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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YouTube closes vital window into North Korea

YouTube has caused an outcry by shutting down North Korean propaganda channels that were used by researchers to better understand the secretive nation.

Analysts say the axed channels provided vital information that helped them follow the movements of Kim Jong Un, advances in North Korea’s weapons programs and other important developments.

“Basically, this hurts efforts to track activities of interest in a closed country — at the worst possible time,” tweeted Joshua Pollack, a nonproliferation expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

Tensions between North Korea and the U.S. have spiked this year as Kim’s regime advanced its nuclear weapons program and President Trump responded with fiery rhetoric.

The shuttered YouTube channels played clips from state TV and other North Korean content.

One channel run by Uriminzokkiri, a North Korean government propaganda website, had racked up millions of views. It was “terminated due to a legal complaint,” according to a short message posted by YouTube.

Videos published on Uriminzokkiri’s channel have made headlines around the world, including one in 2013 that appeared to show an imagined missile attack on U.S. government buildings in Washington.

North Korea analysts have studied all kinds of footage put out by the channels, searching for clues about missiles and other military hardware. The videos also help them understand what the North Korean regime is telling its people — and what messages it might be trying to send to foreign governments.

“These North Korean videos are … indispensable sources of information for us on the outside,” Curtis Melvin, a researcher at the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, wrote in an open letter Tuesday to Google, YouTube’s parent company.

It wasn’t clear why YouTube decided to close the channels down. Google didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The researchers pointed out that the channels didn’t carry ads so they weren’t making money for the North Korean regime, which has been hit with waves of international sanctions aiming to cut off its sources of income.

Melvin suggested YouTube’s actions could be the result of a U.S. executive order targeting the property of persons identified by the Treasury Department as having links to the North Korean government.

“If Google closed the YouTube accounts under this provision, then this is a case of regulations being written so broadly that they hit and destroy assets that are actually important to the U.S. policy community,” he wrote.

Google’s actions have added to the confusion.

It initially suspended Uriminzokkiri and several other channels on Friday, saying they had violated “community guidelines.” Then it reinstated them over the weekend before taking some of them down again Tuesday.

North Korean propaganda footage is still available on other YouTube channels — and on Chinese video sites like Youku. But the loss of a major source such as Uriminzokkiri still has consequences for experts.

“Even if the proprietors of the channels find other outlets, crucial research archives are now gone,” Pollack said.

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India’s top tech firms lose appeal for engineering students

India’s top tech companies are becoming less appealing for the millions of engineers the country produces every year.

Three of the country’s top outsourcing firms all dropped in the latest annual ranking of the most attractive employers for Indian engineering students by research firm Universum. The top 10 was dominated by American tech giants like Google and Microsoft.

“The growing presence of multinational [companies] in the last few years has seen them replace domestic ones” among the top choices, said Daniel Ng, Universum’s head of research for Asia. Companies such as Facebook and Apple are perceived as offering a more “creative and dynamic work environment” than their Indian rivals, he added.

In the survey, IT firm Infosys fell out of the top 10 for the first time, slipping to 13th from 9th last year. Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), the country’s biggest outsourcing company, slid from 14th to 18th. Bangalore-based Wipro sank from 17th to 25th.

In fact, only two Indian companies — infrastructure firm Larsen & Toubro and government-owned Bharat Heavy Electricals (BHEL) — made it into the top 10.

It doesn’t help that Indian students remain obsessed with working abroad. While most millennials around the world put “work/life balance” as their top career goal, young Indians’ main objective is to work outside their own country, Universum said.

Out of the 29,000 Indian students surveyed, 43% said they wanted “to have an international career,” the research firm added. It seems to be getting tougher for firms like Infosys and Wipro to offer them that opportunity.

More than 60% of the Indian tech industry’s revenue comes from the U.S., where President Trump is pushing his “America First” agenda.

Trump has demanded a comprehensive review of the H-1B work visa program, saying it is unfairly used to replace Americans with cheaper foreign workers. Infosys, TCS and Wipro are among the top recipients of H-1B visas, 70% of which go to Indians.

Infosys recently said it will hire 10,000 American workers over the next two years, while TCS has cut its H-1B visa applications by two-thirds.

Other popular destinations for Indian tech workers like the U.K. and Australia have also enacted policies that make it harder for them to move there.

Ng said it is “certainly possible” that the opposition to work visas has contributed to India’s tech firms being deemed less attractive as employers.

But it’s not just big outsourcing companies that Indian engineers don’t want to work for. They’re also losing interest in high-flying startups at home in favor of global competitors.

Indian e-commerce firm Flipkart is also becoming a place where fewer engineers want to work, according to Universum. It ranked 33rd in this year’s survey, a sharp drop from 18th a year ago.

Amazon, which is challenging Flipkart in India, broke into the top 10 for the first time, rising to 8th place from 13th.

U.S. tech firms also top the list for Indian business students, accounting for three of the top five choices.

Indian students’ preferences contrast with those of their counterparts in China, where a Universum survey last month showed students increasingly favoring homegrown companies over international ones.

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