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The Long Road to Iran

People walk past images of hostages kidnapped in the deadly Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas from Gaza, in Tel Aviv, Israel, April 11, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Hannah McKay

JNS.orgDismantling Hamas in Gaza and tackling Hezbollah’s presence in southern Lebanon will clear the path to tackling Iran’s nuclear program, a former Israel Defense Forces officer has told JNS.

Professor Col. (res.) Gabi Siboni is a senior fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security and the Misgav Institute for National Security, and served as deputy and chief methodologist of the IDF’s Research Center for Force Deployment and Buildup.

According to Siboni, a seasoned consultant to the Israel Defense Forces and other Israeli security bodies, “The war with Hamas must end with the full destruction of its capabilities. Partial measures are insufficient.”

He described the hostage negotiations with Hamas as stalling tactics, telling JNS that the Hamas leadership is merely using them to deceive Israel and play for time. Hamas has no intention to release the majority of the hostages at this time, viewing them as an insurance policy, he said.

International pressure, particularly from the United States, has hindered Israel’s ability to attack Hamas effectively and maneuver it into a situation where hostage talks might actually have a chance of freeing the captives, he added.

“The large pauses of three to four months were at the behest of the Americans, who constantly pressured Israel not to press Hamas and to reach a deal” with the terrorist group. Such pressure, he added, reflects Washington’s total lack of understanding of the Middle East’s brutal realities.

Relentless military pressure across all of Gaza, constrained only by the need to manage Israel’s military resources, should be the compass guiding Israeli operations, he said.

“There should be no breaks, no interruptions in the fighting,” Siboni said. International misunderstandings of the conflict and the Israeli War Cabinet’s mistaken willingness to accede to this pressure have led to a lack of sufficient pressure being applied to Hamas, he added.

Attempts to reach interim agreements that would see Hamas release 20 to 30 kidnapped Israelis in exchange for a ceasefire of some six weeks would only result in the IDF needing to go back and fight in worse conditions, and would likely doom the rest of the hostages, Siboni cautioned.

On the other hand, sufficient military pressure could convince Hamas’s leadership to release all of the hostages in exchange for safe passage out of Gaza, he said. This, he added, would be a deal Israel should accept.

In the absence of any deal, Israel has no choice but to try to get the hostages out by force, according to Siboni.

Israeli control of the crossings between Egypt and Gaza, particularly at Rafah and the Philadelphi Corridor, he said, was critical to prevent Hamas’s resupply and reorganization.

To achieve its war aim of ending Hamas rule in the Strip, Israel will also need to set up a temporary military administration in Gaza until an appropriate civilian element can be found, he said. This civilian element will need to be under permanent Israeli security control to prevent a Hamas resurgence, he added.

Setting up a military administration and dismantling Hamas’s military infrastructure are inseparable goals, he said, criticizing the Israeli defense establishment’s reported resistance against such a measure as unrealistic.

He stressed that it was also important to adjust the public’s expectations regarding the duration of operations in Gaza. “When people ask how it can be that the IDF needs to return three times to the same areas in Gaza, I point to Tulkarem in Judea and Samaria. The IDF has returned there dozens of times since ‘Operation Defensive Shield’ [in 2002],” he said. “Hence this question is superfluous and lacks significance. We will go back again and again to destroy any developing terror threat.”

Turning to the ongoing conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon, Siboni said that once Israel begins approaching its key goals in Gaza, following the Rafah operation, the capturing of the Philadelphi Corridor and establishing a routine of targeted operations in northern Gaza, the time will come to turn the IDF’s full attention north.

“We are beginning to approach this time,” he said.

Establishing IDF control in southern Lebanon to effectively neutralize Hezbollah’s capabilities is an unavoidable and critical security need, he said.

“I do not see a way to end the campaign in Lebanon without IDF military control in southern Lebanon,” he told JNS, arguing that such control is essential to prevent Hezbollah from rebuilding itself after a future Israeli ground offensive.

“It’s true that this will be a tough reality. Control of southern Lebanon means a return to roadside bombs and difficult fighting. But I see no other way,” he said.

An Israeli re-establishment of the security zone in southern Lebanon might not necessarily lead to immediate full-scale war with Hezbollah, he said. However, should Hezbollah or Israel initiate an escalation, this will present Israel with the opportunity to eliminate much of Hezbollah’s arsenal of rockets and missiles.

“Hezbollah would lose the lion’s share of its capabilities in southern Lebanon,” he said.

A weakened Hezbollah would then clear a path for dealing with Iran’s nuclear program, which is making alarming progress, he said.

“The path to dealing with Iran becomes much easier without Hamas and with a diminished Hezbollah,” said Siboni, noting that Iran is heavily reliant on its proxies. “Without its proxies, Iran does not have much. They sent missiles on April 14, and we saw those capabilities. Israel can strike many times harder against an Iran that lacks Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah,” he stated.

“It’s also worth remembering that Iran is trying to flood Judea and Samaria with weapons via Jordan to create a new war front, and we must act against this. We are in a major conflict against Iran, and it cannot be ended without dealing with the head of the snake,” he said.

All of this means the IDF will need to be enlarged and reformed, Siboni concluded, adding that “this is the purpose of having a military.” It will need to be active in Gaza, southern Lebanon and Judea and Samaria, and remain actively engaged in these regions to prevent the resurgence of hostile Iranian-backed jihadist forces to maintain long-term security.

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One Part of Cyprus Mourns, the Other Rejoices 50 Years After Split

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan leaves after attending a military parade to mark the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus in response to a short-lived Greek-inspired coup, in the Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus, in the divided city of Nicosia, Cyprus July 20, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou

Greek Cypriots mourned and Turkish Cypriots rejoiced on Saturday, the 50th anniversary of Turkey’s invasion of part of the island after a brief Greek inspired coup, with the chances of reconciliation as elusive as ever.

The ethnically split island is a persistent source of tension between Greece and Turkey, which are both partners in NATO but are at odds over numerous issues.

Their differences were laid bare on Saturday, with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attending a celebratory military parade in north Nicosia to mark the day in 1974 when Turkish forces launched an offensive that they call a “peace operation.”

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was due later on Saturday to attend an event in the south of the Nicosia to commemorate what Greeks commonly refer to as the “barbaric Turkish invasion.” Air raid sirens sounded across the area at dawn.

Mitsotakis posted an image of a blood-stained map of Cyprus on his LinkedIn page with the words “Half a century since the national tragedy of Cyprus.”

There was jubilation in the north.

“The Cyprus Peace Operation saved Turkish Cypriots from cruelty and brought them to freedom,” Erdogan told crowds who gathered to watch the parade despite stifling midday heat, criticizing the south for having a “spoiled mentality” and seeing itself as the sole ruler of Cyprus.

Peace talks are stalled at two seemingly irreconcilable concepts – Greek Cypriots want reunification as a federation. Turkish Cypriots want a two-state settlement.

Erdogan left open a window to dialogue although he said a federal solution, advocated by Greek Cypriots and backed by most in the international community, was “not possible.”

“We are ready for negotiations, to meet, and to establish long-term peace and resolution in Cyprus,” he said.

Cyprus gained independence from Britain in 1960, but a shared administration between Greek and Turkish Cypriots quickly fell apart in violence that saw Turkish Cypriots withdraw into enclaves and led to the dispatch of a U.N. peacekeeping force.

The crisis left Greek Cypriots running the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus, a member of the European Union since 2004 with the potential to derail Turkey’s own decades-long aspirations of joining the bloc.

It also complicates any attempts to unlock energy potential in the eastern Mediterranean because of overlapping claims. The region has seen major discoveries of hydrocarbons in recent years.


Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides, whose office represents the Greek Cypriot community in the reunification dialogue, said the anniversary was a somber occasion for reflection and for remembering the dead.

“Our mission is liberation, reunification and solving the Cyprus problem,” he said. “If we really want to send a message on this tragic anniversary … it is to do anything possible to reunite Cyprus.”

Turkey, he said, continued to be responsible for violating human rights and international law over Cyprus.

Across the south, church services were held to remember the more than 3,000 people who died in the Turkish invasion.

“It was a betrayal of Cyprus and so many kids were lost. It wasn’t just my son, it was many,” said Loukas Alexandrou, 90, as he tended the grave of his son at a military cemetery.

In Turkey, state television focused on violence against Turkish Cypriots prior to the invasion, particularly on bloodshed in 1963-64 and in 1967.

Turkey’s invasion took more than a third of the island and expelled more than 160,000 Greek Cypriots to the south.

Reunification talks collapsed in 2017 and have been at a stalemate since. Northern Cyprus is a breakaway state recognized only by Turkey, and its Turkish Cypriot leadership wants international recognition.

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Putin Jails US Reporter Gershkovich in Sham Trial

A Russian secret court found U.S. reporter Evan Gershkovich guilty of espionage on Friday and sentenced him to 16 years in a maximum security penal colony in what his employer, the Wall Street Journal, accurately called “a disgraceful sham conviction.”

Gershkovich, a 32-year-old Jewish American who denied any wrongdoing, went on trial in the city of Yekaterinburg last month after being accused of trying to gather sensitive information about a tank factory.

He was the first U.S. journalist accused of spying in Russia since the Cold War, and his arrest in March 2023 prompted many U.S. and other Western correspondents to leave Moscow.

U.S. President Joe Biden said Gershkovich did not commit any crime and has been wrongfully detained.

“We are pushing hard for Evan’s release and will continue to do so,” Biden said in a statement. “Journalism is not a crime.”

Video of Friday’s hearing released by the court showed Gershkovich, dressed in a T-shirt and black trousers, standing in a glass courtroom cage as he listened to the verdict being read in rapid-fire legalese for nearly four minutes.

Asked by the judge if he had any questions, he replied “Nyet.”

The judge, Andrei Mineyev, said the nearly 16 months Gershkovich had already served since his arrest would count towards the 16-year sentence.

Mineyev ordered the destruction of the reporter’s mobile phone and paper notebook. The defense has 15 days to appeal.

“This disgraceful, sham conviction comes after Evan has spent 478 days in prison, wrongfully detained, away from his family and friends, prevented from reporting, all for doing his job as a journalist,” the Journal said in a statement.

“We will continue to do everything possible to press for Evan’s release and to support his family. Journalism is not a crime, and we will not rest until he’s released. This must end now.”

Gershkovich’s friend, reporter Pjotr Sauer of Britain’s Guardian newspaper, posted on X: “Russia has just sentenced an innocent man to 16 years in a high security prison. I have no words to describe this farce. Let’s get Evan out of there.”

Friday’s hearing was only the third in the trial. The proceedings, apart from the sentencing, were closed to the media on the grounds of state secrecy.

Espionage cases often take months to handle and the unusual speed at which the trial was held behind closed doors has stoked speculation that a long-discussed U.S.-Russia prisoner exchange deal may be in the offing, involving Gershkovich and potentially other Americans detained in Russia.

The Kremlin, when asked by Reuters earlier on Friday about the possibility of such an exchange, declined to comment: “I’ll leave your question unanswered,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Among those Russia would like to free is Vadim Krasikov, a Russian serving a life sentence in Germany for murdering an exiled Chechen-Georgian dissident in a Berlin park in 2019.

Officers of the FSB security service arrested Gershkovich on March 29, 2023, at a steakhouse in Yekaterinburg, 900 miles (1,400 km) east of Moscow. He has since been held in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison.

Russian prosecutors had accused Gershkovich of gathering secret information on the orders of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency about a company that manufactures tanks for Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

The Uralvagonzavod factory, which he is accused of spying on, has been sanctioned by the West. Based in the city of Nizhny Tagil near Yekaterinburg, it has publicly spoken of producing T-90M battle tanks and modernizing T-72B3M tanks.

Earlier on Friday, the court unexpectedly said it would pronounce its verdict within hours after state prosecutors demanded Gershkovich be jailed for 18 years for spying. The maximum sentence for the crime he was accused of is 20 years.

Russia usually concludes legal proceedings against foreigners before making any deals on exchanging them.


Gershkovich, his newspaper and the U.S. government all rejected the allegations against him and said he was merely doing his job as a reporter accredited by the Foreign Ministry to work in Russia.

President Vladimir Putin has said Russia is open to a prisoner exchange involving Gershkovich, and that contacts with the United States have taken place but must remain secret.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday that Washington was working every day to bring home Gershkovich, former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan and other Americans.

He declined to go into details when asked why Putin would reach a deal on Gershkovich’s release ahead of the U.S. election.

“Any effort to bring any American home is going to be part of a process of back and forth, of discussion, potentially of negotiation,” Blinken said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

“Depending on what the other side is looking for, they’ll reach their own conclusions about whether it meets whatever their needs are, and we can bring someone home – and I don’t think that’s dependent on an election in the United States or anywhere else,” he said.

Mark Warner, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, called Gershkovich’s sentence “outrageous,” and said he thinks “it’s clear that the Russians view Evan almost as a bargaining chip at this point.”

Speaking in an interview with Reuters, Warner declined to discuss whether efforts are underway to arrange an exchange for Gershkovich’s release, but said “all options have to stay on the table” with regards to how the Biden administration responds.

Friends who have exchanged letters with Gershkovich say he has remained resilient and cheerful throughout his imprisonment, occupying himself by reading classics of Russian literature.

At court appearances over the past 16 months – most recently with his head shaven – he has frequently smiled and nodded at reporters he used to work with before he himself became the story.

Since Russian troops entered Ukraine in 2022, Moscow and Washington have conducted just one high profile prisoner swap: Russia released basketball star Brittney Griner, held for smuggling cannabis, in return for arms dealer Viktor Bout, jailed for terrorism-related offenses in the United States.

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VP Harris Hits Fundraising Trail Amid Ongoing Calls for Biden to Quit Race

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris will headline a fundraiser in Massachusetts on Saturday as President Joe Biden faces continued pressure from fellow Democrats and big money donors to end his floundering campaign.

Biden and top aides on Friday vowed to continue with the campaign, even as major donors signaled they were unwilling to open their checkbooks unless the 81-year-old president stepped aside.

The crisis-in-confidence in Biden’s ability to win has placed a huge spotlight on Harris, widely believed to be the most likely replacement if he steps down.

Her fundraising events, including the one on Saturday in Provincetown, Massachusetts are getting added interest from donors who want to signal they are willing to coalesce around her potential bid for the White House, according to three Democratic fundraisers.

More than one in 10 congressional Democrats have now publicly called on Biden, who is isolating at his Delaware home with a case of COVID-19, to drop out following a disastrous debate last month against Republican former President Donald Trump that raised questions about the incumbent’s ability to win the Nov. 5 election or carry out his duties for another four years.

Biden’s campaign hoped to raise some $50 million in big-dollar donations in July for the Biden Victory Fund but was on track for less than half that figure as of Friday, according to two sources familiar with the fundraising efforts.

The campaign called reports of a July fundraising slump overstated, noting that it anticipated a drop-off in large donations due to vacations. It said the campaign still has 10 fundraisers on the schedule this month.

Harris assured major Democratic donors on Friday that the party would prevail in the presidential election as more lawmakers called for her running mate, Biden, to stand down.

“We are going to win this election,” she said on a call arranged on short notice to calm donors, according to a person on the call. “We know which candidate in this election puts the American people first: Our president, Joe Biden.”

Harris attended the call “at the direct request of senior advisers to the president,” one of the people said, an account confirmed by another person familiar with the matter.

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