Inherently American to be Pro-Israel

By: Benjamin Glatt; jpost.com

Washington’s treatment of the Jewish people was something that had a much larger affect than just on his country.

Washington Crossing the Delaware, December 25, 1776, by Emanuel Leutze, 1851.. (photo credit:Wikimedia Commons)
The presidents of the USA, by far, have always taken a pro-Israel stance.
From Unitarian president John Adams expressing his desire to see the Jews return to their land and establish a state, to Baptist president Harry S. Truman, who was the leader of the free world when he recognized the State of Israel in 1948, and all the way until Presbyterian President Donald J. Trump. Even through President Trump has disappointed on the embassy issue, he has nonetheless proven to be a true friend of the Jewish state, US-Israel relations have almost always been on the amicable side.
While each leader may have had his own personal beliefs, the courage to implement them came from the “Father of His Country.” George Washington set a standard for his successors, and it was clearly made known in a letter he wrote to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, following a visit there on August 17, 1790.
“May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while everyone shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid,” he said. “May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy.”
Washington’s response was meant to further strengthen the ideology of separation of church and state and to strengthen the right of each individual to practice his or her religion.
However, Washington’s treatment of the Jewish people was something that had a much larger affect than just on his country.
Washington, baptized as a child into the Church of England, was a practicing Christian his whole life, but what exactly he practiced is still debated by scholars.
He did live in a society influenced by the Puritans, who believed themselves to be like the Israelites fleeing Egypt, wandering into the vast and unknown wilderness and reaching the promised land of the New World. They used the Bible as their guide, adopted biblical customs, established biblical codes, such as observance of the Sabbath, and gave their children Hebrew names.
As Washington wished for the freedom of the Jews in Newport and in the United States in general, he made it clear that this was his wish for all the Jewish people, and all nations.
“Since Washington asserted the principle of ‘asylum’ [in general orders from April 18 1783] and wished that the Jewish people would find in America their ‘vine and fig tree’ [in his letter to the Newport congregation] it is safe to assert that he would have favored the existence of a justly established homeland for Jews in Israel,” wrote Peter Lillback, president of Westminster Theological Seminary, in his book George Washington & Israel.
Constantly seeing the “finger of Providence” in the Thirteen Colonies’ quest to become nation, Washington would have had no doubt in seeing God’s hand pave the way for the creation of the State of Israel. And according to Lillback, this set the precedent for future presidents, save for a select few who chose to deny the two countries’ friendship. Thus making it inherently American to support the Jewish people and their State of Israel.

“Washington’s views about Israel helped set the direction that American presidents have taken toward Israel until now,” he wrote during the tenure of president Barack Obama.

Deputy Mayor of Frankfurt Seeks to Ban ‘Deeply Antisemitic’ BDS

By: Benjamin Weinthal; jpost.com

The boycott movement targeting Israel is “deeply antisemitic and should have no place in Frankfurt,” the deputy mayor of Frankfurt said.

Protesters attend a rally against anti-Semitism in Frankfurt August 31, 2014. . (photo credit:REUTERS)

The deputy mayor of Frankfurt, Uwe Becker, submitted a bill that would ban municipal funds and space being used for activities that aim to boycott Israel.

Becker, a leading German political voice against antisemitism, said on Wednesday, “The BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) campaign with its messages uses the same language as the National Socialists once used to express: ‘Don’t buy from Jews!’” The boycott movement targeting Israel is “deeply antisemitic and should have no place in Frankfurt,” he said.

The proposed law would outlaw all public funding and space for the support of “the antisemitic BDS activities.”

The bill in Frankfurt, which has a population of nearly 733,000, would also urge private companies to refrain from commerce with BDS groups.

The deputy mayor spearheaded his Christian Democratic Union’s adoption of its anti-BDS platform at the party’s congress in 2016.

Becker said on Wednesday, “Frankfurt maintains, with its partnership with Tel Aviv, a special closeness to Israel and has continued to expand over the previous years this special relationship.”

The municipality said in a statement that Becker announced Frankfurt’s clear position against BDS in light of anti-boycott measures taken by other national and regional legislatures, including Munich’s.

Becker said BDS, at its core, is a movement that “delegitimizes the State of Israel and uses the method of a boycott to defame [Israel].” He cited BDS actions to intimidate artists who want to appear in Israel.

He also noted the boycott activities of “department store police” who stigmatize Israeli products in order to pressure stores to turn against the Jewish state.

Anti-Israel activists have over the years marched into stores in Bremen, Bonn and other German cities to single out Israeli goods for opprobrium.

Becker said his city is engaged for a peaceful resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Last week, Becker wrote on his Facebook page: “With the rising terrorism in Europe, more and more people start to understand the situation that Israel has been facing since David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the independence of Israel on May 14, 1948. This rising awareness should also open the eyes of the people in Europe to see that it is up to us to support Israel, as it is the only democratic country under the rule of law in the Middle East. Israel is the democratic bridge between Occident and Orient and is linked closely to our European values and virtues and way of life.”

He continued, “This year marks a decade of suffering for the people in Gaza. No, not from Israeli policy, as many people in Europe might think.

No, people in Gaza suffer from a lack of freedom, from a lack of democracy, from the brutal rule of Hamas, which is betraying its own people and has been governing Gaza since Israel withdrew in 2005 and Hamas took over power in 2007 after fighting between Hamas and Fatah. The corrupt leadership of Hamas has received hundreds of millions of dollars in the past decade, but the money has not gone to the people, but to the accounts of corrupt Hamas leaders and to the funding of terrorism and terrorist infrastructure in their fight against Israel.”

Becker further said that “there should not be any European tax-money funding terrorism. And as long as it is not possible to track where our tax money meant for the humanitarian aid in Gaza goes, we should freeze our financial support.”

 

In Afghanistan, U.S. Exits, and Iran Comes In

By: Carlotta Gall; nytimes.com

An Afghan police officer at his unit’s outpost overlooking the districts north of Farah, the capital of the province that goes by the same name. In October, the Taliban overran posts like this one in a siege.
Credit Bryan Denton for The New York Times

FARAH, Afghanistan — A police officer guarding the outskirts of this city remembers the call from his commander, warning that hundreds of Taliban fighters were headed his way.

“Within half an hour, they attacked,” recalled Officer Najibullah Amiri, 35. The Taliban swarmed the farmlands surrounding his post and seized the western riverbank here in Farah, the capital of the province by the same name.

It was the start of a three-week siege in October, and only after American air support was called in to end it and the smoke cleared did Afghan security officials realize who was behind the lightning strike: Iran.

Four senior Iranian commandos were among the scores of dead, Afghan intelligence officials said, noting their funerals in Iran. Many of the Taliban dead and wounded were also taken back across the nearby border with Iran, where the insurgents had been recruited and trained, village elders told Afghan provincial officials.

The assault, coordinated with attacks on several other cities, was part of the Taliban’s most ambitious attempt since 2001 to retake power. But it was also a piece of an accelerating Iranian campaign to step into a vacuum left by departing American forces — Iran’s biggest push into Afghanistan in decades.

President Trump recently lamented that the United States was losing its 16-year war in Afghanistan, and threatened to fire the American generals in charge.

There is no doubt that as the United States winds down the Afghan war — the longest in American history, and one that has cost half a trillion dollars and more than 150,000 lives on all sides — regional adversaries are muscling in.

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan remain the dominant players. But Iran is also making a bold gambit to shape Afghanistan in its favor.

Over the past decade and a half, the United States has taken out Iran’s chief enemies on two of its borders, the Taliban government in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Iran has used that to its advantage, working quietly and relentlessly to spread its influence.

In Iraq, it has exploited a chaotic civil war and the American withdrawal to create a virtual satellite state. In Afghanistan, Iran aims to make sure that foreign forces leave eventually, and that any government that prevails will at least not threaten its interests, and at best be friendly or aligned with them.

One way to do that, Afghans said, is for Iran to aid its onetime enemies, the Taliban, to ensure a loyal proxy and also to keep the country destabilized, without tipping it over. That is especially true along their shared border of more than 500 miles.

But fielding an insurgent force to seize control of a province shows a significant — and risky — escalation in Iran’s effort.

“Iran does not want stability here,” Naser Herati, one of the police officers guarding the post outside Farah, said angrily. “People here hate the Iranian flag. They would burn it.”

A carpet market in Herat that deals in machine-made Iranian textiles and rugs. Herat is sometimes called “Little Iran.” Credit Bryan Denton for The New York Times

Iran has conducted an intensifying covert intervention, much of which is only now coming to light. It is providing local Taliban insurgents with weapons, money and training. It has offered Taliban commanders sanctuary and fuel for their trucks. It has padded Taliban ranks by recruiting among Afghan Sunni refugees in Iran, according to Afghan and Western officials.

“The regional politics have changed,” said Mohammed Arif Shah Jehan, a senior intelligence official who recently took over as the governor of Farah Province. “The strongest Taliban here are Iranian Taliban.”

Iran and the Taliban — longtime rivals, one Shiite and the other Sunni — would seem to be unlikely bedfellows.

Iran nearly went to war with the Taliban when their militias notoriously killed 11 Iranian diplomats and an Iranian government journalist in fighting in 1998.

After that, Iran supported the anti-Taliban opposition — and it initially cooperated with the American intervention in Afghanistan that drove the Taliban from power.

But as the NATO mission in Afghanistan expanded, the Iranians quietly began supporting the Taliban to bleed the Americans and their allies by raising the cost of the intervention so that they would leave.

Iran has come to see the Taliban not only as the lesser of its enemies but also as a useful proxy force. The more recent introduction of the Islamic State, which carried out a terrorist attack on Iran’s parliament this year, into Afghanistan has only added to the Taliban’s appeal.

In the empty marble halls of the Iranian Embassy in Kabul, Mohammad Reza Bahrami, the ambassador, denied that Iran was supporting the Taliban, and emphasized the more than $400 million Iran has invested to help Afghanistan access ports on the Persian Gulf.

“We are responsible,” he said in an interview last year. “A strong accountable government in Afghanistan has more advantages for strengthening our relations than anything.”

But Iran’s Foreign Ministry and its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps act as complementary arms of policy — the first openly sowing economic and cultural influence, and the second aggressively exerting subversive force behind the scenes.

Gen. Sir David Richards of Britain, right, then NATO’s top commander in Afghanistan, and his interpreter, Cpl. Daniel James in 2006. Credit Rodrigo Abd/Associated Press

 

Iran has sent squads of assassins, secretly nurtured spies and infiltrated police ranks and government departments, especially in western provinces, Afghan officials say.

Even NATO’s top commander in Afghanistan at the time, Gen. Sir David Richards of Britain, discovered that Iran had recruited his interpreter, Cpl. Daniel James, a British-Iranian citizen. Corporal James was sentenced to 10 years in prison for sending coded messages to the Iranian military attaché in Kabul during a tour of duty in 2006.

More recently, Iran has moved so aggressively in bulking up the Taliban insurgency that American forces rushed to Farah Province a second time in January to stave off a Taliban attack.

“The Iranian game is very complicated,” said Javed Kohistani, a military analyst based in Kabul.

Having American forces fight long and costly wars that unseated Iran’s primary enemies has served Tehran’s interests just fine. But by now, the Americans and their allies have outlasted their usefulness, and Iran is pursuing a strategy of death by a thousand cuts “to drain them and cost them a lot.”

The vehicle that was carrying Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, the Taliban leader, when it was destroyed by a drone strike last year in the remote town of Ahmad Wal in Pakistan. Credit Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

An Ambitious Expansion

The depth of Iran’s ties to the Taliban burst unexpectedly into view last year. An American drone struck a taxi on a desert road in southwestern Pakistan, killing the driver and his single customer.

The passenger was none other than the leader of the Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour. A wanted terrorist with an American bounty on his head who had been on the United Nations sanctions list since before 2001, Mullah Mansour was traveling without guards or weapons, confident and quite at home in Pakistan.

The strike exposed for the second time since the discovery of Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani hill town of Abbottabad the level of Pakistan’s complicity with wanted terrorists. It was the first time the United States had conducted a drone attack in Pakistan’s Baluchistan Province, a longtime sanctuary for the Taliban but until then off limits for American drones because of Pakistani protests.

Yet even more momentous was that Mullah Mansour was returning from a trip to Iran, where he had been meeting Iranian security officials and, through Iran, with Russian officials.

Afghan officials, Western diplomats and security analysts, and a former Taliban commander familiar with Mullah Mansour’s inner circle confirmed details of the meetings.

Both Russia and Iran have acknowledged that they have held meetings with the Taliban but maintain that they are only for information purposes.

That the Taliban leader was personally developing ties with both Iran and Russia signaled a stunning shift in alliance for the fundamentalist Taliban movement, which had always been supported by the Sunni powers among the Arab gulf states and Pakistan.

But times were changing with the American drawdown in Afghanistan, and Mullah Mansour had been seeking to diversify his sources of money and weapons since taking over the Taliban leadership in 2013. He had made 13 trips to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and one to Bahrain, his passport showed, but also at least two visits to Iran.

Set on expanding the Taliban’s sway in Afghanistan, he was also preparing to negotiate an end to the war, playing all sides on his terms, according to both Afghan officials with close knowledge of the Taliban and the former Taliban commander close to Mullah Mansour’s inner circle.

It was that ambitious expansionism that probably got him killed, they said.

“Mansour was a shrewd politician and businessman and had a broader ambition to widen his appeal to other countries,” said Timor Sharan, a former senior analyst of the International Crisis Group in Afghanistan who has since joined the Afghan government.

Mullah Mansour had been tight with the Iranians since his time in the Taliban government in the 1990s, according to Mr. Kohistani, the military analyst. Their interests, he and other analysts and Afghan officials say, overlapped in opium. Afghanistan is the world’s largest source of the drug, and Iran the main conduit to get it out.

Iran’s border guards have long fought drug traffickers crossing from Afghanistan, but Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and the Taliban have both benefited from the illicit trade, exacting dues from traffickers.

The main purpose of Mullah Mansour’s trips to Iran was tactical coordination, according to Bruce Riedel, a former C.I.A. analyst and fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. At the time, in 2016, the Taliban were gearing up for offensives across eight Afghan provinces. Farah was seen as particularly ripe fruit.

Iran facilitated a meeting between Mullah Mansour and Russian officials, Afghan officials said, securing funds and weapons from Moscow for the insurgents.

Mullah Mansour’s cultivation of Iran for weapons was done with the full knowledge of Pakistan, said the former Taliban commander, who did not want to be identified since he had recently defected from the Taliban.

“He convinced the Pakistanis that he wanted to go there and get weapons, but he convinced the Pakistanis that he would not come under their influence and accept their orders,” he said.

Pakistan had also been eager to spread the political and financial burden of supporting the Taliban and had encouraged the Taliban’s ties with Iran, said Haji Agha Lalai, a presidential adviser and the deputy governor of Kandahar Province.

On his last visit, Mullah Mansour traveled to the Iranian capital, Tehran, to meet someone very important — possibly Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said the former Taliban commander, who said he had gleaned the information from members of Mullah Mansour’s inner circle.

Mullah Mansour stayed for a week, also meeting with a senior Russian official in the town of Zahedan, said Mr. Lalai, who spoke with relatives of the Taliban leader.

He was almost certainly negotiating an escalation in Iranian and Russian assistance before his death, Mr. Lalai and other Afghan officials said, pointing to the increase in Iranian support for the Taliban during his leadership and since.

But the meeting with the Russians was apparently a step too far, Afghan officials say. His relations with Iran and Russia had expanded to the point that they threatened Pakistan’s control over the insurgency.

The United States had been aware of Mullah Mansour’s movements, including his ventures into Iran, for some time before the strike and had been sharing information with Pakistan, said Seth G. Jones, associate director at the RAND Corporation. Pakistan had also provided helpful information, he added. “They were partly supportive of targeting Mansour.”

Gen. John Nicholson, the United States commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, said President Barack Obama had approved the strike after Mullah Mansour failed to join peace talks being organized in Pakistan.

Col. Ahmad Muslem Hayat, a former Afghan military attaché in London, said he believed that the American military had been making a point by striking Mullah Mansour on his return from Iran.

“When they target people like this, they follow them for months,” he said. “It was smart to do it to cast suspicions on Iran. They were trying to create a gap between Iran and the Taliban.”

But if that was the intention, Mr. Lalai said, it has not succeeded, judging by the way the new Taliban leader, Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada, has picked up his predecessor’s work.

“I don’t think the contact is broken,” he said. “Haibatullah is still reaching out to Iran. They are desperately looking for more money if they want to extend the fight.”

Afghan laborers and merchants moved goods through a bazaar in Herat known for Iranian dry foodstuffs and other sundries. Credit Bryan Denton for The New York Times

Intrigue in ‘Little Iran’

There is no place in Afghanistan where Iran’s influence is more deeply felt than the western city of Herat, nearly in sight of the Iranian border.

Two million Afghans took refuge in Iran during the Soviet invasion in the 1980s. Three million live and work in Iran today. Herat, sometimes called “Little Iran,” is their main gateway between the countries.

People in Herat speak with Iranian accents. Iranian schools, colleges and bookshops line the streets. Women wear the head-to-foot black chador favored in Iran. Shops are full of Iranian sweets and produce.

But even as the city is one of Afghanistan’s most decorous and peaceful, an air of intrigue infuses Herat.

The city is filled with Iranian spies, secret agents and hit squads, local officials say, and it has been plagued by multiple assassinations and kidnappings in recent years. The police say Iran is funding militant groups and criminal gangs. A former mayor says it is sponsoring terrorism.

Iran is constantly working in the shadows. The goal, Afghan officials say, is to stoke and tip local power struggles in its favor, whether through bribery, infiltration or violence.

One day in January, Herat’s counterterrorism police deployed undercover officers to stake out the house of one of their own men. Two strangers on a motorbike seemed to be spying on the house, so secret agents were sent out to spy on the spies.

Within hours, the police had detained the men and blown their cover: They were Iranian assassins, according to the Afghans. The passenger was armed with two pistols.

Residents of Herat walking over a bridge in the city where, in January, the police stopped two Iranian men who were armed and carrying false documents. Credit Bryan Denton for The New York Times

Forensics tests later found that one of the guns had been used in the murder of an Iranian citizen in Herat 10 months earlier, police officials said.

The two Iranians are still in Afghan custody and have yet to be charged. They have become a source of contention between Iran and Afghanistan.

Iran disowned them, pointing to their Afghan identity cards, but Afghan officials paraded them on television, saying they were carrying false papers and had admitted to being sent by Iran as a hit squad.

The Afghan police say they have arrested 2,000 people in counterterrorism operations in Herat over the last three years. Many of them, they say, are armed insurgents and criminals who reside with their families in Iran and enter Afghanistan to conduct dozens of attacks on police or government officials.

Iran is set on undermining the Afghan government and its security forces, and the entire United States mission, and maintaining leverage over Afghanistan by making it weak and dependent, Afghan officials say.

“We caught a terrorist who killed five people with an I.E.D.,” a senior police officer said, referring to a roadside bomb. “We released a boy who was kidnapped. We defused an I.E.D. in the city.”

Flicking through photographs on his phone, he pointed to one of a man in a mauve shirt. “He was convicted of kidnapping five people.” Much of the kidnapping is criminal, for ransom, but at least some of it is politically motivated, he added.

The 33-year-old, English-speaking Farhad Niayesh, a former mayor of Herat, is even more blunt, and exasperated. He says the Iranians use their consulate in the city as a base for propaganda and “devising terrorist activities.”

“Iran has an important role in terrorist attacks in Herat,” Mr. Niayesh said. “Three or four Iranians were captured. They had a plan against government officials who were not working in their interest.”

Members of Parliament and security officials say Iran bribes local and central government officials to work for it, offering them 10 to 15 Iranian visas per week to give to friends and associates. Afghans visit to conduct business, receive medical care and see family.

A former member of the Afghan police service who is now in the Pul-e-Charki prison. She was accused of being a secret Iranian agent after shooting an American trainer to death in the Kabul Police Headquarters in 2012, and was sentenced to death. Credit Bryan Denton for The New York Times

The Afghan police have uncovered cases of even deeper infiltration, too. A female member of the Afghan police service was sentenced to death, accused of being a secret Iranian agent, after fatally shooting an American trainer in the Kabul Police Headquarters in 2012.

“Our western neighbor is working very seriously,” said the senior Afghan police official in Herat who requested anonymity because of the nature of his work. “ We have even found heavy artillery to be used against the city.”

Iran is supporting multiple anti-government militant groups in half a dozen western provinces, he said. The Afghan police, despite a lack of resources, are working to dismantle them.

“The same sort of people are still in the city,” he added. “They are doing their work, and we are doing our work.”

Members of the Afghan security forces walked through a set of riverside gardens that were the scene of running gun battles between the Taliban and Afghan security forces last fall. Credit Bryan Denton for The New York Times

Double-Edged Soft Power

Afghans dream of restoring their landlocked, war-torn country to the rich trading center it was in days of old, when caravans carried goods along the Silk Road from China to Europe, and people and ideas traveled along the same route.

If Tehran has its way, the modern Silk Road will once again run across Afghanistan’s western border, and proceed through Iran. At least that is the ambition.

On one side of the Afghan border, India has been building a road through southwestern Afghanistan to allow traders to bypass Pakistan, which has long restricted the transit of Afghan goods.

Tehran’s goal is to join that route on the Iranian side of the border with road and rail links ending at the port of Chabahar on the Persian Gulf.

“We said that Afghanistan would not be landlocked anymore and we would be at Afghanistan’s disposal,” said Mr. Bahrami, the Iranian ambassador in Kabul, stressing that Iran’s contribution to the Afghan road was not stalled even by its economic difficulties under sanctions.

But Iran’s economic leverage comes at a price.

Afghan officials say Iran’s support of the Taliban is aimed in part at disrupting development projects that might threaten its dominance. The Iranian goal, they contend, is to keep Afghanistan supplicant.

The biggest competition is for water, and Afghans have every suspicion that Iran is working to subvert plans in Afghanistan for upstream dams that could threaten its water supply.

Mohammed Amin, a farmer, with his greenhouse-grown tomatoes in the city of Farah. He said the proposed Bakhshabad dam project, which would irrigate Farah Province, would help him compete with Iranian produce prices. Credit Bryan Denton for The New York Times

Iran has raised the issue of the dams in bilateral meetings, and President Hassan Rouhani recently criticized the projects as damaging to the environment.

With the upheaval of 40 years of coups and wars in Afghanistan, large-scale development plans, like hydroelectric projects, have largely been stalled since the 1970s. Even after international assistance poured into Afghanistan after 2001, internal and external politics often got in the way.

But President Ashraf Ghani, determined to generate economic growth, made a priority of completing the Salma dam in Herat Province, and has ordered work on another dam at Bakhshabad, to irrigate the vast western province of Farah.

In Farah, despite the two calamitous Taliban offensives on the provincial capital in October and January, the Bakhshabad dam is the first thing everyone mentions.

“We don’t want help from nongovernmental organizations or from the government,” said Mohammed Amin, who owns a flourishing vegetable farm, growing cucumbers and tomatoes under rows of plastic greenhouses. “We in Farah don’t want anything. Just Bakhshabad.”

Afghanistan’s lack of irrigation makes it impossible to compete with Iranian produce prices, something Bakhshabad could solve, he said.

The project is still only in the planning stage. But the dam, with its promise of irrigation and hydroelectricity for a population lacking both, is a powerful dream — if Iran does not thwart it.

“The most important issue is water,” Mr. Lalai, the presidential adviser, said of relations with Iran. “Most of our water goes to our neighbors. If we are prosperous, we might give them less.”

Taliban fighters in Herat Province last year. Credit Allauddin Khan/Associated Press

Peace or Proxy War?

The death of Mullah Mansour removed Iran’s crucial link to the Taliban. But it has also fractured the Taliban, spurring a number of high-level defections and opening opportunities for others, including Iran, to meddle.

An overwhelming majority of Taliban blame Pakistan for Mullah Mansour’s death. The strike deepened disillusionment with their longtime Pakistani sponsors.

About two dozen Taliban commanders, among them senior leaders who had been close to Mullah Mansour, have since left their former bases in Pakistan.

They have moved quietly into southern Afghanistan, settling back in their home villages, under protection of local Afghan security officials who hope to encourage a larger shift by insurgents to reconcile with the government.

Those with family still in Pakistan live under close surveillance and control by Pakistani intelligence, said the former Taliban commander, who recently abandoned the fight and moved his family into Afghanistan to escape reprisals.

He said he had become increasingly disaffected by Pakistan’s highhanded direction of the war. “We all know this is Pakistan’s war, not Afghanistan’s war,” he said. “Pakistan never wanted Afghanistan to be at peace.”

The question now: Does Iran?

Citing the threat from the Islamic State as an excuse, Iran may choose, with Russian help, to deepen a proxy war in Afghanistan that could undermine an already struggling unity government.

Or it could encourage peace, as it did in the first years after 2001, for the sake of stability on at least one of its borders, prospering with Afghanistan.

For now, Iran and Russia have found common cause similar to their partnership in Syria, senior Afghan officials and others warn.

Emboldened by their experience in Syria, they seem to be building on their partnership to hurt America in Afghanistan, cautioned the political analyst Mr. Sharan.

As American forces draw down in Afghanistan, jockeying for influence over the Taliban is only intensifying.

“Pakistan is helping the Taliban straightforwardly,” said Mr. Jehan, the former Afghan intelligence official who is now governor of Farah. “Russia and Iran are indirectly helping the Taliban. We might come to the point that they interfere overtly.

“I think we should not give them this chance,” he added. “Otherwise, Afghanistan will be given up to the open rivalry of these countries.”

The former Afghan foreign minister, Rangin Dadfar Spanta, warned that the country risked being pulled into the larger struggle between Sunni powers from the Persian Gulf and Shiite Iran.

“Afghanistan should keep out the rivalry of the regional powers,” he said. “We are vulnerable.”

Some officials are optimistic that Iran is not an enemy of Afghanistan, but the outlook is mixed.

“There is a good level of understanding,” Abdullah Abdullah, the Afghan government’s chief executive, said of relations with Iran.

“What we hear is that contacts with the Taliban are to encourage them to pursue peace rather than military activities,” he said.

Mohammad Asif Rahimi, the governor of Herat, warned that if Farah had fallen to the Taliban, the entire western region would have been laid open for the insurgents.

Iran’s meddling has now grown to the extent that it puts the whole country at risk of a Taliban takeover, not just his province, he said.

But it could have been prevented, in the view of Mr. Sharan.

“The fact is that America created this void,” he said. “This vacuum encouraged countries to get involved. The Syria issue gave confidence to Iran and Russia, and now that confidence is playing out in Afghanistan.”

A bridge in Farah that was nearly captured in October in fierce fighting as Iranian-backed Taliban forces carried out a major assault on the city. Credit Bryan Denton for The New York Times

 

Anti-Semitism is an Integral Part of European Culture

Netanyahu’s visit to Hungary and his meeting with leaders of Visegrad countries highlights the difference between these governments and the rest of Europe concerning Israel.

By: Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld; israelnationalnews.com

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld
The writer has been a long-term adviser on strategy issues to the boards of several major multinational corporations in Europe and North America.He is board member and former chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and recipient of the LIfetime Achievement Award (2012) of the Journal for the Study of Anti-Semitism.

The recent visit of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to Budapest – the first visit of an Israeli

Prime Minister since the fall of communism – received much international publicity. The media reported on both his meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and with the heads of the Visegrad group countries, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Yet in their reporting, many media outlets did not focus on the most important issues.

Orbán leads the right of center Fidesz party. He declared in a public statement after the meeting with Netanyahu that Hungary had sinned when it cooperated with Nazi Germany during the Second World War and that it had not protected its Jews. He also said that Hungary would protect all its citizens in the future. Yet, in the recent past Orbán praised the longtime Hungarian leader Miklos Horthy, a Hitler ally.

Orbán’s declaration about his country’s Holocaust guilt was important politically both for himself and for his party. Such admission of Hungarian Holocaust guilt is not unprecedented. Several Hungarian prime ministers including Gyula Horn, Péter Medgyessy and Ferenc Gyurcsany  have acknowledged their country’s war crimes or issued apologies.

In a 2013 study, 91% of Hungarian Jews stated that anti-Semitism had increased in the past five years, a higher percentage than in the seven other countries investigated. Ninety percent of Hungarian Jews saw anti-Semitism as a problem in their country. Anti-Semitism has not abated since. The extreme right and anti-Semitic Jobbik party received 20% of the votes in the 2014 elections. Its leader, Gabor Vona, is now trying to move the party somewhat toward the center to become a serious competitor for Fidesz prior to the next election which will take place in 2018.

Countries do not change their culture easily. Hungary has a long history of anti-Semitism which dates back many years well before its collaboration with the Germans during the Holocaust. The postwar communist regimes suppressed anti-Semitism. However after their fall in 1989, it soon reared its head again. Yet while there is extreme verbal anti-Semitism, for the most part it has not become violent. That may change though. Like in most European countries, Jews living in Hungary have to realize that anti-Semitism is an integral part of European culture. Its intensity varies from country to country. While anti-Semitism has to be fought, it is far too embedded to be eliminated.

The Hungarian government’s poster campaign against American billionaire George Soros has drawn much attention. He promotes the settlement of Middle Eastern refugees in Hungary and other European countries. Soros’ policy is seen as hostile by the Hungarian government. The government campaign was also exploited by anti-Semites who drew graffiti on billboards. As a result, Hungarian Jews were worried about anti-Semitism surrounding the campaign.

Some Jews asked Netanyahu to cancel his visit. But an Israeli Prime Minister meets many leaders without this indicating that he is in agreement with all their policies. For instance, Netanyahu visited the Netherlands. This does not mean that he agrees with the current government’s continuous refusal to admit their predecessors’ major failures toward Jews during the Second World War. Nor does Netanyahu have to approve the massive unvetted immigration there of people from Muslim countries in which anti-Semitism is rife. This immigration is the greatest threat to Dutch Jews and Israel in that country since the Holocaust.

This is not the only worrying aspect of the Dutch reality concerning Israel.  A 2011 study by the University of Bielefeld, found that almost 39% of the Dutch were in agreement with the statement: “Israel conducts a war of extermination against the Palestinians.” The figure for Hungary was barely different:  41%.

The Israeli ambassador to Hungary came out against the anti-Semitism. The Israeli foreign office explained the Israeli position in a statement that it meant “in no way to delegitimize criticism of George Soros, who continuously undermines Israel’s democratically elected governments by funding organizations that defame the Jewish state and seek to deny its right to defend itself.”

Concerning the meeting with the leaders of the Visegrad countries, the main media attention was focused on the scathing remarks Netanyahu made about Europe without realizing that a microphone was open. Part of his remarks were substantially correct even if he would have phrased them differently had he realized that his statements were no longer private.

The level of anti-Semitism in the Visegrad countries differs. In 2014, an ADL study asked 11 basic questions concerning classic anti-Semitic attitudes in a number of countries. It found that 45% of Poles harbor anti-Semitic attitudes. In Hungary the figure is 41%, and in the Czech Republic 13%. No data is available for Slovakia. When asked if Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust, 62% of Poles responded yes, with 61% of Hungarians agreeing. 44% of Czech citizens answered affirmatively to the same question.

In 2004, I interviewed Mark Sofer, then Deputy Director General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. At that time the Visegrad countries and several others had just joined the EU. He said: “Conventional wisdom tells us that the accession of these countries to the EU is positive for Israel. For once, conventional wisdom may well be correct.” He has indeed been proven correct. These and other central European countries often support Israel in a frequently politically hostile EU. They are also important for Israeli investors.

Another reason these countries are important not only for Israel but also for European Jewry is that they oppose immigration. The immigrants are to a large extent Muslims from the Middle East. Brussels and the leaders of European countries know well that most Muslim immigrants have been indoctrinated with extreme anti-Semitic propaganda from childhood. An advisor to the European court wants it to reject the challenge by Hungary and Slovakia against the EU European council decision that EU members must take in hundreds of asylum-seekers.

Yet the EU leaders do not care. The decent thing would have been to vet Muslims immigrating into Europe so that these so-called liberal democracies would not have admitted anti-Semitic immigrants. As this is not the case, the policy of the Visegrad countries not to receive immigrants is preferable. In this way in future at least a few European countries where Muslim anti-Semitic hatemongers will not play a prominent role.

 

When It Comes to Islam, Logic Is Put in Reverse

By: Michael Brown; christianpost.com

Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University and has served as a professor at a number of seminaries. He is the author of 25 books and hosts the nationally syndicated, daily talk radio show, the Line of Fire.

Have you noticed that, immediately after an Islamic terrorist attack in our nation, the airwaves are ablaze with warnings – not against Islamic terrorism but against Islamophobia. So, the fear is not that there will be more terrorist attacks. The fear is that people will be fearful of Muslims. That is misguided enough (although I too deplore when the larger Muslim community is blamed for what the radical extremists do). But what just happened in Bondi, Australia takes this illogicality to a whole new level.

As reported on News.com.au, “A LOCAL council has banned the construction of a synagogue in Bondi because it could be a terrorist target, in a shock move that religious leaders say has caved in to Islamic extremism and created a dangerous precedent.”

Yes, the Jewish community was not allowed to build a new synagogue for fear that it would be targeted by radical Muslims. Talk about a reverse in logic.

The decision had been fought in the courts, but it was upheld this week, leading to outrage and dismay.

“Jewish leaders are shocked the decision appears to suggest they cannot freely practice their religion because they are the target of hate by Islamist extremists — and that the council has used their own risk assessment of the threat posed by IS against it.

“The head of the local Jewish community said the council and the court had effectively stifled freedom of religion and rewarded terrorism.”

As expressed by Rabbi Yehoram Ulman, the “implications [of the decision] are enormous. It basically implies that no Jewish organisation should be allowed to exist in residential areas. It stands to stifle Jewish existence and activity in Sydney and indeed, by creating a precedent, the whole of Australia, and by extension rewarding terrorism.”

Logic would tell you that if terrorism is the problem, you stand against it, not punish potential victims. Logic would tell you that if you bow down to the threat of terrorism, you empower it. What were the people of Bondi thinking?

While the Muslim population of Australia is growing rapidly, it still constitutes only 2.6 percent of the population, and the Australian media constantly defends Islam as a religion of peace. Why, then, so much fear? If the vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists, why be afraid to build a synagogue in Bondi? Is the government not able to deal with a handful of radicalized, violent Muslims?

In Muslim majority nations where strict Islam is practiced, Jews and Christians are reduced to second-class citizens, having to pay the jizya tax and deprived of the right to build new synagogues and churches. Yet today, in Australia, where non-Muslims outnumber Muslims by roughly 40 to 1, a Jewish community cannot build a new synagogue. To ask again, what kind of logic is this?

In years past, I have pointed out the hypocrisy of feminists and LGBT activists siding against Israel and with Hamas, as well as the absurdity of portraying Hamas as the victim. As I noted in 2014, “As the standard, anti-Israel, pro-Hamas narrative goes, Israel has the Iron Dome defense whereas Hamas has no such defensive shield. In other words, it’s not fair that Hamas is unable to murder the civilians it targets day and night, since Israel’s superior technology is able to shoot down their missiles. Talk about taking all the fun out of terrorism.”

Others have pointed to the self-contradictory message sent by Islamic extremists who say, “How dare you call us terrorists! We will kill you! Off with your heads!”

Yes, nice guys, one and all. How did we misjudge them?

When it comes to the outrageous decision in Bondi, local Jewish leader Vic Alhadeff said it well: “This simply shows how we’re all losing our freedoms. Those who want us to be afraid are winning, and this ill-conceived judgment represents a dangerous precedent.”

And do you know who should lead the protest against the court’s decision? It is the Muslims of Australia. They should say as one man, “We renounce terrorism, we believe in freedom of religion, and we affirm your right to build a new house of worship. In fact, we want to stand with you to combat radical Islam, and we pledge our help and support.”

Does that have a chance of happening? We shall see, although it may be highly unlikely. (I’d be thrilled to be wrong here in my skepticism.)

But there’s another group that most certainly can and should stand up, and that is the Christian community of Australia. Let them raise their voices and shout to this beleaguered Jewish community, “Bondi is not a ghetto, and Australia is not a war zone. Together, we will stand for freedom, liberty, and safety.”

What a message this would send to the Jewish people of Australia and beyond.

 

New Evidence of Lost City of Julias Unearthed Near Sea of Galilee

By: Daniel K. Eisenbud; jpost.com

The site is believed to be the home of apostles Andrew, Peter and Philip.

An image of the excavation site. (photo credit:COURTESY OF ZACHARY WONG)

The lost Roman city of Julias – believed to be the birthplace of Jesus’s apostles Andrew, Peter and Philip – may have recently been unearthed after decades of searches by archeologists in the upper Jordan Valley, near a delta entering Lake Kinneret.

The discovery was made during excavations at Beit Habek, located in Bethsaida, near a nature reserve by the Arik Bridge, by archeologist Dr. Mordechai Aviam, head of the Kinneret Institute for Galilean Archeology at Kinneret Academic College. The lost city of Julias was named after the daughter of Roman Emperor Augustus.

Bethsaida, once a fishermen’s village on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, is mentioned in several New Testament books as the home of at least three of Jesus’s most important apostles.

However, the exact location of the lost city has long been debated.

Aviam, who worked with Prof. Steven Notley of Nyack College in New York during a recent dig, said several important clues were found that reinforce the identification of the site.

A mosaic fragment discovered attesting to the existence of a bathhouse from the Roman period ( COURTESY OF ZACHARY WONG)

“A layer from the Roman period was discovered in the current [excavation] season, with potsherds and coins from the first to the third centuries CE,” he said Sunday.

“The layer from the Roman period was found at a depth of 2 meters below a layer from the Byzantine period. Our main surprise was that at the bottom of the excavation, in a limited area, a wall of a building was discovered, next to which was a mosaic floor and artifacts that characterize a bathhouse.”

Noting that bathhouses during the Roman period were not common in the area, Aviam said it serves as an important clue to the possibility that beneath the surface are the remains of Julias, which has not been identified to this day.

“This is a discovery that will arouse great interest among early Christian scholars, historians of the New Testament, and scholars of the Land of Israel in general, and the Jewish Galilee during the Second Temple period in particular,” said Aviam.

The researcher added that a rare silver coin from the time of Emperor Nero during 65-66 CE was also unearthed at the site.

A silver coin from the time of Emperor Nero (65-66 CE) ( COURTESY OF JOUSUA DREY)

“At the very same time [of Nero’s rule], toward the end of 66 CE, Josephus, who fought against Roman soldiers from the army of King Agrippa II, came to the Galilee near Bethsaida,” he said.

“In the swamps surrounding the city, his horse stumbled and he was wounded.

According to him, he was taken to nearby Kfar Nahum to the doctor for treatment.”

During previous excavations, a complex of buildings from the Byzantine period was also found in the area, in addition to nearly 30 coins from the 5th century CE under the pavement of the houses.

Excavation of the site will continue until the lost city of Julias is definitely identified, Aviam said.

 

Australian city bans the building of a new synagogue — and the reason has people fuming

By: Beth Baumann; theblaze.com

The Bondi City Council in Australia voted against building a new synagogue in the area because of potential terrorist threats. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The Jewish community in Bondi, Australia, was shocked after the city council denied the construction of a new synagogue. According to the council, having a synagogue less than a mile from Bondi’s famous beaches could pose a terrorist threat to local residents and tourists.

Even more shocking to them was the Land and Environment Court’s decision on Wednesday to uphold Bondi’s ruling.

According to Jewish leaders, Bondi’s decision stripped Jews of their right to freely practice their religion.

“The decision is unprecedented,” Rabbi Yehoram Ulman told news.com.au. “Its implications are enormous. It basically implies that no Jewish organization should be allowed to exist in residential areas. It stands to stifle Jewish existence and activity in Sydney and indeed, by creating a precedent, the whole of Australia, and by extension rewarding terrorism.”

Chief executive Vic Alhadeff of NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, the officially elected representative body for the Jewish community in South Wales, said he hasn’t heard of other religions being denied a place of worship because extremist organizations are targeting them.

“It’s a very sad day for Australia if an established community, which needs a house of worship, is refused permission to build it because of fear that others may pose a threat,” Rabbi Ulman said. “This simply shows how we’re all losing our freedoms. Those who want us to be afraid are winning, and this ill-conceived judgment represents a dangerous precedent.”

The synagogue’s proposal included a required risk assessment, which had security features built into it, including setback buildings and blast walls. Both the council and the court cited those security measures as a reason for denying the building.

“The proposed development should be refused as the site is not suitable for the proposed synagogue use as the Preliminary Threat and Risk Analysis relied on by the Applicant raises concerns as to the safety and security of future users of the Synagogue, nearby residents, motorists and pedestrians in Wellington Street and the physical measures proposed to deal with the identified threats will have an unacceptable impact on the streetscape and adjoining properties,” the ruling stated.

According to the city council, if the design was changed to increase security it would be too unsightly, which would also be unacceptable.

When the proposal was put together, Jewish leaders commissioned a terrorism expert to review the plans. The Friends of Refugees from Eastern Europe, who challenged the council ruling, argued the expert didn’t indicate any risk to those passing by.

“It would seem that a more sophisticated risk assessment process could be required for matters such as a potential terrorist threat,” Commissioner Graham Brown, who ruled on the case, said.

Rabbi Ulman said the decision threatened the Jewish religion’s future in Australia.

“By pulling the terror threat argument they have shown that they are completely out of touch both with the reality and with needs of their constituency,” Ulman said.

 

Iran Condemns Its Soccer Players for Match with Israeli Team

By: apnews.com

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s soccer federation condemned two Iranians who play for a Greek team on Friday for participating in a match against an Israeli team, Iranian media reported.

The federation “strongly condemns” the participation of Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Hajsafi in a match for Greece’s Panionios against Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv a day earlier in Greece, it said in a statement reported by the semi-official Fars news agency.

On its Farsi-language Twitter account, Israel’s foreign ministry praised the players for ignoring what is considered a taboo in Iran by playing against the Israelis. Maccabi won the UEFA Europa League match 1-0.

Israel and Iran are bitter adversaries and traditionally, Iranian athletes refrain from playing Israelis. Iran’s government usually rewards such behavior.

The federation said it is reviewing the case and will make a final decision after speaking with both players who in the past have also played for the national soccer team. Fars reported that the two may now be banned from playing on that team again.

At a previous match against Maccabi in Tel Aviv, both refused to play.

The last competition between Iranian and Israeli sportsmen on the international level dates back to a wrestling match in 1983 in Kiev, Ukraine. From time to time, Iranian players who play for foreign teams have played Israeli teams.

In February, a teenage Iranian chess player angered authorities when he played, as an individual, against an Israeli competitor in the Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival.

Iran does not recognize Israel, and supports anti-Israeli militant groups like Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas.

Archaeologists Find 2,000-Year-Old Rare Stone Vessel Used in Jewish Rituals

By: Daniel Eisenbud; jpost.com

“This discovery provides fascinating evidence of ritual purity in the daily lives of Galilean Jews during the time of Jesus,” the Israel Antiquities Authority said.

Archaeological excavations inside the ancient workshop.. (photo credit:Israel Antiquities Authority)

A rare 2,000-year-old workshop for the production of chalkstone vessels, dating to the Roman Period, was recently unearthed by archeologists from the Antiquities Authority during excavations in Reina, in the Lower Galilee.

The excavations took place in a small cave in which researchers found thousands of chalkstone cores and other production waste, including fragments of stone mugs and bowls in various stages of production, the authority said on Thursday.

The ancient site is the fourth workshop of its kind to ever have been discovered in Israel. It was uncovered during the course of construction work at a municipal sports center conducted by the Reina Local Council.

According to Dr. Yonatan Adler, senior lecturer at Ariel University and director of the excavation on behalf of the Antiquities Authority, during the first century of the Common Era, Jews throughout Judea and the Galilee used tableware and storage vessels made of soft, local chalkstone.

“The reason for this curious choice of material seems to have been religious, as according to ancient Jewish ritual law, vessels made of pottery are easily made impure and must be broken,” Adler explained on Thursday.

“Stone, on the other hand, was thought to be a material which can never become ritually impure, and as a result, ancient Jews began to produce some of their everyday tableware from stone.”

Although chalkstone vessels have been unearthed at many Jewish sites throughout the country, Adler said it is extremely unusual to uncover a site where such vessels were actually produced.

“Today, we are excavating a second site near Reina, located 1 kilometer from here,” he said.

“Until now, only two other similar sites have been excavated, however both of these were in the area of Jerusalem.

Our excavations are highlighting the pivotal role of ritual purity observance – not only in Jerusalem, but in the far-off Galilee as well.”

The excavations also revealed an artificially hewn cave from which ancient workers quarried the raw material for the chalkstone vessels.

“Ancient chisel marks cover the walls, ceiling and floor of the cave,” Adler said.

“Inside the cave and on the ground nearby are strewn thousands of stone cores, the ancient industrial waste from stone mugs, and bowls produced on a lathe. Hundreds of unfinished vessels were also found, apparently damaged during the production process and discarded on-site.”

While similar finds have been recorded in other parts of the country, Yardenna Alexandre, an archeologist at the authority specializing in the study of the Galilee during the Roman Era, described the most recent discovery as an unprecedented opportunity.

“Throughout the years, we have been discovering fragments of these kinds of stone vessels alongside pottery in excavations of houses in both rural and urban Jewish sites from the Roman Period, such as Kafr Kana, Tzipori and Nazareth,” said Alexandre.

“Now, for the first time, we have an unprecedented opportunity to investigate a site where these vessels were actually produced in the Galilee.”

Alexandre added that Jews using stone vessels for religious purposes is well attested in Talmudic sources, but noted that the phenomenon also appears in the Wedding at Cana narrative in the Gospel of John, where the water-turned-to-wine is said to have been held in six jars made of stone: “Now, there were six stone water jars set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing 20 or 30 gallons each” (John 2:6).

Moreover, she said a link to the narrative lies in the location of the excavations at Reina, just south of the modern village of Kafr Kana, identified by many scholars as the site of New Testament Cana.

“It is possible that large stone containers of the type mentioned in the Wedding at Cana of Galilee story may have been produced locally in the Galilee,” Alexandre said.

 

Echoes of a Yom Kippur Shofar

By Dr. Yvette Alt Miller / aish.com

Under Turkish and then British rule, Jewish activity at the Western Wall (the Kotel) — the last remaining remnant of the ancient Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and the holiest site of the Jewish people — was severely constrained. British law restricted Jews who wanted to pray at the Wall: Jews were not allowed to recite prayers loudly, they could not bring a Torah to the Wall, and they were forbidden from sounding the Shofar.

On Yom Kippur 1930, at the conclusion of the Neila (the closing prayer recited just before sundown), a sound rang out that had not been heard at the Kotel in generations: the ringing blast of a Shofar. A young rabbi, Moshe Segal, had smuggled a Shofar to the Kotel, and blew it at its traditional place at the end of the Yom Kippur service.

Rabbi Segal was soon arrested, but in the intervening years, other Jewish boys — all in their teens — took his place. Each year from 1930 to 1947, Jewish teenagers smuggled Shofars to the Kotel, concealing them under their clothing, and blew them at the end of Yom Kippur. The boys worked in teams of three, aiming to blow the Shofar at each end of the Wall and in the middle. Abraham Caspi, who was 16 when he blew the Shofar at the Western Wall in 1947, remembers being told “You’ll be the first, and if you don’t succeed or are caught, someone else will do it.”