Israel and Iran moved closer to confrontation in Syria as rising tensions erupted into the most serious standoff between the sides since the Syrian civil war began seven years ago. The Israeli military on Saturday said it struck 12 targets in Syria, including four belonging to Iran, in a “large-scale attack” after an Iranian drone penetrated its airspace. An F-16 fighter plane crashed in northern Israel after coming under fire from Syrian anti-aircraft missiles, and the pilots were hospitalized with moderate to severe injuries.
Israel is counting on Russian President Vladimir Putin to keep confrontations with Iran and Syria from spiraling into war as the Trump administration mostly watches from the sidelines, a senior aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “The American part of the equation is to back us up,” but the U.S. currently “has almost no leverage on the ground,” Michael Oren, Netanyahu’s deputy minister for public diplomacy and a former ambassador to Washington, said in a phone interview Sunday. “America did not ante up in Syria. It’s not in the game.” Oren’s criticism reflects Israel’s view that Washington isn’t doing enough to curb Iran’s military ambitions in southern Syria, which borders the Israeli-held Golan Heights, as seven years of fighting wind down and actors consolidate gains.
An Iranian-Canadian university professor detained in Tehran has died in custody, activists and a family member said Sunday, marking the latest suspicious death of a detainee in Iran after a crackdown on dissent following nationwide protests. They identified the professor as Kavous Seyed-Emami, a 63-year-old professor of sociology at Imam Sadeq University in Tehran and the managing director of the Persian Heritage Wildlife Foundation. His son and the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran say that authorities told Seyed-Emami's family that he committed suicide in custody, something they described as suspicious following other detainee deaths.
UANI IN THE NEWS
As part of the ongoing discussion about Iran, we often hear of the Islamic Republic referred to as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism”. Iran has held the dubious distinction of this designation of the U.S. State Department since 1984. What is missing from the discussion is the human cost of what Iran does in the name of “exporting the Islamic revolution”. A more appropriate title for Iran should be, “a State Sponsor of Human Suffering.”
IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL
The chief executive of French oil company Total has urged Donald Trump to keep faith with the Iran nuclear deal and told the US president that oil and gas investment would help Iranian reformers in their struggle against hardliners in Tehran.
Republicans and pro-Israel camp point finger at Obama for being soft on Iran and Syria, while Democrats blame Trump for decertifying Iran deal.
NUCLEAR & BALLISTIC-MISSILE PROGRAMS
Hundreds of thousands of Iranians rallied on Sunday to mark the anniversary of Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, denouncing the United States and Israel as oppressors. President Hassan Rouhani, addressing flag-waving crowds on central Tehran’s Azadi (Freedom) Square… told the crowd: “They (U.S. and Israel) wanted to create tension in the region ... they wanted to divide Iraq, Syria ... They wanted to create long-term chaos in Lebanon but ... but with our help their policies failed”... In a show of defiance of Western pressure to curb its ballistic missile program, Iran put its Ghadr ballistic missile with a range of 2,000 km (1,240 miles) on display in Tehran’s central Vali-ye Asr street.
The loss of an Israeli military jet to Syrian fire over the weekend has raised the chances of a more forceful response from Israel to deter Iranian military expansion across its border, which could open up another front line in war-torn Syria.
Israel's prime minister said Sunday his country delivered "severe blows" to Iranian and Syrian forces and vowed to take further action against its adversaries following the most serious Israeli engagement in Syria since the war there erupted almost seven years ago.
Israel's security establishment believes the current round of fighting with Iran and Syria in the north – during which Israel stuck targets in Syria and an Israeli F-16 fighter jet was shot down – has all but come to an end. The widely agreed upon assessment is that the sides have achieved all they could in the current round. However, Israel also believes that in the long run, another clash with the Iranians in Syria is almost inevitable.
The drone that Israel said it shot down this weekend appeared to have been developed by Iran from technology obtained when it captured a U.S. stealth aircraft in 2011, according to aviation experts and Israeli officials.
The White House is standing behind Israel after a Syrian missile brought down an Israeli F-16. In a statement, the White House called Israel a "staunch ally" while warning Iran to cease "provocative actions" in the region.
An intense military clash between Israel and Iran over the weekend presented Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson with an unexpected crisis as he headed to the Middle East on a five-nation tour that was already shaping up to be the most challenging trip of his tenure.
Israel’s cross-border clash with Iranian and Syrian forces on Saturday was a sharp escalation of long-brewing hostilities along its northern frontier — and a bracing alert to those who have focused on other areas of the Syrian civil war, on other aspects of Iran’s strategic assertiveness, or who believed that Israel’s air superiority left it invincible in its own skies.
So where were Moscow and Washington on Saturday? Apparently, neither President Vladimir Putin nor President Donald Trump wants to get involved. Yet each has radically different reasons. In this regard, particularly after February 10, Israel has to be doubly worried.
Even before Saturday’s dramatic events across the Israeli-Syrian border, there were legitimate questions about the degree of American engagement to help Israel manage the increasingly complex challenges it faces to the north. A visit to the region by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, upon which he embarked this weekend, has a chance to change that, to the benefit of both U.S. and Israeli interests.
Two Israeli illusions burst on Saturday—a warm and spring-like day in which droves made the trek north here to the Galilee, a parcel of green hills and valleys currently swathed in a Klimt-like blanket of wild flowers, with falcons and cranes gliding by… The second shattered mirage was the hope, propagated as truth by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that the United States under President Donald Trump remains Israel’s most reliable ally… Twelve hours after Iran and Israel engaged in the first actual military skirmish in their troubled history, which ended with a downed Israeli F-16, the U.S. president remained silent.
An Israeli general said on Sunday that Iran is seeking to establish a "forward command post in Syria," and that Israel cannot allow it.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly conveyed to Iran a warning via European leaders before this weekend’s flare-up, which saw Israel down an Iranian drone after it entered Israeli airspace from Syrian territory, Israeli air strikes in Syria, and Syrian anti-aircraft fire cause the crash of an Israeli F-16.
Tehran has threatened the US in Syria, and its drone raid is a sign to Damascus and Russia that Iran is increasingly running Syrian policy.
The conflict between Israel and Iran may be heating up after a half-decade simmer.
IRAN PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Four United Nations human rights experts launched a fresh appeal Friday for Iran to annul the death sentence given to university professor Ahmadreza Djalali, accused of passing information to Israel.
One of the American hostages being held by the regime in Tehran reportedly may be suffering from cancer yet is being denied the healthcare he needs. Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese-American and permanent U.S. resident, is secretary-general of the Dupont Circle-based IJMA3 group, which lobbies for the information and communications technology industry in the Middle East.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called for a “year of unity” in the face of “Israeli plots” to create division, as Iran celebrated 39 years since the Islamic Revolution Sunday in the wake of protests that rocked the country last month.
Pyeongchang Olympic organizers said they had apologized to Iran on Friday after a diplomatic furor over its athletes being denied special Samsung phones issued for the Games.
IRAQ & IRAN
During the chaotic battle with the Islamic State, Iran-backed militias got their hands on M1A1 Abrams tanks the United States originally provided to the Iraqi army, a Pentagon watchdog has found.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Hundreds of thousands of Iranians rallied on the streets Sunday to mark the 39th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, just weeks after anti-government protests rocked cities across the country.
The 39th anniversary of the revolution in Iran promises to be a sombre occasion for the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, who was forced to acknowledge the mass discontent in the country as result of the recent protests and received letters from two dissident insiders accusing him of negligence and empire building.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei described corruption in Iran as a “seven-headed dragon”, calling on Iranian officials to combat and cut off its head in the regime.
Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency is reporting that Tehran’s prosecutor has said that authorities have arrested a number of suspects over espionage charges.
As Iran commemorates the 39th anniversary of the Islamic revolution, president Hassan Rouhani is caling for "a year of unity", just weeks after widespread anti-government protests throughout the country.
A senior adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said that figures the Rouhani administration has released about economic growth and employment do not reflect the truth. According to conservative-controlled Mehr news agency, Yahya Rahim Safavi has said on Friday February 8: “The people look at what they have on their plate and find out that the economic growth and job creation claimed by the administration have not taken place.”
The air in Iran’s southwestern province of Khuzestan is no longer safe to breathe.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday pledged to bring some stability to the country’s volatile currency market in the wake of a recent rally of foreign currencies.