SENATE (WHITE FREEMASONS AND JEWS) INTRODUCES NEW BILL SANCTIONING IRAN AND TESTING ITS NUCLEAR DEAL

 

WASHINGTON — Bipartisan leadership in the US Senate introduced a bill on Thursday that would severely sanction Iran over its ballistic missile work and its proxy activities regionwide, targeting several Iranian entities that were previously relieved of sanctions under a nuclear accord implemented last year.

Passage of the bill “would risk killing the [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action],” an Iranian American lobbying group based in Washington said in a statement, referring to the formal title of the nuclear deal.

The Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017 would designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization– a move bitterly opposed by Tehran. The National Iranian American Council, which has the ear of senior Iranian government officials, warned that such a move would “risk American lives” and prompt Iranian retaliation against US troops in Iraq.

“The bill would also mandate the re-imposition of sanctions on Iranian entities that were de-listed pursuant to the JCPOA– measures that could constitute a clear violation of the nuclear deal,” the lobby argues.

Indeed, the law would provide US President Donald Trump with the authority to sanction any individual or entity “engaged in any activity that has materially contributed, or poses a risk of materially contributing, to the activities of the Government of Iran with respect to its ballistic missile program, or any other program in Iran for developing, deploying, or maintaining systems capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction, including any efforts to manufacture, acquire, possess, develop, transport, transfer, or use such capabilities.”

Acceding to the nuclear deal in 2015, the US agreed to remove all of its sanctions on Iran targeting individuals and entities involved in the advancement of its nuclear work. But several of those who now enjoy sanctions relief are the same figures and organizations actively involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program and its asymmetric operations across the Middle East and North Africa, which will now face new penalties.

This likely includes Iranian banks that were recently delisted from Treasury Department lists.

Shortly after the nuclear deal was concluded, the Iranian government warned that old sanctions passed under a different name would be treated as a direct violation of the nuclear accord. The US maintains the ability to pass non-nuclear sanctions against relevant individuals at will.

The bill enjoys broad support from both Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, including its chairman and ranking member.

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Iran says it’s ‘completely ready’ to restart nuclear program

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned Monday that Tehran is “completely ready” to restart its nuclear program if the US fails to live up to its commitments under the July 2015 nuclear deal.

“If [the] US creates a situation that continuation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action would damage Tehran’s national interest, then Iran is completely ready to come back to the situation it had prior to the JCPOA even more powerfully than before,” Zarif was quoted by Iranian state media as saying.

The foreign minister spoke to reporters in Isfahan in central Iran.

On the campaign trail during last year’s election, US President Donald Trump and many Republican lawmakers vowed to gut the deal once in office. But since the election, the Trump administration has signaled a gentler approach, though it has not provided details of its new policy.

Earlier this month, IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said “the new administration of the United States just started and they are looking at this issue,” but “it is very early for them to give their assessment.”

The agreement saw Iran scale down substantially its nuclear activities and submit to close inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency in exchange for relief from painful sanctions.

The accord extends the “breakout time” needed for Iran to accumulate enough fissile material for a bomb to at least a year, giving the international community time to react, according to proponents and the administration of former US president Barack Obama, which helped negotiate the agreement.

In his Monday comments in Isfahan, Zarif said Iran was “committed to the promises it has made” and that the regime’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei had stipulated that Iran “is not to break them,” according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

But, he warned, it could do so very quickly if the agreement falls through, and the restored nuclear program would be more advanced that the one mostly frozen by the 2015 deal.

“During the past couple of months, with the efforts made by skilled Iranian scientists and experts, we have succeeded [in making] operational the most advanced centrifuges, that were just an idea at the time of approving the JCPOA,” Zarif is quoted as saying.

The Mehr News Agency quoted him saying the new centrifuges “would enrich uranium 20 times faster and more efficiently,” and that “the technical know-how has now been indigenized.”

He accused the US of repeatedly failing to fulfill its commitments under the deal, but said “pursuing the JCPOA is still justifiable for Iran” for economic reasons.

Iran has always denied wanting nuclear weapons, saying its activities are purely peaceful. The international community vehemently disagreed, and placed a strict sanctions regime on Iran for much of the past decade, until Tehran agreed to halting its program in the 2015 deal.

Besides the US and Iran, the other signatories to the JCPOA — Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany — oppose ending the agreement

North Korea a larger global threat than Iran, Liberman says

North Korea’s burgeoning nuclear weapons program poses more of a threat to world order than Iran, or any other terrorist group, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said on Tuesday.

“North Korea stands at the top of the priority list,” the defense minister said at a conference in Netanya held in memory of former Mossad chief Meir Dagan.

Liberman said Pyongyang “seems to have crossed the red line with its recent nuclear tests.”

Liberman’s speech at the Netanya Academic College took a more global approach to terror threats, saying it wasn’t just the Middle East that is facing upheaval.

“The entire world is in the midst of a squall,” he said.

The defense minister went on to say that Iran, with its widespread support for terrorist organizations, was the second biggest threat to global security.

Illustrative: People watch the news showing file footage of North Korea's missile launch at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea on February 12, 2017. (Jung Yeon-Je/AFP)

The third threat facing the world, according to Liberman, are terrorist organizations armed with advanced missiles and unconventional weapons.

“We’re just ahead of a new era of accurate missile and unconventional weapons in the hands irrational people,” Liberman said.

In apparent reference to recent reported Israeli strikes on Hezbollah targets in Syria, Liberman said Israel did not want to get involved in the country’s years-long civil war, but it would “not tolerate” the threat of advanced missiles in the hands of terrorists.

“We’re not looking for adventures, but we will work against it at any opportunity,” he said.

Looking locally, Liberman encouraged his fellow lawmakers to keep their expectations about Donald Trump’s administration in line with reality.

“We don’t have the option to fight with Donald Trump,” he said.

“If someone thinks that we are going to work unilaterally, they have not seen the situational assessment,” Liberman said, referring to calls by some right-wing lawmakers to annex portions of the West Bank.

He said annexing the territory would cost Israel some NIS 20 billion.

While telling Israeli politicians to keep their “slogans” in check, he noted that there was opportunity for better US-Israel relations under the current administration.

“It’s a Republican government, not a Donald Trump government,” Liberman said.

The right-wing now dominates the US Congress, the Supreme Court, and there is a “very friendly” president in the White House, he added.

ISRAEL ALREADY PREPARING FOR END OF UN BAN ON IRAN MISSILE ACTIVITY

 

WASHINGTON – Throughout international talks with Iran over its nuclear program, Israeli leadership offered a common refrain: Ten years may be a long time in the life of a politician, but it is nothing in the life of a nation.

In that spirit, Israel’s government is already planning for the expiration of several critical provisions in the deal that resulted from those talks, including two restrictions on Iran that sunset within the next few years on arms sales and its ballistic missile program.

 

Last month in Washington, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told The Jerusalem Post that he was working with the Trump administration on ways to mitigate the effects of some of the deal’s most challenging sunset clauses. For Israel, Iran is more dangerous if it abides by the deal than if it breaches it, he said.

Asked if he could offer specifics on his strategy, Netanyahu replied, “I could, but I won’t.” But those with his ear tell the Post that discussions have already begun, starting with a clause that lifts a UN ban on Iran’s ballistic missile work in just under seven years.

That ban, in Annex B of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, requires Iran “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.” The provision also bans states from supplying, selling or transferring equipment, technology or training to Iran relevant to the advancement of that missile program.

The decision to include such a provision – which extended for eight years what would have otherwise expired upon completion of the nuclear deal– was opposed by Russia and China during the talks. Moscow has been a top supplier of Iran’s missile programs for several years.

Israel now believes that European nations, whose diplomats supported extending the ban during the nuclear negotiations, will be on board with a creative strategy that punishes Moscow through means outside of the UN should it choose to assist Iran with its continued missile work. The strategy would be to maintain de facto sanctions on Iran by threatening those that might supply it, despite the end of an explicit UN embargo against doing so.

The plan already appears popular in Washington.

“Sanctioning Russia is as popular as it has ever been on the Hill right now,” said one lobbyist with an Israel advocacy organization, discussing the emerging strategy. The lobbyist described the plan succinctly: Threatening new, tough sanctions on Moscow for its potential sale of ballistic missile components to Iran would kill two birds with one stone, targeting two of the world’s most destabilizing forces while gaining broad bipartisan support.

While this particular UN provision expires in 2023, Iran is expected to seek partners for collaboration well in advance. Thus Iran’s adversaries are likely to work backward against an unspecified date some time in the next few years.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is intended to prevent Iran from ever building nuclear weapons, but Israel worries that sunset clauses on its work with fissile material will allow Tehran to build an industrial-sized nuclear program, providing the state with a nuclear capacity that could easily be converted into a weapons program on short notice.

The deal allows Iran to expand the number of centrifuges it can use to enrich uranium, as well as the number of facilities it can use to host enrichment, in nine years. It also allows Iran to upgrade the centrifuges it has in use, from 1970s models to modern state-of-the-art machines. As the size and efficiency of their program advances – with full international legitimacy, under the nuclear deal – Israel fears it will be impossible to stop or even catch Iran should it choose to “break out” and build a weapon.

Furthermore, should Iran instead choose to park itself right before a bomb and remain a nuclear-threshold state, Israel believes that Iran will maintain all of the strategic benefits a nuclear power enjoys without facing the costs that rogue nuclear states endure. Israeli leaders seek to prevent Iran from reaching this threshold stage.

Speaking to the Post, several Israeli officials would only acknowledge that strategizing is under way to prevent these later sunset clauses from lapsing. No further details were provided.

Iran: Israel’s ‘aggression’ in Syria proves it’s aligned with ‘terrorists’

Iran on Saturday denounced Israeli “aggression” over its airstrikes in Syria early Friday, and claimed Jerusalem’s interests were aligned with those of Syrian “terrorists.”

According to a report on Iran’s Press TV news channel, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi questioned the timing of the Israeli operation “at a time when [Syria’s] army and the anti-terror front have the upper hand against bloodthirsty terrorists, driving them back from cities and villages one after another.”

This, he said, proved that Israel shared interests with those of rebel groups, which Iran and Syria refer to as terrorists.

Qassemi called on the UN to condemn Israel’s “aggression” and to prevent further “acts of violation of peace and security by the aggressive and rogue Zionist regime.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday the Israeli strikes on several targets in Syria early that day targeted weapons bound for Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and that the Jewish State would do the same again if necessary.

The Israeli airstrike prompted retaliatory missile launches, in the most serious incident between Syria and the Jewish state since the Syrian civil war began six years ago.

Syria’s military said it had downed an Israeli plane and hit another as they were carrying out pre-dawn strikes near the desert city of Palmyra that it recaptured from jihadists this month.

 An Israeli F-16 takes flight through cloudy skies. (Hagar Amibar/Israeli Air Force)

The Israeli military denied that any planes had been hit. The Syrian government has made similar unfounded claims in the past.

Netanyahu said in footage aired on Israel’s major television networks: “When we identify attempts to transfer advanced weapons to Hezbollah and we have intelligence and it is operationally feasible, we act to prevent it.

“That’s how it was yesterday and that’s how we shall continue to act,” he added.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry sent two letters to the UN secretary-general and to the president of the UN Security Council, calling the strikes a violation of international law, of UN resolutions and of Syrian sovereignty.

Syria called on the UN to “condemn the blatant Israeli aggression that is considered a violation of international law.”

Israel has been largely unaffected by the Syrian civil war raging next door, suffering mostly sporadic incidents of spillover fire that Israel has generally dismissed as tactical errors by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces. Israel has responded to the errant fire with limited reprisals on Syrian positions.

The skies over Syria are now crowded, with Russian and Syrian aircraft backing Assad’s forces and a US-led coalition striking Islamic State and al-Qaeda targets.

Israel is widely believed to have carried out airstrikes on advanced weapons systems in Syria — including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made missiles — as well as Hezbollah positions, but it rarely confirms such operations.

Iran MPs criticize social media arrests ahead of elections

Iranian MPs have criticized the arrests of journalists and social media organizers ahead of the presidential election in May, with one directly accusing the elite Revolutionary Guards in a letter published Saturday.

The arrests in recent days are alleged to have targeted unnamed people who run channels on the popular messaging site Telegram supporting reformists and the moderate government of President Hassan Rouhani.

Two prominent journalists — Ehsan Mazandarani and Morad Saghafi — have also been detained.

Mahmoud Sadeghi, a reformist MP, wrote an open letter to Revolutionary Guards commander Mohammad-Ali Jafari, calling on the organization to stay out of politics.

“Some incidents in recent days, including the simultaneous arrests of managers of Telegram channels with close associations to reformists and supporters of the government, which has apparently been done by the intelligence arm of the Sepah (Revolutionary Guards), has raised a wave of concern in society,” Sadeghi wrote in the letter published by the ILNA news agency.

Several other MPs have also criticized the arrests in open letters this week.

Outspoken moderate-conservative MP Ali Motahari threatened to seek the impeachment of the intelligence minister if he did not provide details of the arrests.

The Revolutionary Guards operate their own intelligence wing independently of the government and answerable only to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Rouhani, who will seek re-election on May 19, has united moderates and reformists with his efforts to improve relations with the West, despite largely failing to win the release of jailed opposition leaders or improve civil rights as he promised during the 2013 campaign.

Telegram, which has an estimated 20 million users in Iran, has become the leading site for political and cultural discussions in a country where Facebook and Twitter are banned.

The authorities have tried to control the site, demanding that channels with more than 5,000 followers register with the government.

A reformist newspaper also reported Saturday that Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of revolutionary founder Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, had again been sentenced to six months for “spreading falsehoods” after she accused the judiciary of corruption.

Hashemi, a vocal supporter of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi during the mass protests that followed the disputed 2009 election, previously served six months in jail for “disrupting public opinion” in 2012-13.

TURKISH AMBASSADOR: IRAN’S REGIONAL AMBITIONS MUST BE CONTAINED

 

http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Iran-News/Turkish-ambassador-Irans-regional-ambitions-must-be-contained-484309

 

Turkey shares Jerusalem’s concern about Iran’s regional ambitions and nuclear potential but differ when it comes to strategy, the country’s new ambassador to Israel, Kemal Okem, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.

Iran’s “nuclear file is a concern for everyone,” said Okem, speaking briefly to the Post after delivering a wide ranging policy speech at Tel Aviv University that was followed by a question and answer session.

 

Ankara, he said, believes the best way forward is through containment not isolation.

“We have had a common border [with Iran] for hundreds of years which remains unchanged. They see us as a strategic competitor… We saw the need for engaging and containing their ambitions,” he said.

With regard to Iran in Syria, he said he sees a “little bit” of progress in that Iran had assumed some kind of responsibility, while on the topic of Russia in Syria, he said to the Israelis in the room: “Good luck, you have a new neighbor.”

The ambassador said the threat from terrorism and Islamic State can be found in Berlin and Istanbul and that Turkey is part of the international battle against extremism and ISIS. Both Muslims and Jews should be fighting this battle, he said.

“Terrorism is a global phenomenon it is always there and it won’t go away without a global fight,” which is one of the reasons, he said, Turkey must continue its cooperation with Europe.

“There are some misperceptions about Turkey’s role and policies and this should be corrected,” Okem said, explaining that his country was not shifting away form the Western World.

On the issue of Gaza, he said Turkey supported its people but not Hamas.

“We do not accept the linear analogy that is trying to be established that every one living in Gaza belongs to Hamas and is a terrorist. We do not accept this. We have to distinguish between people who are suffering and people who happen to be members of Hamas as a political party,” he said.

It is important for Turkey, he said, that it is providing financial assistance to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza as part of its return to normalized diplomatic ties with Israel following a five-year freeze, and is thankful to Israel for the help and cooperation it has shown in helping Ankara with this mission, which includes support for an industrial park in Jenin and a hospital in Gaza.

Netanyahu tells Putin that Iran must not replace IS in Syria

http://www.timesofisrael.com/netanyahu-tells-putin-that-iran-must-not-replace-islamic-state-in-syria/

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that his talks in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin were focused on keeping Iran from filling the vacuum left by the Islamic State in Syria and combating Iranian-sponsored radical Islamic terrorism.

“One of the things that we are fighting against together is radical Islamic terrorism. Of course, there was significant progress last year in the fight against the terrorism of radical Sunni Islam led by the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, and Russia has a very important contribution,” Netanyahu said ahead of his meeting with the Russian president.

“It’s obvious that we wouldn’t want this terror to be replaced by radical Islamic Shiite terror led by Iran,” he said.

While Russia has played a major role over the last year in Syria combating the Islamic State and the Syrian rebels, Israel is concerned that the Kremlin not allow Iran, Russia’s ally in supporting Syrian strongman Bashar Assad, a permanent foothold in the country.

After their meeting, Netanyahu said Putin had “internalized” his warning, telling Israeli reporters that he expressed Israel’s “strong opposition to Iran’s entrenchment Syria.”

Iran is “seeking to build its military forces, military infrastructure, in order to establish itself in Syria, including an attempt to build a seaport,” Netanyahu said, calling this “grave for Israel’s security.”

During their discussion, Netanyahu said he also brought up the Golan Heights, telling the Russian leader that Israel will never leave the area. “He already knows this issue,” Netanyahu said, indicating that he has discussed the matter with Putin during their previous meetings.

The prime minister further said he asked for Putin’s help in bring back from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip two missing Israeli civilians and the bodies of fallen soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, who died in the 2014 Gaza war. Netanyahu said Putin “promised to do anything in his power to help us with this.”

Absent from the discussion, however, was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Moscow’s possible interest in Jerusalem as a channel of communication to the White House was also not mentioned, Netanyahu said. “We talked about Israeli interests,” he indicated.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) during their meeting in Moscow on March 9, 2017. (AFP Photo/Pool/Pavel Golovkin)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) during their meeting in Moscow on March 9, 2017. (AFP Photo/Pool/Pavel Golovkin)

Following their talk, at the Kremlin, Netanyahu thanked Putin for his wishes ahead of the Jewish festival of Purim, which starts Saturday night, noting that modern Iran now threatens the Jews as the ancient Persians did then.

“Twenty-five hundred years ago in ancient Persia, there was an attempt to wipe out the Jewish nation that was unsuccessful, which is being marked with this holiday,” the prime minister said.

“Here today in Persia’s successor, Iran, there is another attempt to wipe out the Jewish state. They say this as clearly as possible. They inscribe it on their ballistic missiles,” he said.

Netanyahu said that Iran was a threat not just to Israel, but to the whole region.

“Today, Israel is a state with an army and we are able to defend ourselves. But the threat of Shiite Islamic extremism is not just a threat to us, but rather to the entire region and world peace. I know that we share the desire to prevent any victory for radical Islam from any direction,” he said.

During the meeting, Putin said he was “very pleased” with his “close and trusting contact” with Netanyahu.

“We meet regularly in person, are regularly in contact by telephone, and work together at the ministry and agency level,” Putin said. “You often come to Russia right on the eve of holidays, and so I want to take the opportunity to congratulate you on the upcoming Purim holiday and wish everyone in Israel happy holidays and prosperity.”

Netanyahu was on a whirlwind visit to Moscow for his third meeting with Putin in a year, and headed straight home on Thursday evening.

He was greeted at the airport by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov. On the tarmac, Bogdanov, Moscow’s point man for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, warmly embraced his Israeli guest.

Ahead of the visit, Netanyahu’s office said: “The prime minister will express Israel’s strong opposition to the presence of Iranian forces, and those of its proxies, on our northern border and in the Mediterranean Sea in the context of the talks on a settlement of any kind.”

“The prime minister also intends to reiterate to President Putin the fact that the [Syrian-held] Golan Heights is not part of the discussion on any outline” of a peace agreement, his office said in a statement.

Netanyahu and Putin were also expected to discuss the ongoing military coordination between the two countries to ensure their forces don’t clash over Syria’s skies.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Arrives in Moscow ahead of his meeting with Russian President Putin.

A source close to Netanyahu reportedly said Wednesday, hours before he arrived at the Kremlin, that “Moscow allows us to act against Hezbollah in Syrian airspace.”

Russian and Israeli authorities denied the report. “There is just no such agreement or coordination,” a senior official in Jerusalem told The Times of Israel.

Israeli officials have long accused the Iranian Revolutionary Guards of trying to build an anti-Israel front on the Syrian Golan, alongside Hezbollah forces and local Druze opposed to Israel. Netanyahu has sought Russia’s help in seeking to thwart the attempts of Iran and its terrorist proxy Hezbollah to use Syria as a base from which to attack Israel.

PM Netanyahu arrives at Moscow airport ahead of a meeting with President Putin of Russia, March 9, 2016 (courtesy)

PM Netanyahu arrives at Moscow airport ahead of a meeting with President Putin of Russia, March 9, 2016 (courtesy)

Last week, Chagai Tzuriel, the director-general of the Intelligence Ministry, told The Times of Israel that keeping Iran and Hezbollah from getting a foothold on the Golan was at the top of the agenda for Israel’s security apparatus.

“Since Russia began intervening in the Syrian war a year ago, Russia became an important actor in Syria itself,” said Eyal Zisser, a Middle East expert from Tel Aviv University. “But of course this intervention has to do with the strategic interest of Israel. Russia became a neighborhood country, so you need to coordinate, you need to establish open channels of communication in order to ensure that no accidents will occur along the border.”

Russia partnered with Iran to assure the survival of the Syrian regime, which gives Netanyahu and Putin much to discuss, Zisser said, especially as the civil war appears to be at a turning point. Forces of President Basher Assad have recently recaptured the city of Aleppo from the rebels and it is currently unclear what the Syria-Russia-Iran alliance will attempt to achieve next.

File: Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, shakes hand with Syrian President Bashar Assad as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, looks on in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, October 20, 2015. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)

File: Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, shakes hand with Syrian President Bashar Assad as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, looks on in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, October 20, 2015. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)

“The future of Syria might be dictated by Russians, Turks and Iranians. And Israel probably wants to share with the Russians its ideas and concerns about such a process,” Zisser said.

The Golan Heights, which are close to Damascus, pose a particular headache for Israel, he added.

“The Syrian regime, with the support of the Iranians and Hezbollah, might want to make a comeback and recaptured those territories which were lost several years ago to the rebels,” Zisser predicted.

An IDF Merkava tank drives near the border with Syria on the Golan Heights, on November 28, 2016. (AFP PHOTO/JACK GUEZ)

An IDF Merkava tank drives near the border with Syria on the Golan Heights, on November 28, 2016. (AFP PHOTO/JACK GUEZ)

Forces affiliated with the Islamic State group are making territorial gains on the Golan Heights’ south, which also worries Jerusalem, although they are careful not to engage in a direct confrontation with Israel, he said. “They have other priorities, such as fighting each other and fighting the regime. But IS on the border is not something Israel is happy with.”

Netanyahu, who flew to Moscow in a small jet, taking with him no press and a small number of advisers, is expected to return to Israel on Thursday evening, leaving Russia immediately after his meeting with Putin. He is accompanied by Minister Ze’ev Elkin — who also serves as his personal translator — acting national security adviser Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Jacob Nagel, his chief of staff staff Yoav Horowitz, his Military Secretary Brig.-Gen. Eliezer Toledano and the head of the IDF’s intelligence branch Herzl Halevy.

Iran says S-300 air defense system now ‘operational’

Iran’s advanced S-300 air defense system, delivered by Russia following a July 2015 nuclear deal after years of delay, is now operational, state television reported on Saturday.

Iran had been trying to acquire the system for years to ward off repeated threats by Israel to bomb its nuclear facilities, but Russia had held off delivery in line with UN sanctions imposed over the nuclear program.

“The S-300 air defense system has been tested… in the presence of government and military officials,” the television said.

It said that the test at a desert base had seen several targets, including a ballistic missile and a drone, intercepted.

Air defense commander General Farzad Esmaili told the television that a domestically manufactured air defense system dubbed Bavar 373 which was “more advanced than the S-300” would be tested very soon.

“The S-300 is a system that is deadly for our enemies and which makes our skies more secure,” he said.

Iran’s activation of the defense system comes amid mounting tensions with the new US administration of President Donald Trump, who imposed sanctions after Iran tested a medium-range ballistic missile in January.

The deal to buy the S-300 system was originally signed in 2007 but Russia suspended it in 2010 citing a UN ban on arms sales to Iran.

It was revived after the nuclear deal between Iran and major powers went into effect in January last year.

In August, state television aired footage of the system being installed around the Fordo nuclear site in a mountain near Qom, south of the capital.

The Russian-made missile defense system is one of the most advanced of its kind in the world, offering long-range protection against both aircraft and missiles.

Israel had long sought to block the sale, which analysts say could impede a potential Israeli strike on Tehran’s nuclear facilities. Other officials have expressed concern that the systems could reach Syria and Hezbollah, diluting Israel’s regional air supremacy.

The Israeli Air Force has trained for a scenario in which it would have to carry out strikes in Syria or Iran on facilities defended by the S-300.

In a 2015 interview, IAF commander Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel said the S-300 was a “significant but not insurmountable challenge” for the IAF.

Iran begins Strait of Hormuz navy drill amid tensions with US

Iran’s navy has begun an annual drill near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, its first major exercise since the inauguration of US President Donald Trump.

Iranian state television quoted navy chief Adm. Habibollah Sayyari on Sunday as saying the maneuver would cover an area of 2 million square kilometers (772,000 square miles) in the Sea of Oman and the Indian Ocean near the strait.

Nearly a third of all oil traded by sea passes through the strait, a narrow waterway connecting the Persian Gulf to the Indian Ocean.

Iran has had several confrontations recently with US Navy ships in the Persian Gulf and around the strait, with the most notable case being Iran’s capture last January of 10 US Navy sailors who had drifted into Iranian waters after experiencing mechanical problems.

Satellite view of the Strait of Hormuz (photo credit: NASA/Public domain)

The latest drill, however, does not involve Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary force the US Navy often criticizes for harassing its vessels.

The US Navy’s 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The move comes just two weeks after Western navies held a series of drills off the coast of Iran last week, in a show of force in light of increased Iranian harassment of foreign military vessels.

Undated photo shows the Royal Saudi Navy conducts military exercises dubbed Gulf Shield 1 in the Strait of Hormuz and the Sea of Oman. (Saudi Press Agency via AP)

The exercises, dubbed “United Trident,” were led by the United Kingdom and included ships from the US, France and Australia. The navies practiced fighting off enemy aerial incursions and mine clearing, as well as live fire drills, according to the British daily Telegraph.

The final drill featured 13 ships from the allied navies sailing in formation, with helicopters flying overhead.

Last month, Iranian Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari was dismissive of the show of force close to Iranian waters, telling the semi-official Mehr news agency that “they talk a lot.”

He also warned the Western navies against encroaching on Iranian waters, saying, “This is our red line.”