After a night of fireworks and celebrations, Israelis joined Independence Day festivities around the country Thursday, despite the unseasonably cold temperatures.
At the President’s Residence, an official ceremony decorating 120 IDF soldiers took place, and Israelis were gazing heavenwards to watch the air force’s traditional acrobatics across the skies.
Many were flocking to Israel’s beaches and parks to hold barbecues and picnics with friends and family, a tradition in Israel, although rain was falling intermittently in most of the country.
The rain fell for the second year in a row on Independence Day. According to the Israel Meteorological Service, snow fell on Mount Hermon and the surrounding area in the Golan Heights Thursday morning for the first time on Yom Ha’atzmaut in 25 years. Clouds covered parts of the country, including Jerusalem, which saw a chilly 54 degrees Fahrenheit. The coast, however, may be spared the rain.
In addition to the fun, informal outdoor gatherings, Yom Ha’atzmaut is also a day of official ceremonies and events.
At 11:00 a.m. the International Bible Contest kicked off. The annual competition pits the 16 bible scholars who qualified against one another to see who knows the Good Book best.
This year’s winner of the youth competition is 15-year-old Eyal Matas of Rehovot. Sixty-seven competitors from 33 countries entered the annual contest, which began earlier this week. That number was whittled down to 16 finalists who competed on Independence Day.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin jokes with soldiers as he inspects the ranks during a ceremony for outstanding servicemen as part of Israel’s 67th Independence Day celebrations on April 23, 2015 at the President’s residence in Jerusalem. (Photo credit: Miriam Alster / Flash90)
At the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, 120 IDF soldiers were recognized by President Reuven Rivlin for their distinguished service and will receive a university scholarship from the Friends of the IDF organization. The recipients are generally soldiers who have overcome hardship and adversity. Many of them are new immigrants who moved to Israel without their families.
The annual ceremony, attended by the president, prime minister, defense minister and IDF chief of staff, features performances by famous singers and soldiers from the army’s various bands.
“It is our responsibility — and truly our privilege — to give of ourselves,” Lt. Omri Gannem a Druze commander in the Nahal Infantry Brigade said in his speech on behalf of the recipients.
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot applauded the soldiers’ parents. “To the families: the education you have provided gave these distinguished soldiers the tools they needed to make it here,” he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s remarks at the ceremony retained some of the solemnity of Wednesday’s Memorial Day. Looking at the young soldiers, the prime minister discussed the cost of military actions and his responsibility to minimize it. “When I make a decision with the defense minister and the chief of staff,” Netanyahu said, I must ensure “that the cost will be minimal, because every one of you is dear to us.”
“We do not forget anyone — not Hadar Goldin and not Oron Shaul who was here a year ago as an outstanding soldier,” the prime minister said, talking about two soldiers who died in this summer’s conflict in Gaza, one of which received the president’s award last year.
At approximately 10:30 a.m. Israeli Air Force planes took off from southern Israel, making their way around the country in their annual Independence Day flyover. The planes flew past Beersheba at 10:40 a.m. and continue on, making it to Jerusalem at 11:04 a.m., Tel Aviv at 11:24 a.m. and up to Haifa at 11:53 a.m.
In addition to the flyover, the air force’s aerial acrobatics team appeared in the skies over the northern air base of Ramat David at 9:40 a.m. Thursday morning and headed to Tel Aviv at 12:10 a.m., the Air Force Museum outside of Beersheba at 1:35 p.m. and above Jerusalem at 2:00 p.m.
Additional planes were flying past Tel Aviv’s famous beaches throughout the early afternoon.
Military buffs and families with small children flocked to army bases across the country for Independence day, as the IDF opened its gates for demonstrations and to show civilians what their sons and daughters do in their military service.
Additionally, most Israeli museums and cultural attractions, including the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, offered free admission on Thursday, allowing citizens a chance to appreciate the country’s rich history.
Finally, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday evening the day’s events were set to come to a close with the Israel Prize ceremony. Chaim Topol, Esther Herlitz, Erez Biton and others will receive one of the nation’s top honors for their work.
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
At ceremonies commemorating IDF fallen and terror victims, Netanyahu speaks of Israel’s strength and insists all Israelis ‘are one family’
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke at the central memorial ceremony for fallen soldiers at the Mount Herzl military cemetery Wednesday, recognizing the sacrifice of those who gave their lives for the State of Israel and urging Israelis to appreciate the meaning of that loss.
“Our enemies must know they will not break us,” the prime minister said, quoting a widow who spoke Tuesday in the Knesset’s memorial ceremony.
Netanyahu, who was heavily criticized for his statements about Arab voters during last month’s elections, stressed the importance of unity on Memorial Day. “We are one family: Jews and our non-Jewish brothers — Druze, Muslims, Bedouins, Christians, Circassians,” he said.
The prime minister also spoke out against war. “Anyone who has experienced the anguish of bereavement is not eager to go to battle,” he said, mirroring comments the previous day made by President Reuven Rivlin.
“Our sons did not go to battle thirsty for blood,” Rivlin said at the Western Wall in Jerusalem Tuesday night. “Not this past summer, not those before, not in those that, God forbid, are still to come. We are forced to fight.”
“We express our gratitude for everything we have earned,” the prime minister said Wednesday, “for the wonder of our sovereignty, the gift of freedom, the miracle of our renewal.”
The official state ceremony commemorating victims of terror attacks began at 1 p.m. at the Victims of Acts of Terror Memorial on Mount Herzl. Rivlin, Netanyahu and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot were in attendance.
There the prime minister lamented what he called the celebration of terrorist acts.
“Many of our neighbors glorify murderers and carry them on their shoulders,” Netanyahu said at the ceremony. “The more they murder, the more they glorify them.”
But, Netanyahu said, “The memory of those killed in terror attacks will be with us forever.”
Earlier Wednesday, a two-minute siren sounded at 11 a.m. throughout the country, bringing the nation to a momentary halt as Israelis stopped where they were and stood silent in remembrance of the dead.
The traditional memorial siren brings highways to a standstill and businesses to a momentary pause in a country where nearly everyone knows one of the 23,320 soldiers who fell in Israel’s wars and terror attacks.
Across Israel, families and friends of fallen soldiers flocked to military cemeteries Wednesday to commemorate Memorial Day — Yom Hazikaron in Hebrew — for the 67th time.
More than 3,000 members of the youth group Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed will hand out some 100,000 wreaths to the families of fallen soldiers at the entrances to military cemeteries nationwide.
The central memorial ceremony for fallen soldiers began at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem at 10:30 a.m., attended by President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Eisenkot, as well as other senior IDF officers and politicians.
The IDF’s main ceremony began in the Kiryat Shaul military cemetery in northern Tel Aviv, also at 10:30 a.m.
The army provided The Times of Israel on Wednesday with a breakdown of the deaths of the 100 soldiers who died since last Memorial Day. The majority, 67, fell during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza during the summer. Two others were killed in a Hezbollah ambush near the northern border and one more in a terror attack in Tel Aviv.
Seven were killed in car accidents — either on base or on leave — and two more in what the army termed “other accidents,” perhaps referring to training accidents. One more soldier was killed in an “operational accident.”
Finally, 14 soldiers died in circumstances classified as “suspicion of suicide,” and six more from disease and sickness.
An additional 16 people were killed in the service of other security services or were civilians slain in terror attacks, the army said.
Some roads were closed Wednesday to allow for foot traffic in the areas surrounding military cemeteries. Jerusalem’s Herzl Boulevard was closed from 9:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and Shmuel Bait Road was closed from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Yad Sarah offers free rides for disabled family members of the fallen to the military cemeteries at Jerusalem’s Har Herzl, Tel Aviv’s Kiryat Shaul, Haifa and Beersheba. To order a ride on a special handicapped-accessible vehicle, family members can call *6444 from any cellular service.
Trains nationwide provide free transportation to military cemeteries, and bereaved families can ride at half cost to other locations.
In Jerusalem, President Reuven Rivlin opened Israel’s national Memorial Day ceremony Tuesday night at the Western Wall with a plea for Israelis to fight for the country’s character, not just its survival.
Speaking moments after the traditional minute-long siren brought the country to a standstill, the president urged Israelis to consider the meaning of the sacrifice of the nation’s 23,320 fallen, calling on all Israelis to honor their memory by fighting for the “essence and idea for which the State of Israel was established.”
Rivlin said, “The deaths of those who died defending our home force us to deepen our commitment to building that home as a more just home, a more compassionate home, a home where not only those who have fallen, but all those within it are equal.
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
By Jim Synder | Bloomberg Politics| Apr 20, 2015 10:14 AM EDT
Nuclear inspectors will need unfettered access in Iran as part of a deal to lift economic sanctions, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said a day after an Iranian general said military sites must be off limits.
“We expect to have anywhere, anytime access,” Moniz, a nuclear physicist who negotiated the technical details of a framework nuclear accord, said Monday in a meeting with editors and reporters at Bloomberg’s Washington office.
Inspections of Iran’s military sites under the proposed long-term agreement wouldn’t be “frivolous;” they would be part of “a well-defined process,” he said. United Nations inspectors would need access to any location if they had well-founded suspicions of covert “out-of-bounds activities.”
On Sunday, Brigadier General Hossein Salami, deputy head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, said “they will not even be permitted to inspect the most normal military site in their dreams,” according to the state-run Press TV.
The U.S. and five other world powers on April 2 in Switzerland announced a framework for an agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions. The negotiators have set a June 30 deadline to reach a final deal.
Access for UN inspectors is one of the biggest hurdles to a final deal designed to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said inspectors would be barred from certain military facilities.
In response to Moniz’s comments, the deputy head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency, Behrouz Kamalvandi, said Iran hasn’t agreed to “anywhere, anytime” inspections, saying “negotiations are continuing,” the Iranian Students’ News Agency reported.
The other major obstacle to a deal is agreement over the pace of sanctions relief. Iran wants oil and financial sanctions lifted immediately upon signing a deal, while the U.S. and its partners have said Iran first needs to scale back its nuclear program -- a process that Moniz predicted would take six months to complete -- before sanctions will be eased.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest signaled a possible compromise Monday, saying sanctions relief can come after “Iran has begun taking the tangible, measurable, verifiable steps that they commit to.” Until now, U.S. officials have insisted Iran will have to complete -- rather than simply begin -- limiting its nuclear activities before sanctions relief will begin.
Earnest said there will be no lifting of sanctions before actions are taken by Iran. On Friday, President Barack Obama said getting agreement over sanctions relief will require “creative negotiations” on the part of Secretary of State John Kerry and his team, including Moniz.
In his interview, Moniz said he thought it would take Iran at least six months to meet the terms of a deal sufficient to warrant relief from the sanctions. Those terms include reducing its stockpile of enriched uranium to 300 kilograms from 10,000 kilograms and cutting the number of centrifuges.
“I would say six months or so, to me, looks to be about perhaps the minimum that will be required to execute all those steps,” so that inspectors can verify Iran’s compliance before sanctions relief is given, Moniz said on Bloomberg Television. “Iran may be able to pick up the pace and lower that somewhat.”
“Sanctions timing and access are going to be the two issues that have to be resolved appropriately,” Moniz said. “And if not appropriately, I don’t see how we can go forward.”
Moniz also discussed calls from lawmakers to permit U.S. oil exports, which have largely been banned since the Arab oil embargo 40 years ago.
Senator Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican and the chairman of the Senate energy committee, said last week the restrictions were inappropriate given the increase in U.S. oil production, and the prospect Iran would be able to sell its oil on world markets if a nuclear deal is struck.
Moniz said the administration was reviewing the policy, but he noted that the U.S. is still “a very large” importer of oil, unlike Iran.
“I think that perspective has to be retained in this discussion,” he said.
A potential swap of light sweet crude from the U.S. with heavier crude from Mexico, now under review by the U.S. Commerce Department, was an “interesting possibility,” as an interim step, Moniz said. U.S. producers have said U.S. production may outstrip the ability of refiners to process the oil, creating a glut that would discourage more drilling and lead to additional job losses for the industry.
Moniz said U.S. refiners are modifying their facilities to process greater amounts of the light crude produced in places like North Dakota’s Bakken field and Texas’s Eagle Ford formation.
Monday, April 20, 2015
Khamenei tells army to be on alert after American warning of possible strike on nuclear facilities, calls US and Israel gravest threat to the world
BY TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF AND AFP April 19, 2015, 5:49 pm | The Times of Israel|
TEHRAN — Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged the country’s armed forces Sunday to increase their “defensive preparedness,” hitting out at a US warning of possible military action. He also reportedly called the US and Israel the most serious threat to the world.
Khamenei told commanders and troops in a speech that Iran “will never accept such silly remarks,” a jab at General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, though he did not name him. Dempsey said Thursday that should ongoing diplomacy with Iran fail, “the military option… to ensure that Iran does not achieve a nuclear weapon is intact.”
The United States has long said targeted bombing of Iran’s nuclear sites and other key facilities may be needed if Tehran — which denies seeking the bomb, though the IAEA and UN Security Council have disagreed — does not rein in its atomic activities. “All bodies from the ministry of defense to the army and the Sepah (Revolutionary Guards) should increase their military and defensive preparedness.
This should be regarded as an official directive,” Khamenei said. His response comes after Iran and six world powers led by the US agreed on April 2 on the key parameters of a nuclear deal, the hard details of which are due to be agreed by the end of June. “After a period of silence by the other side, one of its officials has once again recently talked of ‘options on the table’,” Khamenei said.
“On the one hand they bluff, and on the other hand, they say the Islamic Republic of Iran should halt its defensive progress, which is a silly remark. Iran will never accept such silly remarks and the nation has proved that if it is attacked, it will defend itself quite powerfully. It will stand united and like a strong fist against illogical aggressors.” In remarks translated by Iran’s Fars News, Khamenei blasted what he reportedly called the puppet regimes of the US and Europe for media hype and allegations that Iran sought to acquire nuclear weapons.
“Today, the most vital threat posed to the world and the region is the US and the Zionist regime which meddle (with other nations’ affairs) and kill people anywhere they deem to be necessary, without any control or commitment to conscience or religious principles,” Fars quoted Khamenei saying.
Friday, April 17, 2015
Detection mechanism for Hamas attack tunnels successfully tested, now to be expanded; residents cautiously welcome protection
The IDF is set to deploy a revolutionary new tunnel detection system along the Gaza Strip border, in an effort to better protect Israeli citizens from terrorist infiltration.
The new system was already successfully trialed in recent months along parts of the border, and is now expected to be expanded further, the daily newspaper Yedioth Aharonot reported Thursday.
An exact time-frame for its deployment was not made immediately clear.
A first of its kind in the world, the system includes a series of sensors that will provide data, deciphered by advanced algorithms, allowing security forces to accurately detect and locate tunnel-digging operations, the report said.
Attack tunnels extending into Israeli territory prompted an Israeli ground invasion into Gaza during Operation Protective Edge, which began in July and lasted for 50 days.
Destroying the tunnel threat was one of Israel’s goals during the summer’s military campaign, which saw over 2,100 people killed in Gaza and tens of thousands more left homeless, according to Palestinian and UN tallies, and 72 people killed in Israel. Eleven Israeli soldiers were killed inside Israel by Hamas gunmen emerging from the cross-border tunnels.
Full deployment of the system, developed by the Director of Research and Development in the Defense Ministry in cooperation with Israeli industries, is pending government approval and the allocation of designated funds.
The Times of Israel reported on Wednesday that Hamas has begun using heavy machinery and engineering tools to accelerate the excavation of attack tunnels leading from the Gaza Strip under the Israeli border. The equipment, sources in the Palestinian enclave said, includes small bulldozers with the ability to maneuver in tight spaces. From the Israeli side of the border, larger tractors are clearly visible above the ground as the machines prepare the tunnel entries.
The Gaza-based terrorist organization has been using whatever cement it can get its hands on for the construction of the tunnels, and fortifying the walls of its underground structures with wood as well.
Security officials told The Times of Israel last month that Hamas has invested considerable effort in digging a new tunnel network within the coastal enclave, as well as several tunnels meant for eventual cross-border attacks.
The evidence of digging can be seen from the Israeli side of the border, and residents of frontier towns have documented the construction some several hundred meters from the border.
Alon Shuster, head of Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council, told Yedioth Aharonot that he closely followed the government and military efforts to develop the means to combat the Hamas tunnel threat. “This advancement provides an additional layer of security for the residents,” he said.
Amit Caspi of Kibbutz Kerem Shalom – one of three communities that lie within a kilometer from Gaza – said the tunnels mostly threaten the residents’ morale. “We view it as an unsolvable threat, so if indeed there was a breakthrough, although we know there can be no total solution, it can greatly improve our personal security,” he said.
“I hope it helps save lives and improves our quality of life.”
Thursday, April 16, 2015
BY TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF April 15, 2015, 9:10 pm Times of Israel|
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday compared Iran’s violent and expansionist aspirations in the Middle East to the Nazi campaign to conquer Europe during World War II.
He excoriated the US-led world powers for capitulating to Iran, and allowing it to maintain key elements of its nuclear program in the deal currently being negotiated, even as Tehran seeks to acquire weapons of mass destruction and destroy the Jewish state.
World powers are “comatose” and “delusional” in the face of today’s Nazis, Iran, he charged.
“The main lesson of the Second World War, for democracies, is that they cannot turn a blind eye to tyrannical regimes,” Netanyahu said during a ceremony at the Yad Vashem museum to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“Appeasement towards these regimes increases their aggressiveness,” the Israeli leader continued. “If this aggressiveness is not curbed in time, humanity may find itself in far greater wars in the future.”
Netanyahu noted that “ahead of World War II, the world attempted to appease the Nazis. They wanted quiet at any price, and the terrible price did come.” Six million Jews were murdered, as were millions of others. The lesson was clear, he said: Only standing firm in the face of violent, tyrannical regimes could ensure the future of humanity. But that lesson, he said, had evidently been forgotten.
Just as the Nazis sought to destroy Europe, Netanyahu said, so does Iran seek to wreak havoc in the Middle East and beyond, and to annihilate Israel.
World leaders utter the words “Never again” but don’t mean them, he charged.
He said he wished he could believe that the world had learned the lesson of the incomprehensible horrors wrought by the Nazis, but that “the threats to humanity are multiplying.”
He cited the slaughters of innocents by Islamic extremists, and then focused heavily on Iran.
The prime minister asserted that the framework nuclear deal which was reached earlier this month between Iran and the P5+1 world powers proves that the international community has failed to learn the lessons of the Holocaust.
“The Iranian regime represses its people,” Netanyahu said, “and plunges the Middle East into a tide of blood and suffering.”
Just as the Nazis sought to destroy civilization, install the Aryan race and wipe out the Jewish people, he said, so too do the Iranians intend to take over this region and destroy the Jewish state.
Iran was following two paths, he said, seeking nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them, and “exporting the Khomeini revolution to many lands via the massive use of terrorism and widespread conquest in the Middle East.”
“The danger is there for all to see… and yet the blindness is vast,” he asserted. “The West is capitulating in the face of Iran’s aggressive actions…
“Iranian leaders are exporting death and destruction. The world is not listening to the calls in Iran urging Death to Israel, Death to America,” Netanyahu said.
Instead of demanding the significant rolling back of Iran’s facilities, and instead of conditioning the lifting of sanctions on the end of its aggression, “the world powers are withdrawing.”
The new deal leaves nuclear capabilities in the hands of a nation that says openly that it wants to kill Israel’s six million Jews, Netanyahu complained. The civilized world is “comatose, gripped by delusion,” he charged.
“The democratic states made a terrible mistake” when failing to confront the rise of Nazism, “and they’re making a terrible mistake now.”
The prime minister vowed to protect the Jewish state at all costs, even if no other nation stands by Israel’s side. “We will continue to insist on the truth, and to try to open the closed eyes,” he promised, predicting “testing times ahead.”
“Even if we are forced to stand alone, we will not falter,” he said. Israel’s leaders would “ensure our right and capacity and determination to defend ourselves.” While the Jews had no power 70 years ago, “today we can make ourselves heard and we are determined to ensure our existence and our future.”
Vowed Netanyahu: “We will not allow the State of Israel to become a passing phase in the history of our people.”
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
After compromise, Obama administration suggests it will not veto bill to give Congress say on final agreement
WASHINGTON — After a last-minute compromise earned the Obama administration’s support, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously passed a bill that would increase Congressional oversight of any comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran Tuesday.
The bill, authored by Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) will now head to the Senate floor, where it is likely to pass the final hurdle and be signed into law.
The move earned quick praise from the pro-Israel AIPAC lobby, which urged quick action by the full Senate to adopt the legislation and called on the House to take action on similar congressional review legislation.
Corker and Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) worked over the past 24 hours to come up with a version of the bill that would make the legislation more palatable to Democrats.
In recent weeks, the White House campaigned hard against the original text of the legislation, which it said undermined the possibility of reaching any negotiated agreement with Iran.
At the bill’s heart is text that will allow Congress a 52 day review period of any agreement that the US reaches with Iran over its nuclear program in the framework of ongoing talks between Tehran and the P5+1 member states. An earlier version of the bill sought to put any plan by Obama to lift sanctions on Iran on hold for up to 60 days while Congress reviewed the deal.
In advocating for his legislation, Corker repeatedly criticized the current situation, in which both the United Nations Security Council and the Iranian Majlis parliament would be able to vote on any agreement, but the United States Congress would not.
“The administration … has been fighting strongly against this,” said Corker, the Republican chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.
“I know they’ve relented because of what they believe will be the outcome here,” he said. “I believe this is going to be an important role, especially the compliance pieces that come afterward.”
The White House initially promised to veto the legislation, but it reversed course shortly before the committee vote, indicating that it would not put the kibosh on the bill.
It’s not clear Obama would have been able to wield his veto pen in any case. Even before the White House’s reversal, Corker claimed that he already had garnered enough support to override any potential presidential veto.
Obama, whose foreign policy legacy would be burnished by a deal with Iran, has been in a standoff for months with lawmakers who say Congress should have a chance to weigh in and remain skeptical that Iran will honor any agreement.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the White House would withhold final judgment on the bill while it works its way through Congress, wary that potential changes could be made in committee that would render it unpalatable. But he said the White House could support the compromise in its current form.
“Despite the things about it that we don’t like, enough substantial changes have been made that the president would be willing to sign it,” Earnest said.
One provision of the bill which was described by its opponents as a poison pill was a clause stipulating that Iran cease state sponsorship of terror.
That clause was removed from the final text of the bill as a provision for gaining the administration’s approval for the legislation.
At the same time, Cardin stressed during the powerful Senate committee’s Tuesday meeting that language still remained in the legislation that required the president to make regular reports to Congress regarding both Iran’s state sponsorship of terror as well as its extensive record of domestic human rights abuses.
An attempt to restore the anti-terror language through a last-minute amendment to the bill was rejected by both Cardin and Corker in an effort to pass a bill that would not be vetoed.
Speaking during the Tuesday session, Menendez described the bill as “the way to send a message to Tehran about our expectations.”
“The fact is – if the P5+1 and Iran ultimately achieve a comprehensive agreement by the June deadline – at the end of the day, Congress must have oversight responsibility, and this legislation provides it. This bill establishes a managed process for Congressional review and a framework for Congressional oversight,” Menendez said.
The former ranking member, who stepped down from committee leadership earlier this month after being indicted on corruption-related charges, argued that the case of the Iranian negotiations differed from other non-treaty agreements which did not require Congressional approval.
Menendez grounded his argument in the claim that Congress had been central in approving nuclear-related sanctions against Iran, and thus must also have a role in lifting them. “As the author of those sanctions, working with others, I can tell you that we never envisioned a wholesale waiver of those sanctions without congressional input and action,” he noted.
The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee quickly issued a statement applauding the unanimous vote for the bill, which was one of the cornerstones of its lobbying agenda this year.
“AIPAC believes that it is imperative for Congress to assert its historic foreign policy role,” the organization wrote. “Congress should review any agreement to ensure it meets US objectives and object if it fails to do so. Serious concerns have been raised over the framework understanding. A final deal, with its immense national security implications, must be subjected to the constitutional system of checks and balances that is the bedrock of our democracy.”
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
Hours after Russia agrees to supply Tehran with advanced air defense system, PM says regime is ‘grasping the Middle East with arms of terror and blood’
BY STUART WINER April 13, 2015, 10:46 pm | The Times of Israel|
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday night said Iran was being emboldened by the emerging nuclear deal with world powers to expand its support for terror activity throughout the region, and warned Tehran was “grasping the Middle East with arms of terror and blood.”
“Iran draws encouragement from the concessions that it is receiving from the major powers,” Netanyahu said. “The message that Iran is receiving from this is that it is not being called upon to halt its aggression, that it can continue and even increase this aggression, and this is exactly what it is doing. It has been doing so in recent months, in recent weeks and in recent days…It is grasping the Middle East with arms of terror and blood.”
The prime minister cautioned that if the deal — which aims to curb Iran’s contested nuclear program in exchanged for sanctions relief — is finalized by the June 30 deadline, Tehran’s expansionist activities will receive “international legitimacy.”
“Iran is receiving legitimacy to continue these actions and when the sanctions are lifted shortly, if indeed the deal is approved, it will receive billions of dollars to finance its war and terrorism machines, with international legitimacy,” he said.
Israel has argued that any deal with Iran be contingent on its halting its support for terror groups Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Houthi rebels in Yemen. The US has consistently rejected the approach, saying the two issues must be dealt with separately.
“Before our very eyes an absurd reality is taking shape in which the key to our fate and the future of the Middle East is liable to be delivered into the hands of the fanatical Iranian regime. An agreement full of holes with Iran will not ensure regional stability; a vigorous and resolute policy that prevents it from arming itself with nuclear weapons and compels it to halt its takeover of other nations would,” Netanyahu said.
He maintained there was nothing that could convince him to support the “very bad deal” reached in Lausanne.
“There’s no explanation that can convince me that the deal is a good deal for a simple reason,” Netanyahu said. “It’s a bad deal. A very bad deal. It is a deal that leaves Iran in possession of the capability to arm itself with nuclear weapons, that fills its coffers with a lot of money and that not only enables it to continue its terrorism and aggression in the Middle East and around the world but does not even demand that it stop doing so.”
Netanyahu’s comments came as several unnamed officials in Jerusalem warned that Iran was stepping up its arms support for Hezbollah and Hamas in past weeks.
Hours earlier, Russian President Vladmir Putin declared that the S-300 missiles would be supplied to Iran, completing an $800 million deal signed in 2007. At the time, the US and Israel both strongly opposed the sale of the air defense system, that was seen as a regional game-changer. In 2010, Russia froze delivery of the missiles, citing global sanctions against selling military equipment to Iran that were imposed as part of an effort to squeeze a deal out of the Islamic Republic over its controversial nuclear program.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and the Pentagon raised objections with Moscow over the plan. The White House said Kerry made the US opposition clear in a phone call to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The call came as Lavrov argued that the preliminary agreement over Iran’s nuclear program made the 2010 ban on sending missiles to Iran no longer necessary.
Experts say the S-300s would complicate any attempt at military intervention against Iranian nuclear facilities. Israel also fears they could be made available to Syria and Hezbollah, changing the balance of power in the region.
Although Iran claims the nuclear research is for peaceful purposes only, world powers fear it is aimed at developing atomic weapons.
The framework agreement marked a crucial advance in a 12-year standoff between Iran and the West, which disputes Tehran’s denial that it is seeking to build a nuclear bomb. However, Israeli officials, led by Netanyahu, have strongly condemned the deal for placing inadequate limitations on Iran’s ability to research and produce nuclear weapons.
Global powers must resolve a series of difficult technical issues by a June 30 deadline for a final deal, including the steps for lifting global sanctions imposed on Iran, and lingering questions over the possible military dimensions of its nuclear program.
Monday, April 13, 2015
12/04/2015| Press Release from Prime Ministers Office|
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued the following statement:
"In the last few days, Iran has shown again why it can’t be trusted.
Iran insists on maintaining its formidable nuclear capabilities with which it could produce nuclear bombs. Iran insists on removing all sanctions immediately. And Iran refuses to allow effective inspections of all its suspect facilities. At the same time, Iran continues its unbridled aggression in the region and its terrorism throughout the world.
So let me reiterate again the two main components of the alternative to this bad deal: First, instead of allowing Iran to preserve and develop its nuclear capabilities, a better deal would significantly roll back these capabilities – for example, by shutting down the illicit underground facilities that Iran concealed for years from the international community. Second, instead of lifting the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear facilities and program at a fixed date, a better deal would link the lifting of these restrictions to an end of Iran’s aggression in the region, its worldwide terrorism and its threats to annihilate Israel.
Iran needs a deal more than anyone. Instead of making dangerous concessions to Iran, now is the time for the international community to reassert and fortify its original demands for a better deal.
We must not let Iran, the foremost sponsor of global terrorism, have an easy path to nuclear weapons which will threaten the entire world."
Friday, April 10, 2015
By JPOST.COM STAFF \04/10/2015 03:26| The Jerusalem Post|
A survey conducted by NBC News has found that 68 percent of Americans do not believe Iran will uphold its part of a final nuclear accord with six major powers.
Iran and the P5+1 countries – the US, China, Russia, France, Great Britain and Germany – reached a framework deal with Tehran in Lausanne earlier this month, which framed the parameters of a larger, more technical agreement due by June 30.
A quarter of those surveyed in the NBC poll, which was conducted online April 6-8 and released on Thursday, said they trusted the Islamic Republic "to abide by a nuclear agreement."
Under the pact, cast as an "understanding," Iran will be allowed to continue the enrichment of uranium and will close no facilities.
53% of respondents said Iran's nuclear program constitutes a major threat to the United States. 37%, by comparison, said it was a minor threat, while 8% said it was no risk whatsoever.
Also, half said they were following events unfolding throughout the nuclear talks quite closely, with more Republicans than Democrats staying tuned to news coming out of Switzerland.
The American TV network also asked participants who they trusted more to spearhead negotiations to curb Iran's nuclear program – US President Barack Obama or the Republicans in Congress – to which most (54%) returned with support for the president.
Nearly two thirds of the 2,052 adults surveyed said they felt the country was heading in the wrong direction. As for Obama's job approval ratings – the poll, which was done in conjunction with SurveyMonkey, found that some 51% of Americans approved of "the way Barack Obama is handling his job as president" compared to 48% who disapproved.
World powers and Iran have yet to agree on a fundamental component of the structure of a nuclear deal, with the main disagreement between the parties being how to couple international sanctions relief for Tehran with its demonstrated compliance with an accord.
The United States and its allies want to lift sanctions over time, providing little relief up front, whereas Iran wants full exemption from all EU and UN sanctions upon the initial implementation of a comprehensive agreement.