January 19, 2019

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01/14 Links Pt1: Israeli strike in Syria targeted Hezbollah, Iranian commanders; Is UNRWA’s hereditary refugee status for Palestinians unique; A tale of two speeches

http://elderofziyon.blogspot.com/2019/01/0114-links-pt1-israeli-strike-in-syria.html

From Ian:


‘Israeli strike targeted Iranian, Hezbollah commanders’
The Israeli strike on Iranian warehouses in Damascus on Friday was timed to target a meeting of Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders who were meeting with Syrian military leaders, the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jadira reported Monday.

Al-Jadira quoted sources in the Revolutionary Guards who said the Syrian, Iranian, and Hezbollah commanders had convened to discuss a joint Russian-Turkish plan to attack the al-Qaida-affiliated jihadist Nusra Front group in Idlib in northwestern Syria.

The sources told the Kuwaiti paper that the strike came moments after the meeting adjourned and badly wounded two Revolutionary Guard commanders and a number of Hezbollah and Syrian military personnel.

In a highly unusual step, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed on Sunday that Israel was responsible for the strike on the Damascus airport.

“Just in the past 36 hours the IDF struck Iranian targets in Damascus, proving we are more determined than ever to take action against Iran in Syria,” Netanyahu said in the weekly cabinet meeting.

Syrian state media reported the strike and claimed that air defenses intercepted most of the missiles. Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television reported that the attack covered a wider area than usual, ranging from the eastern Damascus suburb of Dmeir to the village of Dimas in the west near the Lebanon border.

Also on Monday, an Iranian cargo plane crashed in the city of Karaj, near Tehran.

Satellite photos show Iranian missile depot allegedly leveled by Israeli strike

On Sunday evening, Israeli website Intelli Times published photos showing the devastation at the site, saying the same structure had been struck in 2016 after it was identified as a depot housing M-600 surface-to-surface missiles, the Syrian version of the Iranian-made Fateh-110 missiles.

The intelligence blog said the building had been restored later that year, but was now completely destroyed.

It published side-by-side satellite photos, saying one was taken on Friday — where the building can be seen — and the other was taken on Sunday, with the building gone.

On Saturday, Intelli Times reported that hours before the Israeli strike, an Iranian Boeing 747 cargo plane had landed at the airport and unloaded its cargo at a site previously targeted three times by Israel. The aircraft then returned to Iran through Iraqi airspace.

On Friday, the official news agency SANA reported that Syrian air defense batteries opened fire on “hostile Israel missiles” and intercepted “most” of them, a common claim of the Syrian military, which many defense analysts believe to be false or overstated.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said that “two areas hosting military positions of Iranian forces and the Lebanese Hezbollah movement have been targeted.”

The sites were near the airport and around the Kisweh area south of Damascus, the observatory said.

Why Israel Chose to End Its Ambiguity over Syria Strikes

It is important to note that this internal debate is a major factor in why Israel suddenly chose to end the ambiguity over its operations against Iran in Syria, the transfer of high-quality weapons to Hezbollah, and the advancement of precision missiles and rockets in Syria and Lebanon.

In an interview with The New York Times, the outoging chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot said that Israel had carried out thousands of such attacks, most of them from the air, and others by special units and surface missiles. Prime Minister Benjamin Netayahu repeated this message in the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, partly perhaps because Israel wants to make sure that the Iranian leadership is fully aware of the losses and damage they are suffering in Syria under Suleimani, and of the resources they have expended in vain trying to entrench themselves there.

Israel has an intelligence and aerial advantage in the region, and this led to Suleimani’s inability to set up shop in Syria. In fact, he wasted tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars on this adventure. None of that has harmed his standing in Iran, however, which is still allowing him to continue his plans to make Iran and Shiite Islam the true powerhouse in the Middle East.

Iran has already cut some of its budgets to foreign proxies, including Hezbollah, and the debate inside the country goes on. Israel meanwhile, is trying to show the all different Iranian camps what the truth is. Israel has an interest in making Iranians understand that these efforts by Suleiman — which Israel has foiled in recent years — cost huge sums, something that is terrribly lacking in the welfare of the people.

As such, Israel decided that it was time to end its policy of ambiguity so that Iranians will finally know why senior Revolutionary Guards officials are coming home in coffins.

Why Lift the Fog Off IDF Actions in Syria?

Former Foreign Ministry director general Dore Gold said that there are always military operations around elections, “and now given the nature of the threat it is certainly reasonable that those military operations that have started already a couple of years ago will continue.”

He said that those attributing political considerations to Netanyahu going public now with the attacks would be on stronger ground “if these military operations just started now.” But, he said, “considering this is a continuation of past policy as articulated by the outgoing chief of staff, I think these arguments lose ground.”

Gold said that when Israel takes credit for an operation of this sort, “it becomes part of its deterrence posture – there is no longer a doubt, and it is now clear that Israel will do what is necessary to prevent the buildup of an Iranian military presence on Syrian soil.”

Taking responsibility, he said, “adds credibility to Israel’s statements about not allowing Iran to convert Syria into a satellite state.”

The timing, he said, is not connected to the elections, but rather to the US intention to remove its forces from Syria.

“I think the discussion of a US withdrawal has perhaps given the Iranians a sense that they now can just take over Syria.,” he said. Israel’s taking responsibility for attacks there sends them a clear message that they cannot. It also sends a message that even with the lingering tensions with Moscow over the spy plane incident, Jerusalem will not be deterred from taking action in Syria when it deems it necessary.

Jacob Nagel, who formerly served under Netanyahu as his national security advisor, also mentioned the withdrawal of the US troops as one of the reasons to take credit now.

He said that Israel has spelled out its red lines in Syria for a long time: that it will not allow a terrorist presence on the Golan border, that it will not allow the transfer of precision arms from Iran to Hezbollah, and that it will not allow an Iranian military buildup in the country.

Nagel said regarding the reason for taking responsibility for the attacks now: “Israel wants to make clear to everyone who will listen that we are determined, and will not allow our red lines be crossed.”

Kohelet: Is UNRWA’s hereditary refugee status for Palestinians unique?

UNRWA’s claim that their hereditary refugee status for Palestinians is not unique is simply untrue. There is no parallel and no precedent, even in protracted conflict situations, for the manner in which UNRWA transfers the “registered refugee” status, automatically, through the generations, while refusing to take any actions that would end this status. While UNHCR provides certain services on a case-by-case basis to the children of refugees, it does not make refugee status hereditary. This is one of many differences in UNRWA’s treatment of its population from the general practices used by UNHCR. All these differences are designed by UNRWA to maximize the population counted as “Palestine Refugees” and perpetuate their status. [PDF]

A tale of two speeches

Obama’s convoluted messages transmitted weakness, naiveté, blindness and reflected a failure to see reality for what it is. Looking back, it is clear his positions allowed the dark forces of the Muslim Brotherhood and its metastases – the Islamic State, al-Qaida, Hamas and Islamic Jihad – to break out and sow chaos throughout the Arab world. His weak message also led to the growth of Iranian-Shiite radicalism, whether in the form of Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Iraq and Syria, or the Houthis in Yemen. This is how the “Arab Spring” became the Arab sewer of blood, destruction, and millions of refugees from collapsing Arab states.

Last week, U.S. Middle East policy came full circle when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attacked Obama’s destructive policies on that same stage in Cairo. Pompeo depicted Obama’s “A New Beginning” speech as the turning point that lead to the weakening of the U.S. and its allies, the abandonment of the Arab regimes, the fall of Mubarak in 2011, the abandonment of the Iranian people who rose up against the ayatollahs, the restoration of Islamic terror, the lifting of sanctions on Iran, the strengthening of the Iranian monster in Syria and other disasters across the Middle East.

Pompeo promised Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi the United States would be a force for positive change in the Middle East, which would see the expulsion of Iran and its affiliates and the end of ISIS. It may not have been as flashy a speech as Obama’s, but it did indicate a return to a sober and healthy perception of reality.

Analysis: Does peace with the Palestinians matter this Israeli election?

Hatnua leader Tzipi Livni talks about negotiations with the Palestinians a lot. It’s become her calling card. And yet, it was jarring to read a press release her spokesman sent this week in which she talked about “an immediate dialogue with the Palestinian Authority,” saying that “separation [from the Palestinians] is an Israeli interest.”

Livni’s comments – which were so characteristic for her – were still a shock to the system because, well, talks have been so low on the agenda for so long.

The Palestinians, peace talks, and settlements seem to be almost entirely irrelevant to this election season.

It would be one thing if it was the Right that wanted to avoid talking about the conflict, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes is more realistic to manage as opposed to resolve in the near future. But it’s the Center and the Left that have deemphasized it.

The word “peace” left the political lexicon long ago. Ahead of the 2015 election, then-Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog defended his avoidance of the word “peace,” saying: “We have to be realistic and not naive about it.” But he still talked about negotiations with the Palestinians, something that we have barely heard so far from like-minded parties in the past month.

The leading opposition party to Netanyahu, Israel Resilience led by former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, has kept almost entirely quiet on all issues. Gantz made his first political statement on Monday, saying the Nation-State Law needs to be changed. When it comes to what he thinks about peace talks or what the map would look like after an agreement with the Palestinians, we only have old interviews to rely on.

Yesh Atid had a detailed party platform in 2015 that addressed the issue, and party chairman Yair Lapid has made comments here and there on the subject over the ensuing years, so we have an idea of what he wants – such as keeping the settlement blocs and organizing a regional conference to help Gaza economically. He even dedicated some time to the matter in an event in English this week. But this has never been Lapid’s focus or his strong suit.

Steinitz visits Egypt, first Israeli minister since Arab Spring

Minister of National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Resources Yuval Steinitz visited Egypt on Monday, the first formal visit by any Israeli minister to Egypt since the 2011 Arab Spring.

Steinitz met with the Egyptian Energy Minister, Tarek El Molla, and participated in the first Ministerial meeting for the East Mediterranean Gas Forum.

In their meeting, the ministers discussed increasing the cooperation between Israel and Egypt regarding energy and the exportation of gas from Israel and Egypt to Europe.

Steinitz was invited to visit Egypt again in May for the announcement of the establishment of the Mediterranean Natural Gas Organization, featuring Israel, Egypt, Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and the European Union Energy Commission.

“I would like to thank the Egyptian Energy Minister for the invitation,” Steinitz said. “This is the biggest economical cooperation between Israel and Egypt since the signing the peace treaty.”

Six years after completion, Israel’s border fence with Egypt has transformed the south

This time six years ago, Israel completed its high-tech border fence with Egypt, marking the start of a transformation in the situation along this restive frontier.

With its network radars and cameras, the obstacle—dubbed “Hourglass” by the Israeli Defense Ministry—issues alerts to Israel Defense Forces units regarding suspicious movements.

The barrier has almost completely stopped the mass movement of illegal migration from Africa, Dr. Ofer Israeli, a geostrategist and international security policy expert told JNS on Thursday.

Israeli, who lectures at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, said the quantity of human trafficking “is almost zero now.”

In addition, the fence has significantly boosted Israel’s ability to defend itself against Salafi-jihadist terror organizations that are active in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, he added.

“The obstacle separates two entities: Israel and Egypt. Today, inside Egypt, there are groups that view Israel as a target for attack. Here, too, the fence has managed to decrease friction both because of the physical obstacle, which is difficult to overcome, and because of the sensors installed on it,” said Israeli.

The setting up of dedicated IDF units whose goal is to patrol the fence and prevent cross-border infiltrations into Israel, is a major part of the barrier’s success, he stated. A positive side effect has also been the decrease in cross-border narcotics-smuggling, according to Israeli. “The quantity of drugs coming has significantly dropped,” he said.

Professor Hillel Frisch, a political scientist from Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, and an expert in Middle Eastern affairs, said part of the barrier’s effectiveness comes from Egyptian-Israeli security cooperation.

JCPA: Israeli Intelligence Infiltrates ISIS in the Sinai

The objective of Israeli intelligence is to obtain information on the activities of the ISIS offshoot in Sinai, which has been operating against Israel over the past few years by firing rockets at Eilat and the Eshkol Regional Council. This was in the days when the organization was still called Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, before it swore allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The purpose of Israel’s intelligence gathering is to prevent terror attacks on Israel, assist the Egyptian army with its war on ISIS, and thwart the passage of arms deliveries for terror organizations in Gaza through the Sinai Peninsula.
ISIS anti-aircraft gun in Sinai

The Hamas interior ministry in Gaza announced at the beginning of January 2019 that it had arrested 54 collaborators with Israel following an operation by a special IDF force in the area of Khan Yunis on November 12, 2018.

According to Hamas sources, some of these collaborators operated in the past in the ranks of the ISIS offshoot in northern Sinai in the service of ISA (Israel Security Agency, also known as the Shabak).

The Hamas television channel Al-Aqsa broadcast the confession of one of the collaborators, in which he said that he was sent by an ISA handler to join ISIS in Sinai to gather intelligence.

The newspaper Al-Araby Al-Jadeed reported on January 9 that dozens of foreign fighters joined the ranks of the ISIS branch in Sinai from Syria, Iraq, and Libya in recent years, without anyone investigating their security background, hinting that some could be working for Israeli intelligence.

The fact that Palestinians are joining ISIS in Sinai is particularly interesting. Some of them, who were residents of the Gaza Strip and active in the Hamas military wing, were even killed in clashes with the Egyptian army. The Palestinian problem is not even on the top of the organization’s agenda, which has raised the suspicion that they have ulterior motives and are working on behalf of Israel.

Does the UN Secretary General Really Want to Enable PA-Sponsored Terrorism?

On Monday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to meet with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. The UN announcement of the meeting doesn’t refer to Abbas as president; rather, it uses the term “His Excellency,” which is the UN protocol title for a country’s leader. Then on Tuesday, the “State of Palestine” will assume the Chairmanship of the Group of 77 — a coalition of 134 developing nations, designed to promote its members’ collective economic interests and create an enhanced joint negotiating capacity in the United Nations.

Abbas’ recognition by the UN as the legitimate ruler of the Palestinian people is nearly as bizarre as the UN’s near-acceptance of the idea that the Palestinian Authority (PA) contributes to global peace and prosperity. All this begs a question: Does the UN want to enable terror or disable terror?

PA law mandates that “salaries” be paid to Palestinian terrorists if they are caught or killed. The PA “pay-to-slay” programs — and the incentives they provide to perpetuate terrorism — are described in the Taylor Force Act, a US law enacted in March 2018, as well as in more recently enacted Israeli legislation. After much obfuscation and obstruction by the Palestinian Authority and the media, the existence of these payment programs is now exposed to all.

Sadly, too many UN member states have become terror deniers. Why doesn’t the UN join nations of conscience in their condemnation of the PA’s financial rewards and incentives for terror? Put another way — is the UN becoming a terror enabler?

Palestinians to take over largest U.N. bloc Tuesday

The Palestinian Authority is set to formally take the helm of the largest bloc of United Nation member states on Tuesday, known as the Group of 77 (G77) and China.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas will be in New York for Tuesday’s ceremony and is scheduled to meet with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, the UN Security Council president and other world leaders.

In October, the UN General Assembly held a special vote to temporarily elevate the Palestinians’ status at the UN, so that it could take over the rotating chairmanship of the G77 for 2019.

The move provides the Palestinians with an emotional boost, as their efforts to attain UN membership remain stymied.

The Palestinians have the status of a non-member state at the UN, and would have been disqualified from the chairmanship without such a vote.

The G77, however, has recognized Palestine as member state since 1976.

The group of developing nations, the G77, was first created in 1964 to advance the economic interests of developing countries, but has since expanded to include 134 of the UN’s 193 member states.

JCPA: Violence at the Gaza Border Continues

Hamas again removed its restraints and allowed demonstrators to run riot, approach the border fence, and attack the IDF soldiers to signal to Israel that the situation at the Gaza border is very fragile and if the Qatari money does not reach its officials, the security stability in Gaza will deteriorate even further. This followed the firing of a rocket at Ashkelon and the dispatch of a booby-trapped drone into the Gaza periphery during the previous week.

The newspaper Al-Araby Al-Jadeed reported on January 12 that according to a senior Egyptian source, Israel asked Egypt to leave the Rafah Crossing open due to concerns over an escalation at the Gaza border and a renewal of terrorist attacks. Apparently, Egypt has agreed to Israel’s request because it also wants to implement an arrangement for calm. However, Hamas is continuing with its policy of extortion from Israel by exploiting Israel’s desire to maintain calm during the pre-elections period.

Egypt’s security delegation has not yet left the area. According to Hamas sources, it is also supposed to meet with the PA President Mahmoud Abbas at the Muqata in Ramallah, as well as with senior figures in the Israeli security service.

The Egyptian delegation will try to persuade Abbas to return the PA officials to the Rafah Crossing. If this does not happen, it is not yet clear whether Egypt will keep its promise to Hamas that the crossing will remain open in both directions.

Egyptian intervention is very important due to reports from Gaza that a new organization will refinance the “tires unit,” the “balloons unit,” and the “night confusion units” so that they can operate again close to the Gaza border. Hamas is indicating to Israel and Egypt that its activists are always ready “with their finger on the trigger” to act against Israel if their demands are not met.

It is doubtful whether the third transfer of Qatari funds will lead to a decrease in the level of violence along the Gaza Strip. Hamas will not be satisfied with that, as it has not yet succeeded in keeping its promises to Gazan public that the Return March campaign that has gone on for nine months will lead to the complete removal of the embargo from Gaza.

Hamas has achieved very little. The freeze on the transfer of Qatari funds will continue, which will increase the chances of an escalation of terrorist activities on the Gaza border even more during the coming weeks.

‘McJesus’ artist demands Haifa museum remove artwork because he supports BDS

The Finnish artist behind a controversial “McJesus” sculpture that has drawn violent protests by Arab Christians has responded to the outrage, demanding that his artwork be removed from the Haifa Museum of Art since he supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

Hundreds of demonstrators clashed with police in the northern Israeli city on Friday over the museum’s display of the sculpture, which depicts Ronald McDonald, the mascot of fast food giant McDonald’s, on a cross.

Police said protesters tried to force their way into the museum and that three officers were injured by rocks hurled at them. A Molotov cocktail was thrown at the museum on Thursday.

Demonstrators have erected a protest tent outside the museum building.

One of the protesters complained that the government was slow to react to their concerns because they were members of the Christian minority. “If they put up [a sculpture of] Hitler with a Torah scroll they would immediately respond,” he told the Walla news site.

The Israel Police introduced increased security around the museum on Monday, as efforts were underway by Deputy Mayor Dov Hayun to negotiate with Christian leaders — who have sought a court order to remove the sculpture — and calm down the situation.

Report: Hezbollah Funding Jihad with Latin American Drug Profits from Brazilian Gang Deals

Latin American authorities cautioned against the presence of Iran’s proxy Hezbollah in South America’s volatile Tri-Border Area (TBA), noting that the group is using tens of millions of dollars in drug trafficking and money laundering proceeds to fund its jihadi activities, Infobae reported Friday.

Referring to Hezbollah and other drug traffickers in the TBA, Fabiano Bordignon, federal police chief of Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, told Infobae, “There is a great concern for the criminal organizations that exist in Brazil and are establishing very firm foundations throughout the border and within Paraguay and Argentina.”

The TBA region covers Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay.

Juan Felix Marteau, the former head of the anti-money laundering office in Argentina, also told Infobae, “It is proven that there are alliances between Lebanese families that handle a good part of the illicit trade and that obviously have begun to participate in the care and protection of the money that comes from drug trafficking.”

The Infobae report ties Hezbollah, through prosecutorial investigations seeking concrete proof of the connections, to Brazil’s two largest gangs: the Red Command (CV) and the First Capital Command (PCC). Following a long and bloody year of feuding, the two gangs agreed this month to unite to combat the policies of newly minted President Jair Bolsonaro, who pledged to eradicate the gangs from Brazil.

In December, Deputy U.S. Secretary of State John Sullivan warned that several Latin American countries are facing Hezbollah-linked terrorist plots on a “regular basis.”

U.S. authorities believe Latin America’s TBA region is a haven for transnational crime and terrorist organizations like Hezbollah.

Iran Space Launch Cover for Test of Nuclear-Capable Missile Tech, U.S. Determines

The United States has determined that Iran’s planned launch of satellites into space is actually a cover for the regime’s continued testing of advanced missile technology capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Washington Free Beacon on Saturday ahead of private meetings with Gulf State officials regarding Tehran’s ongoing support for terror groups.

Iranian officials, the United States estimates, are gearing up to launch multiple satellites into space in the coming days, stoking concern the Islamic Republic is using these space launches as a ruse to test intercontinental ballistic missile technology (ICBM), according to Pompeo, who held a small briefing with reporters in Abu Dhabi.

The test-firing of ICBM technology violates United Nations statutes barring such activity, according to Pompeo, who described Iran’s actions as provocative and said the Trump administration will rally nations to hold Iran accountable for this nuclear-related work.

“You’ll see in a handful of days the Iranians intend to launch a space launch vehicle,” Pompeo said in response to questions from the Free Beacon. “The claim is that it is to put some satellites in the air. The truth is this will be another step in their understanding of how it is you can launch an ICBM.”

“The whole world needs to come together to oppose that,” Pompeo said, confirming that administration’s view that this type of test violates U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, which calls upon Iran to stop its ongoing tests of various types of advanced ballistic missiles.

Pompeo: Trump Admin Will Help Iranian People Take ‘Control of Their Capital’

Following meetings with top Saudi Arabian leaders in the country’s capital on Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that one of the Trump administration’s top regional goals is to “make sure that the Iranian people get control of their capital,” a shot across the bow to a ruling regime that has spent billions to beef up its foreign military and terrorist operations.

Pompeo, speaking to reporters in Riyadh, said that the Trump administration’s primary goal is to empower the Iranian people to rein in the ruling regime, which has spent a fortune on foreign wars and terror operations as its own people suffer from a collapsing economy.

While the administration has been careful to avoid characterizing its policy as regime change, it has become clear that it does supports efforts by the Iranian people to end Tehran’s expansionist march across the region, particularly in Syria and Yemen. The administration also has stated that it opposes the hardline regime and would offer its support to opposition elements in the country.

“Our effort is to make sure that the Iranian people get control of their capital, and it becomes a nation that is normal and is not conducting terror campaigns that are unrivaled any place else in the world,” Pompeo said.

White House reportedly explored military options for U.S. strike on Iran

The White House explored military options to strike Iran, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal on Sunday.

Following a mortar attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad in September by a group linked to Iran, US National Security Adviser John Bolton asked the Pentagon to provide the military with options to ‘strike back’ at the Islamic Republic, according to the report.

The request, which could lead to direct military confrontation between Iran and the United States, raised concern in the Pentagon.

“It definitely rattled people,” a former senior US administration official told the Journal.” It was mind-boggling how cavalier they were about hitting Iran.”

However, it is not clear if the proposals were ever delivered to Trump, even though they were compiled.

Last year, Trump pushed Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to strike in Syria to punish President Bashar Assad for a chemical weapons attack. In the end, Trump adopted a modest approach, but Mattis resigned because of security disputes with the president.

Before joining the Trump administration, Bolton argued repeatedly that the US should attack Iran and had supported regime change in the country.

Iran and the Taliban: Partners Against the United States

Wherever there is chaos, violence, and suffering in the broader Middle East, Iran is likely present. Tehran has its malign tentacles entwined in virtually every conflict in the region—from Gaza, to Yemen, to Syria, and beyond. One such conflict is the war in Afghanistan, which the media rarely discuss in conjunction with Iran. Yet the Islamic Republic plays an important role in Afghanistan—one that is disruptive and that threatens American interests. As the Trump administration debates whether to withdraw from Afghanistan, not just the Taliban but also Iran stands to gain from an American retreat.

Iranian activities in Afghanistan gained renewed attention over the past two weeks, after Adm. Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, confirmed for the first time late last month that Iran held talks with the Taliban, noting that the Afghan government was aware of the discussions. Days later, Iran also confirmed that the Taliban had visited Tehran for a second round of talks on ending the conflict in Afghanistan; the Taliban said they discussed Afghanistan’s “post-occupation situation” with the Iranians. Then on Wednesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said during a visit to India that the Taliban must have a role, but not a “dominant” one, in Afghanistan’s future. Iran’s top diplomat also acknowledged that his country has “unofficial intelligence” contacts with the Taliban, adding that the Islamist group occupies areas by the border between Iran and Afghanistan.

Senior Afghan government officials took great offense to Zarif’s comments. “If Iran believes in talks, it should pay attention to its domestic problems,” Shah Hossein Mortazavi, deputy spokesperson of the Afghan president, wrote in a Facebook post that was later deleted. “These days they [Iran’s Foreign Ministry] act in the role of Taliban spokesmen.”

Iran Says It Is Taking Initial Steps to Design Reactor Fuel

Iran is taking preliminary steps to design uranium fuel with a purity of 20 percent for reactors instead of having to copy foreign designs, Iran’s nuclear chief said on Sunday.

Iran’s 2015 nuclear accord with world powers caps the level to which it is able to enrich uranium to 3.67 percent purity, well below the 20 percent it was reaching before the deal, and the roughly 90 percent that is weapons-grade.

Iran is, however, allowed to produce nuclear fuel under strict conditions that need to be approved by a working group set up by the signatories to the deal. Those conditions include ensuring that the fuel cannot be converted to uranium hexafluoride, the feedstock for centrifuges that enrich uranium.

“We have made such progress in nuclear science and industry that, instead of reverse-engineering and the use of designs by others, we can design new fuel ourselves,” state broadcaster IRIB quoted Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, as saying.

“Initial measures have been started for the design of modern 20 percent fuel and we’re on the verge of (achieving) it. This product is different from the previous 20 percent fuel, and we can supply fuel to any reactor that is built like the Tehran reactor,” Salehi said.

“The Tehran reactor has so far been working with old fuel, but modern fuel can improve efficiency,” he added.

Report: Iran Facing Massive Water Crisis, All Natural Sources May Be Gone Within 40 Years

Iran is reportedly undergoing a major water crisis, to the point where it may lose all its natural water sources within 40 years.

According to the Israeli publication Globes, the crisis has been caused by global warming and other factors, and has made the country fourth in the world in terms of declining water resources. This has led to widespread public discontent, the resignation of members of parliament, and a growing sentiment of protest in the streets.

A recent NASA report stated that all natural water sources in Iran may be gone within 40 years, while the ruling regime has completely failed to find new resources or build an infrastructure to compensate for the loss.

A resident of Iran’s Isfahan region told Globes, “Maybe we’ll drink oil instead of water.” Referencing the new American sanctions on the Islamic Republic’s oil sector, he added, “There’s nowhere to sell the oil now and we have a lot of it.”

Approximately 35 million Iranians have faced weeks without a steady water supply, which caused the government to undertake an ill-planned attempt at diverting water sources to the affected provinces. This in turn caused the resignation of 18 members of parliament.

Why Is the UN Ignoring Iran’s Role in the Yemen War?

The United Nations Security Council has been warned that Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have violated a UN-brokered ceasefire more than 200 times in less than two weeks, since it went into effect as part of the Stockholm peace negotiations.

The two warring parties in Yemen’s civil war — the Houthi rebels and Yemen’s internationally recognized government — reached a fragile ceasefire agreement in December 2018. However, representatives from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen have warned the UN that the Iranian-backed group has shown no signs of preparing to abide by the truce. According to a detailed list presented to the Security Council on December 31, Houthi rebels killed 23 coalition forces and wounded 163 in 268 attacks between December 18 and December 30.

“The missile strikes in particular show that this vast number of violations cannot be attributed of individual ill-disciplined Houthi fighters, but that these actions are part of a deliberate strategy of provocation … designed to undermine the Stockholm Agreement,” their letter said.

The Houthi rebels have fought the internationally recognized Yemeni government since 2015 in a war that has left the economy in ruins and 80 percent of the population dependent on humanitarian aid. Millions of Yemenis now live under an occupation deemed illegal by the UN.

The letter also noted that Houthi rebels were using the ceasefire agreement to further entrench their forces in the city of Hodeidah, citing the building of 51 new trenches around the city and the setup of 109 new barricades on city streets.

PreOccupiedTerritory: After Iran, Code Pink To Also Visit “Much Maligned” Khmer Rouge Cambodia (satire)

Leaders of the activist organization Code Pink: Women for Peace announced this week that following their trip to the Islamic Republic of Iran to help counteract the negative image the regime has suffered in Western depictions, the group will conduct similar activities in Democratic Kampuchea, where the ruling party has experienced analogous public image struggles amid reaction to its genocide of nearly a quarter of the population.

Code Pink posted its intentions on Twitter and other social media over the weekend. Later this month the movement, which styles itself a “grassroots peace and social justice movement working to end U.S.-funded wars and occupations, to challenge militarism globally and to redirect our resources into health care, education, green jobs and other life-affirming activities,” will take an organized tour of Iran, the world’s current leading state sponsor of terrorism and practitioner of imperialism, colonialism, and ethnic cleansing, but that’s OK because it’s not the U.S. doing it. Negative characterizations of the mullahs’ policies in Iran reminded numerous Code Pink figures of “demonizing” coverage of Kampuchea’s agricultural collectivization program in the 1970’s, in which millions of people died of starvation, mass murder, torture, disease, forced labor, and other ills. Democratic Kampuchea served as Cambodia’s official name under 1975-79 Khmer Rouge rule.

Activist Ariel Elyse Gold remarked of the upcoming Cambodia trip, “We have a responsibility to amplify voices other than the ones Donald Trump and Bibi Netanyahu want you to hear. Much like the brouhaha surrounding the supposed repression and economic collapse in Venezuela, all the statistics you hear about Kampuchea are lies, Western propaganda. We intend to showcase the enlightened, beautiful side of the Killing Fields that most mainstream media audiences never get to see.”



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