First Iran Flight Arrives in Rebel-Held Yemeni Capital - Ahmed Al-Haj (AP-Daily Star-Lebanon)
The first direct flight from Iran to the rebel-held Yemeni capital, Sanaa, arrived on Sunday.
Shiite Houthi rebels signed an agreement with Iranian authorities in Tehran Saturday to establish 14 direct flights per week between the two countries.
Poll: 84 Percent of Americans View Iran Unfavorably - Andrew Dugan (Gallup)
84% of Americans view Iran unfavorably, while only 11% have a favorable view of the country, according to Gallup's World Affairs poll, conducted Feb. 8-11.
77% say the development of nuclear weapons by Iran is a "critical threat."
Black Pastors Urge Congressional Black Caucus Not to Skip Netanyahu Speech - Valerie Richardson (Washington Times)
The message from a dozen prominent black pastors this week to the Congressional Black Caucus was loud and clear: Don't skip out on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyuhu's speech.
"The thing to me that makes no sense is why the Congressional Black Caucus has teamed up with this current administration against Israel," said Pastor Dexter D. Sanders of the Rock Center for Transformation in Orlando, Florida.
"You have gone against Israel when you decide to protest the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, from coming and speaking on behalf of the nation of Israel," Sanders said. "That is a slap in the face to the people of Israel, and...it's also a slap in the face of all Bible-believing African-American people in this country."
The Christian pastors held a press conference Thursday at the National Press Club, organized by the Center for Urban Renewal and Education.
Why I Will Attend Netanyahu's Speech - Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) (Concord Monitor-NH)
America's friendship with the State of Israel transcends the manner in which the invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu to speak was extended. Our friendship is bigger and stronger than any individual leaders or their personal relationships.
Our unity is firmly anchored in shared values and shared interests. The prime minister of Israel, whoever he or she is, should always be received respectfully in Washington.
For Israel, a nuclear Iran would constitute an existential threat. So when the Israeli prime minister says he is coming to Washington to speak up "for the very survival of Israel," it is my view that members of Congress have a responsibility to hear him out, regardless of whether or not we ultimately agree with his recommended course of action.
Attending the speech will be the easy part. Attending to the challenge of Iran will be a far greater test of our mutual trust and wisdom.
Hamas "Working to Double Its Arsenal of Rockets for Next War with Israel" (Jerusalem Post)
Marwan Issa, a senior Hamas commander, said Monday that while his organization has no interest in fighting Israel at the moment, the Islamist group wants to double its arsenal of rockets in anticipation of the next round of fighting.
White House Denies Obama Threatened to Down Israeli Planes (Times of Israel)
The White House Sunday denied a report in the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida Saturday that claimed President Obama had threatened to shoot down Israeli jets heading to attack Iranian nuclear sites in 2014.
Iran Cleric Vows to "Raise the Flag of Islam over the White House" (Jerusalem Post)
Senior Iranian cleric Ali Shirazi vowed on Friday that "we will raise the flag of Islam over the White House" in response to the killing of six Hizbullah terrorists along with six Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) operatives in the Golan Heights last month.
According to foreign media, Israeli attack helicopters killed the men, who were setting up a terrorism base in the Syrian Golan and plotting attacks against Israel.
U.S.-Backed Syrian Rebel Group Dissolves Itself after Losses - Oliver Holmes (Reuters)
Hazzm, one of the main Western-backed rebel groups in Syria, announced on Sunday that it had dissolved itself and joined the Shamiyah Front, an alliance of Islamist brigades in Aleppo.
On Saturday, the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda's official Syrian wing, drove Hazzm out of a strategic base in Aleppo province and killed around 30 of its fighters.
Italian Lawmakers Urge Recognition of Palestinian State (Reuters)
Italy's Chamber of Deputies voted by 300 to 45 on Friday
to pass a non-binding resolution presented by Prime Minister Renzi's Democratic Party (PD) "to promote the recognition of Palestine as a democratic state."
Italian lawmakers did not back a stronger motion that would have "fully and formally recognized the Palestinian State."
Iraqi Kurdish Oil Tanker Unloads in Israel - David Sheppard (Reuters)
An oil tanker from Iraqi Kurdistan carrying 1 million barrels of crude that was blocked for months from unloading in Texas by a Baghdad legal challenge has sailed back to the Mediterranean and delivered its cargo to Israel, according to trading sources.
Several oil tankers carrying Iraqi Kurdistan crude from Turkey's port of Ceyhan have unloaded at Israeli ports.
5 Things You Need to Know about the U.S.-Israel Relationship Under President Obama - Bernadette Meehan (U.S. National Security Council)
American engagement with Israel has grown and strengthened to an unprecedented degree.
News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
- Kerry Says Netanyahu Is Welcome to Speak in U.S. - Helene Cooper and Michael R. Gordon
Secretary of State John Kerry said on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel was welcome to speak in the U.S. Kerry spoke by phone with Netanyahu on Saturday, the State Department said. The discussion focused on the current state of the Iran talks, Netanyahu's upcoming visit to Washington and Kerry's concern about the financial plight of the Palestinian Authority.
President Obama has maintained that a nuclear deal with Iran can help assure Israeli security, particularly given that neither the U.S. nor its European allies in the Iran negotiations are interested in military action to halt Tehran's nuclear ambitions.
(New York Times)
- Senators Challenge Obama with New Iran Bill - Josh Rogin
A bipartisan group of senators introduced new legislation Friday to mandate congressional review of any nuclear deal the Obama administration strikes with Iran. The "Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015" would require President Obama to submit any nuclear deal with Iran to Congress for a 60-day review period, during which the administration would have to wait on implementing most parts of the deal. During that time, Congress would have the opportunity to vote on the deal, although there is no explicit requirement that it do so.
The new bill was finalized after three weeks of intense negotiations between Senate Foreign Relations Committee chiefs Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). "If a nuclear deal is reached, Congress will have an opportunity to review the agreement and, more importantly, ensure its compliance after it goes into effect. This legislation establishes that vital review and oversight process," Menendez told me.
Importantly, the new Corker-Menendez bill would require that the administration share with Congress all the details of any nuclear deal with Iran and report on its verification.
"I believe Congress should weigh in on the content of the deal given the centrality of the congressional sanctions to the entire negotiation and the significant security interests involved," Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told me.
See also Obama to Veto Bill Letting Congress Weigh In on Iran Deal - Julia Edwards
President Obama would veto a bill recently introduced in the U.S. Senate allowing Congress to weigh in on any deal the U.S. and other negotiating countries reach with Iran on its nuclear capabilities, the White House said on Saturday.
- Statement on White House Veto Threat Against Bipartisan Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, made the following statement regarding the White House's threat of a presidential veto against his bipartisan bill requiring congressional review of any comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran.
"It is disappointing that the president feels he is the only one who speaks for the citizens of our country," said Corker. "Congress put these sanctions in place and helped bring Iran to the table with the administration working against the effort the whole way. As a result, Congress should decide whether a final nuclear deal with Iran is appropriate enough to have the congressionally-mandated sanctions removed."
The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act was introduced by Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), and Angus King (I-Maine). (Senate Foreign Relations Committee)
See also Full Text of Proposed Bill (Senate Foreign Relations Committee)
- U.S. Sets Out "Bottom Lines" for Iran Nuclear Deal
The U.S. set out what it called its "bottom lines" to reach a deal with Iran to rein in its nuclear program, ahead of new talks next week.
A senior U.S. official stressed, "We will only accept an agreement that cuts off the different pathways to the fissile material that Iran needs for a nuclear weapon." While U.S. officials cautioned that there were no guarantees a deal would be reached, they said "the negotiations have advanced substantially, gaps have narrowed."
The U.S. official spelled out where Washington was standing firm: Iran should not be allowed to develop weapons-grade plutonium at its Arak reactor. Iran should not use its Fordo nuclear plant to enrich uranium. Any deal must ensure that it would take Iran a year to gather enough fissile material to make a bomb. Iran would "reduce significantly" its current number of operating centrifuges and its domestic stockpile.
Iran must agree to unprecedented inspections of both nuclear and production facilities as well as uranium mines and mills, and suspect sites. Relief from international sanctions will be "phased in over a period of time." (AFP)
- Pro-Israel Group Publicly Breaks with White House over Iran - Jay Solomon and
Carol E. Lee
The leadership of the most powerful pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. publicly broke Sunday from the White House over the issue of Iran policy during the first of a three-day policy conference in Washington attended by 16,000 of its members. Leaders of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, outlined a strategy moving forward of working through Congress to disrupt any nuclear agreement with Tehran that is deemed too weak in denying the country a nuclear weapons capability. This would be achieved, they said, both by seeking to impose new sanctions on Iran and to block the White House's ability to lift standing U.S. sanctions, which would be required as part of any comprehensive agreement.
AIPAC leaders believe any final agreement with Iran must involve the complete dismantling of Iran's nuclear infrastructure, something Obama administration officials have said is no longer on the negotiating table.
AIPAC also is seeking to impose new sanctions on Iran if there is no agreement by a late March deadline and to legislate an up-or-down vote in Congress. The White House is opposing both legislative actions.
Howard Kohr, AIPAC's executive director, said, "We shouldn't be afraid of Iran leaving the table." He also aggressively pushed back against the White House's argument in recent months that no deal with Iran would lead to war. "That's a false choice...that's meant to silence the critics," Kohr said. "And we won't be silenced." (Wall Street Journal)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Prime Minister Netanyahu Visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem before Flying to Washington
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Saturday evening before his departure for the U.S. He said,
"On the eve of my trip to the U.S., I came here to the Western Wall. I would like to take this opportunity to say that I respect U.S. President Barack Obama. I believe in the strength of the relationship between Israel and the U.S. and in their strength to overcome differences of opinion, those that have been and those that will yet be."
"As Prime Minister of Israel, it is my obligation to see to the security of Israel; therefore, we strongly oppose the agreement being formulated with Iran and the major powers, which could endanger our very existence. In the face of this danger we must unite and also explain the dangers stemming from this agreement, to Israel, to the region and to the world." (Prime Minister's Office)
- Israeli Official: Congress Must Be Made Aware of Iran Deal Concessions - Barak Ravid
A senior official on the plane carrying Prime Minister Netanyahu to Washington on Sunday said, "We are knowledgeable of many details from the agreement being put together, details that we feel Congress members are unaware of," he said. "The deal that is currently taking shape will leave Iran with the abilities to produce a nuclear weapon."
"It is untrue that Netanyahu is against any diplomatic deal with the Iranians. We want to warn Congress against far-flung concessions in the deal that is taking shape, since Congress is the last barrier before a bad deal." (Ha'aretz)
- Congress Should Hear Out Netanyahu - Editorial
When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses Congress on Tuesday about the dangers posed by Iran's nuclear program, he will have to overcome the deafening political static created by the circumstances of his invitation.
But Netanyahu deserves a respectful hearing. Like other nations in the region, Israel has understandable concerns about a nuclear-armed Iran. It is not only worried about a doomsday scenario in which Iran - whose anti-Zionist rhetoric is legendary - launches an attack on Tel Aviv; it also worries that an Iranian nuclear weapon would encourage countries such as Saudi Arabia to follow suit.
Hearing out Netanyahu doesn't mean abdicating to Israel this country's decision about whether it's possible to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran without making a fateful decision to use military force.
If and when an agreement is reached, Congress should scrutinize it in all of its complexity. It may be right to be worried - or it may discover that the deal makes sense even if it falls short of what Israel would prefer. (Los Angeles Times)
- Iran on the Nuclear Edge: U.S. Walking into New Era of Nuclear Proliferation with Eyes Wide Shut - Editorial
The framework of a nuclear deal with Iran has been emerging thanks to Administration leaks to friendly journalists. The leaks suggest the U.S. has already given away so much that any deal on current terms will put Iran on the cusp of nuclear-power status.
Kerry says that any deal will have intrusive inspections, but a report last year from the Pentagon's Defense Science Board noted: "At low levels associated with small or nascent [nuclear] programs, key observables are easily masked." This is significant since the Administration insists that any deal will give the U.S. at least one year to detect and stop an Iranian "breakout" effort to build a bomb.
Given how bad this deal is shaping up to be, it's not surprising that U.S. allies are speaking out against it. Saudi Arabia has made clear that it might acquire nuclear capabilities in response - precisely the kind of proliferation Obama has vowed to prevent. Many in Congress look at all of this public evidence and understandably fear that the U.S. is walking into a new era of nuclear proliferation with eyes wide shut.
(Wall Street Journal)
- For Netanyahu and Israel, an Existential Moment - Mortimer B. Zuckerman
A man fearing for his life calls 911. He is roundly rebuked, told to call again because he didn't say "please" nicely. This is roughly where we are in the serial denunciation of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for daring to speak to a joint session of Congress about the mortal threat he sees looming for his country. Isn't a prime minister right to be very concerned about a sworn enemy dedicated, given half a chance, to destroying the fabric of the nation he has a sacred duty to protect? Survival, not protocol, is the issue of the hour.
"The U.S. has gone a long way" toward accepting Iran's position on nuclear negotiations, David Albright, head of the Institute for Science and International Security, told the Wall Street Journal. The agreement, if indeed it is signed, would allow Iran to become a threshold nuclear state and with the consent of the major powers. No wonder the Israelis are alarmed to see the U.S. come so far from its promises that Iran would never be allowed a bomb.
The Obama administration has described Iran as the greatest threat to world peace and has made many promises over the last six years on Iran, not to mention pledges to Israel, which stands to lose the most. Unfortunately, too many of these statements have taken on a hollow ring, leaving Netanyahu alone to make his country's case to Congress and, if regretfully necessary, to defend it against Iran.
- The Strategic Genius of Iran's Supreme Leader - Ray Takeyh
After years of defiance, Khamenei seems to appreciate that his most advantageous path to nuclear arms is through an agreement. To continue to build up his atomic infrastructure without the protective umbrella of an agreement exposes Iran to economic sanctions and the possibility of military retribution.
As Khamenei held firm, however, the great powers grew wobbly. With the advent of the Joint Plan of Action in November 2013, Washington conceded to Iran's enrichment at home and agreed that eventually that enrichment capacity could be industrialized. The most important concession that Khamenei's negotiators have won is the idea of a sunset clause. Upon the expiration of that clause, there would be no legal limits on Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Moreover, once a deal is transacted, the most essential sanctions against Iran will evaporate. It is unlikely that Europeans, much less China or Russia, would agree to their reconstitution should Iran be caught cheating.
Iran's achievements today are a tribute to the genius of Khamenei. He has routinely entered negotiations with the weakest hand and emerged in the strongest position.
The writer is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
- Netanyahu's Speech to Congress Comes at Right Time, Right Place - Yuli Edelstein
Imagine for a moment that your neighbor down the street was engaged in some basement science that could level your house and even kill you, if he so desired. Your best friend, who happens to live some distance away, out of harm's reach, can end the threat to your life and property but is now trying to legalize your neighbor's dangerous work. What would you do?
Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech to Congress has been preceded by so much talk of protocol and partisanship that we seem to have lost the forest for the trees. For more than a decade, Iran has been illicitly developing nuclear capabilities and thumbing its nose at efforts to monitor its progress in accordance with international guidelines. During that period, Iran has worked assiduously to expand its influence throughout the Middle East. Iranian money, arms and training assistance have enabled Hizbullah and Hamas to rank alongside al-Qaeda and Islamic State as the world's most dangerous terrorist organizations.
We have a historic opportunity to dismantle Iran's nuclear program; unfortunately, the agreement taking shape falls short of what we can achieve. This agreement would reward Iran for defying international norms and encourage other countries to do the same.
My own conversations with senior members of Congress in recent weeks have confirmed that they deeply understand and appreciate our concerns and remain committed to Israel's security. The speech on Tuesday is about whether we, as free people committed to democratic ideals, are still capable of standing together and resisting the temptation to compromise and appease our foes. The writer is the speaker of Israel's parliament, the Knesset.
(Los Angeles Times)
- Spat Over Netanyahu's Speech Doesn't Change U.S.-Israel Relations - Jeff Jacoby
Around 30 Democrats, encouraged by the White House, intend to skip Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's forthcoming speech to a joint session of Congress in a show of pique over the supposed affront to President Obama. Reasonable people can debate whether Netanyahu is really guilty of a breach of protocol in not seeking Obama's approval first - or if that is merely a pretext for a president who has long detested Netanyahu, whose warnings about the Iranian threat the administration wants to undercut.
But however fraught the relationship between Bibi and Barack, the rapport between their nations - the U.S.-Israel bond - remains as deep-rooted and durable as ever. Despite weeks of clamor over Netanyahu's visit, Gallup's newest survey of American attitudes toward Israel found that 70% of Americans have a favorable opinion of the Jewish state.
Most Americans feel a visceral attachment to Israel and what it represents, irrespective of their views about any particular Israeli politician. It works the other way, too: Israelis are intensely pro-American.
Only at a superficial level is this about partisan or political loyalties. Immensely more important is the lethal threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. Even without the bomb, Iran is the world's most dangerous regime. (Boston Globe)
- The World Moves toward a Bad Deal - Dore Gold
According to the latest report of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran's stock of low-enriched uranium continues to grow - it is now at 14,174 kg. The roughly 8,000 kg. of that amount that are already in a gaseous form and can be injected into centrifuges for further enrichment are sufficient for at least seven atomic bombs. The IAEA also refers to "undisclosed nuclear-related activities" that include "the development of a nuclear payload for a missile." According to the latest IAEA report, Iran was still hiding its military program.
When the interim agreement was reached with Iran in 2013, the White House put out a "fact sheet" stating that the U.S. understood that Iran would have to address the military dimensions of its nuclear program. But that did not happen. (Israel Hayom)
A Bad Agreement with Iran Will Undermine Middle East Stability - Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
- The signing of an agreement that affords Iran a threshold capability to produce nuclear weapons will probably mean the continuation of Iran's conquest of strategic locations in the Arab domain. Iran already holds sway over four Arab states: Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.
- Within the talks themselves, Iran has been able to create a separation between the nuclear issue and its ongoing, untrammeled buildup of long-range missiles that can carry a nuclear warhead, support for terror, subversion and aid to Islamic groups that oppose the Arab regimes, subversive activity in South America, and continued gross human rights violations.
- Iran regards itself as spearheading a redress of historical injustices that relegated the Shiites to a minor status in the Arab and Islamic world. As it works to encircle Israel, Iran is also working to encircle the Arab and Sunni world and to hit it in its soft underbelly, namely, the Shiite populations that exist in large and strategic concentrations in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
- The big winner of the international coalition's war on Islamic State is Iran. The war is not only weakening a bitter enemy of Shiite Iran, but also strengthening Iran's main ally in the region - Syria, as well as Hizbullah.
- The agreement will also likely have negative repercussions for the possibility of advancing a diplomatic process with the Palestinians. Iran, which is staunchly against any diplomatic process, will step up its support for the Palestinian terror organizations, particularly Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Moreover, Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei increasingly calls to arm the Palestinians in the West Bank.
- The Iranian regime will not change in nature. The subversion outside of Iran and the push to expand its influence will continue and even intensify. While some in the West speculate that the regime will moderate over time, it is just as likely that the Revolutionary Guards will keep gaining power and complete their takeover of the Iranian Revolution.
IDF Lt.-Col. (ret.) Michael (Mickey) Segall, an expert on strategic issues with a focus on Iran, terrorism, and the Middle East, is a senior analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and at Foresight Prudence.
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