U.S. will deliver new F-35 jets to Israel, Biden says
Posted on April 24, 2015 by Editorial Staff in Israel
Vice President Joe Biden April 2015. Photo: Reuters
WASHINGTON,— Seeking to ease U.S.-Israeli tensions, Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday promised Israel delivery of top-flight fighter jets next year to maintain its military edge and vowed that any final nuclear deal with Iran would ensure Israel’s security.
Addressing an Israeli Independence Day celebration in Washington, Biden insisted that Barack Obama “has Israel’s back,” despite a recent strains between the U.S. president and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over Iran nuclear talks and Middle East diplomacy.
Biden won applause from a pro-Israel audience when he told them the United States would begin delivery of Lockheed Martin’s new F-35 jets to its ally next year, making Israel the only country in the Middle East to have the new stealth warplane.
But he was met with silence when he reaffirmed U.S. support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an allusion to White House objections to Netanyahu’s comments last month casting doubt on his commitment to a Palestinian state.
“We’ve had our differences,” Biden said. But he added: “We love each other and we protect each other.”
Biden’s appearance at an event hosted by the Israeli Embassy was the latest sign of White House efforts to lower the temperature after a period of acrimony between Obama and Netanyahu.
Ties became badly frayed early last month when Netanyahu accepted a Republican invitation to speak to the U.S. Congress, where he railed against Obama’s quest for a nuclear deal with Iran. Netanyahu later condemned a framework deal reached earlier this month with Tehran as a threat to Israel’s survival.
Obama, who has faced complaints from some fellow Democrats that the public feud had gone too far, has reached out to U.S. pro-Israel groups and American Jewish leaders seeking to soothe their concerns.
Biden sought to reassure his audience of Obama’s commitment to making sure that any final nuclear agreement with Iran maintains Israel’s security.
But with talks now aimed at reaching a comprehensive accord with Tehran by a June 30 deadline, there is little chance of a meeting of the minds between Obama and Netanyahu, who have a long history of testy relations.
Biden said any deal with Iran would be “based on hard-hitting, hard-headed uncompromising assessments, what’s required to protect ourselves, Israel, the region and the world.”
If a final deal does not meet Obama’s requirements, Biden said, “we simply will not sign it.”
And he warned: “If Iran cheats at any time and goes for a nuclear weapon, every option we have to respond today remains on the table and – your military will tell you – and more.”
Iran denies seeking a nuclear bomb. Israel is widely assumed to be the Middle East’s only nuclear-armed state.
Biden was hosted by Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, a Netanyahu confidante blamed by Obama’s aides for orchestrating the prime minister’s congressional address.
Dermer acknowledged disagreements but said the two allies would weather them. Biden’s speech marked the administration’s highest-level direct contact with the Israeli government since Netanyahu’s speech to Congress.
Touting U.S. efforts to maintain Israel’s “qualitative advantage” in the Middle East, Biden said: “Next year we will deliver to Israel the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, our finest.”
Israel bought 19 F-35s in 2010 for $2.75 billion and signed a contract in February to buy an additional 14 of the Lockheed Martin Corp fighter jets for about $3 billion.
House panel OKs stripping passports from US terrorists
By Charles HoskinsonPublished April 24, 2015
The House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday unanimously approved three bills designed to aid the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, including one that would allow the State Department to revoke the passports of U.S. citizens who join the group or any other terrorist organization.
"These Benedict Arnold traitors joining the ranks of foreign terrorist armies should not be allowed to come back to America unless they come back in handcuffs," said Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, sponsor of the bipartisan measure.
"We must stop these killers from coming back to the United States to do harm to Americans."
The bipartisan legislation aims to stem the flow of Americans to the Islamic State and make it harder for them to return home to commit terror attacks.
Drone Strikes on Al Qaeda Said to Take Toll on Leadership
By DECLAN WALSH APRIL 24, 2015
LONDON — Revelations of new high-level losses among Al Qaeda’s top leadership in Pakistan’s tribal belt have underscored how years of American drone strikes have diminished and dispersed the militant group’s upper ranks and forced them to cede prominence and influence to more aggressive offshoots in Yemen and Somalia.
While the C.I.A. drone strike that killed two Western hostages has led to intense criticism of the drone program and potentially a reassessment of it, the American successes over the years in targeting and killing senior Qaeda operatives in their home base has left the militant group’s leadership diminished and facing difficult choices, counterterrorism officials and analysts say.
That process of attrition has been accelerated by the emergence of the Islamic State, whose arresting brutality and superior propaganda have sucked up funding and recruits. In the tribal belt, a Pakistani military drive that started last summer has forced Qaeda commanders into ever more remote areas like the Shawal Valley, where two of them were killed alongside the American hostage Warren Weinstein and an Italian, Giovanni Lo Porto, on Jan. 15.
Even the death of Mr. Weinstein, a prized hostage whom Al Qaeda had long sought to exchange for prisoners or money, is emblematic of the state of siege. Whereas in Syria, the Islamic State has turned hostage execution into a macabre propaganda spectacle, Al Qaeda has seen any dividend from its captives snatched away, albeit inadvertently, by its American foes.
“Core Al Qaeda is a rump of its former self,” said an American counterterrorism official, in an assessment echoed by several European and Pakistani officials.
The Pakistanis estimate that Al Qaeda has lost 40 loyalists, of all ranks, to American drone strikes in the past six months – a higher toll than other sources have tracked but indicative of a broader trend. Now, they say, Qaeda commanders are moving back to the relative safety, and isolation, of locations they once fled, like the mountains of eastern Afghanistan, and Sudan.
Yet militancy experts caution that is too early to sound the death knell for Al Qaeda’s leaders, for whom patience and adaptability are hallmarks, and who, despite the adversity, remains the principal jihadist group focused on attacking the West.
“People always want to know when the job will be finished,” said Michael Semple, a militancy expert at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland. “I don’t think we can talk about that. They’re on the back foot, rather than being eliminated.”
President Obama’s disclosure that the C.I.A. killed four Americans in January – the two hostages, and two senior Qaeda leaders – offered a rare glimpse into the decade-old shadow war in Pakistan’s tribal borderlands, as well as hint of how difficult it remains to get information about Qaeda activities there. Although the strikes that killed Mr. Weinstein and Mr. Lo Porto occurred several months ago, Mr. Obama said he could confirm their deaths only recently.
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Yet there is little doubt that the swooping valleys and deep forests have become a deadly refuge for Al Qaeda’s leadership. “The drones have left Al Qaeda in tatters,” said a Pakistani security official in Peshawar, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “They are in disarray, trying to reorganize but struggling to find people capable of leading the organization.”
The group had put hope for new leadership on Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, a local franchise begun in September by the Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri, ostensibly to counter Islamic State recruitment efforts.
The deputy leader of the group was Ahmed Farouq, who was apparently seen as a rising star in militant circles for some time. In a letter to Osama bin Laden in 2010, which recently became public through a terrorism trial in New York, a militant of the same name was singled out as having potential leadership potential. “A good man” wrote Atiyah Abd al Rahman, a senior Qaeda leader who was killed in a drone strike in 2011.
But the new unit’s ability to impose itself has been constrained by drone strikes that have killed at least five of its leaders, including Mr. Farouq, who officials say was an American citizen, and who is said to have died in the strike that killed the hostages.
As ever, though, new militants are emerging to fill the vacant places. Several American officials pointed to Farouq al-Qahtani al-Qatari, who is believed to be based in Kunar Province in eastern Afghanistan. One American official described him as “one of the most important remaining figures in the region.”
American officials said there was an upside to Qaeda operatives relocating to Afghanistan. The American military, despite its diminished presence in the country, still has far greater latitude to launch raids and strikes there than it does across the border. And the Afghan intelligence service and elite special operations forces are far more reliable allies than Pakistan’s spies.
Another militant who may figure on American kill lists is Mansoor al Harbi, a Saudi logistician who, the Pakistani official said, is currently based in the Shawal Valley.
Shawal, a long valley walled by high peaks and snow-dusted mountains close to the Afghan border, has become a shelter of choice for many militant groups fleeing the Pakistani military operation in North Waziristan that started last June. Otherwise, Qaeda operatives are clustered in small pockets in South Waziristan and in the Tirah Valley, a militant bolt-hole in the Khyber tribal region, Pakistani officials said.
But American and European officials cautioned against overstating the troubles facing Qaeda’s leadership, who have a long record of enduring adversity. They started to disperse commanders from Waziristan to Africa and the Middle East from about 2008, when the drone campaign started in earnest.
For now, Qaeda’s top leadership will probably be preoccupied with its survival rather than plotting attacks on the West, Mr. Semple said.
“They have ways of surviving, and the guys who remain are good,” he said. “But can they get together to brainstorm attacks on the U.S.? I don’t think there are too many meetings.”
More broadly, though, questions about Qaeda’s ability to bounce back are likely to find answers in its rivalry with Islamic State rather than in the valleys of Waziristan. Islamic State has dwarfed Al Qaeda’s media presence over the past year, through aggressive use of Twitter and a constant stream of news releases.
To jihadist recruits the ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, looms as a more compelling figure beside the elderly, and relatively colorless, Mr. Zawahri of Al Qaeda. Yet from Yemen to Somalia and Syria, Mr. Zawahri retains the loyalty of committed jihadist commanders who say they prefer the Qaeda brand of militancy.
Then there is the wider question of whether Al Qaeda’s strength lies in its network, or in the idea that it represents.
“Even if Zawahri has gone silent, the network is not dead,” Aaron Y. Zelin, an analyst at the Washington Institute wrote recently. “From the available information, it appears the network may have moved on.”
Matthew Rosenberg contributed reporting from Washington, and Ismail Khan from Peshawar, Paki