Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.
Hezbollah fighters hold party flags during a parade in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon (AP/Hussein Malla/File)
On Sunday, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, arrived in Iran for talks on the nuclear agreement, as part of what appears to be an attempt by the UN nuclear watchdog to evaluate whether Iran ran a military nuclear program in the past.
Amano is expected to meet with various Iranian nuclear scientists for answers on this very subject. On December 15, ahead of the lifting of crippling economic sanctions on Tehran, he is slated to present the world with definitive answers that will determine whether Iran complied with the terms of a nuclear deal signed on July 15. But the Islamic Republic is not waiting for a green light from Amano or the international community, and is working under the assumption that the sanctions will be lifted.
Since the deal was signed, Iran has significantly increased its financial support for two of the largest terror groups in the region that have become political players, Hamas and Hezbollah. In the years before the deal was signed, the crippling sanctions limited this support, which had significantly diminished along with Iran’s economy. But Tehran’s belief that tens, or hundreds, of billions of dollars will flow into the country in the coming years as a result of sanctions relief has led to a decision to boost the cash flow to these terror organizations.
This support, for example, has enabled Hezbollah to obtain highly developed new armaments, including advanced technologies that many militaries around the world would envy. Al-Rai, a Kuwaiti newspaper, reported Saturday that Hezbollah has received all the advanced weaponry that Syria has obtained from the Russians. The report cited a security source involved in the fighting in Zabadani, on the Syria-Lebanon border, where Hezbollah is fighting the al-Nusra Front, the Islamic State, and other groups. It is evidently the growing Iranian financial support that is enabling the Lebanese Shiite militia to purchase advanced weapons, including ones that were hitherto outside of its reach.
The increased Iranian financial support for Hezbollah in the wake of the deal is not unrelated to other political developments in the region. The growing sense of security in Iran with regard to its political status has also been bolstered by a Russian decision to increase its involvement in Syria, and may be what drove Iran to send hundreds of members of its Revolutionary Guard Corps to play an active role in the Syria fighting. Iran, along with Hezbollah and Moscow, has decided to dispatch sizable forces to the Syrian front in the past few weeks to prevent the collapse of Bashar Assad’s regime.
The Shiite-Russia axis has been anxiously watching the Islamic State creep toward Damascus in recent months, and saw the territory controlled by Assad, an important ally, diminished to the coastal region of Latakia south of the capital. The Iranians and Russians grasped that not only was Damascus endangered, but also access to the Alawite regions, from Homs to Damascus — thus the urgency for intervention, including with troops on the ground.
Syrian President Bashar Assad speaking to Russian media outlets RT, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Channel 1, Russia 24, RIA Novosti and NTV channel, September 15, 2015. (Screenshot: RT)
The high morale and sense of security among the Iranians in the wake of the deal don’t stop with increased support of Hamas and Hezbollah. Today, Iran is the main, and likely only, power attempting to build terror cells to fight Israel on the Syrian Golan Heights, in areas under Assad’s control. This does not mean that the Syrian president is aware of these attempts or green-lighted them. But for Israel, that does not matter. Tehran is investing more effort and money after the nuclear deal to carry out attacks against Israel from the Golan, even under Assad’s nose.
As regards the Palestinians, in the past two months, Iran has sent suitcases of cash – literally – to Hamas’s military wing in Gaza. Not everyone is happy about this, including some Hamas officials. Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, who was always the man who controlled the money, has found himself outside the circle of Iranian funding over the summer. Tehran, which was none too pleased by his visit to Saudi Arabia and meeting with King Salman, decided to take revenge on him in an original way. It bypassed Mashaal and has handed over the suitcases, by way of couriers, directly to the leaders of the group’s military wing in the Gaza Strip.
The exiled head of Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, Khaled Mashaal, gestures during a press conference in the Qatari capital Doha, on September 7, 2015. (AFP/ AL-WATAN DOHA/KARIM JAAFAR)
The Hamas military leaders, for their part, are happy about two things: First, the money they are receiving during a difficult economic period in Gaza; second, the opportunity to weaken Mashaal and his cronies, who have been living in luxury in Qatar and dictating to Hamas in Gaza what to do and what not to do, who to get closer to (Saudi Arabia) and who to stay away from (Iran).