IRAN FACES “MANY CRISES” DESPITE RUSSIAN ALLIANCE & EXPANDING REGIONAL INFLUENCE Posted on March 13, 2017 Printer Friendly Iranians at the Gate: Prof. Eyal Zisser, Israel Hayom, Mar. 12, 2017— Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Russia last week was dedicated to the Iranian issue, or, more precisely, to Israel's red lines on any Iranian presence in Syria if and when the six-year civil war there comes to an end. Putting Iran on Notice Puts Tehran off Balance: Emily B. Landau, Jerusalem Post, Mar. 11, 2017— a. Purim’s historical background… Iran in Crisis: Heshmat Alavi, American Thinker, Mar. 5, 2017— The recent dust storms that wreaked havoc in southwest Iran signaled only one of the many crises the mullahs are facing less than three months before critical elections. Purim and the Challenge of the Holocaust: Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo, Jewish Press, Mar. 10, 2017— In a remarkable midrash on Mishlei, we read the following… On Topic Links Iran Is Progressing Towards Nuclear Weapons Via North Korea: Lt. Col. (ret.) Dr. Refael Ofek & Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Dany Shoham, BESA, Feb. 28, 2017 Impossible Dream: Lee Smith, Weekly Standard, Feb. 20, 2017 The Face-Off: Reuel Marc Gerecht, Weekly Standard, Feb. 27, 2017 Iran Setting up Shell Shipping Companies to Export Weapons and Illicit Goods: Investigation: Perry Chiaramonte, Fox News, Mar. 7, 2017 IRANIANS AT THE GATE Prof. Eyal Zisser Israel Hayom, Mar. 12, 2017 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Russia last week was dedicated to the Iranian issue, or, more precisely, to Israel's red lines on any Iranian presence in Syria if and when the six-year civil war there comes to an end. The possibility that Russia may be able to do the seemingly impossible and strike a peace deal between the warring parties in Syria in the foreseeable future has Israel wary of the regional gains this may spell for Iran. Iran could have significant influence in Syria and potentially even physical control of the country, thanks to tens of thousands of operatives on the ground in the form of Hezbollah members, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps' soldiers, or Shiite militia fighters "imported" by Iran into Syria from across the Middle East. What the world can expect from post-war Syria is reflected in recent reports of Iran's plans to build a naval base in Tartus, the second largest port city in Syria after Latakia, as well as in reports that Revolutionary Guard units and Hezbollah forces are planning to overrun the Syrian Golan Heights, to liberate it from the rebels and re-establish Syrian control over the area — a move that would effectively place Iranian forces on the Syria-Israel border. Iran, most likely, has no interest in a direct conflict with Israel, but history has proved it will use its proxies in Syria — Hezbollah, Damascus-based Palestinian terrorist groups, and various Shiite militias — to do its bidding. This means the immediate issue Israel must deal with is the Iranian and Hezbollah presence in southern Syria, while the long-term issue is the question of Iran's status in Syria in any deal in which Syrian President Bashar Assad remains in power. The campaign to liberate the northeastern Syrian city of Raqqa from Islamic State, which is scheduled to begin in the next few days, stands to significantly impact the Iranian presence in the country as well: If the Turks and the Sunni Syrian rebels at their command take the city, or if the Kurds, who have American assistance, do so, that will lead to the creation of a buffer zone between Shiite Iraq and the rest of Assad-controlled Syria. But if Assad's forces, with the help of Iranian troops, are the ones to take Raqqa, Iran will be able to establish control over a land axis spanning from Tehran through Iraq and eastern Syria to Damascus and Beirut. Russian President Vladimir Putin most likely listened carefully to Netanyahu's warnings. But for now, Russia is standing by its cynical alliance with Iran. Tehran and Moscow desire first and foremost to cement Assad's control in Syria, and the presence of Iranian and Shiite operatives in the country is imperative to that end. Netanyahu was wise to make it clear to Putin that Israel is determined to maintain its regional interests and will not allow anyone to cross its red lines, even if Russia sees things differently. Incidentally, this dynamic was present in recent strikes against Syrian weapon shipments to Hezbollah, which foreign media attributed to Israel. The Russians did nothing to prevent these shipments, nor did they hide their disapproval of the alleged Israeli efforts to thwart them, but the dialogue between Jerusalem and Moscow over the past year resulted in Russia's acceptance of Israel's position on the matter. It is safe to assume that Netanyahu's meeting with Putin sought to reach similar understandings with regard to Israel's red lines over Iran and Hezbollah's presence in the Golan Heights, and perhaps in other areas in Syria as well. Contents PUTTING IRAN ON NOTICE PUTS TEHRAN OFF BALANCE Emily B. Landau Jerusalem Post, Mar. 11, 2017 In late January, just nine days after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, Iran tested a new medium-range ballistic missile – the Khorramshahr. The missile has a range of 3,000-4,000 km, which can reach all of Western Europe and can carry a nuclear payload. This test was the latest in a string of Iranian ballistic-missile tests that have been carried out since the nuclear deal (JCPOA) was announced in July 2015. And, it was their first test of the Trump administration, which has not yet clarified its Iran policy but has already projected that it is not happy either with the JCPOA or with Iran’s ongoing provocations since the deal was announced. The immediate question that arises following the missile test is whether it is prohibited by international agreements. As far as the nuclear deal itself is concerned, none of Iran’s missile tests have constituted a violation for the simple reason that ballistic missiles are not covered by the deal even though, as the delivery mechanism for carrying a nuclear warhead, they are intimately connected to a nuclear weapons program. The omission of ballistic missiles from the JCPOA was the unfortunate result of the US unwisely caving to Iran’s demand not to include them in the nuclear talks, in effect acquiescing to Iran’s narrative that such missiles are “non-nuclear.” Indeed, one of the first concessions to Iran, before formal negotiations between the P5+1 and Tehran commenced, was that ballistic missiles would be off the table. Because of this concession, the only reference to Iran’s missile program is currently included in UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorses the JCPOA. But compared to Resolution 1929, which was still in effect in October 2015 when Iran conducted its first post- JCPOA ballistic-missile test, Resolution 2231 only “calls upon” Iran to desist from these activities, rather than prohibiting them. Moreover, the new resolution includes changed wording that opens space for Iran to claim that the test is not covered by the resolution. Rather than targeting missiles “that can carry a nuclear payload,” Resolution 2231 refers to missiles “designed to” carry a nuclear payload. Because Iran denies any past nuclear weapons work and any future plans in this regard, it has argued that no missile developed in Iran could possibly have been designed to carry a nuclear warhead. The Trump administration is not buying Iran’s excuses ‒ and for good reason: Iran’s attempt to explain away any wrongdoing through such legalistic gymnastics rests on very shaky ground. The reality that Iran refuses to acknowledge is that it actually did work on a military nuclear program in the past and it never demonstrated that it left those ambitions behind. Iran is a proven violator of the NPT, and, yet, it denies any wrongdoing. Under these circumstances, there is no reason to believe that Iran will never equip its nuclear- capable missiles with a nuclear warhead and, therefore, these missiles could very well have been (and most likely were) designed with this in mind. The experience of the past year and a half has seen the Obama administration refrain from any pushback against Iran’s repeated provocations, belligerence and even some violations of the JCPOA itself, which has only served to embolden Iran and increase its leverage vis-à-vis the United States. With no reaction from the US – including firmly setting the record straight about Iran’s past nuclear weapons program and undermining Iran’s false narrative – there is little doubt that Iran would have continued to test any and all missiles with relative impunity. But, if no Iranian missile could possibly meet the criteria set by Resolution 2231, what was the resolution originally meant to curb? On the basis of its very different interpretation and approach, the Trump administration responded to the latest missile test quickly and firmly. It immediately called an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the test, and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn (who has since resigned) then issued a statement that “put Iran on notice” while informing the Iranians that the US will no longer be turning a blind eye to their provocations. Sanctions were quickly imposed on 25 Iranian individuals and companies involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program and with connections to terrorist activities. Later, it was reported that the US was considering naming the IRGC a terrorist group. Trump himself warned Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani that he “better be careful” with his words. Taking a closer look at Flynn’s statement, in particular, many were quick to criticize it as “bellicose bluster” that risked escalation with Iran. Such interpretations ignored the fact that the US was responding to Iran’s belligerence. Indeed, in light of ongoing Iranian provocations that have gone unanswered for far too long, Flynn’s statement was an appropriate and measured American response. Critics also complained that Flynn’s message was non-specific, not stating clearly what the administration would do. But nowhere is it set in stone that the best way to deter a state is by clarifying the precise conditions and consequences of their action. In fact, setting a clear red line could very well have been counterproductive because it could have easily set the new administration up for failure – which is precisely what happened to president Barack Obama in 2013 when he warned Syrian President Bashar Assad that using chemical weapons would elicit an American military response. The Trump administration’s deterrent message was most likely intentionally non-specific. Putting Iran on notice puts Tehran off balance – a desired result. It means Iran must be very careful because it does not know what action will trigger which response. From initial Iranian reactions, it seems that the deterrence is working: They are not sure what Trump might do, and Iranian media have reflected advice to Iran’s leaders not to do anything that might give Trump an excuse to attack. Moreover, it was reported in early February that Iran abruptly removed from the launch pad a missile being prepared for launch. It was a Safir missile, derived from the Iranian Shahab 3, which Iran had, on several occasions, used as a launch vehicle for its satellites, indicating technology for a long-range intercontinental missile… [To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.] Contents IRAN IN CRISIS Heshmat Alavi American Thinker, Mar. 5, 2017 The recent dust storms that wreaked havoc in southwest Iran signaled only one of the many crises the mullahs are facing less than three months before critical elections. Tehran has been hit with severe blows during the Munich Security Conference, contrasting interests with Russia, the recent escalating row with Turkey, and most importantly, a new U.S. administration in Washington. These crises have crippling effects on the mullahs’ apparatus, especially at a time when Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei sees his regime facing a changing balance of power in the international community, and is faced with a major decision of selecting the regime’s so-called president. Iran and Ahvaz…The dust storms crisis in Ahwaz, resulting from the mullahs’ own destructive desertification policies, caused severe disruptions in water and power services and people pouring into the streets in major protests. The regime, and especially the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), has for decades pursued a desertification policy of constructing dams, drying lagoons, digging deep oil wells beneath underground water sources with resulting catastrophic environmental disasters. Various estimates indicate the continuation of such a trend will literally transform two-thirds of Iran into desert lands in the next decade. This will place 14 to 15 million people at the mercy not only dust storms but also salt storms. Iran and the Munich Security Conference…Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attended this conference with a series of objectives in mind, only to face a completely unexpected scene. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence described Iran as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. Saudi Arabia Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said the mullahs are the source of threats and instability throughout the Middle East. Turkey went one step further and said Tehran is the heart of sectarianism and spreads such plots across the region, and all traces in Syria lead to Iran’s terrorism and sectarian measures. This resembles a vast international coalition against Tehran, inflicting yet another blow to the mullahs following a new administration taking control of the White House. These developments are very costly for Khamenei and the entire regime. In comparison to the early 2000s when the U.S. launched wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran was the main benefactor. The current balance of power now is quite different, as seen in Munich. While there is talk of an Arab NATO, any coalition formed now in the Middle East will be completely against Iran’s interests. Iran and Russia…Following a disastrous joint campaign in Syria, for the first time Russia is reportedly supporting a safe zone in Syria. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said contacts have been made with the Syrian regime to establish safe zones in Syria. These are the first remarks made by any Russian official on the issue of safe zones in Syria. Moscow’s increasing contrast in interest with Iran over Syria has the potential of playing a major role in regional relations. Russia certainly doesn’t consider Bashar Assad remaining in power as a red line, a viewpoint far different from that of Iran. Moscow is also ready to sacrifice its interests in Syria in a larger and more suitable bargain with the Trump administration over far more important global interests. Iran and Turkey…Yes, Ankara and Tehran enjoy a vast economic partnership. However, recent shifts in geopolitical realities have led to significant tensions. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the mullahs of resorting to “Persian nationalism” in an effort to split Iraq and Syria. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused Iran of seeking to undermine Bahrain and Saudi Arabia as part of Tehran’s “sectarian policy.” Cavusoglu used his speech in Munich to say, “Iran is trying to create two Shia states in Syria and Iraq. This is very dangerous. It must be stopped.” Tehran considers Ankara’s soldiers in Iraq and Syria as a major obstacle in its effort to expand its regional influence. U.S. president Donald Trump’s strong approach vis-à-vis Iran and the possibility of him supporting the establishment of a Turkish-administered northern Syria safe zone may have also played a major part in fuming bilateral tensions between these two Middle East powers. Erdogan has obviously realized completely the new White House in Washington intends to adopt a much more aggressive stance against Tehran. This is another sign of changing tides brewing troubles for Iran’s mullahs. Iran and Presidential Elections…With new reports about his ailing health, Khamenei is extremely concerned about his predecessor. One such signal is the candidacy of Ibrahim Reisi, current head of the colossal Astan Quds Razavi political empire and a staunch loyalist to Khamenei’s faction, for the presidency. With former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani out of the picture, Khamenei may seek to seal his legacy by placing Reisi against Iranian president Hassan Rouhani in the upcoming May elections. This is literally Khamenei playing with fire, as Reisi is considered a hardline figure and such an appointment may spark 2009-like protests across the country, as the country has become a scene of massive social challenges. Rouhani himself doesn’t enjoy any social base support, especially after four years of lies and nearly 3,000 executions. Final Thoughts…This places the entire regime in a very fragile situation. From the internal crises of Ahwaz, the upcoming elections and the formation of a significant international front threatening the Iranian regime’s strategic interests. Forecasting what lies ahead is truly impossible, making Khamenei and his entire regime extremely concerned, trekking this path very carefully and with a low profile. As we witnessed with the inauguration of Ronald Reagan, Iran immediately released the 52 hostages held for 444 days. This regime understands the language of force very carefully. And yet, there is no need to use military force to inflict a significant blow and make Tehran understand the international community means business. Blacklisting Iran’s IRGC as a terrorist organization by the U.S. at this timing would be the nail in the coffin for the mullahs. Contents PURIM AND THE CHALLENGE OF THE HOLOCAUST Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo Jewish Press, Mar. 10, 2017 In a remarkable midrash on Mishlei, we read the following: “All of the festivals will be nullified in the future [the messianic age], but Purim will never be nullified.” (Midrash Mishlei 9:2) This assertion seems to fly in the face of Jewish tradition, which states categorically that the Jewish festivals mentioned in the Torah, such as Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot will never cease to be celebrated. This is mentioned by Maimonides in the Mishneh Torah: “All the books of the Prophets and all the Scriptures will be nullified in the days of the Mashiach, except for Megillat Esther, which is as permanent as the Five Books of Moshe and the laws of the Oral Torah [including the festivals], which will never lose their relevance.” (Hilchot Megillah 2:18. For a completely different interpretation, see my booklet The Torah as God’s Mind: A Kabbalistic look into the Pentateuch [Jerusalem: Bep-Ron Publications, 1988]) Rabbi Baruch Halevi Epstein, in his famous commentary Torah Temimah on Megillat Esther (9:28), explains this contradiction – in the name of his father, Rabbi Yechiel Michel Halevi Epstein – in the following most original manner: The miracle of Purim is very different from the miracles mentioned in the Torah. While the latter were overt miracles, such as the ten plagues in Egypt, the splitting of the Red Sea, the revelation at Sinai and the falling of the man (manna) in the desert, the miracle of Purim was covert. Unlike with the miracles narrated in the Torah, no law of nature was ever violated in the Purim story, and the Jews were saved from the hands of Haman harasha (the evil Haman) by seemingly normal historical occurrences. Had we lived in those days we would have noticed nothing unusual, and many secularists would have explained the redemption of the Jews in Persia as the logical outcome of a series of natural and coincidental events. Only retroactively, when looking back at the story, would we have been astonished by all the incidents, their unusual sequence, and the seemingly unrelated and insignificant human acts that led to the complete redemption of the Jews during the time of Achashveirosh’s reign. The discovery that all these events actually concealed a miracle could only be made after the fact. Covert miracles will never cease to exist, explains the Torah Temimah. In fact, they take place every day. But overt miracles such as the splitting of the Red Sea have come to an end. In light of this, the midrash on Mishlei is not suggesting that the actual festivals mentioned in the Torah will be nullified in future days, since this would contradict Jewish belief. Rather, it is stating that the original reasons for celebrating the festivals, namely overt miracles, have ceased. So, one should read the midrash as follows: Overt miracles, which we celebrate on festivals mentioned in the Torah, no longer occur. But covert miracles such as those celebrated on Purim will never end; they continue to occur every day of the year. In other words, all the other festivals will still be celebrated to commemorate great historical events in Jewish history, events to be remembered and relived in the imagination of man so as to make them relevant and teach us many lessons for our own lives. Purim, on the other hand, although rooted in a historical event of many years ago, functions as a constant reminder that the Purim story never ended. We are still living it. The Megillah is open-ended; it was not and will never be completed! Covert miracles still happen. Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner z”l, in his celebrated work Pachad Yitzchak (volume on Purim, chapter 33), uses this idea to explain a highly unusual halachic stipulation related to Purim. During all Torah festivals, the congregation sings Hallel, the well-known, classic compilation of specific Psalms. These Psalms praise God for all the great miracles He performed for Israel in biblical times, on occasions for which these festivals were later established. Why, then, asks the Talmud, do we not sing Hallel on Purim? Is there not even more reason to sing these Psalms on the day when God performed the great miracle of rescuing Israel from the hands of Haman? The Talmud (Masechet Megillah 14a) answers “kriyata zu hallila” – the reading of Megillat Esther is in itself praise. When one reads the story of Esther, one actually fulfills the obligation of singing Hallel, because telling this story is the greatest praise to God for having saved the Jews. Reading the story awakens in us a feeling of deep gratitude and appreciation for the miracle of Jewish survival against all odds… [To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.] Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo is a CIJR International Board Member Contents On Topic Links Iran Is Progressing Towards Nuclear Weapons Via North Korea: Lt. Col. (ret.) Dr. Refael Ofek & Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Dany Shoham, BESA, Feb. 28, 2017—While the Vienna Nuclear Deal (VND) is focused on preventing (or at least postponing) the development of nuclear weapons (NW) in Iran, its restrictions are looser with regard to related delivery systems (particularly nuclear-capable ballistic missiles) as well as to the transfer of nuclear technology by Iran to other countries. Moreover, almost no limits have been placed on the enhancement of Tehran's military nuclear program outside Iran. North Korea (NK) arguably constitutes the ideal such location for Iran. Impossible Dream: Lee Smith, Weekly Standard, Feb. 20, 2017—Since President Trump’s election, American allies and other foreign policy observers have been curious to know how the new White House intends to resolve an apparent contradiction. How is it possible that Trump seems keen to make some sort of deal with Vladimir Putin while expressing belligerent contempt for Russia's key Middle East ally, Iran? There may be an answer: Recent press reports indicate the Trump team will try to lure Russia away from Iran. The chances for success are slim. The Face-Off: Reuel Marc Gerecht, Weekly Standard, Feb. 27, 2017— Donald Trump has promised a foreign policy of muscular retrenchment, in which a better-resourced U.S. military intimidates our enemies without serving as a global cop. More than any president since Richard Nixon, our new commander in chief sees virtue in brutal authoritarians, especially if they are fighting radical Islam. He has passionately belittled the idea of nation-building, freedom agendas, and protracted conflicts in Muslim lands. Iran Setting up Shell Shipping Companies to Export Weapons and Illicit Goods: Investigation: Perry Chiaramonte, Fox News, Mar. 7, 2017— Nearly half of all shipping docks in Iran are operated by the regime’s military, and it is using shell companies to smuggle weapons and other illicit goods, according to a new report. A total of 90 docks have been taken over by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which is using them to circumvent sanctions and fund terrorist activities in the Middle East and beyond, according to the anti-regime People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).