Iran denies attacking Israeli positions — Peace and Freedom

Middle East, News, SEcurity, SYRIA

Iran has denied involvement in rocket attacks on the Golan Heights that led to Israeli strikes on Iranian sites in Syria. The UN has called for an end to “hostile acts” amid fears of further escalation.

Tanks on the Golan Heights (picture-alliance/Xinhua News Agency)

Iran on Friday rejected accusations by Israel that it had fired rockets at Israeli positions in the Golan Heights, describing them as ” freely invented and baseless” charges designed to justify Israel’s own attacks on Syria.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi also criticized the international community for not condemning Israeli airstrikes in Syria on Thursday that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a retaliation against Iran’s aggression.

Image result for Bahram Qasemi, photos

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi

Its silence “only gives the Zionist regime (Israel) the green light for further aggressions that serve only to make the region more insecure and unstable,” he said.

The defense committee of Iran’s parliament also said Iranian forces had nothing to do with the attacks on Israeli positions.

“This is another lie from the Zionist regime for propaganda purposes, ” said committee spokesman Mohammad Nabandegani. Nobandegani also denied that Iran had any military forces in Syria at all.

Read more: The West tends to ‘exaggerate’ Iran’s role in the Syrian conflict


Israel announced early on Thursday that its forces had hit “almost all” Iranian infrastructure sites in Syria during airstrikes carried out in retaliation for Iran’s firing of 20 rockets into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Netanyahu said that Iran had “crossed a red line” with the rocket attacks.

The attacks were some of the worst direct violence between arch rivals Israel and Iran in years and have raised fears of a wider conflict in the region. Israel has long expressed concern that Iran could establish a military presence in Syria amid the instability caused by Syria’s long-running civil war.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres echoed fears of further escalation in a tweet in which he called for an end to “all hostile acts and any provocative actions.”

António Guterres


The Middle East is already embroiled in terrible conflicts with immense suffering of civilians. I urge an immediate halt to all hostile acts and any provocative actions to avoid a new conflagration in the region. 

A UN spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, told reporters that Guterres had been in contact “with various people at various levels” about the attacks.

‘Right to self-defense’

Germany’s Foreign Ministry has sided with Israel in condemning Iranian aggression. In a tweet, it said the rocket attacks were “a serious provocation that we condemn in the harshest way possible. Israel has, as we have stated several times, a right to self-defense.”

Washington also slammed what it called “the Iranian regime’s provocative rocket attacks” and reiterated its support for “Israel’s right to act in self-defense.”

Israel’s UN ambassador, Danny Danon, has called on the UN Security Council and Guterres to condemn Iran and call on Tehran to remove its forces from Syria.

However, in light of the divisions within the Security Council over Syria, it seems unlikely that the body will issue any statement on the matter.

tj/ng (AP, dpa, Reuters)

via Iran denies attacking Israeli positions — Peace and Freedom


Iran’s economy since the nuclear accord came into effect

Middle East, News, Politics

— China, South Korea and Turkey remain Iran’s top three trading partners                        — Ordinary Iranians got almost no benefit from nuclear deal


The 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers – the US, Russia, China, the UK, France and Germany – lifted international sanctions on Iran’s economy, including those on oil, trade and banking sectors.

BBC News

By Amir Paivar

A shopper passes a food stall in Tehran's Grand Bazaar.AFP

The 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers – the US, Russia, China, the UK, France and Germany – lifted international sanctions on Iran’s economy, including those on oil, trade and banking sectors.

In exchange, Iran agreed to limit its nuclear activities.

US President Donald Trump has repeatedly threatened to abandon the agreement and will make a decision on 12 May about whether to reintroduce sanctions from his country.

So, as that deadline draws nearer, Reality Check examines how Iran’s economy has fared since the nuclear accord came into effect.

Shoppers and carpet sellers stand next to carpets in Tehran's Grand Bazaar in Iran.Image copyrightAFP
Image captionCarpets for sale in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar.

How much have oil exports boosted Iran’s economy?

Iran’s economy was in a deep recession in the years before the nuclear agreement. But the International Monetary Fund reported that the real GDP of Iran grew 12.5% in the first year following the implementation of the deal.

Chart showing fluctuating economic growth in Iran

Growth has fallen since then, and the IMF estimates the economy will grow at 4% this year, which is healthy but below the 8% target Iran had for the five years following the deal.

That initial boost was almost all thanks to the hike in oil exports.

Sanctions on Iran’s energy sector halved the country’s oil exports, to around 1.1 million barrels per day in 2013. Now Iran exports almost 2.5 million barrels daily.

Close-up of a handful of pistachio nuts taken in Tehran in 2006.AFP

What about other famous Iranian exports, like pistachio nuts?

Iran’s non-oil exports in the year to March 2018 reached $47bn (£34.5bn) which is almost $5bn more than the year before the nuclear agreement.

According to Iran’s ministry of agriculture, the export of “signature items” such as pistachio nuts stood at $1.1bn in the same period, slightly lower than the previous year.

But Iran’s agricultural exports, including pistachios and saffron, are more affected by the country’s drought, rather than sanctions or trade relations.

Following the nuclear agreement, the US lifted a ban on Iranian luxury items such as carpets and caviar. Sanctions cut exports of Iranian carpets to the US – its biggest market – by 30% .

Iran’s trade with the European Union has increased significantly thanks to the lifting of sanctions but China, South Korea and Turkey remain Iran’s top three trading partners.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, with other US and Iranian officials, meeting in Austria on 16 January 2016. The day the International Economic Energy Agency verified whether Iran had met all conditions under the nuclear deal.Image copyrightAFP
Image captionUS Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in Austria on the day international sanctions on Iran were lifted.

Did the nuclear deal stabilise Iran’s falling currency?

In 2012, the rial lost almost two-thirds of its value against the dollar because of sanctions and domestic mismanagement of the currency market. The sanctions limited Iran’s oil revenues and its access to the global banking system.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani promised the nation that following the nuclear deal “you will not see the exchange rate go up every hour”.

Mr Rouhani managed to deliver on that promise by keeping the Iranian currency stable for almost four years. But in late 2017, when President Trump refused to certify the nuclear deal to Congress, the rial started to fall again.

The rial has lost almost half of its value against the dollar since last September. Many Iranians have been buying hard foreign currency to hedge against the possible future collapse of the nuclear deal, the return of sanctions and a fresh currency crash.

It was reported that some $30bn of capital left Iran in the first quarter of 2018, mostly to neighbouring countries and the Caucasus.

The Iranian government has since launched a crackdown on the foreign exchange market, banning exchange offices from selling hard currency and introducing limits (at $12,000) on cash possession – all in a bid to rescue the rial.

Household budgets in Iran since 2005

Are ordinary Iranians richer because of the nuclear deal?

Analysis by BBC Persian of figures from the Central Bank of Iran shows that household budgets (the value of all the goods and services used by a household) have fallen in real terms from $14,800 in 2007-08 to $12,515 in 2016-17.

Household budgets declined steadily for seven years until 2014-15 when the nuclear deal was struck and increased slightly the following year.

The analysis also shows that Iran’s middle class has been hit the hardest in the past decade. While the average household budget has fallen 15%, the figure is 20% for middle-class families.

Experts blame a combination of domestic mismanagement of the economy and international sanctions for the fall in household budgets.

Most of the post-nuclear deal boom came from increased oil revenues that go directly into the government coffers and that takes time to trickle down into people’s pockets.

Analysis: Israel’s first 70 years have surprised the world -Daniel Gordis


In November 1947, one day before the expected United Nations vote on partitioning Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, the CIA urged President Harry Truman not to throw his weight behind the idea. America would have to defend the new Jewish state when it faltered, the CIA’s secret memorandum warned, and “the Jews will be able to hold out no longer than two years.”

Several months later, David Ben-Gurion was about to declare the establishment of the State of Israel. Seated among the dozen or so men who would determine the fate of the state-to-be, he famously turned to one of his top military commanders, Yigael Yadin, and asked him if he thought a new Jewish state would survive the military onslaught that the Arabs would inevitably launch. Yadin, who would later serve as chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Forces, replied that he thought the Jewish state would have a 50-50 chance.

Today, those bleak assessments feel like ancient history. As the modern Israeli state celebrates 70 years, the prevailing sentiment is one of extraordinary accomplishment. American Jewish leaders were incensed in 1948 when Ben-Gurion came to the U.S. and spoke about the fledgling state as the new center of the Jewish world; today, that status is nowhere in doubt.

In 1948, there were some 650,000 Jews in Israel, who represented about 5 percent of the world’s Jews. Today, Israel’s Jewish population has grown ten-fold and stands at about 6.8 million people. Some 43 percent of the world’s Jews live in Israel; this population overtook American Jews several years ago and is now the world’s largest Jewish community. Israel’s birthrate, even among secular Jews, is higher than that of any other OECD country, and significantly higher than that of American Jews (who now account for some 34 percent of Jews worldwide).

Beyond mere survival, the other challenge that the young Jewish state faced was feeding and housing the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were flocking to its borders. At times, financial collapse seemed imminent. Food was rationed and black markets developed. Israel had virtually no heavy machinery for building the infrastructure that it desperately needed. Until Germany paid Holocaust reparations, the young state’s financial condition was perilous.

Today, that worry also feels like a relic from another time. Israel is not only a significant military power (and in the region, a superpower) but also a formidable economic machine. A worldwide center for technology that has more companies listed on the Nasdaq than any country other than the U.S., Israel’s economy barely hiccupped in 2008. The shekel, its currency, is strong. Like other countries, Israel has a worrisome income gap between rich and poor, but fears of an economic collapse have vanished.

Israel has become an important cultural center, vastly disproportionately for a country whose population approximates that of New York City. When the five finalists for the Man Booker literary prize were announced last year, two were Israelis who write in Hebrew: David Grossman and Amos Oz. Grossman won. Ever since S.Y. Agnon received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1966, the Israeli literary scene has been punching far above its weight.

When the state was founded, Ben-Gurion sought to block television altogether; he thought it would have a deleterious impact on Israeli education and culture. He failed in that attempt, but for decades, Israel had but one television channel. Today, Americans and Europeans alike wait hungrily for new episodes of Israeli shows like “Fauda,” while others (like “Homeland” and “The A Word”) have been remade into American and British series.

On the occasion of Independence Day, Israelis are fully conscious — and deeply proud — of the fact that their country has exceeded the ambitions of the men and women who founded it seven decades ago.

Yet some of the initial worries and troubles of those early years persist. Militarily, the looming enemy is not the Palestinians (with whom peace remains utterly elusive), but Iran. The Israeli military is bracing for a possible Iranian missile or drone attack. International support for Israel remains a concern: In 1948, many American Jews were deeply conflicted about the creation of a Jewish state. Solidarity eventually grew — but today the relationship has become increasingly fraught.

And Israelis got a stark reminder this week that some of the social ills that have long plagued the country persist. Several days ago, Haaretz, Israel’s “paper of record,” asked its writers which Israeli song they most despise. When one replied that he hates the national anthem, a furious Twitter discussion ensued. At one point, a woman annoyed at having her focus on security dismissed by the Haaretz editors, tweeted, “It’s thanks to my ideology that you live like a king in this country and can write and distribute your absurd newspaper with no impediments.” Amos Schocken, Haaretz’s editor and the son of its previous editor, retorted (in a tweet he subsequently deleted): “You insolent woman. My family was leading Zionism when you were still climbing on trees. Haaretz has been in the Schocken family for 83 years; we did fine without your ideology and will continue to.”

Seventy years after its founding, Israel’s once-ruling Labor party has virtually no political influence. There are many reasons for that, but its reputation as an elitist, out-of-touch clan of European intellectuals is prime among them. Neither the Haaretz crowd nor the Israeli non-European majority is likely to alter its views of the other. Despite the many questions surrounding the Jewish state as it enters its eighth decade, what seems almost certain is that it will be not Ben-Gurion’s founding Labor party but the once marginal and now powerful political right that will rule this still young and fascinating nation for the foreseeable future.

Bloomberg News.

Daniel Gordis is senior vice president and Koret distinguished fellow at Shalem College in Jerusalem. Author of 11 books, his latest is Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn.

Chemical weapons team kept from reaching alleged Syria attack site

Middle East, Politics, Power, SYRIA

AFP and AP

© Hasan Mohamed, AFP | A child runs along a street in front of clouds of smoke billowing following a reported air strike on Douma, the main town of Syria’s rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta on March 20, 2018.

Text by FRANCE 24 

Latest update : 2018-04-16

Independent investigators were prevented by Syrian and Russian authorities Monday from reaching the scene of an alleged chemical attack near the Syrian capital, an official said.

The incident comes days after the USFrance and Britain bombarded sites they said were linked to Syria’s chemical weapons program.

The lack of access to the town of Douma by inspectors from the watchdog group, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, has left questions about the April 7 attack unanswered.

OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu said Syrian and Russian officials cited “pending security issues” in keeping its inspectors from reaching Douma.

“The team has not yet deployed to Douma,” two days after arriving in Syria, Uzumcu told an executive council of the OPCW in The Hague.

Syrian authorities were offering 22 people to interview as witnesses instead, he said, adding that he hoped “all necessary arrangements will be made … to allow the team to deploy to Douma as soon as possible”.

Heather Nauert


Chemical weapons were used on Syrian men, women, and children in . Reports that  weapons inspectors require special @UN passes are completely false.  and  need to stop the disinformation and allow unfettered access to the attack sites.