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Obama: My duty is to America, with or without Israel ‘friction’

US president: Iran deal permanently prohibits nukes; Iran nuclear deal ‘as pro-Israel as it gets,’ says John Kerry

  • In this Aug. 4, 2015, file photo, President Barack Obama speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
    In this Aug. 4, 2015, file photo, President Barack Obama speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
  • US Secretary of State John Kerry holds up Joseph Kennedy's cane, which has been used by John F. Kennedy and Ted Kennedy, while talking about his broken leg at the Putra World Trade Center in Kuala Lumpur, August 5, 2015.  (AFP/POOL/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI)
    US Secretary of State John Kerry holds up Joseph Kennedy's cane, which has been used by John F. Kennedy and Ted Kennedy, while talking about his broken leg at the Putra World Trade Center in Kuala Lumpur, August 5, 2015. (AFP/POOL/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI)
  • Drawings found inside the Second Temple period mikveh recently discovered in Jerusalem, announced by the Israel Antiquities Authority on August 5, 2015. (Shai Halevy, IAA)
    Drawings found inside the Second Temple period mikveh recently discovered in Jerusalem, announced by the Israel Antiquities Authority on August 5, 2015. (Shai Halevy, IAA)
  • Meir Ettinger, the alleged head of a Jewish extremist group, at the Magistrate's Court in Nazareth Illit on August 4, 2015, a day after his arrest. (AFP/Jack Guez)
    Meir Ettinger, the alleged head of a Jewish extremist group, at the Magistrate's Court in Nazareth Illit on August 4, 2015, a day after his arrest. (AFP/Jack Guez)
  • Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, center, with Finance Ministry director general Shai Babad, right, and ministry budget head Amir Levi as they present the proposal for the state budget for 2015 in Jerusalem, August 2, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, center, with Finance Ministry director general Shai Babad, right, and ministry budget head Amir Levi as they present the proposal for the state budget for 2015 in Jerusalem, August 2, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • President Reuven RIvlin speaks at an anti-violence and anti-homophobia ralliy attended by thousands in Jerusalem on August 1, 2015 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    President Reuven RIvlin speaks at an anti-violence and anti-homophobia ralliy attended by thousands in Jerusalem on August 1, 2015 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged events as they unfolded Wednesday.

PM chastises ministers as cabinet budget battle rages

Facing demands from ultra-Orthodox parties, labor groups, various ministries and the army for higher budgets in the 2015-16 state budget now being negotiated in the cabinet, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday delivers a biting speech before cabinet ministers on the importance of fiscal “responsibility” and economic growth.

“The budget we’re bringing today to the government…is balanced and responsible. This is a budget intended first of all to sustain the economy’s growth.”

At Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, convened to discuss the Treasury’s proposed 2015-16 budget, ministers focus on the gap between the army’s asked-for annual budget, which was over NIS 60 billion, and the Treasury’s proposal for a budget closer to NIS 53 billion.

The cabinet also debates the disagreement between Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Economy Minister Aryeh Deri, whose Shas party ran on an election promise of rescinding the 18% value added tax on some basic grocery goods. The Treasury opposes the tax cut on the grounds that it cuts the tax for all income brackets, disproportionately favoring the wealthy over the poor.

In his comments at the meeting, Netanyahu criticizes “the whole discussion that talks about the division of the pie without talking about growing the pie…. Dividing up the pie is important, but it’s much less important than growing the pie.”

That means, according to the prime minister, “that the level of taxation will remain low, or at least won’t grow, because we know that money that reaches the citizens, their pockets, they will use it far better than if it stayed in the hands of bureaucrats.”

He calls for a target of 4% annual growth, which he said would come from reforms favoring competition in various industries, increased trade with developing economies like China, and an investment in cutting edge technological fields.

The budget and the accompanying Arrangements Bill include reforms that would increase competition in the food, transportation and health industries, and will allow “every family to save as a result of these changes hundreds of shekels each month,” the prime minister says.

Minister wouldn’t join rally that ‘recognizes’ gays

Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel says he wouldn’t join a rally in protest of last Friday’s stabbing attack at Jerusalem’s Gay Pride Parade “because it requires a kind of recognition of them as a group, as a community, as people demanding to be recognized by Israeli legislation.”

Speaking to the Galey Israel radio station Wednesday, he explains: “Our state is a Jewish democratic state. It has its rules, and being Jewish is, among other things, about having, especially in the Israeli Jewish public space in the holy land, certain rules that do not include this issue of this community. That doesn’t give permission to anyone to hurt them in any way, certainly not to raise a hand but also not to curse or other things.”

Ariel also blasts Israeli media’s handling of the killing last week of Palestinian infant Ali Saad Dawabsha.

“People who have a microphone, and their sharp rhetoric, apparently couldn’t contain themselves…. They couldn’t help attacking this community [West Bank settlers]” for the crime, he says.

Israel’s security services believe the early Friday firebombing of the Dawabsha house, which left Ali dead and his brother and two parents in critical condition in Israeli hospitals, was committed by Jewish extremist terrorists who are part of the “price tag” movement. No arrests have yet been made, but the security cabinet on Sunday approved detention without trial for suspects in the case under special anti-terror laws.

Barcelona plane fails to arrive, stranding vacationers

Israeli vacationers headed to Barcelona have been stuck since the early morning in Ben Gurion Airport after an Air Europe flight failed to arrive in Israel early Wednesday.

The flight, which took off from Barcelona last night, made an emergency landing in a small Italian airfield after a female passenger reportedly became ill. When the plane attempted to take off to resume its flight to Tel Aviv, authorities discovered the runway was too short.

Nearly 200 Israelis are reportedly still waiting at Ben Gurion to board the same plane back to Barcelona. They expected to take off at 6 a.m., but were told the flight was delayed by four hours, then by six. The Air Europe plane is now slated to land in Israel at 4 p.m., according to Israel Radio.

Under Israeli law, airlines are required to give passengers a meal after they are delayed four hours, and to offer a full refund of their tickets after six. Passengers waiting in Ben Gurion have not seen a representative of Air Europe, and did not receive any offers of compensation, according to passengers who spoke with Israel Radio.

Iran deal ‘as pro-Israel as it gets,’ insists Kerry

In an interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, US Secretary of State John Kerry defends the nuclear accord between world powers and Iran, suggests it could help stabilize the Middle East and insists it helps bolster Israel’s security.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif “specifically said to me in the last two weeks, ‘If we get this finished, I am now empowered to work with and talk to you about regional issues,’” Kerry tells Goldberg.

A Congressional dismantling of the US role in the deal “will shut that down, shut off that conversation, set this back, and set in motion a series of inevitables about what would happen with respect to Iranian behavior, and, by the way, the sanctions will be over.”

Secretary of State John Kerry testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 28, 2015, before the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the Iran Nuclear Agreement. (Andrew Harnik/AP Photo)

Secretary of State John Kerry testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 28, 2015, before the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the Iran Nuclear Agreement. (Andrew Harnik/AP Photo)

Asked about Israeli fears and rejection of the accord, Kerry says: “I’ve gone through this backwards and forwards a hundred times and I’m telling you, this deal is as pro-Israel, as pro-Israel’s security, as it gets. And I believe that just saying no to this is, in fact, reckless.”

Asked if the Iranians seek to destroy Israel, Kerry acknowledges “they have a fundamental ideological confrontation with Israel at this particular moment. Whether or not that translates into active steps to, quote, ‘wipe it [off the map],’ quote…. I don’t know the answer to that. I haven’t seen anything that says to me—they’ve got 80,000 rockets in Hezbollah pointed at Israel, and any number of choices could have been made. They didn’t make the bomb when they had enough material for 10 to 12. They’ve signed on to an agreement where they say they’ll never try and make one and we have a mechanism in place where we can prove that. So I don’t want to get locked into that debate. I think it’s a waste of time here.”

Israeli dad accuses South African wife of ‘abducting’ kids

An Israeli father of three petitions the Port Elizabeth High Court in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, to force his wife to return his three daughters to Israel.

The couple has been married nine years, according to South Africa’s The Herald newspaper. They were vacationing in South Africa late last month when the wife, a native South African who converted to Judaism and obtained Israeli citizenship when the two married, surprised her husband with a demand for divorce, backed by a sherrif, while they were at a shopping mall in Port Elizabeth.

She refuses to allow her daughters, aged three, five and eight, to return with him to their home in Ashkelon, citing the conflicts with Gaza in recent years.

Israel’s deputy state attorney in the Justice Ministry’s Department of International Affairs, Galit Greenberg, has filed papers in support of the husband’s case with the South African court, noting that similar divorce-related abductions of children on the basis of the security situation in Israel have been rejected by courts in multiple nations.

Rabbi, 3 others hurt in Swiss bridge collapse

Four people are said to be wounded, though none seriously, after a wooden bridge collapses at a kosher hotel in Switzerland.

According to the Haredi website Kikar Hashabat, Zurich rabbi Hirsch Padwa was among the injured in the Tuesday night accident at Levin’s Hotel Metropol in Arosa. Two people remain hospitalized, according to UK’s Jewish Chronicle newspaper.

Defense needs won’t be sidelined, Kahlon vows

The defense budget won’t be marginalized in the 2015-16 budget, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon promises in Wednesday’s cabinet meeting.

“Defense is precious, as is the army,” Kahlon says. “We will offer help and support so that no one has the impression that defense is sidelined. We must balance between the needs of society and defense, and I believe that together with the prime minister, the defense minister, the cabinet ministers and Treasury officials we will find a solution.”

The Defense Ministry is asking for some NIS 60 billion in annual budget for 2015 and 2016, while Treasury officials are fighting to keep the defense budget closer to NIS 53 billion, insisting that the army and Defense Ministry carry out dramatic steps to increase efficiency, especially through cutting manpower and benefits for officers.

Gay parade attacker sent to psych evaluation

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court orders Yishai Schlissel, arrested for the stabbing attack at last week’s Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade that killed 16-year-old Shira Banki and injured five others, to undergo psychiatric evaluation.

Schlissel carried out a similar stabbing attack at the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade in 2005. He finished serving his ten-year prison sentence for that attack last month, just three weeks before allegedly carrying out Friday’s attack.

A Prisons Service psychiatrist deemed Schlissel fit for incarceration early this week. The new evaluation will determine if he is fit to stand trial.

1st Israeli jailed under anti-terror detention rules

Mordechai Meyer, suspected of “price tag” terror attacks in recent months, is the first Israeli arrested after the security cabinet passed new anti-terror rules against suspected Israeli terrorists earlier this week.

Meyer, 18, from the West Bank city of Maaleh Adumim, is being held for six months in “administrative detention” for “his involvement in violent activities and recent terror attacks,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s office says in a statement.

Meyer is believed to have been involved in the June arson attack on the Church of the Multiplication on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

The new detention measures allow the indefinite holding of suspects without trial, subject to the approval of the attorney general. Suspects can appeal to the High Court of Justice, which can review the state’s evidence against them but does not conduct full trials for the detainees.

The measure has been used against suspected Palestinian terrorists, but has only rarely been applied to Israeli citizens.

The use of the measure against Israelis was approved after an escalating bout of terror attacks believed to have been conducted by extremist Jews as part of the “price tag” campaign, including last Friday’s firebombing of a Palestinian home in the West Bank village of Duma that left one infant dead and three of his family members in serious condition.

— AP contributed

European army buys Israeli communication technology

Israeli defense contractor Elbit Systems says it has won a $45 million contract with an unnamed European military to supply a sophisticated communications system.

According to the Globes business journal, the two-year contract covers mobile military communications technologies at all levels of deployment, from individual soldiers to division commands.

Israeli group fights release of US-held Iran funds

An Israel-based rights group launches a lawsuit seeking to block the release of $100 billion in frozen Iranian assets in the United States following the US-led nuclear deal with Tehran.

The Shurat HaDin Law Center says it’s acting on behalf of two dozen US citizens who won more than a billion dollars in judgments again Iran in American courts but who were never paid.

The center says it filed the injunction Wednesday at a New York district court.

The Americans were victims of attacks perpetrated from 1995 to 2006 by Iran-backed terror groups like the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

The center says releasing frozen Iranian funds under the nuclear deal would deprive the Americans of the only leverage they have to make Iran pay.

— AP

Deal may legitimize Iran’s policies – Rivlin

Israel fears the nuclear agreement with Iran “is a first step in the legitimization of Iran’s policies and strategies, and only acts to further destabilize a chaotic region,” President Reuven Rivlin tells a visiting delegation of Democratic lawmakers from the United States.

“Along with Israelis on all sides of the political spectrum; I am deeply concerned about the recent nuclear deal signed with Iran. The current Iranian regime acts with a dangerous combination of aggressiveness, fundamentalism and state-sponsored terrorism – threatening, even without nuclear weapons, freedom and democracy in this region and around the world.”

The delegation was arranged by AIPAC, which is advocating against the White House-backed deal.

The visit was a message of unity even as the Israeli and American governments disagree vehemently over Obama’s Iran policy, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) says at the meeting.

“We think it is critical now more than ever to let it be known by those who would undermine democracies, those that would undermine free peoples, that we are united and not divided,” says Hoyer.

Rivlin tells the lawmakers that the current disagreements won’t change the US-Israel alliance.

“We must not be alarmed by disagreements when they come up. Whatever Congress decides, it will be your decision as representatives of the American people. We, as your allies and partners, must make sure that whatever the result of this vote, our strategic alliance stands, and grows even stronger.”

Syrian troops, Hezbollah advance on Lebanon border

BEIRUT — Syrian state media says government forces backed by members of Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah group are advancing from different directions in the mountain resort of Zabadani near the border with Lebanon.

The ultraconservative Ahrar a-Sham insurgent group says Wednesday that it has stopped communicating with Iranian mediators after they insisted that fighters and residents leave the resort.

Ahrar al-Sham says the government aims to clear out the area’s Sunni Muslim population.

Syrian troops and Hezbollah have been besieging Zabadani since early July, and have faced strong resistance from gunmen inside the resort.

The capture of Zabadani would tighten Hezbollah’s grip on Syrian territories bordering Lebanon.

— AP

Jerusalem mayor pledges to build new housing

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat slams government plans to build housing in forested areas of West Jerusalem, and promises to build “20 times” more housing units than currently planned.

“We won’t allow building plans in West Jerusalem to be revived that will harm this city and the interests of Jerusalem’s residents,” Barkat says.

“We will build tens of thousands of new housing units within the city…. We will build 20 times what is being planned in the controversial places, in order to retain more young people without hurting the city or its green spaces.”

In speech, Obama to link Iran vote to Iraq war

WASHINGTON — uS President Barack Obama is depicting a looming congressional vote on the Iran nuclear deal as the nation’s most consequential foreign policy debate since the authorization of the Iraq war, a now unpopular decision that still reverberates through American politics.

In a bid to discredit criticism of the deal, Obama will also argue in a speech Wednesday at American University in Washington that the politicians who supported the Iraq war now oppose the diplomatic deal with Iran.

The address is part of an intense summer lobbying campaign by both supporters and opponents of the nuclear deal. Congressional lawmakers will vote next month on a resolution either approving or disapproving of the pact.

In this Aug. 4, 2015, file photo, President Barack Obama speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

In this Aug. 4, 2015, file photo, President Barack Obama speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

While Obama was an early opponent of the Iraq war, several of his top foreign policy advisers voted for the 2002 authorization, including Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. They now say the war was a mistake.

The backdrop for Obama’s speech is meant to link the nuclear accord to a long tradition of American diplomacy, often conducted with unfriendly nations. He will speak at the same university where President John F. Kennedy made a famous call for Cold War diplomacy and nuclear disarmament. Obama’s address also coincides with the anniversary of the nuclear test ban treaty, the landmark 1963 agreement Kennedy and leaders from the Soviet Union and Britain finalized shortly after the president’s well-known speech.

2,000-year-old bath unearthed at Jerusalem kindergarten

Excavation work for a new kindergarten in Jerusalem unearths an almost-intact, 2,000-year-old Jewish ritual bath bearing extraordinary inscriptions, the Israel Antiquities Authority announces Wednesday.

The ritual bath, or mikveh, was discovered two months ago by IAA officials during a routine archaeological inspection of the construction site in the capital’s southern neighborhood of Arnona. Jerusalem IAA manager Amit Reem says his workers discovered the underground cave leading to the mikveh at the very end of the final day of archaeological inspections of the work site before construction could get underway.

The entrance to a Second Temple-period mikveh recently discovered in Jerusalem and announced by the Israel Antiquities Authority on August 5, 2015 (Shai Halevy, IAA)

The entrance to a Second Temple-period mikveh recently discovered in Jerusalem and announced by the Israel Antiquities Authority on August 5, 2015 (Shai Halevy, IAA)

The well-preserved find was hailed by archaeologists.

“There is no doubt that this is a very significant discovery. Such a concentration of inscriptions and symbols from the Second Temple period at one archaeological site, and in such a state of preservation, is rare and unique and most intriguing,” excavation directors Royee Greenwald and Alexander Wiegmann says in a joint statement.

The Second Temple-period mikveh was exposed inside an underground cave, along with an anteroom, flanked by benches on either side. A nearby wine press was also excavated.

– Tamar Pileggi

US likely to intervene in Palestinian terror case

WASHINGTON — The US government is moving closer to intervening in a high-stakes civil case over deadly Palestinian terror attacks as officials met Tuesday with victims’ families to discuss concerns over a jury verdict worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The meeting with representatives from the Justice and State departments comes amid objections from a lawyer for the plaintiffs, who says the United States was “considering putting a thumb on the scale” because the Palestinian government opposes the jury verdict.

“The Palestinians got a fair trial. The judgment was foreseeable, and they can afford to pay it over time,” attorney Kent Yalowitz says in an interview.

At issue is $218.5 million in damages awarded by a New York jury in February for attacks that killed 33 people and wounded hundreds more — a penalty that lawyers say would be automatically tripled under the US Anti-Terrorism Act, but that the State Department fears could weaken the stability of the Palestinian government.

The Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization, which were held liable for the bloodshed following dramatic testimony from survivors and victims’ relatives, have indicated that they are unable to pay the damages and won’t provide money while their appeal is pending.

State Department officials are concerned that monthly bond payments sought by the victims would put the cash-squeezed Palestinian Authority on shaky financial ground and weaken the group’s ability to govern. The Justice Department, at the urging of the State Department, is likely to file a statement of interest in the case soon that asserts the importance of victims’ rights but that also urges a judge to keep in mind potential economic and national security ramifications associated with the verdict, according to an official who was not authorized to discuss the matter by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.

— AP

Settlements leader appointed ambassador to Brazil

West Bank settlement activist Dani Dayan will be Israel’s next ambassador to Brazil, the Prime Minister’s Office says Wednesday.

Israel hopes “to develop trade ties with international markets in South America, with an emphasis on Brazil,” a PMO statement says, noting that Brazil has “the seventh-largest economy in the world.”

Dayan is a former head of the Yesha Council settlement advocacy group and a long-time supporter of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He was born in Argentina in 1955, immigrating to Israel with his family in 1971, at the age of 15.

Algerian soccer player wears photo of murdered Palestinian baby

Algerian soccer player Baghdad Bounedjah of the Etoile Sportive du Sahel soccer club in neighboring Tunisia celebrates a winning goal in a game by lifting his team shirt and revealing a photo onhis undershirt of murdered Palestinian toddler Ali Dawabsha.

The 18-month-old was killed Friday in a suspected terror attack by Jewish extremists who firebombed his family home in the West Bank village of Duma. His brother and parents were also seriously hurt in the attack.

Bounedjah scored the winning goal in the Tuesday night game’s 65th minute, after which he ran toward the crowd with his outer shirt held high and the photo of Dawabsha showing beside a Palestinian flag, according to the Palestinian news agency Ma’an.

Obama set to address Iran deal in university speech

In the coming minutes, President Barack Obama is set to take the stage at American University in Washington, DC, for a speech the White House says will address the Iran nuclear deal.

In the address, the president will frame Congress’s polarizing debate over the deal as “the most consequential” since lawmakers in 2002 backed George W. Bush’s drive to war, according to a White House official.

Obama has long argued that vote represented a grave mistake that pushed the United States into eight blood-soaked years of unnecessary conflict.

“He will point out that the same people who supported war in Iraq are opposing diplomacy with Iran, and that it would be an historic mistake to squander this opportunity,” the official said, according to AFP.

The Kennedy speech that Obama hopes to echo

AFP offers a look at what President Barack Obama may try to do in his imminent (now 27 minutes delayed) speech at American University.

“In 1963 US President John F. Kennedy traveled the short distance from the White House to American University to muster support for diplomatic engagement with nuclear foe the Soviet Union,” writes the wire service’s Andrew Beatty:

On Wednesday, at the same spot, President Barack Obama will echo Kennedy’s entreaty, arguing for a nuclear deal with Iran — a country described by his predecessor as part of an “axis of evil.”

Kennedy began his speech by addressing the prevailing notion that military might was the most effective way of dampening the Soviet nuclear threat.

Urging Americans to examine their own attitudes, he insisted peace was a better, if more arduous, path than “total war.”

“What kind of peace do I mean? What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave,” he said, in remarks just months before his assassination shocked America and the world.

“I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children — not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women — not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.”

The vehicle for achieving peace, Kennedy said, was a “gradual evolution in human institutions.”

Kennedy said the starting point was two very concrete steps: A direct hot line between Moscow and Washington and talks toward a comprehensive test ban treaty.

At the same time Kennedy also promised not to hurt existing alliances in the pursuit of peace. “The United States will make no deal with the Soviet Union at the expense of other nations and other peoples,” Kennedy said.

That, like much of the rest of the speech, may resonate well with Obama as he faces bitter Israeli opposition to his Iran deal.

Plenty of Israelis in Obama speech audience

A good chunk of the reporters waiting for President Barack Obama’s Iran speech at American University in Washington are Israeli.

A 12-strong delegation from the Israel Diplomatic Correspondents Association is currently in town for meetings with senior administration officials and lawmakers.

The president is already almost a half hour late, leading the Israeli journalists to joke that they finally discovered something Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have in common: making journalists wait.

— Raphael Ahren

Obama: Iran deal permanently prohibits nukes

Obama: “We’ve achieved an agreement that permanently prohibits an Iranian nuclear weapon, cuts off all Iranian pathways to a bomb.”

“As was true with previous treaties, it does not resolve all problems, certainly not all the problems with Iran. It does not result in a warming between our two countries. But it achieves one of our most critical security objectives. It is a good deal.”

Obama ties Iran deal opponents to Iraq war

Obama: “You’re going to hear a lot of ads against this deal, backed by tens of millions of dollars in advertising. If the rhetoric sounds familiar, it should, for many of the people campaigning for the war in Iraq” now oppose the deal.

“Of course, those calling for war label themselves strong and decisive while dismissing those who disagreed as weak, even appeasers.”

“More than a decade later we still live with the consequences of the decision to invade Iraq. Our troops achieved every mission they were given. But thousands of lives were lost, tens of thousands ruined. That doesn’t count the lives lost among Iraqis. Nearly a trillion dollars were spent.”

“Ironically, the single greatest beneficiary in the region of that war was the Islamic Republic of Iran, which saw its strategic position strengthened by the removal of its adversary Saddam Hussein.”

400 migrants saved from wreck off Libya, 25 bodies found

ROME — Italian Coast Guard commander Filippo Marini says 400 migrants have been saved from a shipwreck off the coast of Libya and 25 bodies have been recovered so far.

Marini says the rescue operation is still ongoing, involving seven ships.

He says survivors have indicated that between 400 and 600 people were on board the ship when it capsized today.

— AP

1 in 4 Romanians want no Jews in Romania

Nearly a quarter of Romanian respondents on a survey on Jews said their country should have no Jewish residents.

The results of the survey among 1,000 Romanian adults were published last week by the Elie Wiesel National Institute for Holocaust Studies in Romania, which commissioned the Centre for Opinion and Market Studies to conduct the poll in June.

Eleven percent described Jews as “a problem for Romania” and 22% said they would like them only as tourists. Media reports about the poll did not specify its margin of error.

Romania had a Jewish population of over 750,000 before its pro-Nazi regime, led by Ion Antonescu, collaborated in the murder of about half of Romanian Jewry in the Holocaust. Antonescu’s troops also massacred 120,000 Jews in present-day Ukraine.

Nearly three-quarters of respondents indicated they had heard of the Holocaust — a 12 percent increase over a similar poll conducted in 2007 — but only a third of those respondents who knew about the Holocaust believe it happened in their country. Only 19% of respondents who were aware of the Holocaust and said it occurred in Romania said Antonescu’s government was responsible. Some 54% of survey respondents called Antonescu “a patriot.”

Romanians who survived the Holocaust mostly left for Israel and now Romania has only a few thousand Jews, mostly living in Bucharest.


Obama: It’s not about whether to prevent an Iran nuke, but how

Obama: “The question is not whether to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, but how. Even before taking office, I made clear that Iran would not be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon on my watch. But I’ve also made clear my preference for a peaceful diplomatic resolution of the issue. Not just because of the costs of war, but because a negotiated agreement offered a more effective, durable resolution.”

Obama: Diplomacy, not saber-rattling got int’l sanctions on Iran

Obama: “We secured international participation in an unprecedented framework of international sanctions. Unilateral US sanctions had been in pace for decades but failed to force Iran to the table.”

America’s new approach enabled massive international sanctions, including China, India, and European allies who imposed a total oil embargo, Obama says.

“Winning this global buy-in wasn’t easy. I know. I was there. But we were able to convince [allies] that absent a diplomatic solution the alternative was war. In other words, it was diplomacy, hard diplomacy, not saber-rattling, not tough talk, that ratcheted up the pressure on Iran.”

Obama: Under deal, Iran will never build a nuke

Obama: “In July, we reached a comprehensive plan of action that meets our objectives. Under its terms Iran is never allowed to build a nuclear weapon. The agreement strictly defines the manner in which [Iran’s] nuclear program proceeds, ensuring all paths to a nuclear weapon are cut off.”

Obama: Inspectors will have 24/7 monitoring of nuke facilities

Obama: “There will be 24/7 monitoring of Iran’s key nuclear facilities.”

“For decades inspectors will have access to the entire uranium supply chain.”

“For Iran to cheat, it has to build a lot more than just one building or covert facility. It would need a secret source for every single aspect of its program. No nation has ever been able to [carry out] such subterfuge.”

Obama: Iran has powerful incentives to abide by deal

Obama: “Iran has powerful incentives to meet its commitments. If Iran violates the agreement over the next decade, all of the sanctions can snap back into place.”

“If Iran abides by the deal and its economy integrates back into the world, the incentive to avoid snap back will only grow.”

Obama: Israel is the only gov’t publicly opposed to deal

Obama: “This is the strongest nonproliferation agreement ever negotiated. And because it’s such a strong deal, every nation in the world that has commented publicly, with the exception of the Israeli government, has expressed support.”

“The UN Security Council has unanimously supported it. Over 100 former ambassadors who served under Democratic and Republican presidents have supported it.”

“I’ve had to make a lot of tough calls as president. But whether or not this deal is good for American security, this isn’t a hard one, it isn’t even close.”

Obama: Partisanship drives criticism of nuclear deal

Obama responds to criticism of mechanisms that give Iran 24 days to oppose inspections: “Inspectors will be allowed daily access to Iran’s nuclear sites. If there’s a reason to inspect a suspicious site anywhere in Iran, inspectors will get access, even if Iran objects.”

And he slams partisanship on the other side of the debate: “Before the ink was even dry on this deal, before Congress even read it, a majority of Republicans declared their virulent opposition. Lobbyists and pundits were suddenly transformed into nuclear experts.”

And in a gentle hint at Netanyahu’s criticism: “By killing this deal, Congress would not merely pave Iran’s pathway to a bomb, it will accelerate it.”

Obama: We have no illusions about Iran’s support for terror

Obama: “We have no illusions about the Iranian government or the significance of the Revolutionary Guards, the Quds Force. Iran supports terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, [supports] groups including those that have killed our troops in Iraq.”

“But they engaged in these activities for decades. Before sanctions, and while sanctions were in place. They even engaged in them during the Iran-Iraq War, which cost them a million lives. The truth is Iran has always found a way to fund these efforts.”

“Whatever benefit they may gain by sanctions relief, it pales in comparison than what it could do with a nuclear weapon.”

Obama: Iran much weaker than Gulf states, Israel

Obama: “Iran’s defense budget is eight times smaller than the combined Gulf allies. Its military will never compare to Israel’s, and our commitment to Israel’s qualitative military edge will guarantee that.”

Obama: Better deal simply not available, world won’t cooperate

Obama rejects the criticism that there was a “better deal” available.

On suggestion that Iran might dismantle all nuclear infrastructure: “Neither Iran’s government or opposition or people will agree to what they will view as a total surrender of their sovereignty.”

“Moreover, our closest allies in Europe or Asia, much less China or Russia, are not going to agree to enforce existing sanctions for another 5, 10, 15 years according to the dictates of US Congress.”

“The willingness to enforce sanctions in the first place was based on Iran agreeing not to build nuclear weapons, not to prevent peaceful nuclear power. Certainly not for regime change in Iran.”

“If we tried to maintain unilateral sanctions, we’d be standing alone. To sanction Iran, we’d have to cut off countries like China from our financial system.”

Obama: Alternative to deal is war — ineffective war

Obama: “Does anyone doubt those campaigning against this deal will be demanding that whoever is president bomb those nuclear facilities?”

“We will have rejected alternatives to [military action], once we reject a hard-won diplomatic solution that the world almost unanimously supports.”

“And here’s the irony: military action will be far less effective than this deal in preventing Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon. Every estimate, including those from Israeli analysts, say military action will set back the nuclear deal a few years at best.”

“It will likely guarantee inspectors will be kicked out of Iran. Probably it will drive Iran’s program deeper underground. Certainly it will destroy international unity we’ve spent years building.”

Obama: We’ve learned that war in Mideast isn’t simple

Obama: “There are opponents who accept the price of war. They argue surgical strikes will be quick and painless.”

“If we’ve learned anything from the last decade, it’s that wars in general, and in the Middle East in particular, are anything but simple. The only certainty in war is human suffering. Uncertain costs, unintended consequences. We can be sure that the Americans who bear the heaviest burden are the one percent of us who” serve in the military, “not those of us sending them to war.”

“I’ve ordered military action in seven countries. There are times that force is necessary. If Iran doesn’t abide by this deal, it’s possible that we have no alternative. But how in good conscience can we justify war before we have exhausted all other options? To our troops? To our children?”

Obama: Israel is right to be skeptical on Iran

While opposition is partisan, says Obama, “I do think it’s important to acknowledge another motive: a sincere affinity to our friend and ally Israel, an affinity that I deeply share.”

“When the Israeli government is opposed to something, people in the United States take notice. And they should. No one can blame the Israelis for having deep skepticism over any dealings with Iran, which includes leaders who deny the Holocaust, [deal in] anti-Semitism, put rockets [in Lebanon] aimed at Israel.”

“In such a dangerous region, Israel must remain vigilant, insist that it cannot rely on any other country, even its great friend the United States.”

“We have to take these concerns seriously. But the fact is, partly due to US aid, Israel can defend itself from any conventional threat of Iran or its proxies. On the central goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, this deal does that.”

Obama: Iranian hardliners don’t represent all Iranians

Obama: “Just because hardliners chant death to America doesn’t mean that’s what all Iranians believe. Those hardliners have been opposed to the deal. They’re making common cause with the Republican caucus.”

“The majority of the Iranian people have powerful incentives to urge their government to move in another direction. We should offer them that chance, that opportunity.”

“It’s not guaranteed it will succeed. But if they take it, it will be good for Iran, for the United States, for a region that has known too much war.”

Obama: Netanyahu is sincere, but wrong

Obama speaks to the Israeli people: “But I’ve also listened to the Israeli security establishment that has warned of the danger posed by a nuclear-armed Iran for decades.”

“To friends of Israel, and to the Israeli people, I say this: A nuclear-armed Iran is far more dangerous to Israel, to America and to the world than an Iran that benefits from sanctions relief.”

“I recognize that Prime Minister Netanyahu disagrees strongly. I do not doubt his sincerity, but I believe he is wrong. I believe the facts support this deal. I believe they are in Israel’s interest.”

Obama: My duty is to America, not Israel

In a brief, startling line, Obama’s rhetoric turns harder, hinting at issues of loyalty often raised in this debate.

“As president of the United States, it would be an abrogation of my constitutional duty” to fail to pursue a policy good for America “simply because it causes friction with a friend and ally.”

Obama: If Congress kills deal, we lose America’s international credibility

Obama: “The deal before us doesn’t bet on Iran changing, doesn’t require trust, it verifies and requires Iran to forsake a nuclear weapon.”

“If Congress kills this deal, we’ll lose more than constraints on Iran’s nuclear program or the sanctions we have painstakingly built. We will lose something more precious, America’s credibility as the leader in diplomacy, America’s credibility as the anchor of the international system.”

Channel 2 questions Obama’s claim deal has universal support

Channel 2 Arab affairs analyst Ehud Yaari, live on Israeli prime-time news immediately after Obama’s Iran deal speech in Washington, offers a “small” correction to the US president.

In the speech, Obama said, “This is the strongest nonproliferation agreement ever negotiated. And because it’s such a strong deal, every nation in the world that has commented publicly, with the exception of the Israeli government, has expressed support.”

That doesn’t mean support is universal, says Yaari.

“Despite the anemic statements [Secretary of State John] Kerry managed to get out of the Saudis and others, Obama knows it isn’t just the Israeli ambassador or AIPAC” who oppose the deal, “but all the ambassadors [in Washington] from the Gulf states, and others [in the region].”

Iran says it will present Syria initiative to UN

BEIRUT — Iran will soon submit a four-point plan to end the Syrian civil war to the United Nations, its deputy foreign minister says Wednesday.

State-run news agency IRNA quotes Hossein Amir Abdollahian as saying the new initiative will be submitted to the UN chief after “detailed consultations between Tehran and Damascus.” Iran is a key ally of President Bashar Assad’s embattled government.

Abdollahian does not elaborate on the plan. But the comments come as Tehran hosts Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem and Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov this week to discuss possible ways to end the conflict in Syria, which has killed at least 250,000 people.

Abdollahian says most regional players now realize that there is no military solution to the Syria crisis and would like to find a political solution.

— AP

UK preacher charged for urging support for Islamic State

British radical preacher Anjem Choudary protests his innocence in court Wednesday when he appeared on charges of inviting support for the Islamic State jihadist group.

The 48-year-old, who is regularly interviewed by British media for his views on Islam and the Middle East, and a second man, Mohammed Mizanur Rahman, 32, appears at Westminster Magistrates Court in London charged with inviting support for the Islamic State group, a banned organisation, between June 29, 2014 and March 6, 2015.

It is alleged that they invited support for IS in individual lectures which were subsequently published online.

Choudary, a former lawyer who is representing himself in court, waves his case notes around during his speech in the dock.

Both men were arrested on September 25 last year.


84,000 petition to put ‘British Schindler’ on stamp

A campaign to immortalize on a stamp Sir Nicholas Winton, known as the “British Schindler,” has garnered nearly 84,000 signatures in an online petition.

The campaign was launched a week ago by the British website, and is backed by the Holocaust Educational Trust, the Association of Jewish Refugees and Sir Mick Davis, who chaired David Cameron’s Holocaust Commission, according to the website.

“He was rightly honored in his lifetime including with a knighthood from the Queen and a statue in his home town,” reads the petition, which had 83,977 signatures as of Wednesday evening. “But his name and the lesson that one person can make a difference even in the face of overwhelming evil, must live on.”

The petition has a goal of 150,000 signatures.

Among the signers are British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mervis, and lawmakers including Conservative ex-minister Eric Pickles and Gisela Stuart of the Labor Party.


Higher education budget cuts halved

As budget negotiations between ministers continue into Wednesday evening, the Treasury reaches an agreement on proposed cuts to Israel’s public universities.

In negotiations between Treasury officials, the Council for Higher Education and the National Union of Israeli Students, the government agrees to shrink its planned cut to the higher education budget by more than half, from NIS 263 million to some NIS 123 million, and to invest an additional NIS 120 million in student dorms and NIS 20 million for new university scholarships and community programming.

Police officer says he urged surveillance of gay parade attacker

A senior police officer says he urged Jerusalem Police’s Central Unit to put Gay Pride Parade attacker Yishai Schlissel under surveillance before the Friday march.

Schlissel stabbed six people at the march, killing 16-year-old Shira Banki, before he was wrestled to the ground by police.

Schlissel was released from prison last month after serving a ten-year sentence for a similar stabbing attack at the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade in 2005.

The officer says he asked police to track five other “exceptions” who might have reason to attack the parade, but that the Central Unit of the Jerusalem Police failed to carry out the recommendation.

Russia orders ditching of ‘Nazi’ books by UK historians

MOSCOW — Russian officials have ordered libraries to remove books by well-known British historians John Keegan and Antony Beevor, saying they promote Nazi-era stereotypes, a spokeswoman says Wednesday.

The move is part of a broader official push in Russia that is seeing school curricula and textbooks reshaped to cut out alleged foreign influences and provide a Kremlin-backed narrative of history.

The regional education ministry in Sverdlovsk, near the Ural Mountains, issued a decree telling school and university libraries to “check the availability of books” by the historians and “take measures to remove them from access by students and teaching staff.”

Both Keegan, who died in 2012, and Beevor are reputed military historians with a focus on World War II.

Beevor tells AFP that the ban is “quite ridiculous” and that the Russian government is “trying to control the history of the past” due to its current isolated geopolitical position.

“The Russians consider that 1945 is the greatest moment in their history, so they consider any criticism as an insult,” he adds.


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