Iran: One issue Netanyahu wants to discuss with Trump

When U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday ahead of the United Nations General Assembly, the conversation itself will be private, but Netanyahu has made it very clear what he wants to discuss: Iran.

Netanyahu’s first dire warning about Iran came more than two decades ago. In 1996, Netanyahu, then in his first term as prime minister, delivered his maiden speech before Congress. In it, he warned that Iran “has wed a cruel despotism to a fanatic militancy. If this regime, or its despotic neighbor Iraq, were to acquire nuclear weapons, this could presage catastrophic consequences, not only for my country, and not only for the Middle East, but for all mankind.”

In the intervening years, his language has barely changed.

In 2011, again speaking before Congress, Netanyahu said, “The tyranny in Tehran brutalizes its own people.” In 2015 — his most recent speech before Congress in which he lobbied against the Iran nuclear accord — the Israeli prime minister said, “Iran’s founding document pledges death, tyranny, and the pursuit of jihad.”

What has changed is Netanyahu’s singular focus on Iran. He mentioned it only once in 1996. In 2011, he said it 12 times. In 2015, he said “Iran” a staggering 107 times in his speech.

Once the most vocal critic of the Iran nuclear deal, officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Netanyahu went largely quiet after the signing of the accord in July 2015, realizing he could do little to change it, especially as relations deteriorated between Netanyahu and former President Barack Obama.

In Trump, Netanyahu sees a new window of opportunity.

Trump has blasted the Iran deal since his days on the campaign trail, calling it “the worst deal ever” and vowing to “rip it up.” Since taking office, his tone has softened, but only slightly.

Trump has still voiced strong criticism, leaving open the possibility that the United States will leave the deal, despite the International Atomic Energy Agency finding at the end of August that Iran was complying with the terms of the accord. Earlier this month, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley laid out a case for the U.S. to abandon the deal, saying Iran’s technical compliance wasn’t enough.

Netanyahu has urged Trump to do so, saying in an exclusive interview with CNN this week, “This agreement should be changed. It should be changed so that the removal of restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program should be not a matter of [a] change [in] the calendar, but a change in Iran’s aggressive behavior. They must stop their aggression. They must stop their terror in the Middle East and everywhere else.”

Israel’s concern about the nuclear deal isn’t the only Iran issue Trump and Netanyahu will discuss. In fact, it may not even be the primary one, since even Netanyahu acknowledges that the current accord will keep Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon within the next decade.

Hezbollah’s evolution

Across Israel’s northern border among the rolling hills of southern Lebanon, Iranian-proxy Hezbollah has built a stronghold. A few feet away from the border, near the Israeli town of Malkiya, a Hezbollah flag marks the territory. On a nearby hill, another flag waves in the breeze, near a UN outpost.

Since Israel and Lebanon fought a month-long war in the summer of 2006, this border has been Israel’s quietest, despite the war ending with no clear winner or loser. But the tranquility masks a simple truth — the border is perpetually tense.

Last week, Israel ran its biggest military exercise in twenty years along the northern border, including its army, air force, and navy, simulating a conflict with Hezbollah. And for years, Hezbollah’s arsenal has been growing — now with 100,000 short range rockets and several thousand more missiles in its cache, according to state-run Iranian news agency Tasnim and Israeli officials. Once a guerilla militia, Hezbollah is now an experienced army, learning from the conflict in Syria, where it has fought alongside the Syrian regime.

“In the last five years, there is a huge, dramatic change in the tactical, but also operational capabilities of this organization as a fighting organization. You find yourself with an organization that is working with military formations – battalions, brigades – that has a command and control structure that has dramatically changed,” General (Res.) Eli Ben-Meir, the former Chief Intelligence Officer of Israel’s military said.

Even so, over the last decade, Israel and Hezbollah have preferred to shoot rhetoric back and forth across the border instead of live fire. But increasingly it is Iran’s deployment of Hezbollah in neighboring Syria that is alarming Israel.

Having seen Iran establish a foothold in Iraq, Israel is desperate to prevent Iran from setting up another in Syria.

Last year, Netanyahu acknowledged that Israel struck Syria dozens of times to prevent advanced weaponry from reaching Hezbollah, also saying Israel would work to prevent Iran from digging in along Israel’s borders.

The Russia connection

To push back against Iran’s growing influence, Israel has turned not to the U.S., but to Russia. Netanyahu has made regular trips to Russia to meet with President Vladimir Putin ever since Russian forces moved into Syria in 2015, touting the Israeli and Russian military coordination over Syria. But Israeli politicians are acutely aware that Russia’s primary concern in the region is its own interests, not Israel’s security.

This is where Israel feels the lack of U.S. presence in the region most sharply — starting in the Obama administration. Despite Trump’s tough talk on the Iran nuclear deal and the possibility of harsher measures against Iran, he now presides over what many Israelis regard as the absence of the U.S. in the Syria conflict. In multiple conversations with Israeli politicians, this fear is often repeated.

“The United States can prevent a permanent Iranian military presence in Syria,” Minister of Intelligence and security cabinet member Israel Katz told CNN, urging the U.S. to get more involved. “I think the lesson both in the nuclear sphere and the conventional sphere is that the U.S. cannot ignore the fact that she is the leader of the free world and everything that comes from that.”

Sebastian Gorka, who until recently served as a counter-terrorism adviser to President Trump, tried to allay Israeli fears. “Key individuals inside the National Security Council understand we are at war with Sunni Jihadis – al-Qaeda, ISIS – and they also understand that any action we take against groups like ISIS should not occur in ways that profit Iran in ways that are strategic and long-term,” Gorka said in an interview with CNN, on the sidelines of a counter-terrorism conference in Herzliya.

“I hope those voices maintain their positions and their influence. Again, this is about the long game.

But without a concrete plan, Gorka’s statements do little to ease Israeli fears.

Another full-blown conflict between Israel and Hezbollah would be devastating for both sides. Hezbollah has the rockets and missiles to hit deep within Israel. Israel has the firepower to level southern Lebanon.

Israel’s fear is that, if there is another war, Israeli forces may have to go it alone.

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Neil deGrasse Tyson: Maybe ‘too late’ to recover from climate change

Scientist and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson said Sunday that, in the wake of devastating floods and damage caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, climate change had become so severe that the country “might not be able to recover.”

In an interview on CNN’s “GPS,” Tyson got emotional when Fareed Zakaria asked what he made of Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert’s refusal to say whether climate change had been a factor in Hurricanes Harvey or Irma’s strength — despite scientific evidence pointing to the fact that it had made the storms more destructive.

“Fifty inches of rain in Houston!” Tyson exclaimed, adding, “This is a shot across our bow, a hurricane the width of Florida going up the center of Florida!”

“What will it take for people to recognize that a community of scientists are learning objective truths about the natural world and that you can benefit from knowing about it?” he said.

Tyson told Zakaria that he had no patience for those who, as he put it, “cherry pick” scientific studies according to their belief system.

“The press will sometimes find a single paper, and say, ‘Oh here’s a new truth, if this study holds it.’ But an emergent scientific truth, for it to become an objective truth, a truth that is true whether or not you believe in it, it requires more than one scientific paper,” he said.

“It requires a whole system of people’s research all leaning in the same direction, all pointing to the same consequences,” he added. “That’s what we have with climate change, as induced by human conduct.”

Tyson said he was gravely concerned that by engaging in debates over the existence of climate change, as opposed to discussions on how best to tackle it, the country was wasting valuable time and resources.

“The day two politicians are arguing about whether science is true, it means nothing gets done. Nothing,” he said. “It’s the beginning of the end of an informed democracy, as I’ve said many times. What I’d rather happen is you recognize what is scientifically truth, then you have your political debate.”

Tyson told Zakaria that he believed that the longer the delay when it comes to responding to the ongoing threat of climate change, the bleaker the outcome. And perhaps, he hazarded, it was already even too late.

“I worry that we might not be able to recover from this because all our greatest cities are on the oceans and water’s edges, historically for commerce and transportation,” he said.

“And as storms kick in, as water levels rise, they are the first to go,” he said. “And we don’t have a system — we don’t have a civilization with the capacity to pick up a city and move it inland 20 miles. That’s — this is happening faster than our ability to respond. That could have huge economic consequences.”

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Three things to watch at Janet Yellen’s Fed meeting

The Federal Reserve has four meetings left before Janet Yellen’s four-year term as chair ends in February. One is this week.

Her to-do list is full: A possible third rate hike in 2017. Restoring the Fed’s giant, $4.5 trillion portfolio of bonds and other assets, still bloated from the financial crisis, to normal levels.

And there’s the political item: Will President Trump reappoint her?

That will all be on display Wednesday when the Fed’s policy committee announces its next moves and Yellen holds a press conference.

1. Will Janet Yellen stay or go?

Yellen has politely dodged questions about whether she would stay for a second term, if renominated.

“I really haven’t had to give further thought at this point to this question,” she told House lawmakers in July.

You can bet that Yellen, whom former President Barack Obama appointed as the first woman to lead the Federal Reserve, will be asked by reporters on Wednesday.

The question gained added importance since the Fed’s No. 2, Stanley Fischer, announced this month that he will resign on October 13.

That news means Trump has the chance to fill the Fed’s top two jobs.

During the campaign, Trump condemned Yellen as a puppet for Obama. Trump has more recently suggested he’d consider rehiring Yellen for another term, saying she’s “done a good job.”

It would be highly unusual if he didn’t reappoint her: Most presidents keep Fed chairs for an additional term.

2. Is another rate hike coming?

Most economists don’t expect the Fed to raise interest rates on Wednesday. It has raised rates three times since last December, twice this year.

Central bankers are in a bind. It’s their job to shift policy levers, nudging interest rates higher and lower, to boost jobs and keep prices, or inflation, at the optimal level. That means not too high, and not too low.

Inflation affects prices — milk, train tickets, everything.

It has been stubbornly low for years. And low inflation can hurt the economy: Businesses get queasy about investing in people and equipment. If prices don’t rise, wages don’t either.

The problem is that interest rates, which the Fed influences through its federal funds rate, remain low even though jobs recovered years ago. The funds rate effects what people pay on things like mortgages and credit cards. Lower rates promote growth.

In other words, inflation is signaling that the Fed should not increase rates. But economic growth and low unemployment of 4.4 percent are saying it should.

“We previously expected the Fed to hike interest rates again in December, but the continuing weakness in core inflation had left the chances of a move before year-end as little more than a coin toss and other recent developments have all but killed the possibility,” Capital Economics wrote in a recent note.

The other reason the Fed may not raise its fed funds rate this week: Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are expected to ding the U.S. economy in the short-term.

3. When will the Fed start getting its portfolio back to normal?

The other policy decision on Yellen’s agenda involves the Fed’s so-called balance sheet. That’s the enormous amount of debt — mostly Treasury bonds and securities backed by mortgages — it racked up during the financial crisis.

The central bank effectively lent trillions of dollars to the government to spur the economy and make it cheaper for everyone to borrow. And now it’s time for the Fed to begin selling that debt.

Several Fed officials have signaled the central bank could take a first step in selling off its bonds and other investments starting next month.

An announcement that the Fed will start unwinding its debt would mark yet another milestone in an economic recovery now in its ninth year.

“The [Fed] has been preparing the markets for balance sheet normalization for a long time,” Seth Carpenter, an economist with UBS wrote in an analyst note.

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London terror attack latest: Second man arrested over tube bombing

British authorities have arrested a second man in connection with the bombing of a London Underground train on Friday, officials said.

The 21-year-old man was arrested in Hounslow, west London, Saturday night by detectives from the London Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command. The incident at Parsons Green station injured 30 passengers.

“He was arrested under section 41 of the Terrorism Act and taken to a south London police station where he remains in custody,” police said in a statement Sunday.

Two people have been arrested as part of a major manhunt for suspects. Police had arrested an 18-year-old suspect in Dover on Saturday. Dover is major port town about 80 miles southeast of London.

UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd had said “it’s much too early to say” whether anyone behind the bombing was previously known to authorities.

Shortly after the bombing, the UK terror threat level was raised to “critical,” meaning that another attack is considered to be “imminent.”

Police are still searching a residential address west of London in Sunbury-on-Thames, Surrey, in connection with Friday’s attack.

In London, an increased number of police officers were patrolling the streets over the weekend, particularly around “crowded places, iconic sites, transport hubs and ports,” police said in a statement.

The Parsons Green station, where an improvised device exploded as a train pulled into the platform during Friday’s morning rush hour, reopened early Saturday.

Probe ongoing

Investigators are working around the clock to identify those responsible for the bombing.

Detectives have spoken to 100 witnesses and are reviewing hours of CCTV footage as well as videos and photographs sent by the public, Neil Basu, the senior national coordinator for counterterrorism policing said in a statement on Saturday.

Authorities said they will work to keep in check bomb ingredients like those used in Friday’s bombing.

“There is no doubt that this was a serious IED (improvised explosive device) … so we will have to make sure that we take all steps we can to ensure that the materials that this man was able to collect become more and more difficult to combine together,” Rudd said.

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London terror attack latest: Second man arrested in tube bombing

British authorities have arrested a second man in connection with the bombing of a London Underground train on Friday, officials said Sunday.

The 21-year-old man was arrested late Saturday in Hounslow, west London, by detectives from the London Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command.

In Friday’s incident, at Parsons Green station, an improvised device exploded as a train arrived during the morning rush hour, injuring 30 passengers.

“(The second man) was arrested under section 41 of the Terrorism Act and taken to a south London police station where he remains in custody,” police said in a statement Sunday.

A search is taking place at a property in Stanwell, Surrey, in connection with this arrest, police added.

The arrests are part of a major manhunt for the perpetrators of Friday’s attack. Police had previously arrested an 18-year-old suspect in the departure area of the port of Dover on Saturday. Dover is major port town about 80 miles southeast of London.

The teen was taken into custody “on suspicion of being concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism,” authorities said.

Meanwhile police were still searching a residential address west of London in Sunbury-on-Thames, Surrey, on Sunday, with residents from surrounding buildings evacuated as a “precautionary measure.”

Officers were seen entering and exiting a lilac-painted property on Cavendish Road, which had been cordoned off.

Reporters at the scene attracted attention from residents, some of whom said they would be surprised if anyone in Sunbury was connected with the bombing.

The house is believed to be owned by an elderly couple known for fostering hundreds of children — including refugees — and who were honored by the Queen for their work with MBE (Member of the British Empire) medals in 2010, according to reports widely circulated in British media on Sunday. London’s Metropolitan Police has not confirmed those reports.

Threat level lowered

The UK’s terror threat level was downgraded from “critical” back to “severe” on Sunday, the country’s Home Secretary Amber Rudd said in a televised statement.

A Home Office spokesperson also told CNN that the threat level had been lowered.

London’s Metropolitan Police said in a statement that the “high pace and rapid progress” of the investigation is continuing and that although it is not complete, that progress has allowed the Joint Terrorism Analysis Center — the independent body that assesses threat — “to come to the judgment that an attack is no longer imminent.”

Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley said that lowering the threat level to “severe” means that an attack is now considered “highly likely.”

“Members of the public will be wondering what that means in terms of their travel into work tomorrow. For practical and precautionary reasons we made the decision that the increased resources will continue for the beginning of this week,” Rowley added, “So the public will still see that high level of policing presence; some armed, some unarmed.”

Rudd had earlier commented on the continuing investigation, telling the BBC’s “The Andrew Marr Show” that a second arrest suggested the bombing at Parsons Green was not a lone wolf attack before quickly adding “but it’s too early to reach any final conclusions on that.”

Shortly after the explosion, ISIS claimed involvement via its Amaq News Agency.

But when asked if ISIS may have had a hand in the attack, Rudd said: “It is inevitable that so-called Islamic State or Daesh will reach in and try and claim responsibility. We have no evidence to suggest that yet.”

Rudd said the government is releasing an additional £24 million ($32.6 million) for counterterrorism operations around the country, “particularly to support operations where they are protecting people in public places.”

In London, an increased number of police officers could be seen patrolling the streets over the weekend, particularly around “crowded places, iconic sites, transport hubs and ports,” police said in a statement.

The Parsons Green station reopened early Saturday.

Detectives had spoken to 100 witnesses by Saturday afternoon and are continuing to comb through hours of CCTV footage as well as videos and photographs sent by the public, Neil Basu, the senior national coordinator for counterterrorism policing, said in a statement.

“The public’s help remains crucial, and I urge anyone with information, no matter how significant they think it is, to continue letting us know,” he said.

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