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“The noble Brutus hath told you Caesar was ambitious,” eulogizes Mark Antony in The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. He then goes on to sing the praises of the dead leader whose body lay on the pavement of Rome, arousing the crowd’s love, writes Fiamma Nirenstein.

History has spoken of Caesar, the protagonist of Roman history, as he deserved. This will also be the case in relation to outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who, fortunately, is in very good health and may one day return as the country’s premier.

For another, as they often repeat: Caesar, or rather Netanyahu, has a difficult personality. They depict him as a cutthroat, power-hungry politician who leaves no room for others. This is the main reason for the government sworn in today: its partners—from Yamina’s Naftali Bennett to Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, as well as from Yisrael Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman to New Hope’s Gideon Sa’ar—all say that they have signed on to this unity government because they have been treated unjustly and with arrogance by Netanyahu.

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The late British Prime Minister Winston Churchill also had a problematic character. This did not prevent him, however, from saving Europe from Adolf Hitler. Similar words can and were said about Caesar, as well.

Nor has Netanyahu’s family been spared the wrath of his detractors, with his wife Sara’s personality, and his son Yair’s social-media posts part and parcel of the intolerance towards him. This is despite the fact that they have never been known to influence his clear, elaborate, Zionist strategy.

And, of course, the adjective “corrupt” is hurled at him ad abundantiam, due to his trial on charges of breach of trust, bribery and fraud. This is in spite of the fact that many jurists consider the indictments to be false and spurious—particularly those involving his ostensibly having bribed a news outlet to obtain positive press coverage, which he never received, and that he received ridiculous gifts of cigars and champagne from powerful businessmen in exchange for favors.

Netanyahu however, whose leadership is now interrupted and who’s future is uncertain, is a man at the center of major turning points in Israel’s recent history, the latest of which was the country’s victory in fighting COVID-19. His determined vaccination campaign is a testimony to his leadership. His efforts to secure a vaccine deal with Pfizer early on was for him synonymous with saving Israel, which explains not only why he “obsessively” sought it out, but also did it better than any other world leader.

This is an integral part of his drive: his perception, refined over time, that Israel is a small country with strong enemies and insecure borders that must be protected. It’s the only country that holds firm to the principles of Western values, while preserving Jewish tradition and history.

It thus requires a leader with the utmost dedication and determination, who doesn’t joke around and understands that when it comes security, no compromise is possible.

The first time that Netanyahu became prime minister in 1996 after defeating Shimon Peres, his determination seemed hard and solemn. Over time, however, he adapted his behavior, but solidified the content of his vision for the country, which he outlined during a trip to Argentina: Israel must be able to defend itself; its science and technology should be unrivaled; it needs to have the most modern weapons and the best intelligence. To accomplish this, it needs a lot of money, a free economy (with far less red tape), open markets and great foreign relations.

Here he identified his path to what has been the greatest ambition of every Israeli prime minister, from Menachem Begin to Yitzhak Rabin, from the political right to the left: peace. He understands that peace with the Palestinians deserves serious effort, which is why he has periodically frozen construction in West Bank settlements.

Moreover, in 2009, he became the first leader in Likud’s history to publicly adhere to the notion of “two states for two peoples.” That said, he also understands—unlike former U.S. President Barack Obama, who tried to impose on him that slippery and inconclusive terrain of territorial concessions after the failure of the Oslo Accords—that negotiations aren’t making any headway because the Palestinians actually reject the existence of the Jewish state.

It is for this reason that he has pursued an effective regional strategy, which could include the Palestinians in the future, through the Abraham Accords. His gaining of sympathy from neighboring Arab countries for his project is based, above all, on his courageous determination to oppose even the United States, or rather Obama, when Iran became a deceptive interlocutor for them. Netanyahu knows that his choice to speak sincerely before the US Congress in 2015 about the Iranian nuclear threat was risky and critical, but it opened doors to an incredible broadening of horizons among Islamic countries facing that same threat.

Through his strategy, Netanyahu has pushed Israel on the path of its long-term mission as a small but great beneficent power—one that can help other countries tackle issues from water conservation to the fight against terrorism, from satellites to vaccines and from high-tech to medicine. In short, Israel under Netanyahu has become indispensable to the entire world.

Today, however, the new “noble” men and women of Israel’s next government not only say that their coalition is going to save the nation from them, but that they have accomplished an essential historical achievement. They list a number of reasons for these claims—which, by the way, far outweigh the unclear strategy of their eight-party governing coalition.

For one thing, they say, no matter how valuable a leader may be in a democracy, a 12-year term in power is an anomaly that (beyond arousing envy) has led to the undermining of democracy itself. They treacherously insist that this has been Netanyahu’s intent.

Iran

Incoming Iran president says he will take steps to lift 'tyrannical' US sanctions

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Iran will take steps to lift "tyrannical" sanctions imposed by the United States, hardline Shi'ite cleric Ebrahim Raisi (pictured) said on Tuesday (3 August) after winning the endorsement of the country's supreme leader to become president, writes Parisa Hafezi, Reuters.

Former US President Donald Trump ditched Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with six powers three years ago and reimposed sanctions that have devastated Iran's economy.

"We will seek to lift the tyrannical sanctions imposed by America," Raisi, who takes office on Thursday (5 August), said in a televised speech, adding that his government would try to improve living conditions which have suffered under the sanctions.

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Iran and six powers have been in talks since April to revive the nuclear pact. But Iranian and Western officials have said that significant gaps remain.

The sixth round of indirect talks between Tehran and Washington adjourned on June 20, two days after Raisi was elected president. Parties involved in the negotiations have yet to announce when the next round of talks in Vienna will resume.

The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the last word on all matters of state, but the change of president will remove the moderating influence on policy-making exercised by Raisi's pragmatist predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, since 2013.

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Bennett: Iran behind attack on Israeli-managed ship near Oman coast, UK and US join Israel in blaming Tehran

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Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has blamed Iran for the attack that left two dead on the Israeli-managed oil tanker Mercer Street off the coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea last week, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

Speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday (1 August), Bennett said: ‘’The world recently received a reminder of Iranian aggression, this time on the high seas. The Iranians, who attacked the ship ‘Mercer Street’ with unmanned aerial vehicles, intended to attack an Israeli target. Instead, their act of piracy led to the deaths of a British citizen and a Romanian citizen. From here, I send condolences to Britain and Romania and, of course, to the families of the victims.’’

He added: ‘’I just heard that Iran, in a cowardly manner, is trying to evade responsibility for the event. They are denying this. Then, I determine, with absolute certainty that Iran carried out the attack against the ship. Iran’s thuggishness endangers not only Israel, but also harms global interests, namely freedom of navigation and international trade.’’

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He concluded: ‘’The intelligence evidence for this exists and we expect the international community will make it clear to the Iranian regime that they have made a serious mistake. In any case, we know how to send a message to Iran in our own way.’’

The Japanese-owned ship Mercer Street is managed by Zodiac Maritime Ltd., a London-based company owned by Israeli tycoon Eyal Ofer. It sails under a Liberian flag.

According to Zodiac Maritime’s website, when the incident occurred the vessel was in the northern Indian Ocean, en route to Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, with no cargo aboard.

The United States and the United Kingdom joined Israel in accusing Iran for carrying out the attack, putting further pressure on Tehran as it denied being involved in the assault.

Calling it an “unlawful and callous attack,” British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said his country and its allies planned a coordinated response over the strike.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said there was “no justification for this attack, which follows a pattern of attacks and other belligerent behavior.”

While no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, Iran and its militia allies have used so-called “suicide” drones in attacks previously, which crash into targets and detonate their explosive payloads.

In his statement, Raab said it was “highly likely” Iran attacked the tanker with one or more drones.

“We believe this attack was deliberate, targeted and a clear violation of international law by Iran,” said Raab. “Iran must end such attacks, and vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law.”

Blinken similarly described the US as “confident” Iran carried out the attack, using multiple drones.

“These actions threaten freedom of navigation through this crucial waterway, international shipping and commerce, and the lives of those on the vessels involved,” he said in a statement.

On Monday (2 August), Romanian Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu said that his country will work with international partners on a response to the Iranian attack.

“Based on the available info, Romania strongly condemns the Iranian drone attack against Mercer Street, during which a Romanian citizen was killed,” Aurescu tweeted. “There is no justification whatsoever for deliberately attacking civilians.”

The Iranian threat remains the Israeli government’s highest priority, both in their ambition to become a nuclear threshold state and their plans for regional hegemony and supporting proxies against Israel in Lebanon, Syria and the Gaza Strip

Israel hopes this latest attack and the clear intelligence that Iran was responsible will strengthen the resolve of the international community to recognise the dangers inherent within the Iranian regime

Iran will likely be the top agenda item when Prime Minister Bennett travels to the US to meet President Biden later this month.

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Time to investigate the 1988 massacre in Iran and the role of its next president - Ebrahim Raisi

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On 5 August, the Iranian regime will inaugurate its new president, Ebrahim Raisi, trying to whitewash his history of human-rights abuses. In 1988, he played a key role in the regime’s massacre of 30,000 political prisoners, most of whom were activists with the main opposition movement, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (or MEK).

Based on a fatwa by then-Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini, “death commissions” throughout Iran ordered the execution of political prisoners who refused to abandon their beliefs. Victims were buried in secret mass graves, the locations of which were never revealed to relatives. In recent years, the regime has systematically has destroyed those graves to hide any evidence of the crime, which has been described by renowned jurists throughout the world as one of the most tragic crimes against humanity to take place in the second half of the 20th century.

The massacre has never been independently investigated by the UN. The perpetrators continue to enjoy impunity, with many of them occupying the most senior government positions. Raisi is now the most notable example of this phenomenon, and he has never denied his role as a member of the Tehran Death Commission.

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On 3 September 2020, seven United Nations Special Rapporteurs wrote to Iranian authorities stating that the 1988 extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances “may amount to crimes against humanity”. In May, a group of more than 150 rights campaigners, including Nobel laureates, former heads of state and former UN officials, called for an international investigation into the 1988 killings.

As the UN experts’ letter confirms, families of the victims, survivors and human rights defenders are today subject of persistent threats, harassment, intimidation, and attacks because of their attempts to seek information on the fate and whereabouts of the victims. With Raisi’s rise to the Presidency, an investigation into the 1988 massacre is more vital than ever.

On June 19, 2021, Amnesty International’s secretary-general said in a statement: “That Ebrahim Raisi has risen to the presidency instead of being investigated for the crimes against humanity is a grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran. In 2018, our organization documented how Ebrahim Raisi had been a member of the ‘death commission’ which forcibly disappeared and extrajudicially executed in secret thousands of political dissidents in Evin and Gohardasht prisons near Tehran in 1988. The circumstances surrounding the fate of the victims and the whereabouts of their bodies are, to this day, systematically concealed by the Iranian authorities, amounting to ongoing crimes against humanity.”

Javaid Rehman, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, said on 29 June that over the years his office has gathered testimonies and evidence of the state-ordered executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988. He said his office was ready to share them if the UN Human Rights Council or another body sets up an impartial investigation, adding: “It’s very important now that Raisi is the president-elect that we start investigating what happened in 1988 and the role of individuals."

On Tuesday (27 July) it was announced that prosecutors in Sweden had charged an Iranian with war crimes over the mass execution of prisoners in 1988. The suspect was not named but is widely believed to be 60-year-old Hamid Noury.

Documents registered with the Swedish Prosecution Authority include a list of 444 PMOI prisoners who were hanged in Gohardasht prison alone. A book entitled “Crimes against Humanity” names more than 5,000 Mojahedin, and a book entitled “Massacre of Political Prisoners” published by the PMOI 22 years ago, names Hamid Noury as one of many known perpetrators of the massacre, and the memoirs of a number of PMOI members and sympathizers.

Prosecutors were invoked the principle of "universal jurisdiction" for serious crimes in order to bring the case. In a statement released on Tuesday, Sweden's Prosecution Authority said the charges related to the suspect's time as assistant to the deputy prosecutor at Gohardasht prison in Karaj. Noury was arrested at Stockholm airport on 9 November 2019 upon his arrival from Tehran. He has been held behind bars ever since and his trial is scheduled for 10 August.

According to documents in the case, Noury exchanged emails with an Iranian-Swedish dual national by the name of Iraj Mesdaghi 10 months prior to his trip to Sweden. Ironically, Mesdaghi is one of the plaintiffs in the case against Noury and testified against him. The War Crimes Unit (WCU) of the National Operations Department (NOA) of the Swedish Police found Iraj Mesdaghi’s email address on Hamid Noury's phone and noted that he had sent two emails to that address on January 17, 2019. This has created questions about Mesdaghis true role and objective.

When faced with questioning, Noury did his utmost to evade answering investigating officers, and Mesdaghi said he could not remember the email exchange. But the evidence draws attention to investigation which confirmed that Mesdaghi had been summoned to Evin Prsion by Noury years ago and he practically acceptedto collaborate with the regime. 

Iran policy has always been a vexing issue for the West but come August 5, the West has to make a decision: Whether to call for a UN investigation of the 1988 massacre and role of the Iranian officials including Raisi, or to join the ranks of those who have violated their principles and turned their backs on Iranians by engaging with the Iranian regime. What is at the stake is no longer just Iran policy, but also the sacred values and moral principles that the West has fought for generations.

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