(Reuters) - Israel said it would not allow advanced weapons to fall into the hands of Hezbollah, after a raid on Syria that opposition sources said had hit an air force garrison believed to be holding Russian-made missiles destined for the militant group.
Israel has a clear policy on Syria and will continue to enforce it, officials said on Friday, after U.S. and European sources said Israel had launched a new attack on its warring neighbor.
Israel declined to comment on leaks to U.S. media that its planes had hit a Syrian base near the port of Latakia, targeting missiles that it thought were destined for its Lebanese enemy, Hezbollah.
"We have said many times that we will not allow the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah," said Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan, a member of the inner security cabinet which met hours before the alleged Israeli attack.
"We are sticking to this policy and I say so without denying or confirming this report," he told Israel Radio.
Israel is believed to have attacked targets in Syria on at least four occasions this year, the last time in July, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying he would not let sophisticated anti-aircraft, anti-ship and long-range missiles move from the hands of Syria to its Hezbollah ally.
One U.S. official and two European officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Israel was understood to have carried out the latest air strike on Wednesday.
The officials did not identify the target in Syria, but the U.S. official and one of the European officials noted that in the past such Israeli operations have destroyed missiles to prevent their transfer to Hezbollah.
A Latakia activist told Reuters that an explosion had rocked a garrison area that houses an air force brigade loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad near Snobar Jableh village mid-afternoon on October 30.
Ambulance sirens were heard rushing to the scene, however, the activist, who calls himself Khaled, said there was a "total media blackout" about the incident.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights quoted sources as saying there were four or five explosions at the base, but only limited damage reported. Al-Arabiya news network said SAM 8 anti-aircraft missiles were destroyed.
Former Syrian intelligence agent Afaq Ahmad, a defector now in exile in France, told Reuters on Thursday that contacts of his inside Syria, including in Latakia province, told him Russian-made ballistic missiles had been kept at the site that was attacked.
Assad's forces, backed by Hezbollah and Iran, are battling rebels in a civil war that has killed well over 100,000.
Khaled said Assad loyalists were frustrated about Israel's apparent impunity, recalling that the Syrian president had previously indicated Syria would respond to further attacks.
"Yet Israel keeps hitting us and there's no retaliation. So even the staunchest loyalists are getting very upset," he said.
IRRITATION BETWEEN ALLIES
Israel deliberately remains silent over its actions in Syria to keep a lid on tensions and try to avoid pushing Assad into a corner where he would feel compelled to respond.
Locals said they did not hear warplanes at the time of the blasts and there was initial confusion about who was behind the attack. One source, who declined to be named, said the limited damage on the ground suggested pinpoint missile strikes.
A foreign diplomat said that in the past the Israelis had succeeded in creating such confusion by using stand-off ordnance - missiles or gliding bombs that can be released many miles (kilometers) from the target.
There was clear irritation in Israel about the U.S. leaks, which analysts said might signal irritation in Washington over Israeli action at a time when Syria had bowed to international pressure and was dismantling its large chemical weapons arsenal.
"Washington is selling our secrets on the cheap," said top-selling Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth.
Still, the White House and Pentagon declined to comment on reports of the strike.
Israel has grown increasingly frustrated by U.S. policy in the Middle East, worried that President Barack Obama had been too soft on Assad and anxious over his rapprochement with Iran.
Uzi Rabi, director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University, said Israel had to make many calculations before approving attacks on Syria.
"Israel is sending a message to Assad, saying 'don't play games with us'. But Israel must also realize that the situation is becoming much more delicate than ever before because this is going against the U.S. diplomatic agenda," he said.
Rabi said the "working assumption" in Israel was that Assad was so focused on battling rebels that he could not afford to retaliate. However, he expected that Syria would seek international support to prevent Israeli air strikes.
A senior Israeli official, while declining to confirm any Israeli attack, did not expect Syria to respond.
"Assad is disarming (his chemical weapons) out of his own interests. He knows how to make the necessary distinctions," said the official, who declined to be named.
Technically at war with Syria, Israel spent decades in a stable standoff with Damascus while the Assad family ruled unchallenged. It has been reluctant to intervene openly in the 33-month Islamist-dominated insurgency rocking Syria, however is determined not to see Hezbollah profit from the unrest.
Hezbollah fought Israel to a standstill in a 34-day war six years ago. Israel has warned that any future conflict will be much more brutal.
(Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell and Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Erika Solomon in Beirut, Khaled Oweis in Amman, and Phil Stewart and Mark Hosenball in Washington; Editing by Giles Elgood and Vicki Allen)
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
By Nicole Gaouette - Oct 29, 2013
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that failing to pursue diplomacy on Iran’s disputed nuclear program would be irresponsible and urged Congress to become more involved in efforts to halt the spread of nuclear weapons.
Kerry addressed the Obama administration’s nonproliferation efforts as the U.S. and partners prepare to meet again on Iran’s nuclear program in Geneva and a U.S. research institute said North Korea has renewed construction at its main missile site.
“We will not succumb to fear tactics” against holding talks with Iran, Kerry said last night in remarks at the United States Institute of Peace, a congressionally funded, nonpartisan policy group in Washington. While Kerry didn’t elaborate, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has faulted the administration’s willingness to engage with Iran.
President Barack Obama made nuclear nonproliferation a priority for his administration early in his first term, signing an arms-reduction treaty with Russia. Negotiations with Iran now represent an opportunity to stem the spread of nuclear weapons in the Persian Gulf, where Iran’s enemies could start their own nuclear programs should talks fail.
“Iran is so crucial in the health of the whole nonproliferation regime and policy, it’s kind of the centerpiece,” said Robert Einhorn, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington policy group.
Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said earlier yesterday that his country was “hopeful of a good result” in talks with International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors that continue today. Araghchi met for an hour yesterday with IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano. The IAEA’s nuclear inspectors are seeking wider access to people and places suspected of conducting undeclared nuclear activities.
Iran will be offering a “new approach” in higher level talks with the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Russia and China that take place Nov. 7-8 in Geneva, Araghchi said. Iran insists its program is for civilian purposes, such as medical research, a claim that countries including the U.S. and Israel dispute.
The prospect for a negotiated solution to the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program has sharpened differences between Israel and the U.S. on what, if any, atomic activities Iran should be allowed to continue under tighter restrictions. Netanyahu last week said it would be a “tragic mistake” to ease pressure before Iran agrees to dismantle its nuclear program.
Abandoning the diplomatic process now under way with Iran “would be the height of irresponsibility,” Kerry said last night. Even so, he said, “no deal is better than a bad deal.”
The secretary also expressed concern that partisanship in Congress risked undermining non-proliferation efforts. He cited the arms-reduction accord reached with Russia, known as the New START Treaty, which passed the Senate in December 2010 over the objections of some Republican lawmakers who favored delaying its approval and reopening talks with the Russian government.
“As the nation that ushered in the nuclear age, we have an obligation to usher it out,” Kerry said. He warned budget-minded lawmakers that containing the spread of nuclear weapons “does not come cheap.”
Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow with the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence at Brookings, said the “progress on Iran is extraordinary, though it’s also bipartisan, dating back to the Bush years.” With talks continuing, O’Hanlon said it’s so far an “incomplete success.”
“There has been little to no headway with North Korea or Pakistan, unfortunately, but the road was very difficult with both, in different ways,” he said.
Efforts to restart international disarmament talks with North Korea remain stalled as President Kim Jong Un refuses U.S. and South Korean demands that the country first show signs of rolling back its weapons development.
North Korea is instead building a possible new launch pad for mobile missiles that could be complete by mid-2014, according to a report issued yesterday by the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
The institute reported Oct. 24 that North Korea has also built two new tunnel entrances at its atomic test site in a sign the regime is preparing future underground blasts to bolster its nuclear arsenal.
Pyongyang stepped up its arms program this year, holding its third nuclear test in February followed by a threat in March of first strikes against the U.S. and South Korea. South Korea’s intelligence chief confirmed this month the North had restarted its main nuclear reactor.
Israel too is awash with cyber concerns with a flurry of recent reports underscoring the challenges posed by cyber warfare in areas including national security, industrial secrets and private finances.
In the small-scale department, hackers have recently defrauded dozens of Israelis of hundreds of thousands of dollars by hacking their Gmail accounts to uncover information about overseas bank accounts, Israeli mediareported Tuesday. Such attacks, of course, are not uncommon and not specific to Israel.
Other attacks aim much higher.
Earlier this month, the Israeli military's Chief of Staff Benny Gantz warned that the next war could start in any number of ways, including a cyber attack on civilian infrastructure that could paralyze the country.
The month before, a computer malfunction shut down the Carmel Tunnels, a toll road serving a key traffic artery to Haifa and Israel's north, causing a massive snarl and heavy financial losses.
This week, Associated Press reported that the shutdown was the result of a cyber attack that gave hackers control over the tunnel.
The managing company, however, denied the report, claiming the malfunction originated in an internal component disconnected from external systems.
Also this week, Israeli media reported an attempted attack on 140 senior figures in the country's leading security and defense industries, who received emails containing malware programmed to steal and copy information. The emails appeared to originate from a German company known in the field but were tracked back to Chinese defense industries, the reports said.
But whether the Carmel Tunnels mishap was an attack or not, targeting Israel's critical infrastructure is a concrete, constant concern. In addition to various government authorities entrusted with cyber defense already in place, state-owned utility operator Israel Electric Corp. is launching a cyber-training facility.
Dubbed the "CyberGym", the center is designed to teach cyber defense to strategic companies including those in the energy and infrastructure industries.
Employing what Israel Electric calls "the best hackers in Israel and abroad" to practice real-time events, the center will be inaugurated Wednesday in Hadera, home to a major power plant.
The utility company alone fights off as many as 20,000 attempted cyber attacks every day and is on the critical infrastructure list along with water, communications and other facilities undergoing a security upgrade overseen by Israel's military.
In April, an attack threatening to "erase Israel from cyber space" disrupted Israeli government and other websites but caused little permanent damage.
JERUSALEM — Israel announced Monday that it would free another 26 Palestinian prisoners convicted of killing Israelis, saying it was fulfilling its commitment to U.S. diplomats as part of ongoing peace negotiations, despite intense opposition within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet.
Netanyahu agreed months ago to free 104 Palestinian militants as part of a deal brokered by Secretary of State John F. Kerry to get the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank, to the negotiating table. Many of the prisoners were serving life sentences for killings of Israeli civilians that took place in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The Palestinians slated to be freed this week were all convicted of killing Israelis and have spent between 19 years and 28 years incarcerated in Israeli prisons. The majority are from the West Bank. Five are from the Gaza Strip, now governed by the Islamist group Hamas, which does not recognize Israel.
Among the prisoners to be freed is Omar Issa Masoud, convicted of murdering Ian Feinberg, a lawyer who had been working in Gaza to help improve the economic conditions of Palestinians. Feinberg, 30, was slain in April 1993, when gunmen stormed an aid meeting in Gaza City he was attending.
Another prisoner on the list is Hazem Kassem Shbair, convicted of murdering Holocaust survivor Isaac Rotenberg at a construction site where the two worked together. The Almagor Terror Victims Association in Israel said that most of Rotenberg’s family had been killed during World War II but that he managed to escape, arriving in Israel in 1947. Rotenberg was bludgeoned to death with an ax in 1994, when he was 67 years old.
Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Jewish Home party and the third most powerful member of Netanyahu’s government, tried to stop the prisoner release, saying it was “a dubious privilege” to have Israeli negotiators sit with their Palestinian counterparts.
But Netanyahu said the government must abide by its commitments. “The decision to free prisoners is one of the most difficult I made as prime minister,” Netanyahu said, according to accounts in the Israeli media. “This decision was necessary in our current reality. We have to navigate through a complex international arena full of challenges.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is planning to welcome the freed prisoners in a celebration in Ramallah late Tuesday, officials said.
Critics of the release were given fresh ammunition after two missiles were fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel early Monday. No one claimed responsibility, and no one was injured. One missile was intercepted by Israel’s U.S.-funded Iron Dome missile defense system above the coastal city of Ashkelon. The other rocket landed in an uninhabited patch of ground nearby.
The Israeli air force retaliated with an attack against two clandestine rocket launchpads north of Gaza City.
Hard-line politicians opposed to the prisoner release — and to negotiations that would give away land for a future Palestinian state — said the rocket fire showed there was no trustworthy partner for peace on the Palestinian side.
On Sunday, two mortars were fired at Israel from inside Gaza. And earlier this month, Israel’s military shut down a “terror tunnel” that led from the Palestinian territory into the Jewish state.
Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli Defense Forces, said the tunnel was designed to facilitate attacks on Israel, such as the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier, the planting of explosive devices or the moving of militants across the border.
Israel’s decision to strike the concealed rocket-launch sites Monday “shows our capability and our knowledge,” Lerner said, and puts Hamas on notice of Israel’s intent to respond to any provocations with force.
Matthew Levitt, a scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and an expert on Hamas and Hezbollah, said Israel usually holds Hamas responsible for rockets fired from Gaza and described a retaliatory strike as “par for the course.”
Israeli aircraft pounded rocket-launch sites in response to rocket fire Aug. 14, Israeli officials said, and hit targets in Gaza on June 24, April 28 and April 3.
“The real question,” Levitt said, is why the rockets continue to be fired from Gaza, despite the relative calm in the area. He said the answer might be linked to Gaza’sincreasing isolation, following the ouster of the Islamist government of president Mohamed Morsi in neighboring Egypt.
Those moves denied Hamas its “tax revenues” from the tunnels, further battered the already weak Gazan economy and effectively sealed off the coastal enclave.
Ruth Eglash contributed to this report.
Friday, October 25, 2013
Iran could produce enough weapons-grade uranium to build a nuclear bomb in as little as a month, according to a new estimate by one of the USA's top nuclear experts.
Iran could produce enough weapons-grade uranium to build a nuclear bomb in as little as a month, according to a new estimate by one of the USA's top nuclear experts.
The new assessment comes as the White House invited Senate staffers to a briefing on negotiations with Iran as it is trying to persuade Congress not to go ahead with a bill to stiffen sanctions against Iran.
"Shortening breakout times have implications for any negotiation with Iran," stated the report by the Institute for Science and International Security. "An essential finding is that they are currently too short and shortening further."
David Albright, president of the institute and a former inspector for the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, said the estimate means that Iran would have to eliminate more than half of its 19,000 centrifuges to extend the time it would take to build a bomb to six months.
The Obama administration has said Iran is probably a year away from having enough enriched uranium to make a bomb.
Bernadette Meehan, an NSC spokeswoman for President Obama's National Security Council, said the intelligence community maintains "a number of assessments" regarding potential time frames for Iran to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one weapon or a testable nuclear device.hi
"We continue to closely monitor the Iranian nuclear program and its stockpile of enriched uranium," Meehan said.
World powers are seeking an agreement "that ultimately resolves all of the international community's concerns about Iran's nuclear program," she said. "The ultimate goal is a comprehensive agreement that is credible, transparent, and verifiable."
In the report, Albright said negotiations with Iran should focus on so-called "breakout" times, or the time required to convert low-enriched uranium to weapons-grade.
Albright, who has testified before Congress, said the negotiators should try to find ways to lengthen the breakout times and shorten the time that inspectors could detect breakout. ISIS' analysis is based on the latest Iranian and United Nations reports on Iran's centrifuge equipment for producing nuclear fuel and its nuclear fuel stockpiles.
Iran's stockpile of medium-enriched uranium has nearly doubled in a year's time and its number of centrifuges has expanded from 12,000 in 2012 to 19,000 today.
Sen. Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican whose Senate Banking Committee is considering legislation to tighten Iran sanctions, said the report shows that Iran is expanding its nuclear capabilities under the cover of negotiations.
"The Senate should move forward immediately with a new round of sanctions to prevent Iran from acquiring an undetectable breakout capability," he said.
The White House has said new sanctions legislation should wait while current negotiations — scheduled to resume officially in Geneva next month — are moving forward.
The White House said Thursday it will continue consulting with Congress "so that any congressional action is aligned with our negotiating strategy as we move forward," said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for President Obama's National Security Council.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said his country has no interest in nuclear weapons but that producing nuclear fuel is Iran's right. His foreign minister, Javad Zarif, has said Iran will not ship its nuclear stockpile to a third country.
However, Iran has blocked international inspectors from some suspected nuclear facilities to verify they are being used for peaceful purposes, access required under international agreements it has signed.
United Nations inspectors have found evidence of a weapons program in violation of Iran's commitment under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The USA and the U.N. Security Council have implemented crippling economic sanctions on Iran to sway it to take steps to assure the world it is not developing a bomb.
Israel, which sees an Iranian nuclear bomb as a threat to its very existence, has said it will take military action to prevent Iran from getting a bomb.
ISIS estimated in October 2012 that Iran could produce enough highly-enriched uranium for a bomb within two to four months. The new estimate is based on an analysis of the latest reports by Iran and the the IAEA.
ISIS considered various scenarios, including if Iran decided to build a covert enrichment plant like it has under a mountain in Fordow, near the city of Qom, that was designed for optimal efficiency and minimal time to enrich enough uranium for bomb making. Such a facility built with current Iranian technology could produce enough material for a bomb in a week, according to the ISIS report.
"If they did that and they were caught it would be a smoking gun of a nuclear weapons program," Albright said.
If Iran moves ahead with installation of its more efficient, second generation centrifuges, it would be able to produce enough nuclear fuel for a bomb with so few of them, between 2,000 and 3,300 centrifuges, that they could fit in a small warehouse, Albright said.
Israel is expected to release a second group of 30 Palestinian prisoners on October 29 as part of ongoing peace efforts, Palestinian and Israeli sources told The Times of Israel Monday.
The batch will include more members of the group of 104 pre-Oslo Peace Accords inmates Israel has pledged to release, contingent on progress in the talks. Twenty-six prisoners were released in the first wave on August 13, just after talks started.
The most dangerous prisoners would be banished to the Gaza Strip, Yedioth Ahronoth reported. The government still has not approved the release, the paper said.
The Prime Minister’s Office declined to confirm the reports, but said a public notice would be sent out before any prisoner release and it would not be done in the dead of night.
Israel agreed in July to a four-stage release of 104 prisoners, many of whom were convicted of brutal murders, serving sentences for acts of terror committed before the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993.
The agreement was intended as a sign of good faith ahead of the renewed American-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
The Palestinian Authority and the United States had asked Israel to release the prisoners in time for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha last week, but Israel denied that request, according to a report earlier in the month.
Netanyahu has resisted the pressure from the right and plans to release the prisoners on schedule, the prime minister’s representative in the peace talks, attorney Yitzhak Molcho, assured Palestinian and American officials in recent days.
Younis Obaidi drove tractor into an army base near Ramallah; his brother attempted to run down two policemen in 2009 attack.
Tractor from Palestinian attack on IDF base near Al-Ram, October 17, 2013 Photo: IDF Spokesman
A Palestinian terrorist was shot dead after trying to enter an IDF base in the West Bank by breaching the base's fence with a tractor, the army said on Thursday evening.
According to an initial report from the IDF, Younis Obaidi from Beit Hanina drove the tractor towards a base near Al-Ram, southeast of Ramallah, ramming the mechanical digger through a gate in the base's perimeter fence.
"A Palestinian ... posed an immediate life threat to soldiers nearby. They opened fire towards the suspect and reported a direct hit," an IDF spokeswoman said.
An IDF soldier was lightly injured by the tractor.
Obaidi's brother, Mir'i Radeideh, also attempted to carry out a terrorist attack with a tractor, in March 2009. Radeideh attempted to run over two policemen in a police car in Jerusalem in March 2009. He was also shot to death.
Obaidi arrived at the base and directed his vehicle towards the IDF soldier guarding its entrance, according to a Channel 2 report.
The guard entered into the base to ask if the tractor had authorization to enter.
At this point, Obaidi took advantage of the guard's absence and drove through the entrance barrier of the base and started driving quickly inside the base.
The guard began to chase the tractor and yelled for him to stop but Obaidi continued, recklessly hitting vehicles parked inside the base.
An officer joined the first soldier and the two fired at the tractor driver, seriously injuring him. Obaidi passed away from his wounds shortly thereafter.
The IDF was investigating the circumstances of the attack.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
By Batsheva Sobelman
October 15, 2013, 3:34 a.m.
JERUSALEM — With talks between Iran and six world powers set to resume in Geneva on Tuesday, Israeli leaders issued a stern warning to the so-called P5 Plus One diplomatic group: don't ease pressure on Iran.
It would be a "historic mistake" to relax pressure on Iran "a moment before sanctions achieve their goal," Prime MinisterBenjamin Netanyahu told Israel's parliament Monday.
In a statement issued ahead of the talks Tuesday morning, Israel's security cabinet stressed that the opportunity for reaching a genuine diplomatic solution to dismantle Iran's military nuclear program could bear fruit only if the international community "does not relent" and continues pressure on Iran.
"We want the Geneva talks to succeed. We are not closing the door on diplomacy," Minister of Strategic and Intelligence Affairs Yuval Steinitz said Monday. Israel will endorse a "satisfactory agreement," he said.
Steinitz defined "satisfactory" as different from agreements previously reached with, and breached by, North Korea, which now has several nuclear weapons. He said North Korea is a cautionary example of the "impact and ramifications of bad agreements."
The minister pointed to an agreement with Libya, which gave up its enrichment program and effectively shut down its nuclear program a decade ago, as a good example.
If Iran wants civilian nuclear energy as it claims, it must stop enriching uranium and give up material enriched so far, Steinitz said.
The ministers said Iran could create a "win-win situation" if it gives up enrichment and obtains nuclear fuel from a third country.
Netanyahu contended that despite Iran's declared commitment to pursuing only civilian nuclear energy, it has been working for two decades to obtain nuclear weapons capabilities, systematically defying United Nations resolutions. While negotiating with the West, Iran has amassed several tons of enriched uranium in recent years, Netanyahu said.
Israel will embrace a "genuine diplomatic solution which would bring about the dismantling of Iran's nuclear weapons program," said Netanyahu. This will be possible, the prime minister said, if Iran complies with previous U.N. Security Council resolutions and other steps, including stopping all nuclear enrichment, removing stockpiled enriched uranium, dismantling facilities near Qom and Natanz and halting the plutonium track.
The West appears to have already made a concession to Iran, "a de-facto recognition of Iran's right to enrich uranium," said analyst Giora Eiland, Israel's former national security advisor.
An agreement that would keep Iran from military nuclear capability and would be "tolerable" to Israel is one that would remove low-grade enriched uranium from Iran to a third country that would convert it to fuel rods for Iran to use to produce electricity, Eiland said. Since reversing the fuel-rod conversion process is "difficult to impossible," such a move would hold Iran's military nuclear ambitions at bay, Eiland told media.
President Barack Obama's stance on Iran is "clear, unambiguous and uncompromising," and Israel should relate to it as such, President Shimon Peres told parliament on Monday.
But a recent public opinion poll, the monthly Peace Index conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute, showed that two-thirds of Israel's Jewish population doubts the U.S. will fulfill Obama's promise to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons at all costs and distrusts Iran and Western powers.
At the same time, however, a majority of Israelis, both Jews and Arabs, still believe it would be possible for Israel to live with a nuclear Iran and that Israel should formulate a security strategy that suits such a change in circumstances.
Prime Minister Netanyahu speaking at Bar Ilan, October 6, 2013.Photo: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO
There will be no peace with the Palestinians until they recognize the Jewish right to a homeland in Israel, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Sunday night at Bar-Ilan University.
“A necessary condition to getting a true solution [to the Israeli-Palestinian] conflict was and remains clear as the sun: ending the refusal to recognize the right of the Jews to a homeland of their own in the land of their fathers,” he said. “That is the most important key to solving the conflict.”
Netanyahu’s words came at the start of a conference marking 20 years since the founding of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, the site of Netanyahu’s famous “Bar-Ilan speech” from four years ago where he stated his willingness for a two-state solution.
Those who anticipated that he might use the same venue to again break new ground on the Palestinian issue were disappointed.
Rather then present a “vision” speech of where he thought the negotiations with the Palestinians were headed, Netanyahu used the opportunity to emphasize that a Palestinian recognition of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people was a necessary condition to any agreement.
Since the first Arab attack on a home housing Jewish immigrants in Jaffa in 1921, the root of the conflict has not been the “occupation,” the “territories” or the settlements, but rather an Arab refusal to recognize the Jews’ right to a sovereign state in their historic homeland, he said.
Netanyahu said that the Arab revolutions of the past two years – which he called the most significant events in the region in 20 years – have laid to rest the “sacred cow” that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the heart of the instability in the Middle East.
Today, he said, it is “tough to say this without sounding absurd.”
It is now also the time, he said, to kill the “sacred cow” that the “occupation” was the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Netanyahu spent a number of minutes during his address, which lasted some 30 minutes, discussing the links of the head of the Palestinian national movement in the pre-state days – Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini – with the Nazis. He reminded his listeners that the mufti visited Adolf Hitler in 1941 and promised his aid in getting Muslims to enlist in the SS in the Balkan states, and in the Nazi propaganda efforts.
Husseini, he said, is still an admired figure among Palestinians.
“That is what needs to be uprooted,” he said.
Netanyahu brought up the mufti, however, more to refute comments Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made in New York two weeks ago than to slam the current Palestinian leadership.
Netanyahu pointed out that Rouhani then quickly pointed out that it was forbidden to let the Zionists exploit the Nazi crimes to oppress the Palestinians.
“Despite what Iranian representatives and others say,” the prime minister said, “Zionist leaders did not use the Holocaust to destroy the Palestinian national movement.
The opposite is true. The leader of the Palestinian movement at that time, Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, is the one who preached and worked to carry out the Holocaust to destroy the Zionist movement.
“And it almost worked,” Netanyahu said. “European Jewry was destroyed, with the help of the mufti, but Zionism was not destroyed; Israel was established.”
The goal of Iran today was to control the Middle East and beyond, and to “destroy the State of Israel. That is not speculation, that is the goal,” he said.
Repeating arguments he made last week at the UN, Netanyahu dismissed the notion that Iran was merely seeking nuclear energy for peaceful means, saying that countries that want to harness nuclear energy for civilian needs do not insist on enriching uranium and building plutonium reactors, elements not needed for civilian nuclear purposes but only to build nuclear weapons.
“The international community’s position toward Iran needs to be: We are willing to come to a diplomatic solution – but only one that will dismantle from Iran its capabilities to develop nuclear weapons. That means no centrifuges for enriching uranium and no plutonium reactor,” he said.
Earlier in the day, at the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu stressed he was not against diplomacy with Iran, but rather wanted to ensure that negotiations with Iran will lead it to a halt of uranium enrichment.
Netanyahu, in his first meeting with his cabinet since meeting US President Barack Obama in Washington and saying a day later at the UN General Assembly last week that Israel would “stand alone” against Iran if need be, said he had a long, in-depth conversation with Obama about Iran and that they agree on the need to halt the Islamic Republic’s uranium enrichment.
“Iran claims that it wants this capability for nuclear energy for peaceful needs,” he said. “Seventeen countries in the world produce nuclear energy for peaceful needs without one centrifuge or enriching uranium.”
Netanyahu, who only recently began publicly saying that the sanctions on Iran were making a serious dent, said that the sanctions were “working,” and were “just a moment before achieving their goal.”
Sanctions must not be removed before Iran dismantles its enrichment capabilities, he said.
Friday, October 4, 2013
by EYDER PERALTA
October 03, 2013 5:16
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered some rare, if fleeting, hope Thursday in regard to his country's relationship with Iran.
In an interview with Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep, he said the election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani "might" offer an opportunity for diplomacy and that he would "consider" meeting him.
"I don't care about the meeting. I don't have a problem with the diplomatic process," Netanyahu said.
"You're saying you would meet him?" Steve asked.
"I haven't been offered. If I'm offered, I'd consider it, but it's not an issue. If I meet with these people I'd stick this question in their face: Are you prepared to dismantle your program completely? Because you can't stay with the [nuclear] enrichment."
Netanyahu went on to cast doubt on the new, more moderate rhetoric coming out of Tehran. He said the Iranian people picked the "least bad" of the candidates, but said that Rouhani was offering "a fake deal." He said he'd be "delighted" by a diplomatic solution that's "real." But then, slipping into American colloquialism, he let Steve know how he really feels about Iran's softer overtures: "This is all hogwash. What they say is nonsense."
Of course, Netanyahu's comments come after a whirlwind U.S. trip by Rouhani. He gave a speech at the U.N. in which he left all the caustic rhetoric of his predecessor behind and called for "prudent moderation." He said it was in Iran's best interest to be transparent with the international community to ensure confidence in its nuclear program.
As Rouhani headed to the airport, he received a historic phone call from President Obama. It was the first time the heads of state of the two countries have spoken directly since 1979, and it signaled just how serious talks between the U.S. and Iran have gotten. During his own speech at the U.N., President Obama said he had instructed Secretary of State John Kerry to pursue a deal with Iran over its nuclear ambitions.
Remember, relations between the U.S. and Iran have been strained over what the U.S., Israel and other Western countries say is Iran's march toward making a nuclear weapon. Iran has always maintained that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
In his interview with NPR, Netanyahu dismissed that argument, saying Iran does not need to enrich uranium if it wants to use it for nuclear energy and for medical devices.
"The reason they insist on enrichment is because they want to maintain the path to nuclear weapons," Netanyahu said.
That's when Steve told him that one question reasonable people ask when he travels around the Arab world is: If Israel can have nuclear weapons, why can't Iran?
"What is the reasonable answer to that question?" Steve asked.
"We'll I'm not going to say what Israel has or doesn't, but I will say Israel has no designs to destroy anyone; we've not called for the destruction of a people, the annihilation of Iran or any other country," Netanyahu said.
He added, "If we've learned anything from the history of the 20th century and not only from the 20th century, is that a regime with unbridled, radical ambitions should not get awesome power, because once they do, they will unleash it."
Much more of Steve's conversation with Netanyahu will air on Friday's Morning Edition. Click here for your NPR member station.