united states

As Raqqa falls, US left picking up pieces of a shattered Middle East

WASHINGTON (AP) — The imminent fall of the Islamic State’s de facto capital leaves America a multitude of tasks to restore stability in the Middle East, starting with pockets of remaining IS resistance in Syria and Iraq.

Then there are the more deeply rooted problems, not fixable by guns or bombs, that allowed extremism to rise and flourish: Syria’s civil war and Iraq’s intractable political, religious and ethnic disputes, which turned violent again this week.

The challenge is more than the US can handle alone. It likely will keep some troops in Iraq for years to come to train and advise the army, police and other members of security forces that imploded when IS fighters swept across the Syrian border and captured Mosul in June 2014.

The militants also have footholds in Afghanistan and beyond. On Monday, the Pentagon said it used drone aircraft to strike two IS training camps in Yemen, killing dozens.

Syria has been fertile ground for IS, which capitalized on the civil war to expel al-Qaeda and more moderate opposition fighters from Raqqa almost four years ago, making the city the capital of its self-declared “caliphate.” The Obama administration sought to stay out of the civil war even as it claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

The Trump administration has largely stayed on the sidelines of attempts, now led by Russia and Iran, to organize local cease-fires and create so-called “de-escalation zones,” with the exception of one such area near the Israeli and Jordanian borders. But it has been generally supportive of UN-led efforts to resurrect stalled political talks aimed at forging a transitional administration.

On the ground in Syria, the administration has redefined America’s priorities to focus primarily on securing military gains and providing immediate reconstruction assistance to restore critical infrastructure and temporary governance.

Heather Nauert, the State Department spokesperson, said that once Raqqa is fully liberated the US and its coalition partners will focus on helping to remove dangers posed by unexploded bombs in the area.

The collapse of IS defenses in Raqqa, after four months of fighting, does not necessarily equate to the collapse of the militant group. The US military on Tuesday estimated 6,500 IS fighters remain in eastern Syria and western Iraq, many concentrated along the Euphrates River valley straddling the border. Even if they no longer control significant territory, they pose an insurgent threat in both countries and an ideological threat globally.“Eventually, we would get to the point where we would start to remove some of the rubble, get to the point where we would get the electricity going once again, providing clean water — the same types of things that the US and coalition partners were able to do in Mosul,” she said.

Col. Ryan S. Dillon, a spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting IS in Syria and Iraq, told reporters at the Pentagon that Raqqa is about 90 percent freed, but more fighting will be required to fully liberate the city. As evidence of remaining risks, he said the Syrian commander of a so-called Raqqa Internal Security Force, whose task will be to keep order in the city once the last IS fighters have been ousted, was killed Monday by an improvised bomb.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said last week that IS is “close to being crushed.” He also cautioned against assuming an easy end game, likening the problem to squeezing a tightly packed snowball.

“You can compact them and compact them, and eventually it shatters,” meaning IS remnants “can show up in other places.” He was speaking about four soldiers killed this month in the African nation of Niger, possibly by an IS affiliate.

Planning for some of the major attacks in Europe in recent years was traced back to Raqqa. These include the 2015 Paris attacks, which killed 130 people, and the 2016 suicide attacks on the Brussels airport and subway, which killed 32.

“That threat is multi-dimensional, evolving rapidly, and operating at a scale and pace we’ve not seen before,” he said.The breadth of the problem was underlined by Britain’s chief of domestic intelligence, who said in London that the Islamist extremist threat facing his country has accelerated at an alarming pace and is worse now than at any time in his 34-year career. MI5 Director General Andrew Parker said the risk is further heightened by the possible return to Britain of people who had joined IS in Syria and Iraq.

In Iraq, optimism created by a series of relatively swift victories by Iraqi security forces was punctured by renewed conflict between the central government in Baghdad and the semi-autonomous Kurdish regional government, whose peshmerga militia fighters had taken control of the disputed city of Kirkuk after IS took Mosul in 2014.

The Kurds had included disputed areas, including Kirkuk, in a non-binding referendum last month in which more than 90 percent of voters favored independence. The Iraqi government, as well as Turkey and Iran, which border the land-locked Kurdish region, rejected the vote.

Baghdad has spent the last three years demanding the Kurds return Kirkuk to federal control, and appeared to be on the verge of taking military action after the referendum. Sporadic clashes broke out as Iraqi forces moved toward Kirkuk on Monday, but within hours Kurdish forces had withdrawn from the city’s airport, an important military base and nearby oil fields.

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US allows local IS fighters to leave Raqqa as battle nears end

https://www.timesofisrael.com/us-allows-local-is-fighters-to-leave-raqqa-as-battle-nears-end/

 

BEIRUT (AP) — The US-led coalition and local officials said Saturday that Syrian Islamic State fighters and civilians will be allowed to evacuate Raqqa, a deal that signals the imminent capture of the city but flouts earlier US protests of negotiating safe exits for the extremist group.

Foreign fighters will be excluded from the evacuation deal, the coalition said.

The US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said the final battle for Raqqa was underway, apparently propelled by negotiation efforts that secured the surrender and evacuation of dozens of Syrian militants still holed up in the city.

In a statement, the US-led coalition said a convoy of vehicles was set to leave Raqqa following the deal brokered by a local council formed by their Kurdish allies and Arab tribal leaders.

The tribal leaders said they appealed to the coalition and the SDF to allow the evacuation of local Islamic State fighters to stem further violence.

“Because our aim is liberation not killing, we appealed to the SDF to arrange for the local fighters and secure their exit to outside of the city, with our guarantees,” the tribal leaders said in a statement.

It was not clear how many evacuees there were or where they would go, but the tribesmen said their evacuation would save the lives of civilians who the extremist fighters have used as human shields. Last week, there was an estimated 4,000 civilians still in the city.

With the push to liberate the Arab-majority Raqqa led by Kurdish-dominated forces, local officials fear a backlash once the city falls. The initiative appeared to be an attempt by local leaders to stem such tension.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the talks were bogged down over the fate of the foreign fighters there, which according to a local Kurdish commander include French, Russian, Azeri, Indonesian and Turkish combatants.

The US-led coalition said it “was not involved in the discussions that led to the arrangement, but believes it will save innocent lives and allow Syrian Democratic Forces and the Coalition to focus on defeating Daesh terrorists in Raqqah with less risk of civilian casualties.” Daesh is an Arabic acronym for IS.

The evacuation deal places the US in a bind as it had earlier said that only surrender, not a negotiated withdrawal for IS fighters in Raqqa, would be accepted.

The top US envoy for the anti-IS coalition, Brett McGurk, had previously stated that foreign fighters in Raqqa would die in the city. Omar Alloush, a senior member of the Raqqa Civil Council, said Friday around 100 militants had surrendered.

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters travelling with him Friday that the US would accept the surrender of IS militants who would be interrogated for intelligence purposes.

“Right now, as the bottom drops out from underneath (IS), more and more of them are either surrendering — some are trying to surrender, and some amongst them — more fanatical ones aren’t allowing them to,” he said, using a different acronym for the extremist group.

Only weeks ago, the US coalition obstructed a Hezbollah-negotiated deal to evacuate IS fighters from its borders with Syria toward the border with Iraq. The coalition bombed the road used by the convoy evacuating the militants, only to finally capitulate following Russian calls asking it to allow Syrian troops in the area to advance.

It is also not clear what kind of justice would be meted out to those surrendering militants in the absence of established courts in Kurdish-dominated northern Syria.

A senior local Kurdish commander said foreign fighters were unlikely to surrender so his forces are expecting to “comb them out” of at least two neighborhoods. He said it could be a matter of a day or two.

Scores of civilians were seen in a video Friday leaving Raqqa in desperate and terrified conditions. They emerged from destroyed districts, some of them collapsing on the ground in exhaustion as they arrived at a Kurdish-held area of the city, in haunting scenes reflecting their years-long ordeals.

The US-led coalition said it expects “difficult fighting” in the days ahead to completely oust IS from the city and secure it. SDF and U.S. officials said the remaining militants are mostly suicide bombers who only have small arms and rifles. Backed into a small area, they have no access to their weapon of choice, car bombs, said Mustafa Bali, an SDF spokesman.

IS refuge captured

Also Saturday, the Syrian and Russian militaries announced that Syrian troops and allied fighters had seized the town of Mayadeen, an Islamic State stronghold in the country’s east. The Russian Defense Ministry’s spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, said Syrian soldiers had driven IS fighters from the town, which he said was the extremist group’s last major stronghold in eastern Syria.

Over the past months, Mayadeen had become a refuge for IS’s leaders as they faced an intense crackdown in Syria and Iraq.

On the western bank of the Euphrates River, Mayadeen was also a major node in the race for control of the oil-rich eastern Deir el-Zour province that straddles the border with Iraq. Washington has feared advances by Syrian troops and allied fighters could help Iran expand its influence across the region and establish a “Shiite corridor” of land links from Iraq to Lebanon, and all the way to Israel. Iran backs militias fighting alongside the Syrian military.

Diverting fighters from the battle for Raqqa, the US-backed SDF made a bid for the province to secure territories there, focusing on securing the Iraq border, still mostly controlled by IS.

The Syrian government eyed Mayadeen earlier this month, fearing the SDF would get there first. The race accelerated amid fear of potential confrontations as Syrian troops crossed the Euphrates river to reach the oil-rich eastern banks.

Rami Abdurrahman, head of the Observatory, confirmed that government troops, backed by Shiite militias, had taken control of Mayadeen but said they were still combing it for militants.

With the fall of Mayadeen and retaking of Raqqa, Islamic State fighters are losing two of their last strongholds in Syria as their self-declared caliphate crumbles. The militants are currently besieged in the city of Deir el-Zour, leaving them with one last major urban bastion, the strategic town of Boukamal, on the border with Syria and Iraq.

Militants seized Raqqa in 2014, the first city to fall under the full control of the extremist group, and declared it the caliphate of their self-styled caliphate. It became synonymous with IS’s reign of terror, with public killings and beheadings — videotaped slayings that have shocked the world. It was also from Raqqa, which became a destination for foreign fighters from around the world, that many of IS’s attacks in the West were plotted.

The latest battle for Raqqa began in June, with heavy street-by-street fighting amid intense US-led coalition airstrikes and shelling. The battle has dragged on in the face of stiff resistance from the militants.

Rouhani: Trump’s decision to decertify nuclear deal leaves US ‘isolated’

https://www.timesofisrael.com/rouhani-trumps-failure-to-recertify-deal-shows-us-against-iranian-people/

 

US President Donald Trump’s speech in which he outlined an aggressive new strategy against Iran shows the US is “more than ever isolated in its opposition to the nuclear deal,” President Hassan Rouhani said Friday.

Rouhani spoke in a televised address after Trump gave a much anticipated White House speech in which he “decertified” his support for the 2015 nuclear agreement, and left its fate in the hands of Congress.

“Today the United States is more than ever isolated in its opposition to the nuclear deal and in its plots against the Iranian people,” Rouhani said.

“What was heard today was nothing but the repetition of baseless accusations and swear words that they have repeated for years,” Rouhani said. “The Iranian nation does not expect anything else from you.”

Rouhani dismissed Trump’s threat to tear up the landmark deal between Tehran and six world powers including Washington if Congress does not impose tough new sanctions on Iran.

“He has not studied international law. Can a president annul a multilateral international treaty on his own?” Rouhani said.

“Apparently he doesn’t know that this agreement is not a bilateral agreement solely between Iran and the United States.”

Rouhani responded in kind to Trump’s list of alleged destabilizing activities in the region, with his own catalog of US misdemeanors, starting with the CIA’s involvement in a 1953 coup which toppled Iran’s democratically elected government.

He also criticized US involvement in wars from Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq, and highlighted the shooting down by a US naval vessel of an Iran Air passenger flight in 1988, which killed 290 people.

Many Iranians responded to Trump’s speech on social media with the hashtag #NeverTrustUSA, with many highlighting the travel ban placed on Iranians earlier this year.

“The most disgusting part of Trump’s speech was when he tried to show himself as sympathizing with Iranians,” wrote one Twitter user.

“Reminder: Not even 6 months have passed from the execution of visa ban for Iranians!” wrote another.

Trump called for tougher sanctions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and ballistic missile program, and said the deal could still be “terminated” if Congress did not adequately confront “destabilizing” Iranian activity in the Middle East.

But he stepped back from the sort of measures that would immediately torpedo the nuclear agreement.

Iran’s army spokesman Masoud Jazayeri responded by saying: “The armed forces will continue more determined than ever on its path of developing and enhancing its defence power,” in quotes carried by state news agency IRNA.

Rouhani attacked Trump’s characterization of the Revolutionary Guards as a corrupt organization propping up a “fanatical regime.”

“Is the Iranian government a dictatorship… or is it the governments who are supported by the United States and still run their country on a tribal basis and have never seen an election in their country?” Rouhani said in a pointed reference to Iran’s regional rival, Saudi Arabia.

Despite Trump’s aggressive rhetoric, Rouhani said Iran remained committed to the nuclear agreement for the time being.

“We respect the JCPOA… so long as it remains in keeping with our national rights and interests,” he said, using its technical name.

Rouhani also responded to Trump’s criticism regarding the frequently heard slogans of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel,” which Iranians usually depict as opposition to the policies of those nations, rather than a call for their physical destruction.

“Are you upset with the slogans? Then stop your hostile policies,” Rouhani said.

“I am announcing that we cannot and will not make this certification,” Trump said in an highly anticipated address on America’s strategy for containing Tehran.In his own address hours earlier, Trump warned that the US may yet walk away from “one of the worst” agreements in history.

“We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence and terror and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear break out.”

The US leader also announced tough new sanctions on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, while stopping short of declaring the powerful group a terrorist organization.

Trump warned that the US could “terminate the deal” if it is unable to bring about better terms and better enforcement of the current accord.

For his part, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the US president’s announcement, saying that Trump had “boldly confronted Iran’s terrorist regime.”

In a video posted to YouTube, the Israeli leader said, “If the Iran deal is left unchanged, one thing is absolutely certain — in a few year’s time, the world’s foremost terrorist regime will have an arsenal of nuclear weapons.”

UNESCO’s new head issues ‘don’t quit’ plea to US and Israel

France’s Audrey Azoulay, chosen Friday to lead UNESCO, said following her election she believed member states must “get involved” in the organization and “not leave it,” a day after the US and Israel announced their plans to withdraw.

Stressing that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization was going through difficult times, Azoulay said, “In a time of crisis, we need to be more involved than ever, seek to strengthen it, and not leave it.”

Azoulay reiterated that the “first thing she would endeavor” if confirmed by the General Conference in November, would be to “restore the credibility” of the organization and the confidence of member states.

Azoulay was named to head the UN’s embattled cultural agency on Friday, beating her Qatari rival after a politically charged contest clouded by Gulf tensions and accusations of anti-Israel bias.

Azoulay, 49, came from behind after six rounds of voting to defeat Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari, also a former culture minister, after he failed to pick up support from other Gulf states which are part of a Saudi-led coalition blockading Qatar. The vote was 30 to 28.

The campaign to succeed UNESCO’s outgoing chief Irina Bokova was overshadowed by Washington’s announcement Thursday that it planned to withdraw from the Paris-based body after years of tensions over decisions seen as critical of Israel.

Israel itself announced shortly afterwards that it would follow suit.

Azoulay, who is Jewish of Moroccan origin, will face the difficult task of trying to persuade the United States and Israel to remain as members, as well as tackling the allegations of anti-Israel bias.

French President Emmanuel Macron hailed her victory on Twitter, saying: “France will continue to fight for science, education and culture in the world.”

Russia: Israel following ‘bad example’ of US in UNESCO pullout

Russia’s foreign ministry said Friday Israel’s decision to prepare to pull out of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization follows “the bad example of the US.”

“The decision made by the Israeli authorities, who chose to follow the bad example of the US, only causes regret,” ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel would begin preparations to withdraw from UNESCO after the United States made its decision to do the same hours earlier.

The US cited the UN body’s “anti-Israel bias” alongside financial considerations in explaining its decision.

The US withdrawal is to take effect on December 31, 2018.Netanyahu said he “welcomes the decision by President [Donald] Trump to withdraw from UNESCO. This is a courageous and moral decision because UNESCO has become the theater of the absurd and because, instead of preserving history, it distorts it.”

The American ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said in a statement Thursday following the US announcement to withdraw that “the purpose of UNESCO is a good one,” but “unfortunately, its extreme politicization has become a chronic embarrassment.”

Also on Friday, France’s former culture minister Audrey Azoulay was elected to head UNESCO in a cliffhanger vote.

By a margin of 30-28 votes, Azoulay narrowly defeated Qatari candidate Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari, who had been the frontrunner throughout the week’s voting.

Azoulay, 45, came from behind after six rounds of voting to defeat Al-Kawari, also a former culture minister, after he failed to pick up support from other Gulf states that are part of a Saudi-led coalition blockading Qatar.

Azoulay, who is Jewish, is the daughter of André Azoulay, adviser to King Mohammed VI of Morocco. She grew up in Morocco and France.

Israel lost its voting rights at UNESCO in 2013, following its move to suspend dues to the organization over its decision to grant full membership to Palestine in 2011.

The US too lost its voting rights at the same time and has not paid some $80 million a year in dues since 2011.

The US previously withdrew from UNESCO in 1984 because Washington viewed it as mismanaged and used for political reasons, then rejoined it in 2003.

Israel this past year cited a UNESCO decision disputing Israel’s claim to Jerusalem as a reason to further reduce the amount it pays annually to the United Nations. In May, Netanyahu said Israel would cut another $1 million from its payments to the UN, bringing the total cuts since December 2016 to $9 million.

It marked the third time in less than a year that Israel has reacted to UN resolutions it deems biased against it by announcing the slashing of its payments to the body.

In December, after the Security Council passed Resolution 2334, Netanyahu ordered $6 million cut from Israel’s payment to the UN. And in March, after the Human Rights Council passed five anti-Israel resolutions, Netanyahu vowed to cut an additional $2 million.

ISRAEL, ACCUSED OF SPYING ON US AT IRAN TALKS, REDEEMED IN KASPERSKY FINDINGS

 

WASHINGTON — Back in 2015, Israel’s intelligence agencies were caught on the defensive when a Russian-based cybersecurity firm released an explosive report strongly implicating them of spying on the United States at host sights of the Iran nuclear talks.

The firm, Kaspersky Labs, declined to name Israel as directly responsible for the hack. But it pointed to the use of a sophisticated malware, codenamed Duqu 2.0, that had originally been developed jointly by Israelis and Americans and had now been adapted to target US interests.

Or so the story went in 2015.

Now Kaspersky Labs is the party on the defensive, after The New York Times revealed this week that, in its 2015 hack of Kaspersky systems, Israel uncovered a Russian government effort to use the private firm as a powerful search engine on computers worldwide.

After Israel reportedly uncovered the Russian operation, it promptly alerted the US to its findings. The report calls into question the dominant 2015 narrative that Jerusalem and Washington were working against one another, and not together, on intelligence collection.

 

At that time, the Obama administration fielded questions from reporters focused primarily on the question of whether Israel was targeting the US through espionage, due to disagreements over the Iran talks.

“I can say that we take steps, certainly, to ensure that confidential, that classified negotiating details stay behind closed doors in these negotiations,” said Jeff Rathke, then a State Department spokesman.

He declined to elaborate. But US officials in private repeatedly accused Israel of spying on their efforts, and in the closing months of the talks dramatically curtailed their briefings to Israeli officials on their diplomatic progress.

Spying was surely going both ways, and it remains unclear whether Israel’s intended goal of the Kaspersky hack was to understand Kaspersky’s systems, to collect intelligence on the nuclear talks, or some other unknown purpose.

In December of that year, the Wall Street Journal revealed that a wide US surveillance net of Israeli leaders had incidentally collected the communications of several members of Congress. Other reports from that year seem to confirm Israeli and US efforts to spy on one another.

And Israel’s willingness to come forward with its discovery of Russia’s effort does not necessarily mean they revealed to the Americans their sources and methods for the information shared.

In a statement to The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, Kaspersky Labs could not confirm that Israel’s findings on the use of Kaspersky systems occurred during its alleged infiltration of the Iran talks. The firm further denied any connection to the Russian government.

“With regards to unverified assertions that this situation relates to Duqu2, a sophisticated cyber attack of which Kaspersky Lab was not the only target, we are confident that we have identified and removed all of the infections that happened during that incident,” the firm said. “Kaspersky Lab does not definitively attribute attacks to specific entities or nation-states because the company’s policy is to focus on the technical analysis of cyber threats.”

The organization said that no evidence had been presented to substantiate the Times report, and called on “relevant parties to responsibly provide the company with verifiable information.”

“Contrary to erroneous reports, Kaspersky Lab technologies are designed and used for the sole purpose of detecting all kinds of threats, including nation-state sponsored malware, regardless of the origin or purpose,” the firm added.

In an interview in 2015 with the Post, Kaspersky Lab’s principal security researcher, Kurt Baumgartner, offered more specificity.

“Attribution of cyber attacks over the Internet is a difficult thing,” Baumgartner said. “However, it’s important to stress that we are absolutely sure that Duqu 2.0 is an updated version of the infamous 2011 Duqu malware.” Duqu was originally discovered in 2011 as a strikingly similar software to Stuxnet, the virus of US-Israeli origin that was used to infiltrate Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and destroy it from within.

“In addition to several unknown victims, we are quite sure that at least three of the venues where P5+1 talks about a nuclear deal with Iran were held have been attacked,” Baumgartner said, adding: “The Duqu 2.0 group launched a similar attack in relation to the 70th anniversary event of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.”

NY OFFICIAL: HOMEGROWN TERRORISM BIGGER PROBLEM IN US THAN EUROPE

 

http://www.jpost.com/International/NY-official-Homegrown-terrorism-bigger-problem-in-US-than-Europe-507317

 

“The US struggles with homegrown terror more than” Europe, which “has a bigger foreign fighter” problem, New York Commissioner of Homeland Security Roger Parrino has told The Jerusalem Post.

Parrino analyzed the different terrorism challenges presented to the US and to other countries in interviews with the Post last week and on the sidelines of an IDC Herzliya terrorism conference last month.

“The trends we are seeing in Europe of vehicle attacks and knife attacks have made it to the US, but not to the same extent as in the rest of the world. We do not have someone coming over” to the US to perpetrate terrorism in the numbers that Europe has had, he said.

On the other hand, homegrown terrorism is a bigger problem in the US, where “a lone wolf gets inspired and wants to be known for something… or someone with mental illness” ends up attacking, he said.

Furthermore, these types of terrorists usually “have no criminal backgrounds,” making them hard to trace or anticipate, the commissioner said.

Parrino was told about Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) statements that it had prevented hundreds of potential lone wolf terrorists from acting, by arresting them based on their profiles and on incitement they posted on social media.

He responded that what impresses him about Israel is that it “has cracked the formula of how to communicate with citizens from an early age based on the fears and the problems they face. We in America have not.”

This means that in many parts of Israel, would-be terrorists see the perceptive and sometimes armed members of the Israeli public as a challenge, and may choose to avoid certain attacks and “decide to pick on a different city” that is less well-guarded.

Asked why Israel had made such progress in connecting with its citizenry about security, he said part of the story is their “proximity to danger. It is different to be fighting for your existence since 1947 versus one horrific day in September 2001.”

Parrino said he did see it as a central part of his role “to reach out more to the American people so they can use information to make better decisions about their safety. Our governor is very forward-leaning in that realm.”

As for information sharing among US counterterrorism authorities, he said there had been major progress. “The FBI is so much more cooperative and interested in sharing information than they were when I first entered law enforcement in 1982.”

At the same time, he said there is room for improvement, as changing the culture of sharing intelligence is “slow moving, like altering the direction of the rudder” of a large ship.

“It exists and we are talking about it. The discussion used to be ‘Make sure we do not cooperate.’ Now it is ‘How can we cooperate.’”

He discussed striking the proper balance between sharing enough information with the US public versus sharing too much information, which could “give up vulnerabilities and capabilities.”

It is valid to give the public more information about travel risks, risks of attending certain public gatherings and about a counterterrorism unit in New York being capable of responding to multiple simultaneous attacks, he said.

However, he was against giving out technical information about security precautions and capabilities being undertaken by the government, as “that is a playbook for evildoers and terrorists.”

Examples of going too far in sharing would be publicizing how security forces “are collecting information, warehousing information and describing surveillance gear and equipment. That kind of information does not deter the bad guys. They use it and work around it.”

Still, Parrino favors sharing some of that technical information “with a government oversight committee” in a classified session.

After all of that, he said that there was no silver bullet for stopping terrorism, and he implied that statistics, even those of the Shin Bet, about how many potential attackers could or were stopped were notoriously hard to back up

“Congress always asks what has been stopped. The legalities are a struggle with supervising social media. It is not easy to draw the line between saying ‘It is okay to have a radical thought process, but not okay to encourage radicalized violence,” Parrino said.

One concrete technique for stopping at least forms of vehicular terrorism that he supports is bollards – thick steel posts that can line sidewalks and entrances to gathering areas and block attacks.

In the past many people objected to securing buildings and public areas because the security recommendations would render areas ugly, he said. In contrast, he said bollards are relatively attractive and unobtrusive for pedestrians.

Bollards can also be used more aggressively to entirely block off certain pedestrian-oriented areas of a city. While this could increase traffic congestion elsewhere, Parrino said some of the adjustment required just making a mental shift in understanding the scale of the terrorism challenge.

“Fifty years ago, no one was wearing seat belts,” and now that has become standard, he said, adding that “giving the streets back to pedestrians is not the worst thing.”

He concluded that he “loves the mission of sharing information” and is proud of his accomplishments in advising New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and various partners about how to better protect “critical infrastructure and a range of softer targets.”

Israel ‘to prepare’ for UNESCO withdrawal alongside US, says Netanyahu

Israel will begin preparations to withdraw from the UN’s cultural and education body now that the United States has made its decision to do the same, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday

“The prime minister instructed the Foreign Ministry to prepare Israel’s withdrawal from the organization alongside the United States,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement, hours after the US said it is quitting the organization, citing its “anti-Israel bias” alongside financial considerations.

Netanyahu said he “welcomes the decision by President [Donald] Trump to withdraw from UNESCO. This is a courageous and moral decision because UNESCO has become the theater of the absurd and because, instead of preserving history, it distorts it.”

The US withdrawal is to take effect on December 31, 2018.

Earlier Thursday, Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO, Carmel Shama-Hacohen, said his personal recommendation to Netanyahu would be to “immediately withdraw” from the organization.

Shama-Hacohen said that in recent years UNESCO has become “an absurd organization that has lost its way in favor of the political considerations of certain countries” and that his “personal recommendation to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to follow suit and immediately withdraw [from UNESCO].”

The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said in a statement Thursday following the US announcement to withdraw that “the purpose of UNESCO is a good one,” but “unfortunately, its extreme politicization has become a chronic embarrassment.”

Haley cited UNESCO’s July decision to declare the Old City of Hebron in the West Bank, the site of the Tomb of the Patriarchs, an endangered world heritage site, as “the latest in a long line of foolish actions, which includes keeping Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad on a UNESCO human rights committee even after his murderous crackdown on peaceful protestors.”

“US taxpayers should no longer be on the hook to pay for policies that are hostile to our values and make a mockery of justice and common sense,” she said.

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, earlier praised Washington’s decision, saying UNESCO has become a forum for Israel-bashing and had forgotten its original purpose.

Danon said UNESCO was now “paying the price” for the “shameful” decisions it has adopted against Israel, citing “a new era” dawning at the UN in which “anti-Israel discrimination” has consequences.

Israel lost its voting rights at UNESCO in 2013, following its move to suspend dues to the organization over its decision to grant full membership to Palestine in 2011.

The US too lost its voting rights at the same time and has not paid some $80 million a year in dues since 2011.

The US previously withdrew from UNESCO in 1984 because Washington viewed it as mismanaged and used for political reasons, then rejoined it in 2003.

Israel this past year cited a UNESCO decision disputing Israel’s claim to Jerusalem as a reason to further reduce its the amount it pays annually to the United Nations. In May, Netanyahu said Israel would cut another $1 million from its payments to the UN, bringing the total cuts since December 2016 to $9 million.

It marked the third time in less than a year that Israel has reacted to UN resolutions it deems biased against it by announcing the slashing of its payments to the body. In December, after the Security Council passed Resolution 2334, Netanyahu ordered $6 million cut from Israel’s payment to the UN. And in March, after the Human Rights Council passed five anti-Israel resolutions, Netanyahu vowed to cut an additional $2 million.

U.S. Will Withdraw From Unesco, Citing Its ‘Anti-Israel Bias’

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration announced on Thursday that it would withdraw from Unesco, the United Nations cultural organization, after years of the United States distancing itself because of what it called the group’s “anti-Israel bias.”

The administration also cited mounting arrears at the organization as a reason for the decision.

“We were in arrears to the tune of $550 million or so, and so the question is, do we want to pay that money?” Heather Nauert, a spokeswoman for the State Department, said Thursday at a news briefing. She added, “With this anti-Israel bias that’s long documented on the part of Unesco, that needs to come to an end.”

While the United States withdrew from the group, the Trump administration said it wanted to continue providing American perspective and expertise to Unesco, but as a nonmember observer. The withdrawal goes into effect at the end of 2018, but that decision could be revisited, officials said.

If Unesco returns “to a place where they’re truly promoting culture and education on all of that, perhaps we could take another look at this,” Ms. Nauert said.

Unesco, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization popularly known for its designation of World Heritage sites, is a global development agency with missions that include promoting sex education, literacy, clean water and equality for women.

In a lengthy written statement, Irina Bokova, Unesco’s director general, expressed regret at the decision and said that the American people shared the organization’s goals.

“Universality is critical to Unesco’s mission to strengthen international peace and security in the face of hatred and violence, to defend human rights and dignity,” she wrote.

In 2011, the United States stopped funding Unesco because of what was then a forgotten, 15-year-old amendment mandating a complete cutoff of American financing to any United Nations agency that accepts Palestine as a full member. Various efforts by President Barack Obama to overturn the legal restriction narrowly failed in Congress, and the United States lost its vote at the organization after two years of nonpayment, in 2013. Unesco was dependent on the United States for 22 percent of its budget, then about $70 million a year.

During the Cold War, the United States withdrew from the agency in 1984 because the Reagan administration deemed the organization too susceptible to Moscow’s influence and overly critical of Israel. President George W. Bush pledged in 2002 to rejoin the organization in part to show his willingness for international cooperation in the lead-up to the Iraq war.

Cultural organizations in the United States criticized the decision, saying Unesco played a key role in preserving vital cultural heritage worldwide.

“Although Unesco may be an imperfect organization, it has been an important leader and steadfast partner in this crucial work,” said Daniel H. Weiss, the president and chief executive of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Ms. Bokova said she had repeatedly told members of Congress that immediate payment of the arrears was not an issue, only American political re-engagement in the organization, which she said she believed served many American interests abroad.

Ms. Bokova, in a telephone interview, said she “thought the decision was coming but why now, I don’t know, in the midst of elections” for a new director to succeed her.

France and Qatar were running neck-and-neck in the race to lead the cultural body after a third round of voting Wednesday whittled the field to five. Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari of Qatar and Audrey Azoulay of France — both former culture ministers — had 18 votes each.

Behind them in the secret ballot was an Egyptian career diplomat, Moushira Khattab, with 13 votes, and Tang Qian of China with five, according to results posted on Unesco’s website.

Ms. Bokova argued that Unesco is “so relevant to the political agenda of the American government it’s incredible,” citing its work on trying to prevent violent extremism through educational and cultural programs in the developing world. Unesco’s largest literacy program is in Afghanistan, she said, and Unesco is also working in Libya and Iraq to train teachers and preserve cultural heritage in liberated areas. It has always worked against anti-Semitism and to preserve the memory of the Holocaust, Ms. Bokova said.

Analysts said that withdrawing from the organization was a significant escalation by the United States in its criticism of United Nations bodies.

“This is another example of the Trump’s administration’s profound ambivalence and concern about the way the U.N. is structured and behaves,” said Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East negotiator and adviser in Republican and Democratic administrations.

In July, Unesco declared the ancient and hotly contested core of Hebron, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, as a Palestinian World Heritage site in danger, a decision sharply criticized by Israel and its allies. And in 2015, Unesco adopted a resolution that criticized Israel for mishandling heritage sites in Jerusalem and condemned “Israeli aggressions and illegal measures against freedom of worship.”

The Trump administration has made the defense of Israel on the global stage a key tenet of its foreign policy. After he was elected but before he became president, Mr. Trump made an extraordinary intervention on the world stage by criticizing the Obama administration’s decision not to block a United Nations resolution criticizing Israeli settlements. Mr. Trump has pledged to move the United States Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv and selected a pro-settlement ambassador.

Nikki R. Haley, the United Nations ambassador, has repeatedly criticizedthe United Nations for what she called its anti-Israel bias.

In a statement released Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel praised the move by the United States and pledged to withdraw Israel from the organization as well.

“This is a courageous and ethical decision because Unesco has become a theater of the absurd and instead of preserving history, distorts it,” Mr. Netanyahu said.

For President Trump and for Mr. Netanyahu, the recognition of World Heritage sites in the Palestinian territories, like Hebron and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and the 2015 resolution and another in 2016, showed an anti-Israel bias.

The 2016 resolution condemned Israel’s “escalating aggressions” regarding a holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City, known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif and to Jews as the Temple Mount. It was submitted by the Palestinians, was supported by 24 countries, with six opposing it and 26 abstaining. It referred to the holy site only using Muslim names and prompted angry reactions from Israeli politicians.

Rouhani says US is opposing ‘whole world’ on Iran nuclear deal

TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani lashed out at US counterpart Donald Trump, saying he was opposing “the whole world” by trying to abandon a landmark nuclear agreement.

“If the US wants to take a hostile position regarding an international agreement which is approved by the UN Security Council… they will oppose not just Iran but the whole world,” Rouhani said at a cabinet meeting shown on state television Wednesday.

“It will be absolutely clear which is the lawless government. It will be clear which country is respected by the nations of the world and global public opinion,” he added.

Trump is due to deliver a speech as early as Thursday outlining a tougher line on Iran, and is expected to say he will no longer certify the 2015 nuclear deal as required every three months.

The US Congress would then have 60 days to decide on whether to reimpose sanctions, effectively pulling out of the nuclear agreement.

Other parties to the deal — Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and the European Union — have all voiced staunch support for it, saying Iran has stuck to its commitments to curb its nuclear program.

In remarks quoted by the Fars news agency, Jazzayeri said: “Apparently, the Trump administration doesn’t understand words but insults and it needs some shocks to understand the new meaning of power in today’s world.”Iran’s army deputy chief of staff, Massoud Jazzayeri, said it was “time to give the US new lessons.”

The nuclear deal “is a test for all governments,” Rouhani said.

“Whenever we have committed ourselves, we have stood by our commitments to the end. This is an honor for us.”

Rouhani also took aim at reports that the US may declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization.

“This will be a mistake. The Revolutionary Guards are not just a military unit, the Revolutionary Guards are in the hearts of the people,” he said.

He said Trump was “clearly upset” over the IRGC’s military successes against the Islamic State terror group in Syria and Iraq.

“OK, if you want to keep Daesh (the Islamic State) in this region for 20 years and use it as a tool, then OK, it is your right to be angry with the Revolutionary Guards. Because the Revolutionary Guards, by their planning, and support for the nations of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon have humiliated Daesh,” Rouhani said.

Earlier this year, Rouhani sparked a row with the IRGC over their extensive economic holdings, saying they were acting like a “government with a gun.”

But the threats from Washington have brought a show of unity from Iran’s often fractious institutions.

“We are one society. We are all Iran. There are no differences among our factions in confronting our enemies’ conspiracies,” Rouhani said.

“The current US president has created a situation where Iran is more integrated than ever, more unanimous, more united.”

Earlier in the day, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif gave a closed door briefing to parliament on possible responses to Trump’s speech.