US, Israel set up task force to stoke internal pressure in Iran – report

US, Israel set up task force to stoke internal pressure in Iran – report

John Bolton and Meir Ben-Shabbat said to have met on issue, but not pursuing regime change; secret document sent to Israeli missions abroad details plan to turn up heat on Tehran

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) is greeted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of a press conference at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on April 29, 2018. (AFP Photo/Thomas Coex)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) is greeted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of a press conference at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on April 29, 2018. (AFP Photo/Thomas Coex)

Israel and the US have established a joint task force geared toward exploiting and amplifying internal pressure on the Iranian regime, according to an Israeli report Tuesday.

A recent meeting in Washington between Israel’s National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and his American counterpart, John Bolton, focused on strategy for turning up the heat on the government in Tehran, Channel 10 news reported.

The Islamic Republic has seen multiple mass protests and the reported deaths of several demonstrators in the past week, due to a water crisis and worsening economic conditions triggered by the US pullout from the nuclear deal.

The report quoted a senior Israeli official as saying the goal of the task force isn’t to topple the regime.

“No one thinks” that can be done, he is quoted as saying.

National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat. (Amos Ben Gerschom/GPO)

Rather, he said, its aim is to exploit internal pressure in Iran in order to force the ayatollahs to “change their behavior.”

Bolton, who in the past has advocated for regime change in Iran, said in May that the Trump administration was not pursuing a policy aimed at toppling the regime in Tehran.

The Israeli report said the task force has met several times, and links its activities to recent attempts by senior Israeli and American officials to address the Iranian people directly over social media: Prime Minister Netanyahu with a number of videos on Facebook, and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Twitter.

Separately, Hadashot TV news reported Tuesday that the Foreign Ministry has sent a document to Israeli diplomatic missions around the world detailing efforts to turn up the heat on Iran.

“President Trump’s exit from the nuclear deal and the American policy to create pressure on Iran correlate with Israel’s policy. Therefore, we must expand the pressure, with the understanding that is an opportune time in which Iran is in a sensitive period diplomatically and economically. Israeli aid may also lead to a change in Iran’s stance on its nuclear program,” the document says, according to the network.

The report said the plan would include the dispatching of diplomatic teams around the world, in particular to friendly European states such as Austria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, as well as other countries such as Italy, Spain, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Canada, Australia, and Latin American states.

Additionally, under the plan, Israel will engage in anti-Iran activity at international institutions such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank; hold public events in Brussels, where the EU is headquartered, and on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly; and carry out public activities that are not attributed to Israel, the report said.

Israel’s diplomatic missions would soon be informed of their specific role in plan, according to Hadashot news.

A group of protesters chant slogans at the main gate of old grand bazaar in Tehran, Iran, June 25, 2018. (Iranian Labor News Agency via AP)

The reported Israeli and US efforts to increase pressure on Iran come as the remaining signatories of the 2015 nuclear deal scramble to save the accord, with Iran announcing Tuesday the foreign ministers of the countries would meet in Vienna on Friday.

During the meeting the ministers will discuss an “incentive package” the European Union is offering to try to persuade Iran to stay in the agreement, Iran’s offical IRNA news agency reported.

The meeting will seek “solutions to preserve the Iran nuclear deal after the illegal US action to withdraw,” it said.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani looks on as he attends a press conference in Bern on July 3, 2018. (AFP Photo/Ruben Sprich)

The announcement came with President Hassan Rouhani in Europe to rally support for the deal.

Rouhani, accompanied by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, was in Switzerland on Tuesday, and due to head on Wednesday to Vienna, where the accord was signed in 2015.

US President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled out of the agreement two months ago, to the ire of the other signatories which along with the European Union have continued to back the accord.

Trump said the “defective” deal did not sufficiently curb Iran’s nuclear program nor address its ballistic missile development and support for regional terror groups.

Iran has warned it is ready to resume uranium enrichment to 20 percent — above the level permitted in the deal — “within days” if the agreement falls apart.

AFP contributed to this report.

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