Iran has rejected an offer by Secretary of State John Kerry to “work a new arrangement to find a peaceful solution” to its ballistic missile program. Kerry made the suggestion in a joint press conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir in Manama, Bahrain last Thursday. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif announced on Sunday that his country’s ballistic missile program is nonnegotiable, calling Kerry’s comments “baseless.” Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehqan said Kerry’s remarks were “nonsense” on Saturday. The semi-official Iranian news agency Tasnim reported, “Dehqan reacted angrily to the comments by John Kerry about Tehran’s missile program, saying the top US diplomat had better think for a couple of minutes to avoid such absurd remarks and erroneous analyses.”
Iran has launched five ballistic missiles since the nuclear deal was reached in July. Photos of the last round of missiles distributed by the Iranians showed the missiles inscribed in Hebrew with the phrase “Israel must be wiped off the Earth.” Efforts by American diplomats in New York to hold the Iranians accountable for the missile launches were stymied by Russia, a veto-holding member of the Security Council, which said that the language agreed to by American and European diplomats in UNSC Resolution 2231 was too weak for the Iranian launches to constitute a "violation." UNSC Resolution 2231 weakened the prohibition on ballistic missile work in the previously relevant UNSC Resolution 1929, which it replaced. While UNSC Resolution 1929 stated that Iran “shall not” engage in activity related to ballistic missiles, in Resolution 2231, Iran is “called upon” not to undertake in activity related to ballistic missiles. In a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in December, Lead Coordinator for Iran Nuclear Implementation Stephen Mull said that even with the “called upon” language, the ballistic missile tests “would violate that part of the U.N. Security Council resolution.”
In Congress, lawmakers are moving to pass unilateral sanctions targeting Iran's ballistic missile program. The Iran Ballistic Missile Sanctions Act of 2016 was introduced by Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) last month. The bill aims to impose sanctions on sectors of the Iranian economy that directly or indirectly support Iran's ballistic missile program including the automotive, energy, construction and mining industries.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Sunday of ongoing efforts to incite tensions on the Temple Mount ahead of Passover.In his weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said that Raed Salah, the leader of the recently banned Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, was seeking to reignite tensions at the Jerusalem holy site. The Temple Mount is the holiest place in Judaism and home to al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam.“He is a one-man dynamite,” Netanyahu said of Salah. “I ask that that security officials and the justice minister take action to distance him. He should be in jail already.”
Salah was sentenced to 11 months in prison in October for inciting violence over al-Aqsa, though he filed an appeal with Israel’s Supreme Court and has not yet been jailed. The Northern Branch was banned in November over its alleged ties to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. In an online video last month, Salah accused Israel of “digging beneath al-Aqsa” and called on Jordan, which administers the complex, to “rapidly start a propaganda war against the Israeli occupation to expose all its crimes and act for its immediate annihilation.”
Jewish holidays, which see increased Jewish visitation to the Temple Mount, are often accompanied by Palestinian riots. In September, on the eve of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, dozens of Palestinian men threw firebombs and stones at officers stationed at the Temple Mount’s Mughrabi Bridge, the only one of the complex’s eleven entrances that the Islamic Waqf permits non-Muslims to use. Earlier that month, during the Jewish New Year, some 150 rioters attacked police with rocks, firebombs, and fireworks for three consecutive days.
Palestinian rioters also clashed with Israeli police in the Temple Mount during Passover 2014, barricading themselves within al-Aqsa and attacking officers with rocks and firecrackers. The police, which has a policy of not entering the mosque, responded with stun grenades and tear gas. A limited number of Jews were eventually allowed to access the Temple Mount, while hundreds were turned away.
A recent public opinion poll of Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip found that 52 percent believe that Israel is planning to destroy al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock and build a synagogue in their place.
While the Israeli government routinely rejects the charge, and non-Muslim presence and activity on the Temple Mount remains highly restricted, Palestinian leaders often declare that al-Aqsa is in danger, an accusation that predates the founding of Israel.
In his testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in October, Washington Institute for Near East Policy distinguished fellow David Makovsky explained:
Sadly, the charge that Israel is out to destroy the mosque is not new. This claim was made in 1929, resulting in riots in Hebron that killed 63 people. More recently, fatal violence surrounding the Temple Mount occurred in 1991 (20 killed), 1996 (87 killed), 2000 (153 killed within the first month of violence), and 2014 (9 killed).Claims that Israel seeks to destroy al-Aqsa have helped fueled a wave of violence that has killed 34 Israelis and injured over 400 more since last September.
Two Israeli Arab girls who stabbed a security guard last month said they did so as “revenge for the situation in the al-Aqsa Mosque.”
In a song released several days after the stabbing, the Palestinian al-Wa’ed Band glorified suicide bombings and told so-called martyrdom-seekers to “heed the call of the al-Aqsa Mosque, make the blast of the bomb reach further and further.”
ISIS released a video in October pledging to “liberate Al-Aqsa from the defilement of the sons of apes and pigs.” That same month, a Hebrew-speaking ISIS militant vowed that “We will enter al-Aqsa mosque as conquerors, using our cars as bombs to strike the Jewish ramparts.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared in a speech last September that Palestinians would not allow Jews to desecrate Jerusalem holy sites, including al-Aqsa, with their “filthy feet.”
The Al-Aqsa [Mosque] is ours… and they have no right to defile it with their filthy feet. We will not allow them to, and we will do everything in our power to protect Jerusalem.On a tour of the Temple Mount in August, a congressional delegation witnessed a group of Jewish visitors to the holy site being accosted by a group of Islamic activists.
“I wish it was something the world understood more and was more aware of,” said Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), whose own group was also harangued while at the compound. “Even when visiting a historical site there is harassment, because of people who want to rewrite history.” (via TheTower.org)