Iran news agency apologizes for ‘Onion’ poll spoof goof

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Iran’s Fars News Agency has apologized to readers for running a spoof poll taken from the satirical American newspaper, “The Onion.” The satire item–run briefly as a straight news item on Fars Friday–cited a fake Gallup ‘poll’ claiming white American rural voters favor Iran’s lame-duck president Ahmadinejad over Obama.

“Unfortunately an incorrect item was released on our website on Friday which included a fake opinion poll on popularity rate of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and US President Barack Obama,” Fars News Agency’s editor in chief said in an apology note published on Fars’ English language-website Sunday. “The news item was extracted from the Satirical Magazine, The Onion, by mistake and it was taken down from our outlook in less two hours.”

“We offer our formal apologies for that mistake,” the editor’s apology continued, before noting that it’s not the only media outlet to have been “duped” by the Onion.

“On April 25, 2011, The New York Times admitted they made the mistake of treating a fake creation from The Onion as something legitimate,” it said.

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Obama calls Bibi

President Obama spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by phone Friday, a day after the Israeli leader called for a “clear red line” to be drawn on Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.

“The two leaders underscored that they are in full agreement on the shared goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” a White House readout of the call said.  “The Prime Minister welcomed President Obama’s commitment before the United Nations General Assembly to do what we must to achieve that goal.”

Full White House read-out of the call: Continue reading

Friday reads: War games


Iran war game shows rapid escalation as US, Iran misread others’ moves. (David Ignatius/Washington Post)

State Department rejects Sen. John Kerry’s call to block US funds to Iraq over alleged Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps overflights to supply arms to Syria. (Reuters)

Iraqi government spokesman Ali Aldabbbagh tells Al-Monitor that the Iraqi government has informed Iran that it will not allow its air space to be used to supply either side in Syria’s civil war. “We had informed the Iranians that Iraq will never [allow the] use [of] its airspace to do so.” (Al Monitor)

New AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittman once worked as a lobbyist for Ralph Reed’s Christian Coalition. (The Forward)

Egyptian author Alaa Al-Aswany writes how the Muslim world can defend the prophet. (Al-Safir/Al-Monitor)

Recent Israeli war games in the Golan Heights are an important signal to Iran, writes former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy (Ydioth Ahronoth/Al Monitor)

Former Israeli spy chief Meir Dagan becomes a dissident. (The New Yorker)

(Photo: An Israeli soldier travels atop a mobile artillery unit during a drill near the northern city of Katzrin in the Golan Heights September 19, 2012. Israel’s military launched the surprise large-scale exercise on Wednesday on the occupied Golan Heights, testing its battle readiness amid tensions over Iran’s nuclear drive and civil war in Syria. REUTERS/Baz Ratner)

No Bibi-Obama meeting in New York; White House says scheduling, not snub

The White House has cited a scheduling conflict for declining an Israeli request for a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Obama when both leaders travel to New York later this month.

The two leaders are “simply not in the city at the same time,” National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor told journalists Tuesday.

“The President arrives in New York for the UN on Monday, September 24th and departs on Tuesday, September 25th,” Vietor explained. “The Prime Minister doesn’t arrive in New York until later in the week.”

“But the President and PM are in frequent contact and the PM will meet with other senior officials, including Secretary Clinton, during his visit,” Vietor added.

An Israeli official told Israeli daily Haaretz, which first reported that there would be no Obama-Netanyahu meeting, that Netanyahu’s office had indicated he would be willing to travel to Washington, D.C. to meet with Obama, but that request had also been turned down, Barak Ravid reported.

However, the White House said Tuesday that is false.

“Contrary to previous press reports, there was never any request for a meeting between the Prime Minister and President in Washington, nor was this request ever denied,” the NSC’s Vietor said.

The White House does not anticipate that Obama will hold any bilateral meetings with foreign leaders in New York, Vietor told Al-Monitor.

Apparently the US informed several countries in recent days that Obama would not be holding bilaterals with foreign leaders in New York, but Israeli officials were the only ones to go to the press to raise an outcry, a US official told Al-Monitor.

A former Israeli official also cautioned that it’s possible the Israeli side is hyping the matter to portray Obama as chilly towards the Israeli leader during the US presidential election campaign.

However, the White House did not seem to go out of its way to entirely dispel the impression that it has grown weary of having to deal with endless whispering capaigns, tirades, misinformation, and meltdowns from Jerusalem.

Earlier Tuesday, Netanyahu unleashed a harsh denunciation of world leaders for urging Israeli restraint on military action on Iran. His broadside followed remarks by Clinton Sunday that  “we’re not setting deadlines” for Iran diplomacy.

“Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel,” Netanyahu said at a press conference in Jerusalem Tuesday.

Last month, at a closed-door meeting with a US lawmaker and US ambassador, Netanyahu unleashed the most “agitated …very sharp” exchange that the lawmaker, House intelligence committee chairman Mike Rogers, said he has ever seen by a foreign leader.

Netanyahu is currently scheduled to arrive in the US on Sept. 27th and to address the UN General Assembly Sept. 28th.

(Photo: Reuters)

Netanyahu lashes out at US: No “moral right to place red light” on Israel


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unleashed a stunning tirade against the United States and European allies Tuesday, lambasting “world” leaders for not publicly setting “red lines” or “deadlines” on  Iran, while urging Israeli restraint on military action.

“The world tells Israel: ‘Wait, there’s still time,'” Netanyahu said at a press conference Tuesday, the New York Times reported. “‘And I say, ‘Wait for what? Wait until when?’”

“Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel,” he continued.

“Netanyahu is going berserk,” a former Israeli official told Al-Monitor Tuesday. “By asking for red lines publicly, dialoguing with Obama through the media,” and by doing it on the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The Israeli leader’s latest broadside against the United States appeared to be set off by comments made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sunday, that the United States is “not setting deadlines” on Iran diplomacy.

“We are not setting deadlines,” Clinton said in an interview with Bloomberg News Sunday. “We have always said every option was on the table, but we believe …the diplomatic effort …but also pressure …[are] by far, the best approach to take at this time.”

The comment appeared to infuriate Netanyahu, who spoke in English as he lambasted international calls for Israeli restraint at a press conference with visiting Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov Tuesday. His tirade also followed the urging of restraint and vows of international resolve by a parade of European foreign ministers to Israel in recent weeks.

“Now if Iran knows that there is no red line, if Iran knows that there is no deadline, what will it do?” Netanyahu said.

But former Israeli Defense Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dan Halutz, speaking Tuesday in Washington, said that it would be a mistake to publicly spell out “red lines” on Iran–as Israeli political leaders are imploring the White House to do.

“Red lines are red the moment one is drawing them,” Halutz said at the Brookings Institution Saban Center for Middle East Studies Tuesday. “But at the time to take a decision, the color is not red. The situation is changing all the time. We live in a very dynamic world….You cannot stick to the decision to act accordingly later.” Continue reading

DNC adds Jerusalem to platform


Update: The Democratic National Committee on Wednesday added an amendment to its 2012 platform saying Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel. The language, almost identical to that in the DNC 2008 platform, was added after its omission came under criticism from some Republican groups.

“President Obama personally intervened to strengthen the language,” a Democratic aide involved in the process told Al-Monitor Wednesday.

Obama campaign officials saw the issue as an unnecessary distraction, a source said, adding:. “They were and continue to be comfortable with the original language [in the DNC 2012 platform] that they feel is stridently pro-Israel.”

“The platform is being amended to maintain consistency with the personal views expressed by the President and in the Democratic Party platform in 2008,” DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a statement Wednesday.

The new amendment, passed in a confusing voice vote at the DNC convention in Charlotte, North Carolina Wednesday,, states: “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel. The parties have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations. It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths.”

The pro-Israel lobby group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), praised the decision.

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DNC platform: “Window for diplomacy will not remain open indefinitely”

From the Democratic National 2012 platform:, released today as the Democratic convention gets underway in Charlotte, North Carolina:

… President Obama believes that a diplomatic outcome remains the best and most enduring solution. At the same time, he has also made clear that the window for diplomacy will not remain open indefinitely and that all options – including military force – remain on the table. But we have an obligation to use the time and space that exists now to put increasing pressure on the Iranian regime to live up to its obligations and rejoin the community of nations, or face the consequences.

More at the link (page 29/40), .pdf.

(Photo: REUTERS/Jim Young.)

Top seven donors to Eric Cantor 2008 campaign followers of Rabbi Pinto

An influential Orthodox rabbi whose former aide has been arrested in a federal campaign finance probe has ties to one of the most powerful members of Congress: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, I reported on the front page Thursday.

Indeed, further examination of federal campaign filings by Al-Monitor Saturday indicate that the top seven donors to Cantor’s 2008 campaign are followers or associates of Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, an Israeli-born mystic rabbi who has acquired a devoted States-side following since he moved to New York in 2005, including among real estate developers.

Together, the group of close Rabbi Pinto associates that made up Cantor’s seven top donors in 2008 gave about $330,000 to the Virginia Republican–almost 10% of the $3.9 million total Cantor raised for the 2008 race. None of them are from Virginia, and some had not previously given to US political campaigns.

Josef Ben Moha, of New Jersey, donated $48,100 to Cantor’s Victory Fund on April 11, 2008–his only campaign donation in US records. Moha is listed as managing director of the company, Livono (or Livorno) Partners, whose CEO Ben Zion Suky donated $48,100 to Cantor’s 2008 campaign on the same date. Suky serves as the “right-hand man…. translator, gatekeeper and conduit to the outside world” for Rabbi Pinto, the Forward reported last year. He also owns property with Rabbi Pinto’s wife, as well as a porn DVD distribution business.

Haim Milo Revah, of California, donated $48,100 to Cantor on April 21, 2008. “When Haim Revah, a real-estate magnate who once owned the Lipstick Building where Bernard Madoff was a tenant, brooded about purchasing the Bank One tower in Dallas two years ago, the rabbi [Pinto] suggested a maximum bid that proved to be the winning price: $216 million,” the Wall Street Journal reported in February 2011, citing Revah: “I don’t know how the rabbi did it, but at the end of the day, it was the best price possible.”

Haim Binstock, and his wife Gallya Binstock, together donated $91,600 to Cantor’s campaign on October 31, 2008. (It was one of only two Haim Binstock campaign donations in US records, following a $300 contribution to the NRCC in 2004.) Binstock’s business partner Ilan Bracha, and his wife Mati Bracha, also donated $91,600 to Cantor’s campaign on the same date, campaign filings show.

In 2008, “Bracha, one of the city’s top-selling residential brokers, and his partner developer Haim Binstock paid $1.65 million” to buy a ground floor space in Manhattan’s the Heritage at Trump Place that “they plan to donate …for [a synagogue for Rabbi Pinto’s] use,” the Wall Street Journal reported.

Bracha, “also from Israel, met Rabbi Pinto shortly after moving to New York and struck up a close relationship,” the Journal report said. “‘He’s like a mentor and a father to me,” Bracha told the Journal in 2008 about Rabbi Pinto. ‘He has a red phone to God.'”

Rep. Cantor, the second most powerful member of Congress, is also one of its most successful fundraisers. Since the 2009 party-switch of then Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Cantor is also the only elected Jewish Republican in Congress. Continue reading

Israeli Defense Minister publicly divulges US intelligence report


Israel’s Defense Minister raised some eyebrows in the United States when he told Israel Radio Thursday that a new, previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence assessment shares Israel’s sense of heightened urgency about Iran’s nuclear program.

Ehud Barak told Israel Radio that there is “apparently a report by American intelligence agencies – I don’t know if it’s under the title NIE or under another title – which is making the rounds of high offices,” in Washington, CBS News reported.

“As far as we know, it comes very close to our own estimate, I would say, as opposed to earlier American estimates,” Barak continued. “It transforms the Iranian situation to an even more urgent one and it is even less likely that we will know every development in time on the Iranian nuclear program.”

Generally, foreign leaders don’t publicly disclose allied nations’ classified intelligence reports in such a provocative manner, intelligence experts said.

“The rules of the spy game are clear,” former US Navy intelligence analyst John Schindler wrote on his blog. “When intelligence services share information, as they do every day, you don’t pass it to third parties without clearance. Ever. And if you do, eventually you will get burned and nobody will want to play marbles with you.”

A cavalcade of top American officials have traveled to Israel in recent weeks to confer on Iran, and President Obama this month signed a $70 million US military aid package for Israel. Israeli officials have expressed growing impatience with US reluctance to endorse military action on Iran at this time.

The Israeli Defense Minister’s comments followed a report in Israeli daily Haaretz Thursday which said that there was a new US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran. But several American former intelligence and security officials told Al-Monitor that the product is not an NIE, but a smaller, more focused report or series of reports on certain aspects of Iran’s nuclear program, perhaps related to suspected weapons-relevant research activity. Continue reading

Dennis Ross to JTA: No “split” with Obama

Former White House Iran strategist Dennis Ross has denied a report that he is distancing himself from President Obama’s Middle East policies.

“The idea of trying to get a sense that there is a split with the president is completely untrue,” Ross told the Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA) Tuesday.

Ross stepped down from the White House in December 2011 after serving three years in the Obama White House and returned to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The Washington Institute does not allow employees to work for political campaigns, and he has run out of leave he can take from the Institute while serving in the administration, he told JTA.

The Daily Beast reported Sunday that Ross’s absence from the campaign was a sign of his distancing himself from Obama’s Middle East policies that would be noted by pro-Israel American voters.

Ross told Al Monitor by email Sunday that such an interpretation was “spinning.”

Indeed, he continues to advise the White House and National Security Council on Iran policy. “I’m asked to give my advice from time to time [to the White House], and I give it,” he further told JTA. “I’m supportive of the president.”

“The one thing Israel cannot be or should not be is a partisan issue,” Ross told JTA. “Anyone who wants to turn it into a partisan issue is not helping Israel.”

(Photo: President Obama with Dennis Ross, third from right, in 2010. Pete Souza / The White House)