Archive for the ‘Iran’ Category

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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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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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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PM’s Iran speech to Congress left no bad blood, top Democrat says – The Times of Israel

There are no bitter feelings left between the Democratic party and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after his controversial speech to the US Congress ahead of the signing of the Iran nuclear deal, a top Democratic Congressmen said Tuesday.

All of us together support Israel and there is no residual impact [from Netanyahus speech], whether you were pleased or not pleased, House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer told reporters at a press conference in Jerusalem.

On March 3, 2015, Netanyahu addressed a joint meeting of Congress in which he slammed US-led efforts to sign an agreement that would temporarily curtail Irans nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, a move seen as a slap in the face to then-president Barack Obama.

The speech, which was made possible by the Republican speaker of the House John Boehner inviting the prime minister, drew a harsh reaction.

Most visits are done in a bipartisan fashion, and this was not done in a bipartisan fashion. Democrats were not happy about that, and we said that, Hoyer said at Tuesdays press conference, held in the King David Hotel.

This is not about Prime Minister Netanyahu or President Obama or President Trump. This is about a relationship between two great democracies, Israel and America. This is about a consensus that Israels security is critical for the security of the United States. This is not about personalities. This is about shared values. And our two countries are partners for peace and security.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands as he leaves the House chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington,, March 3, 2015, after addressing a joint meeting of Congress. (Photo credit: AP/Andrew Harnik)

Hoyer, who is currently leading a delegation of US congresspeople to Israel, said he attended Netanyahus speech at the time.

I thought he spoke very well. I stood and clapped for things I supported, as others did, he said. But the essence is not personalities. Democrats are very supportive of Israel and that is our focus and continues to be our focus.

Hoyer harshly criticized the Iran deal but eventually voted in favor of it.

At Tuesdays press conference, he was asked whether support for Israel can really still be called a bipartisan issue, given that Democratic Senators voted against the nomination of David Friedman as US ambassador to Israel, and in light of the fact that three Democrats voted against a bill to cut American funding to the Palestinians if they do not cease paying terrorists and their families.

Hoyer replied by pointing to a recent law that imposes additional sanctions on Iran, noting that not a single Democrat opposed the bill. The parties are very united, and the fact is that the parties are speaking with one voice, he said.

Like in every parliament, there are differences of opinion between Republicans and Democrats in Congress, he said. But, the veteran legislator added, when you have votes regarding Israels well-being and safety, they are overwhelmingly bipartisan.

Currently on his 15th trip to Israel, Hoyer said he and Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is also currently leading a congressional delegation to Israel, agreed to spend some time together to signal that American support for the Jewish state is unwavering and entirely bipartisan.

The Democratic delegation, which arrived first, met with Netanyahu on Monday. He is slated to host the Republicans in his Jerusalem office on Wednesday. Both delegations are sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation, a nonprofit affiliated with AIPAC.

We have made a point to make sure we have an overlapping time here in Israel together, Republicans and Democrats. Because this is not a partisan issue. This is a bipartisan issue, McCarthy said, stressing that the US has no stronger alliance than that with Israel.

Some of us are Democrats and some of us are Republicans. But were not here as Republicans and Democrats. Were here as Americans who support Israels security, its sovereignty and the safety of its people, Hoyer said, standing in front of the 50-some congresspeople of the two delegations. Were here because the United States and Israel are partners for peace and partners for security.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) meeting at his Jerusalem office with a 19-member delegation of Democratic members of Congress led by House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, August 7, 2017. (GPO)

While congressional delegations usually are divided among party lines, this time they insisted on some overlap because leaders from both sides of the aisle felt the need to send a message of solidarity with Israel and of solidarity with the people of Israel, a solidarity we know is necessary if we are to defeat those, not only in the Middle East about around the world, who [through] terrorism and violence put at risk our democracies and our way of life, Hoyer said.

Most of the 52 congresspeople 33 Republicans and 19 Democrats currently in Israel are freshman lawmakers. They were briefed in Jerusalem and Ramallah and have been touring various sites across the country, including the borders with Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, and received a joint briefing about the Arrow missile defense system at the Palmachim Air Force base.

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Iran’s Zarif hosts Hamas officials – The Times of Israel

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met on Monday with a delegation of officials from the Palestinian terror group Hamas, which has been struggling with the continued erosion of its foreign backing.

During the meeting, Zarif reiterated Tehrans support for the Palestinians as principled and unchangeable, according to reports in Iranian state media.

The delegation of diaspora-based members of Hamass politburo was visiting Iran to attend the swearing-in ceremony of President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday.

Iran was once Hamass key political and financial backer, but ties began to unravel in 2012, largely due to differences over the civil war in Syria.

In May, Iran agreed in principle to renew its funding for Hamas, and senior Palestinian officials were said to be traveling to Tehran to repair relations.

Irans Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, pictured here in Tehran with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. (photo credit: AP)

Last week, Palestinian Authority officials claimed Iran provided aid to Palestinian protesters demonstrating against Israeli security measures at the Temple Mount last month. The aid reportedly included boxes of food and drink, which came with a flyer attached depicting the Dome of the Rock and a quote attributed to Irans Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei reading, With the help of God, Palestine will be freed. Jerusalem is ours.

A PA intelligence official told an Israeli newspaper at the time it was clear the Iranian regime was behind the aid packages, and estimated the initiative cost several million shekels. The move angered the PA leadership, with the unnamed official telling the Israel Hayom daily it was a mistake to allow Iran to reach into the West Bank with its tentacles.

Mondays meeting in Tehran comes as Qatar, one of the other few foreign backers of Hamas, continues to face massive pressure from its Gulf neighbors to cut ties with the terrorist group. If it does, the result could be disastrous for the Gaza Strip, a territory Hamas has ruled for a decade.

Qatar has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in roads, housing and a major hospital in the tiny enclave. Its infrastructure projects are one of the few job-creators in a beleaguered economy.

Gaza already suffers from an Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed to prevent the group from importing weaponry economic misery and chronic electricity shortages. For Hamas, Qatars money pumping into the economy is a vital lifeline bolstering its rule.

Closer ties between Hamas and Iran are hardly likely to mollify the Gulf states and Egypt. One of the main factors driving the crisis is Qatars close ties to Tehran and fears of expanding Iranian influence further destabilizing the region.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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Column: US needs to stand up to Iran – The Detroit News

Lena Epstein Published 10:48 p.m. ET Aug. 6, 2017

U.S. policy has essentially boosted Tehrans ability to foment terrorism and threaten American interests, Lena Epstein writes.(Photo: Vahid Salemi / AP)

When Sen. Debbie Stabenow joined 41 of her Democratic Senate colleagues to vote for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, more commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, back in 2015, they made a catastrophic foreign policy mistake that has left the U.S, Israel, and the international community at large much less secure.

As recently as July 27, their mistake once again became painfully obvious when Iran conducted a successful launch of a long-range missile into space: such a blatant pretext for continued advancement of its ICBM program, youd have to be completely naive not to realize it. But, given the terms of the deal negotiated under President Obama, this type of activity isnt a violation of the nuclear deal.

Iran is free to continue testing and perfecting its nuclear delivery systems, just as long as it doesnt enrich uranium or plutonium to dangerous levels. This is not what I consider a comprehensive plan to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of the worlds most prolific state sponsor of terror, the same state that has explicitly called for the annihilation of the state of Israel.

As a result of the deal, Iran has experienced a windfall of cash flowing into its coffers. With sanctions eased and foreign assets unfrozen, Iran has had an influx of over $100 billion, which it has used to double down on terrorist activities, and dramatically expand its military budget.

The consequences can be felt throughout the already unstable Middle East as Iran provides support to Hamas and Hezbollah, and actively works to further destabilize Syria by sending thousands of its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to support Bashar al-Assads brutal regime that has slaughtered and displaced millions of Syrians. U.S. policy has essentially bolstered Irans ability to carry out these terrorist activities and threaten American interests in the region, including putting American service members, stationed in the Middle East, at risk.

This cannot continue. A nuclear-armed Iran poses an existential threat to one of our closest allies, Israel, and puts American security in jeopardy. Both of our U.S. senators here in Michigan Stabenow and Gary Peters voted in favor of this reprehensible deal.

Stabenows vote on the Iran deal is one of the key factors that spurred me, an American, a Jewish woman, and a staunch supporter of Israel, to enter the U.S. Senate race and take her on next November. A member of Congress is no friend of Israel if he or she doesnt vote in our close allys best interest when it counts the most when there is a deal on the table that puts the Jewish states very existence in danger.

The American people opposed the Iran deal by a 2 to 1 margin, and yet were in this perilous situation because Stabenow pushed it through anyway. We cant keep sending the same people back to Washington and expect different results.

We need elected officials who support Israel because its a moral obligation, not because its politically expedient.

Lena Epstein is the third-generation owner and general manager of Southfield-based Vesco Oil Corp.

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Column: US needs to stand up to Iran – The Detroit News

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Trump’s Alice-in-Wonderland approach to the Iran deal – Los Angeles Times

Heres an international crisis you can, unusually, put on your calendar ahead of time: In October, President Trump wants to declare Iran in violation of the 2015 agreement to limit its nuclear program a decision that would allow the United States to reimpose tough economic sanctions on anyone trading with Tehran.

Its a bad idea. The nuclear deal isnt perfect it doesnt end Irans nuclear research, only limits it for a period of years but its much better than nothing. Before the agreement, Tehran was believed to be less than a year from making nuclear weapons that would have threatened Israel and Saudi Arabia. Thanks to the accord, that doomsday problem has at least been postponed.

That hasnt stopped Trump from calling the pact the worst deal ever and ordering aides to supply him with evidence that will allow him to declare it invalid. The most likely moment for his decision will come in October, the next time he is required to notify Congress whether Iran is in compliance.

If it was up to me, I would have had them noncompliant 180 days ago, Trump told the Wall Street Journal last month. Next time, he added, I do not expect that they will be compliant.

The president didnt offer any substantive reason to declare Iran out of compliance with the deal because there isnt one. His own aides told him last month that, while Iran has tested the edges of the agreement, none of its actions was a material breach, the legal standard that would allow sanctions to snap back.

When Trump was warned that he couldnt simply walk away from the deal, he had a bit of a meltdown, an official told the New York Times. He chewed out the secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, who apparently brought him the bad news. And he ordered his staff to begin work on a new study one that will supply him with the excuses he needs.

Thats an Alice-in-Wonderland approach to foreign policy: Verdict first, evidence later. And its not likely to work.

No matter what the president thinks, the facts will get in the way. U.S. officials say Iran has been carefully upholding its main obligations under the nuclear agreement: reducing its uranium stocks and limiting its enrichment program.

And none of the other six countries that negotiated the deal agree with Trump that the accord should be abrogated.

The deal is working, and we believe it represents the best option for the international community, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson wrote last month (and his government is friendlier to Trump than most).

As a result, if Trump declares in October that Iran is in breach, most of the world including Britain, Germany and France will blame him for the consequences, not Tehran.

That will create a major obstacle for the next step in Trumps course, which is to reimpose U.S. economic sanctions on foreign businesses that deal with Iran. (The nuclear deal didnt affect the embargo between the U.S. and Iran, which remains in effect.)

If the United States is viewed as responsible for breaking the deal, other countries may refuse to go along with Trumps unilateral sanctions, making them largely toothless.

Nobody else wants the deal to fail, said Elizabeth Rosenberg of the Center for New American Security, who worked on sanctions in the Obama administration. If the U.S. is the only one that walks away, who is going to enforce new sanctions? You could easily see European leaders deciding to defend their own companies instead.

Last month, the French energy giant Total signed a contract for a $5-billion natural gas project in Iran. If Trump tries to impose sanctions on deals like that, the result wont be merely a confrontation with Iran; it will be a clash with the EU.

There is an alternative Trump could try. Its called diplomacy.

He could press for stricter enforcement of the nuclear agreement, beginning with the restrictions Iran has placed on international inspectors access to military bases.

He could seek stronger international sanctions on Iran for its ballistic missile tests, which arent covered by the nuclear deal.

And he could begin negotiations toward a new agreement to maintain the curbs on Irans nuclear program after 2026, when the current limits begin to expire.

But the president hasnt pursued those options, even though theyve been offered to him by his own aides. Instead, he appears hellbent on fulfilling a bad campaign promise he should now have the wisdom to abandon. (Thats a prayer more than a hope.)

Tearing up the deal wont bring down Irans regime most of Tehrans ruling clerics welcome the enmity of the United States but it will set up a collision between the Trump administration and most of the world, including China, Russia and U.S. allies in Europe.

The most likely losers would be the Western alliance, already battered by Trumps disdain, and whatever remains of the United States tattered claim to international leadership.

And the most likely winner, oddly enough, would be Vladimir Putins Russia, the beneficiary of yet another wedge between United States and its NATO allies this one driven by Trump alone, without Moscows help.

doyle.mcmanus@latimes.com

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Israel offers to take Iranian blogger from Turkey – Reuters

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel offered asylum on Sunday to a Turkey-based Iranian blogger who it said faced forcible deportation to Iran, where she would be at risk given her work for an Israeli news site.

The Times of Israel has said that Neda Amin, its Persian-language blogger, left Iran in 2014 for Turkey. She has been in a court battle to prevent her repatriation and has sought other countries that might take her in as a refugee, the site said.

Hostility between the two countries means that Iranians are generally not admitted to Israel.

But following appeals by Israel’s journalist federations, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said he would issue 32-year-old Amin with a special visa.

“This is a journalist whose life is in real danger,” Deri said in a statement. “Given the clear humanitarian circumstances, I authorized her entry without delay.”

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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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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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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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

PM’s Iran speech to Congress left no bad blood, top Democrat says – The Times of Israel

There are no bitter feelings left between the Democratic party and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after his controversial speech to the US Congress ahead of the signing of the Iran nuclear deal, a top Democratic Congressmen said Tuesday. All of us together support Israel and there is no residual impact [from Netanyahus speech], whether you were pleased or not pleased, House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer told reporters at a press conference in Jerusalem. On March 3, 2015, Netanyahu addressed a joint meeting of Congress in which he slammed US-led efforts to sign an agreement that would temporarily curtail Irans nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, a move seen as a slap in the face to then-president Barack Obama. The speech, which was made possible by the Republican speaker of the House John Boehner inviting the prime minister, drew a harsh reaction. Most visits are done in a bipartisan fashion, and this was not done in a bipartisan fashion. Democrats were not happy about that, and we said that, Hoyer said at Tuesdays press conference, held in the King David Hotel. This is not about Prime Minister Netanyahu or President Obama or President Trump. This is about a relationship between two great democracies, Israel and America. This is about a consensus that Israels security is critical for the security of the United States. This is not about personalities. This is about shared values. And our two countries are partners for peace and security. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands as he leaves the House chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington,, March 3, 2015, after addressing a joint meeting of Congress. (Photo credit: AP/Andrew Harnik) Hoyer, who is currently leading a delegation of US congresspeople to Israel, said he attended Netanyahus speech at the time. I thought he spoke very well. I stood and clapped for things I supported, as others did, he said. But the essence is not personalities. Democrats are very supportive of Israel and that is our focus and continues to be our focus. Hoyer harshly criticized the Iran deal but eventually voted in favor of it. At Tuesdays press conference, he was asked whether support for Israel can really still be called a bipartisan issue, given that Democratic Senators voted against the nomination of David Friedman as US ambassador to Israel, and in light of the fact that three Democrats voted against a bill to cut American funding to the Palestinians if they do not cease paying terrorists and their families. Hoyer replied by pointing to a recent law that imposes additional sanctions on Iran, noting that not a single Democrat opposed the bill. The parties are very united, and the fact is that the parties are speaking with one voice, he said. Like in every parliament, there are differences of opinion between Republicans and Democrats in Congress, he said. But, the veteran legislator added, when you have votes regarding Israels well-being and safety, they are overwhelmingly bipartisan. Currently on his 15th trip to Israel, Hoyer said he and Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is also currently leading a congressional delegation to Israel, agreed to spend some time together to signal that American support for the Jewish state is unwavering and entirely bipartisan. The Democratic delegation, which arrived first, met with Netanyahu on Monday. He is slated to host the Republicans in his Jerusalem office on Wednesday. Both delegations are sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation, a nonprofit affiliated with AIPAC. We have made a point to make sure we have an overlapping time here in Israel together, Republicans and Democrats. Because this is not a partisan issue. This is a bipartisan issue, McCarthy said, stressing that the US has no stronger alliance than that with Israel. Some of us are Democrats and some of us are Republicans. But were not here as Republicans and Democrats. Were here as Americans who support Israels security, its sovereignty and the safety of its people, Hoyer said, standing in front of the 50-some congresspeople of the two delegations. Were here because the United States and Israel are partners for peace and partners for security. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) meeting at his Jerusalem office with a 19-member delegation of Democratic members of Congress led by House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, August 7, 2017. (GPO) While congressional delegations usually are divided among party lines, this time they insisted on some overlap because leaders from both sides of the aisle felt the need to send a message of solidarity with Israel and of solidarity with the people of Israel, a solidarity we know is necessary if we are to defeat those, not only in the Middle East about around the world, who [through] terrorism and violence put at risk our democracies and our way of life, Hoyer said. Most of the 52 congresspeople 33 Republicans and 19 Democrats currently in Israel are freshman lawmakers. They were briefed in Jerusalem and Ramallah and have been touring various sites across the country, including the borders with Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, and received a joint briefing about the Arrow missile defense system at the Palmachim Air Force base.

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August 8, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

Iran’s Zarif hosts Hamas officials – The Times of Israel

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met on Monday with a delegation of officials from the Palestinian terror group Hamas, which has been struggling with the continued erosion of its foreign backing. During the meeting, Zarif reiterated Tehrans support for the Palestinians as principled and unchangeable, according to reports in Iranian state media. The delegation of diaspora-based members of Hamass politburo was visiting Iran to attend the swearing-in ceremony of President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday. Iran was once Hamass key political and financial backer, but ties began to unravel in 2012, largely due to differences over the civil war in Syria. In May, Iran agreed in principle to renew its funding for Hamas, and senior Palestinian officials were said to be traveling to Tehran to repair relations. Irans Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, pictured here in Tehran with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. (photo credit: AP) Last week, Palestinian Authority officials claimed Iran provided aid to Palestinian protesters demonstrating against Israeli security measures at the Temple Mount last month. The aid reportedly included boxes of food and drink, which came with a flyer attached depicting the Dome of the Rock and a quote attributed to Irans Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei reading, With the help of God, Palestine will be freed. Jerusalem is ours. A PA intelligence official told an Israeli newspaper at the time it was clear the Iranian regime was behind the aid packages, and estimated the initiative cost several million shekels. The move angered the PA leadership, with the unnamed official telling the Israel Hayom daily it was a mistake to allow Iran to reach into the West Bank with its tentacles. Mondays meeting in Tehran comes as Qatar, one of the other few foreign backers of Hamas, continues to face massive pressure from its Gulf neighbors to cut ties with the terrorist group. If it does, the result could be disastrous for the Gaza Strip, a territory Hamas has ruled for a decade. Qatar has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in roads, housing and a major hospital in the tiny enclave. Its infrastructure projects are one of the few job-creators in a beleaguered economy. Gaza already suffers from an Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed to prevent the group from importing weaponry economic misery and chronic electricity shortages. For Hamas, Qatars money pumping into the economy is a vital lifeline bolstering its rule. Closer ties between Hamas and Iran are hardly likely to mollify the Gulf states and Egypt. One of the main factors driving the crisis is Qatars close ties to Tehran and fears of expanding Iranian influence further destabilizing the region. Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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August 7, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

Column: US needs to stand up to Iran – The Detroit News

Lena Epstein Published 10:48 p.m. ET Aug. 6, 2017 U.S. policy has essentially boosted Tehrans ability to foment terrorism and threaten American interests, Lena Epstein writes.(Photo: Vahid Salemi / AP) When Sen. Debbie Stabenow joined 41 of her Democratic Senate colleagues to vote for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, more commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, back in 2015, they made a catastrophic foreign policy mistake that has left the U.S, Israel, and the international community at large much less secure. As recently as July 27, their mistake once again became painfully obvious when Iran conducted a successful launch of a long-range missile into space: such a blatant pretext for continued advancement of its ICBM program, youd have to be completely naive not to realize it. But, given the terms of the deal negotiated under President Obama, this type of activity isnt a violation of the nuclear deal. Iran is free to continue testing and perfecting its nuclear delivery systems, just as long as it doesnt enrich uranium or plutonium to dangerous levels. This is not what I consider a comprehensive plan to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of the worlds most prolific state sponsor of terror, the same state that has explicitly called for the annihilation of the state of Israel. As a result of the deal, Iran has experienced a windfall of cash flowing into its coffers. With sanctions eased and foreign assets unfrozen, Iran has had an influx of over $100 billion, which it has used to double down on terrorist activities, and dramatically expand its military budget. The consequences can be felt throughout the already unstable Middle East as Iran provides support to Hamas and Hezbollah, and actively works to further destabilize Syria by sending thousands of its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to support Bashar al-Assads brutal regime that has slaughtered and displaced millions of Syrians. U.S. policy has essentially bolstered Irans ability to carry out these terrorist activities and threaten American interests in the region, including putting American service members, stationed in the Middle East, at risk. This cannot continue. A nuclear-armed Iran poses an existential threat to one of our closest allies, Israel, and puts American security in jeopardy. Both of our U.S. senators here in Michigan Stabenow and Gary Peters voted in favor of this reprehensible deal. Stabenows vote on the Iran deal is one of the key factors that spurred me, an American, a Jewish woman, and a staunch supporter of Israel, to enter the U.S. Senate race and take her on next November. A member of Congress is no friend of Israel if he or she doesnt vote in our close allys best interest when it counts the most when there is a deal on the table that puts the Jewish states very existence in danger. The American people opposed the Iran deal by a 2 to 1 margin, and yet were in this perilous situation because Stabenow pushed it through anyway. We cant keep sending the same people back to Washington and expect different results. We need elected officials who support Israel because its a moral obligation, not because its politically expedient. Lena Epstein is the third-generation owner and general manager of Southfield-based Vesco Oil Corp. Read or Share this story: http://detne.ws/2ufgmsn

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August 7, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

Trump’s Alice-in-Wonderland approach to the Iran deal – Los Angeles Times

Heres an international crisis you can, unusually, put on your calendar ahead of time: In October, President Trump wants to declare Iran in violation of the 2015 agreement to limit its nuclear program a decision that would allow the United States to reimpose tough economic sanctions on anyone trading with Tehran. Its a bad idea. The nuclear deal isnt perfect it doesnt end Irans nuclear research, only limits it for a period of years but its much better than nothing. Before the agreement, Tehran was believed to be less than a year from making nuclear weapons that would have threatened Israel and Saudi Arabia. Thanks to the accord, that doomsday problem has at least been postponed. That hasnt stopped Trump from calling the pact the worst deal ever and ordering aides to supply him with evidence that will allow him to declare it invalid. The most likely moment for his decision will come in October, the next time he is required to notify Congress whether Iran is in compliance. If it was up to me, I would have had them noncompliant 180 days ago, Trump told the Wall Street Journal last month. Next time, he added, I do not expect that they will be compliant. The president didnt offer any substantive reason to declare Iran out of compliance with the deal because there isnt one. His own aides told him last month that, while Iran has tested the edges of the agreement, none of its actions was a material breach, the legal standard that would allow sanctions to snap back. When Trump was warned that he couldnt simply walk away from the deal, he had a bit of a meltdown, an official told the New York Times. He chewed out the secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, who apparently brought him the bad news. And he ordered his staff to begin work on a new study one that will supply him with the excuses he needs. Thats an Alice-in-Wonderland approach to foreign policy: Verdict first, evidence later. And its not likely to work. No matter what the president thinks, the facts will get in the way. U.S. officials say Iran has been carefully upholding its main obligations under the nuclear agreement: reducing its uranium stocks and limiting its enrichment program. And none of the other six countries that negotiated the deal agree with Trump that the accord should be abrogated. The deal is working, and we believe it represents the best option for the international community, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson wrote last month (and his government is friendlier to Trump than most). As a result, if Trump declares in October that Iran is in breach, most of the world including Britain, Germany and France will blame him for the consequences, not Tehran. That will create a major obstacle for the next step in Trumps course, which is to reimpose U.S. economic sanctions on foreign businesses that deal with Iran. (The nuclear deal didnt affect the embargo between the U.S. and Iran, which remains in effect.) If the United States is viewed as responsible for breaking the deal, other countries may refuse to go along with Trumps unilateral sanctions, making them largely toothless. Nobody else wants the deal to fail, said Elizabeth Rosenberg of the Center for New American Security, who worked on sanctions in the Obama administration. If the U.S. is the only one that walks away, who is going to enforce new sanctions? You could easily see European leaders deciding to defend their own companies instead. Last month, the French energy giant Total signed a contract for a $5-billion natural gas project in Iran. If Trump tries to impose sanctions on deals like that, the result wont be merely a confrontation with Iran; it will be a clash with the EU. There is an alternative Trump could try. Its called diplomacy. He could press for stricter enforcement of the nuclear agreement, beginning with the restrictions Iran has placed on international inspectors access to military bases. He could seek stronger international sanctions on Iran for its ballistic missile tests, which arent covered by the nuclear deal. And he could begin negotiations toward a new agreement to maintain the curbs on Irans nuclear program after 2026, when the current limits begin to expire. But the president hasnt pursued those options, even though theyve been offered to him by his own aides. Instead, he appears hellbent on fulfilling a bad campaign promise he should now have the wisdom to abandon. (Thats a prayer more than a hope.) Tearing up the deal wont bring down Irans regime most of Tehrans ruling clerics welcome the enmity of the United States but it will set up a collision between the Trump administration and most of the world, including China, Russia and U.S. allies in Europe. The most likely losers would be the Western alliance, already battered by Trumps disdain, and whatever remains of the United States tattered claim to international leadership. And the most likely winner, oddly enough, would be Vladimir Putins Russia, the beneficiary of yet another wedge between United States and its NATO allies this one driven by Trump alone, without Moscows help. doyle.mcmanus@latimes.com Twitter: @DoyleMcManus Follow the Opinion section on Twitter @latimesopinion or Facebook

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August 6, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed

Israel offers to take Iranian blogger from Turkey – Reuters

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel offered asylum on Sunday to a Turkey-based Iranian blogger who it said faced forcible deportation to Iran, where she would be at risk given her work for an Israeli news site. The Times of Israel has said that Neda Amin, its Persian-language blogger, left Iran in 2014 for Turkey. She has been in a court battle to prevent her repatriation and has sought other countries that might take her in as a refugee, the site said. Hostility between the two countries means that Iranians are generally not admitted to Israel. But following appeals by Israel’s journalist federations, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said he would issue 32-year-old Amin with a special visa. “This is a journalist whose life is in real danger,” Deri said in a statement. “Given the clear humanitarian circumstances, I authorized her entry without delay.” Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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August 6, 2017   Posted in: Iran  Comments Closed


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