Middle East News Alerts

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  • U.S. Sends “Message” to Abbas with $80 Million Aid Cut – Julian Pecquet
    The Obama administration is cutting aid to the Palestinians by $80 million in an apparent message to PA President Mahmoud Abbas. The State Department notified lawmakers on Sept. 25 of its intention to reduce economic aid for the West Bank and Gaza from $370 million to $290 million in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. The 22% cut from the department’s initial request follows mounting criticism from Congress about Palestinian “incitement” in the rash of stabbing attacks that have left at least 10 Israeli civilians dead over the past three weeks. “We need to dial up pressure on Palestinian officials to repudiate this violence,” said Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
    The aid cut is a “good first step,” said House foreign aid panel chairwoman Kay Granger (R-Texas). She wrote a letter to Abbas along with ranking member Nita Lowey (D-NY) on Tuesday warning him that U.S. aid would be “severely jeopardized” if Abbas refuses direct negotiations with Israel.
    Granger has a hold on the aid request, along with House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.). “Given that about one-third of the Palestinian Authority’s budget is financed through foreign aid, international donors have leverage,” Royce said on Thursday. “They could follow the lead of the U.S. Congress – and make direct funding of the PA off limits until the incitement stops.”
    David Makovsky, director of the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, recommended closing the PLO office in Washington, sanctioning PA officials and others with visa bans, earmarking U.S. aid for specific programs untainted by corruption, and pressing Europeans and other Palestinian donors to denounce anti-Israel incitement. (
    Al-Monitor)
    See also
    Stop Inciting Stabbings, U.S. Lawmakers Tell Palestinians – Charles Hoskinson
    The House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday adopted a bipartisan resolution calling on Palestinian leaders to end the rhetoric U.S. lawmakers believe is fueling violence against Israelis. It calls on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to “discontinue all official incitement and exert influence to discourage anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement in Palestinian civil society.” It also directs the State Department to track and publicize incidents of incitement by Palestinian authorities. (
    Washington Examiner)
  • U.S. Sought to Prevent Israeli Strike on Iran Nuclear Facility – Adam Entous
    The U.S. closely monitored Israel’s military bases and eavesdropped on secret communications in 2012, fearing its longtime ally might try to carry out a strike on Fordow, Iran’s most heavily fortified nuclear facility. U.S. spy agencies stepped up satellite surveillance of Israeli aircraft movements. They watched the Israelis practice strike missions and learned they were probing Iran’s air defenses, looking for ways to fly in undetected, U.S. officials said. The Israelis briefed the U.S. on an attack plan: Cargo planes would land in Iran with Israeli commandos on board who would “blow the doors” of Fordow, a senior U.S. official said. The Israelis planned to sabotage the nuclear facility from inside.
    Prime Minister Netanyahu reserves the right to continue covert action against Iran’s nuclear program, said current and former Israeli officials. One clause in the Iran nuclear agreement says the major powers will help the Iranians secure their facilities against sabotage. State Department officials said the clause wouldn’t protect Iranian nuclear sites from Israel. (
    Wall Street Journal)
  • Sanctions Debate Emerges from Shadow of Iran Nuclear Accord
    After his victory in Congress on Thursday on the Iran nuclear deal, President Obama will face a new battle over how stringently to impose economic sanctions on Iran. The U.S. agreed to lift many of the crippling sanctions on Iran. But to win over wary Democrats, Obama promised that he would maintain – and perhaps even increase – sanctions to punish Iran for terrorism, human rights abuses, and other “destabilizing activities in the region.”
    Lawmakers have indicated they would like to go further, and they are considering legislative proposals that include renewing the current sanctions against foreign companies that invest in Iran’s energy industry. Obama would waive them as long as Iran complied with the nuclear accord, but it would be a signal that Iran is not to be trusted and that sanctions could be restored rapidly.
    Another proposal would seek to discourage Western companies from doing business with any Iranian firm in which the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps has even a minority stake, by officially designating the group to be a foreign terrorist organization. Designating the Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization “would result in a powerful deterrent for international banks and companies contemplating doing business with the most dangerous element of the regime,” said Mark Dubowitz, an Iran sanctions expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
    Obama administration officials insist the Treasury Department is prepared to be vigilant about curbing Iran’s non-nuclear muscle flexing without extra help from Congress. Adam J. Szubin, the acting Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial crimes, said, “I just got back from Israel where I talked with their security forces, their intelligence and their military about precisely this. There is a whole lot we need to be doing jointly to target Hizbullah’s lines of support, the Quds Force’s lines of support – how they are procuring parts for UAVs, how are they funneling money from their diaspora communities. We have the tools.”  (
    New York Times)
  • The Risks If Iran Doesn’t Become More Moderate with Nuclear Deal
    The durability of the Iran agreement and its benefits for the U.S. depend almost entirely on the moderation of Iran’s regime and its behavior in the region. It is virtually impossible to separate Iran’s nuclear weapons aspirations from the nature of the regime, its ambitions in the region, or its view of the U.S. The regime that purged Iran of U.S. influence in 1979 has no intention of letting Washington back in.
    Iran’s desire to become a nuclear weapons threshold state is driven by its desire to preserve its highly ideological and authoritarian character. Iranian leaders are looking to protect the 1979 revolution and create a hedge against regime change by hostile powers – principally the U.S. and key Sunni Arab states. Henry Kissinger was right years ago that as long as Iran remains a cause rather than a nation, it will not abandon its nuclear weapons pretensions. Without significant changes in Iran’s regime at home and its policies abroad, Iran will not give up its option to weaponize.
    The writer is a vice president at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars. (Wall Street Journal)
  • The Iranians Mean What They Say
    Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blatantly attacked the U.S. – the Great Satan – and Israel – the Little Satan – in a speech on Wednesday. These types of statements are commonplace. How can the Iranian leadership simultaneously sign a deal with the West while spitting in its face? Professor Ze’ev Maghen, head of the Middle Eastern Studies Department at Bar-Ilan University and an Iran expert, explains that there is a cultural-psychological gap that makes it difficult for the West to understand how the Iranian mind works. Iran’s goal is to humiliate the U.S., its despised enemy, as much as possible.
    The West has gotten used to these declarations and is not bothered by them, as “Iran will be judged by its actions, not its words.” But Middle Eastern countries operate in a “culture of shame and honor.” Leaders in the Arab Muslim world would never accept statements that disparage their dignity and honor. In Iran’s eyes, Western restraint is not seen as the behavior of a “responsible adult,” rather it is interpreted as a sign of insecurity and lack of honor. The Iranians mean every word they say, and as soon as they have the opportunity and the necessary power, they won’t hesitate to turn their words into actions.
    The writer is a lecturer in the Middle Eastern Studies Department at Bar-Ilan University. (Israel Hayom)
  • U.S. Remains the “Great Satan,” Hard-Liners in Iran Say
    Some of the toughest anti-American voices in Iran said on Tuesday that the U.S. remains their country’s top enemy, guilty of “uncountable” crimes. The head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, announced plans to expand the reach of Iran’s missiles and warned that despite the nuclear deal, America was still the “same Great Satan.”
    Meanwhile, police officers in Tehran took to the streets, arresting distributors selling clothes featuring American and British symbols, like the Stars and Stripes and the Union Jack. Tehran’s police chief, Gen. Hossein Sajedinia, said that garments imprinted with “satanic symbols” had been seized from stores in Tehran. (
    New York Times)
    See also below 
    Observations – Ayatollah Khamenei: “Iran’s Policy Is the Opposite of America’s” (MEMRI)
  • Russia Puts Boots on the Ground in Syria
    On Aug. 22, the 
    Bosphorus Naval News website showed the Russian shipNikolai Filchenkov with military equipment visible on deck – KamAZ trucks and at least four BTR infantry fighting vehicles. On Aug. 24, the Oryx Blogdiscovered at least one BTR-82A in the coastal province of Latakia, which has lately been contested, impressively, by a collection of Islamist rebels groups. Assad’s National Defense Force disclosed the fighting vehicle in action in a news video from the Latakia front. The report also captured unmistakable Russian spoken in the background in instructions to the crew, compelling evidence that Russians have embedded with the Syrian military.
    On Aug. 12, the opposition-linked website 
    Syria Net reported that a Russian “militia” was now situated in Salfana in Latakia. “The Russian crew is tasked with overseeing the project to organize defensive lines in a professional manner and are equipped with modern equipment to detect and monitor progress of opposition forces if any villages are attacked in rural Latakia.” On Aug. 26, the pro-Assad newspaper Al-Watan reported that Russia is now providing satellite imagery to the regime. (Daily Beast)
  • Eni’s Egyptian Gas Field Discovery Offers Opportunities for Israel
    An international energy expert and professor at Georgetown University who is currently on sabbatical from Israel’s University of Haifa, does not see the new Egyptian gas field discovery as negative. “Over the last five years, Egypt has had extensive power outages which have really affected political stability in the county….Egypt has actually been importing very expensive liquid natural gas to try and keep the lights on….This gas discovery is a tremendous opportunity for el-Sisi to stabilize the regime….It’s possible…within three years [that the gas] will be serving the domestic market….Because of the urgency…the Egyptian government will do everything possible and provide incentives for this to happen.”
    “I think the prospects of Israeli [gas] export to Egypt were small and overstated in the first place, so I don’t think this really precludes the Israeli development of [the] Leviathan [gas field]….I don’t think it has to be a source of conflict because basically, for Egypt, most of this will go to the domestic market and most of Leviathan will go to the Israeli domestic market.”  (
    Nikkei Asian Review-Japan)

 

 

  • Sen. Charles Schumer Announces Opposition to Nuclear Pact with Iran
    The likely next leader of Senate Democrats, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), announced his opposition Thursday to President Obama’s nuclear pact with Iran. Schumer said his three-week reading of the proposal left him unconvinced. “There is a strong case that we are better off without an agreement than with one,” he said.
    “Supporters argue that after ten years, a future president would be in no weaker a position than we are today to prevent Iran from racing to the bomb. That argument discounts the current sanctions regime. After fifteen years of relief from sanctions, Iran would be stronger financially and better able to advance a robust nuclear program.”
    See also 
    Text: Why I Will Vote to Disapprove the Iran Agreement – Sen. Charles Schumer
    In the first ten years of the deal, there are serious weaknesses in the agreement. First, inspections are not “anywhere, anytime”; the 24-day delay before we can inspect is troubling. Even more troubling is the fact that the U.S. cannot demand inspections unilaterally. Additionally, the “snapback” provisions in the agreement seem cumbersome and difficult to use.
    After ten years, if Iran is the same nation as it is today, we will be worse off with this agreement than without it. If one thinks Iran will moderate, one should approve the agreement.
    But if one feels that Iranian leaders will not moderate and their unstated but very real goal is to get relief from the onerous sanctions, while still retaining their nuclear ambitions and their ability to increase belligerent activities in the Middle East and elsewhere, then one should conclude that it would be better not to approve this agreement. To me, the very real risk that Iran will not moderate and will, instead, use the agreement to pursue its nefarious goals is too great. (
    Ha’aretz)
    See also 
    Top U.S. House Foreign Affairs Democrat Will Vote Against Iran Nuclear Deal
    Rep. Eliot Engel (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said on Thursday he will vote to reject the nuclear deal with Iran. “The answers I’ve received simply don’t convince me that this deal will keep a nuclear weapon out of Iran’s hands, and may in fact strengthen Iran’s position as a destabilizing and destructive influence across the Middle East,” Engel said.
    See also 
    Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) to Support Iran Deal – Deirdre Walsh (CNN)
  • Iran Quds Force Commander Soleimani Visited Moscow in Defiance of Sanctions
    Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani visited Moscow on July 24 to meet with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and President Vladimir Putin, according to two Western intelligence sources, despite a travel ban and UN Security Council resolutions barring him from leaving Iran. UN sanctions have not yet been lifted against Iran and Soleimani is sanctioned as part of Security Council Resolution 1747.
    Outgoing U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said: “Qassem Soleimani is the one who has been exporting malign activities throughout the Middle East for some time now. He’s absolutely responsible for killing many Americans; in fact, I would say the last two years I was there the majority of our casualties came from his surrogates, not Sunni or al-Qaeda.”
  • Top General Warns of Five Unresolved Iranian “Malign Activities”
    While the nuclear agreement with Iran will not stop it from funding organizations the U.S. considers to be terrorist groups, the pact reduces the chances of a near-term military conflict between the two countries, the top American military leader, Gen. Martin Dempsey, told Congress on Wednesday. Dempsey said the nuclear deal did not prevent the U.S. from striking Iranian facilities if officials decide that Tehran is cheating on the agreement. But if it sticks to the terms of the pact, such a strike is far less likely.
    “If followed, the deal addresses one critical and the most dangerous point of friction with the Iranian regime,” Dempsey said. “But as I’ve stated repeatedly, there are at least five other malign activities which give us and our regional partners concern,” including the pursuit of ballistic missile technology, weapons trafficking, the use of surrogates and proxies, the use of naval mines, and undersea activity. (
    New York Times)
    See also
    Top U.S. General Advised White House to Keep Sanctions on Iran’s Missile Program “as Long as Possible” – David Alexander
    Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday he had advised the White House to keep sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile program and arms trafficking for “as long as possible.” He added that with an end to international economic sanctions, “There is clearly the opportunity for Iran to use some of the revenue that they gain for malign purposes, and that bears watching and collaboration with our regional partners, including Israel.” (
    Reuters)
  • Turkey Steps Up Bombing of Kurds, Not Islamic State – Jeremiah Bailey-Hoover and Patrick J. McDonnell
    Turkish war planes on Wednesday unleashed some of the heaviest bombing to date on Kurdish rebel strongholds in Turkey and Iraq, striking half a dozen targets linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK. Last week, Ankara announced with great fanfare that it was joining the U.S.-led international coalition against the Islamic State. But Turkey has focused its firepower since then not on the Islamic extremists but on the PKK, whose allied forces have been at the vanguard of the fight against the Islamic State. Turkey’s push for a “safe zone” in northern Syria in cooperation with the U.S. is designed to thwart Kurdish militia fighters from extending their control of the Syrian side of Turkey’s southern border, Selahattin Demirtas, leader of the Kurdish-oriented People’s Democratic Party, told the
    BBC. “Turkey doesn’t intend to target IS with this safe zone. The safe zone is intended to stop the Kurds, not IS.” (Los Angeles Times)
  • Israel Is Steadfast in Criticism of Nuclear Deal – On Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry said the international community might blame Israel if Congress blocked the Iran nuclear accord. In response, an Israeli official said Saturday: “We reject the threats directed at Israel in recent days. The U.S. Congress will make its decision based on American interests, which include consideration of U.S. allies. The regrettable attempt to intimidate Israel will not prevent us from voicing our concerns about this deal, which poses direct threats to Israel’s security.” Robert M. Danin, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former State Department official, said: “It is striking that despite years of stepped-up consultations, there is such rancor and mistrust between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government….This failure to come to a common understanding, if not joint approach, is harmful to both American and Israeli interests.”
  • Steinitz: Israel Gets to Express Its Opinion on Threats to Its National Security – Efforts to muzzle Israeli voices in the U.S. debate over the Iran nuclear accord are unacceptable, illogical and even immoral, National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz told Israel Radio on Sunday. “To demand from a country which Iran threatens publicly to destroy, to wipe it off the map, that it not express its opinion on something so relevant for our national security, future and existence, is an illogical and even immoral demand.” “This hint that if the agreement will be rejected by Congress, then Israel will turn into a scapegoat, is unacceptable to us,” he said. “Congress is sovereign to make any decision. If it rejects it, that means there is a big majority among the Republicans and also many Democrats who think the accord is not good and is full of holes, and needs to be rejected.”
  • Kerry Has “Intense Exchange” with Jewish Leaders over Iran Deal  Secretary of State John Kerry had an “intense exchange” when he tried to sell the Iran nuclear deal to 120 skeptical Jewish leaders in New York on Friday from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the group’s vice chairman, Malcolm Hoenlein, told the Post. The State Department had requested the meeting.
  • Netanyahu: Iran Nuclear Deal Poses Threat to U.S., Israel – The Iran nuclear deal poses a threat to both Israel and the U.S., Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told NBC News on Wednesday. “Iran has killed more Americans than anyone other than al-Qaeda. They’re going to get hundreds of billions of dollars to fuel their terror and military machine,” he said. “Iran is different. It’s a zealot country.” Netanyahu contends Iran cannot be trusted with any sort of nuclear program.”I have a moral obligation to speak up in the face of these dangers while there is still time to avert them,” he warned. “For 2,000 years, my people, the Jewish people, were stateless, defenseless, voiceless.” Netanyahu’s wariness is shared by the Arab world, where countries expressed skepticism that a deal would really prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon. “When Arabs and Israelis agree, it’s worth paying attention,” Netanyahu said. See also Netanyahu: Iran Deal “Puts Us All in Danger”
  • Israel: Iran Deal Like Emperor with No Clothes – Israel’s nuclear affairs minister,Yuval Steinitz, said on Wednesday his country was like the boy in the fairy tale who pointed out the emperor had no clothes: “Israel is like the little child that is pointing its finger and saying, ‘the king is naked, this agreement is naked.'” Steinitz described the deal as full of loopholes, particularly when it comes to verification and Iran’s “breakout” capability.”Those who think that giving Iran $150 billion will have no effect on the Middle East are naive,” said Steinitz. “It’s like pouring fuel on the burning Middle East.” In the interim, he said, Israel reserved the right to defend itself, and would do so unilaterally if required.Israel: Inspection Clauses in Deal “Worse than Worthless” The nuclear deal’s inspections regime is “worse than worthless” and actually helps Iran more than the international inspectors, Minister Yuval Steinitz said Wednesday. “Unfortunately, when you examine the details, you discover that the inspection [mechanism for undeclared military sites] is actually just a mirage.” By instituting a mechanism that gives Iran close to a month of advance notice to conceal any illicit nuclear activity before it needs to grant access to inspectors, the agreement renders useless any intelligence suggesting that Tehran is violating the deal.
  • Washington Turns to UN to Make Nuclear Deal Legally Binding on Next PresidentThe U.S. ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, on Monday circulated a legally binding draft to the UN Security Council that, if adopted, would give the body’s backing to the Iran nuclear pact. If a resolution is approved by the Security Council, any president, Democratic or Republican, would be legally bound to enforce its terms.Moreover, the U.S. has not included the decision to lift an embargo on conventional weaponry in five years and ease restrictions on the development and import of ballistic missile technology in eight years in the nuclear accord that will be reviewed by Congress. Instead, those provisions are embedded in the new UN Security Council resolution, which congressional critics of the deal will have no power to block. (Foreign Policy)
  • Nuclear Deal Reached with Iran – Iran and six nations led by the U.S. reached an accord on Tuesday to limit Tehran’s nuclear capability in return for lifting international oil and financial sanctions, Western diplomats said. (New York Times)See also Netanyahu: Iran Agreement “an Historic Mistake”Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday: “When you are willing to make an agreement at any cost, this is the result. From the initial reports we can already conclude that this agreement is an historic mistake for the world. Far-reaching concessions have been made in all areas that were supposed to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons capability. In addition, Iran will receive hundreds of billions of dollars with which it can fuel its terror machine and its expansion and aggression throughout the Middle East and across the globe.””One cannot prevent an agreement when the negotiators are willing to make more and more concessions to those who, even during the talks, keep chanting: ‘Death to America.’ We knew very well that the desire to sign an agreement was stronger than anything, and therefore we did not commit to preventing an agreement. We did commit to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and this commitment still stands.”  (Prime Minister’s Office)
  • Nuclear Deal Allows Iran to Block or Delay InspectionsA senior diplomat said the nuclear agreement reached Tuesday would allow UN inspectors to press for visits to Iranian military sites, but access would not necessarily be granted and could be delayed, a condition that gives Tehran time to cover up any sign of non-compliance with its commitments. Under the deal, Tehran would have the right to challenge the UN request and an arbitration board composed of Iran and the six world powers would have to decide on the issue. (AP-Washington Post)See also Iran Nuclear Deal Maintains Weapons Embargo, Ban on Buying Missile TechnologyWestern diplomats said under the final agreement, Iran had accepted a “snapback” mechanism under which some sanctions could be reinstated in 65 days if it violated the deal. A UN weapons embargo would remain in place for five years and a ban on buying missile technology would remain for eight years. (Reuters)

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