Iran seizes US Navy boats and crew

Iran is holding two US Navy boats and 10 US sailors, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday, just hours before President Barack Obama’s last State of the Union address. Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told the Associated Press that the boats were sailing between Kuwait and Bahrain when the US lost contact with them. Just a few weeks ago, Iranian gunboats fired unguided missiles near the US aircraft carrier the U.S.S. Harry S. Truman which was passing through the Strait of Hormuz.

President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have previously predicted that the nuclear deal could moderate Iran. However, the deal appears to have emboldened hardliners, as Iran has stepped up its destabilizing activity in the region since the nuclear deal was reached. The Iranian regime conducted two ballistic missile tests in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, arrested two US persons, convicted a US citizen under false charges, launched cyberattacks against the US State Department, held anti-American rallies, violated international travel bans, and exported weapons to Syria and Yemen in violation of the arms embargo on Iran. Iran has also escalated its support for the Assad regime in Syria.

Experts have long worried that the nuclear deal with Iran would both embolden Iranian hardliners and constrain the US from responding, because the Iranians would threaten to use any US response as a pretext for walking away from its obligations under the deal. Reacting to the latest incident, former State Department Middle East advisor Aaron David Miller tweeted, “Iran detains US sailors. Released promptly or not, a hostile act by a regime that acts w/o US cost/consequence.”

When lobbying in favor of the deal, President Obama vowed to push back against Iran’s troubling regional behavior. However, last month the administration backed away from imposing sanctions on Iran for its ballistic missile activity. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed frustration with the delay and are introducing legislation to exact a price on Iran in response to its violations and aggressive behavior.

A senior Iranian official denied that Iran has deactivated its Arak heavy water reactor, contradicting claims made earlier this week by the semi-official Fars news agency, The New York Times reported Tuesday.The Fars report, which said that Iran dismantled the core of its Arak reactor and filled it with cement, as per the nuclear deal’s requirements, was dismissed by Iran’s deputy nuclear chief Ali Asghar Zarean.

Zarean added that Tehran planned to sign a deal with China next week to modify Arak, which is capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium.

The nuclear deal requires Iran to ship out most of its enriched uranium, dismantle several hundred centrifuges, and decommission the Arak reactor in exchange for an estimated $100 billion in sanctions relief.

In November of last year, Iran announced that it had stopped dismantling centrifuges at two uranium enrichment plants, despite its obligations under the deal.

In December, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors voted to close the nuclear watchdog’s investigation into Iran’s past illicit nuclear weapons research. The decision came despite an IAEA report proving that Iran had lied about its past nuclear research and worked on developing a nuclear weapon as recently as 2009.

North Korea’s claim last week that it detonated a hydrogen bomb raised questions on whether the nuclear deal will be able to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Retired Army Major Gen. Robert Scales told Fox News last week that Pyongyang’s test “says Iran is able to circumvent [the nuclear deal] by using their technological colleagues in Pakistan and their test site facility in North Korea to push their own nuclear ambitions.”

In The Looming Global Nuclear Weapons Crisis, which was published in the January 2016 issue of The Tower Magazine, Emily Landau described how Iran violated the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty with impunity and why accepting Iran’s illicit gains undermines the nonproliferation regime. (via TheTower,org)

 

The prized fungi known as truffles are fabulously expensive – a four-pound white truffle fetched $61,250 at a Sotheby’s auction last year – mainly because nobody has figured out how to farm this edible, wild mycorrhizal fungus cost-effectively. However, Israeli agricultural researchers have successfully mass cultivated another form of mycorrhizal fungi as a natural method for boosting plant crop yield and nutrition. “Simply put, our mission is to cover the world’s arable land with mycorrhiza,” says Groundwork BioAg cofounder and vice president of sales and marketing Dan Grotsky. Groundwork’s Rootella is a desert-hardy, highly concentrated strain of mycorrhizal fungus that results from 25 years of breeding, research and field trials in cooperation with Israel’s Volcani Institute Agricultural Research Organization. This “good” fungus extends plant roots by a factor of up to 100, allowing plants to better absorb water and soil nutrients from fertilizers and compost. “As the plants get more nutrients, farmers get higher yield and that’s what counts most,” Grotsky tells ISRAEL21c. “Secondly, they save on water and fertilizers.” The process is completely eco-friendly and natural, he adds. “Mycorrhiza exist nearly everywhere in the world, but they’ve been depleted by modern agriculture techniques. We’re not introducing chemicals but rather an organism that is an important part of healthy soil. We are restoring the natural balance.” (via Israel21c)


Post nuclear deal, Iran increases domestic repression

 

Despite the “hope in the West that Tehran would be nudged toward a more moderate path” once the nuclear agreement was reached in July, Iran has increased its domestic repression, according to The Wall Street Journal on Friday. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and security forces are increasingly persecuting those opposed to them. On Saturday, authorities arrested Hila Sedighi, an Iranian poet, “who backed a reformist candidate in 2009's disputed presidential election.” Reuters reported that, “[d]ozens of journalists, activists and artists have been arrested on charges such as ‘propaganda’ since October in an apparent crackdown on free expression and dissent ahead of next month's election.” Two Iranian poets, arrested in October, received 99 lashes each “for shaking hands with members of the opposite sex,” according to the Associated Press. Also in October, an award-winning filmmaker, Keywan Karimi, was given six years in prison and 223 lashes because of his work. Ehsan Mazandarani, editor in chief of the Iranian newspaper, Farhikhtegan, was arrested in November. His son said that his father was “taken to an unknown location by seven members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).”

In 2009, the regime violently repressed the Green Movement, a series of protests sparked by the allegedly fraudulent election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Journal reported that not only did it catch the administration by surprise, but the White House was not prepared to support it because they were making secret attempts to reach out to the Iranian regime in hopes of restarting nuclear talks. A senior U.S. official said, “It was made clear: ‘We should monitor, but do nothing.’” Following the protests, Iran killed “as many as 150 people” and jailed thousands.

 

Two Israeli left-wing NGOs, including the watchdog group B’Tselem, have come under scrutiny after their members were revealed to be helping the Palestinian Authority catch and kill Palestinian land dealers who intend to sell property to Jews, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) reported on Saturday.

Last week, the Israeli investigative television show Uvda broadcast a secret recording in which Ezra Nawi, described as a “Jewish far-left activist from the Ta’ayush group,” talks about his encounter with four Palestinian land sellers who thought he was interested in buying real estate. “Straight away I give their pictures and phone numbers to the Preventive Security Force,” Nawi was heard saying. The Preventative Security Force is one of the PA’s security services. “The Palestinian Authority catches them and kills them,” Nawi added. “But before it kills them, they get beat up a lot.”

According to the Palestinian penal code, selling land to Jews is a capital offense. While Palestinian courts have not carried out executions of those charged with this violation, Palestinians suspected of selling land to Jews are often kidnapped and murdered.

In separate footage, Nawi was also seen saying that he intends to turn over information about a Palestinian land dealer who thought he was a potential Jewish buyer to the PA. In this instance, a field researcher for B’Tselem helped Nawi put together a sting operation in which the seller would be caught.

Reporting in Tablet Magazine, Liel Leibovitz provided further details on Uvda’s investigation. He identified the B’Tselem worker as Nasser Nawaja and described both men’s backgrounds.

Both Nawi and Nawaja are among the most internationally renowned members of Israel’s radical left. Earlier this year, Nawaja published an anti-Israeli op-ed in The New York Times, accusing the Jewish state of “dispossession and oppression.” Nawi is considerably more prominent: when he was arrested, in 2007, for attacking Israeli policemen during a West Bank demonstration, more than 20,000 people—including a long list of prominent Israeli academics as well as progressive American celebrities like Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein—signed a petition demanding his release.

Leibovitz added that instead of criticizing the actions of Nawi and Nawaji, B’Tselem seemed to excuse them, with a post on the NGO’s Facebook page saying that although they opposed torture and execution, reporting land dealers to the PA was “the only legitimate course of action.”

Shmuel Rosner offered an explanation as to why B’Tselem would cross the line into justifying such behavior:

Why do human rights activists turn to such immoral methods? Many of them do it because of anger and because of fear. They are angry at a country that refuses to accept their political recipe for Israel. They fear that their activity of many years will be in vain as the country moves in a direction they disagree with.

The angrier they become, the more apprehensive they become – the more they lose their inhibitions. Thus they turn to immoral methods, they turn to other countries to look for the support they cannot get among Israelis, and they turn to language that makes Israel a caricature – a fascist state, an apartheid state, a villain among nations. They say that they act out of love of Israel – and some of them certainly do – but with time and frustration some are made hateful. And hate makes them lose the ability to separate right from wrong, acceptable from unacceptable, useful from not-useful.

The furor over B’Tselem and Ta’ayush comes as Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is attempting to pass a law which, like the American Foreign Agents Registration Act, seeks to force NGOs that receive a majority of their funding from foreign governments to identify themselves as such. A European Union group gave B’Tselem 30,000 Euros last month to fight the proposed NGO transparency law.

Writing last week in the Lawfare Blog, Gerald Steinberg, the president of the watchdog group NGO Monitor, explained the rationale behind the proposed legislation:

The most important aspect of the bill is the symbolism conveyed by the “foreign agent” designation, particularly in Israel, where sovereignty and self-determination are taken seriously.

In this sense, the proposed legislation is similar in spirit and purpose to US Foreign Agent Registration Act (1938), and the rules adopted last year in the House of Representatives, requiring witnesses testifying before a committee in a “nongovernmental capacity” to disclose “the amount and country of origin of any payment or contract related to the subject matter of the hearing originating with a foreign government.” Such regulations seek to prevent foreign governments from secretive and undue influence over democratic processes, outside diplomatic channels.

Palestinian land dealers have been targeted for selling land to Jews for nearly twenty years. Tawfiq Tirawi, a Palestinian security official who was implicated in the deaths of several land dealers in 1997, remains a member of the Fatah Central Committee.

B’Tselem was also in the news this weekend after a fire engulfed its Jerusalem office. Authorities believe that the fire was sparked by faulty electrical wiring.

In 2014, B’Tselem admitted that one of its researchers was a Holocaust denier. (via TheTower.org)

 

How often do you find yourself wanting to take a video or photo, only to realize there’s no space left on your phone? While cloud services can back up your photos and video, you must first store the media on your mobile device. The Camra app from Israel, available globally, lets you quickly upload photos and videos (including full HD videos) directly to the cloud, bypassing your phone’s storage. Camra’s patented technology is the result of two years of research by Invoke Mobile in Tel Aviv. The video or photo is converted while being uploaded to the server, so users can watch right away. Those you share with don’t need to download the media either; they can stream it from the cloud. Camra’s secure solution gives you control of the media you share with fellow Camra users: If you delete the photo or video, it is deleted from everywhere on the platform. You can also share content with predefined contacts and across other platforms, such as Facebook and WhatsApp (the safety feature doesn’t apply to these cross-platform shares). (via Israel21c)

 

Education is important. What shapes our youth shapes the future, and so we need to craft our school curricula carefully. So it is worth carefully deconstructing the troubling new K-12 curriculum, Reframing Israel, produced by Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman. The curriculum was introduced at the beginning of the school year, and Zimmerman claims that more than 10 Hebrew schools have already adopted it. The stated goal of Reframing Israelis “teaching Jewish kids to think critically about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” But is this the actual impact of the curriculum?

The answer is no.

First, it is crucial to note that the main author and the majority of contributors to Reframing Israel are part of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. This includes the writer of the curriculum’s “historical overview of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

This is deeply problematic, because while BDS sells itself as a movement for justice and human rights, its ultimate goal is the elimination of Israel and the violation of Jewish rights to self-determination. According to recent polls, only four percent of American Jews strongly support BDS, and the overwhelming majority see the denial of Israel’s right to exist as racism. Members of the Jewish community are of course free to support anything they choose, but responsible parents and educators should take BDS’s agenda into account when thinking about the goals and biases ofReframing Israel.

At first glance the curriculum appears well-balanced, filled with pride-building activities like learning Hebrew songs and creative exercises aimed at building understanding of both Israeli and Palestinian narratives. The educational method is also well thought out, encouraging students to actively engage with diverse points of view instead of expecting them to “passively accept the information.” These aspects of Reframing Israel could indeed help Jewish kids think critically about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It is therefore disturbing that when digging a little deeper into the material, the message becomes overwhelmingly anti-Israel and pro-BDS. This is particularly apparent in the “Historical Overview” and “Key Terms” sections, which guide the majority of the curriculum.

To continue reading, click here for The Tower Magazine.


Gunman who fatally shot three on New Year’s Day killed in shootout with Israeli police

 

The Arab Israeli gunman who fatally shot three people on New Year’s Day was killed in a shootout with Israeli police on Friday in Arara, an Arab Israeli village where his family lives. On the afternoon of January 1, Nashat Milhem opened fire outside of the Simta bar on Tel Aviv’s busy Dizengoff Street, killing Alon Bahal, 26, and Shimon Ruimi, 30. After taking a cab to north Tel Aviv, Milhem then killed the cab driver, Amin Shaaban. The Palestinian terrorist group Hamas praised Milhem; a spokesman of the organization said, “Hamas mourns the death of the martyred hero Nashat Milhem…who carried out an attack in the heart of the enemy, steadily and creatively…Nashat exemplifies the free Palestinian, who sacrificed his life in the defense of his nation.” The group also warned that this “was not the end of the story, and the coming period will prove this.” The terrorist organization Palestinian Islamic Jihad vowed, “Israel will pay the price for this crime.” A Channel 2 report indicated that Israeli security officials are investigating possible ISIS ties. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon called Milhem a terrorist on Friday and suggested the possibility that he was inspired by ISIS.

Milhem’s father, a volunteer police officer, had previously urged Israeli police to capture his son as soon as possible and he told his lawyer to reveal his son’s location. The killer’s death comes after a week-long manhunt in Tel Aviv, villages near his hometown, an Arab village in the Triangle, and the West Bank. Milhem served a five-year prison term beginning in 2007 for attacking an Israeli soldier with a screwdriver and attempting to take the soldier’s weapon.

 

The United States Treasury Department sanctioned a Lebanese businessman for his support of the Iran-backed terrorist group Hezbollah, marking the first application of the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015, The Hill reported on Thursday. The act passed both houses of Congress unanimously, and was signed into law by President Obama last month.

The Treasury Department is targeting Ali Yousseff Charara and his telecommunications company, Spectrum Investment Group Holding SAL, for providing millions of dollars to the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah through material and financial contributions. Charara and his company’s U.S. based assets have been frozen, and Americans are now barred from doing business with either party.

The move was praised by the legislation’s two primary Senate sponsors, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D – N.H.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R – Fla.). Shaheen tweeted: ".@USTreasury is cracking down on Hizballah financing. I’m glad my bipartisan bill will bolster these efforts. https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/jl0317.aspx …"

The Treasury Department issued a statement announcing the sanctions and elaborating on Charara’s support for Hezbollah:

In addition to Charara’s facilitation of commercial investments on behalf of Hizballah, Charara has also worked on oil ventures in Iraq with Hizballah member Adham Tabaja and Hizballah financial supporter Kassem Hejeij, both of whom were previously designated by Treasury. Treasury designated Tabaja in June 2015 for his support to Hizballah through commercial ventures in Lebanon and Iraq. Tabaja has maintained direct ties to senior Hizballah officials and Hizballah’s operational component, the Islamic Jihad. Treasury also designated Hejeij at the same time for his role in facilitating Hizballah’s financial and commercial activities, including for opening bank accounts on behalf of Hizballah and providing credit to its procurement companies. Additionally, Charara has extensive business interests in the telecommunications industry in West Africa.

Adam J. Szubin, acting under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, explained, “Hizballah relies upon accomplices in the business community to place, manage, and launder its terrorist funds.” He added, “We are committed to exposing and disrupting these networks to pressure Hizballah’s finances and degrade its ability to foment violence in Lebanon, Syria, and across the region.”

In September, Iran announced that it was boosting its funding of Hezbollah and the Gaza-based terrorist group Hamas in anticipation of the sanctions relief it is expecting to receive from the nuclear deal.

In a statement, Rubio said, “These financial sanctions are an important step to crack down on Iran’s terrorist proxy Hezbollah by denying them critical financing they need to carry out their plots against America, Israel and our allies throughout the world.” Rubio is running for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. (via TheTower.org)

 

A study from Israel and Germany proves that seven commonly added ingredients in processed foods weaken intestinal resistance to bacteria, toxins and other harmful elements. This weakening increases the risk of autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, celiac, lupus, multiple sclerosis, autoimmune hepatitis and Crohn’s, among many others that cause the body to attack its own tissues. The study was led by Prof. Aaron Lerner, of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology Faculty of Medicine and Carmel Medical Center in Haifa, and Dr. Torsten Matthias of the Aesku-Kipp Institute in Germany. Their results, published recently in Autoimmune Reviews, provide an important clue to the mystery of why the incidence of autoimmune diseases is increasing worldwide and especially in Western countries. “In recent decades there has been a decrease in incidence of infectious diseases, but at the same time there has been an increase in the incidence of allergic diseases, cancer and autoimmune diseases,” said Lerner. “Since the weight of genetic changes is insignificant in such a short period, the scientific community is searching for the causes at the environmental level.” Their study showed circumstantially that at least seven common food additives weaken the tight-junctions: sugars, salt, emulsifiers (used in bakery, confectionary, dairy, fats and oils, sauces, butter and margarine, ice cream, cream liqueurs, meat, coffee, gum, beverages and chocolate), organic solvents (such as hexane, used to produce soy oil, and others added as antioxidants, stabilizers, preservatives and flavorings), gluten, microbial transglutaminase (a food protein “glue” added to processed meat, fish, dairy and bakery items) and nanometric particles (used to improve the taste, color, uniformity and texture of foods, as well as in food packaging). (via Israel21c)


Iranian government's role in attacks on Saudi missions comes to light as tensions increase between the two states

 

As hostilities between Iran and Saudi Arabia continue to escalate, Iran’s complicity in the attacks on the Saudi diplomatic missions on Saturday is coming into view. Saudi Arabia severed ties with Iran on Sunday following an attack on its embassy in Tehran and its consulate in Mashhad. The attacks were in response to the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a Shiite cleric from Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province. Research Analyst Amir Toumaj at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies explained that on the day of the execution, groups linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and “its Basij paramilitary called for protests at the Saudi diplomatic missions in Tehran and Mashhad the following day.” Toumaj commented that many of those present at the protests included “instructors at state-run religious seminaries and Basij members.” Toumaj described security at both of the Saudi facilities as “suspiciously lax” prior to the riots. He continued that “when the mobs stormed the embassy that night, authorities were nowhere to be found,” despite the security that had been present earlier in the day. The authorities arrived only after the destruction took place, including setting the building ablaze and looting. “In Mashhad,” he writes, “security forces were photographed standing idle as protesters climbed the fence, set fire to the consulate, and shattered windows.” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said at a press conference that Iran has a “long record of violations of foreign diplomatic missions,” dating back to the 1979 takeover of the American embassy, after which 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days. Every year Iran celebrates the attack on the U.S. embassy in 1979 and calls it the “Second Revolution,” according to Reuters. On Monday, the U.S. State Department stated that it was “too soon” to know who was responsible for the attacks.

In recent days, as The New York Times wrote, “diplomatic dominoes…have fallen across the Middle East.” In a move of solidarity with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and Comoros recalled their ambassadors from Iran, the United Arab Emirates downgraded its relations, while Bahrain, Sudan, Djibouti, and Somalia cut ties with Iran. Then, on Thursday, Iran “severed all commercial ties” with the Kingdom.

 

Israel’s internal security agency, the Shin Bet, announced the foiling of a plot by a Hamas cell to kidnap and murder Israeli citizens in December, The Times of Israel reported on Thursday.

The cell, which included three Israeli citizens from Jerusalem and three residents of Hebron, was led in part by 36-year-old Hebron resident Maher Qawasmeh, who had previously been jailed for planning terror attacks for Hamas. A second leader was identified as 20-year-old Ziad Abu Hadwan, who lived in the Old City of Jerusalem.

The group met in Hebron multiple times over the past year and acquired two vehicles to carry out their plot. 22-year-old Ammar Rajabe, also of Jerusalem’s Old City, was the intended driver of the car that would be carrying the kidnapped Israelis. The suspects told the Shin Bet that Rajabe was chosen for the job because his Hebrew language skills are “superior.”

The cell planned to abduct one or more Israelis, kill them, and then negotiate to trade the bodies for jailed terrorists. The Shin Bet discovered a hiding place where the group intended to store their victims’ remains.

After security forces detected and arrested those in the cell who have Israeli citizenship, Qawasmeh ordered the remaining members to make explosives to carry out a bombing. That effort was unsuccessful.

In the summer of 2014, three Israeli teens– Eyal Yifrach, 19; Naftali Fraenkel, 16; and Gil-ad Shaar, 16– were kidnapped and killed in the West Bank in a similar plot.

Last month, the Shin Bet announced that it had uncovered and dismantled a Hamas cell that planned to carry out mass-casualty bombing attacks. According to the Times, in both plots, “many of the members of the group were Israeli citizens, residents of Jerusalem, who were given tasks that made use of their greater freedom of movement, as compared to Palestinians who live in the West Bank.” (via TheTower.org)

 

Inspired by the common locust, a tiny high-jumping robot developed in Israel could be used for sending lifesaving reconnaissance data to human rescue teams in disaster situations, or for cleaning up oil spills or for gathering intelligence – and many other difficult missions unsuited to large robots and humans. The five-inch-long featherweight robot is dubbed “TAUB” (for Tel Aviv University and ORT Braude College), the two Israeli academic institutions involved in the inventive collaboration. The zoologists and mechanical engineers involved in the project say TAUB can jump 11 feet high — more than twice the height of similar-sized robots — and cover a horizontal distance of 4.5 feet in one leap. “How our prototype could be used is a matter of imagination,” says Prof. Amir Ayali, a TAU zoologist on the multidisciplinary team whose aim was “to build the best jumping robotic system that we could.” Ayali tells ISRAEL21c that small, inexpensive robots are widely viewed as the wave of the future. They could be grouped to accomplish tasks more efficiently and cheaply than can today’s larger robots. Or they can be used singly in environments where small size is an advantage, such as searching under rubble. TAUB boasts an extra dimension of capability. “Jumping is better for rough terrain,” explains Ayali. “Today you have drones and quadrupeds, but they are extremely demanding energy-wise. Ours is extremely efficient and is a beautiful example of bio-inspired technological innovation. It could be used in any case where you don’t want to, or cannot, send humans or huge expensive robots.” The scientists used a 3D printer to make two prototypes of the 23-gram robot from ABS plastic (the same material LEGOs are made of). The robot’s legs are composed of stiff carbon rods and steel wire springs. It is powered by a small on-board battery and remotely controlled through an on-board micro controller. TAUB is not an exact replica of a locust, Ayali stresses, but it has the specific biomechanical features of the locust’s unparalleled three-stage jump mechanism. (via Israel21c)


North Korea announces hydrogen bomb test, fueling concerns about Iran ties and nuclear proliferation

 

North Korea claimed on Wednesday that it had successfully tested a hydrogen bomb, leading to concerns about the regime’s nuclear ties with Iran and nuclear proliferation more broadly. The White House disputed North Korea’s claim that it had in fact tested a hydrogen bomb. Major General (Ret.) Robert Scales, a former commandant of the U.S. Army War College, spoke about the Iranian connection: “We know that the Iranians were at the last nuclear test a couple of years ago, we know that the Iranians are helping the North Koreans miniaturize their nuclear weapons…What does this say about our nuclear deal with Iran? It says Iran is able to circumvent it by using their technological colleagues in Pakistan and their test site facility in North Korea to push their own nuclear ambitions.” In March of last year, veteran journalist Gordon G. Chang assessed that it was likely that Iran is carrying out nuclear work inside of North Korea, concluding, “Inspections inside the borders of Iran will not give the international community the assurance it needs…while the international community inspects Iranian facilities pursuant to a framework deal, the Iranians could be busy assembling the components for a bomb elsewhere.” In 2012, Iran stationed military personnel at a military base in North Korea, at which the North Koreans are reportedly working on missiles and nuclear weapons. In light of this, Chang wrote, “[T]here is no point in signing a deal with just one arm of a multi-nation weapons effort. That’s why the P5+1 needs to know what is going on at that isolated military base in the mountains of North Korea.”

Ilan Berman, Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council, wrote in August that Iran appears to be following North Korea’s blueprint: using diplomacy to gain benefits to boost the regime, allowing it to proceed with its program and ultimately backtrack from all of its commitments to the international community.

Iran and North Korea have a long history of cooperation in the nuclear realm, including the above-mentioned attendance of Iranians at North Korea’s last nuclear test; North Korean training of Iranian scientists; North Korean visits to Iranian nuclear facilities; technology transfers, as Iran’s Shahab-3 missile “is a locally produced version of North Korea’s Nodong missile”; North Korea’s assistance in fortifying Iranian nuclear sites against possible military strikes; and North Korea’s provision of nuclear weapons information.

 

Bahraini authorities say they have broken up an Iran-backed cell that was planning to carry out multiple terror attacks on its territory, Reuters reported on Wednesday.

A secret terrorist plot aided by the so-called Iranian Revolutionary Guard and the Hezbollah terrorist organization was foiled,” Bahrain’s BNA state news agency reported. “It targeted the security of the kingdom of Bahrain by (plotting to) carry out a series of dangerous bombings.” The main suspect in the plot, Ali Ahmed Fakhrawi, allegedly received funding from Iran’s proxy group Hezbollah.The news comes just days after Bahrain ended diplomatic relations with Iran over the torching of the Saudi Arabian embassy in Tehran. Bahrain, along with fellow Saudi allies Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait, either downgraded or cut ties with Iran in the wake of the escalating tension between Riyadh and Tehran.

In July, Bahrain said that it dismantled an Iran-backed terror cell and recalled its ambassador from Tehran. A few days later, after a bomb attack killed two Bahraini policemen and wounded six others, authorities indicated that the explosives used may have originated in Iran

In October, Bahrain expelled an Iranian diplomat whom it accused of “subversion” and arms smuggling. At the time, Bahrain denounced Iran for “supporting subversion, terrorism and incitement to violence through misleading media campaigns as well as assisting terrorist groups in the smuggling of weapons and explosives and training their members and harboring fugitives from justice.”

Tehran has previously referred to Bahrain, which has a Shiite majority, as “Iran’s 14th province.” (via TheTower.org)

 

When an infectious pandemic hits – SARS, swine flu, MERS or Ebola, for instance – health officials in dozens of countries turn to the Israeli company Beth-El Industries  for its IsoArk biological isolation units. The line was first developed in response to a request from the Israeli Ministry of Health in 2002, as part of Israel’s national preparedness plan during the SARS pandemic. When the Ebola virus pandemic erupted in 2014, Beth-El’s isolation systems were ready to be deployed in hospitals, airports and field hospitals in Africa and around the globe. Among the many countries that used IsoArk products during that crisis was Spain. The Spanish air force used a stretcher-based IsoArk unit to airlift a Spanish priest infected with Ebola virus disease to Madrid from Liberia. The product was specially designed to withstand a possible scenario of rapid loss of cabin pressure en route. Working with the Israeli Health Ministry’s emergency preparedness team, Beth-El also customized an Ebola containment tent for patients who must be kept quarantined for long periods. This bigger tent with a shower, sink and toilet is kept in the underground emergency hospital at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa in order to keep highly contagious patients away from the main building. he 2,000-bed underground hospital, built to protect against missile attack, also keeps patients and staff safe from chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) threats with air-filtration systems from Beth-El. The Ebola containment tent is “unique in the world as far as I know,” says Guy Zymann, Beth-El Industries’ regional sales and marketing manager for Southeast Asia. “What made me proud as a citizen is that the head of emergency supplies for the Ministry of Health came to Rambam last spring and initiated a surprise drill in which he acted as an Ebola patient to examine firsthand how well the unit works. He even showered in the tent.” (via Israel21c)

 

Deep in the weeds of discussions about the nuclear deal with Iran, which usually focus on whether the price paid in sanctions relief and international legitimacy is sufficiently worth the hoped-for forestallment of an Iran nuclear bomb, one issue has been largely overlooked: the effect this deal is likely to have on the broader nonproliferation regime, with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as its centerpiece. In the wake of what is known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), reached last July 14 between the six leading world powers (known as the P5+1, representing the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) on the one hand, and the Islamic Republic of Iran on the other, crucial requirements for effective nonproliferation have been brushed aside and are in danger of being ignored down the road.

The NPT came into force in 1970, setting a global standard for putting a stop to the spread of nuclear weapons and the destabilization that could result. The framers of the JCPOA recognized the importance of the NPT when they included in Article XI of the agreement’s “preamble and general provisions” the stipulation that the JCPOA “should not be considered as setting precedents for any other state or for fundamental principles of international law and the rights and obligations under the NPT….”

Yet despite that disclaimer, in the months since the announcement of the JCPOA, it has become apparent that one of the very pertinent questions regarding the Iran deal is just that: the implications of the agreement for nuclear nonproliferation principles, norms, and standards in the future. The JCPOA has set, and is in the process of further establishing, some new standards for Iran in the nuclear realm that will inevitably affect the nonproliferation regime and the attitudes of other states toward their own nonproliferation requirements and commitments.

Indeed, a careful look at the standards established by the JCPOA, as well as the reactions of the great powers to Iranian behavior in the months that have passed since it was announced, reveals that instead of shoring up the nonproliferation regime, the Iran deal is likely to dangerously undermine it. At issue are three important questions that are central to the long-term effectiveness of the NPT: the right of non-nuclear weapons states that are members of the NPT to work on the fuel cycle (uranium enrichment); the nature and intrusiveness of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections of facilities—nuclear and other—especially in states that are suspected of having violated the terms of the NPT by working on a military capability; and the consequences for states that are found to have violated the terms of the NPT.

The JCPOA has been hailed as a historic, transformative moment—and it may well be so, but not necessarily for the reasons its proponents have given. Whether it succeeds in helping turn Iran itself into a more productive member of the international community—a “successful regional power,” as President Obama put it—is at best debatable. What seems clear, however, is that the deal has introduced cracks in the pillars on which the world’s relatively nuclear-weapons-free history have stood.

To continue reading this article in The Tower Magazine, please click here.


Iran unveils new underground missile depot

 

Iran made public a new underground missile depot run by its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on Tuesday, the second one to be unveiled since October, just days after the U.S. backed away from implementing sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile program. In response, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani ordered Iran’s ballistic missile program to be accelerated. Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) issued a statement on Monday condemning the move to not impose sanctions. The statement read: “A continued failure of the administration to impose consequences on Tehran for its ballistic missile tests, which represent a clear violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1929, will confirm the dangerous perception of the regime in Iran that it can ignore its obligations with impunity and the Obama administration will do nothing.” Matthew Levitt, a terror finance expert formerly at the Treasury Department, wrote in The Wall Street Journal that retreating on sanctions “could send a dangerous signal, effectively inviting Tehran to test the boundaries of what violations it can get away with.”Since the nuclear deal was reached in July, Iran has increased its aggression, including launching two ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. The nuclear deal reached in July places restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile program for eight years. In addition, UN Security Council Resolution 1929 already places restrictions on its program. Despite the restrictions, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, at a ceremony unveiling a new missile in August, said, "We will buy, sell and develop any weapons we need and we will not ask for permission or abide by any resolution for that.”

 

In the wake of this weekend’s escalation between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Washington seems to be increasingly favoring Tehran over Riyadh, Josh Rogin and Eli Lake reported for Bloomberg View on Monday.

After Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr was executed in Saudi Arabia on terrorism-related charges on Saturday, Rogin and Lake wrote that the State Department expressed concern that the Saudis were “exacerbating sectarian tensions.” Secretary of State John Kerry called Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif soon afterwards– before contacting his Saudi counterpart– and asked him to help calm things down. Later, State Department spokesman John Kirby seemed to contest the Saudis’ claims that the Iranian regime was culpable for the embassy attack by saying that Iran had arrested some of those involved. (The Saudis claim that after being informed of the threat of assault on the embassy, Iran waited more than 12 hours before sending security to protect the besieged diplomats.)

While the State Department insisted that it was not taking a side in the feud, Rogin and Lake reported that diplomats from the United States and the Arab world say that America’s Gulf allies see a decided tilt towards Iran.

According to Rogin and Lake, the American response to the heightened tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran has aggravated a perception that the Obama administration is aligning with Tehran, which is fueled by Washington’s treatment of the Islamic Republic under the nuclear deal. They wrote:

At the root of the problem for Sunni Arab states is the nuclear deal reached last summer by Iran and Western nations. When the White House sold the pact to Congress and Middle Eastern allies, its message was clear: Nothing in the deal would prevent the U.S. from sanctioning Iran for non-nuclear issues. Yet that has not been the case.

To illustrate this concern, Rogin and Lake noted that when Tehran complained at the end of last year that it was excluded from a visa waiver program, Kerry personally wrote Zarif a letter assuring him that the administration was prepared to issue waivers to anyone who had visited Iran, which would allow them to enter the U.S. without restrictions. After the administration planned to impose new sanctions on Iran for its illicit ballistic missile test in October, which a United Nations panel found had violated a U.N. Security Council resolution, it backed off from implementing them indefinitely in response to pressure from Iran.

In addition, Iran’s sentencing of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian and arrest of Siamak Namazi, an American-Iranian dual national, led to no greater public friction between Washington and Tehran. The White House also pushed for closing the International Atomic Energy Agency’s investigation into Iran’s past illicit nuclear research, even though the agency had found that the Islamic Republic was working on developing a nuclear weapon more recently than previously thought.

In explaining the administration’s tilt towards Tehran, Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East peace negotiator and current vice president at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, told Rogin and Lake that the White House sees Iran as a stabilizing force in the Middle East. Thus, according to Miller, “the Iranians hold the Obama legacy in their hands.” He added, “We are constrained and we are acquiescing to a certain degree to ensure we maintain a functional relationship with the Iranians.”

Rogin and Lake observed that without Washington acting to confront Iran’s aggression, Saudi Arabia feels the need to do so itself, as “if Obama won’t punish Iran, Saudi Arabia will.”

In April, Miller wrote about the dynamic currently being played out:

It clearly makes sense to try to use diplomacy as a way to constrain Iran’s nuclear program. But we should have no illusions about two things. First, we won’t end Teheran’s nuclear weapons pretensions, and two, we are and will be enabling its rise in the region because of this nuclear diplomacy, not constraining it. (via TheTower.org)

 

Israeli aid volunteers were welcomed with open arms upon arrival in the UK on Monday to assist flood victims, according to an IsraAID statement. Heavy rain and high winds continue to batter England, Ireland and Scotland, causing devastating damage to many communities. “The first team were greeted by locals with open hands and are now mapping the workloads which would include distribution of goods and gutting houses helping people repair their homes,” said Shachar Zahavi, founding director of IsraAid. A team of four IsraAID volunteers arrived in Leeds on Monday to survey the damage there and help residents with home repairs. The Israeli relief team is also distributing food and warm blankets to those in need. IsraAID has extensive expertise at gutting flood-damaged homes and helping to rebuild them. In July 2015, an Israeli volunteer team helped gut and fix some of the 375 homes in need of repair in Illinois in the wake of an EF3 tornado that ripped through the state. The Israel-based humanitarian relief agency has also partaken in US disaster relief following floods in Denver, Wimberley (Texas), and Detroit, hurricanes in Oklahoma, New York and New Orleans, and wild fires in Washington, among other sites. “We have responded to 10 floods and tornado disasters in the US and when we saw what was happening to the UK in the news it looked worse than ever before. We wanted to show the community we would be there for them,” Zahavi told the Jewish Chronicle. (via Israel21c)


Saudi Arabia and allies sever, degrade diplomatic ties with Iran

 

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Sudan severed diplomatic relations with Iran on Sunday and Monday, while the United Arab Emirates downgraded ties, in response to an attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran and the Saudi consulate in Mashhad on Saturday. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said at a press conference in Riyadh that Iran has a “long record of violations of foreign diplomatic missions,” dating back to the 1979 takeover of the American embassy, after which 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days. The attack on the Saudi embassy on Saturday was in response to the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a Shiite cleric from Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted on Sunday, “Doubtlessly, unfairly-spilled blood of oppressed martyr #SheikhNimr will affect rapidly & Divine revenge will seize Saudi politicians.” On Monday, Jubeir announced the suspension of air traffic between the two countries, as well as the cutting of commercial relations and the prevention of Saudi citizens from traveling to Iran, until Iran behaves “like a normal country.”

Since the signing of the nuclear deal with the global powers last July, Iran has carried out two ballistic missile tests, one of which was determined by the United Nations to be in violation of a UN resolution; fired a rocket within 1,500 yards of a U.S. aircraft carrier operating in the Strait of Hormuz; arrested two U.S. persons; hanged an American citizen; convicted a U.S. citizen under false charges; launched cyberattacks against the U.S. State Department; held anti-American rallies; violated international travel bans; and exported weapons to Syria and Yemen in violation of the arms embargo on Iran. Iran has also escalated its involvement in Syria, sending thousands of Iranian troops to assist the Bashar al-Assad regime, which continues to use chemical weapons and bomb its own people indiscriminately.

With regard to this Iranian aggression, the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal wrote Friday, “Opponents of the nuclear accord predicted this. Mr. Obama says the deal restricts Iranian action, but it does far more to restrict the ability of the U.S. to respond to Iranian aggression. If the U.S. takes tough action in response to Iran’s missile tests or other military provocations, Iran can threaten to stop abiding by the nuclear deal. It knows the world has no appetite for restoring serious sanctions, and that Mr. Obama will never admit his deal is failing. The mullahs view the accord as a license to become more militarily aggressive.”

 

The Iran-backed terrorist group Hezbollah detonated an explosive device near an IDF bulldozer and another vehicle beside the Israel-Lebanon border on Monday afternoon, The Times of Israel reported.

The attack, which took place near Shebaa Farms, also known as Har Dov, prompted Israel to fire approximately 20 artillery shells into southern Lebanon. No casualties were initially reported during either incident, although Hezbollah maintained that it injured Israeli soldiers. The IDF denied this claim, and said that the targeted vehicles were in the area to clear pathways of explosives and other obstacles.The Hezbollah cell that took credit for the bombing named itself after Samir Kuntar, the Hezbollah commander who was killed along with eight other terrorists in a targeted airstrike two weeks ago in Damascus. While Israel did not claim responsibility for the operation, former Israeli national security advisor Gen. Yaacov Amidror explained shortly afterwards that Kuntar was preparing forces in the Syrian side of the Golan Heights to orchestrate attacks against Israel before his death, and therefore posed an immediate threat. Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, vowed to retaliate for Kuntar’s assassination, saying, “We cannot forgive the shedding of our mujahideen blood by the Zionists.”

Kuntar was released from an Israeli jail in 2008 in exchange for the bodies of Israeli soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. He was imprisoned in 1979 after leading a group of terrorists that killed a policeman and then abducted and killed Danny Haran and his 4-year-old daughter, Einat, on a beach near their home in northern Israel. He shot Danny in front of Einat, and then killed her by smashing her head against a rock. Einat’s mother, hiding in a crawlspace, accidentally smothered her 2-year-old daughter Yael to death in an attempt to keep her quiet so as to avoid giving away their hiding place.

According to the Times, Israel has been firing artillery rounds at the Lebanese border fence over the past several days to deter expected attacks from Hezbollah.

In January 2014, an airstrike killed a number high-ranking Hezbollah and Iranian military officials, including Jihad Mughniyeh, who is believed to have been Kuntar’s predecessor in opening a Syrian front against Israel for Hezbollah. Later that month, two Israeli soldiers were killed by Hezbollah in a cross-border rocket attack. (via TheTower.org)

The latest video clip to take over Israeli social media circles is a throwback to the Nintendo Super Mario game. But this short clip is also a social-awareness call to society to provide better accessibility for people with disabilities. The team behind the 1’46-long clip is called Tachles, from the Yiddish/Israeli slang for “purpose.” The guys who make up this group – a rock star (Liron Atia from Blue Pill), an ad guy (Roi Meyshar) and comedian/social activist Gadi Wilcherski — say they’re on a mission to expose the truth behind the marketing world in a humorous manner. The clip shows the iconic Super Mario plumber in a wheelchair trying to navigate over sewers to score points. Of course, without ramps, Mario finds it near impossible to move forward. Tachles says it chose to highlight accessibility issues because it is “close to their hearts.” Atia, who, in addition to his musical career, also co-runs the Look&Listen creative studio in Ashkelon with Meyshar, is paralyzed in his lower limbs following a skiing accident. “Not So Super Mario” was released on December 28, 2015, and within 48 hours racked up over 300,000 views on YouTube and Facebook. In 2014, Tachles scored its first mega hit with “Anal-B” – a parody of the toothbrush brand. The team has also lampoonedHOT cable company and society’s addiction to smartphones. Its latest video clip is in English to draw the world’s attention to the need for better accessibility regardless of where one lives. “It’s not the 80s anymore. Enable access for everyone,” Arcade-style words declare after Mario successfully finishes a level. (via Israel21c)


Report: Hamas planning suicide bombings

 

Hamas has ordered its cells in the West Bank to launch suicide bombings against Israeli targets, specifically those in the “political and defense establishments,” according to Ynet on Thursday. The report follows a report from Monday in The Jerusalem Post that, according to a senior Palestinian official, “there are some voices within the leadership of Fatah calling for a return to the suicide bombings that characterized the second intifada.”

Ynet reported that it was already known that Hamas ordered sleeper cells in the West Bank to carry out attacks, but for the first time, Hamas has made those instructions public. Earlier in December, the IDF and Shin Bet discovered one of the cells, which reportedly was “close to launching a suicide bombing within the Green Line.” Shin Bet indicated that the cell was “controlled by Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip.” Thus far, Israel has arrested 25 Hamas operatives. Based on information collected from these arrests, Hamas leaders from Gaza and abroad have sent orders to “local commanders” to “escalate their activities — from encouraging protests and stabbing attacks to more dramatic and deadly assaults on Israeli civilians.” And according to the Times of Israel’s Avi Issacharoff, “Hamas sources also claimed that it was maintaining ties with members of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement.”

The current wave of violence has been triggered by incitement from Palestinian leaders across society who spread false claims that Israel seeks to change the status quo at the Temple Mount. The incitement has come, not only from Hamas, but also from the Palestinian Authority, its president, Mahmoud Abbas, and members of Abbas’s Fatah Party. In October, President 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.” On December 14, President Abbas called the wave of violence a "justified popular uprising.” On the same day, a new poll was released, showing that two-thirds of Palestinians support the stabbing attacks. According to the Associated Press, “Most Palestinians believe if the current individual attacks develop into an armed intifada, the violence might serve Palestinian national interests more than negotiations would.” Thus far, the violence has resulted in the death of 25 Israelis.

 

After reports emerged Wednesday that the United States will impose new sanctions on Iran after the Islamic Republic tested ballistic missiles in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced Thursday that he is ordering his defense ministry to accelerate the development of his nation’s missile program.

Iran’s semi-official PressTV news reported that in his decree to Defense Minister Hossein Dehqan, “Rouhani ordered an acceleration in Iran’s program for production of “various types of missile” needed to improve the country’s defense capabilities.”

Rouhani, in his decree to Dehqan, called the purported plan by the White House a measure in line with hostile US policies to “illegally interfere in the Islamic Republic of Iran’s programs for boosting the defense power.” …

The Iranian president also warned that in case the US repeats such “wrong and interventionist” measures, the Iranian Defense Ministry must develop a new plan for expanding the country’s missile capabilities.

Rouhani said that Iran’s missile power, which he described as a means to protect the country’s sovereignty and a major deterrence against terrorism in the Middle East and the world, has never been up for negotiations, including in the nuclear talks with the P5+1 group – the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany – which resulted in the JCPOA in Austria on July 14.

Rouhani said that the development of ballistic missiles was “conventional and important” to his nation’s defense. He also claimed that Iran’s missile program is not covered by the nuclear deal. In a July Senate hearing, Secretary of State John Kerry said that Iran had agreed that non-nuclear sanctions imposed by the United States would not violate the terms of the nuclear deal.

Earlier this month, a United Nations panel found that Iran’s October launch of a ballistic missile violated United Nations Security Council Resolution 1929, which prohibits Iran from undertaking “any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using ballistic missile technology, and that States shall take all necessary measures to prevent the transfer of technology or technical assistance to Iran related to such activities.” Iran subsequently tested another ballistic missile in November.

The first launch prompted a group of eleven Democratic senators to write a letter to Kerry expressing their concern over Iran’s ballistic missile program. The administration’s slow response to the Iranian provocation prompted a pair of Republican senators to write to President Barack Obama earlier this month, emphasizing that the advanced missiles posed a threat to the United States and its allies.

When Iran scheduled ballistic missile tests a month after the nuclear deal was announced, Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency claimed that such tests would reinforce Iran’s interpretation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, the resolution that formalizes parts of the nuclear deal. That resolution also calls for Iran to refrain from testing ballistic missiles, but Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that his country was unwilling to “abide by any resolution” that would limit its capacity to develop or acquire the weapons it deemed necessary. (via TheTower.org)

 

As one year winds down and a new calendar year begins, it is customary to make “best of” lists. So, Mashable picked the 100 best iPhone apps of all time. Three Israeli-made apps — Waze, Meerkat and Yo – made the list. Waze ranks 22nd on the impressive list. “So good Google bought it,” reports Mashable about choosing the Israeli-made navigation application. “The app took mobile driving directions to the next level, using crowd-sourced data on traffic, gas prices and — most controversially — police speed traps. Even if you don’t use the Waze app, you’ve almost certainly felt its influence.” At No. 86 on the list is the Israeli-American video-streaming app Meerkat. The public Twitter-Meerkat breakup may have altered the original plans for greatness by the app’s designers but the Mashable digital media website explains that its editors were seeking pioneering apps as well amusing ones when choosing the Best 100 iPhone apps for their list. As such, Meerkat is included on the list. “When we set out to pick the 100 best iPhone apps of all time, our intention wasn’t to simply do a list of the most useful or entertaining apps currently available. Just as a great teacher in your youth may have helped shape who you are today, groundbreaking apps of the past have had tremendous impact on the iPhone experience, even if their influence may have since waned or faded entirely.” Mashable writes that Meerkat’s future remains to be seen but its presence will not be forgotten. “Will it survive? No one knows, but it will never lose its place as the app that put mobile-to-mobile video broadcasting on the map.” And at 91st place on the list, Israeli venture capitalist and entrepreneur Moshe Hogeg is credited with introducing “the quintessential ‘dumb’ app.” “The app quickly racked up more than a million users and inspired dozens of copycats (Yo Hodor, anyone?) while helping kick off a new trend of ridiculous and ridiculous-sounding apps,” write Mashable’s editors. But the Yo app wasn’t without benefits. “Today, you can use Yo to turn on your lights, remember where you parked your car, or follow your favorite sports teams, publishers and Instagrammers. There’s also an Apple Watch app, perhaps one of the few apps that really makes sense to have on your wrist,” reads the blurb about why Yo appears on the Best Of list. “Though the app wasn’t able to sustain its early virality, it proved that ‘dumb’ apps can have brains, too.” (via Israel21c)


Iranian navy fires rockets near U.S. vessels in Persian Gulf

 

The navy of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) fired several rockets near the U.S. aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman, a U.S. destroyer, and a French frigate on Tuesday evening in the Strait of Hormuz. The incident,confirmed by the U.S. Navy on Wednesday, comes as the latest in a series of hostile Iranian actions since the nuclear deal was reached in July. The rockets came within 1,500 yards of the aircraft carrier, and according to The New York Times, the U.S. Navy described Iran’s move as “highly provocative.”

Since the inking of the nuclear accord in July, Iran’s provocative behavior has intensified. Iran test-fired two ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Iran also convicted an American citizen on false charges, arrested two U.S. persons, and hanged another American citizen. Iran has launched cyber attacks against the U.S., exported weapons to Yemen and Syria, and violated international travel bans. Members of Congress have called on the Obama administration to respond to Iran’s aggression. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said, “While these ballistic missile tests are outside of the parameters of the [deal] our response has to be strategic and we have to make sure Iran knows that it can’t continue to simply blatantly disregard the international community and the U.N. Security Council.” According to The Wall Street Journal, Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) asserted, “Both nuclear missile tests fly in the face of U.N. Security Council resolutions, yet the administration is not punishing these violations.” There are concerns that the administration does not respond to Iranian aggressions for fear they will walk away from the nuclear deal. Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce (R-Calif) commented, “Now you have a situation where we are trying to placate the Iranian regime. This administration has got to learn to push back on Iran.”

To better protect the U.S. from terror attacks, Congress undertook measures to tighten the Visa Waiver Program. In response, Iran declared the measures a violation of the nuclear deal. Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee Michael McCaul (R-Texas) remarked, “Iran is the world’s largest state sponsor of Islamist terrorism, and our message to them is clear: as long as you fuel networks of terror, individuals of your country will not be allowed to enter ours without closer scrutiny.” 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.”

 

New bills are being introduced in Congress with bipartisan support that would target the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Iran’s powerful extraterritorial militia, preventing it from benefiting from the sanctions relief that was allowed as part of the nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic.

Proposals like the IRGC Sanctions Act, the Quarantining the Ayatollah’s State-Sponsored Aggression and Militancy (QASSAM) Act, the Iran Terror Finance Transparency Act, the IRGC Terrorist Designation Act,  and the Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps Sanctions Implementation and Review Act have been introduced by members of both parties in both Congressional chambers. Tyler Stapleton, Deputy Director of Congressional Relations for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and Emanuele Ottolenghi, a senior fellow at that think tank, wrote a policy brief on Monday that explains and different ways the bills would sanction he IRGC and label it a terrorist organization:

The bills call for, inter alia, designating the entire IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization (the IRGC Terrorist Designation Act) and creating an IRGC watch list to provide transparency for companies looking to invest in Iran (IRGC Sanctions Act). Under the QASSAM Act, Treasury would be required to lower the threshold for companies to be considered IRGC-owned or controlled, thereby bringing hundreds of front companies, shipping assets, and financial institutions under greater scrutiny.

The Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps Sanctions Implementation and Review Act would provide for more effective sanctions against the IRGC or any of its officials, agents, or affiliates to counter support for international terrorism and assistance to the Assad regime in Syria. Lastly, the IRGC Sanctions Act would limit licenses granted to entities that have business relationships with the Guard and impede efforts to remove Iran from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism until Congress approves such a move.

The bills aim to address weaknesses in the current system of sanctions, which fail “to designate hundreds of Guard companies and thousands of its top officials.” The IRGC is a potent military and economic force in Iran, and controls around 20 percent of the value of the Tehran Stock Exchange. Once sanctions are lifted, Stapleton and Ottolenghi write, “Congress will have to move swiftly to minimize the risk that renewed trade relations with Tehran enrich the Guard’s already full coffers.”

While the language of the nuclear deal limits the United States from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions on Iran, Secretary of State John Kerry told the Senate in July that Iran had agreed that sanctions related to terrorism or other similar issues would not violate the deal.

We’re not going to come back and just slap [sanctions] on again, but that absolutely does not mean that we are precluded from sanctioning Iranian actors, sectors, as any actions or circumstances warrant. So all of our other sanctions authorities remain in place, they are unaffected by this agreement, and Iran only said, if you read what it says, that they would treat the imposition of new nuclear related sanctions as the grounds to cease performing. But they are clear and we are clear that we have all other kinds of authorities and let me specific on that because it’s important for this whole debate to be clear.

The IRGC is being targeted because of its support for terror and human rights abuses.

Before the deal was announced, an Iranian businessman told Reuters that Iran benefiting from sanctions relief would “increase the IRGC’s influence over politics and the economy because it will strengthen the hardline establishment.”  Lee Smith, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, wrote shortly after the deal was announced that the sanctions relief would strengthen the IRGC’s financial hold over Iran. (via TheTower.org)

 

At the 2013 Games for Change Festival in New York, Israeli father and software executive Uri Mishol learned an amazing factoid: By age 21, most children have spent 10,000 hours playing online games, equaling the hours spent in all of middle school and high school. “That event opened my eyes to the potential impact that games can have on young minds, for good or bad,” Mishol tells ISRAEL21c. “We have this amazing platform kids are attracted to, so how can we take advantage of it in promoting tolerance, trust and dialogue and breaking stereotypes and racism?” His answer: Games for Peace,  a movement to bridge gaps between young people in conflict zones through a shared experience of playing popular video games requiring communication and collaboration within a virtual world. Rather than reinventing the wheel, G4P adapts internationally beloved games, particularly Minecraft, to accomplish its goal. “That’s what is radical about our approach,” Mishol says. “As far as we know, our school program is the only Jewish-Arab dialogue program that kids actually elbow their way into because they want to be a part of it. You can’t say that about the majority of these types of programs.” Kids across the Middle East can play G4P together from the safety of their own school or home. One way to do this is periodic Play for Peace weekends, the first of which attracted 100 players in January 2014 in a fun collaboration to build the world’s first virtual peace village via Minecraft. Automatic translation was incorporated into the game’s chat system to allow natural conversation in multiple languages. Play for Peace events are organized with The Peace Factory, an Israeli social-media initiative. (via Israel21c)


Iran threatens to retaliate if the U.S. implements new visa waiver rules

 

Iran is threatening to carry out retaliatory measures, if the U.S. implements the new restrictions on the Visa Waiver Program. The recent changes to the program, made by Congress, were placed on individuals who have visited Iran and Iranian citizens and prevents them from entering the U.S. without a visa due to Iran’s continued support for terrorism. The U.S. State Department first designated Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1984. Under the recently signed nuclear deal, the U.S. is allowed to place sanctions against Iran for human rights abuses and terrorism. However, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif claimed that the new restrictions would violate the nuclear deal inked in July. Iran’s Foreign Ministry said on Monday, "Any steps taken outside the agreement are unacceptable to Iran, and Iran will take its own steps in response where necessary.”

In response to Iranian accusations that the new rules violate the nuclear deal, Secretary of State John Kerry sent a letter to Zarif to assure him that the administration could help Iran evade the new regulations by issuing waiver exemptions to ensure that the new rules will not “interfere with legitimate business interests in Iran.” Members of Congress have criticized this move and urged the administration to implement the new rules that President Barack Obama signed into law on December 18. Five members of Congress, including Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce (R-Calif.), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), and Chairman of the Committee on House Administration Candice Miller (R-Mich.) wrote to Secretary Kerry and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson telling them, “The simplest way to eliminate this restriction is for Iran to end its support of terrorism. We are deeply concerned that this point was absent from your recent correspondence with the Iranian Foreign Minister and urge the Administration to press Tehran on this, as well as its recent missile tests and persistent jailing of Americans. The problem is with Iranian actions, not the new visa waiver law.” The members of Congress also told the secretaries that the waivers in the new law were not meant to be used for business travelers and pointed out that the State Department has yet to rule out exempting those who have travelled to Iran for business.

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.” Chairman McCaul commented last week, “This administration’s continued capitulation to Iran continues to reach new lows.”

 

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused the United States of creating ISIS and trying to destroy Islamic civilization in a speech Tuesday in Tehran.

Khamenei made his comments in front of Muslim scholars, leaders and political figures at the International Islamic Unity Conference. Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency reported on Khamenei’s remarks.

The Supreme Leader noted that the statements of the current US officials who claim to be in agreement with Islam are untrue and show their hypocrisy, and said, “The present US officials are against the principles of Islam and unlike their statements they are after fomenting differences among Muslims and its example is creating terrorist groups like Daesh (the Arabic word for the ISIL) and other groups that have been created through the funding of the US affiliates and their political aids; they (the American officials) have caused the recent tragedies in the Muslim world.” …

The Iranian Supreme Leader pointed to the statements of a US politician who had said that Islamism is the enemy of the US, and said, “The Shiite or Sunni does not make any difference for the Americans; they are against any Muslim who wants to live in accordance with Islamic rules and make efforts to that end.”

Ayatollah Khamenei described the main problem of the Americans with Muslims as the latter group’s loyalty and commitment to the decrees and teachings of Islam and their efforts to establish Islamic civilization, and said, “It is for the same reason that when the Islamic awakening started they grew worried and tried to contain it and they even succeeded in some countries, but the Islamic awakening cannot be destroyed and it will achieve its goals God willingly.”

Although there is extensive evidence tying Iran to the creation of ISIS, Khamenei has often accused the United States of being responsible for creating the terror group. He even used this false accusation to blame the United States for the Paris terror attacks in November.

Khamenei’s speech continues a trend, noted in The New York Times last month, of growing anti-Americanism demonstrated by the Islamic Republic since the announcement of a nuclear deal in July. According to the Times, the increase in official expressions of anti-Americanism was matched by an increase in clamping down on rights. Similarly, Jonathan Greenblatt, the head of the anti-Defamation League, wrote last week that along with the arrests an American citizen and a U.S. resident, the sentencing of an American journalist to jail, and a surge of cyber-attacks against U.S. officials, “Iranian leadership continues to rail against the ‘Big Satan’ without penalty or even opprobrium.”

Since the nuclear deal was announced, Khamenei has twice called the United States “criminal,” and promised that Iran would defeat the United States in war. He has also called for Iran to block the import of U.S. goods, and said that despite the nuclear deal there would be no broader cooperation with the United States. (via TheTower.org)

 

“Adherence to traditional physiotherapy approaches is painfully low, and boring routines often demotivate patients and fail to improve patient health as intended,” says Dudi Klein, founder and CEO of BioGaming, one of several Israeli companies using virtual-reality gaming and robotics technology to introduce fun into physical therapy exercises. “For all of the digital and mobile innovations in the healthcare space, physiotherapy has been a bit left out,” he adds. “If telemedicine is enabling more cost-effective, convenient and connected healthcare, then BioGaming is the equivalent for rehab. Our platform takes it a step further by making therapy into a game to be won.” In November, the Tel Aviv-based BioGaming introduced two industry firsts to physiotherapists in the United Kingdom, Europe and Israel: the BioGaming at-home rehabilitation system and companion iOS and Android applications to facilitate communication with patients. The BioGaming home platform uses patented motion-detection algorithms to power a Microsoft Kinect 3D motion-capture camera. The camera can be connected to Microsoft Windows for computers or paired with a provided Xbox One for use with a television. Physiotherapists can rent BioGaming systems on a month-to-month basis. The app allows them to can create personalized routines for patients and upload them to the cloud for the patient. All the captured data from the Kinect camera during the sessions is transmitted back to the cloud, so physiotherapists and patients can track progress automatically. (via Israel21c)