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Report Date: November 2013

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This month's Israel News review focuses almost exclusively on the deal struck between Iran and six world powers to curb the Shiite regime's nuclear program. However Israeli officials fear Iran's radical leaders may see the accord as an international endorsement of their "right" to enrich uranium since it allows such production to continue, even if at a lower level. That is certainly how Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other Iranian leaders view it, since they have said so. Details of the accord and the Israeli government reaction to it lie below. A happy Thanksgiving to all Americans who just celebrated that annual holiday.


Many parts of the Middle East continued to experience warfare and upheaval during November, especially in Syria, Lebanon and Egypt. This came as diplomats from six world powers attempted to forge an agreement with the nefarious Iranian regime to curb its threatening nuclear development program. A preliminary accord that Israeli leaders strongly denounced as totally inadequate was thwarted at the last minute in early November by French intervention. Many political analysts saw this as another sign that Israel's main international ally, the United States, is slowly abandoning that role under President Barrack Obama's increasingly unpopular rule.

The steadily growing breach between Washington and Jerusalem was significantly deepened when a second round of negotiations later in November produced a six month interim deal hailed by Obama as "an important first step" in halting Iran's nuclear development program. American government officials then revealed that the Obama administration had been conducting secret back channel talks with the Shiite Iranian regime in the Arab country of Oman for nearly a year before this month's formal negotiations began in Geneva Switzerland.

As Israeli leaders feared, the interim deal will quickly cancel some of the economic sanctions imposed by the international community on Iran in exchange for the destruction of the regime's highly enriched uranium stockpile. However it will not mandate the removal or destruction of the uranium enrichment centrifuges that have been spinning night and day to for some years now, but will actually allow some production to continue. In other words, the world powers seem to have accepted the Iranian regime's claims to have a "right" to enrich uranium despite its many public vows to wipe out a nearby UN member state, Israel, while also threatening Saudi Arabia and other regional Arab Sunni Muslim states who were also unhappy with the nuclear agreement.

The interim pact was rapidly denounced by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as "an historic mistake." As he has done before, the veteran Israeli leader warned that his country could not rest if the rogue regime's centrifuges were not either entirely removed from Iranian territory or destroyed. Some Middle East analysts said the six month accord actually increases the chances of warfare in the region, especially since government objections to the nuclear deal were echoed by several Gulf Sunni Muslim states that also feel enormously threatened by the Shiite regime's uranium enrichment activities.

That a hostile Iran still poses an existential threat to the world's only Jewish state despite the supposedly more "moderate" political positions espoused by its new President, Hassan Rouhani, was made clear just before the second round of international negotiations got underway in Geneva on November 21. After averring that Israeli leaders "act like animals, not human beings," overall Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei proclaimed once again that "the Zionist regime is doomed to failure and annihilation." He also again insisted that the Shiite Muslim nation of over 77 million people, nearly 11 times the population of Israel, would "never give up its right" to enrich uranium and other things that are involved in the production of nuclear warheads.

Press reports from London during the month spoke of a secret agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia to carry out a military strike on Iran's nuclear targets, including a large underground bunker southwest of Tehran. The reports, which preceded the signing of the interim deal, said the Saudi royal family has given Israel permission to fly some of its military aircraft over the desert kingdom en route to a strike on Iran's widely scattered nuclear facilities. However this was said to exclude attack warplanes. Still refueling tankers, some helicopters and pilotless drone aircraft would reportedly be allowed to traverse Saudi airspace if an IDF military strike takes place.

Iran's mail regional ally, the Syrian Assad regime, made substantial progress in its protracted internal war with mostly Sunni Muslim rebel forces during November, regaining control over a key city north of Damascus and in other locations. The Syrian army was once again greatly aided in its military advances by Iranian-armed Hizbullah militia forces from neighboring Lebanon. The fighting spread once again to portions of the Land of the Cedars, pitting supporters and opponents of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad against each other in Tripoli, Beirut, and other Lebanese cities and towns. A massive car bomb exploded in Beirut on November 20 near the Iranian embassy, apparently the work of anti-Assad Sunni Muslim militants.

Another Palestinian terrorist attack took the life of an Israeli soldier during the month. The 19 year old was murdered as he slept on a public bus in a northern Israeli city. This came after visiting American Secretary of State John Kerry angered Israeli government officials by declaring that if current US-sponsored peace negotiations fail, another violent Palestinian uprising could quickly follow. They said his jarring comment seemed to be signaling the Palestinians that a return to the often trod path of violence and bloodshed will at least be "understood" by the Obama government.

The Israeli Labor party, which long dominated political and governmental life in the Jewish State, voted in a new leader during November. Isaac Herzog is well known to most Israelis, especially to older ones who remember when his father Chaim, born and raised in Belfast, served illustriously as Israel's eighth President during the 1980s after a vaulted military career. Several commentators noted that for the first time ever, both the Labor party and the Likud party are being led at the same time by politicians who are fluent in English, given that both grew up with parents who usually spoke that language at home.


The Israeli government went into overdrive in early November as details emerged of the proposed nuclear deal in Switzerland between diplomatic negotiators from Iran and others representing the five permanent members of the United Nation's Security Council (P-5), the USA, China, Russia, the UK and France, plus Germany. During a meeting in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Netanyahu on the eve of the initial round of talks the first week of the month, John Kerry apparently shared some of the details of what an agreement would probably look like. It later emerged that he also revealed to him that clandestine diplomatic talks had been taking place in Oman between the Obama administration and the Iranians since soon after Kerry took over from Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State last January. Therefore most of the details of the final deal had already been quietly arrived at between Washington and Tehran. The secret negotiations were the first time that diplomats from the two countries had sat down together since the Iranian revolution and subsequent American hostage crisis occurred in 1979.

The Israeli leader later said he was very distressed to learn that the White House had agreed to allow at least some uranium enrichment centrifuges to continue spinning in the radical Islamic nation—the modern incarnation of ancient Persia. Even though he fully realized it would upset Obama and company to do so, Kerry's revelations prompted him to warn the six nations negotiating with Iran that they were in danger of accepting "a very, very bad deal" that would grant the Shiite regime much of what it wants in exchange for very little of substance in return.

PM Netanyahu was also told that the Americans had agreed to allow Iranian centrifuges to enrich uranium, but only up to five per cent which is not nearly enough to produce nuclear weapons, but still suitable for medical research purposes and other non-military activities. The enrichment would continue at least until a final accord is reached, he was informed. The existing stockpile of uranium that had been already enriched up to 20 percent would be turned into oxide, a harmless material that can later be turned back into uranium, say nuclear experts. In exchange, the international community would agree to lift some of the economic sanctions it imposed on the Iranian regime over the past decade, releasing some government funds frozen in foreign banks. The agreement would also allow the regime to once again trade in precious metals. Kerry reportedly also informed Netanyahu that the Obama administration also gave in to Iranian demands that it stop pressuring countries to refrain from purchasing Iranian oil, the oil-rich country's main source of foreign currency.


Israeli officials bit their nails for several days as the initial round of multi-country negotiations moved forward at United Nations European headquarters in Geneva the first week of November. Although they were supposed to last only two days, the international talks ended four days later on Sunday morning, November 10. They came to a crashing halt after French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius expressed his government's serious concerns that the terms of the American-brokered preliminary accord gave Tehran too many immediate concessions in return for promised future actions by the Muslim fundamentalist regime. In other words, Paris was signaling Washington that it had given too much away in its secret talks with the despotic Iranian regime (the existence of the talks had by that time already been revealed to the other P-5 negotiating partners and to the German government).

Breaking with diplomatic norms, Foreign Minister Fabius went public with his government's objections at a press conference in Geneva, stating quite bluntly that "One wants a deal…but not a sucker's deal." Israeli leaders breathed a sigh of relief that the "very bad deal" was apparently being scuttled by the French socialist government. However they were obviously aware that Iran would still try to secure a one-sided accord at the next round of talks that began on November 21, which is exactly what Israeli leaders proclaimed afterwards had taken place.

The Shiite Iranian regime reacted with fury at France's scuttling action. President Rouhani, who has long advocated putting a milder public face on his county's nuclear program while carrying on full speed with it, indirectly denounced the French government before the Iranian National Assembly. He shouted out that the Islamic regime would not be "intimidated" by what he called "sanctions, threats contempt and discrimination" being supposedly leveled against it. Indicating that the next round of negotiations would be rocky at best, he added that "For us there are red lines that cannot be crossed."

The Iranian theocratic regime's semi-official media outlet, the Fars news agency, was even blunter, condemning what it termed "the destructive roles of France and Israel" in the negotiations. It failed to note that Israel had no official role at all at the talks, in fact quite the opposite. However the agency was correct in implying that Jerusalem had been busy urging the big powers, who are all possess nuclear arsenals apart from Germany, to drop the proposed deal with Tehran. Israeli officials were almost effusive in their praise for the French intervention. They were later able to express their deep gratitude directly to French President Francois Hollande during his state visit to Israel that began on November 20.


The second round of international negotiations began in Geneva on November 21. Like the first go around, the talks were supposed to only last two days, but instead dragged on to four. As an agreement appeared to be nearing, Secretary of State John Kerry joined Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov along with ministers from the four other world powers in Geneva. Sitting opposite them was Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who was keeping overall Iranian leader Ayatollah Khamenei regularly informed of the talks and receiving instructions from the supreme leader.

At 3:00 AM on Sunday morning Geneva time on November 24, after a night of marathon negotiations to iron out the final details, a deal was finally forged that all of the foreign ministers agreed to sign on to. By the time the announcement was made by President Obama in a special late night televised address to his country on Saturday evening Washington time, most of the international diplomats had already left the picturesque Swiss city for their home countries. In his short speech to the nation, President Obama hailed the accord without revealing that most of it had been clandestinely negotiated by American and Iranian diplomats in Oman. He termed it "an important first step" toward finally arriving at a comprehensive agreement to ensure that Iran's nuclear program does not end with the construction of nuclear warheads. "For the first time in nearly a decade, we have halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear program, and key parts of the program will be rolled back," Obama averred in his hastily arranged six-minute speech delivered from the White House press room.

Nuclear experts say that since the existence of the Iranian regime's nuclear development program first came to light in 2003, the program has grown from a few dozen enriching centrifuges to more than 18,000 installed in the country, with more than 10,000 currently operating. The sophisticated and expensive machines have produced tons of low-enriched uranium for the regime, which can be upgraded into weapons grade material. Iran also has stockpiled almost 440 pounds (220 kilograms) of higher-enriched uranium in a form that can be converted more rapidly into fissile warhead material. Analysts note that that the existing supply is nearly enough for Iran to construct one nuclear bomb.


Several hours after the accord was first announced by President Obama, the State Department released a statement detailing the main points of the Geneva deal. The statement claimed Iran's nuclear program will be "subject to increased transparency and intrusive monitoring." The Obama government statement maintained that "Taken together, these first step measures will help prevent Iran from using the cover of negotiations to continue advancing its nuclear program as we seek to negotiate a long-term, comprehensive solution that addresses all of the international community's concerns."

The State Department reported that among concessions made by Iran was am agreement to halt construction of a Russian-supplied nuclear reactor located in the southern Iranian port city of Arak. The reactor had been of special concern to international diplomats because it would create plutonium, which along with uranium can also be used to fuel an atomic bomb. The announcement said Iran had also promised to limit its production of enriched uranium from raw uranium ore and to destroy part of its existing stockpile. However the extremist Shiite regime would still be permitted to enrich uranium, but not beyond five percent, as PM Netanyahu had been informed would be the case by John Kerry earlier in the month. To help insure Iran keeps its promises, international inspectors would be allowed to dismantle all of Iran's equipment that allows enrichment beyond that point. As part of the six month deal, Khamenei and company also agreed limit their current stockpile of 3.5 percent enriched uranium for the next six months and to eliminate their stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium, which can be quickly upgraded to nuclear weapons grade material.

One other Iranian concession was pointed to by President Obama as a very significant achievement. After years of international pressure to do so, the Shiite regime pledged to finally allow UN Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to visit Iran's enrichment facilities at Fordow and Natanz on a daily basis, and not as before when they were barred most of the time. Obama maintained this would make it very difficult for Iran to cheat on its commitments: "These are substantial limitations which will help prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon. Simply put, they cut off Iran's most likely paths to a bomb."

In return for the reported Iranian concessions, the White House promised "limited, temporary, targeted, and reversible (sanctions) relief" to Iran, noting that "the key oil, banking, and financial sanctions architecture, remains in place." It stressed that what it called the "limited sanctions relief" will be revoked and new penalties quickly imposed if Iran fails to meet its commitments. However opponents of the accord pointed out that with the international sanctions now beginning to unravel, it will probably prove nearly impossible to ever impose them once again upon the Shiite regime, especially since China and Russia have been reluctant to go along with them all along.

As part of the accord, the P-5 countries and Germany agreed to withhold further sanctions on Iran at least for the next six months. This came as the American Congress was preparing to vote on a bill that would have strengthened sanctions on the anti-Western Shiite Muslim country. Instead of enacting new economic sanctions, the six nations agreed to ease some that have played a significant role in hampering the Iranian economy in recent years. Among the steps the countries agreed to take was a suspension of sanctions that limit Iran's trade in gold and other precious metals, automobiles and petrochemicals. Those moves could provide Iran with an additional $1.5 billion in foreign currency revenue over the next six month, according to the fact sheet on the agreement published by the State Department. The major world powers committed to permit the transfer to the Iranian regime of about $4.2 billion dollars in revenue from international oil sales over the next six months. Economic experts say that around 100 billion of that revenue has been frozen by sanctions over the past decade.


Israeli officials were among the first to publicly react to President Obama's announcement of what he termed "an historic agreement" to limit Iran's nuclear program. Speaking at his weekly Sunday morning cabinet meeting just hours after Obama spoke at the White House, Prime Minister Netanyahu told his concerned government ministers that "What was agreed last night in Geneva is not a historic agreement, it is a historic mistake. Today the world has become a much more dangerous place, because the most dangerous regime in the world has taken a significant step toward attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world." He went on to note that for the first time ever, the leading international powers had given a green light to Iran's uranium enrichment program, even if a more limited program than it currently has in place. He warned that Israel is not formally bound in any way by the seven-nation accord, stating once more that all options, including a military one, remain on the table.

In return for Iran's supposed concessions, the Premier pointed out that biting economic sanctions that had "taken years to build up" were being significantly rolled back "in exchange for cosmetic Iranian concessions that are possible to do away with in a matter of weeks." His latter comment echoed widespread Israeli and international concerns that the dictatorial Shiite regime—which has provably lied on many occasions about its threatening nuclear program, initially about its very existence and later about the scope of its nuclear program—was preparing to deceive the world once again. He ended his short comments by reiterating what he has stated many times before: "Iran is committed to Israel's destruction, and Israel has the right and the obligation to defend itself by itself against any threat. I want to make clear as the Prime Minister of Israel, Israel will not allow Iran to develop a military nuclear capability."

Speaking at an art awards ceremony later the same day, PM Netanyahu said that as more and more details of the agreement emerged, "it becomes clear how bad and dangerous the agreement is to the world, the region and Israel." He was quickly echoed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, who returned to his former governmental post after being cleared of criminal charges by an Israel court earlier in the month. Speaking before a gathering of his "Israel is my Home" political party, he said the small Jewish state finds itself "in a new reality that is different from yesterday, and it requires us to reevaluate the situation with good judgment, responsibly and with determination." Warning cryptically that a military strike is still very much on the table for the Netanyahu government, he declared "We will do what we must and will not hesitate for a minute—and there is no need to add another word."

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon called the deal a "surrender to the Iranian charm and smiles offensive, and to Iranian fraud, which is aimed at gaining time without the Iranian nuclear program being substantially harmed." Reflecting a split of opinion between many Israelis over the international nuclear deal with Iran, former Labor party leader and current President Shimon Peres delivered a more muted reaction, saying that at least the deal does freeze some important aspects of Iran's nuclear program for a limited period of time, possibly giving Israeli and world leaders a chance to seal the program. However he did not comment on widespread anticipation that the international pact will effectively prevent Israel from hitting Iran's nuclear targets for at least the next half year.

However the day after the interim agreement was struck, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, issued a portentous statement indicating his government will never give up its nuclear enrichment program, which he claimed has now been "legitimized" by the world community. Boasting of victory over Western-led nations trying to thwart its nuclear ambitions, he stated that he gives "Thanks to Allah that the new Iranian government was able to legitimize the Iranian nation's nuclear program on the international stage, and take the initial step in a way that the nuclear rights and the enrichment rights of the Iranian nation are acknowledged by world powers, whereas before they had tried to deny them." He added ominously that the agreement will "open the way for future big strides in technical and economic progress."

The supposedly "moderate" President Hassan Rouhani later echoed the reigning Ayatollah's triumphalist statements. Speaking at an event to honor "martyred" nuclear scientists who were supposedly killed by Israeli security agents over the past few years, he vowed his government will "carry on" with its "nuclear progress," adding bombastically that it will do so "no matter whether the world wants it to or not." He ended his remarks by stating that Iran's quest for "nuclear capability will, Allah willing, continue to the peak." Israeli analysts say that the "peak" Rouhani referred to is undoubtedly the tip of a nuclear warhead aimed at Tel Aviv, which as the comments noted above clearly indicate, Israeli government officials will simply not allow.

As we watch and pray over the crisis situation in the tempestuous Middle East, we must keep looking up to the heavens, rejoicing that we can "Trust in the Lord forever, for in God the Lord we have an everlasting rock" (Isaiah 26:4).


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