Europeans urge Iran to abide by nuclear pact; Israel says preparing military

FILE PHOTO - French President Emmanuel Macron speaks to the media ahead of a European Union leaders summit that aims to select candidates for top EU institution jobs, in Brussels, Belgium June 30, 2019. REUTERS/Johanna Geron

By John Irish and Parisa Hafezi

PARIS/DUBAI (Reuters) – European signatories to a nuclear pact with Iran said on Tuesday they were “extremely concerned” by Tehran’s apparent breach of the 2015 deal, as Israel said it was preparing for possible involvement in any confrontation between Iran and the United States.

Iran announced this week it has amassed more low-enriched uranium than is permitted under the nuclear pact, a move that prompted U.S. President Donald Trump to say Iran was “playing with fire”.

“We regret this decision by Iran, which calls into question an essential instrument of nuclear non-proliferation,” the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Britain said in a joint statement with the EU’s High Representative on Iran. “We urge Iran to reverse this step and to refrain from further measures that undermine the nuclear deal,” they said.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have increased since Trump pulled Washington out of the pact last year and moved to bar all international sales of Iranian oil. Washington also blames Iran for attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf, something Tehran denies.

The European signatories to the accord have sought to pull back the two longstanding foes from direct confrontation, fearing a mistake could lead to war accidentally.

Israel has encouraged the Trump administration to press ahead with sanctions against its arch-foe Iran, predicting that Tehran will eventually renegotiate a more limiting nuclear deal.

But Foreign Minister Israel Katz told an international security forum that Iran might accidentally stumble out of what he termed the “gray zone” of contained confrontation.

“It should be taken into account that mistaken calculations by the (Iranian) regime … are liable to bring about a shift from the ‘gray zone’ to the ‘red zone’ – that is, a military conflagration,” he said in a speech to the Herzliya Conference.

“We must be prepared for this, and thus the State of Israel continues to devote itself to building up its military might for the event that it will have to respond to escalation scenarios.”

Israel has long threatened to take preemptive military action to deny Iran the means of making nuclear weapons. Tehran says it has no such designs. One of its senior lawmakers warned on Monday that Israel would be destroyed within “only half an hour” should the United States attack Iran.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denies that Iran is in violation of the nuclear accord by amassing more low-enriched uranium, saying Iran is exercising its right to respond following the U.S. pullout.

By exceeding the limit, Tehran could prompt the return of all international sanctions on Iran but one European diplomat, asked if Europe would trigger a dispute resolution mechanism that is part of the accord, said:

“Not for now. We want to defuse the crisis.”

A second diplomat said Britain, France and Germany would focus on bringing Iran back into compliance and that they wanted to gain more time for dialogue.

“In the immediate term, Iran must return to its obligations. There is room for dialogue,” a French diplomatic source added.

China, like France a signatory to the deal, said it regretted Iran’s move but urged all parties to exercise restraint and said the U.S. policy of increasing pressure on Iran was the “root cause of the current tensions”.


The nuclear deal lifted most international sanctions against Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear work. It aimed to extend the time Tehran would need to produce a nuclear bomb, if it chose to, from roughly 2-3 months to a year.

Iran’s main demand – in talks with the European parties to the deal and as a precondition to any talks with the United States – is to be allowed to sell its oil at the levels before Washington pulled out of the deal and restored sanctions.

Iranian crude exports were around 300,000 barrels per day or less in late June, industry sources said, a fraction of the more than 2.5 million bpd Iran shipped in April 2018, the month before Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal.

Iran says it will breach the deal’s nuclear curbs one by one until it is able to sell that amount of oil, saying this is the least it should be able to expect from an accord that offered economic gains in exchange for nuclear restrictions.

Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency reported on Monday that the Islamic Republic’s enriched uranium stockpile had passed the 300kg (661 lb) limit allowed under the deal.

“We have NOT violated the #JCPOA,” Zarif wrote on Twitter, referring to the deal by the abbreviation of its formal title, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Iran’s parliament speaker Ali Larijani accused Trump of trying to bully Tehran with his remark about playing with fire, and said such language would only made Iran stronger.

Zarif reacted with exasperation to a White House accusation that Tehran had long violated the terms of the deal.

“Seriously?” he said in a one-word message on Twitter, after White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement that “there is little doubt that even before the deal’s existence, Iran was violating its terms.”

Her comment contrasted with CIA Director Gina Haspel&rsquo’s testimony in January to the Senate Intelligence Committee that “at the moment, technically, they are in compliance.”

(Additional reporting by Francois Murphy in Vienna, Writing by William Maclean and Alistair Bell; Editing by Jon Boyle and Grant McCool)

In bid to belong, Israeli Arabs sign up for Israel’s army

Saleh Khalil, 20, an Israeli Arab soldier from the Desert Reconnaissance battalion takes part in a drill near Kissufim in southern Israel

By Rinat Harash

KISUFIM, Israel (Reuters) – A battalion of soldiers crawls across the desert sand with assault rifles cocked. It’s a routine exercise, but these are no ordinary troops – they are Arabs who have chosen to fight for the Jewish state.

While the vast majority of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are Jews – and nearly all their conflicts have been against Arab nations – a trickle of Israeli Arabs volunteer for the army.

Most are Bedouin, a community native to southern Israel. But some are other Arab citizens of Israel, the descendants of Palestinians who remained during the 1948 war of the state’s founding, when hundreds of thousands of their brethren fled or were forced from their homes by advancing Israeli troops.

“Why did I decide to enlist?” asks Sergeant Yusef Salutta, a 20-year-old Arab from the north of Israel who serves with the Desert Reconnaissance Battalion. The army rarely grants journalists access to the unit.

“Because I’m from this country and I love the country and I want to contribute,” he said. “Everyone should enlist, anybody who lives here should enlist.”

Yussef Saluta, 20, an Israeli Arab soldier from the Desert Reconnaissance battalion takes part in a drill near Kissufim in southern Israel

Yussef Saluta, 20, an Israeli Arab soldier from the Desert Reconnaissance battalion takes part in a drill near Kissufim in southern Israel November 29, 2016. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

The military conscripts young Jewish men and women, but not Arabs. It does not report exact numbers of Arab volunteers, but officials say there are several hundred among the 175,000 active personnel.

A silver Star of David necklace hung around Salutta’s neck, and he chatted with fellow-soldiers in Hebrew.

At a time when Israel is expanding its settlements in the West Bank and Palestinians fear they may never end up with their own state, some Israeli Arabs see volunteering for the military as betrayal.

“This phenomenon, we totally reject it,” said Ahmad Tibi, an Israeli-Arab member of parliament.

“What could go through a person’s mind when he serves against his people? We try to educate people that this is not the way.”

Volunteers say their families are supportive, and that they are prepared to take criticism.

“I don’t care about them,” said Salutta. “I need to be part of the country, to be like everybody else.”

The head of the IDF Minorities Unit, Colonel Wajdi Sarhan, said some Israeli-Arabs saw service as a way to improve their chances in life.

“(It) can get easier when you hold an Israeli soldier or reservist ID card,” said Sarhan.

“To be a soldier in the army, it’s actually an identity certificate of Israeli-ness, which can help integration.”

Israeli soldiers from the Desert Reconnaissance battalion take part in a drill near the Gaza Strip in southern Israel

Israeli soldiers from the Desert Reconnaissance battalion take part in a drill near the Gaza Strip in southern Israel November 29, 2016. REUTERS/Amir Cohen


He said some recruits faced threats and harassment at home from fellow Israeli-Arabs. In some cases, they are allowed to travel to and from military duty out of uniform.

When it comes to Israel’s decades-old conflict against the Palestinians, there is no question – if they are required to fight, they must.

“I assume that anyone who decided to be a combat soldier in such a unit took this into consideration in advance,” said Sarhan.

(Writing by Luke Baker; editing by Andrew Roche)

Israeli Navy Head Vows To Fight Anywhere

The head of the Israeli Navy has stated that he will put his ships everywhere if that’s what it takes to defend the nation of Israel.

“We will guard, protect and act in any enemy coast, and fight bravely for the nevy and the state of Israel,” Admiral Ram Rothberg said during a memorial ceremony.

The ceremony was to remember the INS Dakar and held on the INS Tanin.

“Without a doubt, this power, operationally and strategically, is very important for Israel, the IDF and the navy,” Adm. Rothberg stated. “More than four decades passed since INS Dakar’s last voyage… Although the threats have changed, and today you have the most modern equipment, the most advanced technologies, and the most quality means, the mission remains the same mission that the INS Dakar personnel were sent on,  and the responsibility is the same. To protect the Israeli coast, sea waters, and working with all of the IDF’s branches to achieve the relevant goals.”

The Admirals in attendance at the event said the new submarines will allow them to gain intelligence in places they have been unable to visit in the past.

Hamas Attempts Infiltrations Into Israel

Islamic terrorist group Hamas attempted to send a group of terrorists inside the Israeli border to launch attacks from inside the country.

The Israeli Defense Forces drove back the terror squad that was attempting to sneak into the country north of the Gaza Strip from the ocean.  The IDF exchanged gunfire with the group and killed at least four of the terrorists whose bodies were left on the beach.

Israeli officials say that the current assault, Operation Protective Edge, could continue for a significant length of time.

“It won’t end in a day and it won’t end in two days. It will take time,” Yitzhak Aharonovitch, the country’s Cabinet minister for internal security, told Israeli TV.

Israel has called up 40,000 more troops to be deployed throughout the country to prevent another group from attempting to take advantage of Hamas’ current actions and launch another assault on Israel.

Prime Minister Netanyahu alluded to the possibility of other attacks but mainly focused on Hamas an address to his Security Cabinet.

“The army is ready for all possibilities,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “Hamas will pay a heavy price for firing toward Israeli citizens. The security of Israel’s citizens comes first. The operation will expand and continue until the fire toward our towns stops and quiet returns.”

Rocket Barrage Takes It’s Toll on Israeli Citizens

Israelis ran for the safety of bomb shelters on Wednesday when Islamic Jihad fired over 40 rockets into southern Israel. Then they sought shelter gain Thursday morning when sirens alerted them of another rocket attack.

The attacks couldn’t come at a worse time for Israeli citizens who had been partaking in festivities leading up to Purim, a Jewish holiday with carnival-like traditions. Fairs and parties have been held all over the country before the holiday starts on Sunday night.

Terri Davis, a resident of Ashkelon located near the Israel/Gaza border, stated how difficult it was for her and her preschool students during the attack.

“When we heard the sirens, 70 children and 15 adults crowded into the shelter,” she said. “The children, who were dressed in costumes, had been happy and singing when the siren went off, and I saw panic in their eyes. But the teachers and soldiers who had come for the party kept the children calm, singing and dancing.”

Other difficulties for the residents near the Gaza border included not being warned about the first round of attacks. Adele Raemar who lives a mile from the Gaza border only took shelter after he heard an explosion.

“There was no warning, no red alert,” Raemer said, referring to the system that warns residents near the border of imminent attack. “The windows shook. My son and I and our two dogs ran into my shelter.”

Although tensions are high between Israel and Gaza, Raemer felt compassion for the Gaza families who lived near the border.

“I’m sure the man on the street in Gaza just wants to put bread on his table and have his kids go to school and come home safely,” Raemer said. “Unfortunately, the people of Gaza haven’t been able to [stop] the Iranian-backed organizations that are making their lives as miserable, if not more miserable, than ours.”

Strikes Fired Between Gaza Militant and Israel Despite “Truce”

Gaza militants continued firing at Israel on Thursday despite a supposed truce that had been formed.

According to Islamic Jihad’s leader in Gaza, Egypt had helped the militants resume a ceasefire agreement from 2012. Israel did not confirm this.

Eight more rockets were fired into Israel on Thursday. Israel retaliated by striking seven “terror sites” in Gaza.

No Israeli casualties were reported Thursday. Witnesses stated that three Palestinians were wounded, but did not confirm if they were civilians or militants.

Rockets Fired Into Israel

Gaza militants fired more than 40 rockets within two hours into southern Israel on Wednesday making this the largest rocket barrage to hit Israel since 2012 according to the Israeli military.

Only three of the rockets were intercepted by Israel’s “Iron Dome” while eight hit populated areas. The rest fell in open areas.

The Islamic Jihad militant group behind the attack wanted vengeance for three of their members who were killed in an Israeli airstrike the day before. Additional Gaza militant groups also joined in on the attack including the Popular Resistance Group.

In retaliation to the attack, the Israeli air-force attacked several Jihad training camps.

“This retaliation was precise and prompt. We targeted the infrastructure that serves the terrorists while they train, plan and implement their hideous attacks. They will not be permitted to conspire in the safety of their terrorist temples,” Israeli Military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to continue the retaliation.

“We will continue to thwart (rocket attacks) and hit those that want to harm us, and we will act against them with great force,” Netanyahu said. “Last year, the number of rockets fired from Gaza was the lowest in a decade but that is not enough. We will continue to act to ensure the security of the citizens of Israel in the south and in the entire country.”

So far in 2014, Gaza militants have fired 32 rockets toward Israel before Wednesday’s attack.

No casualties were reported on either side Wednesday.

Israel To Deploy New Missile Shield

The Israel Defense Force has a new weapon in the battle against missiles.

The system uses lasers to blow up short range rockets and mortars according to a defense industry official.  The system is designed to deal with targets with a trajectory too small to be engaged by the Iron Dome system.

Rafael Advanced Defense Systems said that Iron Beam’s laser will super-heat warheads of shells in a range of 4.5 miles from the laser’s base.

The laser system is called the “fifth layer” of missile defense for the country.  The Iron Dome is being backed up with the Arrow II and Arrow III rocket interceptors along with another rocket interceptor named David’s Sling.  The Arrow III and David’s Sling are still being tested by the military.

The United States has extensively underwritten the cost of the systems.