U.S. Rejects New European Dirty-Money Blacklist

List of 23 jurisdictions also includes Panama and Puerto Rico

The EU list includes Saudi Arabia and Panama, but it also U.S. territories such as the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, placing them alongside the likes of Iran, Syria and North Korea.

Banks in the EU will be required to use increased due diligence on financial operations involving customers and financial institutions from the blacklisted countries.

.. The U.S. Treasury Department said it “has significant concerns about the substance of the list,” saying its development was flawed. It said it didn’t expect U.S financial institutions to take the European Commission’s list into account as they carry out anti-money-laundering compliance.

.. The U.S. Treasury said the European Commission didn’t include sufficiently in-depth reviews, only gave affected jurisdictions a cursory basis for the determination, told the jurisdictions they were going to be included only days before the announcement and didn’t give them meaningful opportunity to challenge their inclusion.

.. Policy makers on both sides of the Atlantic need to acknowledge that nobody is doing enough to combat money laundering, said Clark Gascoigne, the deputy director of the Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency Coalition, a consortium of research and advocacy groups.

Venezuelan Spring

More than words are at work. Last week the Bank of England blocked Mr. Maduro from withdrawing $1.2 billion in gold reserves. On Friday the U.S. gave Mr. Guaidó control of Venezuelan government accounts at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and other U.S.-insured banks.

.. Venezuelans have made numerous attempts since 2002 to restore the liberties lost when Chávez used his majority backing to dissolve civil rights and a free press. But they were never able to persuade the military high command, infiltrated by Cuba, to break ranks with the dictator. If this time is different it’s because Mr. Maduro can no longer guarantee the interests of the top brass.

Mr. Guaidó is rumored to be backed by Venezuela’s military rank-and-file and midlevel officers. There are also reports that some commanders of detachments around the country no longer support Mr. Maduro.

The regime is unleashing repression and the international community wants to avoid more bloodshed. The U.S. has offered the military high command safe passage out of the country, and if international efforts to cut financial channels for the leadership are successful, many may find it an attractive option.

.. On Jan. 10 Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia FreelandwarnedMr. Maduro that he would not be recognized: “We call on him to immediately cede power to the democratically-elected National Assembly until new elections are held, which must include the participation of all political actors and follow the release of all political prisoners in Venezuela.”

.. Mr. Maduro says this is a U.S. conspiracy. But as a member of Canada’s Liberal Party and the lead negotiator of the bitter rewrite of the North American Free Trade Agreement, Ms. Freeland is hardly a Trump administration lackey.

The tyrant isn’t entirely alone. Russia, China, Iran, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Hezbollah stand with him. Havana runs the counterintelligence network charged with controlling the Venezuelan armed forces and brownshirts. Reuters reported Friday that Russia has flown an unspecified number of paramilitary contractors into the country. A new asymmetric war can’t be ruled out.

What if the FBI Had Probed Obama?

By the bureau’s Trump standard, he looked like an agent of Iran.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation reportedly opened a counterintelligence investigation in 2017 to find out if President Trump was a Russian agent. What if the FBI had similarly looked into whether President Obama was an agent of Iran?

Counterintelligence agents would have examined the target’s personal and professional networks. The FBI investigated at least four Trump campaign figures for supposed ties to Russia. Only one, Mike Flynn, worked in the administration, and for less than a month. The Obama administration had a few senior officials with personal ties to Iran.

Obama confidant Valerie Jarrett was born in the Iranian city of Shiraz and reportedly led back-channel talks with the Iranians in 2012. Secretary of State John Kerry’s daughter quashed right-wing rumors that her Iranian-American husband’s best man was the son of Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. But under the FBI’s Trump procedures, that denial might have made her suspect. A month after Trump adviser Carter Page publicly asked then-Director James Comey for an interview to clear his name, the FBI obtained a warrant to wiretap him.

As Mr. Trump’s desire for improved relations with Russia raised eyebrows at the bureau, a 2008 article written by John Brennan—who went on to serve as White House counterterrorism adviser and Central Intelligence Agency director—advocated a grand bargain with Iran. In 2009 the Obama White House conducted secret negotiations with Tehran.

Mr. Obama later sidelined Project Cassandra, an investigation of illicit trafficking networks employed by Hezbollah, Iran’s Lebanese franchise. Launched in 2008, the investigation was run by a multiagency task force, including the FBI itself. Then for 18 months in 2014-15, the Obama White House gave the Iranians $700 million a month in sanctions relief. In January 2016, Mr. Obama sent Iran another $1.7 billion in cash. The administration also had a habit of leaking news of Israeli strikes on Iranian arms convoys and depots in Syria.

All these Obama actions are easily explained: Inducing Iran to sign a nuclear agreement was the former president’s top foreign-policy priority. I believe this pro-Iran policy was disastrous. But it wasn’t collusion or treason or any of the other crimes of which Democrats and their media allies have accused Mr. Trump.

The FBI’s suspicions about Mr. Trump’s relationship with the Kremlin were reportedly piqued by, among other things, a May 2017 television interview in which he said he fired Mr. Comey for the “Russia thing.” He’s also staged a series of brazenly public events where he professed his hopes of warmer ties with Vladimir Putin. Like Mr. Obama’s pro-Iran policies, Mr. Trump’s hope for better relations with Russia was anything but clandestine.

Yet critics of the Russia investigations are wrong to suggest the attacks on the president and his associates reflect the increasing tendency to criminalize policy differences . It has nothing to do with policy, for Mr. Trump’s Russia policy has been as hard-line as that of any post-Cold War administration, including Mr. Obama’s. The FBI’s motive for investigating Mr. Trump looks more like pure politics.

The Man Who Humbled Qassim Suleimani

An interview with Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, Israel’s chief of staff.

“We struck thousands of targets without claiming responsibility or asking for credit.”

So says Gadi Eisenkot about the Jewish state’s undeclared and unfinished military campaign against Iran and its proxies in Syria and Lebanon. For his final interview as chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces before he retires next week, the general has decided to claim responsibility and take at least some of the credit.

Eisenkot’s central intellectual contribution in fighting that campaign is the concept of “the campaign between wars” — the idea that continuous, kinetic efforts to degrade the enemy’s capabilities both lengthens the time between wars and improves the chances of winning them when they come. He also believes that Israel needed to focus its efforts on its deadliest enemy, Iran, as opposed to secondary foes such as Hamas in Gaza.

“When you fight for many years against a weak enemy,” he says, “it also weakens you.”

This thinking is what led Eisenkot to become the first Israeli general to take Iran head on, in addition to fighting its proxies in Lebanon and elsewhere. And it’s how he succeeded in humbling, at least for the now, Qassim Suleimani, the wily commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, which has spearheaded Tehran’s ambitions to make itself a regional hegemon.

.. “We operated under a certain threshold until two-and-a-half years ago,” Eisenkot explains, referring to Israel’s initial policy of mainly striking weapons shipments destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon. “And then we noticed a significant change in Iran’s strategy. Their vision was to have significant influence in Syria by building a force of up to 100,000 Shiite fighters from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. They built intelligence bases and an air force base within each Syrian air base. And they brought civilians in order to indoctrinate them.”

By 2016, Eisenkot estimates, Suleimani had deployed 3,000 of his men in Syria, along with 8,000 Hezbollah fighters and another 11,000 foreign Shiite troops. The Iranian funds flowing toward the effort amounted to $16 billion over seven years. Israel had long said it would not tolerate an Iranian presence on its border, but at that point Syria had become a place in which other countries’ declaratory red lines seemed easily erased.

In January 2017 Eisenkot obtained the government’s unanimous consent for a change in the rules of the game. Israeli attacks became near-daily events. In 2018 alone, the air force dropped a staggering 2,000 bombs. That May, Suleimani attempted to retaliate by launching “more than 30 rockets toward Israel” (at least 10 more than what has been previously reported). None reached its target. Israeli responded with a furious assault that hit 80 separate Iranian military and Assad regime targets in Syria.

Why did Suleimani — the subtle, determined architect of Iran’s largely successful efforts to entrench itself in Iraq, Yemen, Gaza and Lebanon — miscalculate? Eisenkot suggests a combination of overconfidence, based on Iran’s success in rescuing Assad’s regime from collapse, and underestimation of Israel’s determination to stop him, based on the West’s history of shrinking in the face of Tehran’s provocations.

“His error was choosing a playground where he is relatively weak,” he says. “We have complete intelligence superiority in this area. We enjoy complete aerial superiority. We have strong deterrence and we have the justification to act.”

“The force we faced over the last two years was a determined force,” he adds a little scornfully, “but not very impressive in its capabilities.”

Eisenkot seems to feel similarly about Hezbollah and its longtime leader, Hassan Nasrallah. The group had devised a three-pronged strategy to invade and conquer (even if briefly) at least a part of Israel’s northern Galilee: building factories in Lebanon that could produce precision-guided missiles, excavating attack tunnels under the Israeli border and setting up a second front on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.

So far, the plan has failed. The factories were publicly exposed and the tunnels destroyed. Israel continues to attack Hezbollah positions on the Golan, most recently last month against an intelligence position in the village of Tel el Qudne (also previously unreported).

“I can say with confidence that as we speak Hezbollah does not possess accurate [missile] capabilities except for small and negligible ones,” he says. “They were hoping to have hundreds of missiles in the mid- and long-range.”

That means Hezbollah is unlikely to soon start another war with Israel. Suleimani has pulled his forces back from the border with Israel and withdrawn some altogether. The resumption of U.S. sanctions has also put a squeeze on Iran’s ability to finance its regional adventures. Israel also thought it had won a reprieve of sorts when John Bolton indicated the U.S. would not quickly withdraw from Syria, thereby obstructing Iran’s efforts to build a land bridge to Damascus, though that reversal seems to have been reversed yet again.

Iran may now turn elsewhere. “As we push them in Syria,” Eisenkot says, “they transfer their efforts to Iraq,” where the U.S. still has thousands of troops. Thanks to Gadi Eisenkot, at least we know the Iranians aren’t invincible.