Iran's ballistic missile program must be placed under international surveillance, French President Emmanuel Macron said, in an bid to get tougher on Tehran while preserving the nuclear deal that Donald Trump has threatened to scrap.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday called for Iranian-backed militias to withdraw from Syria after meeting with opposition negotiators from the war-torn nation during a visit to Jordan.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will be seeking billions of dollars of Indian investment during a visit to New Delhi, diplomats said, a trip that comes amid U.S. pressure to review a 2015 international nuclear deal and re-impose sanctions on Iran.
[Israeli] Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Wednesday hinted Israel has plans to continue attacking Iranian positions inside Syria, following this weekend's aerial clashes in which the army says Israeli jets destroyed up to half of Syria's air defenses and four Iranian sites in the country.
The loss of one Israeli jet should not be exaggerated; it is not a watershed moment that will alter the strategic balance in the Middle East... In its far-reaching retaliatory raid on a dozen Syrian and Iranian targets, Israel sought to make clear there would be a cost if Assad and his Iranian allies challenged the "rules" again in the near future. After Israel's counterstrike, the Iranian-led axis appears to have backed down... Considering that the Syrian regime is in tatters, Assad is probably more keen on rebuilding his decimated country than on bearing the brunt of Israeli attacks launched in response to Iranian provocations. Hezbollah may be arming itself with advanced weaponry, but it is not interested in fighting another devastating conflict with Israel that could spread to Lebanon. Finally, the Iranian people's protests against their government's economic mismanagement at home and adventurism abroad indicate that the regime should be wary of increasing its commitments in Syria.
Israel's air attack on a manned Iranian command and control unit in Syria last weekend-and the Syrian shoot-down of an Israeli plane involved in the operation-marked a major escalation in the conflict between Israel and Iran in Syria. For now, things have quieted, with both sides seeming to understand the message the other was conveying. But the prospect for further escalation is higher than ever, and these kinds of Israeli operations in Syria are likely to become the new normal.
With the bellicose rhetoric and heightening tensions, the incident seemed certain to finally draw Israel into an all-out military confrontation with Syria-one that could spill into Israel itself and across Jordan and Lebanon. Iran's vaunted axis would finally have its "total war" against the "Zionist enemy" and its "master" America and the "Jewish monarchs" of Saudi Arabia. But war with Israel is the last thing Iran and Hezbollah want. In reality, Tehran is now threatening to mobilize its entire array of proxies to get what it wants in Syria and throughout the region. So far, it seems to be daring the world to test it.
Saturday's incident raises important questions about the interpretation of the rules of international law governing the use of force and the legality of the use of force by Israel and the forces acting against it.
IRAN PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
A British mother detained in Iran on spying charges is being subjected to psychological torture from "the whole armoury of the state", campaigners believe. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is entering her 683rd day in prison, has been the victim of "psychological abuse" which meets United Nations criteria for torture, according to a group calling for her release.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reiterated its condemnation of the Iranian authorities' harassment of journalists, saying control of news and information has been "implacable" since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
US Defense Secretary James Mattis told Al Arabiya that Iran is behind all the regional crises.... Speaking from Brussels on the sidelines of a meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Mattis [said] that Iran is involved in the crises in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain and Iraq.
President Trump, although delighted to make a meaningless show of disapproval by "decertifying" the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, hasn't made substantial changes in the U.S. policy toward Iran.
CONGRESS & IRAN
U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) released a statement following Iranian Attack: "This weekend, Iran launched a drone into Israeli airspace from Syria; an F-16 fighter jet was destroyed and one pilot retained serious injuries. This violation of Israeli sovereignty exemplifies Iran's growing regional influence, as well as the threat that its dominance in Syria poses to Israel. The U.S. is failing both Israeli and American interests by ceding its leadership in Syria to Iran and Russia, whose national security interests often directly contradict our own."
HEZBOLLAH & LEBANON
An Iranian-backed terror group claims it will have nearly half-a-million missiles aimed at Israel within the next year amid ongoing efforts by the Islamic Republic to transfer advanced missile technology to regional hotspots such as Lebanon and Syria, which are located on Israel's borders. Militants tied to Hezbollah, the Iranian-controlled terror group that operates along Israel's northern border in Lebanon, claim they have deployed more than 70,000 long-range missiles across Syria and Lebanon in preparation for a strike on Israel. The number of missiles could grow to nearly half-a-million within the next year, according to these militant groups.
A top Iranian general has lashed out at Israel during a commemoration for a Hezbollah figure killed in a 2008 Damascus car bombing that the group blamed on Israel. Qassem Soleimani, head of Iran's Quds Force, pledged retaliation for Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah's ex-military chief who was considered one of the world's most-wanted terrorists by Israel and the United States.
The leader of an Iraqi militia group with close ties to Iran traveled to Lebanon this week to voice solidarity with Hezbollah and pledged to stand with the "axis of resistance" in any future wars with Israel. Akram al-Kaabi, the head of Harakat al-Nujaba, made the remarks to reporters in southern Beirut after visiting the tomb of late Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh, who was allegedly killed by Israel.
The strategy promoted by the Israeli political and military echelon in the confrontation with Iran and Hezbollah in the north - the threat "to return Lebanon to the Stone Age" by massive destruction of civilian infrastructure and causing many casualties among the Lebanese population - is, in my opinion, dangerous and ineffective... Israel should deter Iran, if not prevent altogether war in the north, at least to prevent the nightmare scenario of thousands of missiles falling on Israeli territory.
RUSSIA & IRAN
...[I]t is hard to imagine a strategy that would remove Havana's presence from Venezuela without first passing through Moscow or Beijing. Iran, on the other hand, can operate independently in Venezuela because it taps into a separate, more robust clandestine network that has been developing in Latin America for more than half a century.
Is the prime minister thus headed to the political desert [due to corruption charges]? It is far too early to know... Yet one major factor may well weigh in favor of Netanyahu... The Israeli version of "the urgent trumping the important" is security trumping everything else. This week, Israel shot down an Iranian drone that had entered its airspace, which led to an Israeli bombing raid on Syrian and Iranian installations in Syria in which an Israeli F-16 was shot down... a low level of dread prevails. In some of the Israeli press, the day is being called the first battle of an all but inevitable Israel-Iran war... That may help Netanyahu, for Israelis want to know who will protect them best.
Union [British] flags were set ablaze during fiery celebrations of the 39th anniversary of the Iranian celebration in Tehran.
SYRIA & IRAN
Iran told the U.S. to withdraw its forces from Syria and cease operations there Wednesday because Washington's presence was deemed illegal by the local government.
Iraqi Interior Minister Qasim al-Araji announced yesterday that the country is planning on opening the al-Qaim-Abu Kamal border crossing between Iraq and Syria, Iranian and Iraqi media reported. Al-Araji, who is a senior member of Iran-backed Badr Organization, added that his ministry has obtained permission from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Chief of Staff of the Iraqi military, General Othman Al-Ghanimi, to reopen the strategic border crossing. He also revealed that Hashd al-Shaabi, Iraqi paramilitary forces also known as the Popular Mobilization Force, will play a role in maintaining security along the shared border.
In effect, the Iranians have gotten themselves into the same sort of situation [in Syria] that the United States got itself into in Vietnam in the 1960s and the Soviets got themselves into in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The Iranians are caught in a war that is more costly than they want to bear, but is too important for them to want to leave... [I]t strikes me that the right American response is to make sure that [the Iranians] aren't left alone to complete the pacification of Syria anytime soon - that their foes are armed, trained, and supplied to allow them to persevere and to keep bleeding the Iranians and their allies.
Initial indications are that Iran has not yet operated the land corridor through Iraq to Syria and Lebanon to any significant extent; this impression has been bolstered by statements by the US Secretary of Defense. The reason seems to be Iran's fear of attacks on convoys using the corridor, be they by US forces, the IDF, or Islamic State and Sunni elements. This fear will apparently continue in the future.
Animosity toward US Uniting Turkey, Russia, Iran in Syria | Semeh Idiz for Al-Monitor
The leaders of Turkey, Iran and Russia have agreed in principle to a summit on Syria to be held in Istanbul... Attempts by the United States to consolidate its position in territories held by the YPG in northern Syria... remain the main motive for keeping the informal, tripartite alliance alive. Regardless of Turkey's suspicions about long-term Russian and Iranian intentions in Syria, and vice versa, the three do not want to allow potential strains among them to work to the United States' advantage, not only in Syria, but in the region as a whole.
Iran's large-scale intervention in Syria has drawn tens of thousands of fighters from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Lebanon who formed the "Resistance Front" against ISIL. Now that [they] have helped Iran attain "victory" against ISIL, the question is what Iran will do with these tens of thousands of battle-hardened fighters... Initial indications are that Iran is actually downsizing the contingent of Afghan fighters, sending them back to Iran where their families - mostly refugees or undocumented immigrants - have been promised permanent residency. This gives the fighters' families a secure future, but it also gives the leadership in Tehran the security of knowing that it can, if needed, draw again on these veteran fighters who are now indebted to the government.
It's official: Syria has become a war of all against all.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
A group of prominent Iranian intellectuals have said they have lost hope that the Islamic Republic can reform, and have called for a referendum to establish whether the ruling establishment is still backed by a majority.
People in Iran are celebrating Valentine's Day despite the fact that the holiday has been banned in the Islamic Republic.
"Tehran Taboo"... lays bare the double standards that surround sex in Iran. Its confrontational quality is established in the opening scene: A driver picks up a prostitute who is turning tricks with her young son in tow - and moments later expresses horror when he spots a man holding hands with his daughter.