Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri has ordered Egyptian Muslims to stop persecuting their fellow Middle Eastern Christians and instead focus their energy on confronting the military-backed government.
(PHOTO: REUTERS/HAMID MIR)
Osama bin Laden (L) sits with fellow Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in 2001.
Ayman al-Zawahri, an Egyptian physician who has been responsible for terrorist attacks in North America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East and dubbed as the "mastermind" behind 9/11, told his followers in an audio message posted to militant websites this week that they should stop antagonizing the country's Christians because "we have to be busy confronting the Americanized coup of (Gen. Abdel-Fattah) el-Sissi and establish an Islamic government instead," according to the Associated Press.
In July 2013, Egypt's military oversaw the ejection from power of then-President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood who was elected just a year before. Following Morsi's fall from power, Coptic Christians were made into scapegoats and targeted by Morsi-supporters after some Copt leaders had expressed their support of action against Morsi's regime.
Seeking retribution later that summer, parts of southern Egypt in the Minya province were taken over by Islamists before the government wrested back control in late September. In August, Islamists burned or destroyed more than 70 churches and religious institutions, killing four people. Two months later in October, two gunmen opened fire at a Christian wedding, killing four people.
Al-Zawahri said that the group's scapegoating of the Christian community had only hurt the image of Muslims in the West.
"We must not seek war with the Christians and thus give the West an excuse to blame Muslims, as has happened before," al-Zawahri suggested.
While al-Zawahri was critical of Morsi, who he blamed for cooperating with secular Egyptians and surrendering to "the Americans by acknowledging agreements with them and Israel," he saved his harshest vitriol for Mushir Sisi, the current Commander-in-Chief of Egypt's military.
"He is a mercenary, an Americanized puppet, an impostor, treacherous and sinful with a history of bootlicking," al-Zawahri said.
Al-Zawahri's new remarks come amid his recent call for unity among the region's Muslims. Nearly 1,400 people have died due to fighting among rebel groups in Syria, leading the al-Qaeda leader to ask the groups to come together to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad rather than fighting one another.
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Zionist Organization of America poll shows nearly 60 percent in US advocate stronger sanctions on Iran; over half believe Obama could have done more to prevent development of nuclear weapons in the first place.
Most Americans think Obama not doing enough to stop Iran Photo: REUTERS
The American public overwhelmingly supports Israel in most issues, but opposes US President Barack Obama's positions on related matters, according to a poll commissioned by the Zionist Organization of America released Tuesday.
“President Obama and [US] Secretary of State [John] Kerry should heed these results. They should understand that the American people expect our government to support Israel; stop promoting a Palestinian state; stop condemning Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and eastern Jerusalem as ‘illegitimate’; support Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital; stop funding the Palestinian Authority and impose stronger sanctions on Iran to persuade it to terminate its nuclear weapons program," ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said.
Only 31 percent of Americans believe Obama is a close and reliable friend of Israel.
Most Americans - 51% - believe Obama has not done all he can to prevent Iran developing nuclear weapons, as opposed to a mere 28% who believe that he has.
In addition, 59% of Americans advocate the imposition of stronger sanctions on Iran to convince it to stop developing nuclear weapons, as opposed to a mere 17% who believe the US should weaken sanctions on Iran to convince it to stop developing nuclear weapons.
As for the conflict with the Palestinians, 59% of Americans believe a future Palestinian Arab state would be hostile to Israel and support terrorism.
By a ratio of over 3 to 1 (47% –– 14%), Americans believe that Jews have the right to settle in the West Bank, according to the poll.
An overwhelming majority of 72% Americans oppose Obama’s plan to give the Palestinian Authority $440 million, while only 15% believe that he should.
Over half - 55% - of Americans believe Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel, and 63% believe that the PA should recognize Israel as the sovereign state of the Jewish people.
“Pro-Israel organizations, both Jewish and non-Jewish, should cite these results to promote stronger support for Israel," Klein stated.
The WZO poll was conducted by McLaughlin Associates, surveying 1000 Americans, consisting of Protestants (46%), Catholics (30%), Jews (3.6%), African Americans (13%), Hispanics (12%), Asians (3%) and Whites (70%). Politically, the respondents were 42% Democratic supporters and 41% Republican supporters.
“The results of this latest, very detailed and highly representative survey of American opinion show gratifyingly high, indeed, overwhelming levels of support for positions Israel takes, as opposed to the position the Obama Administration takes," Klein said. "It also shows an understanding of the dangers Israel faces from a terror-sponsoring PA.”
“Large majorities of Americans clearly understand that a Palestinian state, if established, will not live in peace with Israel and will simply be another Mideast terrorist state," he added.
Klein pointed out that the poll indicates that "only a small percentage [of Americans] believes in the racist, anti-Semitic Palestinian position that only Palestinians have the right to live there.”
Friday, January 24, 2014
Only 22 percent think Obama would "ensure that Iran does not achieve a nuclear weapon."
According to new poll, a huge majority of Israelis do not trust President Obama with regard to Iran, and believe Obama will allow Iran to go nuclear. Only 22 percent of Israeli voters believed that Obama would “ensure that Iran does not achieve a nuclear weapon.”
Almost two-thirds of Israelis thought that statement was untrue, and 15 percent gave no answer. President Obama has just a 33 percent favorable rating in Israel, as opposed to a 50 percent disapproval rating. Even those who favor Obama are split evenly on whether or not he will prevent Iran from going nuclear.
Obama’s favorability ratings actually rate higher than many Israeli officials, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu clocks in at a healthy 51 percent approval rating. Thirty percent of voters for Netanyahu’s Likud party favor Obama.
Obama rates higher with Israeli leftists, who favor him by a 42 percent to 35 percent margin, with 23 percent claiming ignorance. A full 45 percent of Israeli Arab voters refused to rate Obama; those who did answer disfavored Obama by a shocking 11 percent to 44 percent margin.
Thursday, January 23, 2014
Prime minister addresses prestigious Davos World Economic Forum, says investing in "epicenter of world innovation" will help Israel's Arab neighbors, particularly the Palestinians.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Thursday at the Davos World Economic Forum that investing in the Israeli economy is a way to facilitate peace in the region.
In a speech that largely focused on the strength of Israel as a hub for innovation, as well as research and development, Netanyahu said that the advancement of the Israeli economy would help Israel's Arab neighbors, specifically the Palestinians.
The prime minister stated that "Israel is not what's wrong in the Middle East, it is what's right with the Middle East."
Netanyahu addressed the peace process and the changing region in a question and answer session which followed his speech. He called on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to embrace the opportunity for peace.
"I'm ready for peace. I'm ready for a real, secure, genuine, peace. and I hope President Abbas is ready too."
He stated that the Middle East was undergoing a process of change, by which many Arab states shared similar concerns to Israel.
"Central Arab governments in the Middle East are concerned with the arming of Iran with nuclear weapons and the spread of the Islamic brotherhood. Those governments see Israel as a partner in holding back those threats," he stated.
The premier used his remarks to praise his country's economic prowess, which he credited to "the indispensable element of entrepreneurship" as well as "sound macroeconomic policies."
"Israel is often called the 'start-up nation,' but I call it the 'innovation nation,'" Netanyahu said.
The premier touted an economic policy of "cutting taxes and removing barriers to competition so that the private sector could run forward and compete."
Netanyahu said that in the ten years since he took over as finance minister during the administration of Ariel Sharon, Israel managed to bring down the debt-to-GDP ratio to 67 percent while reducing inflation and cutting down unemployment.
The premier said that Israel's small size and the Jewish culture of "asking questions" has contributed to the country's strong economic performance.
"From the Talmud to Einstein, Jewish people were always asking questions," the prime minister said. "The questioning mind is something in our culture and adds very much to our capacities. We're very small, everything is close by, and everyone competes and collaborates with each other."
"This is an invitation to innovation nation, it's open for business, it's open for your business, please come join us," he stated.
Netanyahu's appearance at Davos came hours after that ofIranian president Hassan Rouhani. Immediately following Rouhani's speech, Netanyahu released a statement warning the world not to be deceived by the Iranian leader's pronouncements of peaceful intentions.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and Israel’s chief peace negotiator Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, will attend this week’s World Economic Forum’s annual meeting, one of the globe’s most prestigious gathering of political and business leaders, including senior officials from the Arab world.
Netanyahu and Peres, who will be flying to Davos, Switzerland, on the same plane, will leave Israel on Wednesday morning. Livni is arriving directly from the United States, where she is currently trying to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif are also scheduled to attend the forum, yet a meeting between them and Israeli leaders is not planned. “Would you meet with somebody who calls for your annihilation?” Netanyahu told Canadian television station CTV this week, when asked whether he was willing to meet with Rouhani. “If Rouhani said that, OK, we recognize the Jewish state; we, Iran, are prepared to have peace with Israel [and that] Israel will be here forever — that would pique my interest, in Davos or anywhere else. But so far, they say the opposite.”
Rouhani will deliver a half-hour speech about “Iran in the World” on Thursday at 11:10 a.m. (Israeli time), four hours before Netanyahu is due to address the same audience. Also on Thursday, Peres is scheduled to host a press conference, during which he will respond to Rouhani’s speech, and talk about the peace process and other regional issues.
While Netanyahu is expected to hold several meetings with political leaders, his appearance in Davos will focus on promoting Israel’s status as an economic powerhouse. “He will present the Israeli cyber-industry, which is among the world’s leaders, and will also hold a series of working meetings with heads of state and corporate leaders in order to encourage investment in Israeli high-tech and other sectors of the Israeli economy,” according to a statement released by his office.
“Israel is an exception on the Western economic scene. We have succeeded in dealing with the global economic crisis better than almost all Western countries,” Netanyahu said Tuesday. “But we cannot rest on our laurels. We need to develop new markets and new partners and this is my goal in going to Davos. My intention is to talk with leading global high-tech companies, in the cyber and other fields, in order to tell them to come to Israel, invest in Israel and create jobs in Israel. This will be good for them and good for us as well.”
On Thursday afternoon, the prime minister will address a special plenary session and deliver a speech entitled “Israel’s Economic and Political Outlook,” according to forum organizers. According to a statement published Tuesday by the PMO, his address will be headlined “Israel — Innovation Nation.”
Then-opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu at the World Economic Forum in Davos, January 30, 2009 (photo credit: World Economic Forum)
The prime minister is also scheduled to meet with Yahoo! president and CEO Marissa Mayer and Google’s senior vice president and chief business officer Nikesh Arora. “In both meetings, the prime minister will emphasize Israeli innovation and the technological leadership of the Israeli high-tech industry in order to expand economic cooperation with the two companies,” Netanyahu’s office stated.
Netanyahu will hold working meetings with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, “and other heads of state and government in order to advance economic cooperation,” according to his office.
US Secretary of State John Kerry will arrive in Davos on Thursday, but so far no meeting with Netanyahu or Peres has been confirmed. On Tuesday, the prime minister said he expected to meet the American top diplomat “in the coming days,” but did not specify.
Peres will conduct meetings with the president of Azerbaijan, as well as with heads of major companies such as Philips, CISCO, Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Bloomberg and others.
Officially, no meetings between Israeli and Arab statesmen have been announced, yet it is not unthinkable that ad-hoc meetings with leaders from especially Sunni states will be arranged, far away from the views of the press. Because some Arab nations fear Iran’s nuclear ambitions as much as Israel, they see the Jewish state “not as an enemy, but as a friend,” Netanyahu said this week. “The Arabs, many of them, sometimes openly and sometimes in corridors and whispers, they say, ‘Israel is our friend,’ ” he told CTV.
Officials from the President’s Residence and the Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on the possibility of meetings with Arab leaders.
On Friday morning (11:00 in Israel), Peres will be presented with the “Spirit of Davos” award, “for his contribution to the success of the World Economic Forum over the past two decades,” according to the President’s Residence. During that session, Peres will also deliver a foreign policy speech about the “state of the peace process, the situation with Syria, the Iranian nuclear program and the economic and diplomatic challenges facing Israel and the Middle East.”
Later on Friday, Livni will participate in a panel discussion entitled “Overcoming the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.” According to forum organizers, the session will provide “insights on the negotiations” and discuss the impact of uncertainty in the Arab world and the role of business in supporting peace. Livni will be joined by Israeli high-tech guru Yossi Vardi and Munib al-Masri, a billionaire member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, who earlier this year unveiled a new business-led effort to advance peace. Besides al-Masri, no senior Palestinian officials are scheduled to attend the conference.
At exactly the same time, three of Livni’s counterparts from the region will discuss “The End Game for the Middle East” in a separate panel discussion. Mohammad Javad Zarif, Ahmet Davutoglu and Nasser Sami Judeh — the foreign ministers of Iran, Turkey and Jordan, respectively — will talk about how “accelerated diplomacy, historical rivalries and social transformations” can be translated into stability and prosperity.
After Ya’alon calls him ‘obsessive’ and his security plan useless, secretary says bid for framework deal won’t be deterred by ‘one set of comments’
In a first response to unusually harsh comments made about him by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that he would not let the criticism derail peace talks, and that he would “work undeterred” until an agreement was reached.
He said he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were in regular contact “and we are both very committed” to the peace process. “We just can’t let one set of comments undermine that effort, and I don’t intend to,” Kerry said at a press conference in Kuwait.
In statements published by the daily Yedioth Ahronoth on Tuesday, Ya’alon referred to the American diplomat as “inexplicably obsessive” and “messianic” in his efforts to have Israel and the Palestinians negotiate a final status deal. The paper recounted the defense minister lambasting the proposed security arrangements drawn up by Kerry as part of the secretary’s plan, saying the proposal was “not worth the paper it is printed on” and would not provide security for Israel.
But in his response Wednesday, Kerry sounded as determined as ever to see the peace process through to its conclusion, and a confident of success.
“After five months of negotiations, I believe strongly in the prospects for peace and I know the status quo is not sustainable,” he said. “We’ve always known that as we approach the time for these difficult choices, it’s going to be difficult.”
The defense minister had also reportedly said that Kerry had “nothing to teach me about the conflict with the Palestinians. All that can ‘save us’ is for John Kerry to win a Nobel Prize and leave us in peace.”
Ya’alon’s comments were met with sharp rebukes by US officials that led the defense minister to issue a public apology Tuesday night, after a long meeting with Netanyahu. In a statement published in English and Hebrew, the defense minister’s bureau said Israel greatly appreciates Kerry’s efforts and that Ya’alon “did not intend to insult the secretary and he apologizes if the secretary was hurt by the remarks attributed to the defense minister.” He did deny or confirm making the scathing remarks.
The American administration also demanded that Netanyahu explicitly disavow Ya’alon’s comments and affirm his commitment to the peace talks, according to several Israeli media outlets.
“To question Secretary Kerry’s motives and distort his proposals is not something we would expect from the defense minister of a close ally,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday, echoing earlier comments from State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
“The remarks of the defense minister [Ya'alon], if accurate, are offensive and inappropriate, especially given all that the United States is doing to support Israel’s security needs, and will continue to do,” Psaki said in a brief statement in Rome.
“Secretary Kerry and his team, including General [John] Allen, have been working day and night to try to promote a secure peace for Israel because of the Secretary’s deep concern for Israel’s future,” she added. “To question his motives and distort his proposals is not something we would expect from the defense minister of a close ally.”
The American rebukes came several hours after a gentler reprimand of Ya’alon from Netanyahu, in a speech before the Knesset marking the Israeli parliament’s 65th birthday.
“Even when we have disagreements with the United States, they are always substantive and not ad hominem,” Netanyahu said.
“We are working to advance regional security and defend our interests. True peace is founded on recognition of the nation-state of the Jewish people and on security arrangements guaranteeing that territories in Palestinian hands do not turn into launching pads for terrorists,” Netanyahu said, adding, “but all that [must be achieved] while respecting our important ties to the United States. We continue to defend our national interests, one of which is the continued fostering of our relations with our ally, the United States.”
Senior Obama administration officials were not satisfied with Netanyahu’s comments, and reportedly asked the prime minister to explicitly affirm his government’s commitment to the US-led peace talks with the Palestinian, and distance himself from Ya’alon’s comments.
Ya’alon was also assailed for his reported comments by President Shimon Peres and several senior cabinet colleagues, including from the right.
In his own speech before the Knesset Tuesday, Peres praised Kerry and US President Barack Obama’s efforts to achieve peace with the Palestinians.
“We are grateful to the president of the United States, Barack Obama, for his unreserved responsiveness to [Israel’s] security and intelligence needs. There is no doubt he wants to see a Middle East at peace. The deep friendship with the United States is a central element of Israel’s security and a catalyst for peace in the Middle East. Secretary of State John Kerry’s determined efforts to achieve peace are evidence of this American stance,” Peres said.
In a statement from Geneva, where he is meeting with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman chastised the “loud, public argument” with the US that Ya’alon had sparked.
“Minister Liberman said that Israel and the US have a special relationship, and the US is Israel’s most steadfast ally over the years, which it has proven many times,” Liberman’s spokesman Tzahi Moshe said in a statement. “Therefore, it is inappropriate and unhelpful to both sides to conduct a loud, public argument, and there is no call for personal attacks, even if there are, at times, disagreements.”
Ya’alon, considered a defense hawk, has publicly expressed skepticism over plans for Israel to pull out of the West Bank, and firmly opposed an Israeli withdrawal from the Jordan Valley.
Ya’alon has been a strident critic of the American-brokered peace talks, which began in July and stipulated a nine-month window, until April, to reach a final status agreement.
Kerry has made 10 visits to the region this year, shuttling between Israeli and Palestinian leaders to mediate talks. Recently, he has been pushing a framework agreement as part of his efforts to nudge Abbas and Netanyahu closer to a full treaty that would establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel. But the two sides have reportedly been at odds over almost every aspect of the core issues involved in a two-state accord.
The exhibit, which was created by Los Angeles-based Jewish human rights group the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) together with UNESCO, was scheduled to open on January 20th, 2014, at UNESCO’s Paris headquarters. The invitations had already gone out, and the fully prepared exhibition material was already in place. The display was co-sponsored by Israel, Canada and Montenegro.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, Dean of the SWC, told The Algemeiner that the move was an “absolute outrage.” “The Arabs,” he said, “don’t want the world to know that the Jews have a 3,500-year relationship to the Land of Israel.”
Hier said that his organization, which is accredited by UNESCO as an NGO, worked in intimate co-operation with the international body on the project, which his center initiated after the Palestinian Authority was unilaterally accepted as a UNESCO member state in 2011.
“We made a clear attempt to work with them and the system, they can’t say they were blindsided, they commented on every sentence (in the exhibit’s materials) and still, in the end, the Arabs protested and they kicked us out,” he said.
“It is not supposed to be a place of censorship,” Hier said, “It is not supposed to deny one nation the right to their history.”
“The Arab world doesn’t know that Isaiah didn’t live in Portugal, Jeremiah didn’t roam France and Ezekiel wasn’t from Germany.”
UNESCO informed the SWC of the change on January 14th in a letter to the Center’s Shimon Samuels, asserting the Arab League’s claim that going ahead with the show “could create potential obstacles related to the peace process in the Middle East.”
Irina Bokova with Rabbi Marvin Heir in Los Angles upon agreeing to organize the exhibit.
In a letter to Irina Bokova, president of UNESCO, President of the Arab group within UNESCO, Abdulla al Neaimi, from the United Arab Emirates, expressed “deep worry and great disapproval” over the program showing the age old connection between Israel and the Jewish people.
“The subject of this exhibition is highly political though the appearance of the title seems to be trivial. Most serious is the defense of this theme which is one of the reasons used by the opponents of peace within Israel,” the Arab League wrote. “The publicity that will accompany… the exhibit can only cause damage to the peace negotiations presently occurring, and the constant effort of Secretary of State John Kerry, and the neutrality and objectivity of UNESCO.”
“For all these reasons, for the major worry not to damage UNESCO in its… mission of support for peace, the Arab group within UNESCO is asking you to make the decision to cancel this exhibition,” Al Neaimi concluded.
Interestingly, 10 days prior to the suspension of the exhibit, the United States declined co-sponsorship on remarkably similar grounds.
“At this sensitive juncture in the ongoing Middle East peace process, and after thoughtful consideration with review at the highest levels, we have made the decision that the United States will not be able to co-sponsor the current exhibit during its display at UNESCO headquarters,” wrote Kelly O. Siekman, Director at the Office of UNESCO Affairs of the State Department, in an email seen by The Algemeiner.
SWC’s Hier told The Algemeiner that he was disappointed in the U.S. position on the issue, and said that he was sure the exhibition would not have been suspended has the U.S. aligned itself as a formal co-sponsor. “This is not the end of this story,” he said.
In its formal response to UNESCO’s Bokova after the suspension of the program, the SWC said, “we insist that you live up to your responsibilities and commitments as the co-organizer of this exhibition by overturning this naked political move that has no place in an institution whose mandate is defined by education, science, and culture — not politics.”
“Let’s be clear, the Arab Group’s protest is not over any particular content in the exhibition, but rather the very idea of it – that the Jewish people did not come to the Holy Land only after the Nazi Holocaust, but trace their historical and cultural roots in that land for three and a half millennia,” SWC wrote. “If anything will derail hopes for peace and reconciliation among the people of the Middle East, it will be by surrendering to the forces of extremism and torpedoing the opening of this exhibition — jointly vetted and co-organized by UNESCO and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.”
“Madame Director General, we hope you have the courage to do the right thing and we are still looking forward to cutting the ribbon on the exhibition with you next Monday night, January 20, at UNESCO headquarters,” SWC concluded.
In a letter seen by The Algemeiner written in response to the decision, Nimrod Barkan, Ambassador of Israel to International Organizations, recounted the degree to which the SWC co-operated with UNESCO on the project over two years, and blasted the decision.
“This unjust and outrageously last moment decision is biased and discriminative towards Israel. In the past UNESCO hosted numerous events and exhibitions accentuating the relations between Muslim and Christian religions with the Holy Land, and of course it holds and annual ‘Palestine Day,’” he wrote.
Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations in New York and UNESCO representatives in Paris could not immediately be reached by The Algemeiner for comment.
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Highlighting the urgency of passing tougher sanctions legislation, senior Republican lawmakers demand transparency from White House
BY TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF AND JTA January 15, 2014, 6:08 am 2
US President Barack Obama speaks to his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, on Friday Sept. 27, marking the first time the two countries' leaders had engaged each other since 1979.
Key backers of a US Senate bill that would intensify sanctions against Iran said Tuesday they were worried by reports that the White House had negotiated a “secret side deal” with the Islamic Republic over its nuclear program, and urged the Obama administration to come clean to lawmakers on the substance of an interim agreement reached in Geneva.
“Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator has claimed that, under this possible agreement, Iran will be permitted to keep all of its nuclear facilities open, continue its enrichment of uranium, and maintain and even expand its nuclear research, including into next-generation centrifuges,” Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham said in a statement.
“We call on the Obama Administration to clarify this situation immediately and ensure that members of Congress are fully and promptly informed about its nuclear diplomacy with Iran,” they added, stressing the potential need for more sanctions.
The White House denied claims of any secret deal, saying the release of information on an interim agreement would have to be coordinated.
“We will make the text available to the Congress and the public, but we must work with the parties on when and in what format the information will be released. And we hope to do that soon,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.
More than half the Senate has signed on to the bill to increase sanctions. But in a sign of the so-far successful effort by the White House to keep the bill from reaching a veto-busting 67 supporters, only 16 Democrats are on board.
The number of senators cosponsoring the bill, introduced by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) and Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), reached 59 this week, up from just 33 before the Christmas holiday break.
Notably only one of the 25 who signed up in recent days — Sen. Michael Bennet — is a Democrat, a sign of intense White House lobbying among Democrats to oppose the bill.
Backers of the bill say it would strengthen the US hand at the negotiations. But President Obama has said he would veto the bill because it could upend talks now underway between the major powers and Iran aimed at keeping the Islamic Republic from obtaining a nuclear bomb. A similar bill passed this summer by the US House of Representatives had a veto-proof majority.
On Thursday, the White House said backers of the bill should be upfront about the fact that it puts the United States on the path to war.
“If certain members of Congress want the United States to take military action, they should be up front with the American public and say so,” Bernadette Meehan, the National Security Council spokeswoman, said in a statement posted by The Huffington Post. “Otherwise, it’s not clear why any member of Congress would support a bill that possibly closes the door on diplomacy and makes it more likely that the United States will have to choose between military options or allowing Iran’s nuclear program to proceed.”
A number of pro-Israel groups, led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, are leading a full-court press for the bill’s passage, with prominent Jewish leaders in a number of states making calls and writing letters to holdouts. Dovish Jewish groups such as J Street and Americans for Peace Now oppose the bill.
The bill would expand sanctions in part by broadening existing definitions targeting energy and banking sectors to all “strategic sectors,” including engineering, mining and construction. It would also tighten the definition of entities eligible for exceptions and broaden the definition of targeted individuals who assist Iran in evading sanctions.
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
An Excerpt from Gary's End of Day: 1-13-14
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon passed away over the weekend after eight years in a coma. I was honored to meet with Prime Minister Sharon and a number of Israeli cabinet members on one of my first trips to Israel. We discussed the long alliance between our two great nations and why it must be maintained.
It was predictable but depressing to see reporters from a number of networks, including even Fox News, engaging in moral equivalence upon his death. This CNN headline is a good example: "Ariel Sharon: Hero or butcher?" The people who thought Sharon was a butcher and a war criminal were the enemies of Israel, who Sharon smashed whenever he could.
I believe that he made only one significant error. That was to believe Israel could withdraw from Gaza and get credit in the international community for doing so. The 2005 decision deeply divided Israel, and in short order Gaza fell into the hands of Hamas. It has been a launching pad for attacks on Israel ever since.
We learned all we needed to know about what Gaza would become when news broke that the Jews who lived there were not the only ones being forcibly evacuated. The Jews who died there had to be evacuated too. Jewish graves were literally dug up and the bodies removed because everyone understood that the graves would be desecrated by the Palestinians. Sadly, Israel has no credible partner in this so-called "peace process" with whom it can make peace.
Monday, January 13, 2014
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was eulogized Monday as a great warrior and bold politician who was also devoted to his family and his farm.
A state memorial service was held at the Knesset in Jerusalem, attended by Vice President Joe Biden and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, among others. Sharon died Saturday at the age of 85, eight years after a devastating stroke left him in a coma from which he never recovered.
"Arik was a man of the land," President Shimon Peres, a longtime friend and sometimes rival of Sharon, said in his eulogy. "He defended this land like a lion and he taught its children to swing a scythe. He was a military legend in his lifetime and then turned his gaze to the day Israel would dwell in safety, when our children would return to our borders and peace would grace the Promised Land."
One of Israel's greatest and most divisive figures, Sharon rose through the ranks of the military, moving into politics and overcoming scandal and controversy to become prime minister in his final years. He spent most of his life battling Arab enemies and promoting Jewish settlement on war-won lands. His backers called him a war hero. His detractors, first and foremost the Palestinians, considered him a war criminal and held him responsible for years of bloodshed.
But in a surprising about-face, he led a historic withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005, uprooting all soldiers and settlers from the territory after a 38-year presence in a move he said was necessary to ensure Israel's security.
The speakers at Monday's ceremony largely glossed over the controversy that surrounded Sharon, and instead focused on his leadership and personality.
"I didn't always agree with Arik and he didn't always agree with me," said Israel's current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who resigned from Sharon's government to protest the Gaza withdrawal. Nonetheless, he called Sharon "one of the big warriors" for the nation of Israel.
"He was pragmatic. His pragmatism was rooted in deep emotion, deep emotion for the state, for the Jewish people," Netanyahu said.
Nearly 10 years on, the withdrawal from Gaza remains hotly debated in Israeli society. Supporters say Israel is better off not being bogged down in the crowded territory, which is now home to 1.7 million Palestinians.
Critics say the pullout has only brought more violence. Two years after the withdrawal, Hamas militants seized control of Gaza. In a reminder of the precarious security situation, Palestinian militants on Monday fired two rockets from the Gaza Strip. Sharon's ranch in southern Israel is within range of such projectiles but Monday's missiles did not hit Israel. No injuries or damage were reported.
Security will be heightened for Sharon's scheduled burial at his farm near the Gaza Strip later Monday. Israel warned Hamas not to allow rockets to be fired during the ceremony.
In a heartfelt address, Biden talked about a decades-long friendship with Sharon, saying the death felt "like a death in the family."
When the two discussed Israel's security, Biden said he would understand how Sharon earned the nickname "The Bulldozer," explaining how Sharon would pull out maps and repeatedly make the same points to drive them home.
"He was indomitable," Biden said. "But like all historic leaders, all real leaders, he had a north star that guided him. A north star from which he never, in my observation, never deviated. His north star was the survival of the state of Israel and the Jewish people wherever they resided," Biden said.
He also praised Sharon's determination in carrying out the Gaza pullout.
"The political courage it took, whether you agreed with him or not, when he told 10,000 Israelis to leave their homes in Gaza, in order from his perspective to strengthen Israel ... I can't think of a more difficult and controversial decision he made. But he believed it and he did it. The security of his people was always Arik's unwavering mission."
Sharon's coffin has been lying in state at the Knesset's outdoor plaza where Israelis from all walks of life paid respects throughout Sunday.
With Sharon's two sons, Omri and Gilad looking on, Monday's ceremony took place under a mild, winter sun. In addition to Biden and Blair, the prime minister of the Czech Republic, and foreign ministers of Australia and Germany were among those in attendance. Even Egypt, the first Arab country to make peace with Israel, sent a low-level diplomat, its embassy said.
Sharon's life will be remembered for its three distinct stages: First, was his eventful and controversial time in uniform, including leading a deadly raid in the West Bank that killed 69 Arabs, as well as his heroics in the 1973 Mideast war.
Then came his years as a vociferous political operator who helped create Israel's settlement movement and masterminded the divisive Lebanon invasion in 1982. He was branded as indirectly responsible for the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians at the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps outside Beirut when his troops allowed allied Lebanese militias into the camps. An uproar over the massacre cost him his job as defense minister.
Yet ultimately he transformed himself into a prime minister and statesman, capped by the dramatic Gaza withdrawal. Sharon appeared to be cruising toward re-election when he suffered a second stroke in two months in January 2006.