The sum of all fears: 6 things to know for November 8
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The sum of all fears: 6 things to know for November 8

Tehran resuming uranium enrichment ramps up concern in Israel, overshadowing scandal involving Netanyahu’s justice minister who appears to have knowingly broke the law

In this February 3, 2007, file photo, an Iranian technician works at the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan 255 miles (410 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)
In this February 3, 2007, file photo, an Iranian technician works at the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan 255 miles (410 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

1. Whoopee we’re all gonna die: Iran fears are ramping up yet again after the Islamic Republic restarted enriching uranium at the Fordo nuclear site.

Israeli officials believe that “Iran can break out to a bomb in less than a year, if they want to,” reports the Kan broadcaster.

There seems to be little daylight between Jerusalem and Washington on the bleak assessment, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying Thursday that the Iranians could rapidly break out to a bomb, a comment which leads most of the coverage of the issue in the Israeli press.

“Galloping toward the atom,” reads the top headline in Israel Hayom.

The paper also claims that “the lies are being exposed and the world is beginning to wake up,” which dovetails with a video by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday in which he highlights his exposure of aspects of Iran’s secret program, including the storage of nuclear materials at a Tehran warehouse — where IAEA inspectors are now reported to have confirmed the Israeli allegations.

“In other words, the Israeli officials said, the inspection pointed to the existence of a secret Iranian nuclear conversion facility, which if confirmed amounted to a fresh violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty’s safeguards agreement,” The New York Times writes.

2. The best little warehouse in Iran: Netanyahu’s video and the Israeli claims come out just as Bloomberg reports that Iran is not fully cooperating with inspectors trying to look into radioactive particles found at that site, and Reuters reports that Iran detained a nuclear inspector.

In this photo released by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran on November 6, 2019, a forklift carries a cylinder containing uranium hexafluoride gas for the purpose of injecting the gas into centrifuges in Iran’s Fordo nuclear facility. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

Citing unnamed diplomats, Bloomberg reports that “the US is expected to press European allies that remain committed to the pact to support authorizing IAEA inspectors to broaden their investigation” into the warehouse discovered by Israel and quickly destroyed by Tehran.

Channel 13’s Barak Ravid writes that the tensions with the IAEA over the warehouse are much worse than what’s going in Fordo. “They are not breaking the nuclear deal, but the non-proliferation agreement, and that is seen as much more serious,” he writes.

In Haaretz, Alex Bollfrass tries to read the tea leaves on whether new IAEA leader Rafael Grossi can or will hold Iran’s — or anybody’s — feet to the fire.

“The early signs are that he will take office with an assertive non-proliferation agenda. He positioned himself as the reform candidate in the campaign for the post. Unlike his rivals, Grossi addressed the Iranian nuclear program directly, calling for a “firm but fair” approach,” he writes.

But he adds that doing so will be harder than it looks, quoting a former IAEA official, Laura Rockwood, who says that it has the resources of “barely three percent of the annual budget of the New York City police department.”

3. Proxy makes perfect: As if all that were not bad enough, a new study by the London-based think tank International Institute for Strategic Studies finds that Iran has a military advantage over the United States and its allies in the Middle East, thanks to its large network of proxies.

The report gets wide play in the Israeli press, and even wider play internationally. Yedioth Ahronoth calls it “proof of Iran’s strength.”

Anti-government protesters chant slogans and hold a placard with Arabic that reads “Iran out, all Islamic parties I want my right” during a demonstration in Basra, Iraq, Friday, Oct. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Nabil al-Jurani)

In the National, though, Con Coughlin writes that “while it is undoubtedly true that there has been a significant increase in Iran’s attempts to spread its influence throughout the Arab world, especially since Tehran signed the 2015 nuclear deal, there is evidence that resistance is growing throughout the Arab world to Iran’s attempts to meddle in their affairs,” pointing to Iraq and Lebanon.

Speaking to Army Radio, Israeli nuclear scientist Uzi Even says that Israel is powerless to stop Iran … at least without the US’s backing.

4. Open your own damn wallet: The US and Israel may see eye to eye on Iran, but according to a report in Channel 13 and Axios, there are some deep disagreements about funding security for the Palestinians.

According to the report, Israeli officials asked that the US transfer $12 million in aid to keep the PA’s preventative security forces afloat, but was turned down. When officials stressed to US President Donald Trump how important the issue was to Netanyahu, he replied: “If it is that important to Netanyahu, he should pay the Palestinians $12 million.”

With some Democratic presidential candidates now considering leveraging aid to Israel, former ambassador Dan Shapiro writes in the Forward that even the “hated” Barack Obama never considered that.

“The MOU represents a US self-interest, as well as a moral commitment to a close ally, which is why Obama regularly described Israel’s security as ‘sacrosanct.’ Those who advocate withholding or conditioning security assistance need to bear that in mind. The United States needs to keep its commitments,” he writes.

Show ’em both the money, tweets US Rep. Ted Deutsch.

5. A cog in the machine: Meanwhile back in Israel, Justice Minister Amir Ohana has declared war on a key witness against Netanyahu in one of the corruption cases against him.

Ohana drew criticism this week after he broke a court-imposed gag order and announced from the Knesset podium that police used Nir Hefetz’s alleged relationship with a young woman to get him to turn state’s witness in Case 4000. Airing the personal details was seen by some as attempted witness intimidation by Netanyahu’s ally. Hefetz is now threatening to sue Ohana.

Haaretz’s Yossi Verter blasts the Netanyahu appointee, and claims Ohana used his parliamentary immunity to violate the gag order at the behest of the prime minister’s son Yair.

Newly appointed Justice Minister Amir Ohana entertains Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Likud gathering. (Hadas Porush/Flash90)

In a lengthy analysis, Verter says that while he believed he was helping Netanyahu, the “doormat who now inhabits the justice minister’s office,” actually sabotaged the prime minister.

He says that Ohana is one of a number of Netanyahu lackeys in the caretaker government who will protect his boss at any price.

“Ohana is just one cog in a complex machine that consists of politicians, civil servants, government officials and journalists (or people posing as journalists). It’s like a crime organization with a hierarchy and division of roles. Their ‘life’s mission’… is to extricate the prime minister from an indictment. And, along the way, to pick off the gatekeepers, gnaw at them and snipe at them, with the aim of undermining the legitimacy of the approaching decision by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit.”

Zman Israel’s Shalom Yerushalmi makes a similar argument, calling Ohana a “loyal and disciplined soldier for Netanyahu,” noting that he has repeatedly discredited Israeli law enforcement authorities as a “mafioso crime organization” while discussing the criminal investigations into the prime minister.

Yerushalmi writes in The Times of Israel’s sister site that despite the controversial move that Netanyahu publicly criticized, he knows that Ohana as justice minister is a powerful ally to have as he fights for his political life.

“Since entering the justice department, Ohana has become one of the most significant assets on Netanyahu’s team. “He is aggressive, has no limits, flouts the law, and nobody in the Likud will [stop him].”

6. Damning evidence: On Thursday, Channel 13 news reported on details of WhatsApp messages between Hefetz and some of the other suspects in Case 4000, that showed the popular news site Walla tailoring its reporting to the needs of Netanyahu and his wife Sara.

The report by Raviv Drucker claims to show Hefetz and Walla owner Shaul Elovitch directly intervening on editorial decisions at the paper and the hiring of journalists in order to be as forgiving toward the prime minister and his family as possible.

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