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Trump and Israel Must Not Conflate North Korea Nuclear Threat With Iran – Haaretz

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Deterring the proliferation of nuclear weapons is a noble goal one that America and Israel ostensibly share. How to go about doing so is another story

How can dictatorships be deterred from developing operational nuclear arsenals? This is a good question posed in an August 10 Haaretz…

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Trump and Israel Must Not Conflate North Korea Nuclear Threat With Iran – Haaretz

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August 17, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

Iran building long-range rocket factory in Syria: Israeli TV – Reuters

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – An Israeli television report said on Tuesday that Iran is building a facility in northwest Syria to manufacture long-range rockets, and showed satellite images it said were of the site under construction.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned last week that Iran was strengthening its foothold in its ally Syria as Islamic State fighters were being displaced, and said Israel was watching developments and would act against any threat.

“Our policy is clear: We vehemently oppose the military buildup by Iran and its proxies, primarily Hezbollah, in Syria and we will do whatever it takes to protect Israel’s security,” he said in a speech.

The Channel 2 television news report showed images it said were taken by an Israeli satellite showing a site in northwest Syria near the Mediterranean coastal town of Baniyas, saying some of the construction indicated explosives would be stored there.

It compared images of buildings it said were of a rocket factory near Tehran to structures at the Syrian site, and said there was a strong resemblance between them.

Netanyahu has been harshly critical of a 2015 deal that six world powers including the United States under then-president Barack Obama struck with Iran to curb its nuclear program in return for an end to multilateral sanctions.

Iran is Israel’s avowed enemy, and Israel argues that the agreement fails to prevent Iranian weapons posing a threat to its very existence. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.

The United States last month slapped new economic sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missile program and said Tehran’s “malign activities” in the Middle East had undercut any “positive contributions” from the 2015 accord curbing its nuclear program.

U.S. President Donald Trump has frequently criticized the agreement as being too soft on Tehran, which remains subject to a U.N. arms embargo and other restrictions.

U.S. news reports have said that Israeli intelligence officials will discuss the situation in Syria and Lebanon with U.S. counterparts in Washington this week.

Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Mark Trevelyan

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Iran building long-range rocket factory in Syria: Israeli TV – Reuters

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August 15, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

After Azadi: man behind Iran’s freedom tower on how his life unravelled – The Guardian

The Azadi tower in Tehran is strung with black flags. Photograph: Amos Chapple/Getty Images/Lonely Planet Images

In 1966, a 24-year-old architect who had just graduated from Tehran University hesitantly entered a competition to design a monument to mark the 2,500-year celebration of the founding of the Persian empire.

In hindsight, it was a competition of a lifetime, organised by the shah of Iran, who envisioned that the monument would act as his memorial tower, or Shahyad.

The architect, Hossein Amanat, had no idea that his hastily prepared design, which went on to win the competition, would one day become a focal point of the Iranian capitals skyline, serving as a backdrop to some of the countrys most turbulent political events.

The 50-metre (164ft) tall structure, now known as the Azadi (Freedom) tower, rode out the 1979 Islamic revolution, an eight-year war with Iraq and the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad-era anti-government demonstrations.

But as his tower prospered, Amanats life unravelled.

The monarchy was overthrown in the 1979 revolution, which ushered in an Islamic Republic with Ayatollah Khomeini as supreme leader. The shah, along with many of those believed to be associated with him, left the country and there was a crackdown on the Bah faith, which Amanat practises.

His name was put on a death list, and his belongings were confiscated. He fled Iran and has not returned since.

The Bahs are Irans most persecuted religious minority. After the revolution, more than 200 Bahs were executed in Iran because of their religious allegiance. In 1981, the religion was banned.

Since then, its followers have been deprived of many of their fundamental rights, including access to higher education and the right to work freely. In July, at least six Bahs were arrested in the cities of Gorgan, Kashan and Shiraz.

The Iranian authorities link Bahs to Israel, mainly because its governing body is based in the Israeli city of Haifa, and have accused adherents of spying or conspiring to topple the Islamic establishment.

In a rare interview discussing his religion, Amanat, who also designed three Bah administrative buildings in Haifa, called on Iran to rethink its approach.

They should put aside the suspicion, Amanat, 75, said. Bahs dont have any aims to harm the Islamic establishment. They [the authorities] have repeatedly claimed that Bahs are spies, but have they found even a single document of proof? Theyve found nothing. They should let Bahais live like other Iranians.

The Bah faith, which is monotheistic, accepts all religions as having valid origins. It was founded in Iran in the 19th century by its prophet, Bahullh, who defined the purpose of religion to establish unity and concord among the peoples of the world; make it not the cause of dissension and strife. Nearly 300,000 Bahs are believed to live in Iran, and about 6 million worldwide.

According to Asma Jahangir, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, discrimination against Bahais is legally sanctioned by a lack of constitutional recognition.

A follower was murdered outside his home in Yazd last year by two young men because of his faith, a March report by Jahangir said, and at least 90 Bahais are behind bars.

Amanat was hopeful when Irans moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, was elected in 2013, but said nothing had changed and the situation had even got worse in some situations.

Iran has a special place in the hearts of the Bahai community, he said. Im saddened that my fellow Bahais are under pressure. If theyre given the opportunity they can do good for their country.

Amanat expressed regret for not being able to live in Iran and contribute more to its architecture.

The Azadi tower, he said, was an opportunity to design modern architecture using old language, to preserve the good things about a culture, leave aside the meaningless parts and create something new and meaningful. A tribute to an old human civilisation, the monument was such that if this was erected somewhere else it would have no meaning you cant put Shahyad in Cairo.

It took five years for the Azadi tower to be finished. In 1971 the Shah unveiled the tower, having flown to Tehran from the ruins of Persepolis in Shiraz, where he had held an enormous, lavish event to celebrate the Persian empires 2,500th birthday.

Of all the towers defining moments in modern Iranian history, one incident struck a chord with Amanat.

I was touched deeply once when millions of people went to Shahyad in 2009 [during unrest under Ahmadinejad], and then they were beaten up and many were killed, he said.

I was so saddened by it. As a Bahai, I forgive others, I dont dwell on the injustices done to me, I go forward, but when that happened it was difficult for me because people had taken refuge there.

Reflecting on the country of his birth, Amanat said: I miss Iran a lot, partly because of the sun and the architecture. I am away from everything I had and from my neighbourhood. I have three kids, theyve tried to learn Farsi but cant read a Farsi newspaper fluently and this makes me sad none of them have ever seen the Azadi tower in their life.

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After Azadi: man behind Iran’s freedom tower on how his life unravelled – The Guardian

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August 15, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

Before You Rip Up That Iran Deal … – New York Times

The administration is still working on its Iran strategy, but Mr. Trump and his aides have put a few cards on the table, demonizing Iran; backing tough new sanctions related to missiles and human rights violations; and pledging cooperation with Sunni countries that, like Israel, view Iran as a singular menace and demand its isolation.

Irans threatening behavior certainly deserves pushback from the United States and others. But Iran is not the only destabilizing force in the region, and unremitting hostility is not the answer. Even during the Cold War Washington engaged Moscow, when possible, on nuclear weapons, regional conflicts and human rights.

The United States and Iran had almost no contact after the 1979 Iranian revolution until Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif formed a working relationship during the nuclear negotiations. Instead of building on that, Mr. Trump and his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, have refused to even meet the Iranians.

A more imaginative policy would revive the secretary of state channel to resolve conflicts before they grow and explore solutions for Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and Iraq. There is precedent for cooperation. Iran helped America and others to organize the new Afghan government after the Talibans ouster in 2001 and to forge a unity government in 2014. Iran could be encouraged now to press the Taliban to enter reconciliation talks with Kabul. Iran and the United States could also work together to combat drug trafficking in Afghanistan, another shared concern. And Iran has been helpful in Iraq by fighting the Islamic State.

Last week, 47 national security leaders urged America and Iran to begin discussing with the nuclear deals other signatories a follow-up agreement that could extend the nuclear restraints on Iran further into the future and expand them to other countries in the region that have or are considering nuclear energy programs. In addition, they proposed a new consultative body so that Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United States, Russia, Turkey, China and the European Union could consult on major regional disputes.

There are other constructive ways for the United States to counter Irans influence, like joining with its Sunni allies in helping the regions war-torn countries rebuild. Saudi Arabias recent moves to improve relations with Iraq by opening a land border and resuming air links are a good sign.

Iran is too big to be ignored. And if Washington pursues regime change, as some officials seem to favor, the risks will be huge. This is a crucial moment for Iran as revolutionary leaders die off and competition heats up between hard-liners with a strict anti-Western Islamic ideology and pragmatists who back the nuclear deal and international engagement.

In the balance is a population of 80 million, mostly young, Iranians who have in recent years elected relatively moderate leaders inclined toward evolutionary reform. As it has done with adversaries such as the Russians and the Chinese, America can make progress by engaging the Iranians and avoiding the kind of escalation that empowers hard-liners.

A version of this editorial appears in print on August 14, 2017, on Page A18 of the New York edition with the headline: Before You Rip Up That Iran Deal …

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Before You Rip Up That Iran Deal … – New York Times

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Mossad Warns Iran Expanding Control of Middle East – The Jewish Press – JewishPress.com

Photo Credit: Miriam Alster / Flash 90

The director of Israels international espionage agency, the Mossad, warned the cabinet at its weekly meeting on Sunday that Iran is increasing its control over the Middle East as the Islamic State terrorist organization reduces its presence.

Yossi Cohen said in his briefing that through its proxy groups in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen, where ISIS is slowly dissipating, the Islamic Republic is working to fill the void.

Two weeks ago, an Iranian foreign ministry official met with top officials from Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in Beirut. A few days later, Hamas, Hezbollah and PIJ officials traveled to Tehran to attend the inauguration ceremony for Iranian President Hassan Rouhanis second term in office.

The Iranian proxy officials remained in Tehran several more days for talks with top government officials, according to state-controlled media, as did top officials from North Korea, who opened a new embassy in the Iranian capital.

Iran has never let go of its nuclear ambitions, Cohen said. The JCPOA agreement signed with six world powers in 2015 only strengthened Tehrans aggression in the region, allowing Iran to replenish its budget and fund its regional proxies, while renewing business ties with European nations.

Irans economy received a new infusion as a result of the recent international agreements, he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted that the intelligence assessment made it clear that the JCPOA was fundamentally unsound but added that Israel was not obligated to abide by it.

Israel will continue to act determinedly and in a variety of ways to defend itself from these threats, Netanyahu said.

Meanwhile, Iranian lawmakers on Sunday voted to boost spending on Tehrans missile program. The bill allocates $260 million to Irans ballistic missile program and the same sum to the Quds Force the extraterritorial arm of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), which has been active in Iraq Syria and Yemen. The Quds force is designated a terrorist organization by the United States.

Iran said the measures came in response to sanctions imposed by the US in August over Tehrans missile program.

Tazpit Press Service contributed content to this report.

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August 13, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

After Iran bans two soccer stars for playing against Israelis; fans rush to their defense – Los Angeles Times

Two soccer players have been barred for life from Irans national team after they appeared in a match against players from Israel, prompting anger among the sports many fans in the Islamic Republic.

Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Haji Safi played last week in a European league match for the Greek team Panionios against Maccabi Tel Aviv, an Israeli club. That appeared to violate a longstanding rule prohibiting Iranian athletes from competing against opponents from Israel, a nation that the Iranian government doesnt recognize.

After the match, a Farsi-language Twitter account maintained by the Israeli foreign ministry posted a message: Well done to Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Haji Safi who broke the taboo of not playing in matches against Israeli athletes.

On Wednesday, Irans deputy sports minister, Mohammad Reza Davarzani, said in an interview with Mizan news agency, the mouthpiece of Irans judiciary, that the players would no longer be allowed on the national soccer team.

It is certain that Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Haji Safi will never be invited to join the national football team because they violated the red line, state television quoted Davarzani as saying.

The comments set off vigorous discussion on social media in Iran, where soccer is the most popular sport. Irans soccer federation, the sports governing body, did not immediately confirm the players suspensions, but Davarzani said his ministry had the authority to make the decision.

For many years, Iranian athletes on the international stage have hewed to an unwritten rule that they not play against Israelis, with many feigning illness or using other ruses to avoid head-to-head competitions.

Shojaei and Safi, both of whom are under contract to play for the Greek club, appeared to observe part of the custom when they sat out a match last month against Maccabi, played in Israel.

But both played the full 90 minutes in the Aug. 4 match in Greece, which their team lost, 1-0.

Many soccer fans defended the players for honoring their contract and accused Davarzani of politicizing a sport in which Iran, which has qualified for the 2018 World Cup, struggles to compete on an international level. Its soccer ambitions have been hampered by official mismanagement and international economic sanctions.

Iranian footballers need to be internationalized and play in [Europe] to bring hard currency and new techniques and experience to help domestic football, said Ali Samienia, a 64-year-old coach in a youth soccer league in Tehran.

What is the fuss? Its not a big deal. Iranian politicians are pushing politics into sport, especially football.

Iranian hard-liners have been asserting themselves in recent months following the re-election victory of President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate.

Rouhani, who campaigned on expanding personal freedoms and improving relations with the West, has frustrated supporters by failing to appoint any women to his Cabinet an apparent show of deference to the conservative clerics who are the custodians of the countrys theocracy.

Soccer fans said the players suspensions could affect Irans World Cup hopes especially the loss of Shojaei, the captain of the national team who played 70 minutes in a victory over Uzbekistan in June that clinched Irans spot in the quadrennial tournament. Safi did not play in the match.

Shojaeis absence will have a negative impact on Irans matches in the World Cup, said Reza Agharahimi, a 30-year-old soccer fan in Tehran. It would be better to think of the infrastructure of Iranian football rather than pay attention to minor, unimportant issues which are politics and have nothing to do with sport.

Special correspondent Mostaghim reported from Tehran and Times staff writer Bengali from Mumbai, India.

shashank.bengali@latimes.com

Follow @SBengali on Twitter

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After Iran bans two soccer stars for playing against Israelis; fans rush to their defense – Los Angeles Times

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August 11, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

For Netanyahu and the Saudis, Opposing Diplomacy With Iran Was Never About Enrichment – The Intercept

This was never about enrichment. The academics and officials in the room were taken aback. For a former senior Israeli official to deny the importance of the nuclear issue was unusual, to say the least. The conversations, attended by American civilian and military officials and other Western representatives, as well as Iranian diplomats and Tehrans then-nuclear negotiators, were shockingly honest.

Enrichment is not important, the ex-Israeli official continued. What Israel needs to see from Iran is a sweeping attitude change. The veteran Israeli decision-maker himself a vocal opponent of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explained that Israel could not accept the U.S. coming to terms with Iran without demanding that Iran come to terms with Israel. Israel is not party to the deal, so it wont be bound by the deal, he warned. If Iran is not willing to accept Israels existence, then Israel will stand in the way of the U.S. reaching a deal with Iran, the Israeli message read. The Iranians in the room listened attentively, but showed no reaction. In a breakout session later that afternoon, they indicated that they could recognize Israel only if Israel joined the Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-weapons country that is, once Israel gave up its nuclear weapons and opened its nuclear program to international inspectors.

It was April 2012. Tensions between Israel and the Obama administration were rising. President Barack Obama was pushing back against Israeli pressure for military attacks against Iran, while at the same time continuing the P5+1 diplomacy with Iran, an internationalized process involving the permanent U.N. Security Council members, as well as Germany and the European Union. There were also only a few months left before the 2012 U.S. presidential election. Many Israelis worried that Netanyahus aggressive style would further damage his relationship with Obama and undermine Israels influence over American calculations regarding Iran. It was becoming a growing worry for the Israelis as Obama showcased unprecedented dedication to diplomacy, which they suspected would only grow more firm in his second term.

The closed meeting, organized by a prominent U.S. university and held in a small Western European country, revealed dynamics driving the conflict that are rarely discussed in public: The Israeli fear that Irans rise in the region would be accepted by the U.S., and that it would regard Tehran as a legitimate player in the new regional order without Tehran accepting Israels existence. The most potent instrument for ensuring that Washington wouldnt come to terms with Iran was the nuclear issue, which before the breakthrough in November 2013, was viewed as a hopelessly intractable conflict. As long as the deadlock held, Iran would remain at least a permanently sanctioned pariah, former Israeli official Daniel Levy wrote. For the years when the U.S. pursued Irans all-out containment, Israel enjoyed a degree of unchallenged regional hegemony, freedom of military action, and diplomatic cover that it is understandably reluctant to concede or even recalibrate. Israels position was directly linked to the U.S. upholding Pax Americana in the Middle East; its status was underwritten by U.S. preeminence in the region, Levy argued.

Herein lies the tragedy of Netanyahus miscalculation. By aggressively defining the Iranian nuclear program as an existential threat to Israel, depicting the Iranians as irrational and suicidal, and threatening to bomb Iran, Netanyahu hoped to force Obama to take military action and recommit Washington to Pax Americana. Instead, Netanyahus strategy eliminated the status quo option of containing the nuclear program while neither resolving the issue nor acquiescing to Irans nuclear demands. Then, once that option was rejected, Obama did something Netanyahu had discounted: He opted for diplomacy, a measure that by definition could open the door to ending the U.S.s efforts to isolate Iran.

Not only did Obama doubt the efficiency of military action, it also went against his principles and promises to pursue war only after all other options were exhausted. In never considering acceptance of enrichment on Iranian soil, the U.S. had not tested all diplomatic solutions. War also contradicted Obamas larger geopolitical objectives to reduce the U.S.s footprint in the Middle East and shift its focus east toward Asia and China. Although the Obama administration has insisted that the nuclear deal was solely about nonproliferation, its commitment to the deal in spite of the overwhelming domestic political risks Congress seemed implacably opposed to diplomacy can best be understood in the larger geopolitical context of the nuclear talks. The real challenge to the U.S. was the emergence of a peer-competitor with capacity and ambition to be a global superpower. No state in the Middle East has the capacity or the potential capacity to challenge the U.S. on a global scale. China, on the other hand, does.

From Obamas perspective, the war in Iraq and the U.S.s over-commitment in the Middle East had served only to weaken the country and undermine its ability to meet the challenge of prospective peer-competitors. With the Middle East losing strategic significance as a result of a variety of factors including reduced U.S. dependence on oil and with the cost of U.S. hegemony drastically increasing, the cost-benefit calculation for the U.S. had decisively shifted. To Obama, the Middle East was unsalvageable, and the more the U.S. got involved, the worse things would get and the more the U.S. would be blamed for the regions woes. If Libya showed Obama that the region was best avoided, the rise of the Islamic State proved to him that the region could not be fixed. Contrast that with Southeast Asia, which still has huge problems enormous poverty, corruption but is filled with striving, ambitious, energetic people who are every single day scratching and clawing to build businesses and get education and find jobs and build infrastructure, Obama told The Atlantic. If were not talking to them, he continued, referring to young people in Asia and elsewhere, because the only thing were doing is figuring out how to destroy or cordon off or control the malicious, nihilistic, violent parts of humanity, then were missing the boat.

Activists take part in a rally to commemorate the nuclear deal with Iran in front of the White House, on July 14, 2017 in Washington.

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Obamas critics contended that his lack of involvement was the cause of many of the problems in the Middle East, which in turn had weakened the U.S. On the contrary, Obama believed that the U.S.s overextension in the region had and would continue to harm its strength and global standing. Overextension in the Middle East will ultimately harm our economy, harm our ability to look for other opportunities and to deal with other challenges, and, most important, endanger the lives of American service members for reasons that are not in the direct American national-security interest, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes explained.

In addition, Obama harbored a growing conviction that Irans prolonged isolation was neither possible nor necessarily helpful. This was particularly true if Irans reaction to its containment was to further challenge Western interests in the region. Iran is too large a player, too important a player in this region, to simply leave in isolation, the United Kingdoms then-Foreign Secretary Phil Hammond said. This sentiment was widely held in Europe. No one believes Iran can perpetually be put in a straightjacket, Germanys Ambassador to the U.S. Peter Wittig told me.

Obama believed giving Iran a seat at the table could help stabilize the region, particularly in Syria and Iraq, where the West and Iran shared an interest in defeating ISIS. Theres no way to resolve Syria without Iran being involved, Obama said a few weeks after the Iran deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, had been reached. Syria had been discussed on the sidelines of the nuclear talks, but it was only after the deal had been finalized that real deliberations could take place. I really believe that, for instance, what we have now on Syria talks bringing together all the different actors, and we have it now and not last year because we had the deal, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told me. Meanwhile, the United States and Iran indirectly coordinated their efforts against ISIS in Iraq, prompting Obamas Secretary of State Kerry to tell an American audience that Iran had been helpful. Neither that collaboration nor the public acknowledgment of Irans help would have occurred had it not been for the nuclear deal.

Obamas interaction with Iran convinced him that the leaders in Tehran were rational, self-interested, and pragmatic. What weve seen, at least since 1979, Obama said in August 2015, is Iran making constant, calculated decisions that allow it to preserve the regime, to expand their influence where they can, to be opportunistic, to create what they view as hedges against potential Israeli attack, in the form of Hezbollah and other proxies in the region. Reducing tensions with Tehran was particularly attractive in view of both the negative role some of the U.S.s key Middle East allies played and their insistence that Washington fight their battles. American frustration with Saudi Arabia was particularly noteworthy. Obama had a strained relationship with the Saudi royal family, often finding himself aggrieved with the Saudis and with the idea that the United States had to treat Riyadh as an ally at all. His understanding of Saudi Arabias role in exporting extreme Wahhabist Islam may go well beyond that of any previous and future presidents. During his youth in Indonesia, according to The Atlantic, Obama observed firsthand how Saudi-funded Wahhabists gradually moved the country closer to their own vision of Islam. The U.S.s problems with Iran ran deep but, in the presidents mind, it was not in American interests to always unquestionably side with Saudi Arabia.

Ultimately, the United States sought to reduce its tensions with Iran and pave the way for a pivot to Asia. By contrast, it seemed that Saudi Arabia sought a return to the pre-2003 order and an intensification of Irans isolation and exclusion from regional affairs. It was fundamentally clear that Riyadh and Washington were on a collision course, a former Saudi official said. The official, Nawaf Obaid, defined Iran as the root of regional chaos, whereas Obama viewed the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran as a source of instability for the region. Yet from the Saudi point of view, American neutrality was tantamount to betrayal. To Riyadh, Obama was abandoning the entire Arab world and acting on behalf of Tehran by pursuing a policy that declared support for a more powerful Iran, Obaid wrote. The Saudis saw proof of this view when they refused to attend the Syrian crisis talks since Iran would partake for the first time, and Obama personally intervened. According to Foreign Policy, he called the Saudi king to convince him to participate in the negotiations and drop the request for Iran to be shut out. Obama appealed to Saudi Arabia to find a way to share the region with Iran. His reasoning that the problem was not Irans alleged aspiration for hegemony, but rather Riyadhs refusal to accept Irans inclusion into the region was patently absurd, according to Obaid.

From the American perspective, however, the nuclear deal prevented both war with Iran and a nuclear-armed Iran while holding out a promise of improved relations. At the same time, the U.S. could exercise tougher love with Israel and a more conditional friendship with Saudi Arabia. We need to re-examine all of the relationships we enjoy in the region, relationships primarily with Sunni-dominated nations, Gen. Mike Mullen wrote in support of the nuclear deal as Congress debated it. Detente with Iran might better balance our efforts across the sectarian divide. The U.S. was frozen in a pattern of regional relations that were no longer productive and could force it into unnecessary wars. To pivot to Asia, these patterns needed to be broken, starting with a new relationship with Iran. Conversely, to prevent the U.S. reorienting itself, the nuclear deal needed to be killed hence Saudi Arabia and Israels staunch opposition to it.

While U.S. and Saudi interests were diverging, Riyadh found itself viewing the region in an increasingly similar light as the Israelis. Once clearly taboo, collaboration with Israel was increasingly discussed in the Saudi kingdom. For both countries, Obamas deal largely resolved the immediate matter of the nuclear question. However, it did so by undermining their mutual core interest in excluding Iran from the regional order. The JCPOA addressed the pretext for Israel and Saudis tensions with Iran, but not the roots of their conflict. By framing the nuclear issue as an existential threat, Netanyahu enabled the sidestepping of broader worries that both Arabs and Israelis have about Iran, Brookings Institute analyst Shibley Telhami wrote in 2015. After all, an existential threat supersedes all other issues; all else became secondary at best. In fact, the Saudis and their allies asked the U.S. not to discuss their top regional concerns with the Iranians in the U.S.s bilateral meetings with Iran. Israel did the same, securing a promise from the United States and the European Union that that a total separation will be enforced between the nuclear file and other issues such as ISIS, the Israeli government minister responsible for the Iran file at the time, Yuval Steinitz, said. Later, both Saudi Arabia and Israel pointed to this division as a weakness of the JCPOA.

The most important implication of the Iran deal, according to Israel, was that it condoned, as Harvard researcher Daniel Sobelman put it, Irans drive to obtain recognition as a legitimate regional power to be reckoned with. Moreover, rather than downgrading Iran, the deal upgraded it to a de-facto threshold nuclear power, according to Netanyahus former defense minister, Ehud Barak. With the nuclear issue resolved, the U.S. would lose interest in countering Irans destabilizing activities in the region, leaving Israel and the Arabs to manage their rivalry with Iran on their own. Israels singular focus on keeping Iran isolated and constrained also caused tensions with the United States over the struggle against ISIS. To Israel, ISIS was a distraction. ISIL is a five-year problem, Steinitz, the Israeli minister, said, while the struggle against Iran would continue for another generation. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon publicly rejected that ISIS constituted a threat to Israel, and stated that he preferred ISIS to Iran. The head of a well-connected Israeli think tank even went so far as to write that destroying ISIS would be a strategic mistake because the group can be a useful tool in undermining Tehrans ambitious plan for domination of the Middle East. The argument underscored the depth of the divergence of interest and perspective between the U.S. and Israel.

While some have suggested that the nuclear deal caused a rift in U.S.-Israeli relations, in reality the geopolitical interests of the two nations had already been diverging for some time. Rather than causing this rift, the deal reflected a preexisting, growing gap between them. Theres no doubt that theres a divergence of interest between the United States and Israel, a senior administration official told me, asking for anonymity. Differences over the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the Arab Spring, including Iran in the regional order, and the U.S.s military footprint in the Middle East were all coming to a head. While Israel wanted the U.S. to retain a strong military presence in the region, Americas global responsibilities prevented the Middle East from occupying such a large share of its resources. While the U.S. continues to have an interest in keeping Israel safe and democratic, it is concerned that the biggest threats to Israeli democracy come from inside the country itself specifically, its ongoing occupation of Palestinian territory. Even senior members of the Israeli security establishment agree that the real existential threat to Israel comes from the inside, and not from Iran. There is no outside existential threat to Israel, the only real existential threat is the internal division, former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo said. Internal division can lead us to civil war we are already on a path towards that.

Israels security establishment repeatedly entered into Iran debates as Netanyahus biggest critics. Some of the security officials expressed alarm at the damage to U.S.-Israeli relations his vendetta with Obama and his opposition to the Iran deal was causing. Instead of fighting Iran, hes fighting the U.S. Instead of Israel working with its closest ally, hes turned them into an enemy. Does that seem logical to you? former Mossad chief Meir Dagan remarked to prominent Israeli journalist Ilana Dayan. Netanyahu had the choice of shifting his position on negotiations with Iran once Obama had made clear that the U.S. would not look at any other options until it had first exhausted diplomacy. By supporting diplomacy, Israel would arguably have had a greater ability to impact the talks and shape the outcome. Instead, Netanyahu chose to declare war on diplomacy and go after Obama. Once the negotiations had started, Israel should have put itself in a position that would have enabled it to have a continuous dialogue [with Obama] on the positions of the United States in the negotiations, retired Israeli official Shlomo Brom complained.

The great irony is that there was a much easier way for Netanyahu to kill the nuclear deal than by taking on the president of the U.S. Negotiations could have been seriously harmed had he embraced the deal and argued that Iran had been defeated through it. The Iranians had no problems handling Netanyahus opposition to the nuclear talks on the contrary, they welcomed it. But it would have been very challenging for them politically, particularly for the nuclear negotiators, if Netanyahu had gone on a victory lap and declared the deal a defeat for Iran. Irans Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, admitted as much to me: That would have been enough to kill the deal.

Adapted from the new book by Trita Parsi, Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy.

Top photo: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heads to a weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office on March 13, 2016.

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Islamic State threatens new attacks in Iran – The Times of Israel

The Islamic State terror group released a video Wednesday threatening new attacks against Tehran and calling on Iranians to rise up against their country.

In a clip bearing the Islamic States Amaq news agency logo, a man wearing a black ski mask and holding an AK-47, threatened a repeat of the deadly attacks in Tehran claimed by the terrorist group in June.

The same way we are cutting the necks of your dogs in Iraq and Syria we will cut your necks in the center of Tehran, the man said, according to a report in Reuters.

Tehran suffered a rare and deadly twin attack on June 7, claimed by IS, when gunmen and suicide bombers attacked the parliament complex and the mausoleum of revolutionary founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, killing 17 people.

Iranian security officials have since arrested dozens of suspects linked to the attack, and claim to have killed its chief planner.

On Monday, Iran arrested 27 people plotting attacks for the terror group, including 10 who were detained in a regional country with outside assistance, according to the countrys intelligence ministry.

Intelligence agents succeeded in identifying and arresting a terrorist group linked to Daesh, who intended to conduct terrorist attacks in central provinces and religious cities, a ministry statement said, using the Arabic acronym for IS.

Ten of the suspects were arrested outside of Iran through intelligence-sharing with one of the intelligence services in the region, the statement said, without naming the country or giving further details.

Weapons and ammunition were recovered during the arrests, and the suspects were reportedly trying to smuggle them into Iran inside home appliances.

AP contributed to this report.

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Islamic State threatens new attacks in Iran – The Times of Israel

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August 10, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

Kissinger Warns Trump: ISIS Is Keeping Iran in Check, You Must Not Let Tehran Fill the Void – Newsweek

Former top U.S. diplomat Henry Kissinger has warned the Trump administration that Iran should not be allowed to fill the power vacuum that will be created when the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) is defeated.

In Iraq, Baghdad’s forces have liberated the northern city of Mosul from the jihadi group and are close to ousting ISIS from all of its population centers. In Syria, a Kurdish-Arab coalition has recaptured almost half of the eastern Syrian city of Raqqa, which became the de facto ISIS capital after the group rose to prominence in mid-2014.

Now, the 94-year-old Kissinger, who served as secretary of state under Richard Nixon,has cautioned that defeating ISIS could lead to a radical Iranian empire across the Middle East.

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In these circumstances, the traditional adage that the enemy of your enemy can be regarded as your friend no longer applies. In the contemporary Middle East, the enemy of your enemy may also be your enemy. The Middle East affects the world by the volatility of its ideologies as much as by its specific actions,he wrote in an article last week forCapX.

The outside worlds war with ISIS can serve as an illustration. Most non-ISIS powersincluding Shia Iran and the leading Sunni statesagree on the need to destroy it. But which entity is supposed to inherit its territory? A coalition of Sunnis? Or a sphere of influence dominated by Iran?

The answer is elusive because Russia and the Nato countries support opposing factions. If the ISIS territory is occupied by Irans Revolutionary Guards or Shia forces trained and directed by it, the result could be a territorial belt reaching from Tehran to Beirut, which could mark the emergence of an Iranian radical empire,he wrote.

President Donald Trump meets with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in the Oval Office at the White House on May 10, in Washington, D.C. Molly Riley-Pool/Getty

Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have been advising the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government and supporting Shiite militias, known as the Popular Mobilization Forces,working with Baghdadto liberate ISIS-held territories in the country.

In Syria, Iran is supporting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad alongside Russia. It has provided ground troops, tactical advisers and Shiite militiamen from countries such as Afghanistan to bolster the dictator’s ranks.

Both Iran and the U.S. are working to degrade ISIS in the two countries, but the U.S. role is limited to special forces on the ground and a coalition of air forces bombing the jihadi group from above. Washington and Tehran rarely recognize the role of the other in combating the threat of ISISand are avoiding any escalation between the two militaries.

This has not extended to the Assad regime. President Donald Trump in April authorized the first American strike against the Syrian government. The U.S. government accusedthe Syrian government of carrying out achemical weapons attackagainst civilians. Both Syria and key ally Russia denied the allegations, despite witness testimony and soil samples gathered by Turkey that showed the presence of a chemical agent in the attack on the Idlib town of Khan Sheikhoun.

The Russian governmentsaid the Syrian militaryhit a weapons depot holding toxic weapons stored by militants. International powers, such as the U.S., Israel, Turkey, France and Britain,accused the Syrian regimeof targeting civilians with chemical weapons.

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Kissinger Warns Trump: ISIS Is Keeping Iran in Check, You Must Not Let Tehran Fill the Void – Newsweek

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Trump and Israel Must Not Conflate North Korea Nuclear Threat With Iran – Haaretz

Home > Opinion Deterring the proliferation of nuclear weapons is a noble goal one that America and Israel ostensibly share. How to go about doing so is another story How can dictatorships be deterred from developing operational nuclear arsenals? This is a good question posed in an August 10 Haaretz… Want to enjoy ‘Zen’ reading – with no ads and just the article? Subscribe today We’ve got more newsletters we think you’ll find interesting. Please try again later. This email address has already registered for this newsletter.

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Iran building long-range rocket factory in Syria: Israeli TV – Reuters

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – An Israeli television report said on Tuesday that Iran is building a facility in northwest Syria to manufacture long-range rockets, and showed satellite images it said were of the site under construction. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned last week that Iran was strengthening its foothold in its ally Syria as Islamic State fighters were being displaced, and said Israel was watching developments and would act against any threat. “Our policy is clear: We vehemently oppose the military buildup by Iran and its proxies, primarily Hezbollah, in Syria and we will do whatever it takes to protect Israel’s security,” he said in a speech. The Channel 2 television news report showed images it said were taken by an Israeli satellite showing a site in northwest Syria near the Mediterranean coastal town of Baniyas, saying some of the construction indicated explosives would be stored there. It compared images of buildings it said were of a rocket factory near Tehran to structures at the Syrian site, and said there was a strong resemblance between them. Netanyahu has been harshly critical of a 2015 deal that six world powers including the United States under then-president Barack Obama struck with Iran to curb its nuclear program in return for an end to multilateral sanctions. Iran is Israel’s avowed enemy, and Israel argues that the agreement fails to prevent Iranian weapons posing a threat to its very existence. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only. The United States last month slapped new economic sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missile program and said Tehran’s “malign activities” in the Middle East had undercut any “positive contributions” from the 2015 accord curbing its nuclear program. U.S. President Donald Trump has frequently criticized the agreement as being too soft on Tehran, which remains subject to a U.N. arms embargo and other restrictions. U.S. news reports have said that Israeli intelligence officials will discuss the situation in Syria and Lebanon with U.S. counterparts in Washington this week. Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Mark Trevelyan

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After Azadi: man behind Iran’s freedom tower on how his life unravelled – The Guardian

The Azadi tower in Tehran is strung with black flags. Photograph: Amos Chapple/Getty Images/Lonely Planet Images In 1966, a 24-year-old architect who had just graduated from Tehran University hesitantly entered a competition to design a monument to mark the 2,500-year celebration of the founding of the Persian empire. In hindsight, it was a competition of a lifetime, organised by the shah of Iran, who envisioned that the monument would act as his memorial tower, or Shahyad. The architect, Hossein Amanat, had no idea that his hastily prepared design, which went on to win the competition, would one day become a focal point of the Iranian capitals skyline, serving as a backdrop to some of the countrys most turbulent political events. The 50-metre (164ft) tall structure, now known as the Azadi (Freedom) tower, rode out the 1979 Islamic revolution, an eight-year war with Iraq and the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad-era anti-government demonstrations. But as his tower prospered, Amanats life unravelled. The monarchy was overthrown in the 1979 revolution, which ushered in an Islamic Republic with Ayatollah Khomeini as supreme leader. The shah, along with many of those believed to be associated with him, left the country and there was a crackdown on the Bah faith, which Amanat practises. His name was put on a death list, and his belongings were confiscated. He fled Iran and has not returned since. The Bahs are Irans most persecuted religious minority. After the revolution, more than 200 Bahs were executed in Iran because of their religious allegiance. In 1981, the religion was banned. Since then, its followers have been deprived of many of their fundamental rights, including access to higher education and the right to work freely. In July, at least six Bahs were arrested in the cities of Gorgan, Kashan and Shiraz. The Iranian authorities link Bahs to Israel, mainly because its governing body is based in the Israeli city of Haifa, and have accused adherents of spying or conspiring to topple the Islamic establishment. In a rare interview discussing his religion, Amanat, who also designed three Bah administrative buildings in Haifa, called on Iran to rethink its approach. They should put aside the suspicion, Amanat, 75, said. Bahs dont have any aims to harm the Islamic establishment. They [the authorities] have repeatedly claimed that Bahs are spies, but have they found even a single document of proof? Theyve found nothing. They should let Bahais live like other Iranians. The Bah faith, which is monotheistic, accepts all religions as having valid origins. It was founded in Iran in the 19th century by its prophet, Bahullh, who defined the purpose of religion to establish unity and concord among the peoples of the world; make it not the cause of dissension and strife. Nearly 300,000 Bahs are believed to live in Iran, and about 6 million worldwide. According to Asma Jahangir, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, discrimination against Bahais is legally sanctioned by a lack of constitutional recognition. A follower was murdered outside his home in Yazd last year by two young men because of his faith, a March report by Jahangir said, and at least 90 Bahais are behind bars. Amanat was hopeful when Irans moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, was elected in 2013, but said nothing had changed and the situation had even got worse in some situations. Iran has a special place in the hearts of the Bahai community, he said. Im saddened that my fellow Bahais are under pressure. If theyre given the opportunity they can do good for their country. Amanat expressed regret for not being able to live in Iran and contribute more to its architecture. The Azadi tower, he said, was an opportunity to design modern architecture using old language, to preserve the good things about a culture, leave aside the meaningless parts and create something new and meaningful. A tribute to an old human civilisation, the monument was such that if this was erected somewhere else it would have no meaning you cant put Shahyad in Cairo. It took five years for the Azadi tower to be finished. In 1971 the Shah unveiled the tower, having flown to Tehran from the ruins of Persepolis in Shiraz, where he had held an enormous, lavish event to celebrate the Persian empires 2,500th birthday. Of all the towers defining moments in modern Iranian history, one incident struck a chord with Amanat. I was touched deeply once when millions of people went to Shahyad in 2009 [during unrest under Ahmadinejad], and then they were beaten up and many were killed, he said. I was so saddened by it. As a Bahai, I forgive others, I dont dwell on the injustices done to me, I go forward, but when that happened it was difficult for me because people had taken refuge there. Reflecting on the country of his birth, Amanat said: I miss Iran a lot, partly because of the sun and the architecture. I am away from everything I had and from my neighbourhood. I have three kids, theyve tried to learn Farsi but cant read a Farsi newspaper fluently and this makes me sad none of them have ever seen the Azadi tower in their life.

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Before You Rip Up That Iran Deal … – New York Times

The administration is still working on its Iran strategy, but Mr. Trump and his aides have put a few cards on the table, demonizing Iran; backing tough new sanctions related to missiles and human rights violations; and pledging cooperation with Sunni countries that, like Israel, view Iran as a singular menace and demand its isolation. Irans threatening behavior certainly deserves pushback from the United States and others. But Iran is not the only destabilizing force in the region, and unremitting hostility is not the answer. Even during the Cold War Washington engaged Moscow, when possible, on nuclear weapons, regional conflicts and human rights. The United States and Iran had almost no contact after the 1979 Iranian revolution until Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif formed a working relationship during the nuclear negotiations. Instead of building on that, Mr. Trump and his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, have refused to even meet the Iranians. A more imaginative policy would revive the secretary of state channel to resolve conflicts before they grow and explore solutions for Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and Iraq. There is precedent for cooperation. Iran helped America and others to organize the new Afghan government after the Talibans ouster in 2001 and to forge a unity government in 2014. Iran could be encouraged now to press the Taliban to enter reconciliation talks with Kabul. Iran and the United States could also work together to combat drug trafficking in Afghanistan, another shared concern. And Iran has been helpful in Iraq by fighting the Islamic State. Last week, 47 national security leaders urged America and Iran to begin discussing with the nuclear deals other signatories a follow-up agreement that could extend the nuclear restraints on Iran further into the future and expand them to other countries in the region that have or are considering nuclear energy programs. In addition, they proposed a new consultative body so that Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United States, Russia, Turkey, China and the European Union could consult on major regional disputes. There are other constructive ways for the United States to counter Irans influence, like joining with its Sunni allies in helping the regions war-torn countries rebuild. Saudi Arabias recent moves to improve relations with Iraq by opening a land border and resuming air links are a good sign. Iran is too big to be ignored. And if Washington pursues regime change, as some officials seem to favor, the risks will be huge. This is a crucial moment for Iran as revolutionary leaders die off and competition heats up between hard-liners with a strict anti-Western Islamic ideology and pragmatists who back the nuclear deal and international engagement. In the balance is a population of 80 million, mostly young, Iranians who have in recent years elected relatively moderate leaders inclined toward evolutionary reform. As it has done with adversaries such as the Russians and the Chinese, America can make progress by engaging the Iranians and avoiding the kind of escalation that empowers hard-liners. A version of this editorial appears in print on August 14, 2017, on Page A18 of the New York edition with the headline: Before You Rip Up That Iran Deal …

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Mossad Warns Iran Expanding Control of Middle East – The Jewish Press – JewishPress.com

Photo Credit: Miriam Alster / Flash 90 The director of Israels international espionage agency, the Mossad, warned the cabinet at its weekly meeting on Sunday that Iran is increasing its control over the Middle East as the Islamic State terrorist organization reduces its presence. Yossi Cohen said in his briefing that through its proxy groups in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen, where ISIS is slowly dissipating, the Islamic Republic is working to fill the void. Two weeks ago, an Iranian foreign ministry official met with top officials from Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in Beirut. A few days later, Hamas, Hezbollah and PIJ officials traveled to Tehran to attend the inauguration ceremony for Iranian President Hassan Rouhanis second term in office. The Iranian proxy officials remained in Tehran several more days for talks with top government officials, according to state-controlled media, as did top officials from North Korea, who opened a new embassy in the Iranian capital. Iran has never let go of its nuclear ambitions, Cohen said. The JCPOA agreement signed with six world powers in 2015 only strengthened Tehrans aggression in the region, allowing Iran to replenish its budget and fund its regional proxies, while renewing business ties with European nations. Irans economy received a new infusion as a result of the recent international agreements, he said. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted that the intelligence assessment made it clear that the JCPOA was fundamentally unsound but added that Israel was not obligated to abide by it. Israel will continue to act determinedly and in a variety of ways to defend itself from these threats, Netanyahu said. Meanwhile, Iranian lawmakers on Sunday voted to boost spending on Tehrans missile program. The bill allocates $260 million to Irans ballistic missile program and the same sum to the Quds Force the extraterritorial arm of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), which has been active in Iraq Syria and Yemen. The Quds force is designated a terrorist organization by the United States. Iran said the measures came in response to sanctions imposed by the US in August over Tehrans missile program. Tazpit Press Service contributed content to this report.

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August 13, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

After Iran bans two soccer stars for playing against Israelis; fans rush to their defense – Los Angeles Times

Two soccer players have been barred for life from Irans national team after they appeared in a match against players from Israel, prompting anger among the sports many fans in the Islamic Republic. Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Haji Safi played last week in a European league match for the Greek team Panionios against Maccabi Tel Aviv, an Israeli club. That appeared to violate a longstanding rule prohibiting Iranian athletes from competing against opponents from Israel, a nation that the Iranian government doesnt recognize. After the match, a Farsi-language Twitter account maintained by the Israeli foreign ministry posted a message: Well done to Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Haji Safi who broke the taboo of not playing in matches against Israeli athletes. On Wednesday, Irans deputy sports minister, Mohammad Reza Davarzani, said in an interview with Mizan news agency, the mouthpiece of Irans judiciary, that the players would no longer be allowed on the national soccer team. It is certain that Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Haji Safi will never be invited to join the national football team because they violated the red line, state television quoted Davarzani as saying. The comments set off vigorous discussion on social media in Iran, where soccer is the most popular sport. Irans soccer federation, the sports governing body, did not immediately confirm the players suspensions, but Davarzani said his ministry had the authority to make the decision. For many years, Iranian athletes on the international stage have hewed to an unwritten rule that they not play against Israelis, with many feigning illness or using other ruses to avoid head-to-head competitions. Shojaei and Safi, both of whom are under contract to play for the Greek club, appeared to observe part of the custom when they sat out a match last month against Maccabi, played in Israel. But both played the full 90 minutes in the Aug. 4 match in Greece, which their team lost, 1-0. Many soccer fans defended the players for honoring their contract and accused Davarzani of politicizing a sport in which Iran, which has qualified for the 2018 World Cup, struggles to compete on an international level. Its soccer ambitions have been hampered by official mismanagement and international economic sanctions. Iranian footballers need to be internationalized and play in [Europe] to bring hard currency and new techniques and experience to help domestic football, said Ali Samienia, a 64-year-old coach in a youth soccer league in Tehran. What is the fuss? Its not a big deal. Iranian politicians are pushing politics into sport, especially football. Iranian hard-liners have been asserting themselves in recent months following the re-election victory of President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate. Rouhani, who campaigned on expanding personal freedoms and improving relations with the West, has frustrated supporters by failing to appoint any women to his Cabinet an apparent show of deference to the conservative clerics who are the custodians of the countrys theocracy. Soccer fans said the players suspensions could affect Irans World Cup hopes especially the loss of Shojaei, the captain of the national team who played 70 minutes in a victory over Uzbekistan in June that clinched Irans spot in the quadrennial tournament. Safi did not play in the match. Shojaeis absence will have a negative impact on Irans matches in the World Cup, said Reza Agharahimi, a 30-year-old soccer fan in Tehran. It would be better to think of the infrastructure of Iranian football rather than pay attention to minor, unimportant issues which are politics and have nothing to do with sport. Special correspondent Mostaghim reported from Tehran and Times staff writer Bengali from Mumbai, India. shashank.bengali@latimes.com Follow @SBengali on Twitter

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August 11, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

For Netanyahu and the Saudis, Opposing Diplomacy With Iran Was Never About Enrichment – The Intercept

This was never about enrichment. The academics and officials in the room were taken aback. For a former senior Israeli official to deny the importance of the nuclear issue was unusual, to say the least. The conversations, attended by American civilian and military officials and other Western representatives, as well as Iranian diplomats and Tehrans then-nuclear negotiators, were shockingly honest. Enrichment is not important, the ex-Israeli official continued. What Israel needs to see from Iran is a sweeping attitude change. The veteran Israeli decision-maker himself a vocal opponent of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explained that Israel could not accept the U.S. coming to terms with Iran without demanding that Iran come to terms with Israel. Israel is not party to the deal, so it wont be bound by the deal, he warned. If Iran is not willing to accept Israels existence, then Israel will stand in the way of the U.S. reaching a deal with Iran, the Israeli message read. The Iranians in the room listened attentively, but showed no reaction. In a breakout session later that afternoon, they indicated that they could recognize Israel only if Israel joined the Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-weapons country that is, once Israel gave up its nuclear weapons and opened its nuclear program to international inspectors. It was April 2012. Tensions between Israel and the Obama administration were rising. President Barack Obama was pushing back against Israeli pressure for military attacks against Iran, while at the same time continuing the P5+1 diplomacy with Iran, an internationalized process involving the permanent U.N. Security Council members, as well as Germany and the European Union. There were also only a few months left before the 2012 U.S. presidential election. Many Israelis worried that Netanyahus aggressive style would further damage his relationship with Obama and undermine Israels influence over American calculations regarding Iran. It was becoming a growing worry for the Israelis as Obama showcased unprecedented dedication to diplomacy, which they suspected would only grow more firm in his second term. The closed meeting, organized by a prominent U.S. university and held in a small Western European country, revealed dynamics driving the conflict that are rarely discussed in public: The Israeli fear that Irans rise in the region would be accepted by the U.S., and that it would regard Tehran as a legitimate player in the new regional order without Tehran accepting Israels existence. The most potent instrument for ensuring that Washington wouldnt come to terms with Iran was the nuclear issue, which before the breakthrough in November 2013, was viewed as a hopelessly intractable conflict. As long as the deadlock held, Iran would remain at least a permanently sanctioned pariah, former Israeli official Daniel Levy wrote. For the years when the U.S. pursued Irans all-out containment, Israel enjoyed a degree of unchallenged regional hegemony, freedom of military action, and diplomatic cover that it is understandably reluctant to concede or even recalibrate. Israels position was directly linked to the U.S. upholding Pax Americana in the Middle East; its status was underwritten by U.S. preeminence in the region, Levy argued. Herein lies the tragedy of Netanyahus miscalculation. By aggressively defining the Iranian nuclear program as an existential threat to Israel, depicting the Iranians as irrational and suicidal, and threatening to bomb Iran, Netanyahu hoped to force Obama to take military action and recommit Washington to Pax Americana. Instead, Netanyahus strategy eliminated the status quo option of containing the nuclear program while neither resolving the issue nor acquiescing to Irans nuclear demands. Then, once that option was rejected, Obama did something Netanyahu had discounted: He opted for diplomacy, a measure that by definition could open the door to ending the U.S.s efforts to isolate Iran. Not only did Obama doubt the efficiency of military action, it also went against his principles and promises to pursue war only after all other options were exhausted. In never considering acceptance of enrichment on Iranian soil, the U.S. had not tested all diplomatic solutions. War also contradicted Obamas larger geopolitical objectives to reduce the U.S.s footprint in the Middle East and shift its focus east toward Asia and China. Although the Obama administration has insisted that the nuclear deal was solely about nonproliferation, its commitment to the deal in spite of the overwhelming domestic political risks Congress seemed implacably opposed to diplomacy can best be understood in the larger geopolitical context of the nuclear talks. The real challenge to the U.S. was the emergence of a peer-competitor with capacity and ambition to be a global superpower. No state in the Middle East has the capacity or the potential capacity to challenge the U.S. on a global scale. China, on the other hand, does. From Obamas perspective, the war in Iraq and the U.S.s over-commitment in the Middle East had served only to weaken the country and undermine its ability to meet the challenge of prospective peer-competitors. With the Middle East losing strategic significance as a result of a variety of factors including reduced U.S. dependence on oil and with the cost of U.S. hegemony drastically increasing, the cost-benefit calculation for the U.S. had decisively shifted. To Obama, the Middle East was unsalvageable, and the more the U.S. got involved, the worse things would get and the more the U.S. would be blamed for the regions woes. If Libya showed Obama that the region was best avoided, the rise of the Islamic State proved to him that the region could not be fixed. Contrast that with Southeast Asia, which still has huge problems enormous poverty, corruption but is filled with striving, ambitious, energetic people who are every single day scratching and clawing to build businesses and get education and find jobs and build infrastructure, Obama told The Atlantic. If were not talking to them, he continued, referring to young people in Asia and elsewhere, because the only thing were doing is figuring out how to destroy or cordon off or control the malicious, nihilistic, violent parts of humanity, then were missing the boat. Activists take part in a rally to commemorate the nuclear deal with Iran in front of the White House, on July 14, 2017 in Washington. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images Obamas critics contended that his lack of involvement was the cause of many of the problems in the Middle East, which in turn had weakened the U.S. On the contrary, Obama believed that the U.S.s overextension in the region had and would continue to harm its strength and global standing. Overextension in the Middle East will ultimately harm our economy, harm our ability to look for other opportunities and to deal with other challenges, and, most important, endanger the lives of American service members for reasons that are not in the direct American national-security interest, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes explained. In addition, Obama harbored a growing conviction that Irans prolonged isolation was neither possible nor necessarily helpful. This was particularly true if Irans reaction to its containment was to further challenge Western interests in the region. Iran is too large a player, too important a player in this region, to simply leave in isolation, the United Kingdoms then-Foreign Secretary Phil Hammond said. This sentiment was widely held in Europe. No one believes Iran can perpetually be put in a straightjacket, Germanys Ambassador to the U.S. Peter Wittig told me. Obama believed giving Iran a seat at the table could help stabilize the region, particularly in Syria and Iraq, where the West and Iran shared an interest in defeating ISIS. Theres no way to resolve Syria without Iran being involved, Obama said a few weeks after the Iran deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, had been reached. Syria had been discussed on the sidelines of the nuclear talks, but it was only after the deal had been finalized that real deliberations could take place. I really believe that, for instance, what we have now on Syria talks bringing together all the different actors, and we have it now and not last year because we had the deal, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told me. Meanwhile, the United States and Iran indirectly coordinated their efforts against ISIS in Iraq, prompting Obamas Secretary of State Kerry to tell an American audience that Iran had been helpful. Neither that collaboration nor the public acknowledgment of Irans help would have occurred had it not been for the nuclear deal. Obamas interaction with Iran convinced him that the leaders in Tehran were rational, self-interested, and pragmatic. What weve seen, at least since 1979, Obama said in August 2015, is Iran making constant, calculated decisions that allow it to preserve the regime, to expand their influence where they can, to be opportunistic, to create what they view as hedges against potential Israeli attack, in the form of Hezbollah and other proxies in the region. Reducing tensions with Tehran was particularly attractive in view of both the negative role some of the U.S.s key Middle East allies played and their insistence that Washington fight their battles. American frustration with Saudi Arabia was particularly noteworthy. Obama had a strained relationship with the Saudi royal family, often finding himself aggrieved with the Saudis and with the idea that the United States had to treat Riyadh as an ally at all. His understanding of Saudi Arabias role in exporting extreme Wahhabist Islam may go well beyond that of any previous and future presidents. During his youth in Indonesia, according to The Atlantic, Obama observed firsthand how Saudi-funded Wahhabists gradually moved the country closer to their own vision of Islam. The U.S.s problems with Iran ran deep but, in the presidents mind, it was not in American interests to always unquestionably side with Saudi Arabia. Ultimately, the United States sought to reduce its tensions with Iran and pave the way for a pivot to Asia. By contrast, it seemed that Saudi Arabia sought a return to the pre-2003 order and an intensification of Irans isolation and exclusion from regional affairs. It was fundamentally clear that Riyadh and Washington were on a collision course, a former Saudi official said. The official, Nawaf Obaid, defined Iran as the root of regional chaos, whereas Obama viewed the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran as a source of instability for the region. Yet from the Saudi point of view, American neutrality was tantamount to betrayal. To Riyadh, Obama was abandoning the entire Arab world and acting on behalf of Tehran by pursuing a policy that declared support for a more powerful Iran, Obaid wrote. The Saudis saw proof of this view when they refused to attend the Syrian crisis talks since Iran would partake for the first time, and Obama personally intervened. According to Foreign Policy, he called the Saudi king to convince him to participate in the negotiations and drop the request for Iran to be shut out. Obama appealed to Saudi Arabia to find a way to share the region with Iran. His reasoning that the problem was not Irans alleged aspiration for hegemony, but rather Riyadhs refusal to accept Irans inclusion into the region was patently absurd, according to Obaid. From the American perspective, however, the nuclear deal prevented both war with Iran and a nuclear-armed Iran while holding out a promise of improved relations. At the same time, the U.S. could exercise tougher love with Israel and a more conditional friendship with Saudi Arabia. We need to re-examine all of the relationships we enjoy in the region, relationships primarily with Sunni-dominated nations, Gen. Mike Mullen wrote in support of the nuclear deal as Congress debated it. Detente with Iran might better balance our efforts across the sectarian divide. The U.S. was frozen in a pattern of regional relations that were no longer productive and could force it into unnecessary wars. To pivot to Asia, these patterns needed to be broken, starting with a new relationship with Iran. Conversely, to prevent the U.S. reorienting itself, the nuclear deal needed to be killed hence Saudi Arabia and Israels staunch opposition to it. While U.S. and Saudi interests were diverging, Riyadh found itself viewing the region in an increasingly similar light as the Israelis. Once clearly taboo, collaboration with Israel was increasingly discussed in the Saudi kingdom. For both countries, Obamas deal largely resolved the immediate matter of the nuclear question. However, it did so by undermining their mutual core interest in excluding Iran from the regional order. The JCPOA addressed the pretext for Israel and Saudis tensions with Iran, but not the roots of their conflict. By framing the nuclear issue as an existential threat, Netanyahu enabled the sidestepping of broader worries that both Arabs and Israelis have about Iran, Brookings Institute analyst Shibley Telhami wrote in 2015. After all, an existential threat supersedes all other issues; all else became secondary at best. In fact, the Saudis and their allies asked the U.S. not to discuss their top regional concerns with the Iranians in the U.S.s bilateral meetings with Iran. Israel did the same, securing a promise from the United States and the European Union that that a total separation will be enforced between the nuclear file and other issues such as ISIS, the Israeli government minister responsible for the Iran file at the time, Yuval Steinitz, said. Later, both Saudi Arabia and Israel pointed to this division as a weakness of the JCPOA. The most important implication of the Iran deal, according to Israel, was that it condoned, as Harvard researcher Daniel Sobelman put it, Irans drive to obtain recognition as a legitimate regional power to be reckoned with. Moreover, rather than downgrading Iran, the deal upgraded it to a de-facto threshold nuclear power, according to Netanyahus former defense minister, Ehud Barak. With the nuclear issue resolved, the U.S. would lose interest in countering Irans destabilizing activities in the region, leaving Israel and the Arabs to manage their rivalry with Iran on their own. Israels singular focus on keeping Iran isolated and constrained also caused tensions with the United States over the struggle against ISIS. To Israel, ISIS was a distraction. ISIL is a five-year problem, Steinitz, the Israeli minister, said, while the struggle against Iran would continue for another generation. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon publicly rejected that ISIS constituted a threat to Israel, and stated that he preferred ISIS to Iran. The head of a well-connected Israeli think tank even went so far as to write that destroying ISIS would be a strategic mistake because the group can be a useful tool in undermining Tehrans ambitious plan for domination of the Middle East. The argument underscored the depth of the divergence of interest and perspective between the U.S. and Israel. While some have suggested that the nuclear deal caused a rift in U.S.-Israeli relations, in reality the geopolitical interests of the two nations had already been diverging for some time. Rather than causing this rift, the deal reflected a preexisting, growing gap between them. Theres no doubt that theres a divergence of interest between the United States and Israel, a senior administration official told me, asking for anonymity. Differences over the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the Arab Spring, including Iran in the regional order, and the U.S.s military footprint in the Middle East were all coming to a head. While Israel wanted the U.S. to retain a strong military presence in the region, Americas global responsibilities prevented the Middle East from occupying such a large share of its resources. While the U.S. continues to have an interest in keeping Israel safe and democratic, it is concerned that the biggest threats to Israeli democracy come from inside the country itself specifically, its ongoing occupation of Palestinian territory. Even senior members of the Israeli security establishment agree that the real existential threat to Israel comes from the inside, and not from Iran. There is no outside existential threat to Israel, the only real existential threat is the internal division, former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo said. Internal division can lead us to civil war we are already on a path towards that. Israels security establishment repeatedly entered into Iran debates as Netanyahus biggest critics. Some of the security officials expressed alarm at the damage to U.S.-Israeli relations his vendetta with Obama and his opposition to the Iran deal was causing. Instead of fighting Iran, hes fighting the U.S. Instead of Israel working with its closest ally, hes turned them into an enemy. Does that seem logical to you? former Mossad chief Meir Dagan remarked to prominent Israeli journalist Ilana Dayan. Netanyahu had the choice of shifting his position on negotiations with Iran once Obama had made clear that the U.S. would not look at any other options until it had first exhausted diplomacy. By supporting diplomacy, Israel would arguably have had a greater ability to impact the talks and shape the outcome. Instead, Netanyahu chose to declare war on diplomacy and go after Obama. Once the negotiations had started, Israel should have put itself in a position that would have enabled it to have a continuous dialogue [with Obama] on the positions of the United States in the negotiations, retired Israeli official Shlomo Brom complained. The great irony is that there was a much easier way for Netanyahu to kill the nuclear deal than by taking on the president of the U.S. Negotiations could have been seriously harmed had he embraced the deal and argued that Iran had been defeated through it. The Iranians had no problems handling Netanyahus opposition to the nuclear talks on the contrary, they welcomed it. But it would have been very challenging for them politically, particularly for the nuclear negotiators, if Netanyahu had gone on a victory lap and declared the deal a defeat for Iran. Irans Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, admitted as much to me: That would have been enough to kill the deal. Adapted from the new book by Trita Parsi, Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy. Top photo: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heads to a weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office on March 13, 2016.

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August 11, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

Islamic State threatens new attacks in Iran – The Times of Israel

The Islamic State terror group released a video Wednesday threatening new attacks against Tehran and calling on Iranians to rise up against their country. In a clip bearing the Islamic States Amaq news agency logo, a man wearing a black ski mask and holding an AK-47, threatened a repeat of the deadly attacks in Tehran claimed by the terrorist group in June. The same way we are cutting the necks of your dogs in Iraq and Syria we will cut your necks in the center of Tehran, the man said, according to a report in Reuters. Tehran suffered a rare and deadly twin attack on June 7, claimed by IS, when gunmen and suicide bombers attacked the parliament complex and the mausoleum of revolutionary founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, killing 17 people. Iranian security officials have since arrested dozens of suspects linked to the attack, and claim to have killed its chief planner. On Monday, Iran arrested 27 people plotting attacks for the terror group, including 10 who were detained in a regional country with outside assistance, according to the countrys intelligence ministry. Intelligence agents succeeded in identifying and arresting a terrorist group linked to Daesh, who intended to conduct terrorist attacks in central provinces and religious cities, a ministry statement said, using the Arabic acronym for IS. Ten of the suspects were arrested outside of Iran through intelligence-sharing with one of the intelligence services in the region, the statement said, without naming the country or giving further details. Weapons and ammunition were recovered during the arrests, and the suspects were reportedly trying to smuggle them into Iran inside home appliances. AP contributed to this report.

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August 10, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

Kissinger Warns Trump: ISIS Is Keeping Iran in Check, You Must Not Let Tehran Fill the Void – Newsweek

Former top U.S. diplomat Henry Kissinger has warned the Trump administration that Iran should not be allowed to fill the power vacuum that will be created when the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) is defeated. In Iraq, Baghdad’s forces have liberated the northern city of Mosul from the jihadi group and are close to ousting ISIS from all of its population centers. In Syria, a Kurdish-Arab coalition has recaptured almost half of the eastern Syrian city of Raqqa, which became the de facto ISIS capital after the group rose to prominence in mid-2014. Now, the 94-year-old Kissinger, who served as secretary of state under Richard Nixon,has cautioned that defeating ISIS could lead to a radical Iranian empire across the Middle East. Daily Emails and Alerts – Get the best of Newsweek delivered to your inbox In these circumstances, the traditional adage that the enemy of your enemy can be regarded as your friend no longer applies. In the contemporary Middle East, the enemy of your enemy may also be your enemy. The Middle East affects the world by the volatility of its ideologies as much as by its specific actions,he wrote in an article last week forCapX. The outside worlds war with ISIS can serve as an illustration. Most non-ISIS powersincluding Shia Iran and the leading Sunni statesagree on the need to destroy it. But which entity is supposed to inherit its territory? A coalition of Sunnis? Or a sphere of influence dominated by Iran? The answer is elusive because Russia and the Nato countries support opposing factions. If the ISIS territory is occupied by Irans Revolutionary Guards or Shia forces trained and directed by it, the result could be a territorial belt reaching from Tehran to Beirut, which could mark the emergence of an Iranian radical empire,he wrote. President Donald Trump meets with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in the Oval Office at the White House on May 10, in Washington, D.C. Molly Riley-Pool/Getty Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have been advising the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government and supporting Shiite militias, known as the Popular Mobilization Forces,working with Baghdadto liberate ISIS-held territories in the country. In Syria, Iran is supporting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad alongside Russia. It has provided ground troops, tactical advisers and Shiite militiamen from countries such as Afghanistan to bolster the dictator’s ranks. Both Iran and the U.S. are working to degrade ISIS in the two countries, but the U.S. role is limited to special forces on the ground and a coalition of air forces bombing the jihadi group from above. Washington and Tehran rarely recognize the role of the other in combating the threat of ISISand are avoiding any escalation between the two militaries. This has not extended to the Assad regime. President Donald Trump in April authorized the first American strike against the Syrian government. The U.S. government accusedthe Syrian government of carrying out achemical weapons attackagainst civilians. Both Syria and key ally Russia denied the allegations, despite witness testimony and soil samples gathered by Turkey that showed the presence of a chemical agent in the attack on the Idlib town of Khan Sheikhoun. The Russian governmentsaid the Syrian militaryhit a weapons depot holding toxic weapons stored by militants. International powers, such as the U.S., Israel, Turkey, France and Britain,accused the Syrian regimeof targeting civilians with chemical weapons.

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August 8, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed


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