Iran's Guardian Council bars most candidates seeking to run for Assembly of Experts including leading reformist
- Iran's Guardian Council bars most candidates seeking to run for Assembly of Experts including leading reformist
Iran’s Guardian Council has disqualified the majority of the candidates seeking to run for a seat on the Assembly of Experts, the clerical body responsible for selecting the next Supreme Leader, including relatively moderate figures whose candidacies had been viewed as bellwethers for regime moderation. Among those disqualified was Hassan Khomeini, the reformist grandson of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who had been described by David Ignatius of the Washington Post as “a political barometer closely watched by U.S. officials” looking to evaluate the degree to which Iran’s political system would see reform and moderation in the aftermath of last year’s nuclear deal between Tehran and the P5+1 global powers. Khomeini was reportedly disqualified based on religious qualifications, and his son wrote on social media that the Guardian Council had refused to “accept the testimonies of tens of top clerics and Islamic jurisprudents in support of his qualification.”
The Guardian Council vets the candidates for Iran’s parliament and the Assembly of Experts, and the latest disqualifications follow a previous round in which the body excluded almost two-thirds of all the candidates who applied to run in Iran’s parliamentary election, including 99% of candidates from relatively moderate parties. Those elections had been separately watched for signals of moderation, and Ignatius had similarly argued that the moderates’ strategy was to register so many candidates for the parliament that “a total purge would undermine the election’s credibility.”
The Guardian Council’s actions are in tension with predictions by advocates of the Iran deal, including from inside the Obama administration that the nuclear deal would empower reformers and lead to a more moderate foreign policy. Additionally there have been increasingly harsh crackdowns on those opposed to Iran’s regime including youths, poets, and filmmakers. Secretary of State John Kerry assessed in August that the deal would be “a step towards bringing Iran into some kind of compliance, ultimately, with the norms of international behavior” and that the Iranians had told him that after the deal, "we may be able to work things in different places." However, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, former U.S. officials “have voiced concerns that the Obama administration’s hopes for improved relations with Tehran weren’t being matched by Iranian actions in the region.” The officials listed Iran’s ballistic missile tests in October and November, the live firing of rockets near U.S. aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, and the seizure and detention by the IRGC of 10 American sailors, as well as the kidnapping of US citizens in Baghdad as the latest examples of Iranian provocations.
The United States dropped a $10 million claim against an Iran-born engineer convicted of sanctions-related offenses in order to facilitate the release of five Americans held by the Islamic Republic, Reuters reported on Wednesday. Nader Modanlo is one of the seven Iranians who were pardoned or had their sentences commuted in exchange for the freedom of five U.S. citizens held by Iran. Modanlo, who had extensive and established connections to the Iranian regime, initially refused his freedom, saying he preferred to file an appeal in court. His refusal led the U.S. to surrender a $10 million claim against him in an effort to make the clemency agreement even more compelling.
A Maryland jury found that Modanlo had taken a $10 million payment from Iran for his help in launching the country’s first satellite in 2005. Modanlo claimed that the money was a loan from a Swiss company.
The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week that, just as Iran freed American prisoners Jason Rezaian, Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini and two others, the U.S. wired a payment of $1.7 billion to Iran. While the White House emphasized that the money was meant to settle an Iranian claim against the U.S., its timing heightened concerns that it was a ransom payment.
The American fund used to pay the $1.7 billion to Iran was the same one used by the U.S. to pay its own citizens and companies who were seeking damages against the Islamic Republic. “[The] US paid twice—to Iran and US citizens. Iran has never paid at all,” wrote Lee Smith, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.
The Journal‘s report came shortly after an Iranian general claimed that the payment was ransom.
At the same time that the deal to free the five American hostages held by Iran was being finalized, three American contractors were abducted in Iraq. U.S. intelligence officials believe that the men were taken by Iran-backed Shiite militias. (via TheTower.org)
Iranian-backed militias were behind the kidnapping of three Americans in Baghdad on January 16, according to U.S. intelligence and Iraqi police quoted by a range of outlets this week, potentially upsetting the warming of U.S. and Iranian ties. The Wall Street Journal reported late Monday that the three groups currently being entertained as potential suspects – Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), Kata’ib Hezbollah, and the Badr Corps – have all received financing, weapons, and training from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is tasked with preserving the Iranian revolution at home and exporting it abroad.
The three Americans have reportedly been taken to Sadr City, a stronghold of AAH. 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 the 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 incident has the potential to undermine increasingly open administration efforts at warming relations with Iran. Former U.S. officials “have voiced concerns that the Obama administration’s hopes for improved relations with Tehran weren’t being matched by Iranian actions in the region,” according to a story on the recent abductions by Jay Solomon of The Wall Street Journal. The story cited additional recent provocations such as Iran’s two recent ballistic missile tests, the firing of an unguided rocket within 1,500 yards of a U.S. aircraft carrier, and the detention of 10 American sailors.
A State Department source told CBS News that the U.S. embassy in Iraq had received information that an Iranian-backed militia was planning on kidnapping Americans. American officials hoped that Iran would be able to rein in the militia during negotiations that led to the release of five Americans in return for the release of seven Iranians accused of sanctions-busting, and the dropping of 14 further Iranian individuals from Interpol’s red list.
Hundreds of anti-Israel protesters disrupted a Shabbat service and reception held by an Israeli LGBTQ organization at a conference for gay activism in Chicago, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported on Sunday.Guests and organizers at the reception by A Wider Bridge, a group devoted to building closer ties between gay communities in North America and Israel, were shouted down with calls for the destruction of Israel and charges of “pinkwashing.” The term is meant to criticize alleged efforts by Israel to showcase its positive record on gay rights as a means of downplaying accusations that it mistreats Palestinians.
The entrance to the event, which was held during the National LGBTQ Task Force’s annual Creating Change conference, was restricted by protesters who yelled anti-Israel slogans, including, “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” The chant refers to the establishment of a Palestinian state in the territory from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean sea, in place of Israel.
Some protesters also entered the reception, took over the stage, and prevented members of Jerusalem Open House, an Israeli gay activist organization, from speaking.
“Last night the values of free speech and respectful communication that we all value and that should be the hallmark of the Creating Change conference were replaced by a disgraceful authoritarian-like action that seeks to silence the voices of anyone the protesters feel don’t adhere to their rigid dogma,” said A Wider Bridge in a statement. “Lies and gross distortions about A Wider Bridge and Israel were being repeated throughout the conference and at the protest. We look forward to working with the leadership of the Task Force to ensure that Creating Change can be a welcoming and safe space for LGBT people, Jews and non-Jews, who care about Israel.”
The National LGBTQ Task Force originally decided to cancel A Wider Bridge’s Shabbat event under pressure from anti-Israel activists, but later reversed its decision after facing a major public backlash.
Jamie Kirchick wrote in Tablet Magazine that the event’s initial cancellation reflected a capitulation by the Task Force to calls by a small group of extremists to engage in anti-Semitic discrimination:
“We canceled the reception when it became clear to us it would be intensely divisive rather than the community-building, social atmosphere which is the norm for Friday night at the conference,” Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey said in an emailed statement. Tyler Gregory, Deputy Director of A Wider Bridge, told the Washington Blade that the Task Force “recommended we either cancel [the] event, or ensure that our event speakers condemn the Israeli government in their remarks,” though which aspects of Israel’s government the Task Force expected A Wider Bridge—which receives no Israeli government funding—to “condemn” were left vague. Refusing to comply with either demand, A Wider Bridge was forced to move its event to a different hotel.
Carey’s contention that the happening—announced months ago—would be “intensely divisive” appears to rest on complaints registered by just three people: Dean Spade, a transgender professor at the Seattle University School of Law and a self-described “trans south Asian performance art duo” named Dark Matter. These, at least, were the only individuals named in the Blade story as having made public statements egging on the Task Force to engage in what is effectively an act of anti-Semitic prejudice and segregation.
And let there be no confusion: A non-compulsory Shabbat dinner and discussion of the Israeli LGBT experience is “divisive” in the way that the presence of a gay man in a locker room is “divisive.” It only “offends” the sensibilities of bigots. When a white person refuses to sit at a lunch counter next to a black person, or a straight football player refuses to play alongside a gay one, we have a word for that: discrimination. Nonetheless, a group ostensibly committed to fighting discrimination and that holds a conference so inclusive of the world’s many diversities that it provides “scent-free” areas for individuals highly sensitive to smell, bowed to those wanting to make it Jew-free as well.
Benjamin Weinthal, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, recently noted that an LGBT film festival organized by a Palestinian gay rights organization, Aswat-Palestinian Gay Women, is scheduled to be held this year in the Israeli city of Haifa, rather than in any area under the Palestinian Authority’s control.
In The Persistent Progress of Israel’s LGBT Community, which was published in the April 2015 issue of The Tower Magazine, Corinne Berzon discussed the advances LGBT individuals in Israel have made in gaining mainstream societal acceptance, and the challenges their community continues to face. (via TheTower.org)
Secretary of State John Kerry issued demands to the Syrian opposition over the weekend that were “dictated by Iran and Russia,” according to reports, while the Syrian opposition claimed Kerry was taking Iran and Russia’s side in the diplomatic efforts to resolve the Syrian civil war. Kerry reportedly told the Syrian opposition’s High Negotiating Committee chief, Riad Hijab, in a meeting in Saudi Arabia that the opposition risked “losing friends,” if they failed to attend the Syrian peace talks, scheduled to start on Friday. According to The Jerusalem Post, Kerry threatened to “stop US military and financial aid” if they do not participate. Reports also indicate that Secretary Kerry instructed the opposition to agree to a unity government, instead of a transitional government that would eventually lead to current Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s departure. Some media reports, according to The Wall Street Journal, also claimed that in the meeting Kerry hinted that Assad “might be able to run in coming elections.” Allowing Assad to run in an election would be a significant departure from previous U.S. positions, despite the U.S. weakening its position on the future of Assad in December and moving closer to the Russian and Iranian view. In Moscow, Secretary Kerry told reporters that the U.S. is “not seeking so-called regime change” in Syria.
The opposition has long demanded that Assad must go and fears that the peace talks with the Syrian regime will not achieve their goals but will serve the interests of Iran and Russia, the primary backers of the Assad regime. It was also reported that in the meeting Kerry signaled support for Iran’s proposed peace plan in Syria. Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, tweeted that the administration endorsed the plan “verbatim.” He continued, "Then again, Obama has recognized Syria as an Iranian sphere.” The opposition has repeatedly stated that they will not participate in the peace talks until “air strikes are halted, government sieges of rebel held territory are lifted and detainees freed.” According to Reuters, these conditions are outlined in the UN resolution passed on December 18. Secretary Kerry told reporters on Monday that there should be no preconditions for the talks. The Syrian opposition spokesperson Salim al-Muslat stated: “We want to realize pure humanitarian matters. They are not preconditions.” The Syrian regime, as a tactic of war, has engaged in the systematic starvation of civilians, including in the town of Madaya, where thousands are starving and dozens have starved to death. The Assad regime, with the support of Iran and Hezbollah fighters, has also indiscriminately murdered tens of thousands and displaced millions through the use of barrel bombs, air raids, massacres, and chemical weapons attacks. Middle East analyst Kyle Orton tweeted: “#Syria's opposition is being hammered on all sides militarily and politically and not even getting the starvation-sieges raised as an issue.”
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the capture of ten American sailors “God’s deed” in a tweet posted Sunday.
Khamenei’s comment was part of a a series of tweets praising Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) for seizing American naval vessels and taking their crews hostage two weeks ago. In one tweet he is seen congratulating the IRGC troops who captured the Americans.
After similar instances of Iranian aggression in the past, Khamenei often praised or promoted those responsible. As Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official and now a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, noted in Newsweek, the commander of the IRGC operation that seized British sailors in 2007 “later was decorated as soldier of the year.”
Khamenei’s record of rewarding Iranian aggression would not have happened, Rubin wrote, if the bad behavior “was not blessed, encouraged, and supported from the very top” of Iran’s leadership.
Khamanei has used Twitter in the past to express extreme views. In November 2014, Khamenei tweeted a nine-step plan for eliminating Israel. Last July, just after the nuclear deal was announced, he tweeted an image purporting to be President Barack Obama with a gun to his head, with text threatening the “aggressive and criminal” United States.
A bio-digester from Israel’s HomeBiogas is now converting organic waste into clean renewable energy at the Buvundya Orphanage in Uganda, thanks to a donor who bought the system. “These children lit up when they discovered the HomeBiogas magic — that they can transform their waste and produce their very own energy,” according to the company’s chief scientist and cofounder, Yair Teller. HomeBiogas provides a sustainable solution in warmer climates for off-grid urban and rural families, environmentally conscious homeowners and small farm owners. Previously, Israel’s Ministry of Environmental Protection purchased and installed HomeBiogas units in two Bedouin Negev villages without access to clean energy and garbage removal. They now can produce their own clean biogas for cooking, heating and lighting, as well as organic liquid crop fertilizer. The backyard units, available as an easy-to-assemble kit made in Israel, perform bacterial anaerobic digestion of organic waste such as food scraps and animal manure. A bio-filter reduces odors, and a chlorine filter eliminates pathogens in the fertilizer produced. (via Israel21c)
Most people assume that the Sunni terrorist group ISIS is the natural and mortal enemy of Shia Iran, but this is not always the case. In fact, in at least one part of the Middle East, Iran has become a crucial, if indirect, sponsor of its supposed enemy.
As the world’s eyes are focused on ISIS terrorism in Europe, the Middle East, and even the U.S., the group’s branch in the Sinai has become one of the most powerful, dangerous, and effective in the region. Recent reports indicate that Iran, through the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, is primarily responsible for this.
The Iran-Hamas-ISIS axis is part of Iran’s strategy of using proxy forces against U.S. allies like Egypt and Israel as part of a larger strategy to achieve hegemony over the Middle East. This has resulted in one of the region’s best kept secrets: An intensive cooperation mechanism between Iran, Hamas, and ISIS, based on money, weapons, military equipment, and training.
To continue reading, click here for The Tower Magazine.
On Thursday the administration announced that it would waive new visa requirements, on a case-by-case basis, for individuals who traveled to Iran and Iraq for “legitimate business-related purposes.” Congress passed a law in December that requires visas for visitors to the US who are dual citizens of or who have visited Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Sudan since 2011. The bill, signed by President Barack Obama, grants the Secretary of Homeland Security the power to waive the visa requirement on the basis of US national security interests. On Thursday, when pressed by a reporter, Department of State Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner acknowledged that the new exception for Iran is not based on US national security interests, but on the desire not to impede business. Secretary of State John Kerry first brought up the possibility of bypassing new congressional regulations by granting Iran business-related exceptions after the Iranian regime warned that the new law would violate the nuclear agreement reached last July.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), and other lawmakers have decried the administration’s decision to grant Iran an exception to the new rules, arguing it is an illegitimate use of the national security waiver authority. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.) accused the administration of “blatantly breaking the law, a law the President himself signed… He cannot rewrite the law to appease foreign governments.” Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) argued that the changes “prioritize the business interests of Iran – the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism – over the safety of the American people.”
A senior member of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party has said that a two-state solution with a Palestinian state in the West Bank with Jerusalem as its capital would just be a “phase” ultimately resulting in a single Palestinian state.“Palestine stretches from the river to the sea,” Tawfiq Tirawi, a member of Fatah’s Central Committee, said in an interview Tuesday with the Palestinian news agency Ma’an. “A Palestinian state in the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital, is just a phase, as far as I am concerned.”“Don’t think that there can be a solution to the Palestinian issue by establishing a state the borders of which are limited to the West Bank and Gaza,” he went on to say. “I challenge any Palestinian to say that the map of Palestine is limited to the West Bank and Gaza.”
In the same interview, Tirawi expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler, calling the Nazi leader “daring.” The view that the Palestinians should accept a state in the West Bank and Gaza with an eye towards eventually capturing all of Israel is referred to as the “phased plan” or “phased strategy.”In a 2004 article in Middle East Quarterly, Efraim Karsh, a leading Middle East scholar, explained this strategy:
This strategy, dating from June 1974, has served as the PLO’s guiding principle ever since. It stipulates that the Palestinians seize whatever territory Israel is prepared or compelled to cede to them and use it as a springboard for further territorial gains until achieving the “complete liberation of Palestine.”
From the very outset of the Oslo process, [PLO leader Yasser] Arafat and his lieutenants viewed the agreements as an implementation of this strategy, not as its abandonment. Arafat said just that as early as September 13, 1993, when he addressed the Palestinians in a pre-recorded Arabic-language message broadcast by Jordanian television, even as he shook Yitzhak Rabin’s hand on the White House lawn. He informed the Palestinians that the Israeli-Palestinian declaration of principles (DOP) was merely the implementation of the PLO’s “phased strategy.” “O my beloved ones,” he explained,
Do not forget that our Palestine National Council accepted the decision in 1974. It called for the establishment of a national authority on any part of Palestinian land that is liberated or from which the Israelis withdrew. This is the fruit of your struggle, your sacrifices, and your jihad … This is the moment of return, the moment of gaining a foothold on the first liberated Palestinian land … Long live Palestine, liberated and Arab.
Arafat wasn’t always so careful to hide his intentions. In a 1994 speech in South Africa, Arafat compared the Oslo Accords to the ten-year agreement Mohammed made with the Quraysh tribe in Mecca. After only two years, Mohammed conquered Mecca, claiming the Quraysh violated the agreement. Tirawi was implicated by Israeli authorities twenty years ago for the murders of several Palestinians who sold land to Jews. (via TheTower.org)
Timing of U.S. settlement payment to Iran elicits ransom accusations; Iran exceptions included in new visa law
- Timing of U.S. settlement payment to Iran elicits ransom accusations; Iran exceptions included in new visa law
The United States made a settlement payment to the Iranian government on Sunday, immediately prior to Iran’s release of four American detainees, that some have suggested was a ransom payment. On Wednesday, Associated Press journalist Bradley Klapper pressed Deputy State Department Spokesperson Mark Toner as to whether or not it was a ransom, which Toner denied, saying the timing was purely coincidental. Justin Fishel of ABC News asked Toner, “[D]o you really…expect us to believe that the exchange would have happened without this payment?” Brig. Gen. Mohammed Reza Naqdi, the leader of the Basij, a paramilitary volunteer militia operating under the aegis of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), said as much on Wednesday: “This money was returned for the freedom of the US spy [sic] and it was not related to the (nuclear) negotiations.”
Of the $1.7 billion, $400 million is a trust fund used by the pre-revolutionary Shah to pay for weapons, and the balance is interest of $1.3 billion payable by American taxpayers, which was confirmed by National Security Council Spokesperson Ned Price on Wednesday. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board wrote on Wednesday that there is yet another $1.7 billion claim – this one from American victims of Iranian terrorism, including the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Beirut and the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. The Journal’s editorial board continued, “President Obama and [Secretary of State John] Kerry didn’t press for fair settlements for these victims as part of the nuclear deal and now seem to be pre-emptively reimbursing Tehran for its potential losses from the claims.”
In exchange for the four American detainees, the U.S. released seven Iranians in U.S. custody charged with sanctions-busting and removed 14 others from Interpol’s red list. Bloomberg View’s Josh Rogin explained that of those 14, two were high-ranking officials at Mahan Air, an Iranian firm that flies arms and soldiers to support the Assad regime and Hezbollah in Syria. Foundation for Defense of Democracies analyst Emanuele Ottolenghi said that their removal from the red list “is another signal that there will be no consequences for this airline and the crimes they are responsible for.”
Also on Thursday the Obama administration announced that it plans to waive the new visa requirement for people who traveled to Iran for "legitimate business-related purposes." The recently enacted legislation requires visas for visitors who hold dual citizenship in or have visited Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Sudan. When asked by Arshad Mohammed of Reuters as to whether or not the waivers fall under the national security exception of the legislation, State Department Deputy Spokesperson Toner responded that it doesn't, "but we also don't want to impede the -- that same businessman from doing business in the United States.”
Israeli authorities announced that they dismantled a cell of the Iran-backed terrorist group, Hezbollah, which was operating in the northern West Bank city of Tulkarem under the direction of Jawad Nasrallah, son of the terrorist group’s leader, The New York Times reported on Wednesday.The ringleader of the cell was identified as Mahmoud Zaaloul, 32, who had been recruited by Nasrallah through social media. Zaaloul served time in an Israeli prison from 2001 to 2005. According to security officials, he enlisted four other Palestinian men to carry out attacks. The cell received instructions to gather intelligence on Israeli forces, plan for attacks that included suicide bombings, and received $5,000 from Hezbollah. Two of its members had acquired weapons.
Israel’s internal security agency, Shin Bet, said that it was “unusual” for a terrorist plot to have advanced so far before being detected and foiled. “The Hezbollah organization is trying to ride the terror wave that has taken over Israel in recent months and is acting feverishly to inflame passions on the ground,” the agency said in a statement.
The men have been charged with “membership in an illegal organization, receiving funds from an enemy and conspiracy to commit a lethal crime.”
Hassan Nasrallah, head of Hezbollah and Jawad’s father, promised retaliation against Israel for the death of Samir Kuntar, a notorious terrorist and high-ranking Hezbollah operative who was killed in an airstrike in Damascus last month.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Nasrallah in August that the nuclear deal provided them with a “historic opportunity” to threaten Israel. In September, reports surfaced that Iran backed up Zarif’s words by boosting its funding of Hezbollah, as well as Hamas, in anticipation of the windfall it would be receiving due to sanctions relief.
99% of candidates from relatively moderate Iranian parties who applied to run in Iran’s parliamentary election next month have been excluded by the body charged with vetting candidates, according to an Iranian official from one of those parties. The official said that "out of over 3,000 reformist candidates across the country, only 30 have been approved” by the Guardian Council. In total, almost two-thirds of the 12,000 candidates who applied to run next month were either disqualified or withdrew their candidacy. The widespread disqualifications are in tension with predictions, including from administration officials charged with promoting the recently-implemented agreement, that the deal would empower reformers.
Instead there has been an increasingly harsh crackdown on artists and young people as hardliners seek to assert their dominance both internally and externally. A filmmaker and two poets were recently sentenced to long prison terms and hundreds of lashes on charges of antigovernment activism and immorality. Another poet who had been involved in the Green Movement, which organized mass protests against the regime in 2009, was arrested upon her return to Tehran this month. On a military level, Iran has conducted two ballistic missile tests in violation of UN Security Council resolutions since the adoption of the deal, and the Iranian regime is still holding Siamak Namazi, an Iranian-American businessman who was detained in October. Over the weekend it was revealed that an Iranian-backed militia abducted three U.S. citizens in Baghdad.
The moves to crack down on dissent were flagged by Iranian leaders almost immediately after the deal was announced, and have remained consistent. Last July Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei stated he “won’t allow the Americans to make economic, political or cultural inroads [into the country] or have a political presence in Iran.” On Tuesday, after Implementation Day, he warned against American “deceptions.”
Recent campaigns by politicized NGOs (non-governmental organizations) have brought the question of NGO funding to the fore of Israel’s policy debate. Reactions have included proposed legislation in the Knesset, as well as editorials in local and international newspapers. Even the U.S. Ambassador to Israel has weighed in – indicating the centrality, and delicate nature, of this issue.In this context, NGO Monitor’s new database, which provides data on all donations to 27 politicized Israeli NGOs in the years 2012-2014, will help facilitate a more responsible, professional conversation.
Where does our data come from? According to Israel’s Non-Profits Law (1980), NGOs must submit an annual financial report listing all their donors. In addition, as of 2011, NGOs that receive funding from “foreign governmental entities” – meaning a government body or a supposedly non-governmental group that receives most of its budget from a foreign government – must submit quarterly reports to the Israeli Registrar of Non-Profits (Rasham Amutot) with details on such funding and the purpose behind the donations.
These laws provide a good framework to inform the Israeli public about funding to local NGOs, in particular monies originating from foreign governments, and should be seen as a model for funding transparency.
However, the data are disparate, and any meaningful analysis requires extracting this data from a variety of sources and trying to make sense of it. At NGO Monitor, we decided that the available information should be more accessible and navigable.
As mentioned, our research tool collates data from annual reports over three years (2012-2014), dedicating an entry for every donation recorded by 27 political NGOs during that period. Users can sort by NGO, year, and donor, and can also filter by donor type (private or governmental) and funding originating from church groups. (A separate tool created by NGO Monitor allows for similar analysis of donations reported in NGOs’ quarterly submissions to the Registrar.) (To read the rest of the post, go to TheTower.org)
The United States released seven men, six Iranian-Americans and one Iranian, who were either convicted of or charged with violating sanctions against Iran in return for the freedom of five American hostages imprisoned in Iran on Saturday. The administration also agreed to stop seeking the arrest of 14 others, including, as Bloomberg View reported, “two of whom the U.S. government had accused of funneling weapons to the Bashar al-Assad regime and Hezbollah in Syria.” Experts have raised concerns over the move to engage in a swap with Iran. According to The New York Times, former Under Secretary of Defense Eric Edelman said, “‘These deals incentivize future hostage taking’ and suggest ‘that Iran can continue to engage in such behavior with impunity.’” The American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Rubin commented, “Make no mistake: we negotiated with terrorists, and the terrorists won. There is no change of heart among the Islamic Republic leadership…Rather, what we see is a pragmatic desire in Tehran to profit and to imply moral equivalence between the American hostages held in Iran and those Iranians caught seeking to subvert the United States.” Peter Baker of The New York Times reported that even some of those inside the administration had concerns that such a deal could serve as an incentive for others to target Americans. Reuters reported Tuesday that the three U.S. citizens who went missing in Baghdad last week were abducted by an Iranian-backed militia.
Only hours after the hostages were freed, the International Atomic Energy Agency certified that the nuclear deal with Iran could be implemented, thereby lifting nuclear-related sanctions and freeing up at least $100 billion in frozen Iranian assets. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Iran’s “most powerful economic actor” that controls 20-30% of the economy, is slated to be one of the largest beneficiaries of sanctions relief. The Iran Task Force, a group of former government officials and nuclear, legal, and sanctions experts, explained that the U.S. Treasury “has repeatedly noted that the IRGC’s economic empire ‘ultimately benefits the IRGC and its dangerous activities.’” The Iran Task Force also noted that with sanctions relief, the IRGC will gain access to dual-use technologies that it “needs to advance its missile program, military activities, and internal repression.” The IRGC, charged as the guardians of the Islamic Revolution, exports terror around the world, including to Iraq, Syria, and Yemen; has launched two ballistic missiles in defiance of international bans; and last Tuesday seized two U.S. naval boats and ten sailors. Reuters reported on Tuesday, “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.”
According to a statement released by the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), which is the fullest account of the incident to date, the sailors were taken at gunpoint to a port facility on Farsi Island, where they were detained for around 15 hours. The Iranians were also revealed to have confiscated SIM cards from two satellite phones that the sailors had in their possession.
The news comes in the wake of charges that Iran’s actions during the seizure of the American vessels and their crews, who U.S. authorities say wandered into Iranian waters due to a mechanical failure, violated international law.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that “under international maritime law, such innocent passage’ should have brought an instruction to leave those waters, not a seizure and detention, according to Navy manuals citing the international standards.”
Similarly, former naval officer Sen. John McCain (R – Ariz.), currently the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released a statement last week asserting, “Under international law, sovereign immune vessels like navy ships and boats do not lose their sovereign immune status when they are in distress at sea. Under international law, sovereign immune naval vessels are exempt from detention, boarding, or search. Their crews are not subject to detention or arrest.” McCain was held as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War.
In addition, heavily-broadcast pictures of the detained sailors that were taken while they were kneeling with their hands behind their heads may have violated the Third Geneva Convention, which is supposed to protect prisoners “against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.”
Bill Luti, vice president of Hudson Institute, said on Friday, “it appears the seizure by the Iranians violates several, if two or three, well-established principles of international and maritime law. The first one being, of course, being innocent passage, where ships of all states, whether coastal or landlocked, have the right of innocent passage through territorial waters… sovereign immunity of warships… third principle, while we’re not technically at war with Iran, the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the Protocol 1 and 2 of 1977, which clearly prohibit the filming, photographing or otherwise using videotaped or audio-taped confessions or apologies for propaganda purposes.”
A similar case was made after Iran captured 15 British sailors and marines in 2007, when the British government asserted that the broadcasting of their images breached the Third Geneva Convention.
American lawmakers have also voiced concern over Iran’s treatment of the sailors, with Rep. Mike Pompeo (R – Kans.) calling for an investigation into whether Iran’s actions violated the convention.
I am relieved to hear that the ten U.S. Navy sailors that Iran captured have been returned. We are thankful for the service and bravery of these nine men and one woman. We now must fully investigate Iran for possible violations of the Geneva Convention and ensure these sailors were treated properly.
“Iran’s capture of these sailors raises serious questions about the Iranian regime and what it will take for the Obama administration to understand that Iran is not a partner in peace. How many American service members does Iran would have to capture? How many U.N. resolutions does Iran have to violate? And how close do Iranian rockets have to come to U.S. ships before President Obama takes real action against Iran? Is there any limit to what the fanatical Iranian regime can get away with?
Iran seized the Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship Maersk Tigris last year, holding its crew for ten days until the company that owned the vessel agreed to pay a judgment issued by an Iranian court. Legal scholar Eugene Kontorovich wrote in The Washington Post that the seizure “clearly [violated] international law, and one might add, a branch of international law that is ordinarily well-respected, and quite fundamental for global commerce.” (via TheTower.org)
Who’s your favorite NBA player? Whether it’s LeBron James, Steph Curry, Omri Casspi or anyone else, you can now get customized highlight clips of your chosen basketball star thanks to a groundbreaking sports-video technology from Israel. A multiyear partnership between the National Basketball Association and WSC Sports Technologies of Ramat Gan allows the NBA to use WSC’s AVGEN (Automatic Video Generator) and Clipro technology to generate and deliver customized in-game and post-game highlights automatically in near real-time. This gives fans unprecedented access to the best daily, weekly and monthly moments from every team and player. The clips are featured across the NBA’s 18 international Web publishers, many NBA team sites, NBA.com/Stats, NBADLeague.com and WNBA.com. “NBA fans around the world crave game highlights, and our unique collaboration with WSC lets us provide unlimited, high-quality video content,” said Melissa Brenner, NBA’s senior vice president for digital media. “As NBA fans’ demand for video on digital and social platforms continues to grow, WSC’s technology will give us the tools to help keep up with that demand.” Since the partnership was launched at the start of the 2015-16 NBA season on October 27, an average of 500 NBA highlight packages have been generated via the system every day. The total number was 35,000 as of the end of December, according to Aviv Arnon, WSC’s vice president for business development. WSC does this with a unique set of technologies based on cloud-computing, sports data integration, image processing, audio analysis and automatic editing algorithms. Like many other successful Israeli startups, WSC was hatched by military tech veterans Arnon, CEO Daniel Shichman and CTO Shmulik Yoffe, all 34-year-old electrical engineers, along with COO Hy Gal, 37, a basketball-playing computer scientist and assistant coach for the Israeli Academic National Basketball Team. (via Israel21c)
In separate articles, former Senior Director for Middle East Affairs at the National Security Council Michael Singh and Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute Lee Smith have argued that Iran’s broadcasting of photos and video of sailors kneeling with their hands behind their heads, as well as the video of the American sailor apologizing, violates the Geneva Convention. In 2007, when Iran captured British naval personnel, the former Prime Minister of the UK, Tony Blair, warned Tehran that airing footage of British navy personnel would be an unacceptable violation of the Geneva Convention. Congress has also expressed outrage over Iran’s conduct. Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) has called for an investigation into whether Iran violated the Geneva Convention. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, asserted on Wednesday that “under international law, sovereign immune naval vessels are exempt from detention, boarding, or search. Their crews are not subject to detention or arrest.”
The Pentagon has stated that the boats entered Iranian waters as a result of a navigational error. According to the Wall Street Journal, “even if this was the case, under international maritime law, such ‘innocent passage’ should have brought an instruction to leave those waters, not a seizure and detention, according to Navy manuals citing the international standards.”
On Thursday, State Department Spokesperson John Kirby simply characterized Iran’s release of the footage as “unhelpful.” Singh emphasizes that Iran’s treatment of American sailors and its distribution of the video is “designed to embarrass the U.S.” and stands in “contrast to Washington’s recent reluctance to perturb relations with Tehran.” Singh writes that the latest incident should be viewed in the context of other aggressive Iranian behavior while Smith writes that the incident demonstrates that Iran was “sending a message—on the eve of implementing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—that Tehran will be calling the shots.” Indeed, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Araqchi boasted that Iran’s detention of US marines demonstrates Iran’s power. Ron Ben-Yishai, a veteran Israeli journalist for Israel’s widely-read Yediot Aharanot, argues that the administration’s response to the incident is concerning as it “testifies to the fact that Obama and his administration will not allow anything to get in the way of implementing the nuclear deal with Iran.”
Harakat al-Sabirin, an Iran-backed Palestinian jihadist organization, announced on Thursday that it had extended its operations from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank and Jerusalem. Hisham Salim, the group's founder, said, “We have an armed branch whose goal is to wage war on the Israeli occupation everywhere…Within this framework we have members in the West Bank and Jerusalem who will soon receive financial and military support from us.” The group, whose name means "movement of the patient ones," has a flag that is nearly identical to that of Hezbollah, the Iran-backed terrorist organization in Lebanon, depicting an outstretched arm clutching a rifle that is formed by the Arabic letter alef. Salim said the organization is directly financed by Iran and when asked about whether he was on the side of Saudi Arabia or Iran with regard to their current crisis in relations, he unambiguously stated that the group stands with Iran.
Journalist Ehud Yaari reported in September that the group, which splintered from Palestinian Islamic Jihad in 2014, is alleged to receive “an annual budget of $10 million from Iran, typically smuggled in suitcases through the tunnels along the border with Egypt.” In addition, Times of Israel correspondent Avi Issacharoff wrote in December, citing a Channel 2 report, that “Tehran is also channeling funds to woo recruits to the organization through the familiar path of philanthropy…school equipment and household goods [are] purchased with Iranian money for needy Gazans.” Some of the goods bore a photo of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. The group’s publications have referred to the U.S. as “the source of superpower terrorism.” While Salim is careful to deny claims that he is Shiite, he has said in the past that “the road to the liberation of Palestine goes through Karbala,” a Shiite holy city in Iraq.
In December, al-Sabirin claimed responsibility for the detonation of an explosive device along the Israeli border with Gaza, which caused no injuries or damage.
The head of the Iranian armed forces called Tuesday’s seizure of two American naval vessels and their crews a “lesson” to members of Congress, Iran’s semi-official PressTV network reported on Wednesday.“We hope the incident in north of the Persian Gulf, which will not be probably the American forces’ last mistake in the region, will be a lesson to those seeking to sabotage [Iran’s nuclear agreement] at US Congress,” said Major General Hassan Firouzabadi.
Firouzabadi accused congressional critics of the nuclear deal with Iran of ignoring the best interests of the American people. He touted the incident as an example of U.S. “vulnerability” in the Persian Gulf and praised the vigilance of the Iranian military, which monitors U.S. activities in the region.
PressTV also quoted Admiral Ali Fadavi, the Navy chief of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who boasted of Iran’s efforts to keep American forces at bay during the incident. Fadavi, who said that the two boats entered waters near Iran’s Farsi Island due to problems with their navigation systems, claimed that while the IRGC naval forces seized the two vessels and their crews, “the US Navy and [a nearby] aircraft carrier resorted to unprofessional behavior as well as aerial and seaborne provocations in the area, which were deflected through the IRGC’s timely action.”
Fadavi’s language echoed a statement made by U.S. Central Command spokesman Cmdr. Kyle Raines after an Iranian ship fired rockets in the vicinity of the aircraft carrier USS Harry S Truman at the end of December. “Firing weapons so close to passing coalition ships and commercial traffic within an internationally recognized maritime traffic lane is unsafe, unprofessional and inconsistent with international maritime law,” Raines said following the incident.
Fadavi also boasted that the IRGC navy has “full control” over both the Persian Gulf and Straits of Hormuz, through which most of the world’s oil is transported.
On Tuesday, the Pentagon acknowledged that Iran was holding two American crafts and their crews. The vessels and sailors were released on Wednesday, but there are growing concerns that Iran violated international law by arresting the personnel and broadcasting their images. (via TheTower.org)
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) claims that before Iran released the US navy boats and crew they seized on Tuesday, the US apologized for crossing into Iranian waters. The IRGC’s top naval commander Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi said Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif had “adopted a strong and firm stance and told Kerry that they have been in Iran's territorial water and they should apologize." The IRGC commander claimed that “after they [the US] extended an apology, the decision was made to release them." The Obama administration has denied that an apology was made. Fadavi characterized the US presence in the Persian Gulf as illegitimate, stating, "certainly U.S. presence in Persian Gulf and their passage has never been innocent and we do not deem their passage as innocent.
Although Iran claimed that the incident was a result of mechanical failure, the US military has ruled out the possibility of any mechanical failure prior to Iran's seizure of the boats. According to a US official, Kerry and Zarif decided that the incident could be turned into "positive" story for the US and Iran. Matt Lee and Bradley Klapper of the Associated Press reported that since the beginning of the year, Kerry has called Zarif at least 11 times, whereas he has only consulted with top American allies once or twice. Secretary of State John Kerry thanked Iran “for their cooperation in swiftly resolving this matter,” called it a testament to diplomacy, and said “all indications suggest or tell us that our sailors were well taken care of.”
Yet Iranian state television aired footage of the moment the Iranians captured the US boats, showing the American sailors on the deck, kneeling with their hands behind their heads. Iranian state TV also aired video of a US sailor apologizing and acknowledging the US entered Iranian waters. In 2007, when Iran captured British naval personnel, former Prime Minister of the UK, Tony Blair, warned Tehran that airing footage of British navy personnel would be an unacceptable violation of the Geneva Convention which states that “prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.” Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) has called for an investigation of Iran “for possible violations of the Geneva Convention.”
Al Jazeera America, the cable news station bankrolled by the government of Qatar, announced Wednesday that it would shut down by April 30.Al Jazeera, the Arabic-language channel that has been accused by U.S. officials of being a mouthpiece for Qatari policy, founded its English-language American affiliate in 2013 after buying Current TV for $500 million from a collection of investors that included former Vice President Al Gore. The network spent millions hiring journalists and producers from channels like CNN and ABC. But the station was beset by low ratings: CNNestimated that the channel usually gets as few as 20,000 primetime viewers per day, three percent of MSNBC’s numbers and one percent of Fox News’s. The channel’s leadership told employees that its business model was “no longer sustainable,” Capital New York reported.
Al Jazeera America has been beset by controversy since its founding. The station’s CEO, Ehab Al Shihabi, was demoted last year after three female executives resigned and multiple lawsuits were filed by former employees. One suite claimed that the network treated female and non-Arab employees like “second class citizens,” and alleged that “as ratings failed to live up to the expectations of management, Al Jazeera openly decided to abandon all pretense of neutrality in favor of putting the Arabic viewpoint front and center, openly demanding that programs be aired that criticized countries such as America, Israel and Egypt.” Politico reported that another lawsuit accused a senior supervisor of having “removed female employees from projects, excluded women from emails and meetings and made discriminatory, anti-Semitic and anti-American remarks such as ‘whoever supports Israel should die a fiery death in hell.'”
The U.S. ambassador to Qatar wrote in a 2009 diplomatic cable, which was later released by Wikileaks, that he believed that Al Jazeera is “an informal tool of [the Government of Qatar’s] foreign policy.” Qatar also funds the terrorist group Hamas, which Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) noted when he was interviewed on Al Jazeera America during the war between Israel and Hamas last year. (via TheTower.org)