Tom Gross Mideast Media Analysis

Israel’s secret cooperation with Hamas revealed (& Khamenei: Obama “oppresses” blacks)

April 27, 2015

Hamas PM Haniyeh and Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei


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1. Israel’s secret cooperation with Hamas revealed
2. IDF prepared to allow Gaza seaport despite weapon smuggling risk?
3. Hamas leader reveals indirect “chats” with Israel
4. Iran’s Supreme Leader: U.S. “oppresses and humiliates” its “black population”
5. Saudi Prince Talal promises “Bentleys to fighter pilots bombing Yemen”
6. NYT: One standard for criticizing Israel, another for everything else
7. Other writers angry as American PEN members boycott dinner for Charlie Hebdo
8. Obama makes fun of Netanyahu: He’ll speak at my funeral
9. “Why are Arabic soccer commentators so damn good?”
10. “Meet the Saudi Arabian black metal band breaking Saudi law by being a black metal band”

[Notes below by Tom Gross]


Commentators in both the Israeli and Palestinian press today reveal that Israel and the Palestinian militant Islamist group Hamas are engaged in not-so-secret talks.

The Israeli paper Yediot Ahronot today runs a piece by Alex Fishman titled “Israel’s secret cooperation with Hamas”.

Fishman writes “For several weeks now, official representatives of the Israeli government and defense establishment have been holding a real dialogue with the Islamic terrorist group in a bid to reach a long-term calm on the Gaza border.”

“The rocket fired [into Israel from Gaza] at the end of Israel’s Independence Day [last week] placed the spotlight back on a somewhat forgotten front. But this spotlight reveals a different reality: No escalation, no tension – but rather the opposite. The Israeli airstrike in response to the rocket fire was mainly aimed at hitting the headlines.

“It turns out that for several weeks now, official representatives of the Israeli government, members of the defense establishment, have been holding a real dialogue with Hamas – partly direct, partly indirect – in a bid to reach a long-term calm between the sides.”

Fishman adds that there has been no formal decision by Prime Minister Netanyahu to change Israel’s strategy towards Hamas, and “the Egyptians and Americans don’t like the Hamas initiative, which bypasses the Palestinian Authority.”

Yediot Ahronot also reports that Israel is considering helping Palestinians build “an independent seaport to serve Gaza”



Tom Gross adds: In fact there has been back-channel talks between Israel and Hamas in the past, mainly on infrastructure and other issues (for example the supply of utilities), and I have alluded to these in my past writings.

I also mentioned in my dispatch last July that an Israeli government minister had proposed “giving Gaza a port, airport – without compromising on Israel’s security”.

In the original version of an article for The Guardian last year I also mentioned that Israel was prepared to oversee the rebuilding of a seaport in Gaza (despite the risk of weapons smuggling by Hamas into the strip) but for space reasons this was edited out.

My article concerns Qatar’s role in Gaza and senior Qatari are indeed helping to mediate between representatives of Israel and Hamas now.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, with the blessing of Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, is believed to be overseeing those representing Israel in the current talks, although there is no official acknowledgment of this by anyone in the Israeli government.

Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority is furious with these developments since Hamas represents a rival power base to his dictatorial grip over the Palestinians. (Indeed there is almost no freedom of speech in the Palestinian Authority – the official PA news agency WAFA reported yesterday that a man was arrested for saying Yasser Arafat was not a Martyr.)

And while Egypt’s Sisi regime continues to impose a tight blockade on the Egypt-Gaza border, destroying homes near the border and shooting people who disobey orders, by contrast Israel has, since the beginning of this year, allowed about 33,000 trucks to pass through Israel’s Kerem Shalom Crossing into Gaza, carrying more than one million tons of equipment. This month an average of 523 trucks a day have crossed from Israel into Gaza compared to an average of 255 a day last year. Thousands of Gazans have also been allowed into Israel this year, either for medical treatment or to travel to Jerusalem to pray at the Al Aqsa mosque. (Unsurprisingly, the international media has avoided reporting much on this.)

All this is not to say that Israel and Hamas won’t go to war with one another again in future. There is concern among many in Israel, including in Israeli intelligence circles, that Israel has allowed in so much building material that Hamas has repaired many of its tunnels underground into Israel, which could be used later to launch attacks on Israeli civilians.



I believe that Yediot Ahronot decided to make public some of the cooperation after the Palestinian Maan news agency reported yesterday:

Hamas leader reveals indirect “chats” with Israel

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Hamas leader Ahmad Yousef said Sunday that there were “chats” taking place between the Islamist movement and Israel under European mediation…

For instance, he said, there are talks on the issues of the ceasefire and the seaport that aim to “find a way out on the issue of the siege by opening a seaport to connect to the outside world.”

Yousef denied that there were direct talks between Hamas and Israel taking place.



Iran’s Fars news agency reports that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said yesterday that “Black people [in the United States] are oppressed, disrespected and humiliated.”

Khamenei added America uses “cruel might against black people.”

Khamenei specifically referred to an incident earlier this month in Chicago where an African-American teenager, Justus Howell, was shot and killed by police.

His remarks came one day before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is to meet Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the United Nations in New York.

Tom Gross adds: There are undoubtedly problems between certain U.S. law enforcement forces and sections of the African-American population, with police using unnecessary and sometimes fatal force, most recently in Baltimore in recent days. However, as bad as the situation might be in some American cities, this pales in comparison with the massacres that the Iranian regime has carried out against minorities in Iran, such as the Baluchis, Kurds, and Iranian Arabs.

Last December, in a series of tweets, Khamenei criticized the United States’ treatment of Native Americans, referring to the Wounded Knee incident of 1890 – in which American forces massacred hundreds of Native American noncombatants, including women and children.

While I am inclined to agree with Khamenei on this, one should not forget that while Khamenei is allowing himself free speech, freedom of expression for others is severely limited in Iran, with hundreds of dissidents, bloggers, free speech advocates and liberals being tortured in the Iranian regime’s prisons.



A Saudi prince is being lambasted on social media after promising to give luxury Bentley cars to Saudi fighter pilots currently bombing Yemen.

Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, who has three million followers on Twitter, wrote: “In appreciation of their role in this operation, I’m honored to offer 100 Bentley cars to the 100 Saudi [fighter] pilots”.

Some in the ultra-conservative Kingdom praised Prince Al-Waleed’s gesture, but many in Yemen responded with anger.

Thousands of Yemeni civilians have been killed or injured during the past month, and over 150,000 refugees have fled the country, many by boat to Africa. None of this is being reported in the international media in anything like the way that most media scrutinizes every detail of Israel’s actions when it responds to rocket fire on its civilians from Gaza – and the Saudi government is not responding to any such rocket fire against its civilians.

The Saudi airforce’s bombing of Yemen is proving very popular among the Saudi public -- so far as one can accurately gauge public opinion in a highly oppressive state such as the Saudi kingdom.

Al-Waleed has now deleted his tweet but screenshots are still being circulated on Twitter.

The prince owns a number of what have been termed “exceptionally extravagant palaces,” as well as a fleet of private jets, and over 200 cars including Lamborghinis and Ferraris. When Forbes magazine estimated his wealth at £15bn, he complained they had undervalued it by £4.5bn.


The Wall Street Journal reports today that “Yemen’s warring political factions were on the verge of a power-sharing deal when Saudi-led airstrikes began a month ago, derailing negotiations for a national unity government, the United Nations mediator said.”



Yesterday, the New York Times on page A10 ran this headline: “Israeli Police Officers Kill Two Palestinians.”

And yet in both cases, as the New York Times itself admits the “Palestinian men were fatally shot by the Israeli police after attacking officers with knives.” The police had already been stabbed and the Palestinians were attempting to kill them when they were shot, so why does the New York Times headline suggest otherwise? Three Israeli police were also injured over the weekend after a Palestinian deliberately rammed his car into them at high speed.

By contrast, on page A24 of yesterday’s same edition of the New York Times, the headline reads: “Man, 24, Killed by Detective in Struggle During Arrest.”

This kind of utterly misleading coverage of Israel is perhaps what prompted the New York Times foreign desk collectively to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize last week.

For background, see various past articles on this list including, All The News That’s Fit To Print?


Almost unreported in the international media, attacks are continuing on European Jews. For example, a man was attacked and punched in the face in Paris by an assailant shouting “dirty Jew” as he left a synagogue after services on Saturday, French police said.



The writers Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner and Taiye Selasi have withdrawn from a dinner on May 5 at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan in which PEN’s American chapter is to give its annual Freedom of Expression Courage award to the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

Gerard Biard, Charlie Hebdo’s editor in chief, and Jean-Baptiste Thoret, a Charlie Hebdo staff member who arrived late for work on January 7 and thus missed the attack by Islamic extremists in which 12 staff journalists were murdered, are scheduled to accept the award.

Kushner said she didn’t want to support what she called the magazine’s “cultural intolerance”.

Carey criticized “PEN’s seeming blindness to the cultural arrogance of the French nation, which does not recognize its moral obligation to a large and disempowered segment of their population.”

In a statement, PEN said they regretted the boycott but dozens of writers from around the world had confirmed that they would attend the New York dinner.

Earlier this month, the cartoonist Garry Trudeau said that “by attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority with crude, vulgar drawings closer to graffiti than cartoons, Charlie Hebdo wandered into the realm of hate speech.” (In fact, many of us consider some of Trudeau’s past cartoons of Israeli Jews and American Republicans verging on hate speech.)

Salman Rushdie, a former PEN president who lived in hiding for decades after the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling on Muslims to kill him over his novel “The Satanic Verses” (and the novel’s translators in Italy was then stabbed and seriously injured in Milan, the book’s publisher in Norway was shot three times in an attempted assassination in Oslo, and a mob set fire to the building where The Satanic Verses translator in Turkey lives, killing 37) said the writers boycotting the PEN dinner were “horribly wrong.”

“If PEN as a free speech organization can’t defend and celebrate people who have been murdered for drawing pictures, then frankly the organization is not worth the name,” Rushdie said.



At the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner on Saturday night, U.S. President Barack Obama poked fun at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“It is no wonder that that people keep pointing out how the presidency has aged me. I look so old John Boehner’s already invited Netanyahu to speak at my funeral,” he quipped, referring to Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu to speak in front of Congress on the Iranian nuclear program, which may be an existential issue for Israelis and many others in the Middle East.

Reflecting the dismissive way Obama has treated the elected prime minister of Israel for the last six years, Obama refereed to Netanyahu only by his surname, and did not call him “Benjamin Netanyahu” or “Prime Minister Netanyahu” whereas he did call other people by their first and last names.

You can watch that clip and a few others in this short summary:

Obama also made a dig at Hillary Clinton, the front-runner to be the Democratic candidate in the 2016 presidential election.

Noting that millions of Americans are living in a time of economic uncertainty, Obama said, “For example, I have one friend just a few weeks ago, she was making millions of dollars a year and she’s now living out of a van in Iowa.”


Below are two “human interest” articles. The first is about football (soccer) commentators in the Arab world, the second about a Saudi Arabian Black Metal band.

Here is a video of Tunisia’s Issam Chawali, who is referenced in the first article and is known for, among other things, rhyming Tiger Woods with Robin Hood to describe the greatness of a goal by Colombia’s Falcao.

In fact some Americans may not realize that soccer commentators in many other parts of the world, notably Latin America, are just as passionate -- Tom Gross.


Why Are Arabic Soccer Commentators So Damn Good?
By Daniel Altman
April 24, 2015
Foreign Policy magazine

You think you love soccer? You probably don’t love it as much as people in the Middle East and North Africa. Almost everywhere else, other sports compete for fans’ attention. But the Arab world – or at least a whole lot of it – has soccer monomania, and it has the commentators to match.

The English love their rugby and cricket. Argentines enjoy basketball and tennis. In Mexico, baseball is big. Throw in some auto racing and alpine sports for Italy and Germany. Table tennis has devotees across East Asia. And south of the Sahara, there’s distance running and more cricket – but not as much cricket as on the Asian subcontinent.

In the Arab world, soccer is the undisputed king. There aren’t even any pretenders to the throne. Camel or horse racing? They’re rich men’s sports. The people want soccer, so much so that even a decade ago, Al Jazeera was offering several channels of wall-to-wall action from around the world, beamed by satellite across the region.

A frequent host of that action was – and still is – Lakhdar Berriche, a jovial Algerian who has long anchored Al Jazeera’s coverage of the Spanish league. Back in the early years, he would jauntily flip his scarf over his shoulder and take viewers on a brief tour of the home team’s city before each match began. These days he’s the beloved face of competitions ranging from the African Cup of Nations to the Champions League. Cosmopolitan and conversational, he eases his audience into his telecasts like a warm bath.Cosmopolitan and conversational, he eases his audience into his telecasts like a warm bath.

But it’s during the matches themselves that the Arabic commentators really start to shine – and the bathwater starts to boil. The foremost among them may be Tunisia’s Issam Chawali. Balding and bespectacled, with the outward mien of a midcareer accounting student, he peppers his rapid-fire play-by-play with tidbits from popular culture as well as his encyclopedic knowledge of players past and present. He might compare the Netherlands’ Clarence Seedorf to past Dutch greats like Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard, and Johan Cruyff. Or he might rhyme Tiger Woods and Robin Hood to describe the greatness of a goal by Colombia’s Radamel Falcao.

The words, of course, are hardly the most important part. Whatever Chawali’s saying, it’s all part of a massive crescendo as either team nears the mouth of the opposing goal, with a frenetic peak of volume and syllables when anyone scores. And that’s exactly than what his viewers expect. The nonstop verbiage of Arabic commentators – quite a contrast to the reserved interventions of their English-language counterparts – even provoked a satirical article suggesting they could be fired for leaving a few seconds of dead air.

To be sure, there are plenty of mile-a-minute talkers in other languages, too. There are also distinctive voices like the Argentine Marcelo Araujo’s nasal foghorn and the high-pitched shrieks of Italy’s Carlo Zampa. And there are founts of enthusiasm like the adoptive Americans Andrés Cantor (who made the Spanish “GOOOOOOL!” call famous here) and Ray Hudson (whose eloquence in describing the play of Lionel Messi reaches Ciceronian proportions).

But they can’t match the combination of verbal gymnastics, wacky references, and pure elation that comes across in an Arabic telecast. Just compare three calls of the same goal by the former Newcastle player Hatem Ben Arfa against Bolton in 2012: In English, it’s a great goal, no question – there’s even a Messi comparison – but it’s tough to picture the commentator’s feet leaving the floor. The French version starts off softly and barely increases in volume until Ben Arfa, a Frenchman himself, has completed his majestic run and the ball is already bouncing past the goalkeeper.

Now listen to the Arabic, or, even better, read the transliteration: “Ben Arfa Ben Arfa Ben Arfa Ben Arfa Ben Arfa Ben Arfa BEN ARFA BEN ARFAAAAAA!” followed by a full minute of hair-on-fire craziness involving invocations of Diego Maradona and other supreme deities. This is what soccer commentary should be like: one human being left awestruck by the on-field apotheosis of another, emotions overflowing too quickly for white-hot vocal cords to keep up. The exhilaration lasts long after the ball hits the back of the net, extending the moment in which we’re all that much happier to be alive.

It’s no less than the audience deserves. These days, much of the Arab world lives under the shadow of violence, intimidation, and curtailment of the most basic rights. But soccer there is about love and joy – and the commentators show it.



Meet the Saudi Arabian Black Metal Band Breaking Saudi Law By Being a Black Metal Band
By Nick Chester
April 21, 2015

Black metal bands have never been keen on religion. Only, in parts of the world where religion can actually be oppressive, bands inspired by Bathory and Mayhem and Burzum are few and far between.

That’s presumably because it’s a lot easier to be in an anti-Christian metal band in the UK, say, than in an anti-Islamic metal band in Saudi Arabia. In England, your obstacles extend to overhearing your mum tell a friend you’re just “going through a phase”; in Saudi Arabia, they include social ostracism and the possibility of imprisonment or death.

With that in mind, you’ve got to give it to Saudi Arabia’s only black metal band, Al-Namrood, whose lyrics include all sorts of things that could get them executed. I got in touch with guitarist and bassist Mephisto for a chat.

VICE: How did Al-Namrood first come into being and what’s the meaning behind your name?

Mephisto: Three men decided to put their aggression into music, specifically black metal. Needless to say, the concepts that are involved in black metal describe what we are experiencing. The band started with the creative idea of combining the Arabic scale with black metal and Arabic lyrics. The main goal was to create something catchy and harsh that fulfils the needs of extreme metal.

Al-Namrood is the Arabic name of the Babylonian king Nimrod, who was a mighty tyrannical king who ruled Babylon with blood and defied the ruler of the universe, according to the tenets of monotheistic religions. We find the title of Al-Namrood to perfectly fit the message of the band. [Literally, Al-Namrood translates to “non-believer”.]

VICE: What’s the motivation for adopting such a vehemently anti-religious stance in such a staunchly Islamic country?

We’re fed up with religion; the fact is that everything that is connected to it makes us nauseous. I personally spoke to a shrink. He advised me that whenever I get inflamed I you have to express [what I’m feeling]. So here we are, expressing. What can be more motivating than living in a place where everything is controlled by religion? Basically, individuals here have no rights to do anything. We’re owned by the Islamic sharia. Everything we do must be justified by Islam and acknowledged by society. There are two outrageous powers: religion and our society. They both interact and fulfil each other.

VICE: In what way?

While there’s a lot of hypocrisy, it has been demonstrated that the local people are very much in agreement with the Islamic system. For example, in Islam, music is generally forbidden, but Muslim people listen to it on the basis that “God forgives”. But when it comes to to freedom of choice, “God never forgives.” Everything is chosen for an individual from birth until death. A child is born and raised to become Muslim and never given a choice to look at other religions. Education is highly biased and focused upon the Islamic world. There is no chance of considering multiple points of views. The only view that can be adopted is the view of the acknowledged tradition and approved religious practice. Freedom of expression is a crime, justified by the fact that “it can disturb the peace”. Even in marriage you cannot choose your partner; rather, the elders choose for you. This social approach mixed with religious control is normally practiced in our country with no objection.

VICE: How did you first become interested in metal? I can’t imagine black metal CDs are particularly easy to get hold of in Saudi Arabia.

It happened gradually, of course. When we were exposed to metal we started basic, then we elevated to the extreme. We liked the concept of black metal, as it describes the irrationality of religion. Of course, this context exists in other genres, like death metal, but we lent more towards black metal because it has many elements of punk metal, which has awesome music and concepts. We purchased CDs from neighbouring countries and smuggled them in discreetly. We educated ourselves about the outside world by also purchasing smuggled books, thanks to some amazing crazy friends, and then the internet came to extend our knowledge massively.

VICE: I’ve read that you never use your real names and never have your photos published, and that even your families don’t know that you make metal. Going to such lengths to remain anonymous must be quite a strain.

Not at all. We’ve been doing this from childhood. I mean, we’ve had a different perspective than the rest of our society from an early age, and we’ve learnt that sharing these views is not feasible for us. Some of us tried hard to fit in and share our thoughts, but ended up serving time in jail, so the lifestyle of being mentally isolated from the surrounding environment started from an early age. When it came to our musical approach, we just applied the same methodology of coping.

VICE: Why do you think that, in spite of the fact that metal bands frequently incorporate an anti-religious sentiment into their lyrics, there have been so few bands that have said anything negative about Islam?

Simply because they haven’t experienced it. Christianity nowadays is passive; the church doesn’t control the country. I think whatever rage that people have got against the church cannot be compared with Islamic regimes. You can criticise the church under freedom of speech in European countries, but you can’t do that in Middle Eastern countries; the system doesn’t allow it. Islam has inflicted more authority on the Middle East than any other place in the world. Every policy has to be aligned with sharia law, and this is happening right now in 2015. We know that, 400 years ago, brutality occurred in the name of the church, but the same is happening right now in this age with Islam.

VICE: What kind of obstacles do you encounter when it comes to recording your music?

The obstacles are greater than colossal – it’s like living in a cave and demanding electricity. In radical Islamic countries, this music is considered to be a crime by Islamic law. We are living our lives in isolation. Basically, our identity is hidden and our musical interests are kept top secret. It’s risky, and the risk gets bigger if we want to publicise our band. However, the obstacles do not stop at social aspects; also, the lack of availability of decent musical equipment is an issue, and getting the musical equipment into the country can be a problem.

VICE: Have you ever played a live show, or is that straight up impossible?

It’s impossible, because it’s illegal. We can be sentenced to death if we do them.

VICE: Your lyrics focus heavily upon the demons and jinn of pre-Islamic Arabia. What’s the inspiration for this?

We were taught in school that Arabs were living in utter darkness before Islam came to illuminate the people, but we find history more interesting than the post-Islamic world. We also like some Arabian tales from the Middle Ages, like One Thousand and One Nights.

VICE: You mentioned that you made a conscious decision to incorporate regional instruments into your songs. Can you tell me about that?

Yes. When we compose a song we can sense that a particular part can use Arabic instruments, such as an oud or a qanoon. The tricky part is figuring out how to combine the quarter tone with guitar tuning. Once this part is done, the rest just comes along. We are not experts in music production; we just make music that is pleasing to our ears. Some parts just come naturally, and some parts require revising and editing.

VICE: Do you ever see a day when Saudi Arabia will have a fully-fledged black metal scene?

Judging by the direction that the country is heading in, I would say not in a thousand years.

Thanks, Mephisto.

IS cartoon shows Obama beheaded by Jihadi John (& leading Israeli-Arab: Holocaust is unparalleled)

April 20, 2015

An animated ISIS video shows Obama beheaded by Jihadi John


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1. ISIS cartoon shows Obama beheaded by Jihadi John
2. Islamic State beheads and shoots 30 Ethiopian Christians in Libya
3. Iran accuses U.S. of creating Islamic State, Boko Haram and the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra front
4. Iran marks Army Day with cries of “Death to Israel, Death to America”
5. An innocent abroad who pays $100,000 for a $100 carpet
6. Israeli-Arab leader: Holocaust “unparalleled” event in human “evil”
7. Abbas’s Palestinian Authority again denies Holocaust
8. MK Zoabi continues to promote “Israeli Apartheid” slur internationally despite re-election
9. Israeli-Arab writer: My teenage daughter has Holocaust-denying teacher in Chicago high school
10. FBI Director: “Why I require FBI agents to visit the Holocaust Museum”
11. Participants at London conference “sniggered at the mention of ashes rising from the death camp crematoria”
12. UK Green Party Deputy Leader threatens Jews

[Notes below by Tom Gross]


Calling U.S. President Barack Obama the “mule of the Jews,” ISIS has released a video cartoon posted on the Internet showing Obama begging for mercy before being beheaded by ISIS executioner Jihadi John. At the end of the cartoon, Obama is shown awakening from his nightmare and fleeing the room.

The accompanying text runs as follows:

“Obama” weeping, his head is held by “Jihadi John” wielding a knife.

“Jihadi John”: Shut up mule!

Jihadi John lets go of Obama, who faints.

The knife has been craving for Obama’s stinky blood, and today Allah gave us power to capture the mule of the Jews. Speak mule:

“Obama” (in a childish voice): Dad! Jihadi John is going to slaughter me. Save me! Save me!

“Jihadi John” decapitates “Obama” with his knife.

“Obama’s body with a severed head is sprawled in a puddle of blood.

“Obama” is sitting in the “Oval Office” with a framed skyline of a US city. He starts to cry and escapes the office.

Title: “The End”


Rather than direct readers to various Isis/Jihadi websites where the film is posted, if you want to watch it, I would recommend viewing it at the website of the pro-democracy group Memri, here.



A video that the Islamic State said they made and that was posted on social media sites yesterday, shows Islamic executioners shooting and beheading 30 Ethiopian Christians in Libya.

In the video, the Islamists call Christians “crusaders” who they claim want to kill Muslims. 15 Christians are shown being beheaded on a beach and another group of 15 are shot in the head in an area of scrubland. In the video, a stretch of beach turns red with their blood.

Both groups of men are referred to in a subtitle as “worshippers of the cross belonging to the hostile Ethiopian church”. One of the beheaders looks at the camera and says: “To the nation of the cross: We are now back again.”

The video concludes with a warning that Christians will not be safe unless they embrace Islam or pay protection money (a “jizya” tax to Muslims of the kind that Jews and Christians were historically forced to pay in many parts of the Arab world).

The video then shows scenes of Isis fighters destroying churches, crosses and paintings depicting the Virgin Mary.

The video has the same level of highly professional production as many other IS videos have had.


* Italian police last week charged a group of Muslim migrants with murder after they threw at least 12 Christians overboard to their deaths during their Mediterranean crossing.

* An Islamic State affiliate claimed responsibility for the killing of three Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai, the Egyptian Independent newspaper reported today.



The commander of Iran’s ground forces, Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Pourdastan, on Friday accused the United States of creating the Islamic State, Boko Haram and al-Nusra front.

“The ISIL [Islamic State], Boko Haram and al-Nusrah have been created in line with the U.S. strategy of religion against religion, which seeks to impair the divine face of Islam,” Iran’s official Fars news agency reported Pourdastan as saying.

“The American and European people’s high tendency towards Islam and (the need for) protection of the Zionist regime’s security have caused the U.S. to create the terrorist groups,” he added, in an address to students at Tehran University.

A senior adviser to the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made similar accusations earlier last week. Khamenei’s director for international affairs, Ali Akbar Velayati, said the three groups [IS, Boko Haram and al-Nusra] were all “the protégés of the Americans.”

Khamenei himself has continued to call for “Death to America,” even as President Obama says Khamenei is a leader he can trust to keep his word on a largely unverifiable nuclear weapons deal.

As reported in these dispatches earlier this month, a senior Iranian military commander recently declared that Israel’s destruction was “non-negotiable.”

Last week, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the West was “delusional” if it thought capitulating to Iran would stop it from acquiring nuclear weapons.



Iran on Saturday marked Army Day with a massive military parade south of the capital Tehran which featured new weapons systems, as well as a truck carrying a gigantic banner reading “Death to Israel.”

A televised broadcast of the parade was punctuated by repeated cries of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel,” reported the Associated Press.

“Those in Tel Aviv and Haifa will not sleep at night, not one person,” the announcer on Iranian national television said during the broadcast, as heavy trucks carrying armored personnel carriers rolled past.

Among those speaking at the event was President Hassan Rouhani, who commentators and correspondents for the New York Times, Guardian and BBC never seem to tire of trying to persuade themselves and the general public, is a “moderate”.

Among the weapons systems paraded past dignitaries was a domestically produced version of the Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missile, the Bavar 373.

Russia announced last week that it would supply the S-300s to Iran. Russia’s announcement was bitterly denounced by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu who telephoned President Vladimir Putin to ask him to cancel the shipment.



Former secretary of state James Baker (who is no admirer of Benjamin Netanyahu) became the latest senior U.S. politician to voice serious misgivings about Obama’s proposed Iran deal. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Baker said: “There are substantial misunderstandings about a deal the administration has hailed as ‘an historic understanding.’ Clearly, much work must be done [before we should consider signing it].”

And leading foreign policy expert Max Boot wrote this morning in a piece titled “Innocent Abroad: Obama’s Iran Disaster”: “I’m guessing that President Obama, despite his roots in Kenya and Indonesia, has never negotiated for a carpet or anything else in a Middle Eastern bazaar. If his negotiations with Iran are any indication, he is the kind of innocent abroad who pays $100,000 for a carpet that’s worth $100.

“Already his talks with Iran have been characterized by American concession after American concession. Talks that started with the express goal of dismantling the Iranian nuclear program and exporting their stockpile of enriched uranium are ending up with the program wholly intact and the enriched uranium still in Iran..

“But that still isn’t enough for the rapacious mullahs. Among other conditions, they are demanding that sanctions be lifted the minute the agreement gets signed. Obama has been insisting that the U.S. would lift sanctions only in stages, as Iranian compliance is verified. But on Friday Obama signaled that he is willing to make preemptive concessions on this issue so as to ensure that a deal gets done by his artificial deadline of the end of June….

“And that’s just what Obama is saying in mid-April. Imagine what will happen after the Iranian negotiators inform Secretary of State Kerry that $50 billion isn’t enough…”



The head of the Joint (Arab) List in the Israeli Knesset, Ayman Odeh, has said that “The Holocaust is an event without parallel. Anyone who denies any part of it… is directly connected to a mechanism of evil”. He called on Arab-Israeli citizens to participate in the national moment of silence on Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, and criticized Arabs who made fun of it or denied it.

“As chairman of the Joint List, I call on the entire population – especially the Arab population – to stand at attention during the siren,” Odeh told Israel’s Channel 10 TV.

The MK said Arab-Israelis have a responsibility to both respect and understand the full extent of the Holocaust. Odeh added that Jewish-Israelis also need to learn more about the history of the Arabs.

Tom Gross adds: I suggested to some people in the Israel’s prime minister’s office, after last month’s Israeli election, that Benjamin Netanyahu (whose last government did more than any other previous Israeli government in terms of investment in the Arab sector) might wish to offer Ayman Odeh a cabinet post, perhaps in charge of Arab affairs, in his new government, even if the Joint List were not to formally join the government. I still hope that might be a possibility.



Odeh’s remarks are particularly significant considering that in nearby Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority continues to propagate Holocaust denial.

Sometimes the official (and partially EU-funded) Palestinian media denies the Holocaust altogether, at other times it engages in Holocaust inversion (claiming the Jews are the real Nazis), or Holocaust revisionism.

For example, to mark Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day last week, an editorial in the official paper of the Palestinian Authority, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (on April 18) maintained that the Israeli claim that 6 million Jews died in Holocaust was a lie and that “only 1-2 million Jews died during the Holocaust.” (In fact, new research in recent years unearthing further killing fields and mass graves in Ukraine makes 6.5 million a more accurate figure for the number of Jews murdered in the Holocaust.)

The PA daily added that Zionists orchestrated their own genocide to gain international sympathy.

Though he continues to be romanticized by many writers for the New York Times and other western media, it should be remembered that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (now in the 11th year of his four year-term) wrote a doctoral thesis denying the Holocaust.


Police have confirmed that the car attack in Jerusalem last week on young Jews returning home by bus after attending a Holocaust Memorial event, was a deliberate terror attack. The driver, 37-year-old Khaled Koutineh, ploughed his car into waiting commuters killing 25-year-old Shalom Cherki and severely injuring a 20-year-old woman, Shira Klein.



Not all members of the Israeli Knesset (MKs) for the Joint List are as accommodating as Ayman Odeh.

For example, radical MK Hanin Zoabi continues to fly around the world as a guest of Western NGOs, claiming that Israel is an apartheid state, despite the fact that she, an Israeli-Arab, has been reelected to the Knesset. One wonders if she understands what apartheid was actually like for Black South Africans.

This week she is the featured speaker at an anti-Israel event for students at New York University titled “Israeli Racism and Apartheid: An Insider’s View - A Talk with Parliament Member Hanin Zoabi”. (The title of the talk fails to mention which parliament she is a member of.)

Her past outrageous comments, for which she has been criticized, include the claim that Israel itself was behind the murder of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria in 2012. (For more on that suicide attack, please see Her final call: “I just found out I’m pregnant at last”.)



Sayed Kashua, an Israeli-Arab who writes a weekly column for Haaretz, and is presently living and working in Chicago, wrote in his Haaretz column this past weekend that his teenage daughter told him she was upset that her history teacher in her Chicago area public high school, claimed that there were no gas chambers. Her teacher told pupils that there was only treatment for lice and that six million people were not killed in World War II – they were just hungry since no one had food then. Kashua did not name the teacher but said he was a white man.


Tom Gross adds: Online Holocaust denial is spreading fast, according to experts, especially in regions such as Latin America.

On Friday, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls pledged 100 million euro (US$ 107 million) to finance a plan to fight racism and anti-Semitism, especially in schools. “French Jews should not be afraid of being Jewish,” said Valls. “French Muslims should not be ashamed of being Muslims.”

And on Thursday, Twitter announced it would be cracking down on racist and anti-Semitic posts and threats, saying it would triple its response team, aiming to combat “abuse without chilling or silencing speech”.

The Moroccan authorities have announced they will ban a scheduled show on April 29 in Casablanca by the French anti-Semitic “comedian” Dieudonne. Dieudonne has more than 10 convictions in France for inciting racial hate against Jews.

Dieudonne’s current show, titled “The Impure Beast,” contains profanities connected to Ilan Halimi, a young Parisian Jewish phone salesman tortured and murdered in 2006 by a gang of kidnappers that targeted him because he was Jewish.

“If I knock down a Jewish journalist, it will be a serious thing,” Dieudonne said on stage. “They will reopen the Nuremberg trials. They will even exhume Ilan Halimi. They’re going to find my DNA in his asshole.”



FBI Director James B. Comey (in the Washington Post April 16, 2015,):

“The Holocaust is the most significant event in human history… one that simply defies words and challenges meaning. I was born into an Irish Catholic family in this great, wonderful and safe country, but the Holocaust has always haunted me…

“It is our duty, our obligation, to make sure some good comes from unimaginable bad… That is why I send our agents and our analysts to the Holocaust Museum. I want them to stare at us and realize our capacity for rationalization and moral surrender…That is the only path to the responsible exercise of power.”

You can read the full Washington Post piece, which is adapted from a speech given last Wednesday at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, here.



Yesterday, the British newspaper The Mail on Sunday (sister paper of the Daily Mail) revealed that at least 113 Holocaust deniers gathered in London for a secret conference in the Orient Suite in London’s four-star Grosvenor Hotel.

Among the speakers were people from the UK, Spain, Canada and the U.S.

Questions are being asked why the British government has refused entry visas to the UK for bloggers such as Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, but allowed into the country genuine-hate mongers such as Mark Weber, the California-based head of the Holocaust-denial organization Institute for Historical Review, who told the conference “No task is more important or pressing than to identify, counter and break [the Jews]”.

One of the conference organizers was a former art teacher from an elite British private school who claims the Jews are waging a “war against Germany.”

Britain is one of the European countries where Holocaust denial is not illegal.

According to reports, Holocaust denial is illegal in Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Switzerland.



As part of her campaign to win seats in the forthcoming British elections, the leader of the UK Green Party, Natalie Bennett, has singled out Israel, and Israel alone from all the world’s countries, for boycott.

Bennett last week affirmed her support for boycotts of Israeli artists, musicians and academics.

Interestingly, Bennett who was born and grew up in Australia and has happily travelled to dictatorships all over Asia, has refused to ever go to Israel to see the reality of the situation there for herself.

Meanwhile, Tanya Williams, the Green Party’s candidate for London’s Twickenham constituency, called Israel “a racist and apartheid state” on Tuesday, and the deputy leader of the party, Shahrar Ali said: “Just because you observe the niceties of Holocaust Memorial Day it does not mean you have learned the lessons of history.”’

It is worth watching this one-minute video extract of the Green Party deputy leader threatening British Jews for supporting Israel.

The Green Party remains a relatively small party, but its support on the British left has grown recently.

“Next 9/11 will be caused by hackers, not suicide bombers” (& Belsen, 70 years on)

April 16, 2015

This week marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the death camps at Bergen-Belsen (by the British army on April 15) and Buchenwald (by the U.S. army on April 11). Today Israel holds it annual Holocaust Memorial Day.

Below, a newly released photo taken by a Scottish liberator of Belsen made public this week by his great-grandson. Some members of the Iranian regime again cast doubt on the Holocaust this week, while others made fun of Holocaust survivors. (The Iranian regime should instead learn about the “Iranian Schindler”.)



* Please “like” these dispatches on Facebook here, where you can also find other items that are not in these dispatches.



1. “Next 9/11 will be caused by hackers, not suicide bombers”
2. Alleged sexual assault on Iranian teens leads to anti-Saudi protests
3. Five “Save the Children” aid workers murdered by Islamists; 100 students hospitalized
4. ISIS starts issuing ID cards for those living under its control
5. “On the skylines of Africa, Arabia, and Asia”
6. “ISIS is losing. Watch how and why it’s happening.”
7. Many in Bosnian village pledge allegiance to the Islamic State
8. Jewish bookshop in Barcelona targeted for bombing by Islamists
9. Hundreds turn out for funeral of childless victim of Mengele’s experiments
10. “Auschwitz,” a new 15-minute documentary by Steven Spielberg
11. “Screaming Silence”
12. Russian-Jewish liberator of Auschwitz warns of another Holocaust
13. New figures show anti-Semitic attacks continuing to rise
14. Man killed, young woman seriously injured in possible terror attack
15. Roman Abramovich buys luxury Tel Aviv home
16. Something more fun: Find your Number 1

[Notes below by Tom Gross]


An Israeli cyber expert warned yesterday that “the next 9/11 will be carried out by computer hackers infiltrating air traffic controls, rather than suicide bombers.”

“Computer hackers have begun targeting electric and nuclear power plants and other critical operations around the world in audacious efforts to take control of them,” Dr. Gabi Siboni, the director of the Cyber Security Program at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies told journalists.

Siboni warned that terror groups could disrupt and possibly infiltrate critical air control infrastructure, causing deadly accidents.

Siboni urged a strengthening in the strategic partnership between Israel, the U.S. and other countries in the field of cyber security.



There has been a wave of anti-Arab fury in Iran this week after it was reported that two teenage Iranian pilgrims traveling through Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah airport last month were sexual assaulted.

Although the Saudis have denied there was any assault, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has ordered an investigation, and Iran’s foreign ministry summoned a Saudi diplomat for an explanation.

Meanwhile, thousands of Iranians have staged anti-Saudi protests across the country in the past few days. Demonstrators have called on Saudi authorities to execute those allegedly responsible and demanded Iranian authorities close the Saudi Embassy in Tehran.

Many of the protests have taken on an overtly racist tone against Arabs in general. Iranian supremacists portray Arabs as an uncivilized people who have encroached on Persian culture.



Reuters reports: “Authorities in western Afghanistan are investigating whether 100 schoolboys who were hospitalized on Saturday were poisoned, police said, a day after five aid workers kidnapped by the Taliban were found dead.

The boys, ages 10 to 14, fell sick after they ate beans from a vendor outside the school who told them the meal would help them pass their examinations in the western city of Herat, according to Abdul Jabar Rozi, Herat’s police chief.

The vendor was arrested later on Saturday and an investigation launched into whether the food was deliberately tainted, he said.

… The bodies of five Afghan aid workers working for Save the Children were found on Friday, 39 days after their abduction by the Taliban in the central province of Uruzgan.”


Tom Gross adds: There are reports in neighboring Pakistan that Islamic extremists set a Christian boy on fire last Friday. Recovering in hospital with severe burns, Nauman Masih, 14, said he was set upon by a group of Muslims about to enter a mosque for Friday prayers. They asked him why he wasn’t going to mosque, and when he said he was a Christian, they set him on alight after throwing kerosene on him.

There have been a spate of attacks on Christians in Pakistan in the past year.



In a further attempt to achieve the trappings of statehood, Islamic State (IS) militants this week began issuing ID cards to people living under their rule.

The “GreatISNation pro-IS” Twitter account, which has now been suspended, tweeted a photograph of one of the cards on April 11 and said that IS intended to “start issuing identity cards to its nationals, three-dimensional electronic chip to prevent fraud.”

The cards appear to contain an RFID chip and a hologram to prevent counterfeiting.

Other western twitter users who have moved to the Islamic State, such as one with the handle Muslimah4Life, tweeted on April 10 that her brother had just been given one of the cards and it “looks amazing”.

There is speculation by anti-terror experts that the cards are part of a campaign to “reassure” militants that IS’s leadership remained strong and in control, following recent losses by IS at the hands of Iranian-backed Shia militias, and Kurdish forces.



An article written by British hostage John Cantlie in the most recent edition of IS’s slick English-language propaganda magazine, Dabiq, also shows how eager IS is to be seen as a state.

In the article, titled “Paradigm Shift,” Cantlie explains how IS is achieving statehood, including having an “an army of soldiers tens of thousands strong,” a police force, drones, and a mint for issuing its own currency.

Cantlie writes: “[There’s] little reason why the [Islamic] State should not be considered a country... And if it’s not the Islamic State’s country, then just whose is it? … The lands controlled by IS do not belong to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or the newly instated and incompetent puppet Iraqi government, tucked away in Baghdad…”

“The black flag of the Caliphate [is] now seen on the skylines of Africa, Arabia, and Asia,” he adds.

(There is little doubt Cantlie is writing under severe duress. He was mentioned in this interview of mine with a released French hostage who had been held with him.)

The new edition of Dabiq also praises children who have carried out execution-style killings for the state, including a recent execution of a young Israeli Arab. The article cites various passages from the Koran and citations of Mohammed justifying the use of child killers against “infidels.”

The headline on the cover of the new edition reads “Sharia Alone Will Rule Africa.”



A new video by the Vox news-site is optimistic that the push back against Isis is making good progress:

“ISIS is losing. Watch how and why it’s happening.”



A village in Bosnia (a country which aspires to soon join the European Union), has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, according to report in La Stampa, one of Italy’s leading newspapers.

La Stampa reports :

“In The Bosnian Village Seduced By ISIS”

… Bosnia and Herzegovina is fertile ground for fundamentalism, and people say that many who go to fight in Mosul and Raqqa pass through here on their way…. That’s what brought me here to the small town of Gornja Maoca, where the ISIS flag has been raised and the people live as if they were in lands conquered by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s men. Just like in Mosul, black flags are flying – a mere hour’s plane flight from Vienna…

According to official reports, 130 Bosnians are currently fighting with ISIS, and at least 30 have already been killed. But these are just the optimistic official figures issued to avoid spreading panic…

Bairo “the Bosnian” Ikonovic is another who went over there; he’s one of the bosses in the caliphate. “Some people decide to travel in space, but here in Bosnia this is how they hold on to a glorious past. In their minds, it will bring back the golden age of Islam,” says the boy.



Reuters reports that a Jewish bookshop, a synagogue, and government buildings in Barcelona were the targets of an Islamist cell arrested last week in Spain. 11 people were detained last Wednesday, six of them converts to Islam, including a hairdresser.

Authorities found 25 empty bags belonging to one of those arrested that contained traces of chemicals that could be used to make explosives.

More than 30 Islamist extremists have been arrested so far this year in Spain.



92-year-old Chaya Gertman’s entire family was murdered at Auschwitz, and the medical experiments conducted on her by Joseph Mengele and his team of “doctors-torturers” left her unable to have children.

She died earlier this week, shortly before Israelis commemorated Yom HaShoah (Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day) today. Sarit Cohen-Toledo, her young friend in the Israeli town of Holon where she lived, sent out a message on WhatsApp and other social networks asking for people to attend her funeral to make sure there would be enough people to say Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead.

Within hours, over 400 residents of Holon who had never met her, came to the cemetery to pay their final respects to Chaya Gertman.



“Auschwitz,” a new 15-minute documentary on the history of the Nazi death camp, produced by Steven Spielberg and narrated by film star Meryl Streep, is to be permanently installed for visitors at the Auschwitz Museum in Poland. The documentary premiered yesterday.

You can watch it here.

I don’t think this film is as good as it could have been. For my father’s review of Spielberg’s (in my view) better film, Schindler’s List, in the New York Review of Books, published when the film was released, please see here:

Hollywood and the Holocaust.

As my father wrote in 1994: “Schindler’s List can’t quite match the searing authenticity of a true documentary like Shoah or Alain Resnais’s Night and Fog, and it can’t completely win us over with its artistry, as Louis Malle does in the lower-key Au Revoir les Enfants.

“But what it can do, it does superlatively well. It offers as truthful a picture as we are ever likely to get of regions where no documentary compilation could hope to penetrate. (The footage doesn’t exist.) And it reaches out toward the mass public, the public that primarily wants to be entertained, without sacrificing its own integrity.

“Holocaust denial may or may not be a major problem in future, but Holocaust ignorance, Holocaust forgetfulness, and Holocaust indifference are bound to be, and Schindler’s List is likely to do as much as any single work can to dispel them.”



A new documentary that aired yesterday evening on Israeli Channel 1 TV for the first time, explores a topic many historians have been reluctant to broach, wanting to spare the dignity of the victims: the sexual abuse and rape of Jewish children and teenagers by Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust. In the film, “Screaming Silence,” the victims – who have for decades kept secret what they were subjected to from everyone, including their own families – speak about their torture, many for the first time.

Ronnie Sarnat said she devoted six years to making “Screaming Silence” and convincing victims to open up. Some testified that the only way they could avoid the gas chambers and crematoria was to work as sex slaves.

Pre-adolescent or young adolescent boys forced to work as prostitutes were known in the camps as “piepels”. Elie Wiesel included passages about a piepel in his Holocaust memoir “Night,” and the Israeli Holocaust survivor Yehiel Dinur wrote a novel in 1961 titled “They Called Me Piepel”. But in general not much has been written about this subject.



The Jerusalem Post reports:

Seventy years after helping to liberate Auschwitz as a captain in the Russian Army, 91-year old Moisey Malkis said on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day that, as global anti-Semitism resurfaces with uncommon force, the lessons of that time are more critical than ever…. Malkis said on Wednesday afternoon that he fears another Holocaust is possible if Jews do not protect Israel…

A celebrated dentist in his hometown of Odessa, who served with distinction in the Red Army from 1942 to 1946, Malkis moved to Israel with his wife and two children 25 years ago.

In a 1943 battle near Leningrad, he survived being shot twice in the head by Nazi fire. Malkis recovered and continued to fight for two more years. On January 27, 1945, shortly after liberating Belarus, he and his unit arrived at Auschwitz… “I will never forget [what I saw],” he said.

(Full article here.)



A new report released yesterday (by the Forum to Coordinate the Fight Against Anti-Semitism) revealed there was a 400 percent increase in the number of anti-Semitic incidents globally in 2014, compared with 2013.

The report also said that in 2014, the boundaries between anti-Israeli rhetoric and anti-Semitism had become increasingly blurred.

Many attacks are now so commonplace that they are barely reported outside the local press, if at all. For example, this former Canadian diplomat was knocked unconscious last week while walking his dog. See this picture in the local newspaper of the leafy Hampstead and Highgate districts of London.

And here is a short clip of the chief rabbi of Lyon explaining how he gets death threats on a regular basis.



A 25-year-old Israeli man was killed and a 20-year-old woman was critically injured in Jerusalem last night after a Palestinian rammed his car into them as they were waiting at a bus stop. There have been a series of terror attacks by Palestinians using their cars to mow down Israeli Jews waiting at bus and light-railway stops in Jerusalem in the past year, and police are investigating whether this incident was also a terrorist attack.

Early this morning, the man was pronounced dead by doctors fighting to save his life, and doctors are still fighting to save the young woman, according to a spokesperson for Hadassah Hospital.



Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, who owns Chelsea Football Club (currently England’s leading team), among other assets, this week bought a property in Israel for $25 million.

He reportedly plans to convert the 1,500 square meter Varsanno Hotel that he bought in Tel Aviv’s trendy Neve Tzedek neighborhood into his Israeli home. His wife and children are said to like Israel very much, and he plans to spend more time there.

Abramovich has previously invested in Israeli start up companies.

Last year he booked all 111 rooms in a luxury Negev hotel to host guests at the Passover holiday.



Find the Number 1 Song on the day you were born by clicking here:

“Iran is America’s new Iraq” (& ISIS beheads a Hamas leader in Syria)

April 07, 2015

Iranian President Rouhani: outwitting the West


* Haaretz’s lead columnist slams Obama’s “march of folly” deal that will almost certainly see Iran going nuclear unless changed:

“Iran is not an Israel-only issue. Iran should not be a Republican, or conservative or a hawkish issue. If Iran goes nuclear, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, and the Gulf states will go nuclear. If Iran goes nuclear, Israel will have to change its responsible and restrained nuclear policy. If Iran goes nuclear, the Middle East will become a multi-player nuclear arena, that no one can manage and no one can control. Worried about ISIS? Anxious about Al Qaeda? Shocked by the carnage in Syria? Imagine what will happen when the most unstable region in the world becomes nuclearized… the proliferation of nuclear capabilities in the hands of non- state players that will use them, sooner or later, to catastrophic results… This is not a passing, marginal international crisis, but the most urgent challenge facing our civilization.”


* Please “like” these dispatches on Facebook here, where you can also find other items that are not in these dispatches.



1. ISIS beheads a Hamas leader in Syria
2. Washington Post: With this deal “the Islamic republic will instantly become a threshold nuclear state”
3. Delusions about Iran’s moderate Islamic regime
4. In the words of Bill Clinton
5. Clinton’s North Korea, Obama’s Iran?
6. Israel proposes terms for a “more reasonable” Iran deal
7. “No online cameras allowed at nuclear sites: Zarif”
8. Air strikes and the media
9. John Oliver visits Moscow
10. Israeli model Gal Gadot to become new face of Gucci
11. “Iran is America’s new Iraq: With his nuclear deal, Obama is making as big a mistake in the Mideast as George W. Bush did” (By Ari Shavit, Politico, April 2, 2015)
12. “Why is Obama’s stance on Israel questioned by so many?” (By Jonathan Tobin, Commentary, April 6, 2015)

[Notes below by Tom Gross]


Hamas – the organization that has reveled in throwing political opponents off the tops of Gaza high-rises, or dragging Palestinian democracy activists at high speed through Gaza streets chained to the back of motorcycles until they meet a painful death, or blowing up Israeli schoolchildren – seems to have met its match.

ISIS fighters have posted a photo holding up the severed head of Sheikh Abu Salah Taha, a Hamas leader and one of scores of pro-Hamas militants (together with some civilians) who have been executed in the Yarmouk southern suburb of Damascus, which is home to a large Palestinian population.

ISIS has been involved in fierce clashes in Yarmouk since Wednesday, as it seeks to capture it from a Palestinian Islamist militia aligned with Hamas. Thousands of civilians have fled the area and Israeli Arab MK Ahmed Tibi has described the attacks on Yarmouk as “a crime against humanity”. Some of the fighting there is now occurring between rival Palestinian factions. There have been no flotillas launched by pro-Palestinian European groups.

At an earlier stage of the civil war in Syria, Israel offered to help airlift Palestinians from Yarmouk and resettle them in the West Bank, but Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declined the offer, claiming it would violate his aim of resettling Palestinians within pre-1967 Israeli borders, the so-called right of return.



The European media have in general been rather one-sided in their reporting on the Iran nuclear issue, as has the New York Times. Other media have been much more skeptical about the wisdom of the capitulation to the Iranian regime by the Obama administration and its allies.

Here, for example, is the editorial the morning after the agreement, by the centrist Washington Post:

“The ‘key parameters’ for an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program released Thursday fall well short of the goals originally set by the Obama administration. None of Iran’s nuclear facilities – including the Fordow center buried under a mountain – will be closed. Not one of the country’s 19,000 centrifuges will be dismantled. Tehran’s existing stockpile of enriched uranium will be “reduced” but not necessarily shipped out of the country. In effect, Iran’s nuclear infrastructure will remain intact, though some of it will be mothballed for 10 years. When the accord lapses, the Islamic republic will instantly become a threshold nuclear state.”

Full editorial here.



All this is very different from New York Times columnist (and former NYT foreign editor) Roger Cohen who gushes about the Iran deal in today’s International New York Times. He praises the Iranian regime leader for his “courage” and “resourcefulness,” and adds that the Iranian “revolution… is promising once again” -- in much the same way as his predecessors at the New York Times such as the infamous Pulitzer-prize winning correspondent Walter Duranty used to praise the Soviet Union in the 1930s.

While Cohen and the New York Times praise the Iranian government, they fail to tell us that just yesterday the Iranian regime praised with glee yet another cartoon competition they have organized to make fun of the Holocaust and Holocaust survivors.

Britain’s equivalent to the New York Times, The Guardian, is also trying to persuade us that Rouhani is a moderate and a reformer (forgetting to inform readers about the increased numbers of political prisoners and human rights activists being held in Rouhani’s torture centers, which are in many ways every bit as horrific as ISIS’s prisons).

Reminder: it wasn’t too long ago that The Guardian was also trying to persuade us that Syrian President Assad was some kind of reasonable reformer, for example, in this interview with him in 2009.



In the wake of Barack Obama’s Iran deal, various commentators have drawn attention to President Bill Clinton hailing the virtues of the nuclear deal with North Korea, which was supposedly going to prevent the regime from developing a nuclear arsenal.

Here is a clip from October 21, 1994.

“Before I take your questions, I’d like to say just a word about the framework with North Korea that Ambassador Gallucci signed this morning. This is a good deal for the United States. North Korea will freeze and then dismantle its nuclear program. South Korea and our other allies will be better protected. The entire world will be safer as we slow the spread of nuclear weapons.”

“South Korea, with support from Japan and other nations, will bear most of the cost of providing North Korea with fuel to make up for the nuclear energy it is losing, and they will pay for an alternative power system for North Korea that will allow them to produce electricity while making it much harder for them to produce nuclear weapons.

“The United States and international inspectors will carefully monitor North Korea to make sure it keeps its commitments. Only as it does so will North Korea fully join the community of nations.”



Tom Gross adds: We all know how wrong President Clinton’s predictions turned out to be, but at the time the views of those (including myself) who expressed skepticism that such a deal could be workable with a regime such as North Korea’s, were dismissed.

Yet Obama’s Iran deal is, for a host of reasons I have outlined in previous dispatches, much more dangerous than Clinton’s North Korean deal, not least because at least six Sunni states (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Dubai, Qatar, Bahrain, Egypt, Turkey, etc) may now look into the possibility of buying their own nuclear weapons (from Pakistan, or North Korea, or Russia) to counter the Iranian threat.

The west’s foolishly weak diplomacy not only allowed North Korea to develop nuclear weapons, but as a result of going nuclear, the regime’s grip on power was cemented, and millions of north Koreans have died (many through manmade starvation) – not that the so-called human rights groups in the west seem to care too much.

Should the Iranian regime become a nuclear weapon power this will also likely cement their grip on power, making the regime very difficult to overthrow, hence the widespread opposition to Obama’s policies by Iranians in exile in America and elsewhere.

Contrary to what some Western media would have us believe, it is not only Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu who thinks the deal is a bad deal: virtually the entire Israeli political spectrum, together with commentators all over the Arab world and Turkey do too.

Below, for example, is an article by the left-wing commentator Ari Shavit, who is lead columnist for Israel’s Haaretz daily. In an article in Haaretz, Shavit had already called the Iran deal “Munich”. Now the somber and level-headed Shavit, has published an article in Politico in Washington, titled “Iran Is America’s New Iraq: With his nuclear deal, Obama is making as big a mistake in the Mideast as George W. Bush did.”

He writes: “Iran is not an Israel-only issue. Iran should not be a Republican, or conservative or a hawkish issue. If Iran goes nuclear, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, and the Gulf states will go nuclear. If Iran goes nuclear, Israel will have to change its responsible and restrained nuclear policy. If Iran goes nuclear, the Middle East will become a multi-player nuclear arena, that no one can manage and no one can control. Worried about ISIS? Anxious about Al Qaeda? Shocked by the carnage in Syria? Imagine what will happen when the most unstable region in the world becomes nuclearized… the proliferation of nuclear capabilities in the hands of non-state players that will use them, sooner or later, to catastrophic results… This is not a passing, marginal international crisis, but the most urgent challenge facing our civilization.”

In a further article in today’s Haaretz, Shavit writes: “Only a last-moment awakening of public opinion in the free world in the face of Iranian audacity can stop the most abject march of folly of our time.”


The Onion’s humor and photo here are not too far from the truth.



One gets a very different reading of the Iranian nuclear accord by reading the Iranian press than by following liberal media in the West such as the BBC.

To cite one example, here is a story from today from the Mehr News agency in Iran:

No online cameras allowed at nuclear sites: Zarif

“[Iranian Foreign Minster] Zarif stressed that Iran would allow no online cameras to be installed in nuclear facilities as the country had have several tragic experiences in which Iranian nuclear scientists had been assassinated due to having been identified.”



Speaking on behalf of Prime Minister Netanyahu, Israel’s intelligence minister Yuval Steinitz yesterday proposed terms for a final nuclear accord with Iran which he said would be an improvement on the outline drawn up last week.

Steinitz told journalists that President Obama’s pledge to back Israel’s security was appreciated, but it did not outweigh the potential threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.

“If Iran will produce nuclear weapons, this is an existential threat to Israel,” Steinitz said. “Nobody can tell us that backing and assistance are enough to completely resist or to neutralize such a threat”.

“A comprehensive analysis of the Lausanne framework reveals the extent of the irresponsible concessions given to Iran and makes clear how dangerous the framework is for Israel, the region and the entire world,” he said.

“We are going to do an additional effort to convince the US administration, to convince Congress, to convince Britain and France and Russia not to sign this bad deal, or at least to dramatically change it and fix it.”

Steinitz proposed that the emerging deal between Iran and world powers should incorporate a halt to research and development on a new generation of centrifuges, a cut in the number of existing centrifuges and the closure of the Fordo facility for enrichment of uranium.

He also proposed that Tehran detail its past nuclear arms research and allow international inspectors to make spot-checks “anywhere, anytime”.

If such terms were accepted, Steinitz said, “it will not be a good agreement but it will be a more reasonable agreement.”

Steinitz said Israel preferred a diplomatic solution to the issue but it reserved the right to take military action against Iran if necessary. “It’s still on the table, it’s going to remain on the table,” he said. “It’s our right and duty to decide how to defend ourselves, especially if our very existence is under threat.”


Tom Gross adds: Israelis also remember how President Obama promised that should Assad use chemical weapons it would be a red line, but then did nothing after Assad murdered thousands of civilians with them. (And indeed Assad continues to use chemical weapons and nerve agents in small quantities until today.)



At the present time, several governments are conducting airstrikes in the greater Middle East and many civilians are dying, being injured and fleeing.

Among them:

- The Saudi government is bombarding Shia-aligned positions in Yemen.
- The U.S. is conducting airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.
- The Syrian government is conducting airstrikes in Syria, including using horrific barrel-bombs.
- The Iraqi government is conducting airstrikes in Iraq against rebel targets.
- The Egyptian government is conducting airstrikes against Sunni Islamist militia in both Libya and in the Egyptian Sinai.
- The Kenyan is conducting airstrikes in Somalia against Sunni militia.

I mention this because of the marked contrast with the lackluster interest shown by the media, international organizations and NGOs to all this, compared to the hysteria last summer when Israel conducted airstrikes against Hamas. And unlike these other governments, Israelis were being bombarded by Hamas rockets and Israel responded after months of restraint. None of these other governments are protecting their civilian population from indiscriminate rocket fire.

The Saudi strikes alone in the last few days have hit refugee camps, schools and hospitals, killing scores of women and children. I mentioned this last week in an interview on i24 news’s “Evening Debate” show. (The interviewer is Lucy Aharish, the first Hebrew-speaking Muslim Arab news presenter on mainstream Israeli television.)

Within hours of the commencement of Operation Protective Edge last July, in almost every report the BBC began using phrases such as “Israeli war crimes,” “collective punishment,” and “disproportionate response”. With Yemen, the BBC’s lead Middle East correspondents Jeremy Bowen and Lyse Doucet can’t be bothered to even turn up, despite incredible suffering now occurring there among civilians, and the death of and maiming of hundreds of children.



On Sunday night, news-comedian John Oliver devoted the entire half hour of his HBO show “Last Week Tonight” to the subject of American domestic surveillance, and the upcoming vote in the U.S. Congress about whether to reauthorize the Patriot Act, including its provision allowing the U.S. government to collect private information of all citizens.

Whatever your views on this subject, Oliver seems to me right that this has not been discussed nearly enough. And as Oliver illustrates with on-the-street interviews, many Americans appear to be ill informed about the whole subject and many have no idea who whistleblower Edward Snowden is.

It is worth watching the whole half-hour show if you have time, here.

If you don’t, you might want to skip to the part where, right across from a former KGB headquarters, Oliver interviews Snowden (from about 13 minutes into the video).


And a lighter item…


It has been announced that Israeli model and actress Gal Gadot, who will be starring as Wonder Woman in the upcoming movie “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” is the new face of Gucci Fragrances.

Last July, Gadot was targeted in a hate campaign by anti-Israel activists during the fighting between Israel and Hamas after she posted a Facebook photo of herself and her daughter lighting candles, accompanied by a message saying she was sending her “love and prayers to my fellow Israeli citizens. Especially to all the boys and girls who are risking their lives protecting my country against the horrific acts conducted by Hamas, who are hiding like cowards behind women and children.”


I attach two articles below.

-- Tom Gross



Iran Is America’s New Iraq
With his nuclear deal, Obama is making as big a mistake in the Mideast as George W. Bush did.
By Ari Shavit
April 2, 2015

Ten days after the Iraq War began, I happened to be in Washington on a work visit. I had the chance to observe up close the imperial capital that had just embarked on the most perilous adventure of the new century. I read newspapers, watched television, spoke with colleagues – and was amazed to discover how not only Fox News but every other major media outlet had wrapped itself in the red-white-and-blue. I met with administration officials, spoke with well-known strategists, and dined with advisors to the White House – and was amazed to discover how utterly without doubt they all were.

To this day, I remember how torn I felt about the fanfare of war. On the one hand, as an Israeli, I am always grateful to America for being a staunch and steadfast ally to my small and often imperiled nation. On the other hand, as an Israeli, I sensed what a terrible historic mistake America was making. Arriving from the Middle East to the banks of the Potomac, I watched fretfully as the city I love blithely led the nation I love into the treacherous sands of the tribal, fanatical and violent part of the world in which I live.

This is how I feel now, as the news from Lausanne arrives. More so than many of my American friends, I look upon America with profound appreciation. I always remember that in World War I and then again in World War II, it was America that saved humanity. And it was America that prevented World War III. I am thankful that America gave the world the best 70 years it has ever had: 1945-2015. Despite the mistakes in Vietnam, in Iraq and in other places, the post-Nagasaki Pax Americana has given more humans more peace more prosperity and more liberty that at any other time in history. Not only as an Israeli but also as a citizen of the free world, I want a strong America to protect freedom, maintain world order and remain the global leader in the 21st century, as it was in the 20th century.

But what should I do when Washington might once again make another terrible historic mistake? What should I do when my understanding with the Middle East allows me to see that the capital city I love is once again leading the nation that I love into the treacherous sands of the tribal, fanatical and violent part of the world in which I live?

Iran is not an Israel-only issue. Iran should not be a Republican, or conservative or a hawkish issue. If Iran goes nuclear, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, and the Gulf states will go nuclear. If Iran goes nuclear, Israel will have to change its responsible and restrained nuclear policy. If Iran goes nuclear, the Middle East will become a multi-player nuclear arena, that no one can manage and no one can control. Worried about ISIS? Anxious about Al Qaeda? Shocked by the carnage in Syria? Imagine what will happen when the most unstable region in the world becomes nuclearized. One outcome will be even more extremism. A second outcome will be unceasing conventional wars. A third outcome will be the proliferation of nuclear capabilities in the hands of non- state players that will use them, sooner or later, to catastrophic results. The overall outcome will be a strategic nightmare that will first disrupt the everyday life of Tel Aviv and Riyadh, then Paris and London and finally New York and Chicago. So the most urgent issue of day should not pit Israelis against Americans, Democrats against Republicans, liberals against conservatives. If Iran is nuclearized, everyone’s values and way of life will be endangered. If the Middle East is nuclearized, the 21st century will become a century of nuclear terror and nuclear horror.

The deal that Obama announced on Thursday does not do enough to prevent this. Does an agreement that allows Iran to keep 6,100 spinning centrifuges really lock under 1,000 locks and bolt behind 1,000 bolts the Iranian nuclear project? Does an agreement that allows Iran to maintain research and development capabilities and an underground facility on Fordow really fully take advantage of Iran’s economic frailty in order to ensure the dismantling of its nuclear infrastructure?

Regarding Iran’s nuclear plans no mistakes can be made. This is not a passing, marginal international crisis, but the most urgent challenge facing our civilization. But the sad truth is that in the face of Iran’s nuclear threat, the United States, Israel and all of their allies have made countless mistakes over the last decade. President George W. Bush invested all of America’s resources and energy in the failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – instead of focusing on a vigorous diplomatic-economic campaign against Tehran. Israeli Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert believed mistakenly that a James Bond-like mission could defuse the ticking bomb of Natanz. President Barack Obama did not exploit the unprecedented opportunity presented by the democratic uprising in Iran in June 2009 – when American interests and American values suddenly aligned. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu well understood the Iranian threat but turned it into an Israeli issue with an over-emphasis on the military option.

Only in the years 2011-2012 did Washington begin a strategic and effective diplomatic effort against Tehran, but the moment it began to bear fruit, it was abandoned. A decade of strategic shadowboxing between Iran and the West ended in 2013 with an almost-technological-victory for Tehran. The 19,000 centrifuges it managed to produce and install are testament to the fact that the great American democracy and the frontier Israeli democracy failed in their struggle against the Shiite theocracy.



Why Is Obama’s Stance on Israel Questioned by So Many?
Jonathan S. Tobin
Commentary Magazine
April 6, 2015

Yesterday in an interview with the New York Times Thomas Friedman, President Obama purported to be aggrieved that anyone would question his support for Israel or his respect for concerns about its security. Not satisfied with merely asserting his devotion to the Jewish state, he said it was “personally difficult” to hear such criticism and that he would consider his presidency “a failure” if anything he did weakened it. Six years of endless attempts to undermine Israel’s diplomatic position and the last few months of bitter, personal and even vulgar criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu culminating in threats to leave it isolated at the United Nations made his protestations absurd if not completely disingenuous. But Israelis could at least console themselves that in the course of trying to sell his appeasement of Iran to Congress, he was trying to downplay the crisis in the alliance that he had created. But it only took 24 hours for Obama to answer his own question about why so many Americans and Israelis question his attitude about Israel. In another interview, this time with another friendly questioner from the reliably liberal NPR, Obama was dismissed the suggestion that Iran be asked to recognize Israel as part of the nuclear deal he is promoting. His reason: doing so would mean asking Iran to change the nature of its regime. To which critics must respond that this is exactly why it can’t be trusted with a nuclear infrastructure.

Obama said the following to NPR’s Steve Inskeep:

“The notion that we would condition Iran not getting nuclear weapons in a verifiable deal on Iran recognizing Israel is really akin to saying that we won’t sign a deal unless the nature of the Iranian regime completely transforms. And that is, I think, a fundamental misjudgment.”

Obama went on to say that he believed the reason why the deal couldn’t be struck in that matter was because his goal was to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons and that he couldn’t count on it changing.

That makes a sort of superficial sense. And if the as yet unwritten deal actually ensured that Iran could never get a nuclear weapon, he might have a strong case for ignoring the nature of the Iranian government. But despite his ardent salesmanship, he can’t honestly claim that it does. Obama has made an endless string of concessions that have allowed to keep its nuclear infrastructure, included its fortified bunker at Fordow, not forced it to export its stockpile of nuclear fuel, reveal the extent of its nuclear research and put an expiration date on the restrictions on its program. All this means that Iran can, if it is patient, build up its nuclear capabilities and then have a bomb in short order at the end of the agreement. Or, if it is not that patient, it can easily cheat its way to a weapon due to the weakness of the deal and the lack of a truly strict inspections regime or the ability of the West to quickly reimpose sanctions.

At best, all Obama has accomplished is to delay an Iranian bomb. At worst, he has allowed it to get close to one with Western permission and after having made it impossible to reassemble the international coalition that might have brought Iran to its knees had it been led by an American president with the guts to stick to a tough line rather than one that folded at every opportunity. The reason for this was that Obama’s goal throughout this process was détente with an aggressive, anti-Semitic and tyrannical regime rather than an effort to keep his 2012 campaign promise to eliminate its nuclear program.

Thus, the question about forcing it to recognize Israel is actually an apt one. Having empowered Iran at a time when its quest for regional hegemony via actions in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and now Gaza are scaring Israelis as well as moderate Arabs, it is fair to ask why the deal ignored Tehran’s support for terrorism and its frequent threats to obliterate Israel.

The president is right that to ask Iran to give up its rhetoric about Israel, let alone its policies aimed at bringing its dream of its elimination about, is to seek to change the nature of its theocratic government. But that is exactly why any deal that leaves people who have such goals in possession of thousands of nuclear centrifuges and a stockpile of nuclear fuel and a free pass to build a bomb in 15 years is tantamount to saying you don’t give a damn about Israel’s legitimate worries about Iran.

It was beneath the dignity of the presidency for Obama to feign hurt feelings about criticism for his efforts to undermine the U.S.-Israel alliance. Had he not spent most of his presidency (with the exception of the one year grace period of a Jewish charm offensive that accompanied his re-election campaign) sniping at Netanyahu, tilting the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians and ignoring the latter’s consistent rejection of peace, there would be no justifications for questioning his bona fides as a friend of Israel.

But when he treats the vile threats against Israel as an insignificant detail about his prized negotiating partner, he betrays his own mindset that sees the Jewish state’s existential worries as a tiresome drag on his diplomatic ambitions. The president would probably prefer that the Iranians pipe down about their desire to destroy Israel but he doesn’t feel strongly enough about it to let it derail his grand design for a rapprochement with Tehran.

The president can complain about his hurt feelings as much as he wants though to do so strains even the credulity of his most fawning interviewers. But by agreeing to a deal that makes Iran a threshold nuclear power without insisting on it dropping its ideology of hate, the president has answered questions about his negative attitude toward Israel by confirming the worst fears of his critics.

Some fear “It may be the most catastrophic decision in human history”

April 01, 2015

Iran's negotiating team in Lausanne


The next dispatch can be read here: “Iran is America’s new Iraq” (& ISIS beheads a Hamas leader in Syria)


UPDATE, April 3, 2015, following signing of “Plan of Action”:

While some media cheer the Iran deal on, Ari Shavit, lead commentator for the Israeli leftist paper Haaretz calls it “Munich,” and the Washington Post editorializes as follows:

“THE “KEY parameters” for an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program released Thursday fall well short of the goals originally set by the Obama administration. None of Iran’s nuclear facilities — including the Fordow center buried under a mountain — will be closed. Not one of the country’s 19,000 centrifuges will be dismantled. Tehran’s existing stockpile of enriched uranium will be “reduced” but not necessarily shipped out of the country. In effect, Iran’s nuclear infrastructure will remain intact, though some of it will be mothballed for 10 years. When the accord lapses, the Islamic republic will instantly become a threshold nuclear state.”


* Defecting Rouhani aide: “The U.S. negotiating team are mainly there to speak on Iran’s behalf with other members of the 5+1 countries and convince them of a deal”

* French government and French intelligence service’s objections to Obama and Kerry’s proposed deal are reportedly now almost as strong as Israel’s.

* While West makes concessions, Mohammad Reza Naqdi, head of the central Basij militia unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, on Tuesday said that “erasing Israel off the map” is “non-negotiable”.

* Taking a very different line than Obama’s cheerleaders at the New York Times, The Times of London editorializes: “If a deal on Iran’s nuclear programme is clinched, it will be hailed as a diplomatic breakthrough. It will be nothing of the kind. If the framework agreement is signed on the basis of current drafts it will a reckless recasting of the Middle East. The determination to notch up at least one success in Middle East peacemaking has, however, led Mr Obama to make ill-considered concessions…The deal is flawed and … naive. Instead of containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, this deal may simply give Tehran carte blanche to plan a future with its own bomb.”

* New York Observer editorial: “President Obama must not complete a disastrous deal with Iran. Forget Churchill – Obama isn’t even measuring up to Neville Chamberlain. Chamberlain acted out of a sincere belief that he was avoiding a greater evil. Chamberlain was not thinking of his place in history. He was thinking only of the Britain that he loved, a Britain that was all but disarmed, exhausted, and vulnerable. He was dealing with a nation that had been decimated by the Great War, and a nation that was as materially unprepared for war as Germany was prepared to fight.

“Chamberlain dealt from a position of weakness, one that Hitler continually exploited in the negotiations, even by changing the time and place to make it more inconvenient for the British leader to attend them. In sharp contrast, Mr. Obama is acting out of personal aggrandizement. Mr. Obama is dealing from a position of strength that he refuses to use. Instead of using the sanctions to pursue his original promise that Iran would not get the bomb, Mr. Obama has moved the goal post...

“Even Chamberlain would not have made the disastrous agreement that Mr. Obama seems so eager to conclude… Mr. Obama is surrounded by sycophants, second-rate intellectuals, and a media that remains compliant and uncritical in the face of repeated foreign policy disasters…

“Is Obama more concerned about a Jew building an extra bedroom in Jerusalem than an Iranian building a bomb at Fordo?”

* The Economist magazine, which is normally scathing of Israeli PM Netanyahu, says in an editorial that Netanyahu is right to raise objections to Obama’s proposed Iran deal.

* Senior Hoover Institute fellow and leading African-American intellectual Thomas Sowell: “Clearing the way for Iran to get nuclear bombs may – probably will – be the most catastrophic decision in human history.”

* Obama’s former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross: “The claim of the Obama administration that any eventual agreement will block all pathways toward an Iranian nuclear weapon is surely an overstatement. At best, a deal will create impediments for the life of the agreement but offer little afterward. At that point, the administration and its successors would need to make clear that should Iran seek to break out to the production of weapons-grade enriched uranium – or the preparation of nuclear weapons – it would trigger the use of force by us…

“It is noteworthy that the agreement that the administration will now try to finalize with the Iranians by June 30 does not reflect the objective we had hoped to achieve for much of President Barack Obama’s first term. At that point, when I was in the administration, our aim was to transform the character of the Iranian nuclear program so that the peaceful intent of its capabilities would be demonstrated unmistakably to the international community.”

* Eli Lake: “Whatever you might think of Iran’s foreign minister, he knows how to bargain. Today, Zarif appears to be on top of the world. In interviews he has been downright brazen with his liberal interpretations of Iran’s history. Earlier this month, he told NBC’s Ann Curry that Iran – throughout its history – has been a savior of the Jewish people. This would seem more credible if Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, wasn’t tweeting out his fervent wish to see the world’s only Jewish state destroyed.”

“Zarif’s contentions on his country’s nuclear program also strain credulity. In an interview with C-Span in February 2000, Zarif said, ‘Iran has opened its doors with regard to inspections of nuclear technology.’ Three years later, Iran admitted to having hid a secret uranium enrichment facility in Natanz.’

“Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Major American Jewish Organizations, remembers pressing Zarif about the case of eight Iranian Jews from Shiraz who had gone missing in 1994. ‘He has charm,’ Hoenlein said. ‘He was gracious. He invited us to his home. We communicated this to him, and asked him to look into the fate of these young boys. But in the end the answer was, ‘we don’t know, we have no information.’

“The missing boys were captured, jailed and murdered by Iranian authorities. It’s worth asking whether Zarif knows anything more about the fate of the Iranian Jews than he does about his country’s nuclear intentions. In either case, he’s sure to have a smooth answer.”

* Tom Gross: Here is something more fun: The 2015 Passover video made by students at Israel’s Technion Institute.


* Please “like” these dispatches on Facebook here, where you can also find other items that are not in these dispatches.



1. “The U.S. negotiating team are mainly there to speak on Iran’s behalf with other members of the 5+1 countries and convince them of a deal”
2. Nuclear “peace in our time”?
3. “A Bad Deal: Iran is outwitting the West in nuclear talks” (Times of London editorial, March 30, 2015)
4. ‘President Obama must not complete a disastrous deal with Iran’ (New York Observer editorial, March 30, 2015)
5. “Deal or No, Iran will remain a nuclear threat” (By Dennis Ross, Politico, March 31, 2015)
6. “Etiquette versus annihilation” (By Thomas Sowell, Townhall, April 1, 2015)
7. “Iran’s Charmer in Chief Wins Again” (By Eli Lake, Bloomberg, March 31, 2015)
8. “How France became an Iran hawk” (By Joseph Bahout, Benjamin Haddad, Foreign Policy, March 30, 2015)


[Note by Tom Gross]

As the Iran nuclear talks drag on past their deadline for yet another day, below is a further round up of articles on them. These articles cast doubt on the wisdom of the Obama position. I don’t agree with each and every aspect of these articles, but attach them to counter-balance some of the reporting on media such as New York Times, The Guardian and the BBC.

It is also noteworthy that not only the French, but the other world powers seem to have grave doubts about Obama and Kerry’s policymaking.

An aide to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani covering the P5+1 nuclear talks in Lausanne, Switzerland, has defected to Switzerland, and has criticized the U.S. negotiating team as apologists for Iran: “The U.S. negotiating team are mainly there to speak on Iran’s behalf with other members of the 5+1 countries and convince them of a deal,” he said.

Motaghi was a close aide for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and was the head of his public relations team during his 2013 election campaign.

More here from the London Daily Telegraph.



There are many differences between the situation today and that in the 1930s. Yet it is worth remembering British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s words on September 30, 1938, to recall how naive western leaders can often be when dealing with dictatorial regimes:

“The settlement of the Czechoslovakian problem, which has now been achieved is, in my view, only the prelude to a larger settlement in which all Europe may find peace. This morning I had another talk with the German Chancellor, Herr Hitler, and here is the paper which bears his name upon it as well as mine… We regard the agreement signed last night… as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again… I believe it is peace for our time. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Go home and get a nice quiet sleep.”



A Bad Deal
Iran is outwitting the West in nuclear talks at Lausanne
The Times of London editorial
March 30, 2015

If a deal on Iran’s nuclear programme is clinched in the coming days, it will be hailed as a diplomatic breakthrough. It will be nothing of the kind. Judging by leaks from the negotiating table, Tehran has not done enough to allay suspicions that it intends eventually to produce nuclear weapons.

Worse, if the framework agreement is signed on the basis of current drafts it will contribute to a reckless recasting of the US position in the Middle East. Iran would be upgraded to the status of regional ally, while Israel, whose fears have been largely ignored during a year of diplomacy, would be awarded the status of regional irritant.

These are unintended consequences of the broader failure of the Obama administration’s policies in the Middle East. Plainly President Obama is not actively seeking a nuclear Iran. Rather he wants to reduce the chances of the United States, or Israel, having to launch a pre-emptive attack against Tehran. The diplomatic aim of the US and its five negotiating partners, including Britain, has thus been to cap the number of centrifuges capable of enriching uranium and limit to 12 months the time Iran would need to make a bomb.

The determination to notch up at least one success in Middle East peacemaking has, however, led Mr Obama to make ill-considered concessions in the belief that Iran is acting in good faith. The original negotiating aim of the US was to disable Iran’s uranium enrichment by restricting its centrifuges to between 500 and 1,500. The draft deal emerging out of talks in Switzerland suggests that Iran will instead cut its centrifuges from 10,000 to 6,000 at the Natanz site and operate 500 more in the fortified bunker in Fordow. The Fordow machines are supposed to be dedicated to medical and scientific purposes. In return for this, and for accepting strict verification procedures, Iran can expect the lifting of sanctions.

The deal is flawed. First, the Fordow plant can be quickly switched back to enriching uranium. Second, Iran has still not come clean to the International Atomic Energy Agency about its past attempts to develop nuclear weapons. This has made it difficult to determine whether secret programmes are continuing. Third, any arrangement hinges on transparency: Iranian readiness to accept snap inspections without let or hindrance. Finally, the supposedly comprehensive deal is set to run only for ten to twelve years.

It is therefore possible that Iran has made a conscious decision to prepare for nuclear “breakout” but not to go fully nuclear until 2025. Sanctions will be lifted. Tehran will prosper and spin an ever wider web of regional alliances that challenge Saudi Arabia and Israel. Its support for Hezbollah and Hamas, and its backing for the Assad regime and for the Shia militias in Iraq and the rebels in Yemen are only a foretaste of what is to come. Its clout will be increased by the knowledge of its nervous neighbours that it is on the cusp of becoming a nuclear power, and that the US is not willing to slow Iran’s ascent.

The agreement taking shape in Lausanne is based on the most generous possible reading of Iranian intentions, namely that the regime will make genuine concessions because it is desperate to be readmitted to the club of rational, benign states who crave nothing but peace in the Middle East. That is naive. Instead of containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, this deal may simply give Tehran carte blanche to plan a future with its own bomb.



President Obama Must Not Complete a Disastrous Deal With Iran
Forget Churchill – Obama Isn’t Measuring up to Neville Chamberlain
By The Editors
New York Observer
March 30, 2015

With the US on the brink of signing an agreement that will lift the crippling economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for alleged guarantees that Iran will limit its nuclear ambitions to peaceful means, the Observer urges President Obama not to place his personal hunger for a legacy issue ahead of his most solemn duty – protecting America’s national security.

Barack Obama has been compared to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain , who concluded the ill-fated Munich Pact with Hitler in 1938. But Chamberlain acted out of a sincere belief that he was avoiding a greater evil. Chamberlain was not thinking of his place in history. He was thinking only of the Britain that he loved, a Britain that was all but disarmed, exhausted, and vulnerable. He was dealing with a nation that had been decimated by the Great War, a nation whose “best and brightest” five years earlier had declared in the infamous Oxford Oath that they would not fight for king or country, and a nation that was as materially unprepared for war as Germany was prepared to fight. Chamberlain dealt from a position of weakness, one that Hitler continually exploited in the negotiations, even by changing the time and place to make it more inconvenient for the British leader to attend them.

In sharp contrast, Mr. Obama is acting out of personal aggrandizement. He believes he is replicating President Richard Nixon’s historic opening of China. For Mr. Obama, the Iranian nuclear arms deal is about his place in history. Mr. Obama is dealing from a position of strength that he refuses to use. The sanctions have hurt Iran. Falling oil prices only add to Iran’s vulnerability. Instead of using the sanctions to pursue his original promise that Iran would not get the bomb, Mr. Obama has moved the goal post. Iran would not get the bomb immediately. It would be permitted to enrich uranium well beyond the 5 percent need for generating nuclear energy and be left with a breakout capacity to create a bomb.

Meanwhile, Iran is refusing surprise inspections, the hallmark of any such agreement, and has ruled its military facilities, such as the enrichment plant at Fordo, off limits to any inspections, period. Iran continues to showcase public displays of Israel being obliterated by an Iranian nuclear bomb, and even in the midst of negotiations government-orchestrated mass rallies cry out, “Death to America.”

If Chamberlain possessed America’s strength and was dealing with Iran’s weakness, would he be negotiating as Mr. Obama is? Would he be more concerned about a Jew building an extra bedroom in Jerusalem than an Iranian building a bomb at Fordo?

Before becoming prime minister, Chamberlain held two ministerial portfolios. He was considered a thoughtful and effective cabinet member. Upon becoming Prime Minister in 1940, Winston Churchill appointed Chamberlain to the new War Cabinet.

History has debated whether Chamberlain was the reckless appeaser that he is stereotyped as or the man who dealt from a position of extreme weakness against a foe he was unprepared to go to war against and who sacrificed part of Czechoslovakia to buy Britain time to rearm. Even Churchill, who filleted Chamberlain with his famous “choice between war and dishonor and now will get both” zinger, understood that Chamberlain was acting in good faith and kept his vanquished predecessor in his War cabinet.


It is unrealistic to hope that Mr. Obama could emerge as a modern Churchill in this chaotic and dangerous chapter in human history. But even Chamberlain would not have made the disastrous agreement that Mr. Obama seems so eager to conclude.

Mr. Obama is an amateur who is enthralled with the sound of his own voice and is incapable of coming to grips with the consequences of his actions. He is surrounded by sycophants, second-rate intellectuals, and a media that remains compliant and uncritical in the face of repeated foreign policy disasters. As country after country in the world’s most dangerous region fall into chaos – Libya and Yemen are essentially anarchic states, even as Syria and Iraq continue to devolve – Mr. Obama puzzlingly focuses much of his attention and rhetoric on Israel, childishly refusing to accept the mandate its people have given their prime minister in an election that, by the way, added three additional seats to the country’s Arab minority.

We can debate whether we should ever have been in Iraq, but Mr. Obama’s hasty withdrawal to make good on a campaign promise created the power vacuum filled by the Islamic State. In Syria, he vacillated over the enforcement of red lines and whom to arm. There too, he created a vacuum filled by the Islamic State.

In Egypt, he withdrew support for President Hosni Mubarack, who for thirty years kept the peace with Israel and turned Egypt into a stable and reliable ally. Obama permitted the tyrannical Muslim Brotherhood to come to power failing to realize that one election, one time, resulting in a tyranny is not democracy.

In Libya, President Muammar al-Gaddafi, once an international pariah, had reversed course as far back as 1999 and attempted to reenter the community of nations, even giving up his nuclear program. Libya was a stable dictatorship that was willing to engage in economic and diplomatic relations with the West. Its revolutionary ambitions of pan-Arabism and its expansionist tendencies had abated. When revolutionary forces rose up against Gaddafi, Mr. Obama not only verbally supported the revolutionaries, he sent NATO war planes to assist them. Gaddafi was defeated and murdered. Libya is now in chaos and another hot house for Islamic extremism.

The deal with Iran follows in the wake of these foreign policy disasters. Among our traditional Sunni allies in the region, it is seen as a betrayal not simply because it advances Iran’s nuclear ambitions but also because it encourages Iran’s support for the Houthi Shiite militia in Yemen and Iran’s adventurism in Iraq. The lifting of sanctions means more resources for Iran to transfer to its meddlesome proxies like Lebanon’s Hezbollah, the assassin of Lebanon’s democratic aspirations. The nuclear deal gives Iran an unacceptable nuclear umbrella that will compel the Gulf State Sunnis to launch their own nuclear programs, setting off a disastrous proliferation in the region.

The Iran deal is a march toward the nuclear abyss hand-in-hand with the world’s largest exporter of terrorism– the patron of Hezbollah, Hamas, Houthi militias in Yemen, Shiite militias in Iraq, and operatives killing Jews in Argentina. Regrettably, a naïve, petulant President Obama sees this as a crowning part of his legacy and nothing will stand in his way.

Until Mr. Obama released a 1987 classified report detailing Israel’s nuclear program, we believed that the president’s Iranian policy was motivated by a different vision of America’s interests in the Middle East. Admittedly, it is one that would be difficult to dissect, let alone to explain.

But Mr. Obama’s latest petulant act shows that this is not a president motivated by policy but by personal feelings. He sacrificed the security of our close ally and its seven million citizens because he felt slighted. How else does one explain that Israel’s nuclear program is made public while the report’s description of the programs of our NATO partners is redacted?

We might call for Mr. Obama to find his inner Churchill and walk away from this tragedy, but we would be happy if he would simply find the character of the “real” Neville Chamberlain, who when dealing from a position of America’s strength would never have signed a deal with the devil. Ultimately, this deal will come back to haunt Mr. Obama’s legacy far more than Munich haunted Chamberlain’s.



Deal or No, Iran Will Remain a Nuclear Threat
By Dennis Ross
March 31, 2015

Even if much remains to be thrashed out, with the deadline extended to Wednesday, the tentative framework understanding that the P5+1 is now finalizing with Iran represents progress toward constraining the Iranian nuclear program. The claim of the Obama administration that any eventual agreement will block all pathways toward an Iranian nuclear weapon, however, is surely an overstatement. At best, a deal will create impediments for the life of the agreement but offer little afterward. At that point, the administration and its successors would need to make clear that should Iran seek to break out to the production of weapons-grade enriched uranium – or the preparation of nuclear weapons – it would trigger the use of force by us.

But in that case, we would be acting to deter the Iranians from translating their sizable nuclear infrastructure into a nuclear weapon, not to dismantle the program.

It is noteworthy that the agreement that the administration will now try to finalize with the Iranians by June 30 does not reflect the objective we had hoped to achieve for much of President Barack Obama’s first term. At that point, when I was in the administration, our aim was to transform the character of the Iranian nuclear program so that the peaceful intent of its capabilities would be demonstrated unmistakably to the international community. Necessarily, that meant that Iran could not have a large nuclear infrastructure. If permitted enrichment, it would have to be highly circumscribed and limited to small numbers for the purposes of research or production of medical isotopes. If Iran wanted additional nuclear reactors to generate electricity, it would receive its fuel from international fuel banks and its spent fuel would be sent out of the country – much like is done with the Bushehr reactor today. Similarly, there would be no stockpile of enriched uranium in the country that the Iranians might surreptitiously seek to purify to weapons grade. And, the questions about the possible military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program – a euphemism for Iran’s efforts to create a nuclear weapon – would have been satisfactorily answered.

At some point, the Obama administration changed its objective from one of transforming the Iranian nuclear program to one of ensuring that Iran could not have a breakout time of less than one year. The former was guided by our determination to press Iran to change its intent about pursuing or at least preserving the option of having a nuclear weapon. The latter clearly reflects a very different judgment: that we were not able to alter the Iranian intentions, so instead we needed to focus on constraining their capabilities.
By definition, when we speak about a one-year breakout time, we are accepting that Iran will have the means and infrastructure to produce nuclear weapons and we are trying to develop impediments to its doing so – even as we also create indicators that alert us to any such Iranian effort.

Clearly, during the course of negotiations, faced with intransigence from Tehran, the administration came to the conclusion that we could not diplomatically roll back the Iranian nuclear infrastructure in any significant way. But we could diplomatically succeed in containing the Iranian nuclear program, putting limits on it and preventing its growth for the next 15 years. Moreover, during that time, we could also create enough transparency to know whether the Iranians were moving toward a bomb – and whether the Iranian awareness of that would deter them from pursuing such a capability. Apparently, for the president, the secretary of state and our lead negotiators, other alternatives could not promise as good an outcome. Indeed, increased sanctions might pressure the Iranians but could not stop the acceleration of their nuclear program if diplomacy broke down. That might leave the use of force, with all its unintended consequences, as the only option, and that has little appeal for the administration, particularly if we can limit the Iranians through other means.

But if the measure of the negotiations is now about breakout time, then the administration needs to show convincingly that the verification regime will be far-reaching and capable of detecting whatever the Iranians are doing and whenever they do it. In fact, a one-year breakout time depends not just on the number and type of centrifuges, their output and the stockpile of enriched uranium – all of which can be calculated – but also on the administration’s ability to discover the moment at which the Iranians begin to sneak out, creep out or break out from the limitations placed on them.

Moreover, for those who say that one year is not enough time because even discovery of a violation does not ensure a response, the administration will need to explain why this agreement will not function like other arms control agreements, where questions related to noncompliance have historically bogged down in endless discussions. How will we respond if we detect a violation, particularly a serious one? Will the mechanism for response provide for a quick determination? What if the Russians and others don’t agree or insist that an extended discussion with the Iranians is required? How can we be sure that small violations don’t change the base line and shrink the breakout time? Under what circumstances might we act unilaterally?

Assuming an agreement is finalized by June 30, the administration may well be right that this was the best one possible – and that it is better than the other alternatives. That, of course, does not make it a good agreement. Even a bad agreement might be better than the available alternatives, but if the administration wants to prove that the eventual agreement is acceptable, it will need to show that it has produced the bare minimum of the outcome that we once hoped for: that there will be a breakout time of at least one year; that the Iranians cannot deny inspectors access to any site, including those on military or Revolutionary Guard facilities; and that it has anticipated a full range of different Iranian violations and won’t wait for others to respond to them. In reality, if we are to deter Iranian violations, they must know in advance what the consequences are and that they will be high.

Skepticism about an agreement based on constraining Iranian capabilities, and not on demonstrating a shift in Iranian intentions, is understandable. Rather than questioning the motivations of the skeptics, the administration would be wise to demonstrate that it has compelling answers to their concerns about the possible vulnerabilities of the deal. It might just convince some of the skeptics that the agreement is acceptable.



Etiquette versus annihilation
Clearing the way for Iran to get nuclear bombs may – probably will – be the most catastrophic decision in human history.
By Thomas Sowell
April 1, 2015

Recent statements from United Nations officials, that Iran is already blocking their existing efforts to keep track of what is going on in their nuclear program, should tell anyone who does not already know it that any agreement with Iran will be utterly worthless in practice. It doesn’t matter what the terms of the agreement are, if Iran can cheat.

It is amazing – indeed, staggering – that so few Americans are talking about what it would mean for the world’s biggest sponsor of international terrorism, Iran, to have nuclear bombs, and to be developing intercontinental missiles that can deliver them far beyond the Middle East.

Back during the years of the nuclear stand-off between the Soviet Union and the United States, contemplating what a nuclear war would be like was called “thinking the unthinkable.” But surely the Nazi Holocaust during World War II should tell us that what is beyond the imagination of decent people is by no means impossible for people who, as Churchill warned of Hitler before the war, had “currents of hatred so intense as to sear the souls of those who swim upon them.”

Have we not already seen that kind of hatred in the Middle East? Have we not seen it in suicide bombings there and in suicide attacks against America by people willing to sacrifice their own lives by flying planes into massive buildings, to vent their unbridled hatred?

The Soviet Union was never suicidal, so the fact that we could annihilate their cities if they attacked ours was a sufficient deterrent to a nuclear attack from them. But will that deter fanatics with an apocalyptic vision? Should we bet the lives of millions of Americans on our ability to deter nuclear war with Iran?

It is now nearly 70 years since nuclear bombs were used in war. Long periods of safety in that respect have apparently led many to feel as if the danger is not real. But the dangers are even greater now and the nuclear bombs more devastating.

Clearing the way for Iran to get nuclear bombs may – probably will – be the most catastrophic decision in human history. And it can certainly change human history, irrevocably, for the worse.

Against that grim background, it is almost incomprehensible how some people can be preoccupied with the question whether having Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu address Congress, warning against the proposed agreement, without the prior approval of President Obama, was a breach of protocol.

Against the background of the Obama administration’s negotiating what can turn out to be the most catastrophic international agreement in the nation’s history, to complain about protocol is to put questions of etiquette above questions of annihilation.

Why is Barack Obama so anxious to have an international agreement that will have no legal standing under the Constitution just two years from now, since it will be just a presidential agreement, rather than a treaty requiring the “advice and consent” of the Senate?

There are at least two reasons. One reason is that such an agreement will serve as a fig leaf to cover his failure to do anything that has any serious chance of stopping Iran from going nuclear. Such an agreement will protect Obama politically, despite however much it exposes the American people to unprecedented dangers.

The other reason is that, by going to the United Nations for its blessing on his agreement with Iran, he can get a bigger fig leaf to cover his complicity in the nuclear arming of America’s most dangerous enemy. In Obama’s vision, as a citizen of the world, there may be no reason why Iran should not have nuclear weapons when other nations have them.

Politically, President Obama could not just come right out and say such a thing. But he can get the same end result by pretending to have ended the dangers by reaching an agreement with Iran. There have long been people in the Western democracies who hail every international agreement that claims to reduce the dangers of war.

The road to World War II was strewn with arms control agreements on paper that aggressor nations ignored in practice. But those agreements lulled the democracies into a false sense of security that led them to cut back on military spending while their enemies were building up the military forces to attack them.



Iran’s Charmer in Chief Wins Again
By Eli Lake
Bloomberg View
March 31, 2015

Now is the time to praise Javad Zarif. Whatever you might think of Iran’s foreign minister, he knows how to bargain.

With a final announcement due any moment from negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program in Lausanne, Switzerland, Iran appears to be doing quite well for itself.

After all, before the real negotiations began, Iran won vague recognition – from the U.S. and five other great powers – that it has a right to enrich uranium. Between 2008 and 2012, the United Nations Security Council passed five resolutions sanctioning Tehran for violating the nuclear non-proliferation treaty by operating centrifuges at facilities it had not bothered to tell the International Atomic Energy Agency about.

Now, if press leaks turn out to be correct, Iran is on the brink of securing an agreement to allow it to keep thousands of those centrifuges, and also to operate its laboratory at Fordow, a facility burrowed deep into a mountain for the production of what Zarif assures us are medical isotopes. When U.S. spies smoked out that facility in 2009, Obama demanded that Iran come clean about all of its past nuclear activities. Last week, the IAEA reported that Iran continues to stonewall the agency on the possible military dimensions of its nuclear program before 2003.

Zarif’s ability to negotiate concessions despite Iran’s shaky past would be impressive enough for any foreign minister. But consider that he was able to do so even as his bosses in Tehran waged a successful proxy war against Western allies throughout the Middle East. In Yemen, a pro-American government fell this month to Iranian backed Houthi fighters, and prompted Saudi Arabia to launch an air war to beat them back. In Syria, Iranian support has been vital to the survival of Bashar al-Assad, the dictator Obama used to say had to go.

How does Zarif do it? Part of the answer is personal charm. He has for more than a decade cultivated Washington policy elites the way an aspiring presidential candidate works over local party activists in Iowa and New Hampshire. Just as local county commissioners are lucky to just get some face time with national political figures, Zarif, who was ambassador to the United Nations from 2002 to 2007, became the one Iranian official who bothered responding to e-mails from journalists, analysts and members of Congress happy to have the access.

“He makes himself accessible,” Ray Takyeh, an Iran expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, told me. “When he was ambassador, he was willing to debate and have a conversation. Given the fact that there are not too many Iranian ambassadors to the United Nations who have been willing to do so, the fact that he does that is important.”

Zarif has had some help in this charm offensive. E-mails that surfaced from a defamation lawsuit brought by Swedish-Iranian activist Trita Parsi against an Iranian emigre, Hassan Dai, show that Zarif has worked closely with Parsi and the organization he founded, the National Iranian American Council.

For example, they show that in 2006, Zarif and Parsi tried to persuade journalists to write about a peace offer Iran had supposedly offered the George W. Bush administration after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Yet according to senior Bush administration officials, that 2003 offer was not a serious piece of diplomacy, and was not made through the channels by which the Bush administration communicated with Iran. Nonetheless, the narrative stuck that the Bush team blew a chance at a breakthrough in 2003. On the eve of the current negotiations in 2013, Secretary of State John Kerry repeated Zarif’s talking point about the 2003 offer in an interview ABC’s “This Week.” (The Washington Post judged the claim as dubious, earning it three Pinocchios).

It should be noted that when Zarif was cultivating these relationships out of the U.N., the FBI was investigating him for his alleged role in controlling a charity called the Alavi Foundation. The Justice Department claimed that the group – with several hundred million dollars in assets – was secretly run on behalf of the Iranian government to fund university programs and launder money to evade U.S. sanctions. Last year, the foundation settled a lawsuit with the U.S. government to forfeit a 36-story office building in Midtown Manhattan.

Yet Zarif’s reputation remained untarnished. After leaving the U.N. post in 2007, Zarif largely stayed out of government during the presidency of the stridently anti-American Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But after the election of Hassan Rouhani in 2013, Zarif ascended to his role as foreign minister. At the time, he gave an interview with Iranian TV on his hope to sow discord on Washington’s Iran policy. “Despite AIPAC’s pressure, twenty lawmakers refused to vote for the latest sanctions against Iran,” he said, according to a translation by Dai. “These divisions over Iran provide us with opportunities to maneuver in Washington and advance our interests. The Iranian community can play an important role to combat AIPAC and defend our interests.”

On a personal level, Zarif’s rise within Iran is remarkable. According to an excellent profile in the New Republic last year, during the 1979 revolution Zarif wasn’t in Iran, but continued his studies in the U.S. Yet experience in America didn’t moderate him: He attached himself to the new revolutionaries and his political fortunes rose with them.

Today, Zarif appears to be on top of the world. In interviews he has been downright brazen with his liberal interpretations of Iran’s history. Earlier this month, he told NBC’s Ann Curry that Iran – throughout its history – has been a savior of the Jewish people. This would seem more credible if Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, wasn’t tweeting out his fervent wish to see the world’s only Jewish state destroyed.

Zarif’s contentions on his country’s nuclear program also strain credulity. In an interview with C-Span in February 2000, Zarif said, “Iran has opened its doors with regard to inspections of nuclear technology.” Three years later, Iran admitted to having hid a secret uranium enrichment facility in Natanz.

Zarif is fond of saying that Iran’s nuclear program has been inspected more than any other country’s on the planet, with the exception of Japan. Yet not only did Iran hide the facilities at Natanz and Fordow, it still won’t allow IAEA inspectors access to any military installations. Zarif’s statements about inspections “are more for political consumption,” said Olli Heinonen, a former deputy director general at the IAEA: “Their attitude towards the IAEA has not changed in 10 years. There is a change in tone, but no change in policy.”

But Zarif gets away with it. One of his greatest assets is plausible deniability – he says he doesn’t actually know all of the details of his country’s nuclear program, and there is no reason to disbelieve him. The Islamic revolutionaries make war and build nuclear weapons, while the diplomats can say they are seeking peace.

This diplomatic advantage is perhaps best explained by a long-forgotten episode from the early 2000s. Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Major American Jewish Organizations, remembers pressing Zarif about the case of eight Iranian Jews from Shiraz who had gone missing in 1994. “He has charm,” Hoenlein told me. “He was gracious. He invited us to his home.”

But at the end of the day, Zarif’s personal qualities masked an inability to help the Jewish leaders find the men, who ranged in age from 15 to 36. “He kept promising us on the missing young people, but we never ended up getting any information,” Hoenlein told me. “We gave him the information on where they were seen, in jail, we communicated this to him, and asked him to look into the fate of these young boys. But in the end the answer was, ‘we don’t know, we have no information.’ “

Last year, the Israeli government made public a report that its intelligence service, the Mossad, had learned the missing boys were captured, jailed and murdered by Iranian authorities. It’s worth asking whether Zarif knows anything more about the fate of the Iranian Jews than he does about his country’s nuclear intentions. In either case, he’s sure to have a smooth answer.



How France Became an Iran Hawk
The French don’t trust Iran’s nuclear promises, but they don’t trust Washington much, either.
By Joseph Bahout, Benjamin Haddad
Foreign Policy magazine
March 30, 2015

As a March 31 deadline looms in the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, the United States and France, two strong allies, have found themselves increasingly at odds, at times quite publicly.

While the White House has been pushing hard for consensus on the framework for a deal ahead of the deadline, Paris has been pushing back. “Repeating that an agreement has to be reached by the end of March is a bad tactic. Pressure on ourselves to conclude at any price,” Gérard Araud, France’s ambassador in Washington, tweeted on March 20. On Tuesday, Francois Delattre, France’s ambassador to the United Nations, said that Iran’s progress was “insufficient.”

The word from Paris has been equally unsupportive of the U.S. push for a deal. “France wants an agreement, but a robust one that really guarantees that Iran can have access to civilian nuclear power, but not the atomic bomb,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius declared on March 21.

What gives? Is France’s Socialist President Francois Hollande actually a neoconservative? Has Paris suddenly turned into a hawk among nations?

Not quite. France’s policy is dictated by a set of principles with regard to non-proliferation that have guided administrations on both sides of the political spectrum in the talks with Tehran since 2002. And the tension with Washington is just one expression of a larger disagreement between the two countries over U.S. strategy in the Middle East.

Differences between Washington and Paris have been quietly brewing for months. The French feel that they are being kept out of the loop in critical discussions. The multilateral framework of the Iran and P5+1 (the five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany) has turned into a bilateral discussion between Iran and the United States.

This exclusion has been coupled with increasing pressure from Washington. French diplomats complain (albeit only privately) that their American counterparts are trying to force them to make concessions on issues like the number of centrifuges allowed or sanctions in order to reach an agreement by March 31, a deadline that the French, like many of the White House’s critics back home, see as artificial and counterproductive.

The French do not share the sense of hurry that Washington seems to feel. As France’s ambassador to the United States tweeted on March 3: “We want a deal. They need a deal. The tactics and the result of the negotiation should reflect this asymmetry.”

But the differences between the French and American positions go beyond process and into matters of substance. The lifting of sanctions, the scope of inspections, research and development capacities, the number of centrifuges Iran will be allowed to maintain, and how long the agreement will last are all areas in which Paris and Washington differ. In Lausanne last week, France rejected Iran’s demand to immediately lift United Nations Security Council sanctions linked to proliferation after an agreement, arguing this can only come progressively, with verifications.

A central concern is “breakout time” (the minimum time needed to make weapons-grade uranium). According to current reports, a deal would ensure Iranian breakout time would be moved back to one year. French negotiators want to ensure that Iran’s agreed upon breakout time will last the entire duration of the deal – and after. They also want a deal that lasts as long as possible.

“Ten years is short when you talk about nuclear issues,” one diplomat said.

Another diplomat summed it up: “We spent more than 10 years talking, slowly setting an architecture of sanctions, of pressure, defining principles of negotiations. Once we dismantle this, it won’t come back up. So we better get the best possible deal.”

French diplomats insist a political agreement, if reached by March 31, will only be a first step. Tough negotiations will continue. Bruno Tertrais, an expert in nuclear issues who is influential in the French diplomatic community, even suggested recently a series of temporary deals could be a better alternative to a bad definitive deal.

None of this goes against longstanding French policy, though. France has consistently been the toughest member of the European Union when it comes to Iran, going back to the administration of President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007. Paris has consistently advocated for firmer sanctions and E.U. sanctions, beyond the scope of United Nations resolutions. In 2012, France was notably responsible for convincing Europeans to ban the import on oil products, despite the objections of many countries.

Nuclear deterrence has been central to France’s foreign policy ever since Charles de Gaulle’s presidency, a pillar that has been largely bipartisan. And just as nuclear doctrine has stayed remarkably stable through the years, so have the officials in charge of conducting French nuclear strategy and proliferation policy, regardless of who is in the Élysée.

In fact, some of the most preeminent positions in the French diplomatic and defense establishments are occupied by career civil servants trained as nuclear strategists who have worked on Iran for over a decade. This close-knit group of diplomats includes, among others, Araud, as well as Jacques Audibert, Hollande’s diplomatic advisor, who both previously served as France’s chief nuclear negotiator with Iran.

These diplomats generally share the conviction Tehran’s enrichment program is aimed at obtaining a nuclear weapon and that a bad deal that allows the Iranians to keep enriching uranium at dangerous levels will lead to a disastrous game of regional proliferation. Araud, Audibert, and their colleagues know the situation well: They have been engaged in 12 years of talks on these issues and at this point they feel they have little reason to trust the Iranians, or believe regional arrangements with Iran would decrease its desire to acquire nuclear capabilities.

But policymakers in Paris might not trust the Americans much, either – and not just when it comes to the nuclear negotiations. French officials no longer hide their dismay at many of Washington’s policies in the Middle East.

Numerous French diplomats suspect that the United States, now that it is less dependent on Gulf oil, “pivoting” to Asia, and focused on fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, is on the verge of profoundly reshaping of its traditional alliance system in the Middle East, moving from a system where Iran replaces Saudi Arabia as the central pillar of regional stability. This especially concerns the French because they have built strong political and defense relationships with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates in recent years.

The nuclear talks, French diplomats suspect, are just one part of a strategic rapprochement with Iran. Washington has practically sub-contracted the war against the Islamic State’s forces in Iraq to Iranian special forces and Tehran’s Iraqi militia proxies. The French view this as a potentially counter-productive move, one more part of Washington’s turn away from its Sunni allies and toward Tehran.

French officials are also critical of the American strategy of fighting the Islamic State first in Iraq, then in Syria, disregarding the fact that both theaters are interlinked. Paris would rather see more and better inclusion of Sunnis in both countries, including more concrete support for the moderate Syrian rebel factions.

Meanwhile, the U.S. approach to Syria’s civil war is seen in Paris as hesitant and ambiguous, lacking means and resolve, and indirectly leaving aside the core question of the Assad regime’s fate – thus comforting the dictator in Damascus. This issue has come up publicly recently, as after Secretary of State John Kerry said on March 15 that negotiating with Assad would be necessary to end the war in Syria. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said a day later that “There will not be a political solution, there will not be a solution for Syria as long as Bashar al-Assad stays, and John Kerry knows it.” Among the concerns for French policymakers is that the temporary survival of Assad that endangers Lebanon, a country that remains dear to France.

Relations between Paris and Washington have been tainted with suspicion ever since Syria used chemical weapons in August 2013 and Obama failed to enforce his “red line.” The sudden American about face was perceived by Hollande as a sign that Obama was dumping his allies. European countries, and France in particular, were ready to attack Syria in September 2013, after two weeks of stepping up pressure and building up their military presence in the Mediterranean.

Paris is in good company, alongside many of Washington’s traditional allies in the region, including Gulf States, Israel, and Turkey, who have all felt shunted aside in the interest of reconciliation with Iran. Within the nuclear talks, France, which has strong ties with Gulf countries, has voiced these concerns.

Behind the Iran nuclear talks hovers the question of the future and shape of American power and leadership. For a decade, European countries have worked on trying to rein in Iran’s nuclear program. France, like the other countries, has taken an economic hit in this effort, thanks to the sanctions regime. Now the view from Paris is of a Washington that seems to lack empathy and trust for its long-time friends and partners – more interested in making nice with Iran than looking out for its old allies.