September 17, 2019

Report: Iran Sanctions Has Country’s Pensions on ‘Brink of Collapse’

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani departs after speaking at the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit during the 73rd United Nations General Assembly in New York, U.S., September 24, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

A Sept. 13 Fox News report states that the Trump administration’s sanctions against the Iranian regime have put the country’s pension funds on the “brink of collapse.”

The report states that, according to National Security Council documents, 17 out of the 18 retirement funds in Iran are “in the red,” including “pension funds for all of Iran’s armed forces.” The report also notes that 80 percent of the pensions’ funding comes from the Iranian government.

The sanctions appear to have crippled Iran’s economy, as the country’s GDP growth went from being more than 12 percent in 2016 and more than 3 percent in 2017 to a negative growth rate of more than 3 percent in 2018 and a forecasted negative growth rate of 6 percent in 2019, according to the BBC

The Trump administration exited from the Iran nuclear deal and began reinstating sanctions on Iran in 2018.

The Sept. 13 report comes as President Donald Trump reportedly considering lifting sanctions on Iran in order to get a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani; the Daily Beast reported on Sept. 11 that Trump might agree the French government’s proposal to provide a $15 billion bailout to Tehran as incentive for them to comply with the Iran deal.

A possibility of a Trump-Rouhani meeting has the Israeli government reportedly concerned, as their policy toward Tehran is to target the regime through isolation and economic warfare, according to Bloomberg. Such concerns have been amplified with National Security Adviser John Bolton’s departure from the administration on Sept. 9.

Report Details Proxy War Between Israel, North Korea

Photo from Flickr.

A lengthy Sept. 9 report in Tablet details the ongoing “shadow war” between Israel and North Korea that receives little media coverage.

The report notes that both the United States and Israel intelligence discovered in 2007 that North Korea was involved in the construction of Syria’s Al Kibar nuclear reactor; the reactor even resembled North Korea’s Yongbyon reactor. Intelligence also uncovered the head of Syria’s Atomic Energy Organization photographed with North Korean scientist Chon Chibu at the Yongbyon reactor.

Israel destroyed the Al Kibar reactor that year, a move that North Korea condemned. The episode was illustrative of the proxy war between Israel-North Korea that has occurred since the 1960s. The Tablet report goes on to note various instances in which North Korea has provided aid to Israel’s enemies, including to Egypt and Syria during the Six Day War in 1967 and Egypt again in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. During the latter, “Israeli military personnel described clashes with North Korean fighters over the Sinai,” according to the report. North Korea has also helped keep Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s grip on power amidst the civil war that has engulfed Syria since 2011.

Additionally, North Korea first allied with Iran during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, providing Tehran with military assistance during the war. The two have since engaged in “close cooperation in developing strategic missile systems,” as both U.S. and Israeli intelligence officials have noted striking similarities in Iran and North Korea’s missile programs. Whether or not the two countries are also working together on developing nuclear weapons remains “an open question,” according to the report. 

The report notes that North Korea is moving closer toward its goal of reaching “hydrogen bomb capability” with its nuclear program, sparking Israeli concerns that Pyongyang could funnel its weaponry “to Israel’s Mideast enemies, particularly for the right price.”

A 2017 report from the Tokyo-based Diplomat Magazine seemingly buttresses Tablet’s report, noting that North Korea provided weaponry to the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in the late 1980s and has sided with Hamas over Israel in the myriad conflicts between the two. 

The Diplomat report also highlights a 2010 Congressional Research Service report stating “that North Koreans have helped Hezbollah build underground tunnels in Lebanon.”

North Korea’s antagonism toward Israel stems from Pyongyang’s belief that Israel is hypocritical to be stridently against nations like Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons despite having such weaponry of their own; Pyongyang also views Israel as an “imperial satellite” of the U.S., according to The Diplomat.

IDF Reveals Hezbollah Factory Manufacturing Precision-Guided Missiles

Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah speaks via a screen during a protest in Beirut's southern suburbs, Lebanon December 11, 2017. REUTERS/Aziz Taher

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) revealed in a Sept. 3 tweet a Hezbollah factory in southern Lebanon that is manufacturing precision-guided missiles.

According to the IDF, the facility is located just north of Nabi Chit, housing “is Iranian-supplied machinery used to manufacture precision-guided missiles with an accuracy of less than 10 meters.” The IDF added in a follow-up tweet that “Iran is trying to turn its proxy Hezbollah into the first terror group in the world with precision-guided missiles.”

The IDF first announced Iran’s efforts to arm Hezbollah with precision-guided missiles in an Aug. 29 video naming three Iranian commanders in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force – Brig. Gen. Muhammad Hussein-Zada Hejazi, Col. Majid Nuab and Brig. Gen. Ali Asrar Nuruzi – who are working with Hezbollah on the matter. The IDF stated that the factories are located in civilian areas, accusing Hezbollah of using Lebanon’s civilians as “human shields” and warning that the Iranian terror proxy is “dangerously close” to being able to manufacture precision-guided missiles that would allow Hezbollah to “attack any target of their choice.”

“We will not stand to the side and allow our enemies to acquire deadly weapons to use against us,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Aug. 29. “This week, I already told our enemies to be careful with their actions. Now I am telling them: Dir balak [watch out].”

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has denied that the terror group is developing such weaponry, saying on Aug. 31, “This is a lie and a pretext that Netanyahu is adopting to carry out aggression.” 

According to the Times of Israel, the IDF is concerned that Hezbollah could eventually use precision-guided missiles “to attack sensitive facilities and overwhelm [Israel’s] air defense array.” Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz warned the Lebanese government on Sept. 3 that if they “don’t thwart Hezbollah’s activity against Israel, the whole of Lebanon will be struck, and it will be severely hurt.”

On Sept. 2, the IDF launched several retaliatory strikes in Lebanon in response to Hezbollah firing at an IDF medical vehicle containing five soldiers but stopped just short of obliterating Hezbollah’s missile operations.

IDF Reveals Iranian Commanders Arming Hezbollah with Missiles

People watch Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah as he appears on a screen during a live broadcast on May 25. Photo by Hassan Abdallah/Reuters

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) tweeted out a video on Aug. 29 highlighting the Iranian commanders behind arming Hezbollah with missiles in Lebanon.

The video names the commanders as Brig. Gen. Muhammad Hussein-Zada Hejazi, Col. Majid Nuab and Brig. Gen. Ali Asrar Nuruzi, all of whom serve in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force.

“Hezbollah is coming dangerously close to possessing precision-guided missiles and becoming the first terror group in the world armed with these lethal capabilities,” the video states, adding that the Iranian generals are heading the operation so Hezbollah can “attack Israel. Iran and Israel don’t share a border so Iran came to a country that does.”

The video adds that Iran and Hezbollah have established sites to build the missiles throughout civilian areas in Lebanon so they can use the civilians “as human shields while preparing to attack the people of Israel.”

The IDF warns that Hezbollah will be able to “attack any target of their choice” if they obtain precision-guided missiles and pledged that they will not let the Shia terror group acquire such weaponry.

The Times of Israel reports that Iran had initially been transporting precision-guided missiles to Hezbollah from 2013-14, only to have Israeli airstrikes largely thwart their efforts. Iran and Hezbollah changed their strategy in 2016 to instead focus on providing Hezbollah with the capability to convert regular missiles into precision-guided missiles.

“We will not stand to the side and allow our enemies to acquire deadly weapons to use against us,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “This week, I already told our enemies to be careful with their actions. Now I am telling them: Dir balak [watch out].”

The IDF’s video comes amidst high tensions between Israel and Hezbollah; over the weekend, Israel targeted Hezbollah in strikes toward Lebanon and Syria, where Hezbollah members were residing at an Iranian base. Hezbollah struck down an Israeli drone on Aug. 28 that they claim entered their airspace; Israel’s concern over a retaliatory strike from Hezbollah has prompted the IDF to reportedly replace soldiers along the Israel-Lebanon border with mannequins.

Hezbollah currently has more than 130,000 rockets and missiles at its disposal, according to the Jerusalem Post.

Election Handbook: Does Iran Help Netanyahu?

Israeli soldiers with their artillery unit on high alert seen near the Israeli-Syrian border, in the Golan Heights, on Aug. 25, 2019. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

This is a guide to Israel’s Coming Elections. This will be a usual feature on Rosner’s Domain until next Election Day, September 17. We hope to make it short, factual, devoid of election hype, and of he-said-she-said inside baseball gossip.

 

Bottom Line

Real challenges (defense, security) capture the headlines.

 

Main Political News

Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Gaza dominate the news. Netanyahu is criticized for being weak on Gaza, and for taking credit for Syria (that is, for talking about it publicly). Impact on the electorate: unknown. But a deteriorating security situation could make a unity government more likely.

The leader of the united Arab list declared that he might be willing to join a coalition, if his conditions are met. Among them: negotiations toward a two-state solution, a cancelation of Basic Law: The Nation, and economic development in Arab areas.

The court decided that two radical rightwing activists could not run for the Knesset, due to racism allegations.

A political and possibly legal fight over whether video cameras would be allowed in polling stations. The cameras are meant to prevent election fraud when the votes are counted. Likud leaders would like to have them in Arab areas (it is known that in these areas there are more cases of election fraud). The head of the election committee forbade cameras, insisting that without a specific low that addresses the issue there is no guaranteed right to place cameras where people vote.

Small right-wing parties, who aren’t likely to cross the electoral threshold, are pressured to quit the race. One already did, others expected to follow.

 

Developments to Watch

Security: Rockets and bombs change trajectories of elections. Not always in the expected direction. In 1992, stabbing attacks helped Yitzhak Rabin and the Labor Party. For years earlier, an attack on a bus to Jerusalem helped Likud.

Trump: The US President said 1. That he might publicize his peace plan before election day, and 2. That he could see a meeting with Iran’s president as a realistic goal. Both such developments could have great impact on Israel’s voters.

Right: Its numbers are inching up, but very slowly. This could be a sign that a 61-62 member coalition of the right is still possible.

 

The Blocs and Their Meaning

This week we offer two graphs.

The blocs. As you can see, the pro-Netanyahu bloc is slowly growing. The more recent the polls (the last three compared to last 5, 10 and 20), the slightly higher the number of expected seats.

 

 

The parties. As you can see, larger parties (Likud, Blue and White) have a momentum, while some smaller ones tend to lose seats.

 

 

A Party to Watch

The left-leaning Democratic Camp was launched with great fanfare, when Meretz, Labor’s Stav Shaffir, and former PM Ehud Barak joined forces. Barak placed himself as number 10 on the list, as if this is proof that the party will gain at least as many seats. But the polls do not predict such outcome. In fact, the Democratic Camp is losing traction. Here is a graph showing the numbers and the moving average for the Democratic Camp since it was announced in late July. Currently, the Camp is expected to get just a little more seats than Meretz without the merger.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Iran Sanctions U.S. Think Tank

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) speaks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (not pictured) at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China August 26, 2019. How Hwee Young/Pool via REUTERS

The Iranian Foreign Ministry announced on Aug. 24 that they are sanctioning the Washington, D.C.-based think-tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) over their criticisms of the regime.

According to the state-run Mehr News Agency, the ministry is accusing the FDD of promulgating “economic terrorism” through their critiques of the Iranian regime and singled out the think-tank’s CEO, Mark Dubowitz.

Taking any actions by the judicial and security apparatuses against the FDD and their Iranian and non-Iranian accomplices will be considered legitimate as their actions are against Iran’s national security and the interests of Iranian people and government,” the Mehr News report states.

The FDD responded in a statement that they consider Iran’s sanctions “a badge of honor” and will continue their work against the Iranian regime.

The Islamic Republic, which has occupied the great nation of Iran for four decades, continues to brutally repress the peoples of Iran, stealing their wealth and creating destruction and chaos in the Middle East,” the think-tank’s statement read. “FDD considers its inclusion on any list put out by the regime as a badge of honor and looks forward to the day when Americans and others can visit a free and democratic Iran.”

Dubowitz tweeted, “Remember: it’s not ‘Iran’ or the ‘Iranian regime’ because there’s nothing Iranian about this odious regime. It’s the Islamic Republic & its regime that illegally occupies & brutalizes the great nation of Iran.”

State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus tweeted, “The outlaw regime in Iran issued a threat today against @FDD, an American think tank, and its CEO. The U.S. takes the regime’s threats seriously. We intend to hold Iran responsible for directly or indirectly compromising the safety of any American.”

Many across the political spectrum tweeted in solidarity with FDD:

The FDD was founded in 2001 in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks and  focuses on research and policy proscriptions toward “strengthening U.S. national security and reducing or eliminating threats posed by adversaries and enemies of the United States and other free nations,” according to the think-tank’s website.

Paraguay Designates Hezbollah, Hamas As Terror Groups

People watch Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah as he appears on a screen during a live broadcast on May 25. Photo by Hassan Abdallah/Reuters

Paraguay announced on Aug. 19 that they have designated Hamas and Hezbollah as international terror groups becoming the second Latin American country since July to do so.

Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benitez issued the designation on Aug. 9. Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz praised the move in a tweet.

This decision contributes to the global battle against these Iranian proxies,” Katz wrote.We will continue working to get more countries to designate these orgs as terrorist orgs.”

American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris tweeted that Paraguay’s move is “important” because it “ups pressure on Hezbollah” in the area and “highlights weakness of [the European Union] only listing Hezbollah’s ‘military’ wing.”

Foundation for the Defense of Democracies Senior Fellow Emanuele Ottolenghi noted that Hezbollah “built extensive infrastructure in the Tri-Border Area (TBA) of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay” because all three have “weak border controls and well-established smuggling routes have contributed to a thriving illicit economy.”

He also pointed out that Argentina designated Hezbollah’s military wing a terror group in July, citing “Hezbollah’s responsibility for terror attacks against an Israeli embassy and a Jewish community center on Argentinian soil in 1992 and 1994, respectively.” Ottolenghi argued that Brazil should follow suit “because Hezbollah’s TBA operations rely heavily on Brazil’s financial system to move money in and out of the area.”

However, the Jerusalem Post notes that in order for Brazil to designate Hezbollah as a terror organization, they will have come up with a broader definition of terrorism and risk their trade relations with Iran, which funds both Hezbollah and Hamas.

For more on Hezbollah, read the Journal’s coverage on the terror group here.

Report: Iran Hoping Trump Loses in 2020 Election

President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a campaign rally, Sunday, Nov. 4, 2018, in Macon, Ga. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

A Switzerland intelligence report revealed that the Iranian regime is hoping President Donald Trump will lose in 2020, citing the Trump administration’s sanctions posed on the regime.

According to the Jerusalem Post, the Switzerland Intelligence Service of the Federation report stated that Iran will stay in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that Trump exited from in May 2018 “and wait for a new administration in Washington.” The report noted that the United States sanctions against Iran have been “strong” because “international companies have virtually no choice but to withdraw from doing business with Iran.”

The report also said that “Iran will continue its efforts to improve the precision of its longer range missiles” and “continue to support anti-Israeli forces in the region, albeit with much less financial commitment.”

Tensions between the U.S. and Iran have escalated recently, as in June, Iran seized a couple of oil British oil tankers and shot down a U.S. drone.

Foundation for the Defense of Democracies Senior Fellow John Hannah argued in a May 31 Foreign Policy piece that the downward spiral of Iran’s economy due to U.S. sanctions suggests that the regime might not be able to wait out Trump.

“The Iranian economy was already forecast to shrink by up to 6 percent in 2019, with inflation raging and the currency having lost almost two-thirds of its value,” Hannah wrote. “The U.S. push to end all oil sales now threatens to tip the economy into a death spiral unlike any the regime has experienced before—and all at a time when by many accounts its legitimacy in the eyes of the Iranian people has eroded substantially.”

Hannah added that Iran’s recent aggression is due to the regime attempting the U.S. cease its “maximum pressure campaign” against Iran. If Iran fails in this regard then “Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will face an excruciating choice: either revert to a policy of trying to ride out the ever-intensifying U.S. economic tsunami that threatens to damage his regime, perhaps even fatally, or swallow hard, lose some face, and figure out a way to take Trump up on his repeated offers to open negotiations,” Hannah argued.

Turkish President Says He Opposes All Allies of Israel

FILE PHOTO: Turkey President Recep Tayip Erdogan attends the South East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) summit in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, July 9, 2019. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on television on July 28 that he and his ruling party AKP (Justice and Development Party) oppose anyone that sides with Israel.

In his address to senior AKP officials, Erdogan said, “Whoever is on the side of Israel, let everyone know that we are against them. We do not approve of silence on the state terror that Israel blatantly carries out in Palestine.”

The American Jewish Committee tweeted in response to Erdogan on July 30, “President Erdogan, we now understand your opposition to democracy, minority rights, and free expression.”

Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have exchanged barbs in the past. In December, Erdogan said in a speech at the Turkey Youth Foundation, “The Jews in Israel kick people laying on the ground. In fact, Jews don’t kick men but also women and children when they fall on the ground.” A day later, Netanyahu called Erdogan “an anti-Semitic dictator” who “has an obsession with Israel.”

In March, Netanyahu’s son, Yair, tweeted he’ll “remind” Erdogan “that Istanbul is actually a city called Constantinople! The capital of the Byzantine empire and center of orthodox Christianity for more then [sic] a thousand years before Turkish occupation!” Erdogan said a few days later that Netanyahu should twist his son’s ears for that comment, and that Turkey has “other ways to educate Israel” if Netanyahu and Yair continued their name-calling.

Erdogan also has frequently compared Israel to Nazi Germany, which included him saying in December that “the Palestinians are subjected to pressures, violence and intimidation policies no less grave than the oppression done to the Jews during WWII.”

Turkey has developed warmer relations with Iran since 2016 and supports Hamas, allowing it to operate in Istanbul.

Netanyahu on Reports of Syria Strike: ‘We’re Defending Ourselves At All Times’

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu climbs out after a visit inside the Rahav, the fifth submarine in the Israeli Navy's fleet, after it arrived in Haifa port, Israel January 12, 2016. REUTERS/Baz Ratner/File Photo

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indirectly commented on reports that Israel launched a strike against Syria on August 1, saying that Israel is “defending ourselves at all times,” the Times of Israel reports.

The Syrian Arab News Agency, a Syrian state-run outlet, and the Saudi Arabian-based Al-Arabiya network reported that Israel fired at a missile at the Quneitra region in the Golan Heights on August 1. The reports stated that there were no deaths, but the missile caused material damage; the reports didn’t indicate the extent of the damage.

Speaking at an August 1 memorial ceremony for Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky, Netanyahu said, “On the northern front, we’re acting against Iran and Hezbollah, and you’re hearing about that now as well.”

The Times of Israel reports that Israel frequently launches strikes in Syria targeting Iran’s weapon shipments to Hezbollah, its terror proxy, in Lebanon.

Earlier on August 1, a Palestinian gunman wearing a Hamas uniform shot and wounded three Israeli soldiers at the Israel-Gaza border, all of whom are expected to survive. The Jerusalem Post ’s Anna Ahronheim suggested that Israel’s reported Syria strike and the Palestinian gunman’s attack on the Gaza border could lead to a war on three fronts.

“According to a recent report in Haaretz, Iran and Hamas have agreed to open a second front in the south from the Gaza Strip should a war break out in Israel’s north,” Ahronheim wrote. “Israeli officials have warned that any war that breaks out in the north will not be confined to one border-Lebanon, or Syria-but both. That would mean a war fought on three fronts.”

She added that while Israel was able to fight a two-front war in 2006, Hamas and Hezbollah’s “military capabilities” have since “increased tremendously with massive rocket and missile arsenals aimed at the Jewish State’s homefront.”

U.S. Sanctions Iranian Foreign Minister

FILE PHOTO: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif talks to the media during the Ministerial Meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Coordinating Bureau in Caracas, Venezuela July 20, 2019. REUTERS/Manaure Quintero/File Photo

The Trump administration sanctioned Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on July 31, according to a statement from the Treasury Department.

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said in the statement, “Javad Zarif implements the reckless agenda of Iran’s Supreme Leader, and is the regime’s primary spokesperson around the world. The United States is sending a clear message to the Iranian regime that its recent behavior is completely unacceptable.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a similar statement:

Axios reports that a senior official for the administration told reporters that Zarif “has been indulged as the reasonable and credible face of Iran and today President [Donald] Trump decided enough is enough.”

In June, when the Trump administration was considering sanctioning Zarif, Foundation for Defense of Democracies Chief Executive Mark Dubowitz tweeted, “If administration does sanction Zarif, they should make it clear that he’s responsible & accountable for decisions made by regime to conduct malign & destructive activities. No more mendaciously denying responsibility. He is part of regime in Iran & core regime decision-making.”

According to Bloomberg, Zarif told The New York Times in July that any U.S. sanctions would have little effect since he doesn’t “have a bank account outside Iran.”

Earlier in July, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted a thank-you to Trump “for his intention to increase sanctions against Iran.” Netanyahu and Zarif exchanged barbs in June, as Netanyahu called Zarif a liar for saying that Israel was aiming to destroy Iran.

“Iran is the one openly threatening destruction,” Netanyahu said at the time. “The regime’s officials threaten the destruction of Israel on a daily basis.”

Zarif was Iran’s lead negotiator in forging the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. He was also educated in the United States, graduating from San Francisco State University (SFSU) in 1981 and earning his master’s and doctorate at the University of Denver in 1984 and 1988, respectively. During his time in SFSU, Zarif was among the students who overtook the Iranian consulate in San Francisco during the 1979 Iranian revolution.

Iran Launches Medium-Range Missile Test

FILE PHOTO: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks live on television after casting his ballot in the Iranian presidential election in Tehran June 12, 2009. REUTERS/Caren Firouz//File Photo

Iran test-fired a medium-range ballistic missile on July 24 that likely has the capability to carry a nuclear warhead.

The Shabab-3 missile was fired from southeast Iran along the Gulf of Oman and flew a little more than 680 miles before landing east of Tehran. According to The New York Times, the missile test is likely “a political statement” from Iran that their ballistic missile program is non-negotiable.

The Trump administration has said that Iran must end their missile program; President Donald Trump exited from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in part because it didn’t address the missile program.

 

The missile test is the latest escalation from Iran, as over the past couple of months it has seized two British oil tankers, downed a U.S. drone and attacked to oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. The U.S. has tightened sanctions on the Iranian regime in response.

Brookings Institute Foreign Policy Deputy Director Suzanne Maloney wrote on July 26 that Iran’s belligerence is part of Iran’s strategy of “deploying diplomacy and force in tandem in hopes of extricating the regime from an increasingly perilous quagmire.”

She added, “At the very least, flexing its muscles in the world’s most important energy corridor can inflate oil prices, improving Tehran’s beleaguered bottom line and complicating Trump’s appeal to his domestic base as he begins his reelection campaign. Mounting tensions may galvanize diplomatic energy from Europe and the other stakeholders to the nuclear deal, and the images of burning tankers offer a powerful warning to Iran’s neighbors of the potential consequences of further escalation. The increasing frictions amplify the gravity of the crisis for the rest of the world, while Iran’s incremental breaches of the nuclear deal provide Tehran with something to trade should an opportunity for bargaining avail itself.”

UN Council Condemns Israel in Two Resolutions

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) condemned Israel in two separate resolutions on July 23, one of which was a resolution about Palestinian women’s rights.

The “situation of and assistance to Palestinian women” resolution states that ECOSOC has “grave concern about the continuing systematic violation of the human rights of the Palestinian people by Israel, the occupying Power, and its impact on women and girls” and “that the Israeli occupation remains a major obstacle for Palestinian women and girls with regard to the fulfillment of their rights, and their advancement, self-reliance and integration in the development of their society.” 

The resolution goes onto urge Israel “to immediately cease all measures contrary to international law, as well as discriminatory legislation, policies and actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.”

ECOSOC passed the aforementioned resolution by a vote 40 in favor, 2 against and 9 abstentions.

The second resolution, titled “Economic and social repercussions of the Israeli occupation on the living conditions of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the Arab population in the occupied Syrian Golan,” blamed “Israel’s occupation of Palestinian and Syrian lands” for the economic hardship of the Palestinian and Syrian people, according to a U.N. press release. That resolution passed with a vote of 45 in favor, 2 against and 4 abstentions.

U.N. Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer denounced the U.N.’s July 23 actions in a press release, calling them hypocritical for solely condemning Israel on women’s rights but failing to denounce Iran, Saudi Arabia or Yemen, all of whom sit on ECOSOC.

When you have Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen among the UN council members accusing Israel of violating women’s rights, you are in the theater of the absurd,” Neuer said.

According to Human Rights Watch, Iran has arrested women’s rights activists for refusing to wear hijabs in public, both Iran and Saudi Arabia require consent from male spouses in order for women to travel abroad, and in Yemen women are “exposed to domestic and sexual violence” because of “a lack of legal protection.”

U.N. Watch’s press release also argued that the women’s rights resolution ignored the Palestinian governments’ treatment of women. Hamas forces women to wear headscarves in the Gaza Strip as well as bans them from smoking and participating in public marathons with men, according to the Huffington Post. Amnesty International has also noted that women and girls are “inadequately protected against sexual and other gender-based violence, including so-called ‘honor’ killings in the West Bank and Gaza.

In March, the United Nations gave Iran a seat on the U.N. Women’s Rights Committee.

Iran Captures British Tanker

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif arrives for a meeting at United Nations Headquarters in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., July 18, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Iran announced on July 19 that they have captured a British oil tanker that was heading through the Strait of Hormuz toward Saudi Arabia.

The owners of the Stena Impero ship said that the ship suddenly veered toward Qeshm, an Iranian island, after “unidentified small crafts and a helicopter” approached it. The owners have said they have been unable to contact the ship.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard has “a substantial base” on Qeshm, according to the UK Guardian.

Two United States defense officials confirmed that Iran seized the tanker to CNN.

The British government is currently undergoing emergency meetings to address the matter.

On July 4, the British apprehended an Iranian oil tanker nearby Gibraltar that they said was headed toward Syria. A Gibraltar extended Britain’s detention of the tanker for another 30 days on July 10. Iran was infuriated at the tanker’s apprehension, denouncing it as “piracy.”

The U.S. shot down an Iranian drone on July 18, saying that it was too close to the U.S.S. Boxer. Iran denied that the drone was theirs.

UPDATE: Iran has reportedly seized a second British tanker:

US Shoots Down Iranian Drone

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters while hosting Team USA for the 2019 Special Olympics World Games in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 18, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

A United States Navy ship shot down an Iranian drone over the Strait of Hormuz on July 18, President Donald Trump announced.

Trump told reporters that the drone was as close as around 1,000 yards away from the U.S.S. Boxer, an amphibious assault ship. The drone kept coming closer to the ship despite Boxer personnel warning the drone to stand down, prompting the ship to down the drone.

“This is the latest of many provocative and hostile actions against vessels operating in international waters,” Trump said. “The United States reserves the right to defend our personnel, facilities, and interests.”

The Pentagon confirmed Trump’s remarks in a statement.

“At approximately 10 a.m. local time, the amphibious ship USS Boxer was in international waters conducting a planned inbound transit of the Strait of Hormuz,” the statement read. “A fixed wing unmanned aerial system (UAS) approached Boxer and closed within a threatening range. The ship took defensive action against the UAS to ensure the safety of the ship and its crew.”

The downing of the Iranian drone is the latest in a series of escalatory incidents between the U.S. and Iran. In June, Iran attacked a couple of oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman and shot down an unmanned U.S. drone. Trump imposed further sanctions on Iran in response.

According to The U.K. Guardian, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said he is offering the Trump administration a deal in which Iran would allow its nuclear program to be subjected to “enhanced inspections” if the U.S. eases sanctions. The Guardian notes that the Trump administration is likely to reject such a proposal, as they want a deal in which Iran ceases “uranium enrichment and support for proxies and allies in the [Middle East] region.”

House Passes Bill Requiring Trump to Get Congressional Approval to Strike Iran

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stands by in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 20, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The House of Representatives passed a bill on July 12 requiring President Donald Trump to obtain congressional approval before launching a strike against Iran.

The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that was passed included an amendment on the matter, stating that the 2001 Authorization for Use Military Force (AUMF) that’s been used to strike Islamic terrorists in the Middle East could not be used to strike Iran. The amendment passed with 251 votes in favor, including more than a dozen Republicans, and 170 against and the NDAA passed with 220 votes in favor and 197 against.

However, NBC News notes that the Senate’s version of the NDAA is different than the House version and that the aforementioned Iran amendment likely won’t make the final version of the bill.

The House bill’s passage comes after Trump nixed a strike against Iran in June after learning that 150 people would die. Iran had shot down a United States drone earlier that week.

The Trump administration has been ramping up sanctions against the Iranian regime as tensions escalate between the two countries, although the administration is reportedly backing off plans to sanction Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

Pompeo Focuses On Religious Liberty in CUFI Speech

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a news conference on human rights at the State Department in Washington, U.S., July 8, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo focused on religious liberty during his July 8 speech at the Christians United for Israel Summit in Washington, D.C., contrasting Israel’s religious freedom to Iran’s intolerance.

Pompeo began the speech by arguing that “Christians in America are among Israel’s greatest friends,” saying that Christian support for a Jewish state “runs back to the early Puritan settlers.” He cited evangelist William Blackstone pushed then-President Woodrow Wilson to support the 1916 Balfour Declaration as a later example of Christian support for a Jewish homeland.

The secretary of state went on to praise Israel as “the only truly free nation throughout the entire Middle East,” citing the Jewish State’s respect for religious liberty.

“Israel is a majority Jewish nation, but the government doesn’t force Jewish beliefs on others,” Pompeo said. “Indeed, to the contrary, its Declaration of Independence guarantees the ‘full freedom of conscience, worship, education, and culture.’ Israel permits the conversion of its citizens away from Judaism, the majority religion. Indeed, last year, the Knesset – their parliament there in Israel ‒ passed a law prohibiting hiring discrimination against workers who refuse to work on their day of rest.”

Pompeo contrasted Israel’s record on religious liberty to Iran’s “militant” theocracy, which abuses Christian converts from Islam.

“Last year, an Iranian court upheld a 10-year prison sentences on four Iranian Christians who were ‘acting against national security’ by, quote, ‘promoting Zionist Christianity,’ end of quote, and running house churches. This is something we know in America,” Pompeo said. “Instead of following the normal summons procedure, authorities raided their homes, beat them, and used electroshock weapons on them.  They then threw them into Evin Prison – a regime dungeon inside of Tehran.”

The regime’s “intolerance” toward other religions is what underlies Tehran’s cries to destroy Israel, Pompeo said, proceeding to praise the Trump administration’s actions against Iran.

“We’ve implemented the strongest pressure campaign in history against the Iranian regime, and we are not done,” Pompeo said. “We’ve cut off billions in funds that the Islamic Republic of Iran’s leadership would have used for various nefarious purposes, not the least of which would have been their efforts to destroy the state of Israel. It is also the case that under President Trump, the Israel haters such as Hamas and Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad receive far less blood money from Iran to pursue their terrorism than ever in recent history.”

Pompeo also touted the Trump administration’s efforts to combat anti-Semitism.

“We live in a very real world, and for that reason I was able last March to declare a simple truth, that anti-Zionism is indeed anti-Semitism,” Pompeo said. “Period. Full stop.”

The full speech can be seen below:

Full speech transcript can be read at the State Department’s website.

EU Foreign Policy Nominee Said World ‘Has to Live With’ Iran Wanting to Destroy Israel

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell Fontelles, the nominee to be the European Union’s next foreign policy czar, said in February that the world has “to live with” Iran’s ambitions to destroy Israel.

Politico asked Borrell if the Trump administration “had a point” regarding its decision in May 2018 to leave the Iran nuclear deal given Iran’s frequent threats to destroy Israel. Borrell replied, “We have our own prospects, interests and strategy and we will continue working with Iran. It would be very bad for us if it goes on to develop a nuclear weapon … Iran wants to wipe out Israel; nothing new about that. You have to live with it.”

The European Council nominated Borrell to the foreign policy position on July 2; he is expected to be confirmed.

According to The Jerusalem Post and Times of Israel, Borrell has also made myriad past statements that are critical of Israel, including criticizing Israel’s response to the Hamas-led May 2018 riots at the Israel-Gaza Strip border as reflecting “the dehumanization of the Palestinians by a large part of the Israeli political class and society.” He also lamented Israel’s “terrible bombings” targeting Hamas.

Additionally, Borrell tweeted in February, “Today marks 40 years of the Islamic revolution of #Iran. This regional power has changed a lot during this time. In 1976, the literacy rate was 35 percent. Now it’s 84 percent. In 1980, 5 percent of the women employed were university students. Now they are 47 percent, but only 16 percent of the workforce is female, and the unemployment rate of women is double that of men.” He also tweeted that the United States “has an obsession with Iran,” adding that “Iran can survive the sanctions if Trump is not re-elected. Otherwise, the regime could reactivate the nuclear program for military purposes and multiply its interventions in the region.”

However, in 2005 Borrell proclaimed Israel’s right to exist “as a Jewish state.”

The Anti-Defamation League tweeted, “Especially at a time of increasingly heightened tensions with Iran, EU foreign policy nominee Josep Borrell should clarify and retract his earlier statement” on having “to live with” Iran wanting to destroy Israel.

Netanyahu: Iran’s Recent Actions Are Attempts at ‘Blackmail’ for Money

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a joint news conference with Chilean President Sebastian Pinera (unseen) at his office in Jerusalem, June 26, 2019. Debbie Hill/Pool via REUTERS

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a July 2 speech that Iran’s belligerent behavior of late is nothing more than an attempt to strong-arm Western countries into giving the regime more money.

Speaking at a Jerusalem reception, Netanyahu said that “Iran openly violated the [2015] nuclear deal by increasing the stockpile of enriched uranium (to beyond that) allowed under the deal” because they’re aiming “to blackmail the world into making concessions and reducing the economic pressure on it.” The Israeli prime minister urged the world not to fall for Iran’s gambit and reiterated his July 1 for European countries to ramp up sanctions on Iran.

“Now is the time to increase the pressure,” Netanyahu said. “Now is the time to stand firm.”

Iran announced on June 1 that they had exceeded the 300-kilogram uranium enrichment limit under the deal. President Donald Trump told Fox News later in the day that Iran was “playing with fire.” White House National Security Adviser John Bolton tweeted that Iran’s move was likely “part of an effort to reduce the breakout time to produce nuclear weapons.”

Britain, France and Germany said in a joint statement to the European Union’s High Representative on Iran, “We regret this decision by Iran, which calls into question an essential instrument of nuclear non-proliferation. We urge Iran to reverse this step and to refrain from further measures that undermine the nuclear deal.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz told Army Radio on July 2 that Israel will do whatever it takes to prevent Iran from obtaining “nuclear weapons, even if we have to act alone on that.”

Iran’s economy has been reeling ever since the Trump administration exited from the Iran deal in May 2018 and ramped up sanctions.

Netanyahu Says More Evidence Will Show Iran Lied About Nukes

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, June 30, 2019. Oded Balilty/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on July 1 that the Israeli government would produce more evidence that the Iranian regime has been lying about their intentions to develop nuclear weapons, Bloomberg reports.

Speaking at an event honoring Israeli reservists, Netanyahu highlighted Iran’s July 1 announcement that they have exceeded the 300-kilogram uranium limit set under the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Netanyahu said,When we exposed Iran’s secret nuclear arsenal, we proved that the entire nuclear agreement with Iran is based on one big lie. Now even Iran admits it. More proof will be revealed soon that Iran has lied all the time.”

Netanyahu was referencing his April 2018 press conference where he revealed various documentation showing that Iran has consistently sought to obtain nuclear weapons despite their statements to the contrary. This included the Fordow Uranium Enrichment Facility that was buried beneath mountains so Iran could continue developing uranium in secret.

The Israeli prime called on European countries to “stand by your commitments” to impose sanctions on Iran should they violate the nuclear deal.

“Do it,” Netanyahu said. “Just do it.”

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed on July 1 that Iran has in fact exceeded the 300-kilogram limit set under the nuclear deal. Former IAEA Deputy Olli Heinonen told Israeli Army Radio on June 5 that he estimated that Iran could develop nuclear weapons in six to eight months. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on July 1 that the regime will unwind its nuclear development if the European countries forge a new deal with Iran.

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham told reporters on July 1, “The Iranian regime took action today to increase its uranium enrichment. It was a mistake under the Iran nuclear deal to allow Iran to enrich uranium at any level. There is little doubt that even before the deal’s existence, Iran was violating its terms. We must restore the longstanding nonproliferation standard of no enrichment for Iran. The United States and its allies will never allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons.”

Bahrain Foreign Minister on Israel: ‘The Jewish People Have a Place Amongst Us’

Photo from Flickr.

Bahrain Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa told Israel’s Channel 13 journalist Barak Ravid during the United States’ conference on Palestinian economic development that he acknowledged Israel’s history in the Middle East and that the Jewish people deserve a spot in the region.

Ravid asked Al-Khalifa in Manama on June 26 what particular message he has for the Israeli public. Al Khalifa replied that Israel deserves to have peace with more Arab countries than Jordan and Egypt.

“Israel is a country in the Middle East. It is part of the heritage of this region, historically,” Al-Khalifa said. “The Jewish people have a place amongst us.”

Al-Khalifa also said the Palestinians erred in refusing to partake in the conference because they are missing “an opportunity” to help “alleviate the lives and the troubles of people.” He added that Bahrain trusts the U.S. in being an “honest broker” in negotiating peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

On Iran, Al-Khalifa said that the regime in Tehran is “a major threat to the security and stability of the region,” adding that Iran has worsened prospects for peace in the region through their “money and weapons and with soldiers of militias.” If war breaks out in the region, it will be Iran’s fault, Al-Khalifa argued.

“They have been calling for war,” Al-Khalifa said. “They have been attacking ships. They have been targeting tankers. Drone attacks from Yemen. They have been calling for war in the region… this regime only survives with aggression.” He also defended Israel’s “right to defend itself” from Iranian aggression in Syria.

Times of Israel reporter Raphael Ahren wrote on June 26 that even though Israel and Bahrain have yet to officially establish diplomatic relations, Bahrainian officials have been providing “exceedingly warm” treatment to Israeli journalists, including accommodating those that keep kosher.

“In Bahrain, this week at least, I was happy to discover, officialdom does not appear to shy away from using the word ‘Israel’; it features twice on my official conference badge, and no one has batted an eye,” Ahren wrote. “In fact, in a certain way we Israelis journalists have been treated slightly better than our colleagues. While reporters from other countries received press passes, we were given credentials of delegates, which has guaranteed us better access to some of the conference’s events.”

The two-day conference, which started on June 25, featured the U.S., Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Gulf Arab states. White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner, who is also President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, proposed $50 billion in investment toward the Palestinian territories and neighboring Arab countries.

The full transcript of Al-Khalifa’s interview can be read here.

H/T: Axios

Trump Threatens Iran with ‘Obliteration’ After Iran President Calls Trump ‘Mentally Retarded’

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks prior to signing an executive order establishing a White House Council on "Eliminating Regulatory Barriers to Affordable Housing" in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 25, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Tensions between the United States and Iran continue to escalate as President Donald Trump threatened the regime with “obliteration” after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Trump was “mentally retarded.”

The Trump administration announced new sanctions on June 24 targeting Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his office and that sanctions later in the week would be placed on Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Rouhani said in a June 25 speech that the sanctions against Khamenei wouldn’t be effective because the Iranian supreme leader doesn’t have any global assets, although there is evidence to the contrary. He also argued that the Trump administration is undermining efforts to negotiate through their pending sanctions on Zarif.

“The White House actions mean it is mentally retarded,” Rouhani said.

Trump tweeted in response, “Iran’s very ignorant and insulting statement, put out today, only shows that they do not understand reality. Any attack by Iran on anything American will be met with great and overwhelming force. In some areas, overwhelming will mean obliteration. No more John Kerry & [Barack] Obama!”

Trump told reporters later in the day that he will not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons, but he said he’d still be willing to enter negotiations with the Iranian regime.

“When they’re ready, they have to let us know,” Trump said. “Whatever they want to do, I’m ready.”

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Mousavi tweeted that the latest round of sanctions ended any chance of negotiations.

“The useless sanctioning of Islamic Revolution Supreme Leader and the commander of Iranian diplomacy means closing the doors of diplomacy by the U.S.′ desperate administration,” Mousavi wrote. “Trump’s government is annihilating all the established international mechanisms for keeping peace and security in the world.”

Also on June 25, the national security advisers for the U.S., Israel and Russia all met in Jerusalem to discuss Iran. U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton called out Iran’s support for terrorism and accused the regime of continuing to develop nuclear weapons; however, he said that the door is still open for negotiations. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the summit as “unprecedented” and reiterated his declaration that Israel will ensure that Iran never obtains nuclear weapons.

Russian National Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, on the other hand, said that while Russia takes note of Israel’s security concerns, Iran fights terrorists in Syria. He also defended Iran’s claim that the downed U.S. drone on June 20 was flying over Iranian airspace; the U.S. has argued that the drone was flying in international airspace.

Report: Iran Terror Attack in France Foiled

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

A British newspaper is reporting that French authorities thwarted an Iran terror attack, according to the Jerusalem Post.

The Independent in Arabic newspaper reported that an Iranian intelligence official transferred a half ton of triacetone triperoxide (TATP) explosives on a civilian airplane that flew from Tehran to Austria in June 2018. The explosives were then transferred to an Iranian Belgian couple to take to Paris in their car; French authorities arrested the couple on their way to Paris.

The report states that “Iran frequently uses civilian aircraft and civilian airlines to transport explosives, weapons and ballistic missiles, as well as funds to Hezbollah in Lebanon and elsewhere in the world,” per the Post, constituting a violation of international aviation treaties.

President Donald Trump announced new sanctions on Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his office on June 24, highlighting the Iranian regime’s increasing belligerence in the region and against the United States.

“The supreme leader of Iran is one who ultimately is responsible of the hostile conduct of the regime,” Trump told reporters. “He’s respected within his country. His office oversees the regime’s most brutal instruments including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.”

Iran funds myriad Islamic terror organizations, including Hamas, Hezbollah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Iran has also had reported dealings with al-Qaeda in the past. Hezbollah, Iran’s Shia proxy, reportedly plotted a terror attack in Britain in 2015 that was ultimately thwarted.

Trump Imposes New Sanctions on Iran

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks before signing an executive order aimed at requiring hospitals to be more transparent about prices before charging patients for healthcare services, at the White House in Washington, U.S. June 24, 2019. REUTERS/Erin Scott

President Donald Trump announced new sanctions on Iran on June 24 targeting Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Khamenei’s office.

According to a White House statement, the sanctions will also single out anyone Khamenei appointed to the Iranian as well as anyone who does business with Khamenei or his office.

“We call on the regime to abandon its nuclear ambitions, change its destructive behavior, respect the rights of its people, and return in good faith to the negotiating table,” Trump said in a statement.

Trump told reporters on June 24 that the sanctions were in response to “a series of aggressive behaviors by the Iranian regime in recent weeks, including shooting down of U.S. drones. The supreme leader of Iran is one who ultimately is responsible of the hostile conduct of the regime. He’s respected within his country. His office oversees the regime’s most brutal instruments including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.”

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said that later in the week the Trump administration will impose sanctions on Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

Additionally, the Treasure Department announced eight Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders would be sanctioned:

Zarif responded to the new round of sanctions in a tweet accusing the Trump administration of having a “thirst for war.”

Foundation for Defense of Democracies Chief Executive Mark Dubowitz praised Trump for “targeting the massive corruption of [Khamenei].”

On June 21, Trump announced that he had called off a strike against Iran retaliating for the downed drone, saying that he didn’t like the fact that 150 people would have been killed.

Trump Called Off Iran Strikes

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stands by in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 20, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

President Donald Trump announced in a series of tweets on June 21 that he called off strikes against Iran at the last second because he wanted to avoid collateral damage.

Trump explained in the tweets that the Pentagon was “cocked and loaded” to strike Iran, but he decided to back off when he was told that the strikes would result in 150 dead. Trump added that he was “in no hurry” to take military action against Iran since his administration’s sanctions against Iran are crippling the regime.

Trump told NBC’s Chuck Todd that his generals didn’t immediately have the details on collateral damage from the strikes available when he asked for it.

A Trump administration official told Reuters that the strikes would have targeted Iranian radars and missile batteries, among others. The official also said that the administration urged the Iranians in a message through Oman to come to the negotiating table or else face strikes.

Tensions have been escalating between the United States and Iran, as highlighted by the recent attacks against oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman and Iran shooting down an unmanned U.S. drone on Thursday. A senior Republican source on Capitol Hill told CNN, “Historically we have seen what happens when the US issues red lines and then fails to enforce them. Failing to take action could be far more dangerous in the long run.”

Bloomberg national security columnist Eli Lake noted in a June 20 Op-ed that among the U.S.’s options include authorizing strikes against Iranian commanders throughout the Middle East or against Iran’s naval facilities; the U.S. could also engage in cyberwarfare against Iran as a method of deterrence.

American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Rubin argued that the Iranian regime could be on its last legs given the country’s languishing economy under the sanctions and the regime leaders getting older. The regime is unpopular inside Iran, but Rubin warned that the country’s civilians are “fiercely nationalistic,” which the Trump administration should keep in mind going forward.

“It is essential to maintain the pressure on Iran without playing into the hands of a regime that may want conflict,” Rubin wrote. “Let’s hope President Donald Trump is wise enough to allow his ‘maximum pressure campaign’ to work without giving authorities in Tehran either a diplomatic out or resorting to military force that will backfire in the long-term.”

Iran Shoots Down U.S. Drone

FILE PHOTO: An undated U.S. Air Force handout photo of a RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned (drone) aircraft. U.S. Air Force/Bobbi Zapka/Handout/Files via REUTERS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.

Iran downed a United States military drone on Thursday, adding fuel to the fire of escalating tensions between the two countries.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has claimed that they shot down the unarmed RQ-4A Global Hawk drone in Iranian airspace, while the U.S. is claiming that the drone was shot down in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz, an important waterway for oil trade.

President Donald Trump told reporters on Thursday that “Iran made a very bad mistake,” but added that he thought it was “hard to believe it was intentional. It could have been someone who was loose and stupid who did it.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamed Javad Zarif tweeted that the “drone took off from UAE in stealth mode & violated Iranian airspace.” Zarif then wrote that Iran “retrieved sections of the US military drone in OUR territorial waters where it was shot down.”

The White House will be meeting with congressional leaders from both parties later in the day to brief them on the situation with Iran.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his support for the U.S. in a statement.

In the last 24 hours, Iran has intensified its aggression against the United States and against all of us,” Netanyahu said. “I repeat my call for all peace-loving countries to stand by the United States in its effort to stop Iranians’ aggression. Israel stands by the United States on this.”

According to the Times of Israel, senior Israeli defense officials believe that Iran’s recent belligerence stems from them thinking that Trump is averse to military conflict, and that the U.S. needs a strong military to deter Iran’s behavior.

Trump Admin Tells Congress of Iran, Al-Qaeda Ties

FILE PHOTO: A gas flare on an oil production platform in the Soroush oil fields is seen alongside an Iranian flag in the Persian Gulf, Iran, July 25, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/File Photo/File Photo

The Trump administration is briefing members of Congress of the ties between Iran and al-Qaeda, The New York Times reports.

According to the Times, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and members of the Department of Defense are making the claims, arguing that the relationship between Iran and al-Qaeda goes back as far right after the 9/11 terror attacks.

“There is no doubt there is a connection,” Pompeo said in an April congressional hearing. “Period. Full stop.”

Pompeo also alleged in a June 13 press conference that Iran was behind a suicide bombing earlier in the month in Afghanistan that killed four Americans; the Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the Times.

The Times report cites various government officials and lawmakers who are skeptical of the Trump administration’s claim and believe that they are laying the foundation for war with Iran under the 2001 authorization use for military force against al-Qaeda in light of escalating tensions between the United States and Iran.

“They are looking to bootstrap an argument to allow the president to do what he likes without coming to Congress, and they feel the 2001 authorization will allow them to go to war with Iran,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told the Times.

In September, the State Department’s annual Country Reports on Terrorism stated that Iran continues to harbor al-Qaeda terrorists and provides “a core facilitation pipeline” for al-Qaeda to utilize. In 2017, CIA documents stated that Iran and al-Qaeda have had a working relationship since 1991, with Iran providing the Sunni terror group with resources to conduct its terrorism, even allowing al-Qaeda to utilize Hezbollah training camps. The documents also stated that Iran allowed the al-Qaeda members behind the 9/11 terror attacks to have safe passage through Iran and into the United States.

US to Send 1,000 Additional Troops to Middle East As Tensions Rise with Iran

U.S. acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan walks through the subway system at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., June 5, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The United States will be sending an additional 1,000 troops to the Middle East while tensions increase between the U.S. and Iran, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan announced June 17.

Shanahan said in a statement that Iran’s “recent hostile power” necessitated the extra troops in the region.

The action today is being taken to ensure the safety and welfare of our military personnel working throughout the region and to protect our national interests,” Shanahan said. “We will continue to monitor the situation diligently and make adjustments to force levels as necessary given intelligence reporting and credible threats.”

The additional troops come after the U.S. accused Iran of attacking two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman on June 13; Iran has denied involvement. The Pentagon released two photos on Monday showing Iran removing a mine from one of the tankers that hadn’t detonated and a hole on the side of the same tanker that purportedly came from a mine. The photos are evidence that Iran was behind the attack, the Pentagon argued.

Also on Monday, Iran threatened to breach the uranium enrichment limits set under the Iran nuclear deal in 10 days if Western countries don’t agree to a new nuclear deal after President Donald Trump exited from the deal in May 2018. Former International Atomic Energy Agency head Olli Heinonen estimated on June 5 that Iran could develop nuclear weapons in six-to-eight months.

The Trump administration has been ramping up sanctions against Iran, including possible sanctions cracking down on European countries’ trade with Iran.

Iran Says It Will Break Uranium Stockpile Limit Set by Nuclear Deal

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivers a speech at the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) in Dushanbe, Tajikistan June 15, 2019. REUTERS/Mukhtar Kholdorbekov

(JTA) — Iran said Monday that it will break the uranium stockpile limit set by the 2015 nuclear deal in the next 10 days.

The Atomic Energy Organization made the announcement at the Arak heavy water nuclear facility. Its spokesman, Behrouz Kamalvandi, also said that Iran had already quadrupled its low-enriched nuclear output, the official state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

Since the Trump administration pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal one year ago, Iran has pushed the limits of breaching the agreement with world powers. China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany and the European Union remain committed to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

In May, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani set a 60-day deadline for the powers to set new terms for the nuclear deal, including easing restrictions on Iran’s banking and oil sectors. Iran threatened that if the world powers failed to meet the deadline, it would remove caps on uranium enrichment levels and resume work at Arak.

Renovations have been completed on the Arak heavy water plant, which allows it to increase its capacity. In the next stage of nuclear technology development, Iran will use the extra heavy water, IRNA reported.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday called on the international community to reimpose sanctions on Iran.

“Israel stands at the forefront with the U.S., with moderate Arab countries and with other countries, in opposition to the Iranian aggression. Today Iran threatened to enrich uranium to higher levels beyond that which is permitted by the nuclear agreement,” he said. “Should Iran make good on its current threats, and violate the nuclear agreement, the international community needs to immediately impose the sanctions regime that was agreed upon in advance, the ‘snapback sanctions.’ In any case, Israel will not allow Iran to achieve nuclear weapons.”

Iran Paper Runs Anti-Semitic Cartoon of German Foreign Minister

FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag flutters in front the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna, Austria March 4, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo

The official paper of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) ran an anti-Semitic cartoon of Germany’s foreign minister on Tuesday, according to the Jerusalem Post.

The paper, called Javan, depicted German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas posing with a Nazi salute while wearing Star of David-rimmed glasses and a swastika armband.

Javan also had an editorial alongside the cartoon stating that “the stinking leftovers of Nazism and fascism have manifested themselves in the spirit of the weakest Europe in history.” Maas met with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in Tehran on June 10, where he urged the Iranian government to stay in the Iran nuclear deal.

Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action Agenda at the Simon Wiesenthal Center Rabbi Abraham Cooper told the Post, “Why such desperation by Germany to save serial liar genocide wannabe tyrants in Tehran? Time to use peaceful sanctions to stand up to tyrants and stand up for people of Iran.”

Such anti-Semitic cartoons are not uncommon in Iran. On Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2012, Iran aired cartoons depicted Jews concocting the Holocaust as a fictional tale in order to steal land from Palestinian Arabs. In 2010, Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) compiled a series of similar Holocaust-denying cartoons from the Iranian Holocartoons website.

Additionally, in 2006, The New York Times reported on the Palestinian Contemporary Art Museum in Tehran featuring images of “a Jew with a very large nose” and “the word Holocaust” on the man’s chest as part of a Holocaust cartoon-drawing contest. Other images included “a vampire wearing a big Star of David drinking the blood of Palestinians” and “[former Israeli Prime Minister] Ariel Sharon dressed in a Nazi uniform, emblazoned not with swastikas but with the Star of David.”