Top Iranian Nuclear Scientist Assassinated Near Tehran; Trump Sought Advice on Strike Against Iran’s Nuclear Program

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, one of Iran’s top nuclear program scientists, was killed in an ambush. The ambush occurred in Damavand, east of Tehran. According to reports from Iran, Fakhrizadeh was the target of gunfire and an explosion. Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammed Javdd Zarif implied Israel was behind the attack. Fakhrizadeh was purportedly the head of Iran’s program to develop nuclear weapons. Reported by CNN. Read more… Reported by Fox News. Read more… Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more… Israeli Maj. Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin, the former head of Israel’s military intelligence, says that Fakhrizadeh was so central to Iran’s nuclear program that he will be almost impossible to replace. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more… The New York Times reported that one U.S. official and two intelligence officials said that Israel was behind the attack. Reported by The New York Times. Read more… Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more… Calling Fakhrizadeh “the country’s prominent and distinguished nuclear and defensive scientist,” the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, said Iran’s first priority was the “definitive punishment of the perpetrators and those who ordered it.” Reported by Fox News. Read more… After Khamenei vowed revenge, the United States re-deployed the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier back to the Middle East. Reported by Fox News. Read more…

As calls for retaliation continued, Kamal Kharrazi, a top advisor to Khamenei and head of Iran’s Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, said in a statement that Iran is plotting a “calculated and decisive” response: “Undoubtedly, Iran will give a calculated and decisive answer to the criminals who took Martyr Mohsen Fakhrizadeh from the Iranian nation.” Iran’s religious and military elite blame Israel for the assassination. Iran’s hardline Kayhan daily called for a strike on the Israeli port of Haifa. Reported by Reuters. Read more… Sheikh Naim Qassem, the deputy leader of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist group, said, “We condemn this heinous attack and see that the response to this crime is in the hands of those concerned in Iran.” Reported by Reuters. Read more… Fars, Iran’s semi-official news site, claims the attack was carried out by remote control, using a machine gun attached to a car. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more… Iranian media described a truck bomb that exploded when Fakhrizadeh’s car approached, following by an intense firefight. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more… The European Union condemned Fakhrizadeh’s killing, calling it a criminal act that runs counter to the principle of respect for human rights. Reported by Fox News. Read more…

Senior national security team advisors reportedly talked outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump out of a military strike against Iran’s nuclear program. Trump reportedly met with his national security team during the second week of November to discuss how to address an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report of a significant increase in Iran’s uranium stockpile. Reported by Fox News. Read more… Nonetheless, Israel is preparing for a possible U.S. military strike against Iran’s nuclear program. Although no intelligence suggests an imminent U.S. strike, Israeli officials reportedly anticipate that the coming weeks will be “a very sensitive period.” Reported by Fox News. Read more…

Iran continues to violate the 2015 deal. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran has begun using advanced uranium-enriching centrifuges that it had installed underground at its Natanz site, says a report from the agency. The move represents the latest breach of the nuclear deal. Reuters obtained a copy of the report on November 18, 2020. Reported by Reuters. Read more… The IAEA and the U.S. also want an explanation from Iran as to the origin of uranium particles that were found almost two years ago. The particles were found at an old but undeclared site. Israel has called the site a “secret nuclear warehouse” and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outed the site in a 2018 speech at the U.N. Reported by Reuters. Read more…

Biden May Move U.S. Closer to 2015 Nuke Deal with Iran; Tehran Continues to Breach Nuke Deal Terms

U.S. President Elect Joe Biden will move the U.S. closer to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, say foreign policy experts and those close to him. In a recent op-ed Biden said that he would rejoin the deal if Iran returned to strict compliance with it. “First, I will make an unshakable commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons,” he said. “Second, I will offer Tehran a credible path back to diplomacy.” Biden warned, however, against Iran’s “destabilizing activities, which threaten our friends and partners in the region” and said he is prepared to defend U.S. interests and troops if Iran chooses confrontation over peace. Reported by Fox News. Read more… Former National Security Advisor Gen. H.R. McMaster warned Biden that “It would be a really big mistake to turn the clock back to 2016 and resurrect the nuclear deal.” Calling the deal a “political disaster masquerading as a diplomatic triumph,” McMaster told Fox News’ Special Report that Iran used the money paid as part of the deal, and made as a result of sanctions relief, “to intensify sectarian violence across the region in an effort to put a proxy army on the border of Israel.” Reported by Fox News. Read more… Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has also spoken out against a return to the 2015 deal, saying “There must be no return to the previous nuclear agreement. We must stick to an uncompromising policy to ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons.” Reported by Reuters. Read more… On November 17, however, Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Iran would fully implement its 2015 nuclear deal obligations if President-Elect Joe Biden lifts the sanctions on Iran. Zarif said Biden could lift the sanctions with “three executive orders.” Reported by Reuters. Read more…

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s U.N. ambassador dismissed the idea Biden would return to the deal, saying nobody would be “naïve enough” to do so. Reported by Fox News. Read more… Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud, says he is “confident that a Biden administration would continue to pursue policies that are in the interest of regional stability,” adding, “Any discussions we will have with the future administration will lead to strong cooperation.” Reported by Reuters. Read more…

President Elect Joe Biden’s cabinet picks will have a significant impact on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. One of those picks, Antony Blinken, opposed designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC) a foreign terrorist organization when he was deputy secretary of state and deputy national security advisor under former President Barack Obama. Reported by Fox News. Read more…

Iran Releases Academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert in Prisoner Exchange; Launches Aircraft Capable Ship

Iran released Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a British-Australian academic, on Wednesday, November 25, 2020, in exchange for three prisoners held abroad. Moore-Gilbert was accused of spying and has been detained in an Iranian prison for more than two years. After her release, Moore-Gilbert stated to The Guardian that “I have nothing but respect, love, and admiration for the great nation of Iran and its warm-hearted, generous and brave people. It is with bittersweet feelings that I depart your country, despite the injustices which I have been subjected to.” Reported by The Guardian. Read more… Reported by Fox News. Read more… One report suggested that Moore-Gilbert was originally arrested for dating an Israeli. Reported by Fox News. Read more…

Al Queda’s No. 2 Leader Killed in Iran; Craft Blasts Iran Over Zarif Tweets; U.S. Imposes More Sanctions of Tehran

Al-Qaeda suffered another blow in August when its number two man, Abu Mohammed al-Masri, was killed in Tehran. Al-Masri was widely believed to have taken part in the planning for the bombing of U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on Aug. 7, 1998. He was killed on the anniversary of the bombings. Israel and the U.S. are believed to have jointly worked together to track al-Masri and kill him. Reported by Fox News. Read more…

After Iran criticized the U.S. election, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Kelly Craft, ripped into Tehran’s government, accusing it of “fanning the flames” of violence and instability in the Middle East. She had special words directed at Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif. “I am reminded of the regime’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, sending out a preachy tweet on Sunday about the need for multilateralism and Iran’s record as a practitioner of ‘responsible diplomacy,’” Craft said. “It is so ironic, and it would be funny if it weren’t so tragic. A diplomat using Twitter to spread propaganda on a platform that his own people are forbidden to use to profess innocence, and claim that his government is fighting for peace.” Craft made the comments during a U.S. Security Council meeting on Yemen. Reported by Fox News. Read more…

On November 18, the U.S. imposed more sanctions on Iran, targeting a foundation controlled by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The sanctions were fueled in part by what the Trump administration called Iran’s human rights abuses a year after a crackdown on anti-government demonstrators. The sanctions are part of Trumps “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran. Reported by Reuters. Read more…

New Book Details Nazareth Site that Could Contain Jesus’ Childhood Home

A U.K. archeologist reveals the archeological history of an area beneath the Nazareth convent, which is said to be the location of Jesus’ childhood home. The site includes a rock-cut Early Roman era home, evidence of a cave church, and major surface-level Byzantine and Crusader churches, all preserved within the confines of the Sisters of Nazareth Convent. Ken Dark, the archeologist, makes the reveal in his new book, The Sisters of Nazareth Convent. Reported by Fox News. Read more…

Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat Dies; Haley Urges Trump to Release Report on Palestinian Aid; PA Resumes Security Cooperation with Israel

Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian’s veteran negotiator, died November 24, 2020, after contracting the coronavirus. Erekat was involved in nearly every round of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians over a thirty-year career. Erekat was 65. Reported by Fox News. Read more…

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley has urged President Donald Trump to release data on how many Palestinians receive U.S. aid from the U.N.’s Palestinian refugee agency. The U.S. withdrew funding from the agency in 2018, but President-Elect Joe Biden may restore it. Haley took to Twitter, referring to the classified report prepared during Barack Obama’s administration and showing how many Palestinian refugees receiving aid from the agency were actually displaced in 1948. Critics say the agency’s original purpose—to provide aid to displaced Palestinian families—has outlived its purpose because it is giving aid to a wide range of Palestinians, including descendants of Palestinian refugees and those who have become residents of other countries. Reported by Fox News. Read more…

The Palestinian Authority (PA) says it will resume civil and security cooperation with Israel. The PA suspended cooperation in May when Israel announced plans to annex portions of the West Bank. However, annexation plans have since been suspended. Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh wrote on Twitter that “the relationship with Israel will return to how it was” after President Mahmoud Abbas received confirmation that Israel remained committed to past agreements with the Palestinians. Reported by Reuters. Read more…

U.S. Rep. Tlaib Again Accused of Anti-Semitism

U.S. Representative Rashida Tlaib is once again on the spot for comments perceived as anti-Semitic. Responding to the announcement that Antony Blinken would become Secretary of State under President-Elect Joe Biden, Tlaib tweeted, “So long as he doesn’t suppress my First Amendment right to speak out against Netanyahu’s racist and inhumane policies. The Palestinian people deserve equality and justice.” Blinken is Jewish, leading some to speculate on Tlaib’s motive for the post. Reported by Fox News. Read more… Tlaib is also part of a panel event called “Dismantling Anti-Semitism, Winning Justice.”  The panel is raising eyebrows because it includes Professor Marc Lamont Hill and writer Peter Beinart. Both men are noted critics of Israel’s government. Beinart wrote a New York Times op-ed advocating a one-state Jewish home state that is not a Jewish state, while Hill was reportedly fired from CNN over comments he made on Palestine. Reported by Fox News. Read more…

U.S. Troops in Afghanistan, Iraq Coming Home; Air Force Deploys B-52 to Middle East

The Pentagon has begun preparing to drawdown troop totals in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Pentagon began issuing planning orders for the drawdown, to occur before January 20, 2020. Current troop levels in Afghanistan are 4,500 and will be drawn down to 2,500. Some 500 troops are scheduled to return from Iraq, leaving a similar total of 2,500 troops in that country. Reported by Fox News. Read more… On November 17, 2020 acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller made official U.S. President Trump’s promise to further drawdown troop totals in Afghanistan and Iraq. Reported by Fox News. Read more… Some military personnel, however, are going in the opposite direction—heading for the Middle East. On November 21, 2020, the U.S. Air Force deployed B-52 Stratofortress bombers to the region. Bomber crews performed the mission on “short notice” to “deter aggression and reassure U.S. partners and allies.” Reported by Fox News. Read more… Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary-General, warned against pulling troops out too quickly, saying the West could pay a “high price.” Stoltenberg said that a quick withdrawal could allow Islamic State militants to regroup. Reported by Reuters. Read more…

Netanyahu, Saudi Crown Prince, Reported to Secretly Meet

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reportedly met in secret in Saudi Arabia on November 22, 2020. If true, it would be the first known encounter between senior Israeli and Saudi officials. Netanyahu reportedly flew to the Saudi seaside resort town of Neom, stayed two hours, and flew back to Israel. Neither nation has confirmed the report, and Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry has denied it. Reported by Fox News. Read more… U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also reportedly took part in the meeting. Reported by Reuters. Read more… A report in the Wall Street Journal says that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman pulled back from normalizing ties with Israel after Biden won the U.S. presidential election. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

Convicted Spy Jonathan Pollard Free to Return to Israel

The U.S. has ended parole for convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard. He was a former Navy intelligence officer convicted in 1987 of spying for Israel. He received a 30-year sentence and was released on parole in 2015. Pollard is now free to travel to Israel. A statement from Israeli Prime Minister’s office said, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomes the lifting of the restrictions on Jonathan Pollard,” and that Netanyahu “hopes to see Jonathan Pollard in Israel soon.” Reported by Reuters. Read more… Netanyahu later said that Israel would welcome Pollard. “We are waiting for you, even during the time of the coronavirus, with open arms, and you will receive the genuine embrace of the Israeli people,” Netanyahu said in a video distributed by his office. Netanyahu also promised a comfortable life in Israel for Pollard and his wife. Reported by Reuters. Read more…