Pro-Israel News

Date:
Monday, December 16, 2013


BY TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF December 16, 2013


President Barack Obama’s National Security Adviser Susan Rice hosted a series of meetings with Israeli officials over the weekend to discuss the Iranian nuclear deal signed in Geneva last month, Reuters reported Monday.

The talks were aimed at gaining Israeli support for the six-month interim deal which aims to scale back Tehran’s controversial nuclear program in exchange for an easing of international sanctions. The P5+1 world powers and Iran are currently in the midst of negotiations over a more comprehensive, long-term solution.

On Sunday, Iran’s foreign minister said his country would continue nuclear negotiations with world powers, even after pulling out of expert-level talks last week on technical details of last month’s interim deal to protest the US targeting companies it says evaded current sanctions.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Obama administration officials have publicly spared over the interim deal, which the prime minister has labeled a “historic mistake.”

“During the meetings, the US team reaffirmed President Obama’s goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” the White House said in a statement.

Rice, along with other officials from the State Department and the Treasury, met with Netanyahu’s National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen and other Israeli officials in Washington on Thursday and Friday.

Reuters reported that the series of meetings were “an initial step toward fulfilling a promise Obama made to Netanyahu in their November 24 phone call that the United States would consult regarding the effort to forge a comprehensive solution with Iran.”

Some in the US Senate have lobbied for increased sanctions on Iran as negotiations for a comprehensive deal continue, a move Obama administration officials have warned would sabotage talks.

Last week, the Republican and Democratic leadership in the US House of Representatives failed to agree on a resolution that would have recommended parameters for the Iran talks.

Speaking at the Brookings Institute’s annual Saban Forum in Washington earlier this month, Obama said it was important for the US and the world to test Iranian intentions in the next six months.

“And if at the end of six months it turns out that we can’t make a deal, we’re no worse off, and in fact we have greater leverage with the international community to continue to apply sanctions and even strengthen them,” he said.

 

Date:
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
By  | Dec. 11, 2013 | 3:27 AM 
 
Senior officials in the administration of President Barack Obama have conceded over the past few days in conversations with colleagues in Israel that the value of the economic sanctions relief to Iran could be much higher than originally thought in Washington, security sources in Israel told Haaretz.

In official statements by the United States immediately after the agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear program was signed in Geneva betweenIran and theF six powers at the end of November it was said that the economic relief Iran would receive in exchange for signing the agreement would be relatively low – $6 billion or $7 billion. Israeli assessments were much higher – about $20 billion at least.

The United States had originally intended to make do with unfreezing Iranian assets in the amount of $3 billion to $4 billion. But during negotiations in Geneva, the P5+1 countries backtracked from their opening position and approved much more significant relief in a wide variety of areas: commerce in gold, the Iranian petrochemical industry, the car industry and replacement parts for civilian aircraft. But the Americans said at the time that this would at most double the original amount.

However according to the Israeli version, the Americans now concede in their talks with Israel that the sanctions relief are worth much more. According to the security sources: “Economics is a matter of expectations. The Iranian stock exchange is already rising significantly and many countries are standing in line to renew economic ties with Iran based on what was already agreed in Geneva.” The sources mentioned China’s desire to renew contracts worth some $9 billion to develop the Iranian oil industry and the interest some German companies are showing for deals with Tehran. “In any case, it’s about 20 or 25 billion dollars. Even the Americans understand this,” the sources said.

The interim agreement is to come into force on January 15. Until then, Iran is not restricted in terms of moving ahead on its nuclear program. Israel was surprised by the public statement by Obama at theSaban Forum in Washington late last week, that the agreements allowed Iran to continue enriching uranium. This is seen as an unnecessary concession considering that negotiations with Iran are still underway. However, the Israeli leadership seems to be seeking to somewhat lower its contentious tones toward Washington after two weeks of public scuffling and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s most recent speech with regard to Iran, also to the Saban Forum, was relatively moderate.

But along with efforts to renew intelligence and diplomatic coordination between the two countries on the nuclear issue, tussles are expected to continue between Obama and Netanyahu in another important arena – the U.S. Congress. The administration is very concerned about the objections to the agreement in Geneva by senators and congress members on both sides of the aisle. A few prominent opponents of the agreement who are experts in foreign affairs and frequently express themselves on the Middle East have articulated doubts about the deal and have called for additional heavy sanctions on Iran if the accord falls through.

Although Israel has not said so publicly, it is clear that Netanyahu’s representatives have also been in touch with these lawmakers in recent weeks. Among them are Republican senators Lindsey Graham, John McCain and Mark Kirk and Congressman Eric Cantor and Democratic senators Chuck Schumer, Robert Menendez and Congressman Steny Hoyer.

The extent of the administrations’ concern can be seen in an editorial in Tuesday's New York Times. The paper reads as if it is quoting Obama’s messages on the Middle East. The article warned against the initiative of senators Kirk and Menendez to prepare new legislation that would complete the very effective sanctions moves they led against Iran a few years ago. According to the proposal, which has the behind-the-scenes support of senior Israeli officials, new sanctions would be instituted if at the end of the six months set out in the interim agreement a satisfactory arrangement is not reached with the Iranians.

The Times warns that the breakthrough attained in Geneva, which it calls the most positive development in relations between the United States and Iran in 30 years, will be put at risk by the initiatives in Congress. The interim agreement is “unquestionably a good deal,” which is preferable to military action and the paper joins the warnings issued both by the White House and the Iranian government against legislation that would sabotage the agreements implementation. According to the Times, moves by Kirk, Menendez and other senior officials are unnecessary and will “enrage the Iranians.” It seems that the U.S. lawmakers are not impressed by this prospect and Netanyahu even less so. In the American-Israeli dispute, the tones may be more muted, but the scene of the next clash is clear – Congress in Washington.

 

Date:
Monday, December 9, 2013

(Reuters) - Iran is moving ahead with testing more efficient uranium enrichment technology, a spokesman for its atomic energy agency said on Saturday, in news that may concern world powers who last month agreed a deal to curb Tehran's atomic activities.

Spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi was quoted by state news agency IRNA as saying that initial testing on a new generation of more sophisticated centrifuges had been completed, underlining Iran's determination to keep refining uranium in what it says is work to make fuel for a planned network of nuclear power plants.

Although the development does not appear to contravene the interim agreement struck between world powers and Iran last month, it may concern the West nonetheless, as the material can also provide the fissile core of a nuclear bomb if enriched to a high degree.

"The new generation of centrifuges was produced with a higher capacity compared with the first generation machines and we have completed initial tests," Kamalvandi was quoted as saying.

"The production of a new generation of centrifuges is in line with the (Iranian atomic energy) agency's approach of upgrading the quality of enrichment machines and increasing the rate of production by using the maximum infrastructure facilities".

Kamalvandi said the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had been informed of the development.

Iran's development of a new generation of centrifuges - machines that spin at supersonic speed to increase the ratio of the fissile isotope - could enable it to refine uranium much faster.

Under the November 24 interim accord with the six world powers, Iran promised not to start operating them or install any more for a period of six months. But the agreement seems to allow it to continue with research and development activity at a nearby Natanz pilot plant.

Iran earlier this year stoked the West's worries by starting to install a new centrifuge - the IR-2m - at its Natanz enrichment plant. Iran is testing the IR-2m and other models at its research and development facility at Natanz.

Kamalvandi did not specify whether the new centrifuge model he was referring to was the IR-2m.

It is currently using a 1970s model, the IR1, to refine uranium at the main Natanz plant and its efforts to replace this breakdown-prone centrifuge are being closely watched.

Some experts believe the IR-2m can enrich uranium 2-3 times faster than the IR-1.

U.N. inspectors arrived in Tehran on Saturday and are due for the first time in more than two years to visit a plant linked to a planned heavy-water reactor that could yield nuclear bomb fuel, taking up an initial gesture by Iran to open its disputed nuclear programme up to greater scrutiny.

(Reporting by Isabel Coles in Dubai and Fredrik Dahl in Vienna; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

Date:
Friday, December 6, 2013

BY DAVID BRUNNSTROM

(Reuters) - The Palestinians rejected ideas raised by visiting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday for security arrangements under a possible future peace accord with Israel, a Palestinian official said.

There was no immediate response from the United States or Israel, which has long insisted on keeping swathes of its West Bank settlements, as well as a military presence on the territory's eastern boundary with Jordan, under any peace deal.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity and declined to elaborate on the proposals, said Kerry presented them to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after discussing them separately with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"The Palestinian side rejected them because they would only lead to prolonging and maintaining the occupation," the official told Reuters, referring to Israel's hold on the West Bank, where, along with Gaza and East Jerusalem, Palestinians seek an independent state.

In remarks to reporters after his three-hour meeting with Abbas in the West Bank hub city of Ramallah, Kerry commended "his steadfast commitment to stay at the peace negotiations, despite the difficulties that he and the Palestinians have perceived in the process".

Kerry said they had discussed "at great length issues of security in the region, security for the state of Israel, security for a future Palestine".

PESSIMISM

"I think the interests are very similar, but there are questions of sovereignty, questions of respect and dignity which are obviously significant to the Palestinians, and for the Israelis very serious questions of security and also of longer-term issues of how we end this conflict once and for all," he added.

Abbas did not join Kerry at the Ramallah media appearance.

Disputes over proposed Israeli land handovers have bedevilled peace efforts for two decades, along with other issues like the status of Jerusalem and fate of Palestinian refugees. Kerry revived the talks in July and set a nine-month target for an accord, but both sides have signalled pessimism.

Palestinians worry that Israel's settlements - deemed illegal by most world powers - will not leave room for a viable state. Israelis question whether Abbas could commit the rival, armed Palestinian Hamas Islamists who govern Gaza to coexistence with the Jewish state.

Kerry, who met Netanyahu earlier on Thursday and returned to Jerusalem in the evening to confer again with the Israeli leader, said "some progress" had been made in the peace talks.

Acknowledging Israel's fear that ceding the West Bank could make it vulnerable to attack, Kerry said he offered Netanyahu "some thoughts about that particular security challenge".

Neither he nor Netanyahu gave further details, citing the need to keep the diplomacy discreet. Both described Israeli security as paramount, something Netanyahu said would require that his country "be able to defend itself by itself".

Israel quit Gaza unilaterally in 2005, after which Hamas came to power. The sides have repeatedly exchanged fire since.

Israeli media have reported that Kerry's proposals included security arrangements for the Jordan Valley, between the West Bank and Jordan. An Israeli official said that in recent weeks U.S. officials had visited Jordan Valley crossing points.

Kerry was due to depart on Friday after a helicopter tour of the West Bank and other areas with Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon. In Ramallah, Kerry said he may return to the region for more talks next week "depending on where we are".

"So the discussions will go on, the effort will continue, and our hopes with them for the possibilities of peace for the region," he said.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Date:
Wednesday, December 4, 2013

 

Date:
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
By HERB KEINON, ERIC J. LYMAN IN VATICAN CITY
12/03/2013 00:27

“There appears to be general relaxation of sanctions, and a rush to accommodate Iran,” PM warns.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Rome, December 1, 2013.Photo: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s criticism of the world powers’ interim agreement with Iran went from warning the accord would lead to an unraveling of the sanctions regime, to stating in Rome on Monday that this is already happening.

“There appears to be general relaxation of sanctions, and a rush to accommodate Iran, and to make it legitimate as if Iran has changed anything of its actual policies,” Netanyahu said after meeting Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta.

Netanyahu continued speaking out against the agreement even as he faced criticism of this tactic from home and as US Secretary of State John Kerry, a champion of the deal, was set to arrive on Wednesday for a two-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

If the sanctions regime against Iran collapses, Netanyahu said, that would signal the end of chances to peacefully stop Iran’s nuclear program. And the program, he stressed, will be stopped.

Netanyahu flew home Monday evening after two days in Rome, which included a meeting with Pope Francis and an annual government- to-government meeting, along with five other Israeli ministers, with their Italian counterparts.

While Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert ripped into Netanyahu Sunday for his vocal criticism of the Iran deal, and Netanyahu responded by saying he will not remain quiet in the face of significant security dangers, Finance Minister Yair Lapid said Monday on the CNBC US cable news network that Israel has “earned the right” to be listened to on the Iranian issue.

“When people wonder why we have been so loud against this agreement with Iran it is because for us it is not academic or theoretical, it is existential,” he said. “Here is a regime that has been loud, not about a dispute with Israel, but rather about its wish and commitment to the destruction of Israel.”

Lapid added that in his view the most important strategic asset Israel has is its intimate relationship with the US throughout the years.

“This is an asset that we don’t want to lose,” he said.

“We are going to be out loud, maybe blunt about out concerns, but we understand that the US means well and is doing its best under very complicated circumstances, and we think we have earned the right to be listened to.”

Asked how much damage has been caused to US-Israel relations as a result of the very public difference over Iran, Lapid said it was “OK to have disputes within the family, as long as we keep it in the family. I think we are still within the frame of the family.”

Iran was one of the topics discussed when Netanyahu met for some 25 minutes in the Vatican earlier Monday with Pope Francis, whom he formally invited to Israel.

It was the first time the two leaders met face to face, and in addition to Iran they discussed the Syrian civil war, the welfare of Christians in Israel as well as the pope’s expected visit to Israel. If Francis does make such a trip, he will be the third pope to visit the country since the Vatican established diplomatic ties 20 years ago, following a visit from John Paul II in 2000 and Benedict XVI in 2009. Pope Paul VI briefly visited Jerusalem in 1964.

Several news sources reported the visit would take place May 25-26, but Vatican officials said the trip has not been officially confirmed.

According to political experts in Italy, Netanyahu’s trip was important for all sides: for Netanyahu as he tries to rally support for his position against Iran, for Italy as it seeks to play its traditional role as a bridge builder in the Middle East, and the Vatican as it looks to reassert its role as a global player after several years in which that role was reduced.

“During John Paul II’s declining years, and throughout Benedict XVI’s papacy, the Vatican was more quiet,” said James Walston, a political scientist with the American University of Rome. “Francis is starting to show he’s willing to be a lot feistier.”

Retired church historian Fr. Alistair Sear said “the Vatican has traditionally played an important behind-the-scenes role in international politics, but that hasn’t been the case in recent years.”

This was Netanyahu’s first meeting with Francis and he brought him two gifts: a hanukkia and a Spanish translation of his father Benzion Netanyahu’s seminal work on the Spanish Inquisition, The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth- Century Spain. Netanyahu wrote a short inscription inside the book: “To his Holiness Pope Franciscus, a great shepherd of our common heritage

 

Date:
Monday, November 25, 2013
By 
and 
Updated Nov. 24, 2013 11:03 p.m. ET

GENEVA—The U.S. and five other world powers struck a historic accord with Iran on Sunday, agreeing to ease part of an economic stranglehold in exchange for steps to cap Tehran's nuclear program and ensure the Islamist government doesn't rush to develop atomic weapons.

The agreement calls for Iran to stop its production of near-weapons-grade nuclear fuel—which is uranium enriched to 20% purity—and for the removal of Tehran's stockpile of the fissile material, which is estimated to be nearly enough to produce one nuclear bomb.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, center, leaves the Intercontinental Hotel prior to talks over Iran's nuclear program in Geneva, Switzerland, Nov.23.Jean-Christophe Bott/Associated Press/Keystone

Iran, in return, will gain relief from Western economic sanctions that U.S. officials believe will provide between $6 billion and $7 billion in badly needed foreign exchange for Tehran over the next half-year.

The agreement reached in Geneva is an interim deal for about six months that will allow international powers to try to strike a permanent pact, an effort that experts said would be the true test of Iran's new government, headed by revitalization-minded President Hasan Rouhani.

President Obama said that the agreement reached with Iran on easing economic sanctions in return for steps capping Tehran's nuclear program marks "the most significant and tangible progress" on the issue since he took office. Photo: AP

Secretary of State John Kerry details the main points of an agreement with Iran that eases economic sanctions in return for halting progress on its nuclear program. Photo: AP

President Barack Obama called the agreement "an important first step toward a comprehensive solution" of the Iranian nuclear dilemma and credited his administration's push for diplomacy and its adoption of stern economic sanctions for "a new path toward a world that is more secure."

"The first step that we have taken today marks the most significant and tangible progress that we have made with Iran since I took office," he said, adding that the next steps "won't be easy."

While U.S. officials argued that the deal will roll back Iran's nuclear program, critics of the diplomacy are likely to seize on key Western concessions, including a signal that Washington ultimately will agree to accept Iran's enrichment of uranium and would leave open for now the future of Tehran's plutonium-producing reactor in Arak.

Israel, which has been a strong opponent of U.S. efforts to negotiate with Iran, was quick to criticize the development. "This is a bad agreement. It gives Iran exactly what it wants: both substantial easing of sanctions and preservation of the most substantial parts of its nuclear program,'' said a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office on Sunday.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry tried Sunday to rally support for the deal in the face of lukewarm reaction from U.S. congressional allies and hostility from critics. "We make sure that these sanctions don't get lifted in a way that reduces the pressure on Iran," Mr. Kerry said on CNN's "State of the Nation." "The Iranian nuclear program is actually set backward and is actually locked into place in critical places."

EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton, center, flanked by members of her delegation. Fabrice Coffrini/Press Pool

The first test will be whether Congress presses ahead with a new round of broader sanctions, despite the administration's entreaties. The U.S. House of Representatives has already voted for such an effort. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) last week said he was prepared to hold a Senate vote when Congress returns from its Thanksgiving recess, citing skepticism about the trustworthiness of Iran. A spokesman didn't reply to questions about whether the new diplomatic deal would change those plans.

U.S. lawmakers took to the airwaves Sunday morning to question whether the deal would work, with some suggesting that the Obama administration had made a strategic miscalculation. "Instead of easing them, now is the time to tighten those sanctions," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R., Ga.) on ABC's "Face the Nation." He predicted that "you're going to see a strong movement in the United States Senate to move ahead to tighten sanctions," even if the new deal meant that legislation would have to be worded in a way that accounted for the six-month deal. He said the Obama administration can proceed with the deal without Congress's approval.

Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee," expressed skepticism about the deal on "Fox News Sunday, saying "I think we all greet it with skepticism." He said that the arrangement suggested that Iranian officials "view this administration as weak," and "see this as their window of opportunity to negotiate with an administration that has shown that it really doesn't have a lot of the intestinal fortitude that other administrations have had."

In a sign of the tension with Congress, the Obama administration's Democratic allies offered only tepid support for the deal. Many Democrats left open the possibility that Congress should still tighten sanctions. In general, Congress believes that the current sanctions are what brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place, and lawmakers recall how the Obama administration fought off the last round of sanctions in 2011.

"I think this is a marginal improvement," said Rep. Steny Hoyer (D., Md.), the House minority whip, on CBS's "Face the Nation." Mr. Hoyer said that he believed the Senate should still move ahead with a vote on tougher sanctions on Iran that mirrored legislation already passed in the House, but that the U.S. should hold off implementing them for six months so that they could serve as a warning to Iran and an incentive to reach a final deal.

The first-stage deal also takes no steps to force Iran to ship out or destroy the roughly 19,000 centrifuge machines it has amassed to produce nuclear fuel.

U.S. lawmakers and key American allies have said Iran will abandon its nuclear program only if international pressure is increased.

"This deal appears to provide the world's leading sponsor of terrorism with billions of dollars in exchange for cosmetic concessions," said Sen. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) a leading proponents of increasing sanctions on Iran during the talks.

The deal was completed during three exhaustive negotiating sessions over the past month in Geneva involving Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany, a diplomatic bloc called the P5+1.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, center. Fabrice Coffrini/Press Pool

Mr. Kerry and the foreign ministers of the other members of the P5+1 states traveled to the Swiss lakeside city over the weekend to push through the final agreement—their second such visit in two weeks.

American and Iranian officials called the deal a potential turning point in Tehran's relations with the international community and an important "first step" in ending the decadelong standoff over Iran's nuclear program.

"The agreement creates the time and space for a comprehensive solution," said Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign policy chief, who leads the P5+1.

Switzerland's Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, left, shakes hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif before talks about Iran's nuclear program on Saturday. Associated Press

U.S. and European officials said the six months that the interim agreement covers will be used to forge a broader accord that permanently ends the threat posed by Tehran's nuclear work. Iranian officials stressed this week that the nuclear program only had civilian uses.

France played a major role in the negotiations, with Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius insisting publicly during a previous round of talks two weeks ago that a draft agreement being discussed wasn't strong enough. In a statement early Sunday, Mr. Fabius acknowledged that the discussions were long and difficult but said the Geneva accord "amounts to a first major step" to resolve the nuclear dispute.

Mr. Fabius said the deal includes strict oversight of Iran's commitments and that "we will have to be vigilant on their implementation."

Speaking to reporters after the deal was signed, U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague confirmed Iran would win sanctions relief under the accord affecting its gold and precious metals trade, its petrochemicals sector and including the unfreezing of assets by U.S. officials.

American, European and Iranian officials described on Saturday a testy three days of talks that were needed to forge the final deal. The question of what to do with Iran's heavy water reactor nearing completion in the city of Arak nearly killed an agreement in the later stages of the diplomacy, said these officials.

France was pushing for a complete dismantling of the reactor on the grounds that there exists no nonmilitary rational for building the facility. The U.S. government shared this position.

Under the deal, Iran agreed to significantly increase inspections of Arak by the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency and agree not to start the facility or lead it with nuclear fuel.

Iran also agreed to cap its enrichment of uranium to levels only usable as fuel for a reactor, which is a purity of 3.5% to 5%.

Iran committed to maintaining its total stockpile of the low-enriched nuclear fuel at its current level, which is around six tons, during the six-month period.

Iran and the P5+1 also forged a compromise over the issue that over the past few days looked as though it could squelch a deal—Tehran's demand that the international community accept its "right" to continue producing nuclear fuel domestically.

Tehran cites the U.N.'s nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as affording every signatory that legal right to enrich uranium, provided it is used for civilian purposes. Successive U.S. administrations have denied this right exists and have supported multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions requiring Tehran to suspend its enrichment activities.

In a compromise, the P5+1 agreed to a text that says Iran will enjoy all the rights of treaty signatories, provided Iran satisfies all of the IAEA's questions about the alleged military dimensions of Iran's program. But the U.S. and its partners won't be forced to formally accept that Iran will be allowed to enrich.

Still, the compromise is seen as a victory for Iran, which has campaigned for a decade on this issue. U.S. officials on Saturday acknowledged that Iran will likely be allowed to maintain some enrichment capacity on its soil as part of a final deal.

"We're interested in exploring how Iran might end up with a limited and tightly controlled facility to enrich," said a senior U.S. official.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif touted the deal as vindicating Tehran's position. "Iran enjoys that right and its important to recognize that right. This recognition is there," Mr. Zarif told reporters. "We believe that to be our right."

U.S. officials said the agreement will provide sanctions relief of between $6 billion to $7 billion over the next six months, a number far below estimates made by critics of the agreement, including the government of Israel. The Obama administration also stressed that any easing of the sanctions could be quickly reversed if Iran is found not complying with the agreement.

U.S. officials said the P5+1 immediately will begin helping Iran repatriate about $4.2 billion in oil revenues that it hasn't been able to access overseas as a result of the sanctions. Iran is estimated to have $50 billion in these revenues overseas, which its government has been unable to access. The funds will be returned to Iran in monthly installments of $600 million.

The agreement also calls for the U.S. and European Union to ease the ban on Iran's trade in petrochemicals, precious metals, automobiles and airplane spare parts. U.S. and European officials said they didn't believe that such commerce could derive more than a few billion dollars in revenues for Tehran over the next six months. But they said some of the trade—such as access to airline parts—is critical to Iran, which has increasingly found its jetliners grounded because of safety concerns.

U.S. officials stressed that the sanctions relief would still be dwarfed by the revenue Iran is still losing because of the pervasive sanctions that remain in place.

These diplomats estimated that Iran still is likely to lose around $25 billion over the six months to the U.S. and European embargo against oil purchases. They also believed Tehran will continue to find itself unable to repatriate the earnings from the oil its does sell in Asia and the Middle East, because of sanctions. One official said Iran was likely to find itself unable to access another $14 billion to $16 billion in oil earnings over the next six months.

"The pressure of the sanctions will continue to grow," said a second American official involved in the Geneva talks.

U.S. and Iranian officials both said the agreement had potentially profound implications for global security and stability in the Middle East.

Before Mr. Rouhani's August inauguration, diplomatic engagement between Washington and Tehran was largely frozen, as it had been since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Over the past three months, however, Mr. Obama has held a phone conversation with President Rouhani, and Secretary of State John Kerry and Mr. Zarif have held hours of negotiations in Geneva.

"I think this is potentially a significant moment," Mr. Kerry said following the negotiations. "But I'm not going to say this is an end unto itself."

Mr. Rouhani tweeted after the agreement was signed Sunday: "We are confident that the agreement between Iran and the West will have a positive impact on other regional and global issues."

—Joshua Mitnick in Tel Aviv contributed to this article.

 

Date:
Friday, November 22, 2013
By  | Nov. 22, 2013 | 8:20 PM
   
 
A suspect in the killing of Col. (ret.) Seraiah Ofer, being arrested, October 2013. Photo by Gil Eliahu
 

A cartoon by Haaretz’s Eran Wolkowski, which was published in the paper several weeks ago ‏(on October 25‏), has since made regular appearances in presentations of GOC Central Command. The illustration depicts an Israel Defense Forces officer showing Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz a map of the West Bank. On it are a series of dots indicating the spots where terror attacks have been perpetrated recently. “They're all isolated incidents,” the officer says. But a closer look at the map reveals that the points connect into the likeness of a tiger with jaws open and teeth bared.

The fact that senior IDF officers are willing to laugh at themselves ‏(up to a point‏) doesn’t mean that the joke isn’t at their expense, or that the army and Shin Bet security service are somehow close to finding a solution to the problem.

Since the current wave of terrorism started in mid-September, there have been at least 12 such attacks, or attempted attacks − all of them in the West Bank, apart from one inside the Green Line. Four Israelis have been murdered in these incidents: three soldiers and a retired officer. In none of the cases has a known and systematic terrorist organization been clearly involved. Many of the cases were the result of a concatenation of the perpetrator’s very difficult personal circumstances, criminal intent and the broader background of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Only the attacks that ended with loss of life on the Israeli side − most recently, the murder last week of soldier Eden Attias while he was asleep on a bus in Afula − appear to have drawn much attention from the public and the media.

Actually, it’s some of the failed attempts that can perhaps provide more information about the nature of the renewed awakening in the West Bank. About two weeks ago, a Palestinian came from the Jenin area to Tapuah Junction, south of Nablus. When darkness fell, after a few hours of roaming around in the vicinity of the junction the man pulled out a pistol and shot at a few Israeli cars as they passed by. Two infantry soldiers and a border policeman who were posted at the junction, charged at the terrorist and killed him. ‏(The nature of protection at the site was changed a few months ago in the wake of a terror attack in which Evyatar Borovsky, from the settlement of Yitzhar, was murdered.‏)

The IDF’s investigation of the latest incident found that the security forces had responded properly. In the circumstances, there was no way of knowing that the assailant was using a nonlethal weapon ‏(a flare pistol‏). The three put a stop to the danger faced by Israeli travelers on the road. The terrorist had no prior record of security offenses. However, he was suffering from depression and taking antidepressants. A few hours before the incident, he had written on his Facebook page that he was “going to Paradise.”

It’s not clear why he availed himself of the flare pistol rather than a real weapon, which can be readily found in the West Bank.

In another recent incident, a Palestinian who tried to attack soldiers was shot to death. An inquiry by army intelligence found that the man had been exposed as a homosexual not long before and was under intense social and family pressure.

A few months ago, two young Palestinians were arrested when they climbed onto the separation barrier near Jenin. They said they were on their way to carry out a terrorist attack in a nearby Israeli settlement. When asked what their motive was, they explained that they were musicians but that their parents had forbidden them to go on studying music.

The alleged murderers of Col. ‏(ret.‏) Seraiah Ofer, in mid-October, originally came to his isolated farm in the Jordan Rift Valley to steal metal objects. Ofer was murdered when he confronted them. The different accounts they gave their Shin Bet interrogators finally merged into one version: True, we came to steal, but the murder of a former senior officer was “a gift to Hamas and to the Palestinian people.”

Economic advantage

The common denominator of many of the recent terror attacks is familiar from the period of the first intifada ‏(which began in December 1987‏). Personal problems intertwine with the broader political picture. It is also impossible to ignore the considerable economic advantage that accrues to the terrorist’s family. If the young depressive from Tapuah Junction had simply chosen to commit suicide, it would have been an embarrassment for his family. But a death in the name of the national struggle guarantees the family monthly support from the Palestinian Authority.

Just this week, it was reported that the PA is paying huge sums, in Palestinian terms, to the veteran prisoners whom Israel released when the political negotiations resumed.

Is the defense establishment capable of coping more effectively with the recent wave of attacks, which have put an end to three years of relative quiet in the West Bank? In a notably hawkish speech this week, delivered at the annual conference in memory of Moshe Dayan held at Tel Aviv University, Ya’alon stated that the Israelis killed recently are “victims of the political process.” In other words, according to him, the resumption of the talks with the Palestinians has radicalized the atmosphere in the West Bank and is inducing more individual terrorists to take an initiative.

But the IDF and Shin Bet are looking for more practical answers. Their working assumption is that such attacks are liable to continue at a fairly high frequency for the next few months. The number of victims is low compared with the suicide-bombing attacks of the previous decade, but every slaying of a soldier is considered a success in the territories, and every attack triggers copycat attempts.

A systematic examination of the latest incidents shows only minimal involvement by the veteran terror organizations. Hamas is still in retreat, under the dual pressure being exerted by Israel and the PA security units. The few Hamas military squads that are now active are engaged in planning more complex attacks, such as shootings and abductions of soldiers and settlers.

In general, they are acting under the directives of the organization’s headquarters in Gaza and in several neighboring countries, to which ranking Hamas members who were released in the Gilad Shalit exchange deal two years ago were sent. Because planning of that type leaves a more meaningful intelligence “signature” than the actions of individuals, most of those attempts have been thwarted. If someone rents an apartment in which to hide and rents a car or obtains a weapon, he leaves clues that can lead to his capture. There are also occasional cases of Fatah members reverting to terrorism on their own, without PA encouragement.

Impossible to detect

The difficulty faced by the security forces is clear. It is almost impossible to detect the intensions of a lone individual in advance, especially if he has no prior security record, when all that is required of him is an instantaneous decision and availing himself of whatever means are available, ranging from a knife to a bulldozer.

The Palestinian who was shot to death a month ago when he tried to crush soldiers under a bulldozer, in a base north of Jerusalem, was on his way ‏(with his brother‏) to bring back two bulldozers from the family business. At one point he “disappeared,” without saying a word to his brother, and drove to the base. The terrorist’s mobile phone rang for some time after he had been killed: His brother had heard about the incident and suspected it might be him. The two had a third brother, who was killed when he carried out a similar attack with a bulldozer four years ago.

Israeli intelligence officials are racking their brains in an effort to make surveillance more effective. Would it have been possible, for example, to intercept the announcement of the Tapuah Junction terrorist on his Facebook page that he was on the way to “Paradise,” locate him and prevent the attack?

It’s no secret that Israel is monitoring social networks in the neighboring countries − and even more intensively since the start of the Arab Spring − in order to better gauge the public mood. But in cases such as these, countless specific details need to be assimilated in order to produce real-time deterrence.

The other element is the correct tactical deployment of forces in the field and the meticulous maintenance of a high level of alertness over time. “I am on the soldiers’ case, so as to ensure that they keep up the readiness level at checkpoints and in patrols,” says the commander of a sector in the West Bank. “Better they should grumble about my toughness than leave weak points that could cost lives.”

Since the resurgence of the terrorist attacks, Israeli officials − Ya’alon, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Strategic and Intelligence Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz − have been heard leveling two major complaints against the PA: the ongoing incitement against Israel in the media and the education system, and the impotence of the Palestinians’ security units in dealing with terrorists.

The first complaint has been a favorite of Netanyahu’s since his first term as prime minister in the late 1990s. There is no dispute that under the current Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, as previously, the Palestinian leadership is doing very little to deal with the phenomenon. Still, the incitement issue looks mostly like a card Israel can play in arguments with the Palestinians and in meetings with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry − who, according to what a senior Israeli cabinet minister told Haaretz last week, can no longer be considered an honest broker in peace negotiations between the two sides.

However, in the face of Israel’s massive construction in the settlements and the ploy of announcing new building tenders by Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel last week, the Americans are probably not overly impressed by Netanyahu’s complaints.

When it comes to the question of the PA’s handling of terrorists, experts in Israel are divided. Shin Bet head Yoram Cohen tends to underscore the failures of the Palestinian security units in arresting wanted individuals about whom Israel has passed on warnings. Cohen also plays up the problems faced by the Palestinian authorities in imposing law and order in the refugee camps − notably the Jenin, Balata and Qalandiyah camps − where fear of the PA has faded.

In contrast, sources in the IDF tend to praise the day-to-day security coordination and note the dozens of occasions in which the Palestinian security forces have safely extricated Israeli civilians who mistakenly entered Palestinian territory. As for governance, a senior General Staff officer tells Haaretz, “We, too, do not necessarily excel everywhere − not in Lod and not in Yitzhar.”  

 

Date:
Thursday, November 21, 2013

Tehran's chief negotiator downplays hopes of a deal to end long-running nuclear dispute, saying there are 'major differences' between Iran and world powers.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif (2nd-R) and his deputy Seyyed Abbas Araghchi (R) meeting with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (C), Helga Maria Schmid, deputy secretary general of the European External Action Service (EEAS) and James Morrison (L), head of Ashton's cabinet, during talks over Iran's nuclear programme in Geneva Photo: EPA
 

By 

9:24AM GMT 21 Nov 2013

Iran will only sign up to an international deal on its nuclear programme if it is guaranteed the right to continue enriching uranium "from start to finish", the country's chief negotiator at talks in Geneva said on Thursday.

"No deal that does not include the right to uranium enrichment from start to finish will be accepted," Abbas Araghchi said ahead of negotiations in the Swiss capital aimed at ending the decade-old nuclear dispute. Iran could discuss volumes, levels and locations but "the principle of enrichment is not negotiable", he insisted.

As representives of Iran and six world powers - the US, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany - prepared for the two days of talks, the negotiator downplayed hopes of agreement. He said there were "major differences" between Iran and world powers, adding: "There is a chance of a deal by tomorrow (Friday) but it's a difficult task."

Mr Araghchi told state television that the main obstacle to agreement was a "lack of trust because of what happened at the last round" - referring to November talks when world powers toughened up the terms of a draft deal - insisting that "as long as trust is not restored, we cannot continue constructive negotiations".

In the run-up to the talks, the key players, including Iran, have expressed optimism that an agreement is within reach. William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, said on Wednesday that the remaining differences between the parties were small. "It is the best chance for a long time to make progress on one of the gravest problems in foreign policy," he said.

But Washington and Tehran reverted to a tougher tone on the eve of the talks on Wednesday, as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader, delivered a bellicose speech insisting there would be no retreat on the country's nuclear "rights" and Washington warned it would be "very hard" to produce a deal.

Ayatollah Khamenei also stoked the ire of two of Iran's negotiating partners, saying America "considered itself superior to mankind" and denouncing France for "kneeling" before Israel – a reference to the fact that French calls for a tougher deal, as demanded by Israel, reportedly scuppered agreement at the last round of talks.

The Ayatollah's tirade drew an angry response from Francois Hollande, the French president, who demanded Iran "provide answers and not provocations" over its disputed nuclear programme.

"It is clear that Khamenei's proposal's could not lead to calm and understanding. Iran must provide answers and not provocations," Mr Hollande said.

Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, sounded a more conciliatory note, saying nuclear development was not "about joining a club or threatening others" and insisting the country's programme was for peaceful energy purposes only.

But it was perhaps partly in response to the Ayatollah's bullish rhetoric that a senior Obama adminstration official warned last night that a deal would be difficult.

"We will have to see because it is hard," the official said. "It is very hard... If it was easy to do, it would have been done a long time ago."

Diplomats say a deal has already been outlined that would freeze Iran's nuclear programme in return for some sanctions relief, a "first step" agreement that would establish a six-month diplomatic window for a long-term settlement to be negotiated.

But it faces vehement opposition from Israel, whose prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday flew to Moscow to lobby President Vladimir Putin to tighten up the terms of the deal, as well as conservative US congressmen who have defied President Obama to push for fresh economic sanctions against Iran.

 

Date:
Tuesday, November 19, 2013

(Reuters) - An exiled opposition group said on Thursday it had obtained information about a secret underground nuclear site under construction in Iran, without specifying what kind of atomic activity it believed would be carried out there.

The dissident National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) exposed Iran's uranium enrichment facility at Natanz and a heavy water facility at Arak in 2002. But analysts say it has a mixed track record and a clear political agenda.

In 2010, when the group said it had evidence of another new nuclear facility, west of the capital Tehran, U.S. officials said they had known about the site for years and had no reason to believe it was nuclear.

The latest allegation comes less than a month after the election of a relative moderate, Hassan Rouhani, as Iran's new president raised hopes for a resolution of the nuclear dispute with the West, and might be timed to discredit such optimism.

The Islamic Republic says its nuclear energy program is entirely peaceful and rejects U.S. and Israeli accusations that it is really seeking the capability to make nuclear weapons.

But its refusal to curb sensitive nuclear activity, and its lack of full openness with the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, have drawn tough Western sanctions and a threat of pre-emptive military strikes by Israel.

The NCRI said members of its affiliated People's Mujahideen Organisation of Iran (PMOI) inside the country had "obtained reliable information on a new and completely secret site designated for (Iran's) nuclear project".

The NCRI, which seeks an end to Islamist theocratic rule in Iran, is the political wing of the PMOI, which fought alongside Saddam Hussein's forces in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

TUNNEL NETWORK

The NCRI said the site was inside a complex of tunnels beneath mountains 10 km (6 miles) east of the town of Damavand, itself about 50 km northeast of Tehran. Construction of the first phase began in 2006 and was recently completed, it said.

The group released satellite photographs of what it said was the site. But the images did not appear to constitute hard evidence to support the assertion that it was a planned nuclear facility.

A spokesman for the dissidents said he could not say what sort of nuclear work would be conducted there, but that the companies and people involved showed it was a nuclear site. The group named officials it said were in charge of the project.

"The site consists of four tunnels and has been constructed by a group of engineering and construction companies associated with the engineering arms of the Ministry of Defense and the IRGC (Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards force)," the NCRI said.

"Two of the tunnels are about 550 meters (600 yards) in length, and they have a total of six giant halls."

Asked about the report, International Atomic Energy Agency spokeswoman Gill Tudor said in Vienna: "The agency will assess the information that has been provided, as we do with any new information we receive."

A Western diplomat accredited to the IAEA told Reuters: "I have heard nothing. My first suspicion is that it is like the 2010 revelation - a tunnel facility the Iranians are keeping quiet, but no known link to the nuclear program."

Iran said in late 2009 that it planned to build 10 more uranium enrichment sites on top of its underground Natanz and Fordow plants, but has provided little additional information.

Refined uranium can provide fuel for nuclear power plants, which is Iran's stated aim, but can also be used to make atomic bombs, which the West fears may be Tehran's ultimate goal.

(Reporting by Nicholas Vinocur and Leigh Thomas; Writing by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Robin Pomeroy/Mark Heinrich)

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