In violation of international law, Iranian state TV broadcasts images of American sailors in tears

 

In another attempt to humiliate the US, Iran on Wednesday released photos and video of American sailors appearing to cry while being detained by Iran last month. Tehran had previously released photos of the American sailors kneeling on the deck of their boat, with their hands behind their heads, as well as a video of one sailor apologizing to Iran. Naval and legal experts have criticized Iran’s seizure of US boats and its treatment of the sailors, arguing that Iran violated multiple international laws. According to US Navy Captain Sean Liedman, Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, the broadcasting of photos and video for propaganda purposes violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which bans degrading treatment and mandates respect for the inherent dignity of detainees. The transmission of the footage may have also violated the Geneva Convention, which protects prisoners of war “against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.”

Also on Wednesday, Iran’s defense minister announced that Iran will unveil an upgrade of the ballistic missile it tested last October in open defiance of UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2231, the resolution that authorized the nuclear deal with Iran. The long-range missile, Emad, can carry a nuclear warhead and reach Israel. At a Senate hearing yesterday, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper stated that Iran’s missile launches were “a deliberate message of defiance.” He also warned that Iran views the nuclear deal as “a means to remove sanctions while preserving some of its nuclear capabilities, as well as the option to eventually expand its nuclear infrastructure.”

Iran has declared that it will purchase fighter jets from Russia. According to UNSC Resolution 2231, the sale of any major arms, such as combat aircraft, to Iran must be approved by the UN Security Council. The US and its allies are thus likely to veto a Russian attempt to sell fighter jets to Iran. However, this safeguard will expire in 5 years, possibly earlier. At the Senate hearing, the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Vincent Stewart, stated that "within the next two to five years, we can expect Iran to invest in some of those weapons technology that's being displayed on the Syrian battlefield by the Russians today.”

 

Bipartisan bills have been introduced into both houses of Congress that would protect the rights of state and local governments to withdraw their business from companies or entities that engage in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. The bill, known as the Combating BDS Act of 2016, is sponsored by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Reps. Robert Dold (R-Ill.) and Juan Vargas (D-Calif.). A preliminary version of the House version of the bill is available here. The bill was first reported on by Liel Leibovitz of Tablet.The bill comes after a wave of governors and state legislatures passing laws disassociating themselves from the BDS movement. Illinois passed a law last year prohibiting the state’s pension funds from investing in any entity that boycotts Israel. A month later, South Carolina passed a law prohibiting the state from doing business with any entity or individual that boycotts Israel. Tennessee passed a law last year condemning the BDS movement.Already this year, the Indiana House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution prohibiting the state from commercial dealings with any business or person that boycotts Israel. “Similar bills have already been introduced in Ohio and California, with momentum in New York, Florida, and Pennsylvania, as well,” Tablet reported. An activist involved with the effort to fight anti-Israel boycotts told Leibovitz that he expects the number of such states to reach double digits by the summer.

“With efforts to wage economic warfare on the Jewish state gaining serious traction on American college campuses and elsewhere, the newly proposed act is important because it empowers states to follow the conscience of their citizens, most of whom overwhelmingly support Israel, according to a recent Gallup poll, and categorically reject the BDS movement’s effort to single out Israel alone for opprobrium,” Leibovitz wrote.

“Drawing on a 2010 federal law targeting companies engaged in business with Iran’s terror-sponsoring regime, this bipartisan bill would authorize state and local governments in the United States to follow Illinois’s lead and divest from companies engaged in boycotts and other forms of economic warfare against Israel,” Kirk told Tablet. “With this bill, Congress underscores the critical role that state and local governments and their communities have to play in the ongoing struggle against anti-Semitism worldwide.” (via TheTower.org)

 

With the death toll still rising in the wake of a 6.4-magnitude earthquake, Israeli humanitarian aid organization IsraAID has sent a team of three experts to Taiwan to assess needs in the country, and offer psychosocial support to quake victims still looking for family members. The earthquake struck Taiwan on Saturday, killing an estimated 41 people and injuring over 500. Worst hit was the city of Tainan, where a high-rise apartment block built using shoddy materials including tin cans, collapsed with hundreds of people inside it. One hundred people are still thought to be trapped in the rubble. After carrying out a rapid needs assessment in Tainan, IsraAID has “joined Taiwanese professionals and assisted them in their relief efforts to support the families affected by the quake,” says IsraAID Director Shachar Zahavi. “IsraAID’s psychosocial team met with the families of those who are still unaccounted for as they struggle between hope and despair, all the while the death toll continues to rise.” Zahavi told ISRAEL21c that Taiwanese government officials and local agencies have expressed “a strong interest in learning from IsraAID and receiving long-term training and supervision in the field of trauma care.” There are now plans for IsraAID to launch a long-term initiative in Taiwan to support the families affected by the disaster and help local government agencies “mitigate the current disaster, as well as to prepare them for future crises.” (via Israel21c)


Latest Gaza tunnel collapse indicative of Hamas military preparations, Iran affirms support for Hamas

 

A tunnel collapse in the southern Gaza Strip killed a Hamas militant on Tuesday, the latest in a series of tunnel collapses that is indicative of increased Hamas military preparation. Late last month, Israeli residents of Moshav Pri Gan, which is adjacent to the Gaza border, said that the tunnel digging was causing their houses to shake. Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ leader in Gaza, announced after a collapse killed seven Hamas militants last month that the tunnels were dedicated to “liberate the holy sites” in Israel. Haniyeh also said, “In eastern Gaza, heroes are digging through rock and building tunnels, and in the west they are experimenting with rockets every day. The resistance continues on its path of liberation of the land.” Haaretz’s defense correspondent Amos Harel wrote last month that “Hamas is investing great efforts and huge sums in the tunnel project. It is reasonable to assume that the number of tunnels crossing under the border is close to that on the eve of Protective Edge.” Hamas on Sunday called for suicide bombings against Israelis and posted a music video online whose lyrics, in part, read, “The intifada is not an intifada if the bus roof doesn’t fly off.” Hamas members carried out several such attacks during the Second Intifada, which lasted from 2000 until 2005.

Furthermore, the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s spokesman, Hossein Jaberi Ansari, stated unequivocally on Monday that it is a “principled policy” for his country to support “Palestinian resistance movements,” including Hamas. Khalil Abu Leila, a senior Hamas leader, confirmed that his organization continues to receive aid from Iran. Iran is also funding an organization called Al-Sabireen (“the Patient Ones”) which is, according to the Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh, actively working to establish terror cells in the West Bank that would launch attacks against Israelis. In another indication of Iran’s efforts to infiltrate the Palestinian territories, the Shin Bet and IDF uncovered a plot last month by a Hezbollah-funded group in the West Bank, whose members were recruited by the son of Hezbollah’s chief Hassan Nasrallah. The group was planning to carry out shooting and suicide bombing attacks against Israelis.

 

Satellite images show that Iran has continued construction on a possible underground military complex and has tried to hide evidence that it tested explosives that could be used in the detonation of a nuclear weapon, The Daily Beast reported on Monday.

The satellite images of the Parchin military base, which were taken on January 19 and analyzed by the private intelligence firm Stratfor, showed that Iran had built a tunnel into an underground complex and had paved over the site of previous explosive testing. Both activities suggest that Iran might be trying to hide certain activities from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).Sim Tack, an analyst for Stratfor, told The Daily Beast that the images didn’t necessarily show that Iran is “cheating on the nuclear deal.” However, he added,“The images show Iran was going through the motions to hide what it’s done before, and it is still…developing facilities that the IAEA may or may not have access to.”

Comparing the new satellite images with ones of the same site in 2010 show that the area where suspected nuclear testing took place has been paved over, with nearby vegetation and soil, which could had residue from the testing, removed.

While the sanitizing of the area near where the high-explosive experiments occurred has been reported before, the completion of the nearby tunnel is new. Stratfor said that they have images from 2014 showing construction equipment near the tunnel, and it appears that the tunnel is now completed. “They were still going forward with that construction during the [nuclear] talks,” Tack observed.

It isn’t clear what the tunnel leads to, but it was speculated that it could house part of Iran’s ballistic missile program. The United States first discovered that Iran was testing ballistic missile engines at Parchin in 1997.

The United States imposed sanctions on Iran for its ballistic missile program in January after announcing the end of nuclear-related sanctions. The U.S. had originally planned to impose the sanctions, described by an expert as the “bare minimum,” at the end of December, but delayed imposing them due to pressure from Iran.

An official from the Obama administration did not comment on the images, but told The Daily Beast that IAEA inspectors could go to the site if the area was deemed suspicious. The official said that the nuclear deal “means the IAEA will have the access it needs to any suspicious location going forward. Such transparency will ensure that these past activities will not occur again, and if they do, that they will be quickly detected.”

However, IAEA inspectors who arrived at Parchin in September were not allowed inside a key site. The process was described by Emily Landau, in The Looming Global Nuclear Weapons Crisis, which was published in the January 2016 issue of The Tower Magazine.

The first event that tested Iran’s interpretation of managed access was the inspection of the military facility at Parchin over this past summer, in the context of the IAEA’s investigation of Iran’s past weaponization work. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had already made it quite clear over the months of negotiations with the P5+1 that Iran would never allow inspectors entry into its military facilities, and he and various military leaders reiterated this message when the JCPOA was announced, and in the aftermath of the deal. What happened in the Parchin inspection, it emerged, was that Iran collected soil samples from within the facility, while IAEA cameras monitored the process from outside.

The implication for future inspections, Landau wrote, is that “this was the closest that Iran would allow the IAEA to get to inspecting suspicious military facilities.”

Shortly after that incident, Olli Heinonen, a former deputy director-general of the IAEA, and David Albright, the head of the Institute for Science and International Security, a non-proliferation think-tank, wrote that “the physical presence of trained, experienced inspectors, with the ability to investigate the building or site up close, is critical to detecting the best places to sample, particularly in the case of a country that has a history of violating its safeguards obligations.” (via TheTower.org)

 

Haifa’s Yisrael Kristal isn’t concerned whether or not he’s the world’s oldest man. But historians and genealogists are working overtime to try and find documents to satisfy the Guinness World Records rules to prove this Polish-born Israeli Holocaust survivor’s 112 years. The family of the retired confectionery maker says he was born September 15, 1903. Guinness World Records confirmed that following the death in Japan of 112-year-old Yasutaro Koide, Kristal may be the oldest man alive today. Kristal has his marriage certificate from 1928 – when he was 25 years old. But the organization that annually publishes a book of the world’s records and achievements says that in order for Kristal to receive an official World Record holder title, he must provide documentation from the first 20 years of his life. “We have standard rules and it would be unfair on other people if we bent the rules,” Robert Young, senior consultant for gerontology at Guinness World Records, told AFP regarding Kristal’s circumstances. After Haaretz broke the story in January of Kristal’s candidacy for world’s oldest man, the Jewish Records Index organization (JRI) volunteered to locate the required archived documents. JRI-Poland has the largest fully searchable database of indexes to Jewish vital records accessible online, with more than five million records from more than 550 Polish towns. Kristal was born in Zarnov, then moved with his family to Lodz until the Nazi occupation. He worked as a candy maker in his family’s confectionery shop but eventually was sent to the Auschwitz death camp. According to family statements, Kristal’s first wife perished in the Holocaust. He remarried in 1947 in Lodz, and moved with his family – his second wife and son — to Israel in 1950. In Haifa, Kristal made a name for himself as an expert candy maker. His specialties, according to family statements, were tiny liquor bottles made of chocolate and wrapped in colored foil; carob jam; and chocolate-covered orange peels. (via Israel21c)


North Korea’s rocket launch underscores fears of Iranian-North Korean cooperation

 

North Korea launched a long-range rocket over the weekend, fueling fears over continued Iranian-North Korean cooperation on nuclear and ballistic missile-related work. North Korea used the launch, which came only a month after its fourth nuclear test, to put a satellite in orbit. Ilan Berman, Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council, has argued that for decades Iran and North Korea have forged a “formidable alliance – the centerpiece of which is cooperation on nuclear and ballistic-missile capabilities.” The Daily Beast’s Gordon Chang explained that the satellite launched this weekend, along with the one launched in 2012, “are about the same weight as a nuclear warhead, and that was the point of these elaborate exercises.” The purpose of the launches is to test its ballistic missile technology “under the guise of a civilian rocket program.” On Iran’s role, Chang wrote, “When we examine evidence of the most recent crisis…we will probably learn the North Koreans in fact tested their new 80-ton booster, which they have been developing for at least two years. It is almost certain Iran has paid for its development.”

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies published a paper in January on the Iran-North Korea nuclear relationship and drafted a series of questions of concern that need to be answered. Authors Ali Alfoneh and Scott Modell explained that “[t]here is significant reason to believe Iran-North Korea nuclear cooperation is closer than commonly recognized.” They conclude that despite the number of critical questions that should be answered, “[t]he signs of military and scientific cooperation between Iran and North Korea suggest that Pyongyang could have been involved in Tehran’s nuclear and ballistic-missile program, and that state-run trading companies may have assisted in critical aspects of Iran’s illicit nuclear-related activities.”

Experts have documented evidence of Iran’s attempts to use North Korea to advance its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. According to Alfoneh and Modell, “[a] top Iranian official overseeing Tehran’s nuclear program” was in attendance at North Korea’s third nuclear test in 2013. Berman explained that North Korea sent “hundreds of nuclear experts” to work in Iran, while making “key nuclear software” available to Iranian scientists. Larry Niksch, Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in his testimony before Congress in July, noted that in 2011, North Korean scientists reportedly trained Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps members and other officials on a certain computer program, which, “[a]ccording to the German newspaper, Suddeutsche Zeitung, ‘western secret services sources’ described … as ‘vital’ for the development of nuclear warheads.”

 

The fire that engulfed a makeshift West Bank synagogue and destroyed Torah scrolls on Friday was caused by arson, likely by suspects from the nearby Palestinian town of Halhul, an Israeli investigation determined.

The scrolls were housed in a tent next to Karmei Tzur that was used as a synagogue and gathering place for local children. The synagogue was named after three Israeli teenagers—Eyal Yifrah, Gil-ad Shaar, and Naftali Fraenkel—who were kidnapped and murdered by Palestinian terrorists in June 2014.

Residents said that the texts were gathered in a pile and set on fire. No injuries were reported in the incident, though the scrolls and tent were badly damaged.

“We are in the midst of a hard battle between those who seek coexistence and peace and those who want war and blood,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, adding that the arson was the result of ongoing Palestinian incitement.

“The sight of the burned Torah scrolls in the Etzion bloc is heartrending,” said President Reuven Rivlin. “The assault on our people’s holy items hurts all the more when it is done at the place that commemorates Eyal, Gil-ad and Naftali, who were murdered by a cruel hand… I am certain and confident that the security forces will bring the perpetrators to justice swiftly.”

The suspected arson comes amid months of near-daily Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and security officials, leading to 31 deaths over 300 injuries. Leading Palestinian officials, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, have been accused of inciting the violence and glorifying Palestinians terrorists who carry out attacks against Israelis.

Abbas consoled families of terrorists—including the relatives of a man who hacked a Jerusalem rabbi to death in October—during two separate meetings last week, calling the attackers “martyrs.” The first meeting took place hours after three Palestinian men gunned down an Israeli policewoman in Jerusalem. Fatah, the party led by Abbas, praised the shooters as “role models” on Wednesday.

The PA also joined the terrorist organizations Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in honoring an Arab-Israeli gunman who killed three people in Tel Aviv on New Year’s Day, saying he was “one of the most precious martyrs whose name has been inscribed with his pure blood that watered the soil of our free land.” Fatah similarly hailed the man, who died during a shootout with authorities, writing, “may Allah receive you in Heaven.” (via TheTower.org)

 

It’s Game Day and that means the best brands are set to tackle one another for the title of Best Commercial at Super Bowl. Israel’s do-it-yourself website builder platform, Wix.com, is hoping to score another touchdown with its new 30-second ad. This year’s Super Bowl commercial is actually in collaboration with DreamWorks Animation. The commercial – which is being promoted under the hashtag #StartStunning — promotes the recent release of Kung Fu Panda 3 and uses its characters to show how easy it is for businesses to create a beautiful website using the Wix platform. Wix is hoping to cash in on previous Super Bowl commercial hits by parodying them. In just 30 seconds, the Israeli team skewers (in a friendly way) 2015’s Carl’s Jr. Too Hot For TV, 1995’s Budweiser Frogs and 2010’s Old Spice The Man Your Man Could Smell Like ads. Last year, Wix aired its first-ever Super Bowl spot to great acclaim. “We did pretty good in terms of the amount of money we got back from the campaign we did,” said chief marketing officer Omer Shai in an interview with Fortune. “It gave us great confidence in doing it [another Super Bowl ad] again.” The new commercial is reported to have cost $5 million to make. The ad has scored over three million views in four days on YouTube. (via Israel21c)

 

When Arielle Mokhtarzadeh and Ben Rosenberg arrived at University of California, Berkeley on November 6 to attend the annual Students of Color Conference, they had no way of knowing that they would be leaving as victims of anti-Semitism.

The University of California Student Association’s “oldest and largest conference,” the Students of Color Conference (SOCC) has maintained a reputation for 27 years as being a “safe space” where students of color, as well as white progressive allies, can address and discuss issues of structural and cultural inequality on college campuses. Students who attend are encouraged to be cognizant of their language while exploring topics that directly affect students from marginalized communities: the school-to-prison pipeline, sexual violence, decreased funding to ethnic and LGBT studies departments, racially insensitive speech, and perhaps most importantly, a “disquieting trend” of hate crimes on university campuses statewide.

It was this disquieting, yet growing, trend of hate speech and crimes directed towards Jewish students within the UC system that spurred Mokhtarzadeh and Rosenberg, both Jewish sophomores at UCLA, to attend the conference. Their freshman year was punctuated by incidents of anti-Semitism that were both personal and met with national controversy. They were shocked during their first quarter in school, when students entered the Bruin Cafe to see the phrase “Hitler did nothing wrong” etched into a table. Months later, Mokhtarzadeh’s friend, Rachel Beyda, was temporarily denied a student government leadership position based solely on her Jewish identity, an event that made news nationwide. Throughout the year, they saw the school’s pro-Palestinian group, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), issue criticism of Israel that overstepped into anti-Semitic rhetoric and hate. The campus was supposed to be their new home, their new safe space—so why didn’t they feel that way?

Mokhtarzadeh applied to the Students of Color Conference with the hope “of learning more about the experiences of communities of color at the UC… [and] sharing with those communities the experience of my own,” she told me. As an Iranian Jew, she believed her identity as both a religious and ethnic minority granted her a place to belong and thrive at the SOCC. Rosenberg (who requested a pseudonym so that he could speak freely about campus issues without fear of potential retaliation) said that growing up in the Bay Area had taught him to be an active member of social justice movements and progressive communities. “I was always encouraged to take initiative on issues and movements that didn’t directly affect me,” he said. “I wanted to learn more about the struggles that my fellow students were going through.”

But their experiences as Jewish students at the SOCC would soon inspire a rude awakening: the campus progressives who were fighting for justice on college campuses for students of color weren’t only ignoring anti-Semitism and attacks on Jewish identity—they were sometimes the ones perpetuating it.

This was quickly made clear on the first day at a session called “Existence is Resistance,” hosted by leaders of UC San Diego’s SJP chapter. Students discussed the boycott of Israel as an issue of urgency for students of color. Rosenberg and Mokhtarzadeh told me that they originally had no intention to engage in dialogue about Israel at the conference, but they were horrified at how attacks on Israel soon devolved into attacks on the Jews. “The session went way beyond the boundaries of what was appropriate or truthful at the SOCC,” Rosenberg recalled.

For example, they said that Israel was poisoning the water that they sell into the West Bank, and raising the price by ten times. Any sane person knows that this is not true. They also said that when Jewish-American students go on Birthright trips, the Israeli government offers you money to live on a settlement. A number of things like that.

Rosenberg also stated that “There was also no mention of the Holocaust when talking about the history of Israel. They said that in the late 19th century, Jews decided to move into this land and take over it. They completely white-washed our history as a people.”

Mokhtarzadeh was also horrified by the rhetoric used during the session.

Over the course of what was probably no longer than an hour, my history was denied, the murder of my people was justified, and a movement whose sole purpose is the destruction of the Jewish homeland was glorified. Statements were made justifying the ruthless murder of innocent Israeli civilians, blatantly denying Jewish indigeneity in the land, and denying the Holocaust in which six million Jews were murdered. Why anyone in their right mind would accept these slanders as truths baffles me. But they did. These statements, and others, were met with endless snaps and cheers. I was taken aback.

To continue reading, click here for The Tower Magazine.


Thousands of Syrian civilians flee as Assad’s forces threaten to encircle Aleppo

 

Tens of thousands of Syrian civilians have fled Aleppo province toward the Turkish border as soldiers loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russian airstrikes, threaten to encircle Aleppo city. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that up to 70,000 Syrians were heading toward his country. Pro-government forces, backed by Russian air support, cut off a major supply route connecting Aleppo city with the Turkish border on Wednesday. Hassan Haj Ali, a leader of the Free Syrian Army, said that the Russians had carried out more than 250 airstrikes in the area in one day alone. Haj Ali also said that most of the pro-government soldiers taking part in the offensive are “Iranian and from Hezbollah, or Afghan,” and a senior security force close to the Assad regime told Reuters Thursday that the offensive was being overseen by Qassem Suleimani, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force. An IRGC general, as well as six members of the Iranian Basij militia, were killed in the fighting. Secretary of State John Kerry called for a halt to the bombardment, saying it “clearly signaled the intention to seek a military solution rather than enable a political one.” Members of the opposition have accused the Obama administration of urging its regional allies to limit their supplies in order to pressure them to come to the negotiating table in Geneva, making them vulnerable to the offensive. On Wednesday, the UN’s special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, called for a halt to the talks in Geneva. Rebel commanders initially did not want to attend the talks unless the Assad regime stopped its systematic starvation and bombardment of civilians.

Aleppo had a pre-war population of two million and is Syria’s most populous city. Analysts fear that the regime will besiege the city, causing a humanitarian catastrophe. Firas Abi Ali, the head of Middle East and North Africa forecasting at IHS Country Risk in London, said that the regime is “going to go with starvation and bombardment tactics,” as they have done consistently throughout the country, including at Madaya, where dozens of civilians have starved to death. The fall of Aleppo to the regime would likely be disastrous for the opposition. Aron Lund, a Syria analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, assessed, “If the government manages to retake and secure eastern Aleppo…I think the rebels are pretty much out of the game…[It] would presumably have a devastating effect on international and Syrian confidence in the rebels’ ability to win the war or even wring real concessions from Assad.”

 

The Obama administration’s Middle East policy effectively serves as “legitimization of Iranian spheres of influence throughout the region, especially in Iraq and Syria,” Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies wrote in an analysis for Tablet on Thursday.

Badran observed that President Barack Obama has stated that he intended to break with the “old order” of American alliances in the Middle East, which he viewed as “unsustainable.” “I think there was a comfort with a United States that was comfortable with an existing order and the existing alignments, and was an implacable foe of Iran,” he said in a 2014 interview. If America’s existing allies were scared of an American rapprochement to Iran, Obama added, they would have to “adapt to change.”

Obama’s approach, Badran wrote, has been activelyas looking for Iranian cooperation on regional issues. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the nuclear deal with Iran is known, was a means to achieving this end. Secretary of State John Kerry seemed to say as much in an interview last August. “If we can get this deal done, then we’re ready to sit down and talk about the regional issues, and we may be able to work things in different places,” he said.

But where Obama sees a confluence of interests, Badran explained, Iran sees that it has leverage in the region allowing it “to advance its own regional interests,” meaning that it seeks “to overturn the existing order and replace it with Iranian hegemony.”

Badran described the new dynamic:

Iranian impunity is not a function of Iran’s actual military power vis-à-vis the United States. Rather, it emanates from the Iranian understanding that Obama wants to extricate the United States from the region, has no interest in maintaining the old American order, and is therefore willing to recognize Iran’s position at the head of the regional table. Hence, the administration has found itself repeatedly acting as Iran’s lawyer, excusing and justifying its behavior, legitimizing its ambitions, and instead lashing out at old regional allies. These dynamics, which the administration set up in order to cooperate with Iran, were codified in the JCPOA and give Iran substantial leverage to determine the terms of the U.S.-Iranian relationship. Insofar as Obama has made the nuclear deal and cooperation with Iran his signature, legacy-setting policy, the United States must act as Iran’s advocate in the region, lest the deal and the promise of cooperation collapse. Sustaining the deal with Iran and gaining its cooperation in the region therefore requires the United States to downgrade traditional allies like Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, which are in direct conflict with Iran throughout the region, in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen.

In order to make this new arrangement palatable to Americans who still view Iran with suspicion, Obama has packaged it as part of the fight against extremism, and specifically against ISIS. Badran conceded that if Iran helps defeat ISIS and restores stability to the region, then Obama’s bet will have paid off. But Badran cautioned that relying on Iran is more likely a bad gamble, because there is “no evidence” that Iran will act in a constructive way. Specifically, Badran observed, “One is hard pressed to find any precedent for a forced integration of a revolutionary power with hegemonic ambitions in an existing structure, with which it is in direct conflict, and which it explicitly seeks to overturn.”

Last year, Michael Doran, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, presented a history of Obama’s outreach to Iran. Doran observed that the administration believed that the common interests of the United States and Iran “would provide a foundation for building a concert system of states—a club of stable powers that could work together to contain the worst pathologies of the Middle East and lead the way to a sunnier future.”

The New York Times reported in August that members of the administration harbored “grander ambitions for a deal they hope could open up relations with Tehran and be part of a transformation in the Middle East.” (via TheTower.org)

 

“I learned that life is not beautiful without colors … it’s not a full life in just black and white,” says Lila Adoi, 23, one of nine visually impaired Israelis who chose to participate in a unique painting workshop at the Haifa-area branch of Migdal Or (Lighthouse),  a multi-service center for functional and vocational rehabilitation of people with vision challenges. Though art isn’t ordinarily considered functional or vocational, Migdal Or social worker Mirit Yakobi says: “If we want to help our clients to believe they can do almost anything and be productive citizens, we must let them try something they didn’t think possible, like painting. “Most of the people who come for training at Migdal Or have always been told that they cannot do this or that. Painting seems like a strange activity for them, but once they try it they realize that if they can paint despite vision problems, perhaps they can succeed in something else they are afraid to try.” he new painting workshop launched in August 2015 is taught by volunteer Shlomi Schwarzberg, an artist in residence at Israel’s Ein Hod artists’ colony, where the students will exhibit their work when the workshop ends in January. “I have no practical education on teaching blind people, so I do it in my own intuitive way,” Schwarzberg says. “I gave them photos of paintings of other artists, such as Van Gogh, because they cannot paint from their own imagination and need something to copy from.” (via Israel21c)


Palestinian President: Terrorists who murdered Israelis and Israeli-Americans are "martyrs"

 

Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas met with the families of 11 terrorists who attacked and killed Israelis in the ongoing wave of terror, telling the families, “Your sons are martyrs.” The meeting, which was broadcast by the official Palestinian news agency, occurred only hours after an attack by three Palestinians that killed an Israeli policewoman and severely injured another. The Palestinian Authority president posted a video of the meeting on the homepage of his official website. The families with whom Abbas met included the parents of Baha Alian, the Palestinian terrorist who murdered three people, two Israelis and one Israeli-American, in October. The American killed, Richard Lakin, was a life-long educator who moved to Israel to teach English to “Jewish, Christian and Muslim children.” In a letter to President Barack Obama on Thursday, Lakin’s son noted his father’s legacy, while blasting Palestinian incitement. He wrote, “To state it clearly, the President of the Palestinian National Authority praised and glorified the brutal murder of a citizen of the United States of America.”

State Department Spokesperson John Kirby was questioned on Thursday about Abbas hosting the families of terrorists who committed attacks that killed an American citizen. When pressed by veteran AP reporter Matt Lee on whether President Abbas calling them “martyrs” was incitement, Kirby said that he had only seen press reports that a meeting took place. When asked about Abbas’s rhetoric, Kirby responded that he has been careful about not “characterizing each and every sentence uttered and each and every act.” He also did not respond when Lee suggested that he had no problem with Abbas holding such meetings. At the end of the exchange, Kirby said, “[I]f he said what he said, then yes, that would be deeply concerning to us.”

Palestinian officials from all levels of society have been condemned for inciting Palestinians to violence. The ongoing wave of terror has killed 31 Israelis and left 302 wounded. President Abbas has failed to condemn attacks and has spread lies that Israel seeks to undermine the status quo of the Temple Mount. He claimed that Israel was carrying out “field executions.” In October, Abbas declared, “We welcome every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem…With the help of Allah, every shaheed (martyr) will be in heaven, and every wounded will get his reward.” The US-backed PA praised the terrorist Nashat Milhem, who went on a shooting rampage, killing three on New Year’s Day in Tel Aviv. The PA health ministry extolled him as “one of the most precious martyrs whose name has been inscribed with his pure blood that watered the soil of our free land.” After the U.S. House unanimously passed a resolution condemning incitement by the PA, Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) said, “It is well past time for Abbas to stand up and condemn all acts of violence, rather than encouraging violence by glorifying terrorists and teaching children to view Israelis as animals.”

 

The United States’ failure to ground a sanctioned Iranian airline that provides logistical support to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in Syria underscores a severe loss of American credibility, which the Obama administration should immediately act to restore by penalizing companies and financial institutions that allow the airline to operate, Emanuele Ottolenghi, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote in an op-ed (Google link) published Wednesday in The Wall Street Journal.

Ottolenghi observed that although the U.S. government “has repeatedly committed itself to grounding” Mahan Air, which the IRGC uses to transport troops and weapons to support the regime of Bashar al-Assad, the airline continues to fly and is in fact expanding its international routes. He added that Mahan is the most “significant” Iranian entity remaining under American sanctions, explaining:

The U.S. Treasury sanctioned it in October 2011 for “providing financial, material and technological support to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF)” and for providing transportation services to Iran’s Lebanese terror proxy, Hezbollah. In October 2012, Treasury blacklisted 117 Iranian commercial planes, including all of Mahan’s aircraft, because “Iran used Iran Air and Mahan Air flights between Tehran and Damascus to send military and crowd control equipment to the Syrian regime.”

The Islamic Republic continued to rely on civilian aircraft to supply the Assad regime throughout the talks leading to last year’s nuclear deal. A Western intelligence report leaked to Reuters in 2012 confirmed that Mahan was at the center of the IRGC airlift to the Assad regime. So has a United Nations panel in charge of monitoring implementation of international sanctions against Iran.

Treasury in 2012 raised concerns about Mahan violations of civil-aviation rules, including the use of “a combination of passenger and cargo flights and declaring illicit cargo as humanitarian and other licit goods.” Nearly five years into Syria’s civil war, Mahan continues to offer the IRGC steady logistical support. In late July, Qods Force commander Qasem Soleimani flew to Moscow to enlist Russian support for a counteroffensive to salvage the Syrian regime’s corridor from the capital, Damascus, to Latakia and Tartous, the two Mediterranean port cities housing Moscow’s naval bases.

After Soleimani’s trip to Moscow, Mahan’s flights to Syria increased in order to support the Assad regime’s offensive against rebel factions, which began in October.

Ottolenghi wrote that shortly after the nuclear deal with Iran was signed, Acting Under Secretary of Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Adam Szubin warned that “a foreign bank that conducts or facilitates a significant financial transaction with Iran’s Mahan Air . . . will risk losing its access to the U.S. financial system.” However, the Obama administration did not take any substantive action to restrict Mahan’s movements and, on the contrary, agreed to cancel Interpol red notices against Mahan’s chief executive and a senior manager as part of a deal to free five American hostages from Iran.

The Obama administration needs to enforce existing sanctions against Mahan, Ottolenghi concluded, adding that it can do this by taking action against any financial institution that helps finance Mahan and impose fines on companies that provide ground-services to the airline. Only then will there be any chance of forcing Mahan to cut back on its operations.

Ottolenghi frequently highlights Mahan flights, especially those to Syria, in his Twitter feed.

He also documented the Obama administration’s lack of resolve in confronting Mahan in The Central Pillar Supporting the Iran Deal Has a Big Crack In It, which was published in the July 2015 issue of The Tower Magazine. (via TheTower.org)

 

Today, hundreds of women in Kenya will have their first screening for cervical cancer using Tel Aviv-based MobileODT’s  Enhanced Visual Assessment (EVA) System, which needs no infrastructure but a mobile phone and Internet connection. “We have donated 20 of our EVA systems to health providers in Nyeri County, Kenya, for the Ministry of Health’s nationally sponsored screening camp. On February 4, to mark World Cancer Day, they plan to screen over 700 women for cervical cancer in a single day,” MobileODT CEO Ariel Beery told ISRAEL21c earlier in the week. “Simultaneously, on the other side of the globe, in New York, Curtis Peterson, our VP for global health, will be speaking at the World Cancer Day  panel at the United Nations organized by the permanent missions of the United States and the Republic of Zambia to the United Nations, Every Woman Every Child, and Cervical Cancer Action,” says Beery. Piloted successfully in the United States, Haiti, Guatemala, Botswana, Kenya, Nepal and Mexico, EVA is an advanced optical technology that pairs with a smartphone camera to capture and securely transmit biomedical images for diagnosis and analysis. This makes cervical cancer screenings possible in places lacking more sophisticated medical infrastructure. The company provides training and support. (via Israel21c)


Palestinian terrorists open fire near entrance to Old City, killing one and wounding another

 

Three Palestinian terrorists attacked Israelis this morning near the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, killing an Israeli policewoman and seriously injuring another. The terrorists were armed with automatic guns, knives and explosives, and appear to have been planning to attack a large group of Israeli civilians. Israeli police publicly assessed that the police officers who blocked the terrorists prevented “a combined and much larger attack” and that the level of planning and munitions involved represent an escalation in the recent wave of terror that began in October and has killed 30 Israelis and wounded 301.

Palestinian officials from a range of factions have been criticized for inciting the violence, including via social media. Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas has declined to condemn attacks against Israelis, and has instead made inflammatory remarks that have been linked to spiking tensions. Abbas’s Fatah faction, which controls the US-backed PA, called the three Palestinians who assaulted the policewomen “heroes and the honor of the country.” According to the Shin Bet, a 15-year-old Palestinian boy who stabbed an Israeli mother to death in front of her children two weeks ago was influenced by Palestinian TV shows demonizing Israelis.

Following a separate attack on Sunday by a member of PA security forces against three Israeli soldiers, PA police released a statement praising the attacker: "With great pride, the members of the Palestinian police eulogize the brave martyrdom of their colleague." The Palestinian assailant had shot and wounded three Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint north of Ramallah. He was the second member of PA security services to commit an attack against Israelis.

 

The expense and effort that the terrorist organization Hamas is putting into building attack tunnels while the Gaza Strip, which it rules, is mired in poverty shows that “the last thing Hamas cares about is the welfare of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip,” veteran Palestinian affairs correspondent Khaled Abu Toameh wrote in an analysis for The Gatestone Institute on Tuesday.The collapse of a terror tunnel last week, in which seven terrorists were killed, “provides further proof that the Islamist movement has stayed true to its charter, which calls for the total destruction of Israel,” Abu Toameh observed.“We have enough mujahideen [jihad warriors] to replace their brothers who were martyred [in the tunnel collapse],” senior Hamas official Khalil Al-Hayeh said at the funeral of the seven terrorists who died. Abu Toameh observed that the comments show that Hamas is ready “to sacrifice as many Palestinians as it takes” to achieve its goal of destroying Israel. The Palestinian Ministry of Health reported that between 2006 and 2011, 188 Gazans were killed digging tunnels, and ten percent of those deaths were of children under the age of 18.

“Hamas has invested millions of dollars into its tunnel-building projects,” while Gaza’s economy is in shambles, Abu Toameh noted. Gaza had an unemployment rate of over 40 percent in 2015, and 65 percent of Gazans live under the poverty line. In addition, more than half of Gaza’s population depends of foreign aid organizations. Abu Toameh reported that political rivals inside Gaza have begun calling Hamas leaders “merchants of war” for the way they have accrued their own wealth through smuggling, at the expense of the underpaid workers who dig the tunnels at great personal risk. “Hamas wants the Palestinians to continue living in misery and bitterness,” he added.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has once again reached out to Hamas as part of reconciliation efforts between his Fatah party and the terror organization, Abu Toameh reported. But Abu Toameh wrote that the idea that Hamas would ever moderate its position towards Israel is an “illusion,” meaning that “Hamas will never exchange its attack tunnels for PA cabinet portfolios.”

It wasn’t just seven Hamas members who died last week, Abu Toameh concluded, but also the myth that “Hamas will somehow transform itself into a ‘peace partner’ for Israel, the Palestinian Authority or even the Palestinian people.” Two terrorists were killed in a separate tunnel collapse after Abu Toameh’s article was published. Numerous analysts have observed that Hamas’ control over the Gaza Strip is one of the major obstacles to Palestinian statehood. (via TheTower.org)

 

In a heartwarming scenario in Israel this week, a group of IDF soldiers came to the assistance of a mother dog trying to rescue her 12 puppies from a flooded house. The nail-biting video clip of the mother dog risking her life to save her pups was uploaded to Facebook by Israel’s Let the Animals Live association, which helps animals in distress. The organization put out a call for people to adopt the seven puppies that survived the ordeal. The happy-sad scene caught on video took place at an IDF army base. The soldiers knew that their adopted stray dog had birthed a litter a few days before the storm. When rainwater began to pool under the building where the puppies were nestled, their mom couldn’t figure out how to save them. That’s when the soldiers stepped in to help. In the video, you can see the mother dog whining hysterically and pacing back and forth near a small opening under the structure. One of the soldiers tries to scoop away water with a pail. Another is heard prompting the canine, saying “Get them out. Out, out.” Every time the mother dog returned from under the building with a pup in her mouth, the soldiers wrapped them up in blankets. (via Israel21c)

 


Obama admin pressed on Iran boasts of $100 billion windfall, twice public estimates

 

Journalists today pressed the Obama administration on accusations that the administration had downplayed the extent of capital that the Islamic Republic would receive in the wake of the nuclear deal reached in July. Iran claimed on Monday that it now has access to more than $100 billion of previously frozen assets, which is twice what the administration has publicly estimated. State Department Spokesperson John Kirby continued to argue Tuesday that the true amount of money available to Iran in the wake of the nuclear deal is approximately $50 billion, with the other half tied up in debt obligations. Veteran Associated Press journalist Matthew Lee was skeptical of  this line of reasoning, stating, “I don't understand why you can say that they're only going to get $50 billion when they get the benefit of the full $100 billion, even if it is [used for] paying down debt.” Lee later said that it can be argued that the administration is being disingenuous “by saying that Iran isn't going to get the benefit of this full $100 billion, because it is.” Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew argued shortly after the signing of the Iran deal in July that, although $115 billion would be “theoretically available” to Iran, in reality, after Iran had paid off contractual obligations and non-performing loans, Iran would be looking at $56 billion in unfrozen assets.The sanctions relief windfall to which Iran now has access is likely to burgeon hardliners within the regime.

Reuters reported in mid-January that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the Praetorian Guard of the Iranian Revolution, is “destined to become still richer now [that sanctions have] been lifted.” Iran seeks to destabilize the region and expand its influence at the same time, as it has done in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen. Parisa Hafezi of Reuters continued, “Tehran is not about to end these activities just because its relations with the West have thawed with the nuclear deal. On the contrary, it hopes the economy, freed from the sanctions, will create new wealth that can be used for these ends.” Saeed Ghasseminejad, an Associate Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said in July that the sanctions lifting means more funds for the IRGC, “which instantly will be used to fund terrorism around the world, opposing the U.S. and its allies, and oppressing the Iranian people."

Iran will be able to use this windfall to, among other things, finance Hezbollah and the Assad regime in Syria. Hezbollah’s chief Hassan Nasrallah said last April, “A rich and strong Iran will be able to stand by its allies and friends and the peoples of the region, especially the resistance in Palestine, more than in any time in the past.” The UN special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, told Bloomberg View that Iran spends $6 billion a year to prop up the Assad regime, which is responsible for the systematic starvation, bombardment, and gassing of its own civilians.

 

Thousands of mourners marching at the funeral of a Palestinian Authority police officer who wounded three IDF soldiers during a shooting attack on Sunday chanted “death to Israel” and called for killing hundreds of Israelis, the Times of Israel reported on Monday.

“It is time for the machine gun, to shoot 500 people,” a man leading Amjad Sukkari’s funeral procession shouted into a megaphone. “Muhammad’s army will return,” he declared. His words were loudly repeated by the mourners.Many in the crowd, which gathered to celebrate Sukkari in the West Bank city of Nablus, chanted for more terrorist attacks against Jews and Israelis.

Nablus governor Akram Rajoub and several other senior officials from Fatah, the party led by PA President Mahmoud Abbas, were among the mourners.

“It doesn’t mean I agree with what he has done,” Rajoub said. “I’m against policemen carrying out attacks, but we are people who respect their martyrs and dead.”

Sukkari, 34, worked as a bodyguard and driver for the Palestinian attorney general. He carried out his attack at a West Bank checkpoint near Beit El, shooting three soldiers with a handgun before being fatally hit by return fire. One of his victims sustained a gunshot to his upper body and is in serious condition. The second victim is in moderate condition, and the third was slightly injured from a bullet wound to the hand.

Following news of the attack, the PA’s police force released a statement eulogizing Sukkari’s “brave martyrdom.”

Hamas also praised Sunday’s shooting, as did the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which called on “all strugglers in Palestine to escalate the flame of the intifada.”

According to Israel’s Channel 2, the hashtag “operation V.I.P.” went viral on Palestinian social media following news of the shooting, with various photos and memes circulating on Facebook and Twitter.

Al-Quds, the largest Palestinian newspaper, featured a drawing of the “martyr” Sukkari as its daily comic on Sunday. (via TheTower.org)

 

Hugs tend to make everyone feel better. And Natan Meir, whose wife, Dafna, was murdered by a terrorist on January 17, knew that his two pre-teen daughters needed a big hug. On February 1, 11-year-old Noa and her 10-year-old sister Ahava competed in a local gymnastics competition in the Otniel community where they live. Of course, they were delighted when they won second and third place for their routines. Two other mothers, beloved neighbors, escorted Noa — whose name means movement and is also the name of one of the five daughters of Zelophehad in the Bible — and Ahava, whose name means love, to the competition. But Natan posted on Facebook later in the day that their happiness was overshadowed by grief after they returned home and couldn’t get the hug they really wanted, from their mother. “In the evening, the crying began – mom didn’t get to see this win. Where was mom’s hug? Why wasn’t she here to see?” he wrote in a public Facebook post. So Natan set out to get the girls a great big hug from all of Israel. “I offered to post a photo of them with their medals so that they could get a warm and loving hug from the people of Israel,” he wrote. Within 12 hours, Natan’s post fielded some 30,000 likes and thousands of comments. (The numbers are constantly rising.) Comments included: “Bravo on a great achievement. Sending you warm hugs,” “We’re proud of you,” “Champions, your mother is watching over you,” “Mazal Tov girls! All of Israel is proud of you and your whole family,” and many similar sentiments. Israelis are known for caring for one another and being the first to respond in times of emergency. And social media has further fueled amazing heartwarming reactions by Israelis to Israelis. (via Israel21c)

 


Iran’s Supreme Leader honors generals who seized American sailors

 

Iran continues to use its seizure of US vessels three weeks ago for propaganda purposes. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei awarded highly prestigious medals to the generals who detained American sailors on January 12. According to CNN, the Fath (Farsi for “victory”) medals are one of the highest honors that Iran's supreme leader can bestow on a military leader and are rarely given out. Khamenei stated that the capture of the American sailors "was in fact an act of God, who brought the Americans into our waters so they would be arrested with their hands on their heads through your timely measure."

The commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Navy, Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi, boasted on Monday that Iran had extracted a lot of information from the US sailors’ cell phones and laptops. Admiral Fadavi also stated that the IRGC has filmed the capture of the US sailors and threatened that in the event that the US seeks to humiliate Iran, the IRGC would publish the footage to further embarrass the US.

Several legal and military experts have asserted that Iran’s seizure of the US sailors and their boats violated international laws including the right to innocent passage and the principle of sovereign immunity. Furthermore, according to US Navy Captain Sean R. Liedman, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, the broadcasting of photos and footage of US sailors kneeling with their hands behind their heads, as well as the video of an American sailor’s confession, violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which bans degrading treatment and mandates respect for the inherent dignity of detainees. The transmission of this footage may have also violated the Geneva Convention, which protects prisoners of war “against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.”

Experts have warned that failing to respond to these violations could set a dangerous precedent that other countries hostile to the US could follow, while undermining the US commitment to uphold freedom of navigation. Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee John McCain (R-AZ) criticized the administration for not responding to Iran’s violations, stating that “by failing to affirm basic principles of international law, it places our Navy and Coast Guard vessels and the men and women who sail them at increased risk in the future."

 

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh proclaimed in his weekly sermon on Friday that his terror organization was preparing for future conflicts with Israel, as analysts continue to note the group’s buildup of infrastructure in anticipation of a possible war. In his speech, which eulogized seven terrorists who died when a tunnel collapsed on them earlier this week, Haniyeh proclaimed that the tunnels Hamas is currently building are “double the length” of those dug in the Vietnam War.Veteran Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel noted Sunday that at least 12 members of Hamas have died in tunnel collapses in the past year. Four are still reported to be missing from last week’s tunnel collapse. Harel observed that the “large number of accidents and problems Hamas has run into underground could show that someone in Hamas is in a rush to prepare their offensive tools ahead of a possible decision on an attack.”Israeli efforts to locate tunnels that cross under the Gaza border have also intensified. “It would appear the two sides are in a race against time,” Harel summarized. “Hamas is in a hurry to finish its preparations, while Israel wants to locate the attack tunnels that Hamas may use in the not-so-distant future.”

Since the last war launched by Hamas against Israel in the summer of 2014, Hamas has increased its reliance on tunnels as offensive weapons. This is due to a number of factor, including a rift (now partially mended) with Iran, as well as Egypt’s successful efforts at destroying smuggling tunnels that cross its border. The inability to acquire rockets from outside Gaza has meant that Hamas is forced to use locally produced rockets that are not especially accurate.

“In east Gaza there are heroes digging tunnels under the ground and in the west there are those testing rockets,” Haniyeh said on Friday, according to Haaretz.

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades are digging tunnels to defend Gaza and turn it into a launch pad for all of Palestine…Thanks to the patience of the Strip’s residents and despite the siege and war and schemes against Gaza. I tell all those who are doubtful at our resilience: forgo this logic. We are prepared to go without bread and without water, but we will not live without respect.

Numerous news reports indicate that Haniyeh has managed to become a millionaire living in luxury, while many in Gaza suffer in poverty.

Harel wrote two weeks ago that “it was reasonable to assume” that, given the expense and effort Hamas had put into rebuilding them, it now has at least the same number of attack tunnels that it had prior to the 2014 war. During the war, The Washington Post published an assessment that showed that each tunnel cost over $1 million to build, with the money coming, one analyst wrote, “at the expense of the people of Gaza.”

Only three months after the conclusion of the 50-day conflict in 2014, Egyptian authorities warned that Hamas was already spending $140 million annually to rebuild its tunnel infrastructure. In December 2014, sources inside Gaza reported to Ynet that “Hamas has been commandeering building materials from Israel transferred into the Gaza Strip for reconstruction for the purpose of rebuilding its offensive ‘terror tunnels.’” Similarreports surfaced again in last April, when Hamas was also said to be rearming with Iranian support. (via TheTower.org)

 

The UN Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations has unanimously granted advisory status to the ZAKA rescue and recovery organization. This status gives the volunteer organization the right to take part in official UN discussions and conferences that are open for NGOs. “It is a great honor for the State of Israel in general and the ZAKA organization and its volunteers in particular that the UN recognizes and appreciates the unique sacred mission that we do, regardless of religion, race or creed,” said ZAKA Founder and Chairman Yehuda Meshi-Zahav. “The professional, humanitarian efforts of ZAKA around the globe, combined with the complex and sensitive diplomatic efforts of the UN delegation, have resulted in the official UN recognition of ZAKA.” Meshi-Zahav said ZAKA will expand its international search, rescue and recovery missions, working in continued close cooperation with international emergency forces. In 2005, ZAKA was recognized by the UN as an international volunteer humanitarian organization. But the Jerusalem-based NGO requested it be accepted as an advisory body with official observer status. “ZAKA is an organization that reflects Israel’s moral values and its acceptance by the UN represents conclusive proof to the world of this fact. ZAKA received the status it deserves,” said Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon. (via Israel21c)

 

Post-Holocaust Germany has built hundreds of monuments to its Jewish past and reconstructed many of its most precious Jewish sites. But one site that is a testament to a vibrant Jewish present has found itself outside these plans. 

The future of Jewish life in Europe is once more a hot topic of conversation. The mainstreaming of anti-Zionism within European social democratic parties that were once friendly to Israel, and the violence against Jewish communities over the past year in France and Belgium, have rattled the large established communities of Western Europe. At the same time, however, the quiet growth of communities in recently Judenrein Eastern Europe—supplemented especially by Russian and Israeli immigrants—continues apace. Neither of these trends is as new as it seems. Throughout its history, European Jewry has gone through cycles of destruction and rebirth. On a recent visit to Germany, I saw a place that seemed to reflect this entire process in microcosm.

To continue reading, click here for The Tower Magazine.


Top lawmakers blast White House for waiving anti-terror law for Iran business activity

 

Leaders in the U.S. House are rebuking the Obama administration over plans by executive agencies to circumvent a new anti-terrorism law after Iranian officials raised objections to the measure. A letter sent by top members on Thursday accuses the White House of a “flawed and deeply troubling implementation” of the new law that “renders both the terms ‘national security’ and ‘law enforcement’ virtually meaningless.” The letter is signed by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R – Calif.); House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R – Calif.); House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R – Va.); House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R – Texas); and the author of the anti-terror law, Rep. Candice Miller (R – Mich.).

At stake is implementation of the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, which was passed in December and tightened visa restrictions to ban visa-free travel for individuals who had recently traveled to, or are citizens of, state sponsors of terrorism, including Iran. President Obama signed the law on December 18.

The law triggered a backlash among Iranian officials, who claimed that the anti-terror measures violated the nuclear deal reached in July. In response, Secretary of State John Kerry sent a letter to Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif promising to provide waivers so as not “interfere with legitimate business interests in Iran.” The administration confirmed last week that it will indeed waive the new visa requirements for persons who have traveled to Iran and Iraq for “legitimate business-related purposes,” on a case-by-case basis. State Department Deputy spokesperson Mark Toner told reporters that the exemption was not for national security purposes, but for business.

The administration’s efforts to circumvent the law had already raised congressional objections. In an earlier letter by the same five lawmakers, the members emphasized that “[n]ot only was such an exemption [business-related] from the law not included in the legislation, it was specifically discussed during bill negotiations with Administration staff and expressly refused by Members of Congress despite the inclusion of two other exemptions.” In the newest letter they maintain that the exemptions are “contrary to the plain language of the statute.”

The administration’s actions have more broadly raised concerns that the nuclear deal constrains the U.S. in responding to Iranian aggression. Lawmakers told Kerry that it was “beyond belief” that the concerns of Iranian officials “would supersede a newly-enacted U.S. law designed to protect the American people from terrorism.” Executive Director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies Mark Dubowitz told Bloomberg View, “If the United States Congress cannot implement a more secure visa procedure for those who travel to state sponsors of terrorism like Iran, then the Iran deal ties the hands of lawmakers to a greater extent than even deal critics feared.”

 

As Iranian President Hassan Rouhani met with French President Francois Hollande and signed major business deals in Paris, thousands marched in protest of human rights abuses carried out by the Tehran regime, Reuters reported on Thursday. Rouhani’s visit to France was the first by an Iranian president since 1999.

While the countries hailed the commercial agreements “as symbols of thawing relations,” an estimated 3,000 protesters took to the streets to condemn the deteriorating human rights situations in Iran under Rouhani, who was elected in 2013 as a reformer.

An activist from the feminist group FEMEN dangled from a bridge in a mock hanging to draw attention to the soaring execution rate in Iran, which leads the world in per-capita hangings and is one of the only countries to use the death penalty against minors. According to a new report by Amnesty International, at least 73 juveniles were executed by Iran between 2005 to 2015, while 160 remain on death row.

Among the deals announced was the sale of 118 Airbus jets to Iran and an agreement with the French corporation Total to purchase some 200,000 barrels of crude from Iran. Shipping, agriculture, and water management agreements were also reached.

France was Rouhani’s second and final stop on his European trip. Earlier this week, he visited Rome boost business ties with Italy, where he denied that Iran was a leading sponsor of terrorism and claimed that American hostility toward Iran was driven by the “Israel lobby.”

Former Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Maria Terzi wrote on Wednesday that the nuclear deal would not lead Iran to moderate its behavior and lamented that “European governments are willing to talk with Rouhani about oil deals and trade partnerships even if it means actively ignoring Iran’s worsening human rights situation, its sponsorship of terror, and its destabilizing activities in the Middle East.”

In October, Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights for Iran, called the high rate of executions in Iran an “unprecedented assault on the right to life in Iran.”

While Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has often been characterized as a moderate, his term in office has been marked by the steady deterioration of human rights. Shortly after his election in 2013, Rouhani appointed Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, known as the “Minister of Murder” for his role in thousands of summary executions in the 1980’s, to the post of justice minister. (via TheTower.org)

 

Cybox, a new contest that will annually select and announce the most innovative cyber defense startup in Israel, picked Minerva Labs as its first winner and the company most likely to make a significant impact on information security. Minerva Labs — founded in 2014 by Edi Bobritzki, Erez Briman and Omri Moyal — has developed a novel, revolutionary product that protect systems from focused attacks without the need of prior knowledge, intelligence or recognition. In fact, the company’s patent-based solution created a new paradigm (prevention without recognition). Minerva Labs was one of five companies selected to present its product in the Cybox competition that took place at the Cybertech 2016 conference. CyberTech organizers joined forces with Glilot Capital Partners to launch the Cybox contest. “In the last years Israel has positioned itself as a source of innovation in the Cyber Security field. The CYBOX Contest will allow the next promising companies to get targeted exposure,”said  Arik Kleinstein, CO-Founder & Managing Partners, Glilot Capital Partners. (via Israel21c)


Congress blasts Obama admin for mishandling Iran hostage release, rewarding hostage-taking

 

The Obama administration has mishandled a series of crises triggered by Iran's abduction of American citizens, according to a growing chorus of congressional critics who are blasting the White House for, among other things, downplaying Iran’s role in those crises. Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) issued a press release on Thursday criticizing the administration for obfuscating Iran’s responsibility for the kidnapping of three Americans by Shiite militias in Baghdad, noting that while “U.S. officials have narrowed their target to three Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-backed militias… the Obama administration still refuses to recognize Iran’s nefarious role in this abduction.” The statement blasted Secretary of State John Kerry for reaching out to Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif for assistance in investigating the abduction, which Pompeo described as “like asking criminal hostage takers where their victims are located, then thanking them for their cooperation.”

The three Americans, kidnapped on January 16, have reportedly been taken to Sadr City, a stronghold of Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq (AAH), one of three Iranian-backed Shiite militias suspected in the abduction. Max Boot, a foreign policy analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Michael Pregent, a senior Middle East analyst at the Hudson Institute, wrote in The Washington Post on Sunday that the AAH is a “wholly owned subsidiary of Iran’s Quds Force. It is inconceivable that it could kidnap and hold Americans…without at least the acquiescence, and probably the active support, of Tehran.” Scott Modell, an Iran expert and former CIA official, told Jay Solomon of The Wall Street Journal, “No group has been more vocal in its threats to U.S. forces in Iraq than Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, and none more steadfast in its loyalty to IRGC hardliners.”

The militias carried out the kidnapping the same weekend that the U.S. government made a $1.7 billion payment to Iran, itself coinciding with the release of five Americans from Iranian prisons. The payout has been widely described as a ransom payment, a characterization that the Obama administration has rejected. Additional concessions timed to coincide with the release have subsequently been revealed. Reuters reported on Wednesday that the administration dropped a $10 million claim against an Iranian-born aerospace engineer who had taken an illegal payment in that amount from Iran.

Pompeo's statement emphasized that “we must stop appeasing Iran, lest more Americans get taken hostage, or worse.” The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal had already written, “Iran has again shown the world that taking American hostages while Barack Obama is President can yield a diplomatic and military windfall.”

 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades to discuss opportunities to leverage newly discovered gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean Sea with the aim of increasing regional stability and security, the Associated Press reported on Thursday.

“Our states share the same values as well as the conviction that in order to effectively counter multiple challenges confronting us on a local, regional and international level, we must work collectively,” said Anastasiades.

The tripartite summit, which took place in the Cypriot capital Nicosia, centered on the natural gas finds, as well as migration, terrorism, and tourism. The countries also clinched a cooperation agreement on water management.

According to Netanyahu, the leaders agreed to form a committee to discuss the possible construction of a pipeline to transport Israeli and Cypriot natural gas to Europe by way of Greece. The committee will also examine the potential for connecting the countries’ electricity grids via an undersea cable.

The summit took place a day after Netanyahu and Tsipras met in Jerusalem and “signed numerous bilateral agreements in the fields of foreign affairs, economic cooperation, innovation, energy, the environment, tourism, transportation, maritime relations, the maintenance of public order, civil defense and the war on terrorism,” according to The Times of Israel.

“Our cooperation with Greece and Cyprus stands on its own,” said Netanyahu on Wednesday. “While we believe that it should have happened some time ago, we are pleased by the current progress.”

The growing cooperation between Israel, Greece, and Cyprus was “unthinkable” a decade ago, The Jerusalem Post’s diplomatic correspondent Herb Keinon wrote last week. The impetus for the strengthened ties has been the offshore gas reserves that all three countries are interested in developing.

At a time when the European Union’s bureaucracy is increasingly hostile towards Israel, Netanyahu has pursued a strategy of enhancing ties with individual European nations that have common interests with the Jewish state. “In Netanyahu’s view of the world, there is a clear dichotomy: poor relations with multilateral organizations, good relations on a bilateral level with individual countries,” Keinon wrote.

In The EU’s Israel Problem Goes Far Beyond Labels, which was published in the January 2016 issue of The Tower Magazine, Steven J. Rosen exposed how unelected bureaucrats in the EU have been pushing the European body to adopt more hostile policies towards Israel. (via TheTower.org)

 

For several years, Israeli virologist Dr. Leslie Lobel has worked with Ugandan scientists who have been collecting insects in the Zika Forest of Uganda to study the viruses they carry. More recently, they have been investigating if these arboviruses have any impact on other serious diseases such as deadly Ebola and Marburg viruses, Lobel’s main area of research. But since last May, Zika virus has been in the news due to an outbreak in Brazil that coincides with a reported increase in birth defects including microcephaly, an abnormally small brain. Cases of Zika – named for the Ugandan forest — are now occurring in 23 countries around the world, including many parts of Central and South America and the Caribbean. Today, the World Health Organization convened an emergency committee to discuss the “explosive” spread of the virus. Marcos Espinal, an infectious disease expert at the WHO’s Americas regional office, said he expects to see three to four million cases of Zika. In response to the crisis, Lobel and a handful of other virologists around the world are stepping up their research of arboviruses, so called because they are borne by arthropods, especially mosquitos. (via Israel21c)