presence in Syria, where Iran is aligned with the Assad regime in suppressing a civil war that has raged for more than six years.

Israeli defense officials reportedly oppose changing Iran deal

Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant on Aug. 21, 2010. Photo from Iran International Photo Agency via Getty Images

Israel’s intelligence community opposes the drastic changes sought by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, according to a report.

Several sources, who were not named, told the Haaretz daily that the defense establishment in Israel does not agree with the demand articulated by Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman that President Donald Trump scrap or revise the deal, the daily reported Friday.

On Thursday, Trump waived nuclear sanctions on Iran in compliance with the deal, but warned that he could take dramatic action on the deal as early as next month. Thursday was the deadline for Trump to waive sanctions targeting Iran’s nuclear sector, according to the pact negotiated by six world powers, led by the United States, and Iran.

The agreement offers Iran sanctions relief for rolling back some elements of its nuclear program until 2025.

Trump told reporters on Air Force One that the deal was “one of the worst” and he planned on addressing it soon.

“The spirit of the deal is just atrociously kept, but the Iran deal is not a fair deal to this country,” he said. “It’s a deal that should have never, ever been made. And you’ll see what we’re doing in a couple of weeks. It’s going to be in October.”

On Tuesday, Netanyahu denied claims made to Reuters by a U.S. official who said Israel wishes to avoid changes to the deal, which Netanyahu condemned as “paving Iran’s path nuclear weapons.” The issue was a major point of contention between Netanyahu and former President Barack Obama, who led efforts to seal the deal.

Israel maintains that the United States should either “revise or scrap the deal,” Netanyahu said.

But senior officials told Haaretz that Israel’s intelligence community has identified no Iranian violations of the deal. Several officials said they feared an Iranian nuclear breakout — meaning a concentrated effort to obtain offensive capabilities – if the deal is scrapped.

“As in the United States, there is a disagreement on this issue in Israel,” one senior defense official told Haaretz. “Netanyahu and Liberman may share the same position on the deal, but the defense establishment does not share this view, necessarily.”

Trump waives Iran sanctions, but warns of changes to deal next month

President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 5. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

President Donald Trump waived nuclear sanctions on Iran in compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal he reviles, but warned that he could take dramatic action on the deal as early as next month.

Thursday was the deadline for Trump to waive sanctions targeting Iran’s nuclear sector, according to the deal, which includes a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program.

Returning from Florida, where he had visited sites hit by Hurricane Irma, Trump told reporters on Air Force One that the deal was “one of the worst” and he planned on addressing it soon.

“You’ll see what I’m going to be doing very shortly in October,” he said. “But I will say this: The Iran deal is one of the worst deals I’ve ever seen. Certainly, at a minimum, the spirit of the deal is just atrociously kept, but the Iran deal is not a fair deal to this country. It’s a deal that should have never, ever been made. And you’ll see what we’re doing in a couple of weeks. It’s going to be in October.”

According to U.S. law, Oct. 15 is the next deadline for Trump to certify that Iran is abiding by the deal. Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency have certified that Iran is in compliance, but Trump says Iran is violating the “spirit” of the deal through its missile testing and military adventurism in the region.

Obama administration officials who negotiated the deal say it was never meant to address anything but the nuclear component. Removing Iran’s potential nuclear threat, they argue, freed the United States to pressure Iran in other areas.

“You’ll see. You’re going to see,” Trump said on the plane. “But we are not going to stand for what they’re doing to this country. They have violated so many different elements, but they’ve also violated the spirit of that deal. And you will see what we’ll be doing in October. It will be very evident.”

It’s not clear what Trump is contemplating, but a number of scenarios have circulated. One is that he will not certify Iranian compliance, which would put the burden on Congress to reimpose sanctions on Iran. Another is that he works with Europe to increase pressure on Iran in other areas. Some Trump advisers have cautioned that the United States should not be seen as sabotaging the deal lest it alienate its partners in the deal — including Russia, China and Western Europe.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who will meet Trump next week at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, says he wants the deal amended to remove “sunset clauses” that allow Iran to remove some restrictions on its nuclear activities within the next decade or so.

“In eight to 10 years, according to the agreement, Iran will be able to enrich uranium on an industrial scale,” Netanyahu told CNN en Español during his South America tour this week. “That means that they can make not one bomb, but an arsenal of bombs. This agreement should be changed. It should be changed so that the removal of restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program should be not a matter of the change of the calendar, but a change in Iran’s aggressive behavior.”

Separately on Thursday, the Trump administration imposed new sanctions on nine individuals and eight entities it said were violating terrorism and cybersecurity-related sanctions against Iran. Also, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would ban the sale of replacement airplane parts to Iran. The Obama administration had removed such bans as part of the overall deal package.

UN Ambassador Nikki Haley lays out case for US leaving Iran deal

Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley testifies to the House Appropriations State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee on the budget for the U.N. in Washington, D.C., on June 27. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, in a comprehensive speech laid out a possible case for the United States to leave the Iran deal, although she said no decision had been made.

Haley’s argument, made Monday in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, was that the agreement was inextricably bound to other manifestations of Iran’s bad behavior, including its development of missiles, military adventurism and backing for terrorism.

“The deal drew an artificial line between the Iranian regime’s nuclear development and the rest of its lawless behavior,” she said of the 2015 pact, which trades sanctions relief for Iran for a rollback in its nuclear program.

The Obama administration, which negotiated the deal, said that by ending at least for now the threat of a nuclear Iran, the international community could more easily confront Iran for its rogue actions. The deal did not impinge on sanctions on Iran unrelated to its nuclear activities, and President Donald Trump has continued to oppose them like his Oval Office predecessor, Barack Obama.

Haley outlined possible scenarios for leaving the deal, including one that involves essentially deferring a decision to Congress, which under U.S. law oversees Iranian compliance with the deal.

Under U.S. law, she said, “We must consider not just the Iranian regime’s technical violations of the JCPOA,” referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan for Action, the deal’s formal name, but also its violation of U.N. resolutions and Iran’s history of aggression.

“We must consider the regime’s repeated, demonstrated hostility toward the United States,” Haley said. “We must consider its history of deception about its nuclear program. We must consider its ongoing development of ballistic missile technology. And we must consider the day when the terms of the JCPOA sunset. That’s a day when Iran’s military may very well already have the missile technology to send a nuclear warhead to the United States – a technology that North Korea only recently developed. In short, we must consider the whole picture, not simply whether Iran has exceeded the JCPOA’s limit on uranium enrichment.”

A frustration for Trump, who wants to kill the deal, is that U.N. inspectors continue to confirm that Iran is abiding by the deal. Trump’s top security advisers have counseled against quitting the deal, saying that would play into Iran’s efforts to make the United States responsible for any escalation in tensions.

If Trump refuses in October — the next deadline — to certify compliance, she said, “What happens next is significantly in Congress’s hands.”

Trump’s decertification “would signal one or more of the following three messages to Congress,” Haley said. “Either the administration believes Iran is in violation of the deal; or the lifting of sanctions against Iran is not appropriate and proportional to the regime’s behavior; or the lifting of sanctions is not in the U.S. national security interest.”

In those circumstances, she said, “Congress then has 60 days to consider whether to reimpose sanctions on Iran.”

Former Obama administration Iran hands mocked the speech, saying that however Trump frames abandonment of the deal, the U.S. will be blamed.

“No matter how convoluted this gets, the bottom line will be that the U.S. will be blamed for collapse,” Ilan Goldenberg, who worked on Iran and Israel policy for Obama, said on Twitter. “The reality is that if this is the tack Trump takes, he will be killing the deal, but trying to blame others.”

Rob Eshman, longtime Jewish Journal editor-in-chief and publisher, to leave post for writing projects

Rob Eshman

Rob Eshman, longtime editor-in-chief and publisher of the Jewish Journal, has announced he will be leaving his position on September 26.

Eshman, who has written and sold two movie projects while at the Journal, said that after 23 years at the paper, he wants to switch the focus of his career to full-time writing. He will be working on a food book—Eshman writes the blog “Foodaism”—and another movie project.

“I couldn’t be prouder of what the Journal has become,” Eshman said. “And I am honored and grateful to have been a part of it. I will always love this paper, its staff and this community.”

Peter Lowy, chairman of TRIBE Media, which produces the Jewish Journal, said that current President David Suissa will be stepping into Eshman’s role.

“Rob has been integral to the Journal and the Jewish community,” Lowy said. “He brought curiosity, intellect, and a sense of humor to his work.  Most of all he cares passionately about journalism and Judaism—and he showed that every week.”

Lowy said Eshman approached him in late July to begin discussing the move, and together with Suissa they worked toward a smooth transition.

“What makes the Journal great is a great staff, its board, and the community we serve,” Eshman said. “Those will remain the constants of the Jewish Journal.”

The Journal combines news of the 600,000-person LA Jewish community –the third largest in the world after New York and Tel Aviv–with commentary, features and national and international news.  It publishes 50,000 print copies each week in Los Angeles, and updates jewishjournal.com, one of the world’s most widely-read Jewish news sites, throughout the day.

In 1994, Eshman arrived at the Journal after working as a freelance journalist in San Francisco and Jerusalem. The paper’s founding editor, Gene Lichtenstein, hired him as a reporter. At the time the Journal was a print-only publication. The Journal was independently incorporated but distributed via the Federation membership list.

Eshman became Managing Editor in 1997. In 2000, then-Chairman Stanley Hirsch named him Editor-in-Chief.

As editor, Eshman expanded the reach of jewishjournal.com from 4000 unique visitors to upwards of 4 million today. He brought on a greater mix of political and religious voices. He also overhauled the print circulation model, completely dropping Federation distribution and making the Journal a free weekly, distributed throughout the city. Then-chairman Irwin Field was instrumental in seeing these changes through, Eshman said.

“I wanted to reach every Jew,” Eshman said, “especially those who weren’t connected to the organized community. I realized a good Jewish paper was the easiest way into Jewish connection, and I wanted to make it even easier.” 

In 2009, the Journal, like most newspapers in the country, fell into dire financial straits. Eshman turned to Lowy, CEO of Westfield Corp. to rescue the company and help steer it through the double blow that the Internet and the recession dealt the industry. With a handful of other philanthropists, Lowy formed a new board and came on as Chairman. A year later, Eshman tapped Suissa, formerly the founder of Suissa/Miller Advertising and editor and publisher of OLAM Magazine, to run the Journal’s business side. At that time, Eshman was named Publisher as well.

In the process, Eshman chose a new name for the company –TRIBE—to reflect the its growing multi-media nature and broader mission. These moves ensured the paper’s survival, and eventual growth.

“David Suissa brought his passion and creative genius to the paper, and has been an invaluable partner,” Eshman said.

While Eshman leans left and Suissa right, the two wrote often-opposing columns and the Journal came even more to reflect—and combine—strongly divergent voices that would otherwise stay secluded in separate media bubbles.

During the 2016 Iran nuclear deal, which Eshman supported and Suissa opposed, their ability to spar publicly while maintaining a close friendship and partnership drew media attention.

L.A. Jewish Journal’s heads spar over Iran deal, but stay friendly,” read a headline in the Times of Israel.

Under Eshman, the Journal has won numerous press and community awards. It has expanded across other media platforms, including video. Its livecast of the Nashuva congregation’s Kol Nidre service draws 75,000 viewers each year, making it the world’s most-watched High Holiday service.

Asked to name highlights of his tenure, Eshman pointed to two. In 2015, Islamic terrorists in Paris massacred the staff at Charlie Hebdo magazine for printing cartoons they found offensive. The Journal renamed the Jan. 16 masthead of the paper, “Jewish Hebdo,” and ran the offending cartoons inside.

A year later, Eshman oversaw the first poll of American Jewish opinion during the Iran nuclear deal. It found most American Jews supported a deal that the vast majority of Jewish organizations, as well as Israel’s Prime Minister, opposed. The results reverberated internationally, and the White House acknowledged the Jewish Journal as “One of the most widely read Jewish publications online.”  

“To go from a small locally-circulated newspaper to a media company that reaches millions around the world, and has an impact on the great debates of our time while still serving its core readers with the kind of independent journalism that serves and builds community–that’s very gratifying,” said Eshman. “But it wasn’t at all just me. It was us.”

Eshman credits his past managing editors Amy Klein and Howard Blume, former executive editor Susan Freudenheim, and current managing editor Ryan Smith—as well as a slew of talented writers—as instrumental to the Journal’s editorial accomplishments.

Eshman, 57, is a native of Encino, CA and a graduate of Dartmouth College. He is married to Rabbi Naomi Levy, an author and founder of Nashuva. They have two children, Adi and Noa.

During his tenure at the Journal, Eshman, a member of the Writers Guild of America, wrote and sold a feature film screenplay and a multi-part television project. He also created the food blog, “Foodaism,” named one of L.A.’s best food blogs, and created and taught “Food, Media and Culture” at USC Annenberg School of Communication, where he will continue to teach. He has served on several non-profit boards, including, at present, The Miracle Project.

“We wish Rob well and look forward to an exciting future with David building off the base that Rob and his team has built,” said Lowy.

Eshman pointed out that there has been at least one Jewish newspaper in Los Angeles since the first one was founded in 1870. 

“I was so honored to serve this community and be part of that history,” he said. “And it goes on.”

 

 

Iran could make weapons-grade uranium within five days, its nuclear chief claims

Head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi attends the lecture "Iran after the agreement: Hopes & Concerns" in Vienna, Austria, on Sept. 28, 2016. Photo by Leonhard Foeger

Iran can begin enriching weapons-grade uranium within five days if the nuclear deal with the world powers is canceled, its atomic chief said.

“If we want, we can start the 20 percent enrichment in Fordo in maximum five days and this has a lot of meaning,” Ali Akbar Salehi, who heads the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said Tuesday on national television, the semiofficial Fars News Agency reported on its English-language website. “This measure has different messages technically and professionally, and the other side understands its message.”

Fordo is a uranium enrichment facility located 20 miles northeast of the Iranian city of Qom.

Salehi said that keeping Fordo’s facilities intact is one of the strengths of the nuclear deal.

“This is why they didn’t want Fordo to exist and were saying that it should be closed,” he said, according to the Iran Student News Agency, or ISNA.

He also said that Iran remains committed to the deal.

The Iran nuclear deal signed in 2015, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, trades sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program. President Donald Trump has threatened to renegotiate or cancel the agreement negotiated by six world powers, led by the United States, and Iran.

Trump has said that Iran is violating the “spirit” of the agreement by engaging in activities, including testing missiles and military adventurism in the region, that are not covered.

Last month, the president recertified Iran’s adherence to the deal brokered by President Barack Obama, but reluctantly at the behest of his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster; his defense secretary, James Mattis; and his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. They argued that decertification would alienate U.S. allies because Iran is indeed complying with the deal’s strictures.

However, within days of giving the go-ahead to recertify, Trump reportedly tasked a separate team, led by his then-top strategic adviser, Stephen Bannon, to come up with a reason to decertify Iran the next time the 90-day assessment rolls around, in October. Bannon has since left the White House.

Former top national security officials urge Trump to stick to Iran nuclear deal

US President Donald Trump (L) and White House senior advisor Jared Kushner take part in a bilateral meeting with Italy's Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni (not seen) in Villa Taverna, the US ambassador's residence, in Rome on May 24, 2017. Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

A bipartisan group of former top national security officials urged President Donald Trump to stick to the Iran nuclear deal, saying that war with Iran is “more imaginable” today than it has been in five years.

The statement, published Tuesday on the website of the The National Interest magazine, was responding to reports that Trump may refuse to certify Iran’s compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the agreement which trades sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program. The next assessment period is in October. The statement is signed by nearly 50 former senior U.S. government officials and prominent national security leaders.

“The international agreement with Iran continues to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” the statement says. “No American national security objective would be served by withdrawing from it as long as Iran is meeting the agreement’s requirements.

“To the contrary,” the letter continues, “given continuing assurance by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran is in compliance with the agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), such a unilateral act would have grave long term political and security consequences for the United States.”

The signers recommend a “comprehensive policy toward Iran that furthers U.S. national security interests.” Such a policy would include American leadership in the JCPOA, a follow-up agreement that would extend terms of the deal farther into the future, and an additional consultative body on major disputes.

The letter also suggests establishing a regular senior-level channel of communication between the U.S. and Iran, and  regular consultations among U.S. allies and partners in the region to share information and coordinate strategies.

The signers warn that a U.S. rejection of the JCPOA could push Iran to return to its pre-agreement nuclear enrichment program under far weaker international monitoring.

Trump last month re-certified Iran’s adherence to the 2015 deal brokered by President Barack Obama. But he did so reluctantly, at the urging of National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. They argued that decertification would alienate U.S. allies because Iran is indeed complying with the deal’s strictures.

However, within days of giving the go-ahead to re-certify, Trump reportedly tasked a separate team, led by his top strategist, Stephen Bannon, to come up with a reason to decertify Iran at the next 90-day assessment in October.

The signers include: Morton Abramowitz, former assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research; Robert Einhorn, former assistant secretary for nonproliferation and secretary of state’s special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control; Morton Halperin, former director of policy planning at the State Department;  Daniel Kurtzer, former ambassador to both Israel and Egypt; Carl Levin, former U.S. senator and chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services; and Barnett Rubin, former senior adviser to the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Trump is thinking of breaking the Iran deal. Here’s how he could do it.

President Donald Trump on July 24. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Campaigning last year for the presidency, Donald Trump said the Iran nuclear agreement was the “worst deal” he had ever seen.

It was never exactly clear, however, what he intended to do about it: Appearing at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s policy conference in March 2016, Trump said in the same speech that he planned to “dismantle” and “enforce” it.

As president, Trump appears to be edging toward dismantling. His administration recertified Iran’s adherence to the deal in mid-July, but it reportedly took the better part of a day for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster to convince Trump to go along. Trump said afterward that he likely would not recertify by the next deadline, in mid-October.

And within days of recertification, Foreign Policy reported that Trump had set up a special White House team to provide him with a path out of the deal, seemingly sidelining Tillerson, a champion of recertification. Among those on the team: Trump’s top strategic adviser, Steve Bannon, and one of his deputies, Sebastian Gorka, both known for seeking to diminish America’s commitments to international alliances.

Every path out has its perils. The signatories to the 2015 deal, which trades sanctions relief for Iran’s rollback of its nuclear program, are Iran on one side and the United States, France, Britain, German, China and Russia on the other. Key to the success of any American pullout is to what degree its four partners — and other major trading partners with Iran, like South Korea and India — join in.

Should the United States walk away from the deal, the dilemma for those countries is what costs more: alienating the United States by keeping up trade with Iran, or angering domestic economic interests by going along with tough U.S. sanctions on the oil-rich country. The less persuasive the Trump administration case is for pulling out, the likelier it is that other nations would not cooperate and would continue to do business with Iran — setting the stage for increased U.S. isolation on the world stage.

“Europeans may look to contingency and fallback options if the United States unreasonably undermines the deal,” said Ellie Geranmayeh, a senior policy fellow for the Middle East and North Africa Program at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

In a conference call organized by J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group that backed the deal, Geranmayeh said European officials were planning to stage an all-out effort to keep the Trump administration from bolting.

“The challenge in the next three months is keeping the United States and the Trump character personally with keeping the deal,” she said. “In the next 90 days you’ll see a lot of activity on the Hill, in the State Department” by European diplomats.

Mark Dubowitz, who directs the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a group that opposed the deal, said the Europeans would likely stick with the alliance, especially if the Trump administration’s aim was not to quit the deal but to reconfigure it.

“I don’t think Europeans are going to risk a transatlantic war with the administration, particularly if the administration is not looking to abrogate the deal but to improve it by addressing some of the flaws of the existing JCPOA,” he said, referring to the formal name of the pact, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Here is a look at the possible paths out of the Iran deal for the U.S. and what the likely consequences would be.

Just walk away

U.S. assessments of Iranian adherence to the deal are governed by a law passed in 2015 with bipartisan backing, the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. Under the act’s broad language, there may be room for the president to stop waiving sanctions on Iran simply because he sees the deal as inadequate. Parts of the law require Iran’s adherence with the JCPOA, but others are more fungible and depend on what the president determines are U.S. national security interests.

Under those circumstances, Trump has three options:

* Go to the joint commission governing the JCPOA and seek to have Iran declared not in compliance. The committee has eight members — the United States, Iran, Russia, Britain, France, China, Germany and the European Union, and decisions need a 5-3 vote. Obama pitched this arrangement as a guaranteed escape hatch because five partners at the time agreed on red lines: the United States, the three European countries and the EU.

Trump’s policy of distancing the United States from some aspects of the European alliance — the withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, for instance — means that comity is no longer guaranteed. He would need a substantive argument that Iran is not complying — not just that he thinks the deal is  bad one.

* Exercise the U.S. option to trigger the “snapback” of international sanctions. Under this complex mechanism, the U.S. veto on the United Nations Security Council would prevent other parties from reversing the snapback and the whole deal would effectively be dead.

Busting the deal just on Trump’s say-so could exacerbate tensions with U.S. allies, experts said, and drive the other partners to establish a separate arrangement with Iran.

“It will be difficult for the Europeans to defy Trump because of the close security and economic relations the Europeans have with the United States,” Geranmayeh said. “At the same time, I don’t think we should underestimate the European capacity to do so.”

* Stop waiving sanctions, but don’t blow up the deal. This would have the advantage of satisfying Trump’s call to exit the deal while avoiding, for now, a direct confrontation with U.S. allies, who would continue to do business with Iran under the terms of the deal. What’s uncertain is whether the United States would enforce secondary sanctions — that is, punishing companies and individuals in allied countries that do business with sanctioned Iranian entities.

Walk away, but explain why

There are signs that Trump is ready to make the case to the international community that Iran is not in compliance as a predicate to pulling out. Here are some strategies:

* Iran is not complying with the “spirit” of the deal. A day after Tillerson first recertified the deal in April, Trump said at a news conference, “They are not living up to the spirit of the agreement, I can tell you that.”

The reference was to Iran’s continued testing of ballistic missiles, its human rights abuses, its military interventionism in the region and its backing for terrorism worldwide.

The notion that Iran must abide by the deal’s “spirit” has been perpetuated for the most part by those who opposed the deal in the first place. The Obama administration, which brokered the deal, and its European partners do not see it this way: The deal, they say, was designed to remove the threat of a nuclear Iran as a means of more effectively confronting Iran in other arenas.

“Show me in black and white where there’s a definition of the ‘spirit of the deal,’” Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, a group that promoted the deal, said in an interview. “The Obama administration was crystal clear that this is a nuclear deal, this is not a deal that affects Iranian behavior in other areas.”

Another tack is to insist on more intrusive inspections of some Iranian military sites, which require Iranian consent under the deal. Getting backing among U.S. allies for this gambit would require persuasive evidence that Iran is violating the deal at these sites; that’s not necessarily a given.

* Iran is not in compliance with the letter of the deal.

This strategy was behind a letter last month by four Republican senators — Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Marco Rubio of Florida, Ted Cruz of Texas and David Perdue of Georgia — urging Tillerson to declare Iran not in compliance with provisions of the deal. The letter noted reports that Iran had exceeded the limits of heavy water — needed to enrich uranium — allowed under the deal, and was operating more enrichment centrifuges than permitted.

The excesses have been noted by the U.N. inspection agency charged with overseeing the deal, the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, but have also been deemed not significant enough to declare Iran in violation — a posture the Obama administration embraced.

Conservatives say this is typical of Iranian regime behavior, pushing the envelope as far as it can, and is dangerous.

“What would be highly imprudent is to continue the Obama-era practice of offering sheepish and fainthearted certifications as a matter of course, hoping no one takes notice,” the senators’ letter said.

One possible danger in pressing forward with such an approach: The international community, which places greater stock than the Trump administration does in international organizations, would see it as nitpicking and would side with the IAEA.

* Provoke Iran into leaving the deal.

Experts touted this strategy following Trump’s election but before he assumed office. It would involve abiding by the agreement, but increasing pressure through non-deal related sanctions, targeting Iran’s government for its missile testing and adventurism, and possibly increasing U.S. military presence in the region. According to this theory, the resulting pressure by Iranian hardliners on the government of President Hassan Rouhani, which favors the deal, would lead Iran to pull out.

The problem with this idea, said Ilan Goldenberg, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and an Obama administration Middle East policy veteran, is that Trump has made it so clear he wants out of the deal that it would seem by now to be disingenuous — American allies would smell a set-up.

“Nobody believes he’s acting in good faith,” Goldenberg said.

Don’t leave the deal — but make the case it must be reconfigured

The Trump administration and Congress appear to be embracing this path for now, if only by default. Congress passed new sanctions last week targeting Iran’s non-nuclear activities, and Trump keeps tacking on sanctions by executive order.

The strategy, as described by Dubowitz of the anti-deal Foundation for Defense of Democracies, would be to make the case that Iran is effectively violating the agreement.

“You make it clear that they’ve been violating incrementally, but not egregiously — but you also make it clear the sum total ends up being egregious,” he said. “Then you waive the existing statutory sanctions but you impose very tough, economically painful non-nuclear sanctions that target Iran’s malign behavior.”

That gives the United States and partners leverage to bring Iran back to the table and address the deal’s flaws, including sunset provisions that end some of the international oversight in 15 years.

Senate passes bill to impose new sanctions on Iran

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran, Iran, on April 25. Photo by Leader.ir/Handout via Reuters

The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill that would impose new sanctions on Iran.

The measure adding sanctions on Iran due to its ballistic missile program, support for terrorism and human rights breaches passed Thursday in a 98-2 vote. It complies with the Iran nuclear agreement reached in 2015, which put restrictions on the country’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., introduced the bill, which now must pass in the House of Representatives and be signed by President Donald Trump before being enacted. Only Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., voted against it.

A day earlier, the Senate voted to adopt an amendment to the bill that would expand sanctions against Russia, CBS News reported.

The American Jewish Committee praised the bill’s passage.

“In the aftermath of the Iran nuclear deal, AJC has continued to raise concerns about Iran’s threatening behavior with our own and other governments,” Jason Isaacson, the group’s associate executive director for policy, said in a statement.

“Iran’s ballistic missile program, the regime’s support for international terrorism, and its blatant and egregious human rights violations should not be ignored. This bill demonstrates to the Iranian regime that they will not be tolerated.”

Christians United for Israel also lauded the measure, calling it a “good first step.”

“While the Iran nuclear agreement was sold to the American people with the promise that Tehran would moderate its behavior, the Islamic Republic continues to work to consolidate power and export bloodshed,” CUFI said in a statement. “Iran’s support for terror, ballistic missile program and human rights record demand U.S. action.”

Trump waives nuclear sanctions, keeping deal with Iran in place

President Donald Trump at the White House on May 16. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

President Donald Trump waived nuclear sanctions on Iran, keeping in place the Iran nuclear deal he has derided, but added new sanctions relating to Iran’s testing of ballistic missiles.

The waiver Wednesday of sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program has been expected since last month, when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared Iran to be in compliance with the 2015 agreement that relieves sanctions in exchange for rollbacks in Iran’s nuclear program.

Tillerson at that time said the Trump administration would nonetheless review the terms of the deal because of Iran’s violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions related to ballistic missile testing, as well as its backing of terrorism and taking sides in regional unrest. Iran backs the Assad regime in its bid to suppress the civil war in Syria, among other involvements in the region.

Missile testing and Iran’s involvement in terrorism and regional violence were not covered by the nuclear deal, and the Obama administration kept in place sanctions targeting Iran for those activities.

Trump during his campaign had derided the nuclear deal as the worst he had ever seen and said he would reconsider it, but unlike other Republican primary candidates, he did not say he would scrap it.

Under Obama, the United States joined five other major powers in forging the pact. Pulling out in the absence of clear Iranian violations would likely upset U.S. allies and other nations involved in making the deal work.

The new sanctions, added by the Treasure Department, target two senior Iranian officials and entities based in China and Iran that are supporting Iran’s missile program.

“This administration is committed to countering Iran’s destabilizing behavior, such as Iran’s development of ballistic missiles and support to the Assad regime,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in announcing the sanctions.

Separately, the State Department said it might add new sanctions targeting Iran’s human rights abuses, which also are not covered under the nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

“As we continue to closely scrutinize Iran’s commitment to the JCPOA and develop a comprehensive Iran policy, we will continue to hold Iran accountable for its human rights abuses with new actions,” Stuart Jones, the acting assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, said in a release.

Jones’ remarks accompanied the State Department’s semi-annual report to Congress on sanctions targeting Iran’s human rights abuses.

Interview: Joe Lieberman on Iran deal, Jerusalem embassy

Joe Lieberman. Screenshot from NBC News

Former Senator Joe Lieberman discussed the Iranian elections and the implications of the outcome in a phone interview with Jewish Insider on Wednesday.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

“Unfortunately I would say that there is no preferable outcome for the United States,” Lieberman said about the May 19 Iranian presidential election. “In other words, Rouhani was described as the moderate has been the leader of the government during the time when they have done so much damage in their own countries with a number of executions of political opponents is up. They’ve also presented thousands of IRGC soldiers into Syria. They’ve greatly strengthened Hezbollah which strengthened Syria, but also threatening Israel. And they’re involved in aggression in Yemen. So he may call himself a moderate, but he’s not. Ebrahim Raisi, the main opponent to Rouhani, seems to be more theologically conservative and enjoys, it appears, the backing of the Supreme Leader. But in the end, the Supreme Leader is the power and he’s not changing. In fact, very little has changed about the regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran since 1979 when it seized power. And, therefore, they remain, as they say themselves, our determined and intransigent enemies.”

Lieberman on its impact over the nuclear deal: “I would guess that whoever wins the election in Iran will stick to the nuclear agreement to the same extent, because it benefits Iran so much. But they need constant monitoring and inspection to guarantee that they’re keeping their part of the bargain. The problem obviously is that they’ve already received as a result of sending the agreement, billions of dollars that they’re using to strengthen themselves militarily and politically. And again, not by my estimate, but by the words of the Supreme Leader, the nuclear agreement was separate. It has nothing to do with their hatred of the United States or Israel and in fact of their Sunni Arab neighbors. So I don’t expect much to change.”

“I think the change that’s occurred, if I may, on the nuclear agreement, the more significant change is the election of President Trump in the US. And I speak as a supporter of Hillary Clinton, but I think the change, let’s put it this way, from President Obama to President Trump, with regard to the nuclear agreement, is very significant. Unlike President Obama, President Trump is not committed to sort of protecting this agreement and in some sense bending over backward or closing our eyes to what the Iranians are doing in order to sustain the agreement. President Trump as you know has been a critic of the agreement from the beginning. And I think we can count on his administration to demand full compliance, not only with the agreement, but as he’s recently said when he said the Iranians were not keeping the spirit of the agreement and Secretary Tillerson has said, across a wide array of activities: support of terrorism, aggression in the region, particularly in Syria and in Yemen, and a repression of the human rights of people in Iran.”

On how to address the Iran deal going forward: “I think the first and most important thing that could be done by Congress and the President is to impose new sanctions on Iran for their bad behavior in so many other areas: the firing of ballistic missiles, the aggression in Syria and Yemen, and the human rights violation in their own country. And for the administration to both accept and sign those new sanctions, but also to enforce them. And I think that then the pressure is on Iran to either accept that new series of economic sanctions or itself to break out of the agreement. And they may just break out of the agreement since they’ve gotten so much up front from us. But I think in other words the important point is essentially to react to what respond directly or what the Supreme Leader, Khamenei, has said, which is, ‘This is an agreement that is separate from everything else we do.’ Obviously if we see them really beginning to break out and build a nuclear weapon, then we have the tough decision to make, which is whether to take military action to stop them, but we’re not there yet.”

Lieberman on whether he thinks his friend Ambassador David Friedman will work from Jerusalem when he formally assumes his position in Israel: “I don’t know. I’m going to leave that one to President Trump. I mean, clearly I hope that the President when the next waiver date comes up, which is June 1st, he announces that one, the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, which it self-evidently is, and two, that we’re beginning the process of moving our embassy there. I was a lead co-sponsor on the Democratic side in the 1990s of the legislation that mandated that the embassy move to Jerusalem. And so it’s very important to me from an American point of view because this is still, I believe, the only country in the world where we don’t have our embassy in a city that the host country designates as its capital. And when you think that this is Israel, one of America’s closest allies in the world, it is a sign of American weakness that we don’t go ahead and put our actions where our principles are and our policies are and that means moving our embassy to Jerusalem.”

“So I hope before long David Friedman will be Ambassador Friedman he will be working out of Jerusalem and before long moving there as well. And it’s important to say something you know, the embassy’s going to be located on land which has been Israeli since ’48. So this move will not at all affect negotiations regarding land with the Palestinians. And it’s just a falsehood to argue that it will unless one believes that Israel has no right to any of Jerusalem, which obviously is something that is a position America would never accept.”

House members confused about Trump’s position on Iran deal

President Donald Trump at the White House on May 1. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson concluded that Iran was abiding by the terms of the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). At the same time, Tillerson also announced, “The JCPOA fails to achieve the objective of a non-nuclear Iran.” President Donald Trump has also called the agreement with Tehran “the horrible Iran deal” while noting on that Iran wasn’t “living up to the spirit of the agreement. We’re analyzing it very, very carefully and we’ll have something to say about it in the not-too-distant future.”

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers have expressed confusion about the White House’s position on this critical foreign policy dilemma. “One of the challenges for this administration is you get four or five different answers on controversial issues, like the Iran deal, depending on who is speaking: whether it is the President, Secretary of State, or White House spokesman,” Representative Joaquin Castro (D-TX) told Jewish Insider. “Our allies don’t know who really speaks for the President. I would like a clear answer for what he believes is the future of that agreement if he intends for the US to stick by it: whether he still sees that as essential to Iran getting rid of its nuclear program.”

Even Republican Members of Congress who are supportive of the President’s agenda could not offer a clear answer regarding the President’s position. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) noted, “I’m not sure he’s (Trump) coalesced around his thoughts.” When pressed if he understood the President’s viewpoint on Iran deal, Farenthold, replied, “I don’t.”

Both in the House and Senate, legislation has been introduced to apply tougher sanctions against Tehran for its ballistic missile program and support for terrorism. However, it remains unclear if the President will sign or veto such a law based on the ambiguity whether he would adhere to the nuclear deal. Appearing on Fox News Sunday, National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster maitained that the international community will eventually come around to support the administration’s policy in confronting Iran over its behavior. “I think all we have to do is pull the curtain back on Iranian behavior,” said McMaster. “Our allies will be interested in doing that, and I think what you’ve seen is, if what has happened in the last eight years, is U.S. policy has unwittingly maybe empowered Iran across the greater Middle East and beyond… And so, what’s critical now is a shift in that policy to confront Iran and what you’re seeing is because of the president’s leadership, really strong relationships across the Arab world, for example, and I think that there’s going to be a tremendous opportunity to confront Iran’s destructive behavior in the region and beyond the region.”

While arguing against tearing up the deal after Iran has already received the sanctions relief, Rep. Jerry Nadler was unable to articulate the President’s stance on the nuclear agreement. “I don’t know. I can’t judge any more than you can,” the New York lawmaker emphasized.

Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN) explained, “It is my observance that the Trump administration has opposed that deal from the rhetoric that they have said. As to the exact specifics, I would want you to ask them to articulate their position.”

Trump says Iran violating spirit of nuclear deal

President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., on April 20. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

Iran is not living up to the “spirit” of the nuclear deal, President Donald Trump said, the latest in a flurry of mixed messages on the deal his administration has relayed in recent days.

“As far as Iran is concerned, I think they are doing a tremendous disservice to an agreement that was signed,” Trump said Thursday in a joint appearance at the White House with Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni of Italy. “They are not living up to the spirit of the agreement, I can tell you that, and we’re analyzing it very, very carefully, and we’ll have something to say about it in the not too distant future.”

Trump’s remarks came just a day after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson affirmed in a letter to Congress that Iran was in compliance with the deal. However, in the same letter, Tillerson said the Trump administration would also review the terms of the deal considering Iran’s leading role in backing terrorism.

The deal, reached in 2015 between six major powers and Iran, swaps sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program. It does not address Iran’s backing of terrorism, and the U.S. partners in brokering the deal – including western Europe, Russia, and China – would likely balk at making terrorism an issue after the fact.

Later Thursday, Tillerson said the review would also include Iran’s role in “intensifying multiple conflicts,” including in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon, and its threats against Israel, as well as its missile testing. And he said the Trump administration sees the Iran deal as part of a “failed approach” of previous administrations that helped bring about a nuclear North Korea.

The deal, Tillerson said at a State Department press availability, “only delays their goal of becoming a nuclear state.”

Trump in his remarks with the Italian prime minister also slammed the deal.

“It was a terrible agreement, it shouldn’t have been signed, it shouldn’t have been negotiated the way it is negotiated,” he said. “I’m all for agreements but that was a bad one, as bad as I’ve ever seen negotiated.”

Trump during his presidential campaign criticized the deal relentlessly but stopped short of clearly saying he would scrap it, as most other Republican candidates promised to do. After he was elected, some of his top officials – including his defense secretary, James Mattis – said it would be unwise to cancel the deal.

Mattis arrives in Israel on Friday to meet his counterpart there, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, and how to contain Iranian influence is likely to be a top discussion item.

Party leaders offer partisan shots at AIPAC conference

Sen. Charles Schumer, the Senate minority leader, at the AIPAC policy conference, March 28, 2017. Photo courtesy of AIPAC.

Democratic and Republican congressional leaders tussled on the AIPAC stage on the final day of its policy conference over which party’s prescriptions were better for Israel.

The display of partisanship on Tuesday morning, hours before pro-Israel activists headed to the Capitol to lobby for their issues, was an extraordinary moment for the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, where bipartisan comity has always been a paramount aim.

Equally as extraordinary, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., read aloud a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to reaffirm support for the two-state solution signed virtually only by Democrats – and drafted by AIPAC’s rival, J Street, the Jewish Middle East policy group.

The partisan splits illustrated the struggles of the lobbying giant as it seeks to reconcile increasingly divided notions of what it means to be pro-Israel. Traditionally, the final day of the conference features leaders of both parties saying that if they agree on little else, they agree on how to be pro-Israel — through working with AIPAC.

But the opening speech by Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was a jeremiad against the policies of former President Barack Obama that the Senate majority leader said had left the U.S.-Israel alliance frayed and Israel less secure.

“We’ve got to rebuild our partnerships,” McConnell said. “The past eight years gave witness to a serial degrading of our alliances and partnerships all across the globe.”

He said the Iran nuclear deal reached by Obama, which swapped sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program, had emboldened Iran, in part because Obama’s preoccupation with preserving the pact diminished the will to confront the Islamic Republic.

McConnell said Iran needed concrete examples of how it would be penalized if it launched a weaponized nuclear program, and pledged to lead Congress in an authorization of force in that instance.

He also pitched President Donald Trump’s proposal to increase the military budget, although the Kentucky lawmaker did not address one of AIPAC’s three legislative asks — namely sustaining the budget for overall foreign assistance against Trump’s proposal to slash it by nearly a third.

AIPAC has long argued that assistance to Israel, which Trump wants to maintain at current levels, should never be separated from foreign assistance. Foreign assistance is a positive way to project U.S. power, the lobby says, and helps open doors for Israel in countries that might otherwise be wary of ties with the Jewish state.

Calls to sustain that assistance were central to the speeches of the Democratic leaders who spoke: Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., the minority leader in the Senate, and Pelosi, the House minority leader.

Pelosi cast support for foreign assistance as fulfilling a responsibility to Israel.

“A strong America in the world is good for Israel,” she said. “I fiercely oppose proposals that would slash our State Department funding by 28 percent.”

Both Democrats took shots at Trump’s alliance with leaders of the far right, including his appointment of Stephen Bannon, the former publisher of Breitbart News, which he himself called a “platform” for the alt- or anti-establishment right.

Schumer’s barbs aimed at Trump were implied.

“There are some who would retreat from the world stage,” he said. “They even borrow from Charles Lindbergh.”

The aviator led the World War II-era anti-Semitic America First movement; Trump has embraced “America First” as one of his slogans.

Schumer joined a multitude of speakers, both Democrats and Republicans, who decried the Obama administration’s decision in its final days to allow a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s settlements.

“The United States should have vetoed Resolution 2334 in December and it should never use the United Nations as a forum to put pressure on Israel for any kind of agreement,” he said to thunderous applause.

But where Schumer was uncharacteristically restrained in criticizing the new administration and defending the past one, Pelosi was robust. She decried Trump’s “presidential campaign with hate speech that went unchallenged, an atmosphere that emboldened anti-Semites to desecrate Jewish cemeteries, white supremacists that feel emboldened and connected to the White House.”

Pelosi, like other Democrats who spoke throughout the conference, emphasized two states as the preferred outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Republicans pulled support for two states from their platform last year, and Trump earlier this year said he was agnostic on the issue, ending 15 years of U.S. policy favoring the solution.

But Pelosi took it a step further, taking out her phone to read out loud a letter sent last week asking Trump to reaffirm U.S. support for two states, emphasizing twice that the vast majority – 189 of its 191 signatories — were Democrats.

What she left unmentioned was that J Street drafted and lobbied for the letter; AIPAC did not have a position on it.

“I wanted you to hear it as written, not out of context. I wanted to read it to you in the spirit of strong support for a Jewish, secure and democratic Israel,” Pelosi said, borrowing rhetoric J Street might easily use. “An Israel that recognizes the dignity and security of the Israelis and Palestinians.”

That line earned her moderate applause.

AIPAC has been trying, after years of its own tensions with the Obama administration, to reassert its bipartisan profile and hold on to the ground between  pro-Israel groups that appear to gravitate to the Democrats (J Street) or Republicans (the Zionist Organization of America).

Its three legislative asks, while crafted to earn support from both parties, do not include mention of two states. (All speakers endorsed the legislative agenda, which in addition to sustaining foreign aid backed bills that would add non-nuclear sanctions on Iran and impose fines on businesses for cooperating with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel.)

The two-state notion persists in AIPAC policy. Its executive director, Howard Kohr, on Sunday evening envisioned “a Jewish state of Israel living side by side in security with a demilitarized Palestinian state.”

But it is nowhere near front and center as it is with other centrist Jewish groups like the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League, each alarmed by erosion for support for the outcome among Republicans in the United States as well as in Israel’s government.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, who leads the Union for Reform Judaism and was at the conference, said failing to robustly defend two states undercut AIPAC’s mission to combat BDS.

“Without a strong commitment to two states, it’s pretty hard to work on BDS,” he said. “The only way you fight BDS” on campuses and in churches “is to say it is undermining the two-state solution.”

Senate introduces bipartisan bill with new Iran sanctions on eve of AIPAC conference

Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey addresses the AIPAC annual policy conference in Washington, D.C., March 5, 2013. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

A bipartisan slate of senators has introduced new sanctions targeting Iran for its missile testing and destabilizing actions days before AIPAC’s national conference.

The Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017 was introduced Thursday by Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. Ten senators, from both parties, co-sponsored the measure.

The act establishes new sanctions targeting Iran’s testing of ballistic missiles and its backing for terrorism, and also seeks to block the property of any entity involved in the sale of arms to or from Iran. It does not reintroduce sanctions lifted from Iran as part of the 2015 nuclear deal.

The text was not yet available.

The bill is timed ahead of the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference taking place March 26-28 in Washington, D.C. AIPAC, after two years of tensions with Democrats over Iran policy, and emerging tensions with Republicans over the lobby’s endorsement of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, wants the conference to celebrate its reputation for bipartisanship.

Bipartisanship was a theme in the release announcing the sanctions.

“The spirit of bipartisanship of this important legislation underscores our strong belief that the United States must speak with one voice on the issue of holding Iran accountable for its continued nefarious actions across the world as the leading state sponsor of terrorism,” Menendez said.

Corker said the bill “demonstrates the strong bipartisan support in Congress for a comprehensive approach to holding Iran accountable by targeting all aspects of the regime’s destabilizing actions.”

Tensions arose between AIPAC and Democrats over the Obama administration’s deal with Iran trading sanctions relief for a nuclear rollback. AIPAC, along with the Israeli government and most Republicans, opposed the deal. A key stumbling block to bipartisan bills extending sanctions to Iran was Democratic fears that measures backed by republicans were aimed at killing the deal, known as JCPOA.

The areas targeted for sanctions in the new bill are outside the ambit of the nuclear deal.

“This legislation was carefully crafted not to impede with the United States’ ability to live up to its commitments under the JCPOA, while still reaffirming and strengthening our resolve by imposing tough new sanctions to hold the Iranian regime accountable for threatening global and regional security,” Menendez said in the release.

A staffer for Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., the ranking Democrat on the foreign relations committee, said Cardin led Democrats in their efforts to make sure the bill did not undercut the Iran deal. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., also played a leading role in making sure the bill was in compliance with the agreement.

Among measures favored by Republicans but removed by Democrats, the staffer said, were language that would have limited the ability of a president to waive the provisions of the bill for national security reasons; language that would have written oversight of the Iran deal’s sanctions relief into the new bill; language targeting the sale of commercial aircraft to Iran, which was liberalized as part of the nuclear deal, and limitations on dollar transactions allowed Iran under the nuclear deal.

Also introduced this week in time for the AIPAC conference were identical bipartisan bills in the Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives that would “encourage new areas of cooperation” between Israel and the United States in the economic sphere.

AIPAC officials have said the lobby stands out as a focal point for bipartisanship at a time of polarization under President Donald Trump.

AIPAC paid $60,000 to group that peddles anti-Muslim conspiracy theories

Lillian Pinkus, President of AIPAC, speaking at the 2016 Conference. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

An AIPAC affiliate paid $60,000 during its campaign to thwart the Iran nuclear deal to a group that engages in anti-Muslim extremism.

Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, which was launched in the summer of 2015 to rally opposition to the Iran deal, paid the money to the Center for Security Policy, according to a report Wednesday by LobeLog, a Middle East policy news and analysis site.

An American Israel Public Affairs Committee official confirmed the payment to JTA and said it was for an ad. The official did not describe the ad or where it appeared, but Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran ran ads from July 2015 through September of that year in a failed bid to have Congress nullify the deal.

The Center for Security Policy and its director, Frank Gaffney, have drawn fire for sweeping generalizations about Muslims and Islam, including from Jewish groups. In November, the Reform movement and other liberal Jewish groups urged Israel’s U.S. ambassador, Ron Dermer, not to accept an award from Gaffney’s group because of his statements, which the Reform described as “anti-Muslim bigotry.”

The Anti-Defamation League stopped short of asking Dermer to turn down the award but decried “baseless claims or stereotypes” propagated by the Center for Security Policy.

Gaffney accuses officials in the U.S. government and elsewhere of acting on behalf of radical Muslims, often with scant evidence or because of tenuous associations. He has suggested that former President Barack Obama, a Christian, is a Muslim, and joined in condemnations of a Muslim community in Tennessee seeking to expand its mosque, calling the Muslims there “stealth jihadists.” Attacks on the Muslims in Murfreesboro have included violence and elicited expressions of support for the community from Jewish groups.

Gaffney is close to Steve Bannon, a top strategic adviser to President Donald Trump. In a New York Times report last month on people who have shaped the administration’s views on Islam, Gaffney described what he sees as a decades-long conspiracy by the Muslim Brotherhood to infiltrate all levels of American society, likening those he said were adherents of the Islamist movement to “termites.”

The Center for Security Policy also was adamantly opposed to the Iran deal, and its supporters would have been receptive to appeals to lobby congressmen to oppose the agreement. Additionally, the think tank, which advocates for increased defense spending, and Gaffney, a top Pentagon official under President Ronald Reagan, have longstanding ties to the defense and security establishment. Advertising in its published materials would reach important influencers in those communities.

The AIPAC official noted that the $60,000 was a fraction of the $20 million budgeted to defeat the deal, which Israel’s government, AIPAC and most Republicans opposed.

The deal traded sanctions relief for a rollback in Iran’s nuclear program. The Obama administration said it was the best means of keeping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons; opponents said it facilitated the acquisition of nuclear weapons because some of its restrictions would lapse in a decade.

Iran confirms missile test, says it does not contradict nuclear deal

An Iranian national flag. Photo by Reuters

Iran’s defense minister confirmed that the Islamic Republic recently tested a missile, but asserted it did not contradict the nuclear deal the country signed with world powers.

“The recent test was in line with our programs and we don’t allow any foreign party to interfere in our defense affairs,” Brigadier Gen. Hossein Dehqan told reporters in Tehran on Wednesday, according to Fars, the semi-official news agency of the Iranian government.

The statement came after the U.N. Security Council held an emergency session Tuesday to discuss the intelligence that Iran had conducted a missile test. The United States had requested the session after detecting the test of what is believed to be a medium-range ballistic missile on Sunday. The missile reportedly went about 600 miles before exploding in what U.S. news outlets said was a failed test.

During the Security Council meeting, the newly confirmed U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said the test was “absolutely unacceptable.”

“The United States is not naive,” she said. “We are not going to stand by. You will see us call them out.”

Following a meeting in Iran of its parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, the commission rapporteur, Seyed Hossein Naqavi Hosseini, told Fars: “During the meeting, it was concluded that the country’s defense and missile industries are not negotiable with anyone and they should advance with all power and capacity and the parliament should support it too. It was also declared that no country is allowed to interfere in the country’s defense affairs.”

On Tuesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the United States of escalating tensions over Iran’s defense program, which he asserted is not covered under the 2015 nuclear deal with the world powers, including the U.S.

“As all parties present in the negotiations on the nuclear deal know, the missile issue is not a part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” Zarif said during a news conference in Tehran with his French counterpart, Jean-Marc Ayrault.

Obama’s horrible failed Iran policy unhinged Middle East security

As an Iranian American journalist who follows Middle East news and politics closely on a daily basis, I have been whole heartedly disappointed by the repeated failures of the Obama presidency with regards to its Iran policy for the last eight years. From his first day in office, I have seen this out-going president and officials in his administration make one disastrous mistake after another when it comes to dealing with the Iranian regime and the radical Islamic thugs who have terrorized the peace-loving people of Iran and the entire Middle East. Now that Obama has left office for good, I wish to extensively opine in depth about his catastrophic decisions when it came to dealing with the Iranian regime. My views are based on my own personal observations as well as extensive knowledge of this evil Iranian regime– but not based on any particular political leanings or support for any political parties. For the record, I did not endorse any candidate in this past 2016 presidential election. If a Republican president had also made these same foolish mistakes when dealing with the Iranian regime, then I would absolutely make the same harsh criticisms. Obama’s views, policies of appeasement and inaction carried out in response to the current Iranian regime’s hostile actions were an utter and complete failure! They must never be repeated by any future U.S. administration. History must give Obama a huge “F” on Iran foreign policy because it was disastrous and will likely have massive negative consequences for the free world in the future.

The Iran policies created by Obama and his advisers during his tenure in the White House not only helped to further destabilize the Middle East, but also emboldened the radical authoritarian clerics who rule Iran with an iron fist to crush all democratic movements for true freedom in that country. The following is a breakdown on his disastrous decisions when it came to dealing with the Islamic Republic of Iran:

Inaction during Iranian Fraudulent 2009 Elections

After hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the streets throughout Iran to protest the fraudulent election results in Iran in June 2009, the ayatollahs ruling the Iranian regime undertook a very bloody and violent crackdown on the protestors. Thousands were beaten, arrested and even killed in the streets of Iran for voicing their opposition to the fraud elections in the country. In response to the Iranian regime’s hard crackdown on innocent Iranian citizens peacefully demonstrating against their oppressive regime, for more than one week Obama and his officials gave no responses or very weak responses in the media about the regime’s harsh crackdown on the protesters. Obama gave watered down plain comments to the press about his “concern” for the violence, but he did nothing more than say a few words. The Iranian protestors marched in the streets and chanted; “Obama, Obama, are you with the regime or with us?” Images of a young innocent protestor, Neda Agha Soltan, bleeding in the streets of Tehran after being shot in the neck for peacefully protesting against the Iranian regime were all over U.S. and European media outlets. Finally after a full week of the Iranian regime killing hundreds of protestors, violently imprisoning others and fully crushing the popular uprising against the ayatollahs, Obama managed to eventually denounce the regime’s horrid actions. But it was too late, the movement for freedom and real democracy in Iran had been effectively decimated by the ayatollahs and their violent thugs in the streets of Iran. For the most part, if Obama was more vocally supportive of those seeking freedom and true democracy in Iran during that time, regime change efforts carried out by the people of Iran could have begun to take place. Or if the Obama administration had provided the protestors with logistical, diplomatic or technological support, this may have helped them in their efforts to begin their own campaign of potentially overthrowing this radical Islamic regime in their country. Obama could have absolutely done more for the protestors and even helped indirectly destabilize the radical Islamic rule of the clerics in Iran at that critical time! He could have gone to greater lengths to help the Iranian people bring about a true democracy on their own terms. But no, for the most part Obama and his administration officials remained on the diplomatic and public relations sidelines saying very little while the innocent Iranian people were trying to thrown off the shackles of oppression placed upon them by the radical Iranian clerics ruling their country. We now know that Obama’s inactions and lack of more vocal support for the protestors were in part in an effort to curry favor with the regime’s thugs and to appease the Iranian ayatollahs ruling the country to begin direct negotiations with the U.S.

Negotiations with Ahmadinejad

http://www.memri.org/report/en/print8700.htm

According to a 2015 report prepared by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), in 2011 Obama and his officials began negotiating with the evil Iranian regime during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s past vehemently anti-Semitic and Holocaust denying president! Contrary to what the administration was telling the U.S. public, Obama’s administration was holding direct secret talks with one of most vocally anti-Israel and anti-American leaders in Iran before the “moderate” Rouhani came to power. Why did Obama direct his team to sit down with any country that has proudly called for wiped Israel off the world map and was developing nuclear weapons capabilities? This was a disastrous move by Obama and his team that only appeased the radical Islamic ayatollahs ruling Iran. It sent the indirect message that you can continue your policy of wanting to destroy Israel and America without any repercussions from the U.S. and other world powers.

Iran Nuclear Deal & Easing of Sanctions

It is true Obama that in 2010 signed into law the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (CISADA) and placed additional sanctions on the Iranian regime because of their pursuit of a nuclear weapons program. These sanctions and others placed by the U.S. and European powers were for a few years very effective in slowly crushing the Iranian regime economically by chocking off their financial resources and money going into the pockets of the Iranian revolutionary guard leaders. The regime was suffering tremendously as a result of the sanctions and unfortunately so were the average people of Iran. However the sanctions were an amazing tool that were slowly bringing the radical Islamic regime’s leaders to their knees and slowing their ambitious spread of terrorism in the Middle East. However Obama and his administration made a huge mistake in not continuing these strong sanctions against their regime that may have likely lead to the regime’s ultimate collapse. Instead Obama and his officials engaged in a ridiculous sham “Iran Nuclear Deal” that eased the sanctions on the Iranian regime and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) leaders and also very weakly curbed the regime’s march towards nuclear weapons capabilities. This shameful “deal” allowed the Iranian regime to self-monitor their own nuclear facilities which would allow them to potentially break-out in their nuclear weapons production at any time. The deal also failed to prohibit the Iranian regime’s production or acquisition of long range ballistic missiles. The deal failed to lay out any repercussions of the Iran regime after 10 years should the regime pursue nuclear weapons. The deal also removed critical banking and international finance restrictions on the Iranian regime’s pursuit of military weaponry. Most importantly the deal failed to have any “teeth” or sever consequences for the Iranian regime’s continued expansionist military moves in the Middle East, sponsorship of international terrorism and overall destabilization of the region. The economic and diplomatic pressures on the regime, its clerics and the IRGC leaders were all reduced and eased under Obama tenure. Today after one year since the “deal” was signed we see the Iranian regime has not stopped their sponsorship of terrorism through their proxies Hezbollah and Hamas, they have had violations of their nuclear material production and have even expanded their military destabilization in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The Iranian regime which was on the ropes and on a brink of economic collapse, was given a new lifeline and ability to stay alive with this failed policy of appeasement and sanctions easing under Obama’s tenure.

Near Silence on Iranian regime’s human rights violations

The laundry list of egregious human rights violations carried out the Iranian regime’s leaders and thugs is too long to list in full and span near four decades. But just in the last four years under the “moderate” president Rouhani, executions of various individuals for homosexuality, “crimes against Islam”, supposed treason against the state, drug use and other minor criminal offenses has been staggering. Roughly 1000 people were executed in 2015 alone, according to a recent report from the U.N.’s special rapporteur for human rights in Iran. Iranian American human rights experts believe the unofficial number of people executed by the Iranian regime is even higher. Countless individuals who have spoken out against the regime’s iron fisted rule have also been arrested, imprisoned and torture. These individuals include artists, journalists, musicians, bloggers, student political activists, women, union leaders and others in Iran. The Iranian regime has also strongly come down on ethnic and religious minority communities, including the Sunnis, Arabs, and individuals from the Baha’i faith who continue to be systematically targeted and discriminated against. The ruthless leaders of the Iranian regime have also blocked nearly five million websites and social media sites that carry political news and analysis which they deem “unacceptable” or disapprove of. Every day we hear of these horrid human rights abuses carried out by the Iranian regime through activists and reports, but yet the Obama administration has said very little and done even less to pressure the regime to stop their unnecessary random executions and human rights violations. Why did Obama and his other administration officials not more vocally speak out and pressure the ayatollahs in Iran to stop these human rights violations during the “nuclear deal” negotiations when they had leverage? Obama’s failure to try and stop the Iranian regime’s crimes against humanity was an enormous mistake in his administration.

Inaction on Iranian regime’s hegemonic expansion

After Obama ordered the abrupt removal of major U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011, the Iranian regime full of expansionist ambitions quickly moved into Iraq in order to fill the security vacuum left behind by America. The Iranian regime through political and military pressure has for all practical purposes taken over much of Iraq which is a majority Shiite in population just as the Iranian population. The Iranian regime’s moves into Iraq have been by in large ignored or disregarded by the Obama administration who foolishly believed the Iranian regime’s lies that they are “fighting” ISIS in Iraq. The excuse of fight ISIS in Iraq and the physical presence of Iranian military leaders and Iranian-sponsored Shiite militia in large parts of Iraq, permitted the Iranian regime to exert or expand their “sphere of influence” into Iraq and spread their radical anti-American propaganda into a larger region of the Middle East without any repercussions. The American government under Obama has been asleep at the wheel or just plain ignorant by doing nothing to stop the Iranian regime’s continued aggressive expansion into Iraq. Therefore the Iranian regime seeing no challenges from Europe or the U.S., has instead continued its march for hegemonic domination into Syria and even Yemen in recent years. Since Iran has been a primary lifeline to Assad’s evil regime in Syria for decades, the ayatollahs in Iran took advantage of the chaos in Syria by again sending in their troops into Syria during their recent civil war as well as funding and building the military capabilities of their terror proxy Hezbollah in Syria as well. Today after six years of the bloody conflict in Syria and the Obama administration’s near silence about the Iranian regime’s growing political and military presence in that country, the Iranian regime has essentially taken over the majority of Syria as well. In addition, the Iranian regime seeing no major diplomatic or potential military consequences from the U.S. government under Obama for their expansion activities in the Middle East, have also moved into Yemen. With the civil war raging on in Yemen today between Sunni and Shiite factions, the Iranian regime has armed the Shiite groups with advanced weaponry in a bid to again expand their sphere of influence in the region. Of course the Obama administration has also been silent on increased funding and military arming by Iran of their terror proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon. Today Lebanon is nearly fully controlled by Hezbollah which has a larger arsenal of weaponry and military force than the Lebanese army. With Hezbollah effectively in control of Lebanon today, essentially their ayatollah puppet masters in Tehran control Lebanon as well. In the end, under Obama’s watch, his lack of stopping the Iranian regime’s hegemonic expansion has allowed the evil radical Islamic power of the Iranian regime to expand today into Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. This hegemonic growth of the Iranian regime has led to a further destabilizing of the Middle East as a whole thanks in part to Obama and his administration’s failed policies regarding Iran’s expansion moves in the region.

Iranian sponsorship of Hezbollah & Hamas

As if terrorism and constant bloodshed weren’t rampant enough in the Middle East, under Obama’s tenure the Iranian regime has increased its financial and military sponsorship of its terror proxies Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Hamas since its 2007 takeover of Gaza has launched thousands of rockets into Israeli civilian populations. These rockets were made with supplies and funding directly from the Iranian regime. Moreover Hamas’ reign of control in Gaza is primarily due to large funding they receive from the ayatollahs in Iran, otherwise their hold on the entire strip would collapse without any real financial support. Likewise, in the last eight years, the Iranian regime has send thousands on missiles and advance weaponry to their other terror proxy Hezbollah. Millions petro-dollars the Iranian regime received from sale of their crude oil were poured into the coffers of Hezbollah and to pay for the rearmament of Hezbollah’s fighters in Southern Lebanon that pose a direct threat to Israel every day. According to Israeli officials, Hezbollah now has nearly 120,000 surface-to-surface rockets and missiles— and many of them are precision long range missiles capable of hitting any place in Israel. Moreover, Hezbollah’s leadership has on a daily basis promised to destroy Israel. So we wonder why didn’t Obama or his administration cronies place more indirect or direct pressure on the Iranian regime to stop their sponsorship of these terrorist groups? Yes, Israel did received funding and support for the “Iron Dome” program during Obama’s tenure to combat the missile attacks from potential Hamas and Hezbollah missile strikes, but that support came more from the U.S. Congress’ initiatives. And why didn’t Obama or his officials do more to cut off the financial and military support the Iranian regime was giving to these terror groups that are the primary forces of destabilization in the region? After all, the U.S. had powerful sanctions on hand that it could have used as leverage against the Iranian regime to help curtail their funding of these terror groups. Again this was no doubt another major failure on the part of the Obama administration regarding the Iranian regime.

Spread of Iranian terror to U.S. & Western Hemisphere

According to recent U.S. intelligence and military reports, the Iranian regime through its terror group Hezbollah has a major presence in Mexico, parts of Central America and even a military base off the coast of Venezuela! The Iranian regime has during the last eight years spread its reach into South America with Hezbollah training camps in the border regions between Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. In October 2011, U.S. intelligence uncovered and stopped a plot by Iranian regime agents to assassinate Saudi ambassador Adel al-Jubeir in the United States. This action was by all standards an act of war by the Iranian regime, but as usual the Obama administration stayed silent and did very little to stop the Iranian regime’s growing threat to the U.S. within the U.S. homeland. The Iranian regime has moved forward with its efforts in the western hemisphere to grow their influence and potentially advance their reach of terrorism but the Obama administration did very little to halt the regime’s advances.

Growing Hostility in the Persian Gulf

In the last eight years the IRGC’s naval forces have been increasingly making hostile maneuvers towards U.S. Naval vessels in portions of the Persian Gulf that were not close to or in Iranian waters. These hostile naval acts have been borderline acts of war and unprovoked by the U.S. Since the signing of the “Nuclear Deal” with Iran, these IRGC Naval maneuvers have increased even more and it seems as if the Obama administration and Department of Defense under Obama’s watch have failed to call out these hostile acts by the Iranian regime’s naval forces. The breaking point in my opinion came in January 2016 when 10 U.S. Navy sailors were captured by the IRGC while their speed boat was patrolling the Persian Gulf. The Iranian regime then paraded the sailors on a video broadcasted on their state-run television showing them on their knees with their hands clasped behind their heads as they were being apprehended on their vessels. Two of the videos featured one of the Americans apologizing and praising Iran’s treatment of them. This event was an act to publicly humiliate the U.S. in front of the international media and in turn Obama’s response was mute. The U.S. sailors were eventually released by the Iranian regime but the regime’s leaders spent the remaining month trash talking American forces in Persian Gulf and claiming they were the new naval power in the region! Clearly the Obama administration’s weak military policy regarding the Iranian regime’s provocations in the Persian Gulf again show Obama was more interested in appeasing the ayatollahs in Iran rather than showing the strength of U.S. naval forces in the Persian Gulf that are not only protecting U.S. allies but also U.S. interests in the region. I am not advocating that the U.S. should have engaged the IRGC forces in a full military counter-attack, but the U.S. should have given stern warnings and even potential military warnings to the Iranian regime that further provocations by the IRGC in the Persian Gulf would not be tolerated.

Giving More than One Billion in Cash to Iranian Regime

What has utterly shocked, baffled and disgusted me this past year has been the Obama administration giving $1.3 billion in cold hard cash to this evil Iranian regime! Obama and his officials claim the money was owed to Iran by the U.S. in order to resolve a decades-old dispute over an undelivered military sale. The Iranian government claimed the previous regime of the Shah had paid millions to the U.S. for military aircraft and supplies but the U.S. had failed to deliver those goods and owed the ayatollah’s regime those million back plus interest. While legally the Iranian regime may be right that the nation of Iran is owed this money, but why the hell would anyone in their right mind release more than a billion dollars in cash now to an Iranian regime that calls for the destruction of America every day and is one of the largest state-sponsors of terrorism in the world?! Why the hell would anyone in their right mind give more than a billion dollars in cash now to an Iranian regime that is building clandestine nuclear weapons factories and developing advanced intercontinental ballistic missiles?! The Obama administration with this truly idiotic move in giving cold hard cash to the ayatollahs and their thugs just gave a huge shot in the arm to the Iranian regime which has NOT poured millions of dollars into helping the people of Iran, but instead into funding their terrorist groups and continuing their bloody proxy wars against Israel, Saudi Arabia and the U.S.! This move by the Obama administration was nothing more than appeasement of an evil force that will ultimately prove to be detrimental to the U.S. in the future. Some even believe the Obama administration paid this $1.3 billion in cash to the Iranian regime as a ransom payment in order for the regime to release Iranian-Americans they had imprisoned! How utterly crazy was this move to just hand over such huge sums of money to a regime that wants to destroy you?! For me this move by the Obama administration proved to be their lowest level of utter stupidity when it comes to Iran policy.

Little Done to Stop Iranian Holocaust Denial & Anti-Semitism

The Iranian regime for more than two decades has engaged in one of the most vile and disturbing international campaigns of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial in the world today. The regime even under the “moderate” Rouhani has continued its sick tradition of Holocaust denial by hosting dozens of Holocaust denial conferences in Tehran and Holocaust denial carton competitions. These revolting conferences the Iranian regime has sponsored to spew their hate and deny the Nazi genocide of the 20th century have welcomed some of the most infamous European Holocaust revisionists as well as infamous U.S. white supremacist leaders such as former KKK leader David Duke. Again the U.S. administration under Obama did little to stop or combat this active campaign by the Iranian regime to spread the regime’s message of hate and Holocaust denial. It is now clear Obama and his cronies did little to fight the Iranian regime’s Holocaust denial campaigns for fear of potentially “upsetting” the regime’s ayatollahs who they were seeking a nuclear deal with. While the U.S. State Department gave weak condemnations of the Holocaust denial conferences organized by the Iranian regime, they could have done more to combat the regime’s message of hate and Holocaust denial. The U.S. government could have organized a media campaign educating people in Iran and elsewhere worldwide about the truth of the Holocaust and potentially put travel restrictions or penalties on Americans and Europeans traveling to Iran for these hate conferences. The U.S. government could have organized a counter-campaign to educate Americans and others about the true horrors of the Holocaust featuring Holocaust survivors. Moreover Obama could have used hundreds of different media and public forums available to him to openly denounce the Iranian regime’s denial of the Holocaust and threatened to pull out from any diplomatic negotiations with the Iranian regime if they did not stop their campaign of anti-Semitism or Holocaust denial. Yet in the end, Obama and his administration officials did none of these things and basically left the Iranian regime to continue their sick campaigns of hate.

Again the list of failures on Iran policy by the Obama administration during the last eight years is much longer than the above ten major reasons I have laid out. It would take months to compile a complete list of the Obama administrations blunders on Iran policy and I frankly do not have the time to dedicate to developing such a list. It is very clear that instead of helping to economically and politically weaken the Iranian regime to the point where its leadership would be challenged by the people of Iran, Obama and his administration instead did the complete opposite. They gave the Iranian regime a new lifeline of economic strength and diplomatic cover to strengthen their brutal control over the people of Iran and also indirectly helped the regime spread their radical Shiite Islamic hegemony across the Middle East with a policy of appeasement. My hope is that the new incoming U.S. administration, Congress and future administrations will learn from these utterly horrible mistakes by Obama and his officials with regards to dealing with the Iranian regime and do not repeat them. The Obama administration’s policy of actively engaging this evil Iranian regime in hopes of possibly changing its behavior with monetary or diplomatic incentives was a huge diplomatic mistake and further proof that appeasement of a totalitarian dictatorship will only result in further hostility and growth of that regime’s evil behavior. This was seen with the western powers appeasing the Nazi regime with territory before World War II. Today the famous words of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill who said “an appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last” should remain in our minds when dealing with this evil Iranian regime. My only hope and prayer is that the Obama eight years of failed appeasement of the Iranian ayatollahs and timid behavior towards the Iranian regime’s aggressive military expansionism, will not result in long term security risks to Israel, Middle Eastern countries and to America.

Kaine and Pence tussle over whether deal with Iran stopped nuclear weapons

In the vice presidential debate, Tim Kaine and Mike Pence repeatedly tussled over whether the Iran nuclear deal stopped Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., at least four times throughout the debate Tuesday night at Longwood University in Virginia, listed the Iran nuclear deal as an accomplishment for his running mate, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state in President Barack Obama’s first term.

“She worked a tough negotiation with nations around the world to eliminate the Iranian nuclear weapons program without firing a shot,” Kaine said.

Clinton led the efforts to sign on much of the international community — including leading skeptics of a possible deal, Russia and China — to the tough sanctions that brought Iran to the talks. The deal exchanges sanctions relief for Iranian guarantees that it is not developing nuclear weapons.

Pence, running mate to Donald Trump, interrupted, raising a skeptical eyebrow, “Eliminate the Iranian nuclear weapons program?”

Pence eventually countered by noting that much of the inspections regime overseeing Iranian compliance lapses after 15 years.

“You essentially guaranteed that Iran will someday become a nuclear power, because there’s no limitations once the period of time of the treaty comes off,” he said.

While the inspection regime is reduced after 15 years, some elements stay in place, and Iran has signed onto agreements that it will not develop nuclear weapons.

Kaine said that Israeli military chiefs have said that Iran has stopped its nuclear weapons advances. “Even the Israeli military says it stopped,” citing Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, the military chief of staff.

That’s true, but Eizenkot and others also add Pence’s “for now” caveat, noting that much of the inspections regime lapses after 15 years.

Pence also chided Kaine for skipping Israeli prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s march 2015 speech to Congress opposing the deal. Close to 60 Democrats skipped the speech, in part because Netanyahu and the Republican leadership organized it without informing the White House or congressional Democrats. Kaine countered that since then, he has met and consulted with Netanyahu “in his office.”

The debate was aggressive, which each nominee talking over the other. Pence brought up issues that Trump was faulted for missing in the first presidential debate last week, like Hillary Clinton’s decision to use a private email server when she was secretary of state. Kaine repeatedly asked Pence to directly defend Trump’s more controversial broadsides against Mexicans and Muslims, which Pence seemed reluctant to do.

Kaine, discussing gun laws, also referred to Liviu Librescu, the Romanian Israeli Holocaust survivor who died blocking a gunman during the mass killing at Virginia Tech in 2007, when Kaine was governor of the state.

“He had survived the Holocaust,” Kaine said. “Then he survived the Soviet Union takeover of his country. But then he was a visiting professor at Virginia Tech, and he couldn’t survive the scourge of gun violence.”