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IDF Raids Seek an American and Two Israelis Allegedly Abducted by Hamas

Saturday night, the IDF and Shin Bet arrested more than 80 Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad activists in Hebron in the disputed territories. This is in connection with the abduction of three youths, one American and two Israelis. The IDF has committed a paratroop brigade to the operation sealing off the area of the abduction. The IDF and Israel’s General Security Service (Shin Bet) launched a massive manhunt last Thursday for the alleged Hamas abductors of 16 year old American Naftali Frenkel and two Israelis, Gilad Shaar, 16 and Eyal Yifrach, 19. They were allegedly abducted while hitchhiking home from religious school in the Gush Etzion bloc between Bethlehem and Hebron.  According to a Washington Post report, one of the abductees got off a cell call saying, “we’ve been kidnapped”.

Hamas is believed to be behind their abduction.  At a Sunday Cabinet meeting, Israeli PM Netanyahu said:

Those who perpetrated the abduction of our youths were members of Hamas; the same Hamas that Abu Mazen (Abbas) made a unity government with. This has severe repercussions.

The WaPo report cited Israeli American Naftali Bennett, economics minister in the Netanyahu ruling coalition, saying: “We will respond with an iron fist to terror.”  Thousands of Israeli prayed for the safe return of the three youths at the Kotel, Western Wall, of the Temple in Jerusalem. The National Council of Young Israel in New York issued a call for a Prayer Service for the safe return outside the Israeli Consulate in Manhattan on Monday, June 16th. The announcement used the Twitter hashtag, #BringBackOurBoys.

Hamas issued a statement praising the abduction.   According to an updated report by The Daily Mail, Senior Hamas spokesperson, Sami Abu Zuhri in Gaza called the accusation by PM Netanyahu “silly”. Really?   While cooperating with the Palestinian security service, Israel also relies on their own resources in the West Bank to identify the abductors and the possible location of the three teens. This despite PA senior official Hanan Ashrawi cited  by The Daily Mail saying , “this is something we have no information on”.  However, what can you expect from the Palestinian unity government with Hamas.  Its Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah acknowledges that it has no control over Gaza.

Secretary of State Kerry issued a statement today saying:

The United States strongly condemns the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers and calls for their immediate release. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families. We hope for their quick and safe return home. We continue to offer our full support for Israel in its search for the missing teens, and we have encouraged full cooperation between the Israeli and Palestinian security services. We understand that cooperation is ongoing.

We are still seeking details on the parties responsible for this despicable terrorist act, although many indications point to Hamas’ involvement. As we gather this information, we reiterate our position that Hamas is a terrorist organization known for its attacks on innocent civilians and which has used kidnapping in the past.

Three Israelis? Frankel is a US citizen. The Daily Mail noted Frankel’s mother’s   public message to her son that reflected the concerns of many Israelis and Americans:

Mommy and Daddy and your brothers love you until the end of the world and you should know that the people of Israel are doing all they can to bring you back home.

Israelis and Americans are more than concerned about the fate of three abductees given prior occurrences, including former IDF Sgt. Gilad Shalit snatched during a cross border raid in 2006 and released in an exchange for more than 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in 2011.

Then there is the case of 13 year old Israeli American Koby Mandell and Israeli Yosef Ishran abducted and murdered while on a hike in the disputed territories near the Israeli settlement of Tekoa in May 2001. Mandell’s family had made Aliyah to Israel in the mid-1990’s. The US Congress passed the Koby Mandell Act in 2004 that authorized the Justice Department to arrest foreigners, including Palestinians, who had murdered Americans overseas.  The Koby Mandell Foundation was established in his memory to provide bereavement counseling to the parents and widows of terrorist victims.

In 2012, 52 members of Congress signed a letter sponsored by the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET) urging the Department of Justice’s Office for Justice of Victims of Overseas Terrorism (OJVOT), which was formed in 2005, to implement The Koby Mandell Act.  Sarah Stern of EMET said that the letter was to “ensure that the investigation and prosecution of terrorist attacks against American citizens overseas remain a high priority within the Department of Justice.”  Z Street, of which this writer is a board member, was one of several sponsors of the EMET letter to prod Attorney General Holder to recognize the responsibilities of OJVOT.

Sherri Mandell in a Jerusalem Post oped during the EMET 2012 campaign cited the dismal OJVOT track record since the law’s enactment in 2004:

The OJVOT is supposed to investigate, apprehend, indict, extradite and punish terrorists. At least 54 American citizens have been killed, and 83 wounded here in Israel. Neither the OJVOT nor the Department of Justice has done anything to enforce American law in these cases. The only terrorist prosecuted under the law was the killer of a Christian missionary in Indonesia. I’m happy that the killers were prosecuted, but still one wonders. Why is there no communication, investigation, prosecution, or indictment here in Israel? The OJVOT is supposed to protect us. Instead it neglects us.

We sincerely hope the massive IDF-Shin Bet dragnet can free American Naftali Frenkel, Israelis Gilad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach and capture their abductors. In view of the abject failure of the US government to pursue justice for the families of the US victims in Israel and the disputed territories, we trust the Israeli government can bring these perpetrators to justice.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.

US Appeasement of Iran Endangers the entire Persian Gulf

Following the Iconoclast post yesterday on the “Two Faces of Sen. Dianne Feinstein”, there was an exchange of views with Shoshana Bryen, Senior Director of the Jewish Policy Center and Sarah Stern, President of the Endowment for Middle East Truth.  We were discussing a  matter related to the threat that Iran posed  to the US in the Western Hemisphere; the Administration succumbing to de facto Iranian nuclear hegemony in the Persian Gulf. Daniel Pipes in an, NRO-The Corner article, drew attention to  Administration appeasement enabling Iran to strike deals with Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This resulted in  Iran gaining potential control over the strategic Straits of Hormuz, “Has Iran gained a Foothold in the Arabian Peninsula”?

Pipes’ important article appeared while Washington and the world media were focused on the implementation of the Six Powers Joint Plan of Action, portions of which were released by the White House yesterday.  Other salient provisions  of which were sequestered at the request of UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).   He drew attention to the agreements both the UAE and Sultanate of Oman:

According to a sensational report by Awad Mustafa in Defense News, a Gannett publication, not only has Tehran signed an agreement with the UAE  over three disputed islands near the Strait of Hormuz, but it has also reached a possibly even more important accord with the government of Oman. Both of these agreements have vast implications for the oil trade, the world economy, and Iranian influence.

According to an unnamed “high level UAE source,” secretive talks taking place over six months led to a deal on the Greater and Lesser Tunbs finalized on Dec. 24: “For now, two of the three islands are to return to the UAE while the final agreement for Abu Musa is being ironed out. Iran will retain the sea bed rights around the three islands while the UAE will hold sovereignty over the land.”

This is big news, but yet bigger potentially is the source’s stating that “Oman will grant Iran a strategic location on Ras Musandam mountain, which is a very strategic point overlooking the whole gulf region. In return for Ras Musandam, Oman will receive free gas and oil from Iran once a pipeline is constructed within the coming two years.”

Both agreements center on the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s most important oil passageway and vulnerability.

  • The UAE deal involves the tiny but strategic islands of Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs near the straits, occupied by Iranian forces since 1971, just as the UAE emerged as an independent country.
  • It’s not clear what granting to the Iranians “a strategic location on Ras Musandam mountain” means but Musandam is the very tip of the Straits of Hormuz and Tehran winning access to any sort of military position there could enhance their ability to block the oil trade as well as make trouble on the peninsula.

Oman’s role in facilitating the UAE-Iran talks, says the source, was approved by Washington: “Oman was given the green light from Iran and the US to reach deals that would decrease the threat levels in the region and offset the Saudi Arabian influence in the future by any means.”

Couple this development with what happened at a US Senate Foreign Relations confirmation hearing Wednesday involving the Obama emissary who facilitated those back channel conversations with Tehran in Oman, Puneet Tawar.   The Global Affairs blog of The Hill in a post noted how two Republican minority members, Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Idaho Senator James Risch stopped Tawar’s confirmation, “Rubio, Risch block Obama nominee over ‘back channel’ talks with Iran”:

Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and James Risch (R-Idaho) are holding up a vote on a State Department nominee over his involvement in back channel talks with Iran that have infuriated Republicans, The Hill has learned.

The Republican lawmakers prevented the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from voting Wednesday to confirm White House Iran adviser Puneet Talwar as the new Assistant Secretary of State for political military affairs.

Talwar was one of several U.S. officials who met in secret with Iranian negotiators in Oman in 2012 and 2013 before multilateral talks officially resumed following President Hassan Rouhani’s election in June.

“Sen. Rubio is requesting additional information from Mr. Talwar about his role in the so-called ‘back channel’ outreach to Iran,” a Rubio spokeswoman told The Hill in an email.

[…]

“It focused exclusively on the nuclear issue, so there were no other side discussions underway,” Talwar responded. “And it was merged [with the multi-party talks] after the conversations gained traction.”

In my discussion with Bryen and Stern I drew attention to what an Iranian nuclear hegemon in the Persian Gulf might do to US national interests.  Iran producing a nuclear weapon might threaten US Fifth Fleet base in Bahrain and possibly its strategic base at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.  Both of these facilities   protect the free flow of oil to U.S. allies South Korea and Japan, among others.  Bryen pointed out that Japan may choose an energy deal with Russia rather than risk an oil cutoff from the Gulf if the U.S. is no longer the guarantor.  Such a deal would change the nature of American “pivot to Asia” and alliances there.  If Iran produces nuclear weapons, which it may have already, it is likely to play a form of n-dimensional nuclear Three Card Monte.   If the US capitulates, then the Gulf emirates and the Saudis may have to resort to baksheesh to preserve their access to the Persian Gulf and Straits of Hormuz to make mega-revenues in the world energy trades.  The Saudis at least have pipelines to secure Red Sea ports. The Iranian Shia mullahs on the opposite  shore of the Persian Gulf will simply use hidden nuclear suasion to gain revenues from their despised Sunni members in the Muslim Ummah.

In a Wall Street Journal excerpt  from former Secretary Gates’ memoir, Duty, he criticized the political operatives  populating the West Wing National Security Council (NSC). In contrast to other Administrations,  many Obama NSC advisers are people to whom the Administration owed political favors. Among those he cites are  Tom Donilon, former Clinton era chief of staff at the State Department, who like his  NSC deputy, Denis McDonough, the later is Obama’s current Chief of Staff, had limited  national security groundings.  Early Obama Administration NSC chief, former Marine Gen., Jim Jones criticized Donilon for “his lack of overseas experience”,   telling him “You have no credibility with the military”, according to Bob Woodward’s, Obama’s Wars.  McDonough, prior to joining  Senator Obama’s staff  was a foreign affairs aide to former Senate Majority Leader  Tom Daschle and subsequently served in the same capacity with former Interior Secretary and Colorado Senator Ken Salazar.  We wrote about McDonough’s role in meeting  with Muslim Brotherhood leaders at the 2012 Brookings Doha Qatar Center meetings. Wendy Sherman, a colleague of Donilon at State during the Clinton Administration,   did us no favors over the oil/ food for no nukes deal with  North Korea under Kim Jong -Il, the late father of the current ruler, Kim Jong- Un.   All we received from Ms. Sherman’s efforts were nuclear tests;  test  of ICBMs and exchange of technology to assist Iran in its bomb making.  Now as Undersecretary of State, Sherman has brought us the P5+1 agreement.  As to nuclear bomb making support by North Korea just recall, the pictures we have of Iranian and North Korean scientists assisting Syria in building the nuclear bomb factory on the banks of the Euphrates destroyed by Israel in September 2007.  The Administration has failed in the view of many to meet the sense of the Kissinger adage: “America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests”.

The Obama Administration has jeopardized potential strategic control of the oil rich Persian Gulf.  Both the UAE and Oman know that. This could present a threat to Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean with its stockpile of nuclear weapons and  cruise missiles and B-52 bombers.  As Bryen commented, “When Munich occurred at least the Chamberlain rationale was that it gave the British and French time to prepare for war against Nazi Germany”.  However, what rationale does the Administration have?

The Persian Gulf allies have witnessed the Administration losing resolve in the region causing them to seek whatever cover they can from the predatory hegemon to avoid becoming what Churchill called, “crocodile food”.   Is Israel next?

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.

Senate Democrats Back off New Iran Sanctions Legislation

As if on cue, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani trumpets how the Islamic Regime won big time with the announced Joint Plan of Action (JPA) implementation last Sunday in Geneva.  As The Guardian noted in a report, “Iran nuclear deal means ‘surrender’ for Western Powers, says Rouhani”:

Speaking on Tuesday in the oil-rich province of Khuzestan, Rouhani said the “Geneva deal means the surrender of big powers before the great nation of Iran”.

Perhaps one of those victories is the ability of the Islamic regime to pursue what we would call the “nth” development of new, more efficient centrifuges to enrich uranium. Enrichment for only one purpose, to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons.  The Obama White House  confirmed that Iran has been allowed to pursue ‘centrifuge research’.     The Washington Free Beacon noted this White House news conference call exchange in an article,” Iran permitted to continue advanced nuclear research”:

Asked by a reporter on a conference call if the deal stops “Iran from designing new types of centrifuges,” a senior administration official admitted that the deal does not prohibit this activity.

[…]

“So what’s the practical effect of this R&D [research and development] clarification that you labored over so hard? What does it preclude them from doing?” the reporter asked.

It—I mean, their commitment is to continue their current enrichment R&D practices, and those are the practices that are laid out in the November [IAEA} Director General’s report,” said one of two senior administration officials on the press briefing. “This—that’s been documented, and that’s what they were—that’s what they will continue to do.”

As we had reported  in an Iconoclast post on possible veto-proof  bipartisan Iran sanctions  legislation in the US Senate (S1881) that  the centrifuge research issue had allegedly hit a snag.

Now in the wake of Rouhani’s speech yesterday in Iran comes word that the White House is soft peddling the Iranian President’s trumpeting of this alleged “victory”.    An AFP article, “White House plays down Rouhani crowing on Nuclear Deal” notes these comments by White House spokesperson Jay Carney at yesterday’s press conference:

It is not surprising to us and nor should it be surprising to you that the Iranians are describing the agreement in a certain way towards their domestic audience. It does not matter what they say, it matters what they do.

Problem is it could  thwart the Obama Administration’s campaign to stifle new bi-partisan sanctions legislation , the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act (NWFIA), S1881.

However, under White House threat to veto  NWFIA, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid ,according to a report from  The Weekly Standard, has blocked bringing the measure up for a floor vote.  Note these comments from  Reid, Democrat  Senators and Minority Leader McConnell in The Hill report,  “Dems back away from Iran sanctions legislation”:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday he wanted to “wait and see how this plays out” before moving forward with a vote on the sanctions. Reid declined to say when he might bring the bill, which has 59 co-sponsors, including 16 Democrats, to a vote.

The majority leader noted 10 of his committee chairmen are opposed to the bill.

“We believe we ought to have that vote,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday. “We’re going to continue to press the majority leader to allow a vote on an issue that obviously enjoys the support of a very large bipartisan majority here in the Senate.”

“I think the Iran sanctions bill is meant to strengthen the president, not in any way impede the ongoing negotiations, which should and hopefully will be successful,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a Menendez-Kirk co-sponsor, told reporters Tuesday. “So as long as there’s progress, and as long as the progress is meaningful and visible, there may not need to be a vote.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), another co-sponsor, said both the administration and Congress wanted to reach a diplomatic solution through negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program, if that was possible.

“As far as trying to work out with the administration a strategy so we have more harmony, let’s talk about it,” Cardin said. “So I think that’s what’s going on right now.”

Prior to the November 24th announcement in Geneva of the P5+1 interim agreement with Iran,  Reid had backed new sanctions legislation according to  a report in the Los Angeles Times on November 21, 2013.

Yesterday, an Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET) conference call on Iran’s intentions over its nuclear program   featured former Israeli Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger and Dr. Michael Ledeen of the Washington, DC-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.  Dr. Ledeen is an impassioned advocate for both sanctions and support for regime change via what he argues could be a significant Iranian opposition.  Amb. Ettinger suggested that perhaps something more is required, when he commented:

Only one option to avoid facing an Iran which could become an uncontrollable strategic apocalyptic threat. That option is surgical, devastating, disproportional military preemption against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.