Pro-Israel News

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.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Rot set in when P5+1 stopped demanding Iran dismantle nuclear facilities, says Yuval Steinitz. But Lausanne framework doesn’t even halt Iran’s progress

By David Horovitz April 9, 2015, 6:50 am | The Times of Israel| 


Israel’s minister of intelligence and strategic affairs, Yuval Steinitz, is at the forefront of his government’s very high-profile effort to expose perceived flaws and close loopholes in the world powers’ new framework nuclear deal with Iran. There’s just one problem, he says: There is no deal. In fact, there isn’t even a written framework.


Asked for his overall assessment of a deal hailed by the US as “historic,” Steinitz responded with a sigh and the plaintive lament: “The deal? I don’t understand anything about it.”


He then suggested that the framework was foggy and marked a pitiful precedent for international diplomacy: “Usually there’s a signed document, and then the sides argue about the interpretation. Now, they’re not arguing about the interpretation, but over the text. Because nothing was agreed. There is no text. In Lausanne, they didn’t manage to reach an agreement. So, to an extent, they fabricated understandings. Some are less clear. Some are more clear. But they weren’t written. And so there are different narratives. I don’t think there’s been an international agreement in the past that wasn’t written and signed.”

Still, from what Steinitz can discern amid the vagueness and conflicting narratives, he has pieced together a bleak picture. Echoing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he said the non-written non-deal paves Iran’s path to the bomb — treating the regime “as though it can be trusted, like Holland or Japan.”


The root of the rot, he argued, was the decision by US-led world powers, about two years ago, to veer away from their previous insistence that Iran’s nuclear infrastructure be “dismantled and neutralized,” and opt instead for a “freeze and inspect” approach, which he said was “an unfortunately more minimal” path. Now, compounding that fundamental error, he said, came the recent porous understandings that neither freeze nor inspect effectively.

‘I don’t think there’s been an international agreement in the past that wasn’t written and signed’


In an interview with The Times of Israel on Wednesday, Steinitz stressed — for the benefit of those who criticize Israel’s ostensibly hard-line attitude — that “Israel didn’t change its position.” The “big mistake” was that the world powers did, he said, abandoning their demand to dismantle and neutralize, a demand that had produced a string of UN resolutions against an Iran that had “built a uranium enrichment project secretively and in breach of commitments.” The previous stance of the world powers known as the P5+1 had been “You want a peaceful nuclear program — well, fine, but no enrichment. Like Spain, Mexico, South Africa,” he said.

So Israel’s criticisms begin with that initial shift. The “overall approach is wrong,” said Steinitz. In Lausanne, however, the very vague terms of the understanding give every indication of failing even to ensure a competent, viable mechanism for the misguided “freeze and inspect” approach, he said.

For a start, he continued, the apparent terms do not freeze R&D on advanced centrifuges. Iran can thus continue to improve its centrifuges “legitimately” and break out to the bomb as soon as the restrictions on advanced centrifuges expire, in a little over a decade — the very flaw that President Barack Obama highlighted in his NPR interview on Monday, and which the State Department scrambled to explain away a day later.


Except that the right to ongoing R&D is actually more problematic than Obama acknowledged, said Steinitz. He posited that it would take Iran only about five years to complete the R&D on its IR-8 centrifuges, geared to enrich uranium 20 times faster than its current, basic line of IR-1s. “We’re not only worried about what happens in 10 years,” he said. “We’re worried that in five years, if and when their research is done, they will be able to break out to the bomb in two to three months. If they do break out, they can build 200 IR-8 centrifuges and install them in about two months,” and then produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb in a few weeks.


Steinitz said that the Iranians don’t yet have working IR-8 centrifuges; they are in development. When Foreign Minister Zarif and nuclear chief Salehi reportedly told MPs in Tehran that they’ll “inject gas” into their IR-8s on day one of the deal, Steinitz believes, they “apparently meant that they will be allowed to continue development from day one of the deal. They’ll put in a certain gas to check the models.”

The aftermath of the announcement of the deal has indeed been marked by diverging interpretations of the framework not only between Iran and the US but even between the US and France, which was on the same side of the negotiating table.

How will the IAEA be able to fully inspect and inspect what the regime is doing in the future, ‘if you don’t know where they’ve got to in the past’?

Then come the inspections, which Steinitz said were inadequately provided for in the Lausanne understandings. Iran, it appears, is still not being required to give a full accounting to the International Atomic Energy Agency on the possible military dimensions of its nuclear activities to date, he said. “And that is dangerous on a world level, since other countries will conclude that they too don’t have to give full answers to the IAEA — countries like Argentina, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.”

And as regards Iran itself, he asked, how will the IAEA be able to fully inspect and inspect what the regime is doing in the future, “if you don’t know where they’ve got to in the past — for example, on nuclear warheads?”


What’s worse, he pressed on, is that the understandings do not provide for critical “anywhere, anytime” inspections of any and all suspicious sites. How did Steinitz reach that conclusion? In part, from Obama’s New York Times interview. “Tom Friedman asked him, If there are military sites with nuclear activities, can there be ‘anywhere/anytime’ inspections? Obama said no. He said, We’d have to request that of the Iranians, and if the Iranians say no, there’ll have to be arbitration.”

(Steinitz, obviously, was paraphrasing. What Obama said was, “Obviously, a request will have to be made. Iran could object, but what we have done is to try to design a mechanism whereby once those objections are heard, that it is not a final veto that Iran has, but in fact some sort of international mechanism will be in place that makes a fair assessment as to whether there should be an inspection, and if they determine it should be, that’s the tiebreaker, not Iran saying, ‘No, you can’t come here.'”)

Steinitz was anything but persuaded. “We say that is ineffective. It will take time,” he said — time in which Iran can render suspicious sites less suspicious. “And, of course, if Israel or the UK or the US have intelligence that arouses suspicions, say, about two or three sites, military bases, facilities — these could be huge compounds — and there is an arbitration committee, Iran will deny the allegations. They’ll say, Show us proof. Well, we’re not going to give them our intelligence. We’re not going to expose our intelligence to the Iranians. So we think it’s useless.”

All of which, in Steinitz’s bleak conclusion, means that, “They claim that there’s a freeze and inspections, and we see loopholes.”

But what more can Israel do about this state of affairs, apart from gearing up to look after itself?


It couldn’t have made its objections any clearer. A month ago, Netanyahu was publicly lobbying Congress against the Obama-backed deal, to the president’s evident fury. Since last Thursday, the prime minister has been blitzing US media with his complaints. He asked that a final deal be conditioned on Iranian recognition of Israel; the president swatted the demand away. Steinitz on Monday asked 10 questions about the framework and listed a series of loophole-closing demands for a “more acceptable” deal. Hours later, Obama adviser Ben Rhodes went on his own Israeli TV blitz, effectively ruling out more stringent demands on Iran. The deal as it now stands meets the US’s “core objectives,” Rhodes told Channel 2. “We believe that this is the best deal that can emerge from these negotiations,” he reiterated to Channel 10.

Steinitz indicated he was undeterred by such tactical obstacles. “We’ll continue the dialogue with the US and with all the P5+1 players,” he promised. “We’ll keep expressing our positions. It is having an effect. There is American media resonance. The 10 questions that I raised, and my parameters for a more acceptable deal — when it was said that Israel wasn’t offering an alternative — are resonating.”

Steinitz insisted that the holes in the disputed parameters could yet be plugged, “if there is sufficient pressure on Iran.”

“If there is sufficient pressure,” he repeated, “I believe Iran will give in on all or most of these points,” he claimed, sounding just a little as though he was trying to convince the both of us. “If the Iranians see there’s no alternative, that they’ll be facing ever greater economic pressure, that there’s the risk of a military strike…”


He tailed off, then sallied forth again, on a slightly different, more idealistic tack: “The P5+1 shouldn’t be saying, What’s the alternative. Iran should be saying, What’s the alternative. Two years ago, when he was running for election, [President Hassan] Rouhani asked, What’s the alternative? We have to make concessions, he said. We have to save the economy, he said. Now, it’s Obama and the P5+1, the world’s powers, that are asking what’s the alternative.”

How to explain this grim reversal? I wondered. Is Obama a man of bad intentions?


“I certainly don’t think that the president has bad intentions,” Steinitz fired back rapidly and firmly. “I greatly appreciate his security guarantees to Israel, his commitment to Israel, the dialogue with Israel. Heaven forbid, I don’t accuse Obama or [Secretary of State John] Kerry of bad intentions, but they’re making a terrible mistake — one that recalls the 2007 North Korea deal, hailed by the whole world. Four years later, they had the bomb.”

If absolutely not malice, then, what’s driving the administration?


“I think there’s a delusion by Obama and Kerry and some European states,” Steinitz said, “that Zarif and Rouhani are moderates who represent moderates in Iran. They all said that Rouhani was different from Ahmadinejad, and that Iran would change for the better in the Rouhani era, and that if we just give Rouhani and Zarif sanctions relief, we’ll empower them vis-a-vis the Revolutionary Guards and [Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei and the extreme factions.”

Instead, Steinitz argued, the opposite has played out. “Iran has not changed for the better. Iran has changed for the worse. Iran’s behavior is much more aggressive around the Middle East than it was under Ahmadinejad.”

It more openly supports terrorist groups and Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria and Lebanon, he elaborated. It now openly talks about arming the Palestinians in the West Bank. And look at its support for the rebels in Yemen, he urged.

“The [previous] interim agreement, with its partial sanctions relief, didn’t encourage moderation,” Steinitz concluded. “The concept that you’ll empower the moderate Rouhani and Zarif was a very nice concept two years ago. But it’s totally unconnected with the facts on the ground.”


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

We share his assessment,’ official says, after president acknowledged agreement will give Iran near-zero breakout time in 13-15 years

BY TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF AND AP April 8, 2015, 11:35 am | The Times of Israel|

Israel on Wednesday flatly rejected Obama administration explanations and clarifications of the president’s remarks a day earlier, in which he appeared to acknowledge that Iran would be able to break out to the bomb almost immediately when key provisions of the new nuclear deal expire in 13-15 years.

A senior official in Jerusalem told The Times of Israel that “we share his assessment.”

And the director general of Israel’s Ministry of Intelligence praised the president for telling “the truth” about “a very bad deal.”

In an interview with NPR, Obama, whose top priority at the moment is to sell the framework deal to critics, was pushing back on the charge that the deal being negotiated by US-led world powers fails to eliminate the risk of Tehran breaking out to the bomb, because it allows Iran to keep enriching uranium. He told NPR that Iran will be capped for a decade at 300 kilograms of enriched uranium — not enough to convert to a stockpile of weapons-grade material. He then added: “What is a more relevant fear would be that in Year 13, 14, 15, they have advanced centrifuges that enrich uranium fairly rapidly, and at that point, the breakout times would have shrunk almost down to zero.”

According to State Department acting spokesperson Marie Harf, Obama “was referring to a scenario in which there was no deal. And if you go back and look at the transcript — I know it’s a little confusing, I spoke to the folks at the White House and read it a few times — it’s my understanding he was referring to — even though it was a little muddled in the words — a scenario in which there was no deal.”


In a briefing Tuesday, Harf noted that some of the restrictions that would be in place during those years have not yet been negotiated. “Part of the negotiations remains what happens to some of those pieces in those further-on years. I don’t have a specific breakout time to put on to those years at this point, but obviously we want as long of a breakout time for as long as possible. So it would not be zero,” Harf said.

Israel, however, rejected this attempt at clarification, with the senior official saying that Israel understood the president to be acknowledging the problematics of the accord.

The official noted, furthermore, that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — a relentless opponent of the US-backed terms — had highlighted precisely the problem that Obama cited when he addressed both houses of Congress last month.


In that address on March 3, Netanyahu warned: “Iran could get to the bomb by keeping the deal. Because virtually all the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program will automatically expire in about a decade… Iran would then be free to build a huge nuclear capacity that could produce many, many nuclear bombs. Iran’s Supreme Leader says that openly. He says Iran plans to have 190,000 centrifuges, not 6,000 or even the 19,000 that Iran has today… With this massive capacity, Iran could make the fuel for an entire nuclear arsenal in a matter of weeks… My long-time friend, John Kerry, the secretary of state, confirmed last week that Iran could legitimately possess that massive centrifuge capacity when the deal expires… The foremost sponsor of global terrorism could be weeks away from having enough enriched uranium for an entire arsenal of nuclear weapons, and this with full international legitimacy.”

Ram Ben-Barak, a former senior Mossad official who now heads Israel’s Ministry of Intelligence, furthermore, praised Obama for his candor in highlighting aspects of what Ben-Barak called “a very bad deal.

“Barack Obama is evidently an honest man, who clearly is incapable of telling a lie. And therefore he told the truth,” Ben-Barak told Army Radio.

“Ask any American or European official who has been involved in the negotiations, ask him if he thinks that at the end of the process Iran wants nuclear weapons,” Ben-Barak went on. “Ask him in a one-on-one conversation, and he’ll tell you yes, that’s for sure.”


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Top minister acerbic on president’s assurances; Netanyahu set to keep up his US media campaign against Iran deal

BY TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF April 7, 2015, 6:20 pm | The Times of Israel| 


A top Israeli minister on Tuesday brushed aside President Barack Obama’s pledges to stand by Israel and ensure it is not weakened, saying such promises will be worthless if Iran is allowed to get the bomb.

Obama said Sunday that he would consider it a “fundamental failure” of his presidency if Israel emerges weakened as a consequence of the nuclear agreement with Iran, and promised to “stand by” Israel if it is attacked by any state actor.


Obama’s statements of support “are pleasant-sounding,” Israel’s Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz retorted in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 TV. But, he continued, “no assistance and no backing will help if Iran acquires nuclear weapons.”

Iran openly seeks the annihilation of Israel. A senior Iranian military chief declared, even as the talks on a framework deal continued last week, that Israel’s destruction is nonnegotiable.

Steinitz, a confidant and Likud party colleague of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on Monday presented a list of Israeli demandsaimed at improving the terms of the world powers’ deal with Iran in the weeks ahead of its scheduled completion by June 30.

The changes proposed by Steinitz include the following: barring further Iranian R&D on advanced centrifuges; significantly reducing the number of centrifuges Iran would have available to reactivate if it violates the deal; shuttering the Fordo underground enrichment facility; requiring Iran’s compliance in detailing previous nuclear activities with possible military dimensions; shipping its stockpile of lower-enriched uranium out of the country; and ensuring “anywhere, anytime” inspections of Iran’s facilities. Such changes, said Steinitz, would render a final deal “more reasonable.”

Hours later, however, Obama adviser Ben Rhodes ruled out significant changes that would make the deal more stringent for Iran. The deal as it now stands meets the US’s “core objectives,” Rhodes said in Israeli TV interviews. “We believe that this is the best deal that can emerge from these negotiations.”

Netanyahu has been a caustic and relentless critic of the framework deal announced last Thursday, and his personal ties with Obama have been strained by his public opposition to the US negotiating strategy for months.


In a Sunday interview with The New York Times, Obama said he would be willing “to make the kinds of commitments that would give everybody in the neighborhood, including Iran, a clarity that if Israel were to be attacked by any state, that we would stand by them. And that, I think, should be … sufficient to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see whether or not we can at least take the nuclear issue off the table.”

He also said that accusations that his administration is not doing all it can to ensure Israel’s security have made recent months a “hard period” for him personally. “It has been personally difficult for me to hear… expressions that somehow… this administration has not done everything it could to look out for Israel’s interest — and the suggestion that when we have very serious policy differences, that that’s not in the context of a deep and abiding friendship and concern and understanding of the threats that the Jewish people have faced historically and continue to face.”


Netanyahu has insisted that he respects the president, and said in US TV interviews on Sunday that the disagreement between them was not personal. “I trust the president is doing what he thinks is good for the United States. But I think we can have a legitimate difference of opinion on this,” Netanyahu told CNN.

The prime minister gave three US TV interviews on Sunday in which he savaged the framework agreement with Iran as paving the way to an Iranian nuclear arsenal.

The Times of Israel has learned that Netanyahu intends to continue his push for “a better deal” in further US media appearances, since he regards American public opinion as the most potential important area in pressing for terms that would thwart Iran’s nuclear drive. Notably, Netanyahu has not invested similar efforts in reaching out to the media of other P5+1 countries.

Israeli officials are also expected to engage in extensive dialogue with their American counterparts, in order to argue for changes in the deal, in the weeks leading up to June 30.

While Rhodes claimed in his Israeli TV interviews on Monday night that “Iran will never be permitted to build a nuclear weapon,” Obama acknowledged in an NPR interview on Monday that, as restrictions in the deal expire, it would leave Iran with a near-zero breakout time to the bomb after 13 years.

Israel is concerned that the deal both legitimizes Iran’s ongoing nuclear drive, and that Iran will outwit the international community, and could potentially break out to the bomb at short notice.


Monday, April 6, 2015

Paper distributed by senior Likud minister queries immediate sanctions relief, failure to secure ‘anytime, anywhere’ inspections, and other alleged central flaws in Lausanne framework agreement


BY TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF April 6, 2015, 3:33 pm | The Times of Israel|

Israel on Monday posed 10 questions to the US-led negotiators with Iran that it said underlined “the extent of the irresponsible concessions given to Iran” in the framework agreement reached last Thursday, and made clear “how dangerous the framework is for Israel, the region and the world.”

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The questions were listed in a document distributed by Israel’s Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, a Likud party member and confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The document (see accompanying PDF here) reiterated Netanyahu’s assertion that “a better deal” can and must be reached. It protested that the framework agreement reached in Lausanne, Switzerland, and hailed by President Barack Obama as “historic,” “ignores the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program to Israel.” By contrast, it charged, “great consideration” was given to Iran, “an enemy of the Unites States, whose regime, even during the negotiations, continued to conduct aggression in the region and to call for the destruction of Israel.”

It charged that “the framework deal does not block Iran’s path to the bomb. By removing the sanctions and lifting the main restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in about a decade, this framework paves Iran’s path to a bomb.”


Echoing criticisms leveled by Netanyahu since the deal was reached, the document further protested that “not a single nuclear facility will be shut down. Iran will be permitted to continue its advanced centrifuge R&D, and [the issue of] its intercontinental ballistic missile program remains unaddressed.”

Apart from what it called “the significant differences in the parties’ interpretations of the framework – reflected in the conflicting statements and ‘fact sheets’ they issued” — the Israeli document posed the following 10 questions:

1. Why are sanctions that took years to put in place being removed immediately (as the Iranians claim)? This would take away the international community’s primary leverage at the outset of the agreement and make Iranian compliance less likely.

2. Given Iran’s track record of concealing illicit nuclear activities, why does the framework not explicitly require Iran to accept inspections of all installations where suspected nuclear weapons development has been conducted? Why can’t inspectors conduct inspections anywhere, anytime?

3. Will Iran ever be forced to come clean about its past nuclear weaponization activity?

4. What will be the fate of Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium?

5. Why will Iran be allowed to continue R&D on centrifuges far more advanced than those currently in its possession?

6. Why does the framework not address Iran’s intercontinental ballistic missile program, whose sole purpose is to carry nuclear payloads?

7. Following Iranian violations of the framework, how effective will be the mechanism to reinstitute sanctions?

8. What message does the framework send to states in the region and around the world when it gives such far-reaching concessions to a regime that for years has defied UNSC resolutions? Why would this not encourage nuclear proliferation?

9. The framework agreement appears to have much in common with the nuclear agreement reached with North Korea. How will this deal differ from the North Korean case?

10. Why is the lifting of restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in about a decade not linked to a change in Iran’s behavior? According to the framework, Iran could remain the world’s foremost sponsor of terror and still have all the restrictions removed. Instead, the removal of those restrictions should be linked to a cessation of Iran’s aggression in the Middle East, its terrorism around the world and its threats to annihilate Israel.”

The document ended with the assertion that “the alternative to this framework is a better deal, one that will significantly dismantle Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, bring about a cessation of its aggression in the region and terrorist activities around the world, as well as end its efforts to destroy Israel. The framework deal does not block Iran’s path to the bomb. By removing the sanctions and lifting the main restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in about a decade, this framework paves Iran’s path to a bomb. The result will be a dramatic increase in the risks of nuclear proliferation and an increase in the chances of a terrible war.”



Friday, April 3, 2015

Amid fierce criticism of nuclear agreement, cabinet set to meet with security chiefs for special weekend consultation

BY TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF April 3, 2015, 9:25 am | The Times of Israel| 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a special weekend meeting of the cabinet to discuss the nuclear deal reached Thursday between Iran and world powers.


The meeting Friday will include the heads of Israel’s security and intelligence agencies, according to reports.

The nuclear deal reached in Switzerland between Tehran and the P5+1 group of world powers “threatens the survival of the state of Israel,” Netanyahu said on Thursday in a phone call with US President Barack Obama.

Obama phoned Netanyahu hours after the framework was struck. Netanyahu has been strongly opposed to the emerging deal, arguing that it does not have the necessary safeguards and will pave the way to a nuclear Iran.

“A deal based on this framework would threaten the survival of Israel. Just two days ago, Iran said that “the destruction of Israel is nonnegotiable,” and in these fateful days Iran is accelerating the arming of its terror proxies to attack Israel. This deal would legitimize Iran’s nuclear program, bolster Iran’s economy, and increase Iran’s aggression and terror throughout the Middle East and beyond,” Netanyahu told Obama during the call.

“Such a deal would not block Iran’s path to the bomb. It would pave it. It would increase the risks of nuclear proliferation in the region and the risks of a horrific war. The alternative is standing firm and increasing the pressure on Iran until a better deal is achieved,” he added.

Obama, calling from aboard Air Force One, said the deal “represents significant progress towards a lasting, comprehensive solution that cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to a bomb and verifiably ensures the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program going forward,” according to a read-out released by the White House.

Obama said the deal “in no way diminishes our concerns with respect to Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism and threats towards Israel and emphasized that the United States remains steadfast in our commitment to the security of Israel,” the White House said.

The US president told Netanyahu that he instructed his security team to “increase consultations with the new Israeli government about how we can further strengthen our long-term security cooperation with Israel and remain vigilant in countering Iran’s threats.”

Earlier, immediately after the deal was announced, an Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, castigated the framework agreement as a dangerous capitulation to Tehran that would result in the Islamic Republic’s nuclear armament.


“This is a bad framework that will lead to a bad and dangerous deal,” he said. “If an agreement is reached based on the guidelines of this framework, that would be a historic mistake that will transform the world into a much more dangerous place.”

Those comments came shortly after Obama had welcomed the deal as making the world “a safer place.” Netanyahu had tweeted earlier in the evening that the deal would need to “significantly” roll back the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

Obama, in his speech following the accord, openly acknowledged that he and Netanyahu “don’t agree” on how to stop Iran, and charged that Netanyahu did not want the US to move “forward to a peaceful resolution,” while telling Netanyahu that the new deal was “the most effective” and “best option.”

Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog said in a statement published on Facebook that the crux of the understandings reached between Iran and world powers was still to be finalized, and that “we must ensure that the final agreement, which will be formulated now, will roll back Iran’s nuclear program in a manner that prevents it from [obtaining] a nuclear weapon, and will protect the security interests of Israel.”

Centrist Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid noted: “On the Iranian nuclear issue, there is no opposition and coalition. We are all concerned that the Iranians will circumvent the deal and Israel must protect its own security interests. The ayatollah’s regime has been peddling fraud and deception for years and progressing with its nuclear program. They will try, from day one, to cheat the international community as they have done in the past.”

Added Lapid: There is no basis to the determination that today Iran was prevented from attaining a nuclear weapon. Israel needs to work with the United States and the international community to ensure there is no Iranian fraud, something that would threaten Israel’s security and that of the world.”


Thursday, April 2, 2015

BY AFP AND TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF April 2, 2015, 2:06 pm| The Times of Israel|


Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said Thursday that all options including military action were on the table in the face of the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.


Speaking to Israel Radio as crunch talks on Iran’s nuclear program continued in Switzerland, Steinitz said Israel would seek to counter any threat through diplomacy and intelligence but “if we have no choice we have no choice… the military option is on the table.”

Asked about possible US objections to Israeli military action, Steinitz pointed to Israel’s unilateral attack against the Osirak nuclear reactor in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 1981.

“That operation was not carried out in agreement with the United States,” he said.


Steinitz, a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said the Israeli leader had left no doubt as to the country’s response to nuclear-armed Iran.

“The prime minister has said clearly that Israel will not allow Iran to become a nuclear power,” Steinitz said.

In Lausanne, Switzerland, weary negotiators hoped to see the light at the end of the tunnel Thursday after talking until dawn, but cautioned they were still haggling over the last details to clinch a ground-breaking Iran nuclear deal.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif talked through the night, going line by line over their differences in a bid to seal the outlines of a framework accord to cut back Iran’s nuclear ambitions, diplomats close to the talks said.

They made “significant progress,” but there is no “final result yet,” Zarif told reporters at the luxury lakeside Lausanne hotel hosting the marathon negotiations for the past eight days.

The six powers “have to examine among themselves the results of the negotiations. We don’t know yet the result of those discussions.”

But a Western diplomat cautioned “the conclusion is far from being imminent.”

And German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier canceled a planned trip to the Baltics to stay at the talks in Switzerland.

In a sign that eight days of negotiations may be drawing to a close, Zarif said he and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini would make a “joint declaration” to the press if everyone was in agreement.

“But the text still has to be worked on,” he said.

After 18 months of intense negotiations, the six world powers and Iran are hoping to pin down the main contours of a deal to put a nuclear bomb out of Iran’s reach.

The aim is to turn this into a comprehensive accord backed by specific technical commitments by June 30 when an interim deal struck in November 2013 expires.

After just a few hours’ sleep, the six world powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — were back at the negotiating table.


High stakes

The stakes were very high, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said, adding that at issue was the question of non-proliferation, and “Iran’s reintegration into the international community.”

Under the interim 2013 accord, which has been extended twice and which expires on June 30, Iran froze certain nuclear activities in return for minor sanctions relief.

Success in Lausanne would end a 12-year-old standoff. Failure may set the United States and Israel on a road to military action to thwart Iran’s nuclear drive.

The White House said the talks were still “productive” and progress was being made.


“But if we are in a situation where we sense that the talks have stalled then yes, the United States and the international community is prepared to walk away,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

Iran’s chief negotiator Abbas Arqghchi had said there were two main sticking points — a mechanism for lifting crippling sanctions against the Islamic republic, and the country’s research and development of new nuclear machinery.

Global powers want Iran to scale down its nuclear program to extend the “breakout” time needed to assemble enough nuclear material to make a bomb, which Iran has always denied seeking.

But Iranian negotiators are under pressure from domestic hardliners not to give too much away — while also delivering on President Hassan Rouhani’s promise to win the lifting of sanctions.

Global powers have refused an immediate end to all sanctions, preferring instead a phased suspension to enable them to be put back in place if Iran violates the deal.

The issue of suspending UN sanctions is particularly tricky — Iran is also subject to US and EU ones — with discord among the powers about the mechanism for a “snap-back” mechanism if needed.

US President Barack Obama also needs a deal which he can sell to hostile Republicans in Congress, who remain skeptical of Iran’s pledges and are threatening to push for new sanctions from April 14.

Republicans and US allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia fear that if too much of Iran’s nuclear program is left intact, it will still have the ability to obtain a nuclear bomb.


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

In infuriated statement, PM pans emerging ‘unconscionable’ deal, says cessation of Tehran’s aggression ‘should be nonnegotiable’

BY TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF AND AP April 1, 2015, 1:35 pm | The Times of Israel| 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday excoriated world powers over their dogged pursuit of a nuclear deal with Iran, pointing to recent statements by officials in Tehran — notably their calls to eliminate Israel — as evidence of the Islamic Republic’s unwillingness to compromise on its nuclear ambitions and campaign of “terror, subjugation and conquest.”


In tones of moral outrage, he issued a brief, infuriated statement to camera, protesting that the talks were continuing in Lausanne even as Iran reiterated its insistent goal of destroying the Jewish state.

“Yesterday an Iranian general brazenly declared, and I quote, ‘Israel’s destruction is nonnegotiable,'” Netanyahu began, referring to astatement by Mohammad Reza Naqd, the commander of the Basij militia of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

“But evidently, giving Iran’s murderous regime a clear path to the bombis negotiable,” he said. “This is unconscionable.”

Netanyahu’s comments came as diplomats from Iran and a group of six world powers, led by the United States, resumed negotiations over the terms of a nuclear deal, hours after a deadline for such a deal elapsed.

He charged that Iran’s actions and ongoing “aggression” across the Middle East proved it did not intend to give up its nuclear and regional ambitions.

“I agree with those who have said that Iran’s claim that its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes doesn’t square with Iran’s insistence on keeping underground nuclear facilities, advanced centrifuges, and a heavy water reactor,” he said. “Nor does it square with Iran’s insistence on developing ICBMs [Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles], and its refusal to come clean with the International Atomic Energy Agency on its past weaponization efforts.

“At the same time, Iran is accelerating its campaign of terror, subjugation and conquest throughout the region, most recently in Yemen,” he continued.

Netanyahu’s reference to “those who have said” Iran does not require such capabilities marked the second time in two days that he has obliquely referred to comments made by President Barack Obama at the Saban Conference in December 2013, without citing Obama by name. The two leaders are bitterly at odds over strategies for thwarting Iran.

The prime minister claimed that “the concessions offered to Iran in Lausanne would ensure a bad deal that would endanger Israel, the Middle East and the peace of the world,” and called on the international community “to insist on a better deal… which would significantly roll back Iran’s nuclear infrastructure” and “link the eventual lifting of the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program to a change in Iran’s behavior.”

He called on world powers to ensure that Iran “stop its aggression in the region, stop its terrorism throughout the world, and stop its threats to annihilate Israel.”

That should be nonnegotiable. And that’s the deal that the world powers must insist upon,” he concluded.

The negotiators resumed talks in the Swiss resort town of Lausanne Wednesday, just hours after abandoning a March 31 deadline to reach the outline of a deal and agreeing to press on. However, as the discussions dragged on, three of the six foreign ministers involved left the talks, and prospects for agreement remained uncertain.


Claiming enough progress had been made to warrant an extension after six days of intense bartering, and eager to avoid a collapse in the discussions, US Secretary of State John Kerry and his British and German counterparts huddled in Lausanne to continue a marathon effort to bridge still significant gaps and hammer out details of a framework accord.

The foreign ministers of China, France and Russia all departed Lausanne overnight, although the significance of their absence, particularly when the broader group meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, was not clear.

If they succeed, those understandings would form the basis for a comprehensive detailed agreement to be reached by the end of June.

After the talks last broke in the early hours of Wednesday, Zarif said solutions to many of the problems had been found and that documents attesting to that would soon be drafted. Other officials were more skeptical.

Asked how high the chances of success were, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: “I cannot say.” And British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Iran might still not be ready to accept what is on the table.

“I’m optimistic that we will make further progress this morning but it does mean the Iranians being willing to meet us where there are still issues to deal with,” Hammond told British reporters. “Fingers crossed and we’ll hope to get there during the course of the day.”

Although the Chinese, French and Russian ministers left their deputies in charge, Kerry postponed his planned Tuesday departure to stay in Lausanne, and an Iranian negotiator said his team would stay “as long as necessary” to clear the remaining hurdles.

Officials say their intention is to produce a joint statement outlining general political commitments to resolving concerns about Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, and their intention to begin a new phase of negotiations to get to that point. In addition, they are trying to fashion other documents that would lay out in more detail the steps they must take by June 30 to meet those goals.

The additional documents would allow the sides to make the case that the next round of talks will not simply be a continuation of negotiations that have already been twice extended since an interim agreement between Iran, the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany was concluded in November 2013. President Barack Obama and other leaders, including Iran’s, have said they are not interested in a third extension.


But if the parties agree only to a broad framework that leaves key details unresolved, Obama can expect stiff opposition at home from members of Congress who want to move forward with new, stiffer Iran sanctions. Lawmakers had agreed to hold off on such a measure through March while the parties negotiated. The White House says new sanctions would scuttle further diplomatic efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear work and possibly lead Israel to act on threats to use military force to accomplish that goal.

And despite the progress that diplomats said merited the extension of talks into Wednesday, officials said the differences notably included issues over uranium enrichment, the status of Iran’s enriched uranium stockpiles, limits on Iran’s nuclear research and development, and the timing and scope of sanctions relief.

The US and its negotiating partners are demanding curbs on Iranian nuclear activities that could be used to make weapons, and they say any agreement must extend the time Tehran would need to produce a weapon from the present several months to at least a year. The Iranians deny such military intentions, but they are negotiating with the aim that a deal will end sanctions on their economy.


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Amid talk of Obama backing pro-Palestine motions, bipartisan group says it opposes ‘efforts to bypass direct negotiations and impose peace terms on Israel’

BY REBECCA SHIMONI STOIL March 31, 2015, 3:41 am | The Times of Israel| 

WASHINGTON — As reports proliferate that the US administration is considering stripping Israel of the protective diplomatic umbrella with which it has historically provided the Jewish state in the international arena — including its vetoing of UN resolutions damaging to Jerusalem — a bipartisan group of US senators urged President Barack Obama in a letter Monday to avoid threatening Israel with such punitive measures and to reassert Washington’s support for the state.


The letter obtained by the Times of Israel was signed by two Democrats and two Republicans who did not directly criticize the president’s policies, but did warn that “using the United Nations to push Israel and the Palestinians to accept terms defined by others will only ensure that the parties themselves are not committed to observing these provisions.”

Democratic Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Mark Warner (D-VA) joined with Republican Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) in signing the missive, which stated their opposition to “efforts to bypass direct negotiations and impose peace terms on Israel at the UN and other international bodies.”

The senators reminded the president that America’s “longstanding commitment to Israel transcends any one leader or government” — a not particularly veiled reference to the personal acrimony between Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.


Relations between the two leaders have hit a new low in recent weeks, after Netanyahu appeared before Congress to warn against an impending deal with Iran which the Obama administration has been working on since 2013. The negotiations toward a political framework for a comprehensive deal are expected to conclude by Tuesday and Netanyahu has continued to warn that the deal is one that will endanger Israel’s security.

The tension only increased following Netanyahu’s reelection two weeks after his Congressional address. The Obama administration complained about statements made by Netanyahu in the final days of the campaign, during which he warned that Arab voters were turning out “in droves” to vote against them and said that no Palestinian state would be created during his premiership.

In reaction, the administration indicated that it would “evaluate” its actions toward achieving a two-state solution, hinting that it might not block — and might perhaps even draft — a UN resolution in support of Palestinian independence.

Netanyahu later walked back the latter statement, and apologized to Arab leaders for the former statement, but the Obama administration has continued its critical stance toward Netanyahu.

“We’ve made our point,” a White House official told Politico on Sunday. “The message has clearly been received. The next move is theirs, presumably after the new government has been formed.”

But the administration has been under increased pressure to moderate its stance. The same Politico article reported that a dozen Jewish Democrats in the House of Representatives — including some stalwart Obama allies — had told Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes that Obama needed to tone down his rhetoric regarding Israel.

On Saturday, the Washington Post published a scathing editorial in which the paper’s editorial board declared that “Mr. Obama’s efforts to promote a settlement [with the Palestinians], going back to 2009, ignored innumerable warnings (including from this page) that he was premising his diplomacy on breakthroughs that were not achievable. It is Mr. Obama who has long been pretending, and he compounds his mistake by claiming that the reality he now accepts was created 10 days ago by Mr. Netanyahu’s rhetoric.”

Monday’s letter echoed the same discontent with an administration that has posed challenges to Jewish Democrats who are at pains to emphasize that support for Israel is not just a Republican issue.

“For decades, both Democratic and Republican administrations have stood by Israel in opposing anti-Israel or one-sided resolutions at the UN Security Council and other UN agencies,” the senators noted, telling the president that “we must remain firm in opposing actions that are designed to circumvent direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.”

Such actions, the senators warned, “will set back the opportunities for peace in the long term.”

“We must make clear our willingness to use our veto power to block such efforts at the UN Security Council and our continuing defense of Israel at the United Nations Human Rights Council and other agencies where Israel is under constant assault,” the senators emphasized.

The senators quoted Obama’s own 2011 address to the UN General Assembly in which he told the international body that “ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians — not us — who much reach agreement on the issues that divide them.”