Iran Deploys Afghan Shiite Force to Spread Its Control in Southern Syria - Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
Ali Reza Tavassoli, the Afghan Shiite commander of the "Fatimiyoun Brigade" in Syria and one of the most important pro-Tehran militia leaders, was killed in Dera'a on Feb. 28.
Tavassoli was appointed by Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the "Quds Force," part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
The brigade draws its members from Persian-speaking, Shiite Afghani refugees living in Iran belonging to the Hazara people, Afghanistan's third largest ethnic group.
This is the first mention of Iranian-trained, -armed and -sponsored regular Afghan units fighting in Syria.
The writer was formerly Foreign Policy Advisor to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Deputy Head for Assessment of Israeli Military Intelligence.
See also Iran's Top Afghani Mercenary Fighting for Assad Killed in Syria (Ya Libnan-Lebanon)
No Decline in Democratic Support for Israel - Mark Mellman (The Hill)
A new Gallup poll found 70% of Americans holding a favorable view of Israel, reflecting an upward trend. In 1989, 45% expressed favorable views of the Jewish state.
Despite our pronounced tendency toward evenhandedness in conflicts that don't directly involve us, 62% express greater sympathies for Israel, while just 16% side with the Palestinians.
Democrats are no less supportive of Israel than they were in the 1970s. The gap between the parties that exists today is completely a function of increased Republican support and not by any decline in Democratic support.
Support for Israel has remained more or less constant over nearly four decades because the strength of the relationship is based on the enduring commitment to Israel deeply etched in the American public mind.
The relationship is not predicated on a lobby, nor will it be run off the rails by disagreements among leaders, even on vital issues. In our democracy, public opinion counts.
The writer is president of The Mellman Group and has worked for Democratic candidates and causes since 1982.
The Underpinnings of U.S. Support for Israel - Toby Greene interviews Jonathan Rynhold (BICOM)
America was founded by Puritans, who believed that one had to read the Bible, and so Hebrew was compulsory at Harvard and Yale.
Even secular Americans and non-Protestant Americans are sympathetic to Israel because they are so familiar with the idea of the Jewish people returning to their homeland. So even if it's no longer religiously based, it is culturally based.
Americans say: "We are a country of pioneers, of immigrants, who fled Europe from religious persecution and set up a democracy - so are the Israelis."
Increasingly over the last five to ten years, the American public reached a position where a majority believe that if it's a choice between using force to prevent Iran going nuclear and letting Iran go nuclear, one must use force.
But the public also supports the president's effort to try and use diplomacy and at the moment they extend him a certain amount of credit to see whether he can achieve that.
Dr. Jonathan Rynhold is director of the Argov Center for the Study of Israel and the Jewish People and a senior researcher at the BESA Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University.
Executions Top Long UN List of Human Rights Concerns in Iran - Tom Miles (Reuters)
Iran had a "deeply troubling" number of executions last year and did not keep a promise to protect ethnic and religious minorities, the UN said on Tuesday in its annual report on Tehran's human rights record.
Iran executed at least 500 people between January and November 2014 and possibly many more, the report said. Most victims did not get a fair trial.
"The Secretary-General remains deeply troubled by the continuing large number of executions, including of political prisoners and juveniles," the report said.
Iran had not kept President Hassan Rouhani's promise to "extend protection to all religious groups and to amend legislation that discriminates against minority groups."
Suspects were tortured, held for months in solitary confinement, and risked the death penalty for crimes such as "corruption on earth" and "enmity against God."
EU Seeks to Bolster Middle East Peace Quartet via Arab Involvement - Luke Baker and Adrian Croft (Reuters)
High-level discussions are underway to more closely involve Arab states in the work of the Middle East Quartet and reinvigorate the group that has been seeking to mediate in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since 2002.
The idea is to have more frequent top-level meetings with at least Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, and perhaps the UAE or Qatar, according to senior diplomats based in the Middle East and Europe.
"There is an understanding that peace between Israelis and Palestinians must be embedded in a broader regional concept and for that you need neighboring Arab countries," said a European diplomat.
News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
- In Congress, Netanyahu Faults "Bad Deal" on Iran Nuclear Program - Peter Baker
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel took the rostrum in the House of Representatives on Tuesday to tell a joint meeting of Congress that instead of stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, the "bad deal" being negotiated with Iran "would all but guarantee" that it does, in turn setting off a regional arms race. "This deal won't be a farewell to arms," Netanyahu told the lawmakers, who responded with a succession of standing ovations. "It would be a farewell to arms control."
(New York Times)
See also Netanyahu Speech Raises Burden for Obama on Iran Nuclear Talks - Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Michael D. Shear
President Obama's task of selling a potential nuclear agreement with Iran to a skeptical Congress became far harder on Tuesday after an impassioned speech by Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel to lawmakers already nervous about the deal. "The president has a very heavy burden of persuasion here," said former Rep. Lee H. Hamilton, a Democrat and onetime chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who now directs Indiana University's Center on Congress. "That task is made much more difficult when a powerful case is stated against the emerging deal, as the prime minister has done." (New York Times)
See also below Observations - Netanyahu to Congress: The Alternative to This Bad Iranian Deal Is a Much Better Deal (Prime Minister's Office)
- Iran Rejects Obama's Demand for 10-Year Nuclear Work Halt - Arshad Mohammed
Iran on Tuesday rejected as "unacceptable" a demand by President Obama that Tehran freeze its sensitive nuclear activities for at least 10 years, the Fars news agency reported. "Iran will not accept excessive and illogical demands," Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said. "Obama's stance...is expressed in unacceptable and threatening phrases." (Reuters)
- U.S. Fears Iran Military Influence Growing in Iraq - Jim Michaels
Iran's military is playing a significant role in helping Iraq drive the Islamic State from Tikrit, raising U.S. concerns about growing Iranian influence in Iraq. Iran is providing artillery and other support, according to a senior U.S. military official, but Iraq did not ask for U.S. airstrikes to support the Tikrit operation.
If marauding Shiite militias enter Tikrit, a Sunni stronghold, they could drive Sunnis into the hands of the Islamic State, since Sunni leaders oppose the militias. (USA Today)
See also Iranian Quds Force Commander Is in Iraq for Tikrit Offensive - Paul McLeary
Iranian Quds Force commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani is again in Iraq, directing Shia militias in their fight against IS militants in Tikrit. (Defense News)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
- Netanyahu's Devastating Indictment of "a Very Bad Deal" with Iran - David Horovitz
Netanyahu's speech explained the profound misjudgment of Iran - its ideology, its goals, and the immense danger it constitutes to Israel, the region, the U.S., and the world - that lies at the heart of the "very bad deal" emerging from the negotiations. Israelis broadly oppose the deal they see taking shape.
The prime minister is convinced that Iran is determined to advance its benighted ideology across the region and beyond. He is convinced that the deal will immunize the ayatollahs from any prospect of revolution from within or effective challenge from without. The deal "doesn't block Iran's path to the bomb," he warned. "It paves Iran's path to the bomb."
And the prime minister is convinced that the Islamist regime in Tehran is bent on the destruction of Israel.
The prime minister did offer an alternative. He urged the P5+1 to recalibrate, to reconsider, and then to push for a better deal. (Times of Israel)
- Netanyahu's Speech: Premature Lifting of Sanctions Would Encourage Iranian Aggression - Editorial
Saying Prime Minister Netanyahu's address to Congress was well-received would be an understatement. The lawmakers who decided not to attend were hardly missed. U.S. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, who has not been well, made a special effort to attend.
Netanyahu did not simply trash the nuclear deal with Iran and leave no room for negotiations. He held onto the ideal of a peaceful resolution of the conflict via a negotiated deal with Iran. Netanyahu proposed not lifting sanctions until the Iranians stop their aggression.
No country more than Israel has a stake in seeing a peaceful resolution of the conflict with Iran, because Israel would suffer if the situation deteriorates into a military conflagration.
- PA Slams Kerry for Supporting Israel at UN - Khaled Abu Toameh
The Palestinian Authority on Tuesday criticized U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for defending Israel at the UN Human Rights Council. On Monday, Kerry accused the Council of being obsessed by allegations of Israeli abuses and said the U.S. would defend Israel against efforts to isolate it. (Jerusalem Post)
- Obama Needs to Provide Real Answers to Netanyahu's Arguments - Editorial
The concerns about a prospective nuclear agreement with Iran raised by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a speech to Congress on Tuesday deserve a serious response from the Obama administration - one it has yet to provide. His speech singled out "two major concessions": the acceptance of a large Iranian nuclear infrastructure, and a time limit on any restrictions, so that in as little as a decade Iran would be free to expand its production of nuclear materials.
He asserted that the Iranian regime, engaged in a "march of conquest, subjugation and terror," could not be expected to change during the decade-long term of an agreement. He proposed that controls on the nuclear program should be maintained "for as long as Iran continues its aggression in the region and in the world."
Rather than continuing its political attacks on Netanyahu, the administration ought to explain why the deal it is contemplating is justified - or reconsider it.
See also Any Deal Will Have to Address the Concerns Netanyahu Voiced - David Ignatius
What Netanyahu did Tuesday was raise the bar for Obama. Any deal that the administration signs will have to address the concerns Netanyahu voiced. Given what's at stake in the Middle East, that's probably a good thing. As administration officials said at the outset of negotiations, no deal is better than a bad one. The Israeli prime minister's speech served to sharpen the focus on what a good deal would look like.
- Netanyahu's Challenge:
The Israeli Prime Minister Takes Apart the Looming Iran Deal - Editorial
In his speech to Congress Tuesday, Mr. Netanyahu was both bipartisan and gracious to Mr. Obama for all he "has done for Israel," citing examples previously not publicly known. But the power of the speech was its systematic case against the looming nuclear deal. Point by point, he dismantled the emerging details and assumptions of what he called a "very bad deal." The heart of his critique concerned the nature of the Iranian regime as a terror sponsor of long-standing that has threatened to "annihilate" Israel and is bent on regional domination.
(Wall Street Journal)
- Iranian Nukes: The Problem from Hell - Michael Hayden
The U.S. is fast closing in on a nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, seeing the handwriting on the wall, has hurried to Washington to make an eleventh-hour appeal to Congress.
Netanyahu's haste is understandable. The draft agreement represents what has fairly been described as massive and irreversible concessions to Iran.
This agreement will legitimate Iran as a nuclear state. The agreement's impact on future counterproliferation efforts will be profound as a struggling, isolated regional power has just challenged the world and clearly won. There's a lot not to like here, and it will be pretty easy to shoot holes in the agreement. Congress should certainly be offered the chance. Codifying a deal of this magnitude on executive prerogative alone would be unconscionable.
And what of the talk of an overall American-Iranian rapprochement once the nuclear issue is behind us? The president himself has spoken of a better-behaving Iran as a "very successful regional power" and of an "equilibrium" between Tehran and the Sunni states of the region. The New York Times' David Brooks even suggests that the president's big plan is that "Iran would re-emerge as America's natural partner in the region."
I will be skeptical too that, after an agreement is reached, Iran won't be the duplicitous, autocratic, terrorist-backing, Hizbullah-supporting, Hamas-funding, region-destabilizing, hegemony-seeking theocracy that it is today.
But if you reject this, then what are the options? There was a reason we thought this was the problem from hell while I was in government. It still is.
Gen. Michael V. Hayden is a former director of the CIA and the National Security Agency.
- When Iran Goes Nuclear - R. James Woolsey and Peter Vincent Pry
The Israelis are right - we should awaken to the fact that the coming of a nuclear Iran holds special dangers and requires particularly urgent attention.
There is special danger in the Shiite doctrine held by many Iranians, including some of Iran's national leaders: The return of the hidden Imam will bring the war that ends the world and creates heavenly bliss for believers. As America's dean of Mideast studies, Bernard Lewis, puts it: During the Cold War, Mutual Assured Destruction was a deterrent; today it is an inducement.
Iran works very closely with North Korea on its nuclear and missile programs. Consequently, it has the ballistic missile capacity to launch weapons of substantial size and intercontinental range against us, or to orbit satellites above us. So troubling is this capability - in the hands of either Iran or North Korea - that nine years ago, based on the ability of North Korea's Taepodong missile to carry a nuclear warhead to intercontinental range, the current secretary of defense, Ashton Carter, and a prominent former secretary, William Perry, urged in a 2006 op-ed a pre-emptive strike against the then-new North Korean long-range missiles on their launch pads.
R. James Woolsey is a former director of central intelligence and is chairman of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Peter Vincent Pry is executive director of the EMP Task Force on National and Homeland Security.
- President Obama, Listen to Netanyahu on Iran - Faisal J. Abbas
One must admit, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did get it right when it came to dealing with Iran.
The Israeli PM managed to hit the nail right on the head when he said that Middle Eastern countries are collapsing and that "terror organizations, mostly backed by Iran, are filling in the vacuum." In just a few words, Mr. Netanyahu managed to accurately summarize a clear and present danger, not just to Israel, but to other U.S. allies in the region.
Nobody disagrees that ridding Iran of its nuclear ambitions is paramount. However, the real Iranian threat is not just the regime's nuclear ambitions, but its expansionist approach and state-sponsored terrorism activities which are still ongoing. (Al-Arabiya)
- Israel Speaks for the Sunnis - Nicholas M. Gallagher
An Israeli prime minister came to Washington not just as the voice of Israel, but also of much of the Sunni Arab world. Netanyahu's speech was a crystallization of the policy that every Sunni, non-Iran-dominated capital holds today. His analysis of Iran's recent progress in its hegemonic quest, his case that the oil crash gives the West fresh leverage when combined with sanctions, and his warning that this agreement would lead to a regional nuclear arms race - the King of Saudi Arabia would have said much the same.
Both Israel and the Sunni Arab states have become so alarmed by Iranian advances and the receding American security guarantees that they have made common cause. Both want Iran's nuclear and conventional ambitions stopped. (American Interest)
- The Coming Deal between the U.S. and Iran Deserves Close Scrutiny - Amitai Etzioni
Any deal that is negotiated between a party that is known for its intransigence and adamant beliefs, and an administration that is known for its tendency to yield ground and is desperately keen to avoid another war in the Middle East, deserves close scrutiny. One should recall that the Obama administration has already ignored several developments in which Iran ran through red lines set by the U.S. without facing the threatened consequences.
The deal assumes that U.S. intelligence services (and the international inspectors) will be able to determine whether Iran is abiding by its commitment to limit its development of nuclear capabilities so that it would remain about a year away from assembling a nuclear weapon. Does the record - from Pearl Harbor to the Yom Kippur War, from the revolution in Iran that brought the current regime to power to the outbreak of the Arab Spring in Tunisia - suggest that this is a valid assumption? The writer is professor of international relations at George Washington University.
Netanyahu to Congress: The Alternative to This Bad Iranian Deal Is a Much Better Deal (Prime Minister's Office)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the U.S. Congress on Tuesday:
- Iran's regime is not merely a Jewish problem, any more than the Nazi regime was merely a Jewish problem. The 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis were but a fraction of the 60 million people killed in World War II. So, too, Iran's regime poses a grave threat, not only to Israel, but also the peace of the entire world.
- The Iranian regime's founder, Ayatollah Khomeini, exhorted his followers to "export the revolution throughout the world." Iran's goons in Gaza, its lackeys in Lebanon, its Revolutionary Guards on the Golan Heights are clutching Israel with three tentacles of terror. Backed by Iran, Assad is slaughtering Syrians. Backed by Iran, Shiite militias are rampaging through Iraq. We must all stand together to stop Iran's march of conquest, subjugation and terror.
- The greatest danger facing our world is the marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons. If the deal now being negotiated is accepted by Iran, that deal will not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. It would all but guarantee that Iran gets those weapons, lots of them.
- Iran has defied international inspectors on at least three separate occasions - in 2005, 2006, and 2010. Iran broke the locks, shut off the cameras. Iran was caught operating secret nuclear facilities in Natanz and Qom that inspectors didn't even know existed.
Iran could be hiding nuclear facilities that we don't know about, and has proven time and again that it cannot be trusted.
- And if Iran's intercontinental ballistic missile program is not part of the deal, Iran could have the means to deliver its nuclear arsenal to the far-reaching corners of the Earth, including to every part of the United States.
- I don't believe that Iran's radical regime will change for the better after this deal. This deal would only whet Iran's appetite for more. Would Iran be less aggressive when sanctions are removed and its economy is stronger? Would Iran fund less terrorism when it has mountains of cash with which to fund more terrorism?
- The world should demand that Iran do three things: First, stop its aggression against its neighbors in the Middle East. Second, stop supporting terrorism around the world. And third, stop threatening to annihilate my country, Israel, the one and only Jewish state.
- If the world powers are not prepared to insist that Iran change its behavior before a deal is signed, at the very least they should insist that Iran change its behavior before a deal expires. If Iran doesn't change its behavior, the restrictions should not be lifted. If Iran wants to be treated like a normal country, let it act like a normal country.
- Iran's nuclear program can be rolled back well beyond the current proposal by insisting on a better deal and keeping up the pressure on a very vulnerable regime, especially given the recent collapse in the price of oil. If Iran threatens to walk away from the table - and this often happens in a Persian bazaar - call their bluff. They'll be back, because they need the deal a lot more than you do.
- May Israel and America always stand together, strong and resolute. May we neither fear nor dread the challenges ahead. May God bless the State of Israel and may God bless the United States of America. Thank you. You're wonderful. Thank you, America.
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