News Digest — 3/17/22

Report: U.S. Weighs Dropping Iran’s IRGC From Terrorism Blacklist

The United States is considering removing Iran’s Revolutionary Guards from its foreign terrorist organization blacklist in return for Iranian assurances about reining in the elite force, a source familiar with the matter said on Wednesday (16th).

The IRGC is the most powerful faction in Iran.  Loyal solely to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Revolutionary Guards controls a business empire as well as elite armed and intelligence forces, including the infamous Quds Force – the IRGC’s extraterritorial black ops arm.  In April 2019, then-U.S. President Donald Trump designated the Revolutionary Guards as a “foreign terrorist organization” as part of efforts to increase international pressure on the Islamic Republic.

The source said Washington had not decided what might be an acceptable commitment from Tehran in exchange for such a step, which would reverse the 2019 blacklisting of the group by Trump and draw sharp criticism from Republicans.

The Biden administration’s consideration of such a tradeoff was first reported by Axios, citing Israeli and U.S. sources.

Multiple sources have said dropping the designation is one of the last, and most vexing issues in wider indirect talks on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal under which Iran was to limit its nuclear program in return for relief from economic sanctions.

Asked about the possibility of removing the IRGC from the U.S. terrorism list, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price declined comment beyond saying that sanctions relief is at the heart of negotiations to revive the nuclear deal.

Last week an Iranian official said the IRGC’s removal from the blacklist had been under discussion since June but that the issue had become more complicated after last summer’s election of hardliner Ebrahim Raisi as Iran’s president.

The Iranian official said the United States had made clear, “they cannot remove it without major concessions from Iran,” a stance he said had been rejected by Iran’s head nuclear negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani.

The IRGC’s political influence in Iran’s complex power structure has increased since the election of Raisi, who took office in August and whose government includes dozens of Revolutionary Guard commanders.

Raisi’s election led to a five-month gap in the indirect US-Iranian talks over reviving the nuclear deal, which Trump abandoned in 2018 and reimposed US sanctions – Iran began violating its nuclear limits about a year later.

Negotiations resumed in late November, with officials from other parties to the deal – Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia – as well as European Union officials coordinating the talks while shuttling between U.S. and Iran representatives.  An agreement would also allow Iran to sell its oil abroad.



No To Banning MKs From Temple Mount During Ramadan, Says New Attorney General

Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev has no right to preemptively ban MKs from ascending the Temple Mount or demand that they receive advance approval for a visit by Jerusalem’s top police commander, wrote Israeli Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara in a letter published by Hebrew news site Mako on Tuesday (15th).

“I would like to comment that the decision to prevent an MK from entering the Temple Mount should be made with the agreement of the prime minister and the minister of defense  who are in charge of national security, and after consultation with the Israel Security Agency,” wrote Baharav-Miara in a letter addressed to Bar-Lev.

“Restricting an MK’s access to a place that is not a private domain is possible only when there is reasonable basis for harming state security or for the purpose of preventing the disclosure of a military secret.  The criteria you specified deviate from the criteria set forth in this section of our law.”

Last week, Bar-Lev issued a directive to prevent MKs from visiting the Temple Mount during the Muslim Ramadan holiday over fears that their presence could trigger an outbreak of violence.

He advised Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai that MKs wishing to visit the site must receive advance permission from himself and Shabtai, Channel 12 reported.

But Baharav-Miara said that Bar-Lev did not have the authority to make such a decision or issue an order of this nature.

After receiving Baharav-Miara’s criticism, Bar-Lev doubled down on his statements, arguing that barring MKs from visiting the Temple Mount was a life-or-death matter and that the onus of responsibility was on the Israeli police to prevent behavior that could spark Arab violence.

“There is no doubt that the freedom of movement of a Knesset member is absolute all year round and throughout the country, including on the Temple Mount,” Bar-Lev wrote.

“The question arises: In a situation where an unforeseen danger to the safety and life of an MK could develop, is it the duty of the police to act to prevent the danger to that person – a Knesset member?”

Tom Nisani, director of the Beyadenu NGO, which advocates for Jewish prayer rights on the Temple Mount, told World Israel News that efforts to block Jews from visiting the site during the Islamic holiday is nothing new.

“Another year, and the Ramadan holiday is approaching again, and the upper echelons in the Israeli government are working to restrict Jews from the site, rather than restricting those who commit and instigate violence,” he said.

“On the day when there is a change of focus and the violence of instigators are effectively dealt with, the situation on the Temple Mount will look a lot different.”



Israel’s UN Ambassador Demands Security Council Condemn Hezbollah

Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan on Tuesday (15th) asked the members of the UN Security Council to condemn Hezbollah’s recent attempts to launch drones into Israeli territory and turn Lebanon into a terrorist base.

In an urgent letter addressed to the Security Council ahead of a special discussion Wednesday (16th) on the Implementation of UN 1701, Erdan wrote: “Recently drones were launched from UNIFIL’s area of activity in southern Lebanon, which managed to penetrate Israeli airspace.  Israel harshly condemns Hezbollah’s provocative attempts to violate its sovereignty through the blatant disregard of UN Security Council resolutions.  Israel will not tolerate any infringement of its sovereignty and will take every step necessary to defend its citizens.”

“We demand that the Lebanese government, which is responsible for activities emanating from Lebanese territory, fulfill its duties and prevent all hostile acts from its territory.  Lebanon must not allow Hezbollah to negatively influence regional security and stability,” Erdan said.

Erdan on Tuesday (15th) also met with UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Joanna Wronecka.  After presenting her with information regarding Hezbollah’s growing strength as a proxy of Iran, with an emphasis on the terrorist organization’s precision missile project, Erdan said that Hezbollah continues to undermine regional stability and to prioritize the Iranian interest over the Lebanese interest.”

The Israeli ambassador also requested of Wronecka that the UN reports accurately reflect the dire situation in south Lebanon, namely the scope of missiles and rockets embedded in civilian homes that could ignite a broad regional conflagration, and that its reports also include the figures and information provided by the IDF.

“Allow me to be clear on this,” Erdan told Wronecka, “if Hezbollah continues with these activities, Israel will do whatever is necessary to protect the safety and security of its citizens, meaning that Hezbollah could precipitate a catastrophe for Lebanon.”



Greek Islands Can Be ‘Safe Haven For Israelis’ In Case Of Iranian Nuclear Attack

Could the State of Israel purchase Greek Islands in the Mediterranean?  According to attorney Avri Steiner, the islands would become another Iron Dome amidst increasing nuclear ballistic threats from Iran.

In a board meeting for Heimanuta, a subsidiary of Keren  Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) that deals in the purchase of land, Steiner floated the idea as a contingency plan for the evacuation of Israelis in case of an Iranian nuclear missile attack.

The suggestion was rejected by the Heimanuta board, who ruled that buying land outside the land of Israel is “not KKL-JNF’s mission.”

Speaking to Maariv, the attorney, who is on Heimanuta’s board, argued that the prospect of the KKL-JNF subsidiary purchasing Greek islands could be a necessity for evacuating Israelis in case of a missile attack or natural disaster events.

Steiner told Maariv he felt it necessary to suggest the idea to the board of directors after reports on the Islamic Republic’s ballistic missile arsenal.  On Tuesday (15th), U.S. Central Command Gen. Kenneth Mckenzie said Iran has more than 3,000 ballistic missiles, many of which can reach the State of Israel.

Steiner, an active member of the World Zionist Congress, claimed it to be an opportunity to provide a safe haven in the case of an extensive threat to the Israeli population.

“I came up with the idea that the state, or an independent Zionist body, should look for unpopulated land that can be purchased and establish the infrastructure needed to evacuate citizens in times of need.”

“Israel needs to have property or lease large areas” and the Greek islands, which are “largely unpopulated” according to Steiner, are perfect due to their proximity to Israel.

“It would be a humanitarian purchase,” Steiner argued.



Israel, Egypt To Begin Direct Flights Between Tel Aviv And Sharm El-Sheikh

Israel and Egypt have agreed to expand direct flights between the two countries with a new route being opened between Ben Gurion International Airport and Sharm el-Sheikh, the Prime Minister’s Foreign Media Adviser announced Wednesday (16th).

The issue was discussed at a meeting between Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in Sharm el-Sheikh last September.

The agreement was finalized Tuesday (15th) in Egypt by an Israeli delegation led by the Israeli Security Agency (ISA) following a long process carried out with the National Security Council and additional officials, together with the Egyptian government.

This agreement will further warm the relations between Israel and Egypt.  The cooperation between the two countries is expanding in many fields, and this is contributing to both peoples, and to regional stability,” Bennett said.

“Israel is opening up to the countries of the region, and the basis for this long-standing recognition is the peace between Israel and Egypt.  Therefore, on both sides we need to invest in strengthening this connection – and that’s what we are doing.”

“I thank the Israeli Security Agency for taking the lead on formulating the security outline that will enable this route to open.”

The route from Ben-Gurion International Airport to Sharm el-Sheikh will open soon, and flights are expected to begin during the intermediate days of Passover next month.