Sanction sanctorum: 7 things to know for August 7
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Sanction sanctorum: 7 things to know for August 7

Whether Iran will come crawling to the table or dig in its heels, and whether a deal with Gaza is possible, remain enigmas; but at least one mystery that never was gets solved

A man takes a nap on a bench in the Iranian capital Tehran on August 6, 2018.
(AFP/ATTA KENARE)
A man takes a nap on a bench in the Iranian capital Tehran on August 6, 2018. (AFP/ATTA KENARE)

1. Praise the snap-back: The first tranche of sanctions on Iran snapped back into place Tuesday morning, and Israel, or at least official Israel, is clamoring to fete the move.

  • Ministers seem to be in competition with one another for who could shower the most praise on US President Donald Trump for the move, cheering him on, in the words of ToI’s Raphael Ahren.
  • Taking the cake in what some might call sycophantism was Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who said it was a “courageous move that would be remembered for generations,” and even opposition figure Yair Lapid called it “courageous.”
  • A cartoon in pro-Netanyahu tabloid Israel Hayom shows a sad sack Iranian President Hassan Rouhani asking why Trump returned the sanctions if “we stopped the uranium and we stopped the plutonium.” “But you didn’t stop the Iranium,” Trump answers. While the cartoon likely refers to Iran’s malignant behavior and regional aggression, which have come to characterize the regime in the West, it could also be seen as a comment that Trump and others have it in for Iran no matter what it does, just because it’s Iran.
  • On Tuesday morning, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan tells Israel Radio that Trump’s policy is already having an effect and he thinks the sanctions will force Iran back to the table: “It would be better if the Iranian regime would disappear entirely from this world, but it would also be a blessing to see Obama’s bad nuclear agreement replaced with a better one,” he says.
  • The public broadcaster also reports that Israel’s intelligence community as a whole is optimistic that a new deal, covering not only nuclear activity but also Iran’s regional aggression and ballistic missile development, is possible.

2. Not so fast: Not everyone is so sanguine, and analysts in Israel, the US and elsewhere are doubtful the US’s policy will bear such fruit.

  • Raz Zimmt, a researcher with the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, says hoping for a deal covering nukes and all that other jazz “isn’t optimistic, it’s fantasy.”
  • In Yedioth’s op-ed page Nadav Eyal writes that it’s simplistic to view demonstrations against the regime in Tehran and elsewhere as a direct result of the US about-face, and the move is more likely to backfire by strengthening hardliners in the Islamic Republic.
  • “In the eyes of Iranians, the regime compromised on a subject of national consensus, the nuclear program, but it seems the conservative-right was correct — you can’t trust the West or the US,” he writes.
  • On Twitter, Foundation for Defense of Democracies head Mark Dubowitz, an outspoken critic of the 2015 nuclear deal, writes that the return of sanctions on top of all the other woes facing Tehran can lead in two directions: talks or war.
  • With the reimposition of sanctions coming on the 73rd anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, most well known for its infamous Doomsday Clock, reprints an article from 2015 in which it explains how history shows that nonproliferation agreements like the Iran nuclear deal aren’t meant to solve all problems, but are still important in their own right.
  • “The JCPOA does not provide a reason to rest easy. Rather, it is one step in a broader effort to make the Middle East safer and more stable over time,” the dispatch reads.
  • 3. Nothing but Obama hate: JTA’s Ron Kampeas looks at the apparent absence of lockstep within the Trump administration on Iran and tries to tease out if there is a method to the madness.
  • While some dismiss Trump’s and others’ mixed messages as negotiation tactics, others are less forgiving.
  • “The only way to understand how the Trump administration has handled the JCPOA is that President Trump hated the deal because it was concluded by his hated predecessor,” he quotes Jarrett Blanc, who worked on the original nuclear deal under Barack Obama. “This administration has been forced into ex-post facto rationalization.”

4. No sh*t, Sherlock: The New York Times reports what everyone already suspected: that the Mossad was behind the assassination of Syrian scientist Aziz Asbar.

  • Even bureau chief David Halbfinger, who reported the story with Ronen Bergman, says it’s no big enigma.
  • Officially, the paper’s information is based on an official who is only identified as belonging to a Middle Eastern intel agency that knew about the operation.
  • The pair also quote an official representing the Syria-Iran alliance who believes that “Israel had wanted to kill Mr. Asbar because of the prominent role he played in Syria’s missile program even before the current conflict broke out in 2011.”
  • The story also notes that this is the fourth assassination or attempted assassination of a weapons engineer on foreign soil in three years.
  • In al-Monitor, Ben Caspit writes that it seems such Mossad activities have ramped up under director Yossi Cohen.
  • “Foreign publications are under the impression that the audaciousness of the Mossad and Netanyahu as its direct commander has broken new records,” he writes. (The reference to foreign publications is likely a nod to the military censor, which often forces israeli journalists to cite information to “foreign reports.”)
  • “It looks as if Israel is becoming much more confident, not only in its aerial attacks, but also in all matters pertaining to the Mossad’s offensive operations. This could be because Netanyahu himself is growing more confident or because of the extensive backing, if not encouragement, that he receives from senior US administration officials under President Donald Trump and his national security adviser John Bolton — the very kind of backing that Israel sorely lacked during Barack Obama’s presidency.”

5. The army vs. the politicians: On Gaza, Haaretz reports that the army wants to go ahead with steps easing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, even without a ceasefire deal that sees the return of Israeli captives and soldiers remains, as politicians demand.

  • “According to senior Israeli army officers, humanitarian projects can be advanced in Gaza that would defer any possible military confrontation between Israel and Hamas at least until the end of next year, when an Israel project to install an underground barrier along the Gaza border is completed. Senior defense officials have recently said in various settings that Israel should ‘do everything’ to avoid being the party in the negotiations that would bring about the collapse of an agreement,” the paper reports.
  • Israel Hayom quotes an Egyptian source saying that Cairo is considering sending a high level delegation to Gaza to try and clinch some sort of deal.
  • “According to the source, the main disagreement is between the Hamas politburo, which supports a diplomatic deal in Gaza — including a long-term ceasefire as Egypt and the UN envoy have suggested — and between senior members of the armed wing of the group, which believe that only a military confrontation with Israel will achieve an end to the blockade with Gaza,” the paper reports.

6. Collapse of a concept: It’s not immediately clear how Tuesday morning’s cross-border fire, in which an Israeli tank killed two Hamas gunmen, will shake out in terms of talks.

  • Either way, Israel Katz, a member of the high-level security cabinet, says that “All the might of the army” has failed to bring about a deterrent effect vis-a-vis Hamas. “Something must be done,” he says, according to Ynet reporter Atilla Somfalvi.
  • Israeli professor Cellu Rozenberg wonders on Twitter what exactly Katz might have in mind and sees in the statement the seeds of an important policy shift.
  • “What is left to do? Bring in another IDF? Even if the cabinet stands on its head, a solution cannot just be military. This is an admission the collapse of the concept that ‘they only understand strength,’” he writes.

7. Back-door dealings: Yedioth Ahronoth reports that police believe they have evidence of a secret meeting between Netanyahu and Bezeq head Shaul Elovitch at the Prime Minister’s Residence during which the two discussed regulatory approval for a merger between telecoms giant Bezeq and satellite TV provider Yes.

  • “Sources involved in the affair said that because of time pressures the meeting was done at the official residence of the prime minister on Balfour Street [in Jerusalem] and Elovitch came into the house through a back door,” the paper reports.
  • The meeting could represent the closest evidence that Netanyahu, at the time communications minister as well as PM, was directly involved in the merger talks despite it being a conflict of interest. Reports so far have only pointed to circumstantial evidence of a quid pro quo in the affair, potentially the most serious probe against Netanyahu, with the prime minister and Elovitch always shielded by middlemen.
  • Eldad Yaniv, one of Netanyahu’s most vocal critics, responds to the report on Twitter by slamming Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit for not prosecuting yet: “It’s a joke, and its name is Mandelblit.”
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