News Roundup for May 11, 2018

May 11, 2018

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J Street in the News

Kushner shares Jerusalem embassy spotlight, Politico

“Kushner and the Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, have been pushing for the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem — even though many experts in the region view the move as an official deal breaker for any potential peace plan that could emerge from the current ash pile. ‘This is actually a shell game,’ said Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of liberal American Jewish lobbying group J Street. ‘They’re not speaking to one party in this conflict.’ Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian National Authority, has not spoken to the Americans since December. Whatever peace plan Kushner eventually releases, Ben-Ami said, ‘will probably be very similar to the talking points of the Netanyahu government. It will have nothing in it that will be appealing to the Palestinians, so it will be dead on arrival.’”

Top News and Analysis

Why Netanyahu Really Wanted trump to Scuttle the Iran Deal, New Yorker

Bernard Avishai writes, “The Netanyahu government, for its part, is both anticipating a crisis and helping to precipitate one….For Israel, then, the goal may be deterrence, but the danger is an escalation that gets out of control, because deterrence means ever more elevated threat….Indeed, Trump’s now overt support for a military threat may encourage Netanyahu and Lieberman to see preëmption as the preferred course. With the Iranian currency in free-fall—the rial lost half its value against the dollar from a year ago—and the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, openly backing the hard line, Netanyahu may feel that he has an American green light for a high-stakes gamble: a conventional air war, already unofficially underway. Netanyahu may hope for a limited war, with no ground invasion, in which Syria and Hezbollah are cowed, Russia is satisfied that Assad remains in place, and Iranian leaders, knowing that the cards are stacked against them, dismantle their forces in Syria.”

Israel-Iran conflict is no surprise but implications are unclear, Guardian

Peter Beaumont writes, “If the precise timing of the outbreak of hostilities between Israel and Iran in Syria is surprising, the fact that it has occurred is less so….The real question now is whether the basic underlying assumptions governing the rules of the competition between Iran and Israel have changed in light of the latest exchanges. As Russia has called for calm, Tehran will also be aware that a direct and escalating conflict with Israel would almost certainly risk bringing the US in on Israel’s side under a highly unpredictable US leadership whose inner circle is now dominated by anti-Iran hawks, a calculation Israel may be gaming.”

Trump, Netanyahu coordination goes beyond Iran deal, Al-Monitor

Ben Caspit reports, “One can now say with certainty that every step being taken by the United States in the Middle East and also by Israel were coordinated between Netanyahu and Trump at their meeting on March 5….This rare type of coordination between Netanyahu and Trump focused on the diplomatic front as part of a combined effort to block the spread of Iran in the Middle East — not just Iran’s nuclear program — and to take down the ayatollahs’ regime….Al-Monitor has learned from an Israeli security source that during these discussions, the United States promised Israel full and total support on all fronts. While US support is a given on the diplomatic front — that is, at the UN Security Council and in the international arena — they also spoke about military support. If a regional war does break out, the United States will immediately make its position clear, express support for Israel and send Moscow the right signals. “

Putin Is Giving Israel a Free Hand Against Iran in Syria. But He May Soon Have to Pick a Side, Haaretz

Anshel Pfeffer observes, “Despite the recent concern in Israel that the Kremlin may be about to limit Israel’s operational freedom in the sky over Syria by supplying the Assad regime with new air-defense batteries, this latest escalation between Israel and Iran on Syrian soil has once again proved that Putin is prepared to allow Israel a very wide berth….Now, with the Iran deal dead in the water and the Syrian conflict between Israel and Iran escalating, can Putin continue getting what he wants? Does he risk not only losing the stability of the Assad regime, but also the humiliation of seeing Russian-made weapons systems being destroyed by Israel’s Made In America fighter-jets?”


Iran Clash: Israeli Intel Chiefs Say This Round Is Over, but Long-term Strife Will Continue, Haaretz

Another clash with Iran in Syria is unlikely, intelligence officials told ministers on Thursday, after the intensity of the air force strikes on Iranian targets the night before. However, the high alert in the north is expected to continue for several days. At the same time, Israel is beefing up security around Israeli embassies abroad for fear of an Iranian attack.

Germany wants to keep Iran nuclear deal, Merkel urges de-escalation, Reuters

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has told Iran’s president that she supports maintaining a big-power nuclear accord, following the withdrawal of the United States, as long as Tehran upholds its side of the deal, her office said on Thursday. She condemned overnight attacks by Iranian forces on Israeli military positions in the Golan Heights, and called on Iran to contribute to de-escalation in the region, the statement added.

France urges Europe to act on ‘unacceptable’ US Iran sanctions, AFP

France’s economy minister Bruno Le Maire urged European nations Friday to defend themselves against US sanctions targeting foreign companies that trade with Iran, as the rift between Washington and its allies deepens. Le Maire said the European Union had to defend its “economic sovereignty” when it comes to the right to trade with Iran. Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has meanwhile branded the sanctions “unacceptable”, in some of the most forceful criticism yet from a key European ally.

Rouhani says Iran doesn’t want ‘new tensions’ in Middle East, Times of Israel

Iran does not want “new tensions” in the Middle East, the Islamic Republic’s president Hassan Rouhani said Thursday in a telephone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, his first remarks following a reported Iranian missile attack on Israel and a devastating IDF response.

Bahraini official supports Israel’s right to defend itself, JTA

The Bahraini foreign minister said Israel had a right to defend itself from Iran. The message on Twitter Thursday, a day after Israel once again struck targets in Syria believed to house Iranian materiel and personnel, was unusual for an Arab leader in its blunt defense of Israel.

Return to Routine Life, Local Authorities Tell Golan Heights Residents, Tourists, Haaretz

Authorities on Friday urged Israelis to return to tourist spots in the Golan Heights and for residents to return to routine life, days after public bomb shelters were opened in the border region and local tourism took a hit.

Opinions and Analysis

How Trump’s Iran deal decision may lead to war, Washington Post

“Tension between Israel and Iran is nothing new, of course. But the speedy acceleration of violence between the two countries is cause for concern. And it’s almost certainly a result of Trump’s decision. ‘While Israel and Iran have been conducting a shadow war in Syria for months under the cover of the civil war there,’ the New York Times wrote, ‘the conflict has now burst into the open.’ It’s anyone’s guess how far things may now go.”

Overnight clashes show Shiite ‘monster’ in Syria is limited, for now, Times of Israel

Avi Issacharoff observes, “The broadly unsuccessful Iranian military response overnight Wednesday to alleged Israeli attacks on Iranian-affiliated targets in Syria in recent weeks — themselves a response to Iran’s deepening military presence in Syria, and to its launch of an attack drone into Israel in February — reveals a lot about the present Iranian deployment in Syria. Despite the impression one might get from some Israeli reports that a real monster in Syria is threatening the very existence of the Jewish state, it emerged that pro-Iranian Shiite forces in Syria are, at this stage, limited in their capacity to attack Israel….As long as Hezbollah in Lebanon remains out of the picture, the exchange of blows in Syria can continue without escalating into war. The Iranians are in no hurry to use Hezbollah’s troops and rockets and will want to reserve them for more difficult times ahead. Hezbollah, for its part, does not seem eager to jump into a war when the exit route is not clear.”

Former Iranian president: Trump just strengthened Iran’s hardliners, Washington Post

Abolhassan Bani-Sadr was the first president of the Islamic Republic of Iran. He now lives in exile near Paris. He spoke with WorldPost editor-in-chief Nathan Gardels on Wednesday, after the United States announced it was withdrawing from the agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons development.

Iran’s Long Arm: Who Is the Elite Quds Force That Attacked Israel From Syria, Haaretz

Yaniv Kubovich writes, “The Quds Force, a special forces unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, was behind the rocket attack against Israel on Wednesday night. The Quds Force, commanded by Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, is responsible for all of Iran’s military activities – secret and public – outside of Iran’s borders.”

Who Ordered Black Cube’s Dirty Tricks?, NY Review of Books

Trita Parsi writes, “It seems clear that whoever hired Black Cube also favored the US’s withdrawal from the Iran deal. But we need to know more: if a foreign private intelligence agency was hired to help change a vital aspect of US foreign policy, with global consequences, it is a matter of urgent public interest to discover who ordered the operation and who paid for it, who else was targeted, and whether any foreign power had a part in it. Congress has a responsibility to investigate not only who commissioned Black Cube, but also whether the operation was tied to the White House. If the Trump administration was involved in a Nixonian campaign to justify its disastrous policy-making, we deserve to know.”

Ben Cardin Is a Hawk. Will Maryland Voters Punish Him for It?, Nation

Eric Cortellessa writes, “President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal this week, scrapping one of President Barack Obama’s chief foreign policy accomplishments. Obama broke his usual silence and called it a ‘serious mistake,’ and Congressional Democrats excoriated Trump for making an armed confrontation with Iran more likely. But sitting awkwardly below that outrage is the fact that some of the party’s top elected foreign policy minds voted against the Iran deal when it came before the Senate in 2015.”

Iran may use nuclear deal structure to try to isolate US, Al-Monitor

Julian Pecquet reports, “President Donald Trump could soon face the first public test of his nuclear deal gambit as Iran weighs a formal complaint against the United States for violating the agreement. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif indicated last month that Iran may seek redress before the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action’s Joint Commission if the United States pulled out of the deal. The panel has no authority over US sanctions policy, but it could draw Iran and the remaining parties closer together — and isolate the United States.”