Saturday, January 6, 2024

Iran’s Nuclear Weapons Program is Accelerating Because of Joe Biden - Fred Fleitz


by Fred Fleitz

As we approach the 2024 U.S. presidential election, the Middle East will become more unstable, and Iran will get closer to having a nuclear weapon.


According to a new International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report, Iran increased the rate of its production of near weapons-grade uranium (60% uranium-235) in late November 2023. This increase ended a slowdown of Iran’s 60% uranium enrichment that began in mid-2023 and increased the number of nuclear weapons it could theoretically make and the amount of time to construct them.

Iran’s recent ramp-up of uranium enrichment followed warnings last year that the number of nuclear weapons Iran could construct has become dangerously high.

A March 2023 assessment report by the Institute for Science and International Security indicated that Iran could enrich enough weapons-grade uranium (90% uranium-235) for one nuclear weapon in 12 days. In mid-November, the Institute assessed Iran was capable of making enough weapons-grade uranium “for six nuclear weapons in one month, eight in two months, ten in three months, eleven in four months, and twelve in five months.”

Iran enriching uranium beyond the 60% level is reportedly a red line for Israel and could trigger Israeli attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities.

Although it is not clear whether or when Iran will make the jump to weapons-grade enrichment, alarms were raised in mid-November that Iran has taken steps to prevent the IAEA from detecting just such a move when it barred the agency’s most experienced and expert inspectors from entering the country. IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi called this “a serious blow” to his agency’s capability to conduct meaningful inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities.

This means Iran could start enriching uranium to weapons-grade at any time without being detected.

If Iran took this step, any weapons-grade uranium it enriched would be in the form of a gaseous uranium compound that would need to be processed into uranium metal to fuel a nuclear weapon. This would take about a year. Iran would probably conduct one or two underground nuclear tests before adding a nuclear weapon to its arsenal. Any one of these moves could trigger Israeli airstrikes.

An Enormous Biden National Security Failure

The most damning element of this story is that Iran did not begin enriching uranium to near-weapons grade until Joe Biden became president.

Biden entered office determined to restore the deeply flawed Iran nuclear deal (the JCPOA) negotiated by the Obama Administration, which President Trump withdrew from in 2018. Shortly after the administration initiated multilateral nuclear talks in 2021 to revive the JCPOA, Iran started enriching uranium to the 60% level, probably to gain leverage in the talks.

Instead of halting the nuclear talks because of this development, the U.S. and its European allies ignored it and continued to offer Iran concessions. Despite the U.S. offering Iran increasingly generous concessions, negotiations collapsed in June 2022. The concessions offered by the U.S. to Iran were so extravagant that three members of the Biden Administration’s negotiation team at the nuclear talks resigned in late January 2022.  Several attempts in the second half of 2022 by the U.S. and European states to negotiate an interim nuclear deal with Iran also failed.

This situation took a stunning turn for the worse in the spring of 2023 when the Biden Administration agreed to a secret deal with Iran that “froze” Iran’s uranium enrichment at 60%. By striking this agreement, the Biden Administration knowingly legitimized Iran’s uranium enrichment at a near weapons-grade level. This also means Iran’s recent increased 60% enrichment is consistent with its commitment to the Biden Administration.

Acceleration of Iran’s Nuclear Program Likely to Continue in Run-Up to 2024 U.S. Election

Driven by a global perception of President Biden’s weak leadership and incompetent foreign policy, provocations by Iran and its proxy groups have grown in recent months. These include the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack on Israel, a sharp increase in attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria by Iranian proxy groups, and attacks against Israel and Red Sea shipping by Yemen’s Houthi rebels, another Iranian proxy.

A growing belief that President Biden could lose the 2024 presidential election will probably cause Middle East security to deteriorate further this year as America’s enemies in the region attempt to exploit Biden’s weakness before he is replaced next January by a more decisive president with a more effective foreign policy.

Concerning Iran’s recent expanded production of near weapons-grade uranium, this probably represented Tehran exploiting American weakness under President Biden and was intended to challenge the United States as well as advance its nuclear weapons program. It was also likely an Iranian ploy to pressure the Biden Administration to resume nuclear talks and offer more concessions.

With Iranian leaders believing that the Biden Administration could end in early 2025, there likely will be more significant advances in Iran’s nuclear program this year to take advantage of the current administration’s weak foreign policy and to pursue a possible last chance to revive the JCPOA on terms favorable to Iran.

It is therefore crucial that Congress be on the lookout in 2024 for any desperate last-minute attempt by the Biden Administration to strike another dangerous nuclear deal with Iran and demand the immediate halt of any such effort.

Because of the above factors, as we approach the 2024 U.S. presidential election, the Middle East will become more unstable, and Iran will get closer to having a nuclear weapon. Although I believe this is unlikely, if Iran were to cross any Israeli “red lines” on its nuclear program, this could trigger Israeli airstrikes against Iran and result in a regional war.

This is another solemn reminder of why competent leadership by U.S. presidents is critical for global security and why U.S. presidential elections matter.

Fred Fleitz is vice-chair of the America First Policy Institute Center for American Security. He previously served as National Security Council chief of staff, CIA analyst, and a House Intelligence Committee staff member.


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Newly disclosed FOIA docs reveal Hunter Biden influence peddling for foreign policy organization - Steven Richards


by Steven Richards

New FOIA production obtained by America First Legal shows Hunter Biden's efforts to secure benefits for a organization for which he was a board member.


New documents uncovered by as part of a Freedom of Information lawsuit against the National Archives for documents related to the Biden family’s dealings during the Obama Administration reveal how Hunter Biden used his influence with his father’s staff to provide benefits to an organization where he served as a board member.

The documents were provided to America First Legal (AFL) after it sued the National Archives and Records Administration in the District of Columbia federal court for documents related to now-President Joe Biden’s time as vice president during the Obama Administration.

The most recent document production shows that in 2015 Hunter Biden lobbied for his father, the then-vice president, to be the featured speaker at the Truman National Security Project’s conference, while the younger Biden served as a board member at the organization. Last year, the Truman Center's keynote speaker was left-wing media personality Rachel Maddow. The Truman Project did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Just the News. President Biden's 2015 tax forms appear to show that he was not paid for the speech while he was vice president. 

Hunter Biden also appears to have used his foreign policy contacts through the administration to help secure a donation for the Truman Project and to attempt to further his own business interests.

“Our critical lawsuit has revealed evidence about the extent to which Hunter Biden and his business associates used the Office of the Vice President—with apparent full knowledge of Joe Biden himself—as leverage for personal enrichment. This is particularly problematic because the records establish that substantial portions of the enrichment at issue were the result of favors for and connections made with foreign nationals. Biden first, America last, apparently,” said Gene Hamilton, AFL’s Vice President and General Counsel said in a statement.

Hunter Biden served on the board of the Truman Project’s Center for National Policy alongside Blue Star Strategies principal Sally Painter, with whom he would work to end Ukrainian Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin’s investigation into Burisma later the same year that he secured his father’s speaking role for the organization.

In March of 2015, the Truman National Security Project invited then-Vice President Biden to be the keynote speaker at the annual conference held by the organization in Washington, D.C. “On behalf of the Truman National Security Project and the Center for National Policy, I am writing to invite you to be a featured speaker at our annual conference,” the letter sent to Vice President Biden by Truman Project President Michael Breen reads.

You can read that letter below, obtained by AFL:

At the time that the letter was sent, Hunter Biden served on the board of the Truman Project. He was appointed in 2011, not long after his father assumed the office of the vice presidency.

During its existence, the Truman Project has been stocked with board members who are prominent Democratic national security figures, including Jake Sullivan, a Clinton State Department official and current Biden National Security Advisor; Matthew Spence, a senior aide to Obama’s National Security Advisor; and Steve Israel, a former Democratic elected official, according to the Washington Free Beacon. Biden served on the board until at least 2019, according to the Beacon.

Just two days after Breen wrote the letter inviting the then-vice president to the conference, Hunter Biden emailed the letter to his father’s scheduler. “For scheduler. Please let me know if it’s possible. Thanks,” Hunter Biden wrote to the vice president’s office.

The day before that and shown earlier in the email chain, Breen had emailed Hunter Biden asking for his assistance in securing his father’s speaking role.

“I am hoping you can assist us in delivering the attached letter inviting the Vice President to speak at our annual conference in June,” Breen wrote. “If you have any questions, I would be happy to discuss this request in greater detail next week,” he continued.

You can read the email thread, obtained by AFL, below:

After Hunter Biden’s email to the office, the vice president’s scheduler Kathy Chung conferred with Joe Biden and the vice president agreed to speak at the conference. AFL noted public reporting indicated Hunter Biden had helped Kathy Chung to secure her job in the administration prior to this interaction.

“Kathy spoke to the VP about this and he has agreed to do it,” EOP staff member Anne Marie Person wrote. “Just wanted to circle back and make sure we have gotten back to them if we have not already,” she continued.

You can read that email, obtained by AFP, below:

Hunter Biden also appeared to use official foreign diplomacy of the Obama Administration to further the interests of the Truman Project and his own personal business interests at the same time, documents from the AFL FOIA production and evidence obtained from Hunter Biden’s abandoned laptop indicate.

The year prior to the speaking invitation to Vice President Biden, in 2014, Scott Bates and Michael Been of the Truman Project Board asked Hunter Biden to pitch a donation proposal to the Japanese ambassador on behalf of the organization, according to an email obtained from Hunter Biden’s laptop.

“Attached is a one page script for your pitch to the Japanese Ambassador on behalf of CNP and the Truman Project,” Bates wrote to Biden.

“This one pager sums up our engagement with the Japanese and provides a dollar amount ask which is realistic based on their previous overture and giving to other think tanks in DC,” he continued later. Time was of the essence to the Truman Project team because of delegation of their representatives was traveling to Tokyo shortly after the request, according to the email.

“I wanted to let you know that I was unable to reach the Ambassador this week due to conflicting schedules,” Hunter Biden responded. "However, in the essence of time, I sent a letter to the Ambassador so that he would make the connection between my role on the CNP Board and the upcoming delegation to Japan,” he informed his fellow board members.

You can read the email below:

Later the same month, Hunter Biden was sent an official invitation to attend a “BBQ dinner” at the Japanese Embassy by the social secretary of the ambassador himself.

"Ambassador & Mrs. Sasae will be so delighted if you will be able to join in the BBQ dinner.   Could you or your office please let me know if you could attend the BBQ dinner?” the social secretary wrote to Hunter Biden and his then-wife, Kathleen.

A selling point that the secretary made sure to highlight: “It will be a small gathering around 20 people!” an intimate setting with the direct representative of the Japanese government in Washington, D.C.

The invitation can be viewed below:

Though the Truman Project did not secure funding from Japan that year—2014—Hunter Biden appeared to be seeking business benefits from the meetings in addition to his work for the group.

A few days before the BBQ dinner, one of Hunter Biden’s business partners with Rosemont Seneca Technology Partners emailed Eric Schwerin and Hunter Biden about securing business opportunities for the firm in Japan. The firm, abbreviated RSTP, was formed as a branch off from Rosemont Seneca Partners, the more famous firm that Hunter Biden founded with longtime associate Devon Archer and John Kerry stepson Christopher Heinz.

“Eric, Were you able to connect with your contact in Japan re helping us with RSTP in the region?” said John DeLoche, co-founder of the firm. The BBQ at the ambassador’s residence was scheduled just two days later, though it is unclear if Hunter Biden ever attended. It is also not known if RSTP secured any business in the country.

Hunter Biden’s lawyer Abbe Lowell did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Just the News.

The Truman Project did eventually secure its desired donation from the Japanese government. The following year, Bates emailed Hunter Biden to notify him that he had secured a $100,000 commitment to the Truman Center from the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

“I’m teaching American politics this week at the University of Tokyo. Meeting Foreign Ministry official Tuesday..and word is we've secured $100,000 for the Truman Center,” Bates wrote to Hunter Biden.

“Thanks for your supportive letter on this some time back. It's taken a bit of patience but we've gotten there,” he continued, directly thanking the younger Biden for his efforts to forward the letter to the Japanese ambassador.

You can read that email below:

The White House did not respond to a request for comment from Just the News about Hunter Biden’s contacts with official staff of Vice President Biden on behalf of the Truman Project nor about Hunter Biden’s apparent use of official diplomatic events in an attempt to advance the interests of the project and his own businesses.

This latest FOIA release marks the latest in a series of documents uncovered by America First Legal in its wide-ranging investigation into the vice presidential records of Joe Biden that involved his son and his foreign business dealings.

“The American people deserve answers about Joe Biden’s use of his office while serving as Vice President to advance the financial and other interests of his family. Since January 20, 2022, the records from his service as Vice-President during the Obama Administration are now subject to the Freedom of Information Act,” AFL Vice President Gene Hamilton said when the investigation was launched.

AFL’s investigation closely mirrors an inquiry by House Oversight Chairman James Comer into Joe Biden’s vice presidential records. Comer requested all documents and communications where then-Vice President Biden used a pseudonym and where Hunter Biden and his business partners are copied. Shortly after the request, Comer accused the Biden Administration of stonewalling his requests for records.

Hunter Biden’s contacts with vice presidential staff will likely remain a focus of the House Republicans' impeachment inquiry into now-President Joe Biden in the new year. “[The President] must be held accountable for this corruption & abuse of public office,” Comer said on Thursday in a post to X.

Steven Richards


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How Israel's alleged assassination of al-Arouri ends an era for Hamas - Seth J. Frantzman


by Seth J. Frantzman

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh has said that Hamas “will never be defeated," after the assassination of its deputy leader Saleh al-Arouri in Lebanon by Israel.


 Head of Hamas delegation Saleh al-Arouri and Fatah leader Azzam Ahmad sign a reconciliation deal in Cairo, Egypt, October 12, 2017.  (photo credit: REUTERS/AMR ABDALLUH DALSH/FILE PHOTO)
Head of Hamas delegation Saleh al-Arouri and Fatah leader Azzam Ahmad sign a reconciliation deal in Cairo, Egypt, October 12, 2017.

The killing of Hamas deputy leader Saleh al-Arouri in Beirut is a game changing event and represents the end of an era for his Hamas organization.

For decades Hamas has enjoyed growing impunity for its crimes.

For instance, its leaders became increasingly active abroad, moving between Doha, Beirut and Ankara. After October 7, Hamas was also successful in getting many countries not to condemn their crimes against humanity. For instance, Russia, China, Turkey and other key countries did not condemn the Hamas attack.

Hamas has also enjoyed impunity from international organizations. It was able to built up a terror tunnel empire in Gaza in part because it got funding from abroad and because a plethora of organizations were willing to deal with health care and essential services.

The Palestinian Authority even paid salaries in Gaza, despite the fact that Hamas had forced it out of the Strip in 2007. The entire situation was strange. Hamas, a terrorist group, ran Gaza as if it was a government. Its leadership was hosted in Doha, the capital of Qatar, which is a major non-NATO ally of the US. By hosting Hamas, Doha actually got increased status as a Western ally. Turkey, a member of NATO, has also hosted Hamas leaders over the years for meetings.

But now Arouri is gone. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh has said that Hamas “will never be defeated," after the assassination of its deputy leader in Lebanon by Israel. "A movement whose leaders and founders fall as martyrs for the dignity of our people and our nation will never be defeated," Haniyeh said on Tuesday evening.

 People stand at a damaged building following an explosion at the Beirut suburb of Dahiyeh, Lebanon January 2, 2024. (credit: REUTERS/MOHAMED AZAKIR)Enlrage image
People stand at a damaged building following an explosion at the Beirut suburb of Dahiyeh, Lebanon January 2, 2024. (credit: REUTERS/MOHAMED AZAKIR)

Hamas also lost others in Beirut on Tuesday. Samir Findi Abu Amer and Azzam Al-Aqraa Abu Ammar, were also eliminated in the same blast in Dahiyeh that killed Arouri.

Hezbollah is non-plussed. The fact that incident happened in an area it controls and where it feels secure raises eyebrows for the Lebanese-based terrorist group. Hezbollah has said the “assassination” will not go “unanswered.”

Hezbollah views the killing as an assault on Lebanon

“We, Hezbollah, affirm that this crime will not go unanswered or unpunished," it said. "We consider the crime of assassinating Sheikh Saleh al-Arouri... in the heart of the southern suburb of Beirut to be a serious assault on Lebanon... and a dangerous development in the course of the war.” Ankara has warned in the past against the killing of any Hamas members in Turkey.

It's worth remembering a few details about Arouri. Born in the village of ‘Arura near Ramallah in 1966, he became involved in terrorist activity and was sentenced to five years in prison in 1992. This was during the Oslo era when Hamas was trying to sabotage the peace deal with Israel.

Arouri was released from prison in 2010 and moved to Jordan, then on to Syria and then to Turkey, according to the Meir Amit Intelligence Information Center. He then moved to Qatar briefly and then to Beirut, where he basically moved in with Hezbollah and began plotting crimes from Lebanon.

In 2015, he was designated a terrorist by the US, which put a $5 million reward out for him. Arouri played a role in the Shalit deal in 2011 in which more than 1,000 terrorists, including Yahya Sinwar, were released for the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. He was elected deputy head of Hamas in 2017, Al-Mayadeen media notes.

Arouri has been involved in supporting and planning terrorist attacks in the past. He was linked to the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens in 2014. He warned in September 2023 that a war was coming to the Middle East, and blamed Israel for such a scenario. That month he also took part in meetings in Lebanon with Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Iranian officials and Hezbollah, and then called for escalating attacks on Israel.

He is sometimes described as an “architect” of the October 7 attack. He praised the massacre and claimed it was a response “to the crimes of the occupation."

The end of an era

Now it appears the Arouri era may be ending. He was a living embodiment of Hamas terrorist privilege. His ability to move around the region with ease was an example of how the genocidal terrorist group operated openly. Hamas exploited the region. With Iran’s backing and cash support, it was able to manipulate the region and also build up its massive terrorist infrastructure in Gaza.

Arouri was a key part of that machine. He was also able to network in Turkey, and most recently in Beirut to increase threats to Israel. Many media outlets in the region are now reflecting on the life of Arouri. Al-Ain media in the Gulf and Arab News both have put up articles discussing his life and his operations over the years.

The Arouri era is also marked by a period in which Hamas built up its capacity in Gaza. It came to rule the coastal enclave in 2007 and its leaders now relax abroad while they have helped Hamas in the Strip leverage its rule to become a regional terrorist threat. The October 7 attacks illustrated this. Although Hamas was much less influential in the 1990s, it was able to galvanize support even then.

For instance, Khaled Mashal was able to travel to Jordan during those years. Hamas leaders who were briefly exiled to Lebanon in the '90s by Israel received international support. However, the group was more isolated in the early 2000s during the Intifada.

Arouri’s role in the region was key to the group's expansion over the last decade, even though it was contained in Gaza. Hamas expanded in the region, and it got more legitimacy, which it has exploited after October 7. Arouri was a symbol of this attempt by Hamas to grow its influence, networking from Qatar to Turkey to Lebanon. 

Seth J. Frantzman


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India sends warship after hijacking of Liberian-flagged vessel in Arabian Sea - Reuters


by Reuters

The ship sent a message on the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations portal saying five to six unknown armed personnel had boarded on the evening of January 4, the Indian navy statement said.


 The domes of the Taj Mahal hotel are seen in front of the Arabian Sea in Mumbai December 22, 2008. (photo credit: REUTERS/Arko Datta)
The domes of the Taj Mahal hotel are seen in front of the Arabian Sea in Mumbai December 22, 2008.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Arko Datta)

An Indian Navy warship was moving towards a hijacked Liberian-flagged vessel in the Arabian Sea, and aircraft were closely monitoring the situation, the Indian Navy said on Friday.

At least 15 Indian crew members were on board the MV Lila Norfolk, which was hijacked near Somalia's coast and the navy received information about it on Thursday evening, Indian news agency ANI, in which Reuters has a minority stake, reported earlier, citing military officials.

The ship sent a message on the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) portal saying five to six unknown armed personnel had boarded on the evening of Jan. 4, the Indian navy statement said.

The ship was 460 nautical miles east of the Somalian coast when it sent the message, the UKMTO noted.

An Indian warship, the INS Chennai, was diverted and deployed to assist the vessel, the statement said, adding that a naval aircraft overflew the hijacked vessel on Friday and had established contact with it.

The Indian navy has increased its surveillance of the Arabian Sea after a recent spate of attacks in the region.

 The Indian Navy's warships take part in a fleet review at sea in Visakhapatnam February 12, 2006. (credit: REUTERS/Kamal Kishore)Enlrage image
The Indian Navy's warships take part in a fleet review at sea in Visakhapatnam February 12, 2006. (credit: REUTERS/Kamal Kishore)

India: we protect maritime trade in the Indian Ocean

The hijacking of commercial ships and attempted hijackings by suspected pirates near the Gulf of Aden and Arabian Sea regions resumed in December after a six-year lull. Experts believe this is because naval forces led by the US have diverted their attention to the Red Sea to thwart Houthi attacks.

Data from the Indian Navy's Information Fusion Centre - Indian Ocean Region shows at least three hijackings in December. The previous such incident was reported in 2017.

"The sudden revival in ship hijacking and attacks can only be attributed to the pirates' willingness to take advantage of the fact that the focus of anti-piracy maritime forces has largely shifted from the Gulf of Eden to the Red Sea," Abhijit Singh, head of the Maritime Policy Initiative at the Observer Research Foundation think tank in New Delhi said.

Earlier this week, the navy said it had investigated a large number of fishing vessels and boarded vessels of interest in the North and Central Arabian Sea.

"India plays the role of a net security provider in the entire Indian Ocean region. We will ensure that maritime trade in this region rises from the sea to the heights of the sky," Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said last month of the increased surveillance in the region.

India is not part of the US-led Red Sea task force.



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What are Hezbollah's calculations, 90 days into war on Israel? - Seth J. Frantzman


by Seth J. Frantzman

Hezbollah has dictated the tempo. It has been used to doing what it wants, creating provocations and escalation, and pushing again and again to see what is effective.


Smoke rises during an exchange of fire between the IDF and terrorists from the Hezbollah organization on December 16, 2023 (photo credit: AYAL MARGOLIN/FLASH90)
Smoke rises during an exchange of fire between the IDF and terrorists from the Hezbollah organization on December 16, 2023
(photo credit: AYAL MARGOLIN/FLASH90)

For the past 90 days of the war, Hezbollah got used to playing fiddle. After Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, Hezbollah began to carry out attacks on Israel, and while there were initial concerns in the region and Washington that this could escalate, Hezbollah appeared to prefer daily small attacks to a larger war; a US aircraft carrier parked in the Mediterranean may have made it think twice.

This aircraft carrier is now heading away, allowing Hezbollah to feel more empowered in its decisions; it has to fish or cut bait. The problem with Hezbollah is that it has become too big in recent years. Not only does it occupy a swath of Lebanon and hold Lebanese politics hostage, but it is so powerful that Iran fears “losing” it in a war, like an advanced piece on a chess board, where you keep sending more pieces to protect it, lest that piece end up being lost in some complex sacrifice. Iran doesn’t want to sacrifice Hezbollah, yet it also wants Hezbollah to be a threat to Israel.

So far, Hezbollah has succeeded in driving some 80,000 Israelis from their homes on the northern border; this is unprecedented – never in history did Israel evacuate the whole border. Hezbollah can pretend it has won, but it has also lost around 140 or more of its fighters. Hezbollah terrorists are not a rabble. It’s not like the poor Iranian recruits from Afghanistan – the Fetimiyoun – whom Iran sent as cannon fodder to Syria. Hezbollah, rather, is used to being the senior partner among all of Iran’s proxies.

The 'small work' of firing rockets

Hamas upstaged it on October 7, so it has been doing the “small work” of firing rockets and ATGMs at Israel, small work that causes damage but doesn’t win the war. Hezbollah uses drones as well, but those don’t win wars either.

So what is at its disposal now? It now faces a serious problem. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant joined IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Herzi Halevi this week, as well as other officials, to discuss the northern border, including the “defense establishment’s requirement  to facilitate the secure return of Israel’s northern communities to their homes in the region.”

 IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi gives a statement to the media at an army base in southern Israel, December 26, 2023.  (credit: FLASH90)Enlrage image
IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi gives a statement to the media at an army base in southern Israel, December 26, 2023. (credit: FLASH90)

Hezbollah knows that the tempo of the war is shifting. Israel is transitioning operations in Gaza to a more low-intensity conflict, which means that Israeli air power is not as active over Gaza. It also means that reservists are leaving Gaza and that, this last week, there were more comments by Israeli officials about the North. Hezbollah must wonder then, if the tempo is shifting, what does that mean for Hezbollah? It has been used to carry out attacks at a time and place of its choosing, to a proportionate response.

Over the last two decades, Hezbollah has gained a lot of power and was able to put its foot into Syria and expand its work with Iran’s proxies to threaten Israel from Syria. Iran even moved drones to Syria in 2018 and also tried to move air defenses. Hezbollah sought to improve its precision-guided munitions and had gotten used to testing Israel. For instance, after the maritime deal last year, brokered by the US, Israel and Lebanon were supposed to benefit from gas reserves off the coast. Hezbollah threatened Israel over that and also sought to create tension along the border last spring.

Hezbollah has dictated the tempo. It has been used to doing what it wants, creating provocations and escalation, and pushing again and again to see what is effective.

But a terrorist army like Hezbollah can only push so far. It has a lot to lose in Lebanon and it has become so large that it also has a lot of assets that are not easy to simply fold up and move.

On the other hand, it may try to feed stories to the media about being willing to withdraw from the border or pretend its elite units have withdrawn. For instance, the Radwan units may become a talking point.

Making its own decisions

But it will also have to make its own decisions. It has constantly put up its redlines and made demands and threats. Is it concerned that its threats will not be taken seriously? Or has Hassan Nasrallah become so used to making speeches that he feels the speeches are enough?

Iran must also be wondering, after reports of US airstrikes in Iraq on Thursday and the US mobilizing to stop the Houthis, whether it is now facing a multi-front conflict of its own making. In short, Iran sought to expand the number of “arenas” threatening Israel. But the more arenas it exploits, the more places it leaves open to setbacks.

In a sense, the more pawns it moves forward on the board, the more it has to defend those same pawns. And what happens when the “threat” of the pawns, becomes a series of losing gambits? Moreover, what happens when all that Iran has invested in Hezbollah becomes questionable as to how powerful an asset it is?

Seth J. Frantzman


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Suspected Jordanian airstrikes target Iran-linked drug smugglers in Syria - Jerusalem Post Staff


by Jerusalem Post Staff

Earlier this month, Jordanian airstrikes reportedly targeted arms and narcotic smugglers in southern Syria.


Royal Jordanian Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft fighter pilots fly alongside a US Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft while waiting to connect for fuel over Jordan. October 19, 2009. (photo credit: Caycee Cook/US Air Force)
Royal Jordanian Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft fighter pilots fly alongside a US Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft while waiting to connect for fuel over Jordan. October 19, 2009.
(photo credit: Caycee Cook/US Air Force)

Jordanian airstrikes targeted several sites near the Jordanian-Syrian border on Thursday night, according to the local news site Suwayda24.

One of the sites targeted was located in the town of Al Ghariyah, while another strike targeted the home of a man named Ahed al-Ramthan in the town of Al-Shaab, both south of As-Suwayda.

Local and regional intelligence sources told Reuters that the airstrikes targeted suspected warehouses and hideouts of Iranian-backed drug smugglers.

Jordan ups crackdown on drug, weapons smugglers

Earlier this month, Jordanian airstrikes reportedly targeted arms and narcotic smugglers in southern Syria.

 Jordanian F-16 fighter jets escorting the plane carrying Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa (not pictured) are seen at Amman airport February 9, 2015. (credit: MUHAMMAD HAMED/REUTERS)Enlrage image
Jordanian F-16 fighter jets escorting the plane carrying Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa (not pictured) are seen at Amman airport February 9, 2015. (credit: MUHAMMAD HAMED/REUTERS)

Suspected Jordanian airstrikes in May targeted sites in the same area, killing a drug smuggler named Marie al-Ramthan in his home in Shaab. According to opposition-affiliated media outlets in Syria, Ramthan had ties with the Syrian military and Hezbollah and used those ties to expand his drug smuggling. It is unclear as of yet if Ramthan is tied to the Ramthan targeted in the latest reported strike.

The Jordanian Army has thwarted several drug and weapons smuggling attempts from Syria throughout the past year, including in recent weeks. Armed clashes have repeatedly erupted between Jordanian forces and the smugglers, with one Jordanian soldier and several smugglers killed.

Chairman of Jordan's Joint Chiefs of Staff, Maj. Gen. Yousef Huneiti, pushed for the improvement of the country's border guard units on Thursday, saying that all the latest and most sophisticated equipment was being provided to the units to combat infiltrations and smuggling attempts, according to Jordan's state news agency.

Huneiti also instructed the army to start plans to build an electronic fence along the border to deter smuggling.

Jordanian officials say pro-Iranian terrorists behind smuggling 

Jordanian officials, like their Western allies, say that Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah group and other pro-Iranian terror groups who control much of southern Syria were behind a surge in drug and weapons smuggling.

Iran and Hezbollah say the allegations are part of Western plots against the country. Syria denies complicity with Iranian-backed terrorists linked to its army and security forces.

Jordan has been promised more US military aid to improve security on the border, where Washington has given around $1 billion to establish border posts since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, Jordanian officials say.

UN experts and US and European officials say the illicit drug trade finances a proliferation of pro-Iranian terrorists and pro-government paramilitary forces created by more than a decade of conflict in Syria.

War-torn Syria has become the region's main site for a multi-billion-dollar drug trade, with Jordan being a key transit route to the oil-rich Gulf states for a Syrian-made amphetamine known as captagon, Western anti-narcotics officials and Washington say.

Jerusalem Post Staff


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Is Iran Afraid of War? It Is Time to Separate the Iranian Octopus from Its Tentacles - Aviram Bellaishe


by Aviram Bellaishe

Does Iran Fear an All-Out War?


Is Iran Afraid of War? It Is Time to Separate the Iranian Octopus from Its Tentacles
The USS Dwight Eisenhower aircraft carrier and its strike group were dispatched to the Middle East. (US Navy)

Institute for Contemporary Affairs

Founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation

Vol. 24, No. 2

  • Iran derives its power in the Middle East from devising conflicts that put Israel in an ongoing war against Iran’s proxies along its borders.
  • Hence, the importance of dismantling Hamas’ military capability in Gaza demonstrates that Israel is serious in its intentions to destroy the proxy organizations or distance them from its borders. It is also the first signal of a change in its approach to Hizbullah.
  • Because of Iran’s economic plight, limited military capability, and domestic tensions, it recognizes its difficult position for engaging in an all-out war against the United States and Israel.
  • Israel must ramp up its efforts to convince the U.S. administration of the necessity to stop Iran’s nuclear program and to bear down on the sanctions. Failing to act on those issues will carry grave implications.

Soon after Hamas’ October 7, 2023, attack on Israel, the Iranian regime emphatically denied its involvement. It similarly denied any involvement in the Houthis’ attacks on shipping in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait—and even in the attack, attributed to Iran itself, on an Israel-related ship, the MV Sai Baba, off the coast of India.

Notwithstanding Iran’s denials, which are part of its proxy strategy, the Pentagon said Iran was “deeply involved” in the Houthis’ activity and directly involved in the attack on the abovementioned ship.

Can the Ayatollah regime avoid being drawn into an all-out war? Is it ready for war? How should Israel respond to these threats?

Threats and Denial: Iran’s Rhetoric since October 7

In the months since the 10/7 attack, we are witness to the familiar Iranian rhetoric of sweeping denial of its involvement alongside baseless threats.

In his speech on October 10, Khamenei staunchly denied1 that Iran was behind Hamas’ murderous attack on October 7 and claimed that Hamas had not even informed the Iranian regime of its intention to carry out a terror onslaught.2

Beyond Iran’s empty threats,3 the regime has offered many excuses for its failure to intervene in the Gaza war —from lack of prior notice of the Hamas attack to the claim that Iranian involvement would be in Israeli, not Palestinian, interest and would likely salvage the Zionist entity.4

A Houthi hijacker stands on the Galaxy Leader cargo ship
A Houthi hijacker stands on the Galaxy Leader cargo ship in the Red Sea. (Houthi Military Media/Handout)

On November 19, 2023, the Houthis of Yemen seized the ship Galaxy Leader, which Israeli businessman Rami Ungar partly owns.5 The Iranians denied involvement in this act.6

After the American declaration on efforts to form a maritime coalition in response to the Houthis’ naval attacks in the Bab el-Mandeb region, the U.S. defense secretary threatened that the emerging maritime coalition would take extraordinary measures.7

A week earlier, the Iranian representative to the United Nations sent a letter to the Security Council in which he denied the U.S. representative’s claim that Iran was responsible for the Houthis’ actions and claimed that Iran had not taken part in any action or attack against U.S. forces.8

According to a December 22, 2023, Wall Street Journal report based on Western intelligence sources, an Iranian spy ship was guiding the Houthis’ attacks since they themselves have no such guiding technology. The Journal quoted the White House as saying Iran was deeply involved in the attacks on the vessels.9

A denial by Iran’s deputy foreign minister was not long in coming.10

On December 23, 2023, the Pentagon reported11, 12 that the drone that had attacked the “Israel-related” ship off the coast of India had been launched by Iran. Israel gave the same assessment, while the spokesman of the Iranian Foreign Ministry vehemently denied13 Iran’s involvement and those assessments.

These denials were an integral, ongoing part of the Iranian proxy strategy of denying its involvement. Iran is trying to balance the multi-arena strategy of its warfare against Israel and the fear that it will be dragged into war.

The escalation to a direct attack on an Israel-related vessel stemmed from the fact that Iran is under pressure from Israel’s progress in Gaza toward toppling Hamas and is trying to generate pressure that will cause an end of the fighting, though not at the price of an all-out war.

The December 25, 2023, killing of the IRGC commander in Syria, Reza Mousavi, attributed to Israel, can be seen as Israel’s response to Iran’s escalation or as an escalation intended to warn what Israel sees as the head of the octopus while dealing with one of its tentacles.

Despite the threats by Iranian senior officials of an imminent response to the assassination14, 15, 16 an informational film issued by the IRGC’s news agency Tasnim17 bears out the assessment that Iran is afraid of all-out war and will not act directly in a way that would pull it into one. Hence, they claim that the assassination was carried out to drag Iran into a direct conflict with Israel, whereby Israel would gain U.S. support and draw the United States itself into the war. Instead, they say, Iran will respond with the continued backing for the resistance in such a way that Israel will regret the assassination. In other words, it is not a full-scale war.

Does Iran Fear an All-Out War?

Iran is in the midst of a severe economic crisis, as evidenced, among other things, by poverty and shortages in most strata of the society. The crisis stems, first, from a foreign policy that invests funds in the proxy armies instead of using these monies to enable an economic recovery from the sanctions, and second, from the corrosive corruption of the regime’s leadership. Indeed, on December 1, 2023, the worst case of corruption in Iranian history was revealed, involving the theft of $3.7 billion from the state treasury.18

Iran is beset with problems of both domestic and foreign migration. It is trying to cope, on the one hand, with an unprecedented brain drain of intellectuals and professionals to foreign countries and, on the other, with a massive immigration wave of Afghani refugees who, according to Iran’s foreign minister, number at least five million.19

They are changing the fabric of the population and fostering a rise in crime.

Another problem is failing municipal management. For example, at present, schools in many provinces have had to close because of extreme air pollution,20 with the government helpless to address the matter and simply waiting for the rains to come.21

This situation produces instability, as evidenced by demonstrations against the economic hardship. Demonstrators are again denouncing the investment of state funds in Gaza, Syria, and Lebanon, and surveys indicate that in the upcoming March 2024 elections, only 15 percent of the population will participate.22

Foreign and Security Policy

On the military level, Iran understands that it does not have the upper hand at this stage in many military sectors; any technological advantage over Israel or the United States is not decisive at the moment. (Hadi Kasimi of the Iranian Basij claimed regarding Lebanon, for example, that the war is not a classic war because Israel is a technological superpower and is exploiting its superiority in this arena.)23

The manpower of Iran’s conventional army does not ensure victory,24 certainly not in light of its varied ethnic composition.25

Notwithstanding the acceleration of Iran’s nuclear program, it does not yet have nuclear weapons.

As an Iranian proxy in the current war, Hamas is not achieving its objectives, and it is clear to all that the military stranglehold that helped Hamas build in Gaza will be dismantled. Iran was surprised by the intensity of Israel’s reaction, and particularly by the cohesion of its army. Iran had viewed unity as a weak point for Israel in light of the rift that had formed in Israeli society in the months before October 7, as Iran closely followed the demonstrations and covered them extensively in its regime-affiliated media. This could explain why the Iranians have supported a ceasefire or any measure that would leave Hamas, even battered, with a possibility of rehabilitation.

So far, the activity against Israel by the armed Shiite organizations in Iraq has not been significant, nor that of the pro-Iranian organizations in Syria. Attempts to open a West Bank front have failed.26

Hizbullah, which is undoubtedly the superior force among the Iranian proxy organizations and constitutes the most substantial threat among the terror groups on Israel’s borders, has launched attacks against Israel. Lebanon as a country, however, is sunk in a severe economic crisis. Its citizens and non-Hizbullah representatives oppose a war with Israel,27 thereby restricting Hizbullah to limited responses—something the Iranians also understand. As former Lebanese foreign minister Kamal Hirazi remarked on December 4, 2023, Hizbullah shows great wisdom in limiting its attacks on Israel because its main task is the defense of Lebanon.”28

As for the Houthis, Yemen is ranked almost at the bottom of the world’s poverty-stricken countries,29 and its GDP has kept declining in 2023.30

The Houthis are very dependent on economic growth for civilian infrastructure, particularly the Al-Hudaydah port,31 and they understand that a maritime conflict in which it is damaged or destroyed would be a significant blow to their economy.

The intensity of the U.S. involvement on Israel’s side was a surprise to the Ayatollah regime, especially the deployment of two aircraft carrier strike forces to the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf, its ongoing weapons supply to Israel, and formation of a maritime coalition on December 1832 against the Houthi naval aggression. The Biden administration’s actions did not align with the Iranian leadership’s view of a feckless U.S. leadership.

From the Octopus’s Arms to Its Head

Like a pyromaniac, Iran derives its power in the Middle East from lighting fires that put Israel in a constant state of war. In activating Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hizbullah, and others, the “arms of the octopus,” Iran maintains a condition of military conflict – and not to benefit the Palestinian or Lebanese people.

Hence, the dismantling of Hamas’ military capability in the Gaza Strip, to which the Israeli government has committed itself, signals to Iran—beyond the necessary objective of achieving security for the residents of both the Gaza belt and the interior—that Hamas’ attack on October 7 changed Israel’s approach to security. The concept of “relative quiet” no longer exists, and Israel is serious in its intention to destroy the proxy organizations or distance them from its borders. The disarming of Hamas points to a change of approach toward Hizbullah.

Israel needs to take a proactive, not just reactive, posture toward Hizbullah. (Of course, the preferred timing is after finishing the work in Gaza, but it depends on the intensity of Hizbullah’s aggression.) It is doubtful that any diplomatic process can push Hizbullah’s forces beyond the Litani River, 30 km from Israel’s northern border, a mission of which the UNIFIL force was never capable.

In this context, while UN Security Council Resolution 1701 (in 2006) has not been upheld for a long time, it can serve to a certain extent as a basis of legitimacy for Israel in the international arena.

Hizbullah is a well-trained force equipped with quality weapons, and a war against it would be more difficult than one against Hamas. Hizbullah’s weak point is its servitude to Iran’s command. In light of Lebanon’s economic plight, such a war would be devastating to Lebanese interests and is opposed by its residents and by non-Hizbullah elements of the government.

Before a military offensive that proves Israel’s intentions, Israel needs to convey the message to Lebanon, through all the diplomatic and other channels, that a withdrawal of Hizbullah’s forces north of the Litani River will save Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure from the wrath of Israel’s air force. (Messages with images of the bombed-out Dahiya quarter of Beirut in the Second Lebanon War would warn of the consequences of Hizbullah’s aggression and rejectionism.)

Indeed, the assassination of Hamas official Salah al-Arouri33 in the Dahiya quarter sends a dual message to both Hamas and Hizbullah. Firstly, Israel is fulfilling its commitments to eliminate senior Hamas figures implicated in the events of October 7th. Secondly, Israel can eliminate high-ranking Hamas operatives in the heart of the Dahiya region in Lebanon or others designated for elimination; it’s simply a matter of decision regarding any response beyond the anticipated reaction from Hizbullah.

In this context, when the proposals are made for assembling a multinational force, including contingents from moderate Arab countries, for serving as a buffer between Israel and Gaza on “the day after,” Israel should add the issue of a force on the Lebanese border since UNIFIL is incapable of fulfilling that role.

As for the Houthis, Israel has succeeded in making clear that they constitute an international problem. The American formation of the maritime coalition may have surprised the Iranians. Beyond the threats of the regime officials, would Iran directly join in the Houthis’ fray? It is likely that Iran is aware of the implications of an all-out war and will do everything possible to avoid one.

The attack on the “Israel-related” vessel off the coast of India with a drone launched from Iran, according to both the Pentagon and Israel, alongside the Iranians’ denial,34, 35 may reflect the pressures Iranians are feeling by Israel’s progress toward toppling Hamas. While the ship that was attacked was Israeli and not American, Israel should make use of the Americans’ awareness of Iran’s involvement.

Iran’s many threats against the Americans36, 37, 38 should serve Israel’s diplomatic efforts to convince the Americans to put a halt to Iran’s nuclear program and upgrade the surveillance of the sanctions (conveying the message that a nuclear Iran would be less anxious about an all-out conflict and the IAEA report that Iran has “increased its production of highly enriched uranium, reversing a previous output reduction from mid-202339).

The issue of the Houthis (including their reported alliances with the Al-Shabab in Somalia and the Dhulbahante militia in Somaliland40) constitutes a window of opportunity for Israeli diplomatic efforts (if they do not already exist) toward countries like Eritrea, Somaliland, Somalia, and the anti-Houthi bloc in Yemen, in the vein of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

The Iranian frustration, in the context of the Iranian response to the assassination of Gen. Razi Musawi in an Israeli airstrike in Syria, along with the concern that it could lead to war, is evident in the statement of the Revolutionary Guard spokesman. He asserted that the operation on October 7 against Israel was a response to Qassem Soleimani’s assassination four years ago, a statement met with categorical denial by Hamas41 and by the IRGC commander.42

Further to the Iranian frustration, which is recognizable in the official Iranian responses accusing Israel regarding the January 3, 2024, explosion in Kerman and the death of more than 200 Iranians on the memorial day for Qassem Soleimani, the Iranians know that this was not an Israeli operation. It was not consistent with the typical Israeli modus operandi and the fact that civilians, not military targets, were affected. The actual list of suspects in the bombing involves numerous opposition groups, such as the Baluchis, Kurds, Afghans, and others.

Without a doubt, Iranians aim to convey a threat. However, it can be argued that Khamenei’s statements were nuanced and did not explicitly point to the guilty party, possibly to prevent an all-encompassing war or a potential Israeli attack.

In this regard, Nasrallah’s January 3, 2024, speech can be linked to the same rhetoric of threats and warnings. In practice, he enumerated all the reasons why there is no intention to initiate an all-encompassing war (blaming Israel for its own self-destruction). So, Hizbullah’s response will continue along a line that does not create a new threshold leading to war.

Considering the intricate nature of Iranian sentiments, balancing honor, religious extremism, and the fear of direct war, the Revolutionary Guard is unlikely to desire war, especially since they have not yet secured a nuclear weapon (while increasing the production of highly enriched uranium).43

Therefore, it is time to separate the octopus from its arms. Israel should undermine and disarm Hamas while taking action against Hizbullah.

* * *


* The author would like to thank Avraham M. of the Iranian Desk for his assistance in preparing this document.



















  19. His words were spoken on March 31, 2022, and since then Afghani immigration has increased. For example, on August 24, 2023, Hashmatollah Falah Tifisha, former chair of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the Majlis, said in an interview to the website Khabar Online that “up to 10 thousand Afghanis are entering Iran per day.” The regime is carrying out an ethnic transformation in Iran to facilitate the repression of Iranian citizens as well as its objectives throughout the Middle East. See:↩︎



  22. Election survey:↩︎



  25. ↩︎



















Aviram Bellaishe


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