The Times of Israel liveblogged Tuesday’s events as they happened.
LONDON — Britain, France and Germany say they are triggering a dispute mechanism that is part of the nuclear deal with Iran over its failure to live up to terms of the pact.
The leaders of the three nations say in a statement today that they’ve been “left with no choice, given Iran’s actions, but to register today our concerns that Iran is not meeting its commitments.”
The group says it referring “this matter to the Joint Commission under the Dispute Resolution Mechanism, as set out” in the nuclear deal.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas says in a statement that the three European countries “could no longer leave the growing Iranian violations of the nuclear agreement unanswered.”
“Our goal is clear: we want to preserve the accord and come to a diplomatic solution within the agreement,” he adds. “We will tackle this together with all partners in the agreement. We call on Iran to participate constructively in the negotiation process that is now beginning.”
BERLIN — German police raided premises in four states early today on suspicions that Chechen Islamists were scouting locations for an attack, officials say.
Berlin prosecutors say the raids took place at nine locations in the German capital and the states of Brandenburg, North Rhine-Westphalia and Thuringia.
In a statement, prosecutors say the suspects, who are aged 23 to 28, are accused of “having scouted out locations for a possible later attack motivated by Islamism.”
“According to current information there was no concrete threat of an attack yet,” prosecutors add.
Authorities acted after discovering photographs on a suspect’s cellphone during a police check.
Some 180 officers were involved in today’s raids, during which police seized cash, knives and data storage devices.
BERLIN — German police say they are investigating after a man dressed as Adolf Hitler rode around a weekend festival in a motorcycle sidecar, although he provoked more amusement than outrage.
“When people dress up as Adolf Hitler, an investigation is always necessary,” a spokesman for Saxony police tells news agency DPA on Monday.
The fake Fuehrer appeared at a classic motorcycle gathering in Augustusburg, near Chemnitz, and was seen in videos of the event posted online.
He sported a toothbrush mustache and was seated in the sidecar of a motorcycle driven by a man dressed as a 1940s-era soldier, complete with a World War II-style helmet.
People are heard laughing as the pair pass by and a policeman guarding the event pulls out his phone with a smile to take photos.
Beim traditionellen Biker-Wintertreffen auf Schloss #Augustusburg in #Sachsen kam es zu einem Vorfall, der für die Beteiligten ein Nachspiel haben wird. Ein Motorradfahrer war mit einem als Adolf Hitler verkleideten Mitfahrer im Beiwagen aufgetreten. pic.twitter.com/ZnugYIxO7G
— EHA News – Deutsch (@eha_deutsch) January 13, 2020
The officer could now face consequences for his failure to step in.
“We would have expected our colleague to put a stop to all this without the least hesitation,” the Saxony police spokesman says.
Saxony premier Michael Kretschmer also condemns the Hitler pantomime.
“Dressing up as a mass murderer is more than just bad taste,” he tweets. “This kind of behavior is unacceptable and shouldn’t be repeated.”
The EU’s diplomatic chief says it is “more important than ever” to save the Iran nuclear deal, after the three European parties to the accord launched a dispute mechanism.
“In light of the ongoing dangerous escalations in the Middle East, the preservation of the JCPOA is now more important than ever,” Josep Borrell says, referring to the nuclear deal, after Britain, France and Germany triggered the complaint process.
He insists that the move does not mean that sanctions will automatically be reimposed.
The mechanism allows two weeks for ministers to resolve any problems, although that period can be extended if all sides agree. If needed, an advisory board would have an extra 20 days to adjudicate.
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s constitutional watchdog has barred thousands of people from running in next month’s parliamentary elections, including 90 current lawmakers, most of whom are accused of corruption.
The Guardian Council, a body of senior clerics and legal experts, vets candidates for office as well as legislation, and rules out individuals if it believes their views or behavior are incompatible with the theocratic system. Half its members are appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
A spokesman for the Guardian Council is quoted by the hard-line Kayhan paper as saying most of the lawmakers were rejected for “financial problems,” a reference to fraud and embezzlement.
The spokesman, Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, says more than 14,000 people registered to run in December. Of those, just 5,000 qualified, he said. Of the 290 current members of parliament, 247 registered to run for re-election.
Kadkhodaei says those who were rejected can appeal the decision in the coming days.
The reformist newspaper Etemad says today that most of those rejected were reformist and moderate candidates. It says that as a result the elections will essentially be an “internal vote” among hardliners. Hardliners were also disqualified, but it’s not clear how many.
The elections will test the popularity of the relatively moderate and pro-reform bloc led by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. They have championed improved ties with the West and expanded social freedoms, but have suffered major setbacks since US President Donald Trump assumed office.
New Right MK Matan Kahane has told party leader Naftali Bennett to leave him out if New Right agrees to run with the far-right Otzma Yehudit in the upcoming elections, Channel 13 news reports.
“If [Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar] Ben Gvir is in, I’m going home,” the network quotes Kahane telling associates.
The report comes after New Right agreed to a joint run with National Union in the March 2 elections, with the two parties calling on Jewish Home to team up with them.
But Jewish Home already agreed to run with Otzma Yehudit, whose leaders include followers of the late extremist rabbi Meir Kahane.
New Right party leader Naftali Bennett rules out running with the far-right Otzma Yehudit party in the March 2 elections.
“No way will we run with [Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar] Ben Gvir. This would color religious Zionism in Kahanist colors and cause damage for generations,” Bennett, who is defense minister, is quoted saying by the Ynet news site.
Bennett’s rejection of Otzma Yehudit puts pressure on the Jewish Home party to ditch Otzma Yehudit if it wants to team up with New Right and National Union, which announced earlier today they would run together and called on Jewish Home to join them.
ALEXANDRIA, Virginia — The US Justice Department has charged a former Virginia college student with calling in fake emergencies to prompt law enforcement response, in coordination with a group the FBI labeled as sympathetic to neo-Nazi ideology.
John William Kirby Kelley, 19, was charged last week with conspiracy to make threats. He’s accused of being part of a network that “shared racist views” and had a “particular disdain for African Americans and Jewish people,” targeting such individuals in so-called swatting attacks coordinated in online chatrooms, according to an FBI affidavit unsealed Friday. Swatting is a practice in which fake emergencies are called in to authorities to draw a large law enforcement response.
The affidavit also says the group maintained a list of victims on a site called Doxbin, which hosts the personal information of journalists, government officials and company executives, news outlets report.
An investigation into Kelley began in November 2018, when Old Dominion University in Norfolk received a call that someone armed with an AR-15 had hidden pipe bombs on campus. Police received a call hours later from someone with a similar voice who said he had dialed accidentally. Police and FBI investigators compared the voices on both calls and investigators matched email accounts and phone numbers connecting Kelley to the calls, the documents detail.
He was expelled from Old Dominion about a year after the call was placed as he faced unrelated state drug charges.
A suspect arrested yesterday on suspicion of running a cult is named as Jerusalem Rabbi Aharon Ramati.
Ramati, who runs the Be’er Miryam seminary, is suspected of keeping dozens of women and children in slave-like conditions
Ramati was arrested in 2015 on similar suspicions but was not charged.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) January 14, 2020
Iran’s foreign ministry has warned of a “serious and strong response” to a European move toward possible sanctions as the nuclear deal they negotiated unravels.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi says, however, that Iran is “fully ready to answer any good will and constructive effort” that preserves the nuclear deal. He is quoted by the official IRNA news agency.
LONDON — Britain emphasizes its commitment to the Iranian nuclear deal even as Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he would favor replacing it with an accord that Washington could support.
Answering an emergency question in the House of Commons, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab denies Johnson’s remarks represented a policy shift, as critics jumped on the apparent discrepancy.
Raab tells MPs that the whole government — including the prime minister — still believed the 2015 agreement was the best solution, saying: “We want Iran to come back into full compliance.”
But he notes that Britain, the US and European powers had discussed at the G7 summit in Biarritz last year the possibility of a “broader deal” that had Washington’s support.
“It’s not just President Trump but also President Macron (of France) who have argued for a broader deal with Iran,” he says.
He says this would address some of the defects in the JCPOA, “which is not a perfect deal”, and wider concerns “about Iran’s broader destabilizing activities in the region.”
“The US and our European partners want us to be ambitious in our diplomatic approach with Iran and that is something I fully subscribe to,” Raab says.
Trump last week called on signatories to the JCPOA to withdraw from the agreement, and Johnson said he understood Washington’s concerns.
The Jerusalem District Court completes its latest hearing in the Malka Leifer trial, with Judge Chana Lomp officially presenting the report of a psychiatric panel that determined that the former Australia principal wanted on 74 charges of child sex abuse has been feigning mental illness to avoid extradition.
As expected, the defense asks for the opportunity to cross-examine the three panel members.
Lomp proposes a series of dates — February 20, 26, 27, March 12, 17 and 18 — for when these hearings will be held. The defense asks for three separate hearings for each panelist in what the prosecution argued was a delay tactic.
Lomp says she would rule on the number of hearings as well as their dates in the coming days.
The defense also asks for the opportunity to present additional psychiatric opinions that contradict the conclusions of the panel. The prosecution attorneys jump out of their seats, saying the whole point of the court-ordered panel was that it would provide a final psychiatric opinion on the matter. The judge says the defense could submit a request to submit additional evaluations, but hints they would not be accepted.
Following the hearing, victims rights advocates in the courtroom as well as Leifer’s alleged victims in Australia express frustration over what they said felt like the court’s dragging out of the proceedings.
“We are exhausted! Over an hour long repetitive hearing of the defence screaming and attempting to delay the process again…Onto court hearings #64 #65 #66…” says alleged victim Dassi Erlich.
Shana Aaronson from the Jewish Community Watch says that while she recognizes the defense’s right to cross-examine the psychiatric panelists, this is not standard practice in extradition processes. Moreover, given the extent of delays in the proceedings against Leifer which are now in their sixth year, the court could have denied the request or at the very least set dates for cross examinations that are days instead of months from now.
— Jacob Magid
WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives is preparing to vote tomorrow to send the articles of impeachment against US President Donald Trump to the Senate to start the historic trial, several people tell The Associated Press.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was meeting privately today at the Capitol with House Democrats about next steps, ending her blockade almost a month after they voted to impeach Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Pelosi suggested the House vote on Wednesday to transmit the charges and name the House managers for the case, according to one Democratic aide unauthorized to discuss the closed-door meeting.
The action will launch the rare Senate proceeding, only the third presidential impeachment trial in American history, a dramatic endeavor coming amid the backdrop of a politically divided nation and the start of an election year.
The trial would begin in a matter of days. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is meeting behind closed doors later today with GOP senators as they negotiate the terms of the trial.
Jewish Home leader Rafi Peretz has declared he won’t break his unity pact with the far-right Otzma Yehudit party as a condition for running together with the New Right and National Union factions, according to Hebrew media reports.
“Despite all the criticism, we are saving tens of thousands of right-wing votes. These votes went to the trash in the last elections. I don’t intend to give up on this tie-up,” Peretz is quoted saying by the Walla news site.
Peretz told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and New Right leader Naftali Bennett he’s sticking with Otzma Yehudit, Channel 12 news says. Netanyahu has called for all parties to the right of Likud to run on a joint list in the March 2 elections.
GENEVA — US President Donald Trump will be the star attraction at this year’s Davos forum, which will also focus on the fallout of climate change and a more inclusive model of capitalism, organizers announce today.
The annual gathering of global movers and shakers in the village of Davos in the Swiss Alps will draw a total of 53 heads of government and state for four days starting on January 21.
But Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who had been due to attend, cancels his visit amid a spike in global tensions following a US drone strike that killed Revolutionary Guards commander Qasem Soleimani.
Trump will be accompanied by his daughter Ivanka and her husband and top presidential adviser Jared Kushner, as well as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
The situation in the Middle East will be a key focus for the summit.
Soleimani’s killing near Baghdad international airport on January 3 has sparked fears of conflict between Iran and the US.
Iran has also been shaken by demonstrations after admitting it “unintentionally” shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet a few hours after a retaliatory missile strike against US bases in Iraq.
“I think we have to understand the cancellation from the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif against the backdrop of the uncertainty in the region and what is unfolding in Iran,” WEF president Borge Brende says.
TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian protesters vent their anger for a fourth consecutive day over Iran’s accidental downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet, as authorities announced the first arrests over the disaster.
AFP correspondents say around 200 mainly masked students have gathered at Tehran University and are locked in a tense standoff with youths from the Basij militia loyal to the establishment.
“Death to Britain,” women clad in black chadors chant as Basij members burn a cardboard cutout of the British ambassador to Tehran, Rob Macaire, after his brief arrest for allegedly attending a demonstration Saturday.
Kept apart by security forces, the groups eventually part ways.
The protests have been much smaller than nationwide demonstrations against fuel price hikes that turned deadly in November.
But one commentator said the latest rallies showed there was a “real rift between the people and the authorities.”
Tehran had for days denied Western claims based on US intelligence that the Boeing 737 had been downed by a missile.
It came clean on Saturday when Revolutionary Guards aerospace commander Brigadier General Amirali Hajizadeh acknowledged a missile operator had mistaken the plane for a cruise missile and opened fire independently.
Israeli Military Intelligence believes the killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani represents a significant opportunity to counter Tehran’s growing aggressiveness in the region, The Times of Israel has learned.
In its annual intelligence assessment, which is presented to the country’s decision-makers, the Israel Defense Forces sees Iran as its primary enemy, one that is both increasingly weakened by internal protests in the country and by the recent loss of one of its main leaders, who served as something of a viceroy commanding and counseling allies throughout the Middle East.
But it also believes Iran could be potentially more dangerous as the Islamic regime seeks to maintain control of its country.
The full ramifications of Soleimani’s death earlier this month in an American airstrike in Baghdad remain unclear, but as the long-time commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, who created and controlled Shiite militia proxies throughout the Middle East, his absence is expected to have a positive effect on regional stability, the military assesses.
The IDF does not foresee Iran intentionally initiating a war against the Jewish state in the coming year, but does see a risk of unwitting conflict as Israel intends to continue acting against Tehran in the region, which could prompt Iranian retaliations.
Specifically, the IDF believes Soleimani’s death has the potential to allow Israel to curb or halt Iran’s efforts to entrench itself militarily in Syria and to transfer the technology needed for Hezbollah to produce its own precision-guided missiles within Lebanon.
— Judah Ari Gross
The Israel Defense Forces does not believe that Iran is currently interested in rapidly “breaking out” and developing an atomic bomb as quickly as possible.
Though the military sees Iran’s ongoing violations of the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as a troubling development, it does not assess that Iran is inclined to race to develop a weapon.
However, should Iran choose to “break out” rapidly, by the fall of 2020 Iran would be able to produce the 1,300 kilograms (2,900 pounds) of low-enriched uranium needed to get the 25 kilograms (55 pounds) of highly enriched uranium necessary for a bomb, assuming it continued at current projected rates, according to Israeli assessments.
The IDF sees the ongoing protests throughout Iran, which began in November, as the most significant challenge to the regime led by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei since the Islamic revolution that brought it to power in 1979.
— Judah Ari Gross
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party calls on New Right leader Naftali Bennett to drop his opposition to running with the far-right Otzma Yehudit faction in the upcoming elections.
“The right must do everything now to prevent [the] wasting of votes. Unfortunately Bennett wasted votes in April and in the last elections [in September] he pushed out Otzma [Yehudit] from his party,” Likud says in a statement.
“Just as Orly Levy found herself in the same party with Tamar Zandberg of Meretz and just as in the Joint List communists and Islamists joined one slate, the responsibility is on Bennett to form a technical bloc in order to save right-wing votes,” the party adds.
Netanyahu has called for parties to the right of Likud to run on one slate, claiming any votes that go to right-wing factions that fail to enter the Knesset could keep him from getting a majority together with allies in the March 2 elections.
Bennett opposes teaming up with Otzma Yehudit and was quoted earlier today saying that allying with the party, which is led by followers of late extremist rabbi Meir Kahane, could “cause damage for generations.”
BAGHDAD — Firebrand Iraqi leader Moqtada Sadr calls for a “million-strong march” against the presence of US troops in Iraq, days after parliament voted for their departure following Washington’s killing of an Iranian general in a Baghdad drone strike.
“The skies, land and sovereignty of Iraq are being violated every day by occupying forces,” the Shiite cleric turned populist politician writes on Twitter.
He urges Iraqis to hold “a million-strong, peaceful, unified demonstration to condemn the American presence and its violations,” without giving a date.
Washington on January 3 killed Iranian general and Quds Force chief Qassem Soleimani in a strike that also killed a senior Iraqi paramilitary commander.
The Iraqi parliament responded by voting on January 5 to oust foreign forces — including some 5,200 American troops — who have been backing the fight against Islamic State jihadists since 2014.
Soleimani’s killing also came weeks into mass anti-government demonstrations in Baghdad and the country’s south, condemning politicians seen as corrupt, inept and under the sway of both the US and Iran.
The rallies have persisted throughout but shifted to include calls for Iraq to be spared any conflict between Iran and the US.
NEW YORK — Jury selection at Harvey Weinstein’s New York City rape trail resumes, a day after supermodel Gigi Hadid caused a stir by emerging as a potential juror.
Hundreds of people have been summoned so for an initial screening process that has so far stretched over six days. About 110 prospective jurors are assembled today in a Manhattan courtroom where a judge asked them if they could be impartial.
After reporting for duty yesterday, Hadid disclosed in court she had met both Weinstein and actress Salma Hayek, a potential witness. But the model, who lives in Manhattan and studied criminal psychology at The New School, told the judge she thinks she’d be able to “keep an open mind on the facts.”
So far, around 140 people have been invited back for a second round of questioning, but some of them, such as Hadid, could still be eliminated based on how they have answered written questionnaires.
Weinstein, 67, is accused of raping a woman in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013 and sexually assaulting another in 2006.
Both sides hope to deliver opening statements before the end of the month. The trial is expected to last into March.
If convicted, Weinstein could face life in prison.
Israeli Air Force commander Amikam Norkin calls for a full investigation into the failure to move eight fighter jets to safety during a flood last week, causing costly damage to the aircraft.
“[Norkin] said the event was unbecoming of the [air] force and believed it was important to investigation, learn lessons and implement them in order to prevent similar events in the future,” the military says in a statement.
Last week, as massive rainstorms battered the country, the banks of a stream near the Hatzor air base in southern Israel flooded, sending large amounts of water — some 50 million liters (13 million gallons) — into the base in the span of half an hour.
Though the military was aware of the expected rainfall and had moved other aircraft to safety, a number of F-16 fighter jets at Hatzor were kept in underground hangars, which flooded, causing various degrees of damage to eight planes, with repair costs estimated in the millions.
A senior IAF officer said earlier this week that all eight would return to service within the next few days.
Norkin has called for a full investigation of the failure to move the F-16s to safety ahead of the storm.
— Judah Ari Gross
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls for sanctions to be reimposed on Iran over its nuclear work, after European states triggered a dispute mechanism in the nuclear deal limiting Tehran’s atomic program.
“We know exactly what’s going on in Iranian nuclear program. Iran thinks it’ll acquire nuclear weapons. I again say: Israel won’t allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons,” he says in a Hebrew-language video statement.
“I also call on the West to impose the automatic sanctions mechanism at the UN, snapback sanctions, now,” he adds.
MOSCOW — Russia condemns the EU move to put the Iran nuclear deal in dispute, warning it risked causing a “new escalation.”
“We do not rule out that the thoughtless actions of the Europeans could lead to a new escalation around the Iranian nuclear accord,” the foreign ministry says in a statement.
The ministry adds that Moscow sees “no reason for such a move.”
“The mechanism to resolve differences was created for totally different ends,” the ministry addd.
“The reasons for the difficulty of implementing the accord were broadly known and not linked to Iran,” but to the unilateral US withdrawal from the accord in 2018 which led to new sanctions being imposed on Tehran, in Moscow’s view.
The ministry addd that Iran’s nuclear program “remains under the constant control of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency).” It says that level of oversight was “unprecedented” in its scope.
“Despite all the challenges the Iranian nuclear accord has not lost its relevance,” the ministry concludes.
Britain, France and Germany earlier today launched a dispute mechanism charging Iran with failing to observe the terms of the 2015 deal curtailing its nuclear program.
The move comes as tensions soar between the West and Iran following the killing of top commander Qassem Soleimani in a US strike, and the admission by Tehran days later that it had accidentally shot down a Ukrainian airliner
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told Defense Ministry Naftali Bennett he may be fired if all parties to the right of Likud don’t run on a single slate in the upcoming elections, Channel 12 reports.
The network quotes sources close to Netanyahu claiming this wasn’t a threat but description of facts, arguing that Bennett could not remain defense minister if he criticizes the premier on the campaign trail.
A similar message was passed to Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich, whose National Union earlier today teamed up with Bennett’s New Right, according to the report.
It is not clear why a united list that also includes Jewish Home and the far-right Otzma Yehudit would prevent Smotrich and Bennett from attacking Netanyahu on the campaign trail, as they would still likely compete with Likud for some right-wing votes.
New Right and National Union have called on Jewish Home to run with them in the March 2 elections but Bennett opposes joining with Otzma Yehudit, which Jewish Home is currently allied with.
According to Channel 13, Bennett told Netanyahu that if he cares about the votes that go to Otzma Yehudit, he should reserve the far-right party’s leader a spot in Likud.
A person who shared video online of an Iranian missile hitting a Ukrainian passenger plane has been taken into custody by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, Reuters reports, quoting the Fars news agency.
The Fars report says the investigation will be published, without elaborating.
The Revolutionary Guard admitted over the weekend to shooting down the plane, killing all 176 people on board.
Iran’s judiciary earlier today announced arrests in connection to the missile strike on the plane, but didn’t specify how many people were detained or name them.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is considering closing a corruption probe into Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, Channel 13 news reports.
According to the network, some of the Mandelblit’s associates believe there are problems with the evidence in the case against Deri and the attorney general has ordered prosecutors to complete further investigatory work in the case.
Police have recommended Deri, who heads the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, face charges for fraud, breach of trust, obstructing court proceedings, money laundering, and tax offenses.
He is suspected of diverting hundreds of thousands of shekels in state funds to NGOs run by members of his immediate family, as well as suspected tax fraud linked to the sale of apartments to his brother.
Deri served 22 months in prison from 2000 to 2002 after he was convicted of taking bribes as interior minister in the 1990s.
BAQUBA, Iraq — Katyusha rockets target an Iraqi airbase north of Baghdad hosting US-led coalition forces, the Iraqi military says, in the latest attack on installations where American troops are deployed.
The statement from Iraq’s military doesn’t say how many rockets hit Camp Taji but report that there are no casualties.