MENA, Middle-East

Iran Nuke Deal Enables The Détente

Iran nuclear programmeThe world powers – U.S., France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia – reached an agreement with Iranian leaders early Sunday (24th Nov. 2013) in Geneva to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for a gradual easing of economic sanctions. President Obama said the tentative pact will “cut off Iran’s most likely paths to a bomb…While today’s announcement is just a first step, it achieves a great deal,” Mr. Obama said. “For the first time in nearly a decade, we have halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear program, and key parts of the program will be rolled back.

Iran has committed to halting certain levels of enrichment, and neutralizing part of its stockpile. Iran cannot use its next-generation centrifuges—which are used for enriching uranium.” Mr. Obama said the U.S. and its partners will not proceed with new sanctions that would scuttle the deal. (Source e.g. The Washington Times ) In return for Iran agreeing to increased international inspections of its facilities, the U.S. and its partners will suspend sanctions on gold and precious metals, Iran’s auto sector, and Iran’s petrochemical exports, potentially providing Iran about $1.5 billion in revenue.

The subsequent economic crisis in Iran discredited the policies of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, changed the thinking of the supreme leader and ultimately led to the electoral victory of President Hassan Rouhani. Previous international negotiators entered talks with Iran at a disadvantage because Iran had no need for negotiations. This has changed because Iran needs a negotiated deal as well, and it cannot get sanctions relief without international cooperation. This transformation in the negotiations dynamic made the deal now possible.

From other side Washington was hoping during the Arab Spring that at some point in Iran there would be an uprising that would overthrow the regime. The 2009 uprising, never really a threat to the regime, was seen as a rehearsal (see e.g IRAN – revolution postponed and Iran – no Revolution but potential for Change anyway). U.S was expecting Arab Spring to yield more liberal regimes. That didn’t happen. Egypt has not evolved, Syria has devolved into civil war, Bahrain has seen Saudi Arabia repress its uprising, and Libya has found itself on the brink of chaos. Not a single liberal democratic regime emerged. It became clear that there would be no uprising in Iran, and even if there were, the results would not likely benefit the United States.

Iran nuclear sites

Iran nuclear sites

Key Elements of Iran Nuke Deal

According US State Department fact sheet on Iran nuclear deal the key elements of Iran nuke deal are following:

Iran has committed to halt enrichment above 5%:

  • Halt all enrichment above 5% and dismantle the technical connections required to enrich above 5%.

Iran has committed to neutralize its stockpile of near-20% uranium:

  • Dilute below 5% or convert to a form not suitable for further enrichment its entire stockpile of near-20% enriched uranium before the end of the initial phase.

Iran has committed to halt progress on its enrichment capacity:

  • Not install additional centrifuges of any type.
  • Not install or use any next-generation centrifuges to enrich uranium.
  • Leave inoperable roughly half of installed centrifuges at Natanz and three-quarters of installed centrifuges at Fordow, so they cannot be used to enrich uranium.
  • Limit its centrifuge production to those needed to replace damaged machines, so Iran cannot use the six months to stockpile centrifuges.
  • Not construct additional enrichment facilities.

Iran has committed to halt progress on the growth of its 3.5% stockpile:

  • Not increase its stockpile of 3.5% low enriched uranium, so that the amount is not greater at the end of the six months than it is at the beginning, and any newly enriched 3.5% enriched uranium is converted into oxide.

Iran has committed to no further advances of its activities at Arak and to halt progress on its plutonium track. Iran has committed to:

  • Not commission the Arak reactor.
  • Not fuel the Arak reactor.
  • Halt the production of fuel for the Arak reactor.
  • No additional testing of fuel for the Arak reactor.
  • Not install any additional reactor components at Arak.
  • Not transfer fuel and heavy water to the reactor site.
  • Not construct a facility capable of reprocessing. Without reprocessing, Iran cannot separate plutonium from spent fuel.

Unprecedented transparency and intrusive monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program

Iran has committed to:

  • Provide daily access by IAEA inspectors at Natanz and Fordow. This daily access will permit inspectors to review surveillance camera footage to ensure comprehensive monitoring. This access will provide even greater transparency into enrichment at these sites and shorten detection time for any non-compliance.
  • Provide IAEA access to centrifuge assembly facilities.
  • Provide IAEA access to centrifuge rotor component production and storage facilities.
  • Provide IAEA access to uranium mines and mills.
  • Provide long-sought design information for the Arak reactor. This will provide critical insight into the reactor that has not previously been available.
  • Provide more frequent inspector access to the Arak reactor.
  • Provide certain key data and information called for in the Additional Protocol to Iran’s IAEA Safeguards Agreement and Modified Code 3.1.

Limited, Temporary, Reversible Relief

In return for these steps, the P5+1 is to provide limited, temporary, targeted, and reversible relief while maintaining the vast bulk of our sanctions, including the oil, finance, and banking sanctions architecture. If Iran fails to meet its commitments, we will revoke the relief. Specifically the P5+1 has committed to:

  • Not impose new nuclear-related sanctions for six months, if Iran abides by its commitments under this deal, to the extent permissible within their political systems.
  • Suspend certain sanctions on gold and precious metals, Iran’s auto sector, and Iran’s petrochemical exports, potentially providing Iran approximately $1.5 billion in revenue.
  • License safety-related repairs and inspections inside Iran for certain Iranian airlines.
  • Allow purchases of Iranian oil to remain at their currently significantly reduced levels — levels that are 60% less than two years ago. $4.2 billion from these sales will be allowed to be transferred in installments if, and as, Iran fulfills its commitments.
  • Allow $400 million in governmental tuition assistance to be transferred from restricted Iranian funds directly to recognized educational institutions in third countries to defray the tuition costs of Iranian students.

Putting Limited Relief in Perspective

In total, the approximately $7 billion in relief is a fraction of the costs that Iran will continue to incur during this first phase under the sanctions that will remain in place. The vast majority of Iran’s approximately $100 billion in foreign exchange holdings are inaccessible or restricted by sanctions.

In the next six months, Iran’s crude oil sales cannot increase. Oil sanctions alone will result in approximately $30 billion in lost revenues to Iran

The western powers have cut Iran’s oil sales from 2.5 million barrels per day (bpd) in early 2012 to 1 million bpd today, denying Iran the ability to sell almost 1.5 million bpd.

Secret talks paved the way

The negotiations started in Geneva on Nov. 2013 but as usual secret talks paved the way for the historic deal since March 2013. Some of the points comprising the interim agreement reached between Iran and the six powers were based on these secret talks between the U.S. and Tehran, integrated by the Americans into the official document. The existence of the secret channel between Iran and the United States was revealed publicly for the first time only on Sunday by the Associated Press and by blogger Laura Rozen on the Al-Monitor news website. The two reports appeared simultaneously, right after Iran and world powers signed an agreement in Geneva. The discussions were kept hidden even from America’s closest friends, including its negotiating partners and Israel, until two months ago, and that may explain how the nuclear accord appeared to come together so quickly after years of stalemate and fierce hostility between Iran and the West. However the Israeli government learned of the secret negotiations sometime near the beginning of the summer through intelligence it managed to obtain.

The talks were held in the Middle Eastern nation of Oman and elsewhere with only a tight circle of people in the know, the AP learned. Since March, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and Jake Sullivan, Vice President Joe Biden’s top foreign policy adviser, have met at least five times with Iranian officials. The last four clandestine meetings, held since Iran’s reform-minded President Hasan Rouhani was inaugurated in August, produced much of the agreement later formally hammered out in negotiations in Geneva.

Meanwhile Le Figaro reported that the U.S. is already conducting secret bilateral talks with Iran on a number of topics.Among other things, the sides are discussing Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and accelerating trade relations between Tehran and Washington immediately after the signing of the interim agreement in Geneva, according to the French newspaper. A reliable source in the Gulf revealed these details to a senior correspondent for the newspaper, Georges Malbrunot who specializes in the Middle East. The source said that the contacts between U.S. and Iranians began on the day following the U.N. General Assembly in late September following a telephone conversation between President Obama and his Iranian counterpart Rouhani. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif stayed in the U.S. for an additional ten days following the U.N. General Assembly, along with 75 colleagues from President Rouhani’s entourage — businessmen, industrialists and representatives of the Iranian gas and oil sector, who met with representatives of American oil companies Chevron and Exxon. (Source e.g: Report: Secret US-Iran talks laid the groundwork for deal )

IAEA reports Iran nuclear activity slowed not reduced

Iran now self-sufficient in uranium ore

Iran now self-sufficient in uranium ore

The latest quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear activities was issued on 14th Nov. 2013 by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). It noted a slowdown, but no reduction in Tehran’s nuclear activity.

The report was the IAEA’s first meaningful assessment since Iran’s President Rouhani took office. It comes as representatives from the P5+1 powers (US, UK, China, Russia, France and Germany) and Iranian officials prepare to meet again next week to further consider an interim agreement over Iran’s nuclear programme.

The IAEA report found that during the past three months, four advanced centrifuges had been added at the central Natanz plant, in comparison to 1,861 during the previous three-month period. The report concludes activity has been “more or less frozen” at the Arak heavy water plant, where it is feared plutonium is being developed which could speed up nuclear activity. However, Iran’s stockpile of 20 per-cent enriched uranium, considered just a short step away from weapons-grade material, has increased by five per cent to 196kg since August. Despite the slight increase, this is still below the 240kg mark specified last year by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as his “red line” which may precipitate action against Iran’s nuclear facilities. ( Source Bicom )

Israeli reactions

From Israel’s perspective, the accord is a strategic defeat for the West, since it legitimizes Iran’s status as a nuclear threshold state. The Iranians, says Jerusalem, are giving up nothing, while getting sanctions relief. The Iranian commitment not to enrich uranium to 20 percent for the next six months is no Iranian concession since the Iranians have already been careful not to cross Netanyahu’s red line of 220 kilos of such uranium. The Iranian commitment not to operate the heavy water reactor in Arak for the next six months is similarly “a joke,” Israel says, since Iran anyway can’t do so. The reactor is still under construction, and will be so for at least another 12 months. Israel’s security cabinet took earlier the unusual step of releasing a public statement, which affirmed Israel’s support for a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear development, should Tehran comply with four measures: cease all nuclear enrichment, remove all stockpiles of enriched uranium, dismantle the Qom and Natanz facilities and stop work at the Arak heavy water reactor.

PM Netanyahu and Iran red lineIsrael’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a forum of Jewish community leaders in Moscow before deal that Iran “must not have nuclear weapons. And I promise you that they will not have nuclear weapons.” He added, “The Iranians deny our past and repeat their commitment to wipe the State of Israel off the map,” citing comments made this week by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei who described Israel as a “rabid dog” and its leaders inhuman. US Secretary of State John Kerry called Khamenei’s comments “inflammatory and unnecessary.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed deep skepticism that Iran would abandon its nuclear ambitions. “What was achieved last night in Geneva is not a historic agreement; it is a historic mistake …Today the world has become a much more dangerous place because the most dangerous regime in the world has taken a significant step toward attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world.” (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu)

Despite this irate response from the Prime Minister’s Office to the agreement signed in Geneva between Iran and six world powers, the deal might not be really a bad one even from an Israeli perspective. Geneva deal places serious restrictions on Iran and provides the West with valuable information on its nuclear program. Israeli President Shimon Peres gave a more measured response, saying time would tell whether the agreement was effective. Leftist Meretz Chairwoman Zahava Gal-On delivered the only positive Israeli response so far to the nuclear deal, saying her colleagues’ attack on the deal missed the fact that the agreement was intended to slow down Iran’s fast track to a nuclear bomb. After Iran nuke deal in Israel the Likud leadership anticipates a diplomatic and political crisis next spring. If Netanyahu wants to run again he will have to become even more extreme and speed toward Obama on a collision course. It might be that Geneva ended Netanyahu’s era. In a new reality, Israel might need new leadership.

Follow-ups

Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional rival, at times opposed Islamist radicals (in Saudi Arabia) and supported them elsewhere (in Syria or Iraq). The American relationship with Saudi Arabia, resting heavily on oil, had changed. The United States had plenty of oil now and the Saudis’ complex strategies simply no longer matched American interests.

The Iran nuke deal is only – sure core one – part of story. The deal but especially the secret U.S.-Iran talks before the deal may have also big geopolitical affect. When the nuclear issue is out from agenda and the sanctions removed, then matters such as controlling Sunni extremists, investment in Iran and maintaining the regional balance of power would all be on the table.

Iran missilesOn the other side Gulf States fear not only Iran’s nuclear programme, but Iran being allowed to continue with its hegemonic ambitions, even being emboldened by the deal, and that they will be left alone to deal with it. Already regional states are reaching out to other international actors aside from the United States: Egypt talking with Russia about a major arms deal; Turkey considering China for a major air defence system; Saudi Arabia developing ties with France and Pakistan about their own nuclear weapon, Israel with France and Russia about cooperation in energy sector. This is a strong expression of deep disappointment with the US and its regional approach.

Challenges

  • Arak plutonium reactor: Arak need to be followed closely. Before the French intervention during the last round of talks, the Arak clause was problematic, proposing that Iran could not commission the facility but could continue construction in the next six months. One idea is that it will be converted into a light water reactor from a heavy water plant, this is something else.
  • The Iranian narrative, that they have the ‘right’ to enrichment, has become an issue of their national pride. As a result, any deal will probably allow a degree of enrichment, but round the clock inspections by the IAEA will be essential to manage this.
  • One key challenge is that the P5+1 powers should agree among themselves on a clearly defined endgame to the talks after an interim accord of six months.

The bottom line

(the P5+1 agreement) puts time on the clock.” (John Kerry)

Israel, the US and the major EU powers share the assessment that Iran’s programme is intended to give it the capacity to build nuclear weapons at its time of choosing. Now the Iran nuke deal concludes an interim accord as a prelude to a more comprehensive agreement. It would require Iran to freeze aspects of its nuclear programme for six months, in return for limited concessions on sanctions. Despite hard words one should remember that Iranian foreign policy has been extremely measured. Its one major war, which it fought against Iraq in the 1980s, was not initiated by Iran. Already some months ago Russia and U.S. managed to deal with Syria’s WMDs restoring trust to the great Middle East. Based on this history and the new deal with Iran I think that the détente has took a remarkable step forwards.

Iran nuclear sites

Iran nuclear sites

Some of my previous articles related to nuclear Iran:

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MENA

Instead Iran The Saudis Can Be The Next Nuclear Power

WMD logoWhile Iran nuke talks heat up in Geneva (Nov. 2013) and demolition of Syria’s CW stockpiles has already started one question related to WMD has kept out from headlines namely intelligence reporting that nuclear weapons made in Pakistan on behalf of Saudi Arabia are now sitting ready for delivery to Saudi Arabia. While the world has worried about the nuclear program of Iran – and possible Israeli air-strike to stop it – a new nuclear power can be reality in few weeks.

Saudi authorities have invested heavily in Pakistan’s nuclear program and now it seems that Saudi Arabia is joining to the nuclear club sooner than Iran as according BBC Newsnight Riyadh has already bought nuclear weapons in Pakistan made on behalf of Saudi Arabia and are now sitting ready for delivery.

Saudi-Paki nuke cooperation

What’s interesting is that no major news network in the USA has featured this story since the BBC broke it 3 days ago. I watch NBC, BBC, and FOX news programming every weekday, and the BBC is the only network saying this, and only online – BBC America is NOT carrying this story on cable.” (A view in social media)

Pakistan presumably has reached a secret deal to provide Saudi Arabia with nuclear weapons if Iran, which the world powers suspect is working on a nuclear programme, develops a nuke bomb. Pakistan declared itself as a nuclear armed state in 1998 with its first test. It has never signed up non-proliferation agreements and has an expanding arsenal, with some estimates saying it has as many as 110 nuclear weapons with enough fissile material for more than 200.

Saudi-Paki cooperation mapIn general it is not widely known that Saudi Arabia has a nuclear weapons program. From an official and public standpoint, Saudi Arabia has been an opponent of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, having signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Saudi Arabia has denied manufacturing the nuclear weapons under its peaceful civilian nuclear program, the country has allegedly allotted financial funds for its nuclear program, and as well received scientific assistance from various counties, including United States and Pakistan. (Read more e.g. in Wiki)

It is true that Saudi Arabia has not been producing nukes on their own soil; howeverSaudi authorities are a sole financier of Pakistan’s own integrated atomic bomb project since 1974. In March 2006, the German magazine Cicero reported that Saudi Arabia had since 2003 received assistance from Pakistan to acquire nuclear missiles and warheads. Satellite photos allegedly reveal an underground city and nuclear silos with Ghauri rockets in Al-Sulaiyil, south of the capital Riyadh. Pakistan has denied aiding Saudi Arabia in any nuclear ambitions. Western intelligence sources have told The Guardian that the Saudi monarchy has paid for up to 60% of the Pakistan’s atomic bomb projects and in return has the option to buy five to six nuclear warheads off the shelf.

Saudi desire for bomb

In 1987 it was reported that Saudi Arabia secretly purchased between 50 and 60 Chinese-made CSS-2 intermediate-range ballistic missiles equipped with a high explosive warhead, which have a range of 2,800 km with a payload of either 2,150 or 2,500 kg together with between 10 and 15 transport vehicle systems. These CSS-2 ballistic missiles are relatively useless as conventional weapons; they are too inaccurate, but if one load them up with a nuclear warhead it won’t really matter how accurate those things are.

CSS-2 ballistic missiles for Saudi Arabia

CSS-2 ballistic missiles

According Wikipedia long time Saudi support of the Iraqi nuclear weapons program during the Saddam Hussein regime was implemented with $5 billion on the condition that successful nuclear technology and possibly even nuclear weapons would be transferred to Saudi Arabia . In 2011, Prince Turki al-Faisal, who has served as the Saudi intelligence chief and as ambassador to the United States has suggested that the kingdom might consider producing nuclear weapons if it found itself between the atomic arsenals of Iran and Israel. In 2012, it was confirmed that Saudi Arabia would launch its own nuclear weapons program immediately if Iran successfully developed nuclear weapons. In such an eventuality, Saudi Arabia would start work on a new ballistic missile platform, purchase nuclear warheads from overseas and aim to source uranium to develop weapons-grade material.

And now in November 2013, a variety of sources told BBC Newsnight that Saudi Arabia had invested in Pakistani nuclear weapons projects and believes it could obtain nuclear bombs at will. Earlier in the year (2013), a senior NATO decision maker told Mark Urban, a senior diplomatic and defense editor, that he had seen intelligence reporting that nuclear weapons made in Pakistan on behalf of Saudi Arabia are now sitting ready for delivery. In October 2013, Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israeli military intelligence, told a conference in Sweden that if Iran got the bomb, “the Saudis will not wait one month. They already paid for the bomb, they will go to Pakistan and bring what they need to bring.”

Ready facilities

Saudi Arabia has a ballistic missile facility near the town of Al-Watah. For example defence publisher Jane’s revealed the existence of Saudi Arabia’s third and undisclosed intermediate-range ballistic missile site – a new CSS-2 missile base with its launch rails aimed at Israel and Iran about 200 km southwest of Riyadh.

Ballistic missile base in Saudi Arabia near the town of Al-Watah

Photo credit: IHS/DigitalGlobe

Conclusion

The key conclusion is that Saudi authorities have invested heavily in Pakistan’s nuclear program and at any time can get from Islamabad nuclear weapons. Even this is not widely reported it not surprise either. The Saudis have been sending the Americans many signals of their going ahead with their nuclear weapons plan. Since 2009, according to the BBC, when King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia warned visiting US special envoy to the Middle East Dennis Ross that once Iran crossed the threshold, “we will get nuclear weapons,”. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have longstanding ties and the Kingdom has financed a range of infrastructure projects, mosques and defence contracts. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have longstanding ties and the Kingdom has financed a range of infrastructure projects, mosques and defence contracts.

The key point is that a new nuclear power can be reality in few weeks. Saudi Arabia has new ballistic missile facility, it has missiles and assumed deal with Pakistan to bring nuclear warheads to those missiles. It could also be possible that Saudis could import ready Pakistani Shaheen II missiles. An alternative might also be for Pakistan to offer Saudi Arabia protection under its “nuclear umbrella”.

Some of my previous articles related to nuclear Iran:

 The Shaheen II missile during a military parade in Islamabad.

Possible export to Saudi Arabia? The Shaheen II missile during a military parade in Islamabad. Photograph: Aziz Haidari/Reuters

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crisis management, MENA, Middle-East

Secret Talks During Secret War On Iran’s Nukes

While secret war between Israel and Iran has been going on already years with assassinations, Stuxnet and other cyberwar projects, war games, military demonstrations etc its pleasure to find out that secret diplomacy has also been implemented. The delegations from Israel and Iran led by senior officials had secret talks during a nuclear non-proliferation meeting in Brussels this week.

Officials from Israel and Iran had an informal discussion with representatives from about 10 Arab states, US officials and European moderators to explore the possibility of holding a UN-sponsored conference on establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East. The secret talks in Brussels, Belgium,two-day event was billed as an academic seminar.

Secret talks

70 buses rode the streets of TelAviv carrying message for peace.

According an article in The Guardian a historic conference bringing Iran and Israel together with Arab states to discuss a ban on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons in the Middle East is scheduled to take place in Helsinki in December, it has emerged. The Finnish organisers of the UN-backed bid to establish a zone free of weapons of mass destruction are said to be cautiously optimistic that the conference will go ahead despite high tensions in the Gulf. The Finnish team has held about 70 meetings with officials in the region and made repeated trips to Israel and Iran since the veteran diplomat Jaakko Laajava was appointed “facilitator” of the consensus in October. So far, none of the countries invited to Helsinki has turned the invitation down.

A media blackout was imposed on the discussions but according some leaks in contrast with the saber rattling of both sides’ leaders the event went in a businesslike manner without denunciations and empty rhetoric at the conference.

On 5th November 2012, Israeli daily YNet reported that Barack Obama’s senior advisor, Valerie Bowman Jarrett, is secretly assisting the U.S. administration to communicate with the representatives of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatullah Ali Khamenei. Last month, The New York Times reported that the US government is engaged in secret talks with Iran aimed at establishing a direct line of communication once the US presidential elections are over.

On the brink of war

“Deterrence worked with the Soviets, because every time the Soviets faced a choice between their ideology and their survival, they chose survival, but militant jihadists behave very differently from secular Marxists. There were no Soviet suicide bombers. Yet Iran produces hordes of them.” (Benjamin Netanyahu)

PM Netanyahu and Iran red line in UN

In August 2012, Iran converted some 38 per cent of its uranium enriched to 20 per cent into fuel rods for its civilian research reactor. This move somewhat postponed the critical moment after which Israel would evaluate that Iran has enough uranium to produce a nuclear weapon. Defense Minister Ehud Barak estimates that Israel ‘postpones’ nuclear Iran red line by ‘8 to 10 months’.

While military strike still is a serious thread the secret war has been going on the whole time.  From Israeli side well known actions are assassinations of some key figures in Iran’s nuclear program, Stuxnet and some strange blasts and explosions in Iran’s nuclear facilities.

This secret war has been recently also spreading. According to intelligence officials, Iran’s security services have concluded that Azerbaijan, its Muslim neighbor to the north, has been enlisted by Israel in a campaign of cyber attacks, assassinations and detailed military planning aimed at destabilizing and ultimately destroying Tehran’s nuclear program.This doubt has launched an Iranian counter espionage offensive to destabilize the government of President Ilham Aliev and cast a suspicion also on ethnic Azeris living mostly along the northern border and in Tehran. Azeris are Iran’s largest minority group (some 16 % of population). Iranian officials have publicly blamed these attacks on the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence agency. But US officials say Iran has recently concluded that the assassinations and other acts of sabotage has been orchestrated with the help of Azerbaijan. Last January, apparently after the debate on the Azeri issue ended among Iran’s regime, Tehran’s own intelligence service authorized attacks against the Israeli ambassador to Azerbaijan and other Jewish targets in Baku, the Azeri capital. reports that Israeli officials have been assessing Azeri airbases as refueling zones for its warplanes should a strike against Iran be ordered. (BTW this kind of cooperation with Saudi Arabia  I earlier reported in my article Saudi-Israeli cooperation for attacking Iran   )

On Aug. 15, a cyber-attack hit Saudi oil giant Aramco with devastating results, 30,000 computer workstations were rendered useless and had to be replaced. A few days later in Qatar, a similar virus attacked the RasGas natural-gas company, a joint venture between Exxon Mobil and the state-owned Qatar Petroleum, which operates the world’s largest natural-gas field. Hizbullah followed up the cyberattack with a drone mission on 6th Oct. 2012. An Iranian-built surveillance drone dubbed Ayoub flew from Lebanon into southern Israel before being shot down by the Israeli air force. Officials from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Force told the Al Arabiya newspaper that the target was the Israeli nuclear reactor at Dimona, the centerpiece of Israel’s nuclear program.

In my earlier article I conclude some aspects related to Israeli strike to Iran Nukes as follows:

  • War games are a puzzle not only with tactical alternatives, timing, more or less accurate intelligence and means available but also with known and un-known risks. There is also some other risks than Iran’s counter strike such as
  • Air strike would not eliminate the knowledge about how to build a nuclear weapon that Iran already has.
  • Bombing would pass those nuclear sites that foreign intelligence services do not know about.
  • Attack could create unneeded tensions between US and China and Russia, who are needed to successfully resolve this issue via non-military means
  • Israel might have best available missile defense. However the capacity can not absorb 40.000 missiles by Hizbollah in short period of time and some % will cause serious damage.

The bottom line

Of course its is unrealistic to wait that there would be a Middle East ban on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons in near future.  However from my point of view  even discussing the possibility between Iran and Israel at the anticipated Helsinki event would be giant progress and will give hope that a non military development might be possible.

Some of my related articles:

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crisis management, Iran, MENA

US Giving a “Yellow Light” to an Israeli Strike

Sometimes there are no alternatives to confrontation”

(then – 2008 – candidate Obama)

In my previous article – End Game Approaches on Nuclear Iran – I described how US has changed radically its earlier position so that both the U.S. and Israel say also officially that they have not ruled out military action against Iran. During last weeks Israeli and US officials have been coordinated implementation and timing of air strike, U.N. nuclear agency (IAEA) is more concerned about Iran’s nuclear program than earlier and finally recent elections in Iran are not making other alternatives easier. Previous red light for airstrike has changed to yellow and attack is ready to start anytime when so decided.

During his key-note speech on March 4th 2012 at the pro-Israel campaign group American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Conference this approach was again confirmed when President Barack Obama issued a stern warning to Iran if it continues to develop nuclear weapons. “When it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say…That includes all elements of American power,” he added. “A political effort aimed at isolating Iran; a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition and ensure that the Iranian programme is monitored; an economic effort to impose crippling sanctions; and, yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.”(Source: Bicom )

Earlier Israel has launched numerous preemptive military strikes against its enemies. In 1981 and 2007, it destroyed the nuclear reactors of Iraq and Syria, operations that did not lead to war. But this time there is serious possibility that an attack against Iran might result in a wider conflict. Earlier Israel has made its strikes even without informing US beforehand, now during last months US and Israel have been intensive contacts to coordinate their actions.

Some recent findings

The danger from Iran is grave, it is real, and my goal will be to eliminate this threat.” (candidate Obama 2008)

Pentagon officials disclosed Thursday, March 1, that “military options being prepared start with providing refueling for Israeli planes and include attacking the pillars of the clerical regime. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in Washington’s first public reference to possible joint military action with Israel against Iran.

Iran conducted at least one nuclear warhead test in North Korea in 2010, the German newspaper Die Welt reported on Sunday citing Western intelligence sources. According to the report, the sources said they identified two nuclear weapons tests conducted by Pyongyang in 2010, and that at least one of them was done for Iran. If true, the report, written by Hans Ruhle, a well-known German analyst and a former official in Germany’s Defense Ministry, would affirm Western suspicions that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, and with North Korea’s help. Evidence of the nuclear tests was first published early last month in Nature magazine, citing the work of Swedish nuclear physicist Lars-Erik de Geer. (Source: Israel Hayom )


The head of the U.N. nuclear agency – Yukiya Amano – expressed (on March 5th 2012) growing concern about investigating an Iranian site suspected of links to nuclear weapons development, saying there are indications of new activity there. Referring to his most recent report on Iran circulated late last month, Amano noted that Tehran had tripled higher monthly enrichment to 20 percent at Fordo over the past four months, as well as significantly expanding lower-level enrichment at another facility. Both lower enriched uranium below 5 percent and 20 percent enriched material can be processed further to 90 percent — the level used to arm nuclear warheads. But 20-percent enrichment is of particular concern because it can be turned into weapons-grade material much more quickly and easily that lower-enriched uranium.

Economical aspect?

WikiLeaks has started publishing more than five million emails hacked by Anonymous from the servers of Stratfor, a US intelligence gathering company.

An email sent by Chris Farnham, senior officer for Stratfor, to an internal unnamed source inside the company titled “Israel/Iran Barak Hails Munitions Blast in Iran” provides details about who would benefit from an Israeli attack on Iran, and say such a plan would be motivated by economic factors. According to the email, sent on November 13, 2011, supporters of an Israeli-led attack are Russia, India and Saudi Arabia, while the EU and China stand against such plans, mainly for economic reasons. “Not many people know that Russia is one of Israel’s largest military partners and India is Israel’s largest client. If a direct conflict between Iran and Israel erupts, Russia and Saudi Arabia will gain the advantages on oil increasing prices. On the other hand, China and Europe are expected to lose from an oil crisis as a result of a conflict,” the email says. Farnham said an attack would be motivated by economic factors rather than Iran’s nuclear programme. “If a massive attack on Iran happens soon, then the attack will have political and oil reasons and not nuclear. It is also very hard to believe that the Israelis will initiate an attack unless they act as a contractor for other nations or if Iran or its proxies attack first,”the email concludes. (Source: Transcend Media Service )

According Meir Javedanfar, a leading independent expert on Iran it’s very important for sanctions to continue because the Islamic Republic can’t live without its economy. It can live without its nuclear programme… Sanctions could make the regime bankrupt and sanctions are an existential threat to the regime. If you bomb the Iranian nuclear installations that’s not going to be a threat to the regime. But if the regime runs out of money it’s going to lose loyalty. The reason why the Revolutionary Guard are loyal to the regime is because they get contracts. It’s because they see Ayatollah Khamenei as a cash machine. The second that cash machine stops giving out cash the loyalty s going to disappear.“ (Source: Bicom ) In my opinion the question then is if the sanctions have time to push Iran’s theocratic regime out before it has a nuclear weapon ready.

The Iranian elections

It could be fair estimation that the elections were not democratic nor the results represent the will of population – the choice was merely between different hard-liners, conservatives or ultra-conservatives so the contest was waged solely between the current ruling elite. The Interior Ministry announced a national turnout of 64 percent, however opposition has questioned this figure. Opposition noted in particular that many reformist supporters had stayed home, protesting the continued house arrest of leaders of the pro-democracy Green movement.

Anyway loyalists of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei got a landslide victory with some 75 percent of seats in parliamentary elections at the expense of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This of course in the absence of major reformist parties, which have been prevented from organizing since the 2009 post-election unrest. Probably this outcome of Friday’s vote will have no impact on Iranian foreign policy and its nuclear program, more effect it will have to next year’s presidential election, then the supreme leader Khamenei will get more cooperative President. It is also possible that there will not be next presidential election at all, but instead president the Parliament will chose only a prime minister. Whatever Khamenei decides the defeat of Ahmadinejad will hamper his power over the next one and half years that he has left before next scheduled elections.

The outcome reflects well the ”Islamist Winter” after the ”Arab Spring” in MENA region. In case of Iran the rise of political Islam represents conservative values and this might make a compromise solution with West more challenging if possible.

An appendix: A view from Iranian opposition

One should remember that possible military attack on Iran is mostly against Iranian regime and as last elections have showed this regime represents only one part of population; indeed it is estimated that the real support for Iranian hard-liners is only some 20 percent. One of the opposition groups is The Organization of Iranian People’s Fadaian (Majority) – Persian: سازمان فدائیان خلق ایران اکثریتSāzmān-e fedaiyān-e khalq-e Irān (aksariat) – which is the largest socialist party in Iran and advocates the overthrow of the Islamic regime there. The group is banned from open activity inside the Islamic Republic, and works clandestinely inside Iran and openly abroad. This group send a letter to President Obama and as their wise words in my opinion are reflecting good the grass-root attitude in Iranian opposition I publish the copy as such here below:

سازمان فدائیان خلق ایران(اکثریت)

Organization of Iranian People’s Fadaian (Majority)

international-relations@fadai.org

To the President of the United States of America

Mr. Barack Obama

Mr. President,

As a part of the Iranian opposition, we address you in the hope that decisions of your administration in relations with our country will be made taking the voice of the Iranian community into account.

We belong to those freedom-loving Iranians who fight for the implementation of human rights and democracy in our country, for friendly and tension-free relationships with all nations and who are, while being in favour of all countries’ right to utilise nuclear science and to use it peacefully within the framework of international regulations, in disapproval of the policies of the current Iranian regime in the fields of the nuclear programme, in favour of a solution for the Middle East conflict and in opposition to some other issues in which the current Iranian leadership disagrees with the majority of the international community. Among other freedom-loving citizens of Iran, we struggle for human rights and democracy in our country. We argue that criticising the policies of any state, including the United States of America, should not preclude peaceful relations with that country. We oppose the construction of hatred against other nations, including the United States and Israel. We are advocates of recognising Israel’s and an independent Palestinian state’s right to live within secure borders, advocates of the peaceful settlement of the Middle East conflict, involving all countries in the region and based on mutual respect and adherence to the national interests of every country.

We mention these positions of our organisation with the aim of attracting your attention to the voice of another Iran, a nation in desire to live in peace, freedom and prosperity, a people who, despite more than a century of efforts, has still not achieved these demands.

And still, let us express some of our concerns about your administration’s policies on Iran.

In a great moment of history, the American people elected a president who promised change and the turning away from the principle that anybody who disagreed with American policies was an enemy of the United States. Your presidency began with the splendid gesture of reaching out for the hands of the Iranian leaders, a move not understood and appreciated by the leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He argued that within your velvet glove, an iron fist was hidden.

Unfortunately, with the historical background of a chain of two-way actions and reactions, again anxiety is arising that a jargon of threat will replace the hopeful signs of the first years of your presidency. Repeated statements by your administration’s officials that “all options are on the table”, thereby implicitly or even clearly saying that these would also include the military option, have not been helpful in moving away from a war of words. History tells us that nearly all wars begin with a war of words. An escalation of language can produce a situation sliding out of control, a situation in which responsible politicians, even if they are determined to do so and even if they are powerful in times of peace, cannot prevent a catastrophe.

Mr. President,

As Iranians familiar with our country, the world region in which Iran lies and our history, we strongly believe that a military conflict between the United States and Iran would have a devastating impact on the international stability. A military action against Iran will fail to reach the objectives some proponents of the military solution claim to be achievable through the use of force. Even if some military and nuclear facilities in Iran can be destroyed in raids, there is absolutely no guarantee that such raids would terminate the nuclear programme of the Islamic Republic of Iran. For a most probably temporary delay in this programme, the United States would risk decades of acute instability and military tension in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, decades in which America may be forced to continue a military engagement with high costs. The use of force against Iran would certainly harm the perspectives of Iran’s transition to democracy. In the long term, only a democratic government responsible to the Iranian people would guarantee that our country gets a factor of peace and stability in the Middle East. There is no doubt that the Iranian civil society’s standing will take damage from the proliferation of a jargon of war.

Your administration condemned the assassinations of Iranian citizens who are described by the Iranian authorities as contributors to the Iranian nuclear programme, and clearly denied American involvement in such crimes. We appreciate this principal and humanitarian position. But you are certainly aware that repeating the statement about “all options on the table” have incited doubts, even among some U.S. citizens, about the seriousness in the rejection of the use of force. This is also the case for some Iranian citizens. Our conclusion is that accentuating “all options on the table” cannot be the formulation for a responsible and humanitarian policy.

Mr. President,

We believe that your recent statement in the U.S. Congress in which you underlined that peaceful solutions for the Iranian-American issues continue to exist, is realistic, responsible and indicating a policy not giving in to the difficulties on the way to a settlement. We are sure that such an attitude will always find ways to avoid a war of words and open or covert use of force.

Without any compromise in the struggle against the Iranian regime and without recommending a policy of appeasement towards it, we will continue to criticise the nuclear programme of the Islamic Republic. Among others, we struggle for responsible policies towards the international community and have no doubts that the Iranian people’s strive for peace and cooperation with the international community will be strengthened by its resonance in the international community, not by a martial language.

It is the desire of the Iranian people that the nuclear conflict will find a peaceful settlement, and in atmosphere far from the danger of war, the Iranian’s voice for their rights, for democracy and good governance, will be heard by the world. Iranians do not expect anything else from the international community than moral and political support for their fight for freedom. Use of military action and war is not the kind of support the majority of the Iranian people will embrace.

Yours respectfully,

Organisation of Iranian People’s Fadaian (Majority)

Political and Executive Committee

March 3, 2012

My related articles:

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End Game Approaches on Nuclear Iran

From the start of 2012 the spotlight on Iran and for good reason. Today the entire region is now on tenterhooks for the next move, with US, Iranian and Gulf armies on the highest war alert. Earlier the main scenario was that Israel would make an preventive limited air strike to Iran’s nuclear facilities, now it seems that U.S is going to war with Iran.

The decision point for applying a military option, before too late, is getting nearer. Ehud Barak, Israel’s minister of defense, implied that this critical point would be reached in less than a year, in a recent CNN interview. U.S has changed radically its earlier position, now both the U.S. and Israel say also officially that they have not ruled out military action against Iran. This in case if diplomacy fails to resolve a dispute over the nuclear program, which Tehran says is peaceful but the West believes is a cover for trying to build atomic bombs. The use of military option is now well on the way.

Latest developments

Thousands of US troops began descending on Israel this week as part of the US-IDF deployment in readiness for a military engagement with Iran and its possible escalation into a regional conflict. The 9,000 US servicemen gathering in Israel in the coming weeks are mostly airmen, missile interceptor teams, marines, seamen, technicians and intelligence officers. Officially this maneuver is part in sc Austere Challenge 12, the biggest joint US-Israeli war game ever held. The joint US-Israeli drill will test multiple Israeli and US air defense systems against incoming missiles and rockets, according to the official communique; they will also practice intercepting missiles and rockets coming in from Syria, Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. In fact the joint force will now be in place ready for a decision to attack Iran’s nuclear installations or any war emergency. Washington and Jerusalem are doing their utmost to present a perfectly synchronized military front against Iran: American officers are stationed at IDF command centers and Israeli officers posted at the US European Command-EUCOM.

British Defense Minister Phillip Hammond, on a visit to Washington, affirmed unofficially that Britain stands ready to strike Iran if the Strait of Hormuz is closed. Officially this was not said as the Obama administration tries keep a low profile on plans for attacking Iran.

Tehran is staging military’s maneuvers every few days to assuring the Iranian people that its leaders are fully prepared to defend the country against an American or Israeli strike on its national nuclear program. By this strategy, Iran’s ground, sea and air forces are maintained constantly at top war readiness to thwart any surprise attack. The next Iranian naval exercise at the Strait of Hormuz to take place in February, although its 10-day drill in the same arena only ended Monday, 2. Jan. 2012. Iranian marine commandos were preparing to sow mines in the strategic Strait of Hormuz. Other – last week tested – possibility was using Shahab-3 ballistic missiles which have a range of 1,600 kilometers and other missiles, such as the Nasr1 cruise marine missile, are capable of reaching Hormuz from central Iran. Tehran has also redistributed the Shahab missiles to secret sites ready to launch retaliatory strikes.

Iran itself has reported that the new Fordow nuclear enrichment plant will be operational in the near future to refine uranium to a fissile purity of 20% – far more than the 3.5% level usually required to power nuclear energy plants. 20 % uranium can be turned more easily into fissile warhead material. Based to information of the International Atomic Energy Agency inspection 348 machines are operating at Fordow. Operations at the bunker-like Fordow facility south of Tehran are small in comparison to Iran’s main enrichment site in Natanz in central Iran, where nearly 8,000 centrifuges are operating. The centrifuges at the underground labs are considered more efficient than others and are shielded from aerial surveillance and protected against airstrikes by up to 300 feet (90 meters) of mountain rock. Iran has also announced that it had succeeded in producing and testing its own uranium fuel rods for use in its nuclear power plants. If true, this claim would constitute a significant advance in Iran’s efforts to attain the capability of powering its nuclear reactors without international assistance.

Military option on the table

The starting point with today’s tensions could be the interview in a CBS Tuesday, Dec. 20 where US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said following: “Despite the efforts to disrupt the Iranian nuclear program, they have reached a point where they can assemble a bomb in a year or potentially less”. This is a radical change in US administration policy. “That’s a red line for us and that’s a red line, obviously, for the Israelis,” Panetta noted. Instead of warning Israel against striking Iran, he said: “If we have to do it we will deal with it.”A nuclear weapon in Iran is unacceptable”.

From Tehran’s standpoint, the American military departure from Iraq has removed a formidable obstacle in Israel’s path to an attack on its nuclear installations: the shield of the US Air Force’s control of Iraqi skies.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint US Chiefs of Staff, issued a warning: “Iran is playing a dangerous game that could ensnare the Middle East, the Middle East and others into conflict and a renewed arms race.Don’t push it.” He was described as quietly leading the ongoing military planning for an attack against Iran’s nuclear weapons if the president gives the order to do so. Gen. Dempsey went on to say: “My biggest worry is they (Iran) will miscalculate our resolve. One factor is also Israel which destroyed Iraq’s nuclear plant in Osirak on 1981 without warning US beforehand. ”There is no guarantee that Israel will give the United States warning if it decides to attack Iran,” Dempsey said. “We are trying to establish some confidence on the part of the Israelis that we recognize their concerns and are collaborating with them on addressing them.”

Covert activities

Covert activities against Iran have included the use of computer worms to attack Iran’s nuclear installations, including the Stuxnet virus that in 2010 was thought to have destroyed more than a thousand of Iran’s uranium-enriching centrifuges by causing them to spin out of control. Several Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated, and in November explosions ripped through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ ballistic missile base near Tehran. Seventeen people were killed, including one of the IRGC’s top officers in the missile development program.

The covert activity is designed to slow Iran’s nuclear progress but they are not stopping Iran’s enrichment activity permanently. Iran is thought to have many more nuclear scientists and missile designers than Western intelligence services could ever eliminate.

In October, the Obama administration accused Iran of plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington, an alleged plot that some Iran analysts see as an Iranian effort to hit back. The storming of Britain’s Embassy in Tehran in late November and a December explosion outside Britain’s Embassy in Bahrain may be other signals of Iran’s intention to respond to covert fire.

The Strike

According to reports in Haaretz and Ynetnews 29.12.11, Israel and the United States have recently been discussing ‘red lines’ which would necessitate a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. US administration is keen to avoid Israel surprising the US by taking unexpected military action against Iran in the coming year. Scenarios, in which Washington might find a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities necessary, include e.g. if Iran were to expel IAEA observers, if it were to enrich uranium to weapons grade, and if it were to install advanced centrifuges in its newly constructed underground uranium enrichment facility in Qom or Iran making progress on new secret enrichment facilities.

Illustration by IISS

The U.S. Air Force has unveiled the Massive Ordnance Penetrator – dubbed the Big Blu – and speculation is already mounting that it may be used in airstrikes on Iran (as well on North Korea if needed). B-2 Stealth Bombers will use the six metre long GPS guided rocket, fitted with 2.5 tons of explosives, to smash open underground bunkers and tunnels suspected of containing weapons of mass destruction.

To be a successful military strike, Iran must be deterred and prevented from rebuilding its programme. Is this possible is the question and will define the scope of attack.

Counter acts?

In response to mounting Western pressure over its nuclear ambitions, Iran started a naval drill in the Gulf last week , responded with belligerent rhetoric, spooking oil markets by warning that it could shut the Strait of Hormuz if sanctions were imposed on its oil exports, the country’s main revenue source. However if Hormuz will be closed by mines, the U.S using mine countermeasures can reopen Hormuz within 24-48 hours.

The Strait of Hormuz is one of the world’s most important waterways. Some 40% of all seaborne oil passes through this narrow passageway, which is equivalent to about 20% of total oil traded worldwide. This amounts to 16.5 to 17 million barrels per day (other significant choke-points for the transit of oil include the Suez Canal – 4.5 million barrels per day and the Strait of Malacca – 15 million barrels per day).

Israel has no influence over internal events in Syria or Lebanon. Its interest is in a quiet northern border. For as long as Hezbollah is able to maintain its independent military infrastructure in Lebanon, the threat of an attack on Israel remains. Hezbollah has extensively rearmed after the losses it incurred in the 2006 Second Lebanon War. It is now estimated to have an arsenal of 40,000 rockets, including precision guided missiles that can reach all parts of Israel. It has also deliberately deployed its weapons in villages to make them harder for Israel to target in any future conflict due civilian/collateral damages which would damage Israel’s image even more if possible.

On 7 July, Israel Defense Forces revealed, in unprecedented detail, previously classified information about Hezbollah’s deployment in south Lebanon. The information released focused on El Khiam, a Shia town in south east Lebanon a few miles from the border with Israel. El Khiam was the scene of fighting during the 2006 war; the surrounding area was used by Hezbollah to launch Katyusha rockets at Israel. The IDF material included maps and a 3D simulated video of the village, showing that weaponry and rockets were being stored close to schools, hospitals and residential buildings.

A military strike can have serious strategic consequences too. Iran will surely respond violently, both directly and through proxies such as Hezbollah. Iran has long-range missile systems including the Shahab-3, which could reach Israel and U.S. bases in the Middle East. The conflict could escalate into a regional war. Iran may take aggressive action in the straits of Hormuz, leading to a spike in oil prices, even though disrupting the flow of oil would be self-defeating.

Preparations for counter strike

The Magic Wand by Rafael

Israeli defense technology developer Rafael last week unveiled its medium-range missile interceptor, the Magic Wand, designed to shoot incoming missiles and rockets out of the sky with its own guided projectile. The Magic Wand is seen as a possible defense against Lebanon-based terrorist group Hezbollah’s stockpile of medium-range missiles. Magic Wand’s first operational test is expected to take place this Spring. Israel has – after Magic Wand – three different kinds of interceptors to provide a shield against a multitude of missile threats. Iron Dome to shoot down short-range rockets such as the Qassams fired by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, older Arrow 2 anti-ballistic missile provides defenses against larger ballistic missiles, such as Scuds or Iran’s long-range Shahab missiles. Testing full operational capacity of newer Arrow 3 interceptor is ongoing. ( More about Israeli missile defence in article Will Iron Dome balance the Hamas Terror? . )

Risks?

War games are a puzzle not only with tactical alternatives, timing, more or less accurate intelligence and means available but also with known and un-known risks. One event on 4th Dec 2011 brought one new piece to this puzzle.

US stealth drone RQ-170

On Dec 8th 2011 Iran exhibited the top-secret US stealth drone RQ-170 Sentinel captured on Sunday, Dec. 4. Its almost perfect condition confirmed Tehran’s claim that the UAV was downed by a cyber attack, meaning it was not shot down but brought in undamaged by an electronic warfare ambush. This is a major debacle for the stealth technology the US uses in its warplanes and the drone technology developed by the US and Israel. The state of the lost UAV refutes the US military contention that the Sentinel’s systems malfunctioned. If this had happened, it would have crashed and either been wrecked or damaged. The condition of the RQ-170 intact obliges the US and Israel to make major changes in plans for a potential strike against Iran’s nuclear program.

There is also some other risks than Iran’s counter strike such as

  • Air strike would not eliminate the knowledge about how to build a nuclear weapon that Iran already has.
  • Bombing would pass those nuclear sites that foreign intelligence services do not know about.
  • Attack could create unneeded tensions between US and China and Russia, who are needed to successfully resolve this issue via non-military means
  • Israel might have best available missile defense.  However the capacity can not absorb 40.000 missiles by Hizbollah in short period of time and some % will cause serious damage.

The newest Iranian nuclear facilities are nearly 100 meter deep in hard rock. The consequence is that to destroy this plant the most effective bunker busters are needed maybe even a nuclear bomb some 1 megaton size. Using so heavy methods can have their effect also outside Iran’s borders e.g in form of radioactive dust.

Position of Iran

Israel is unique in that it perceives a nuclear Iran as a potentially existential threat. The Iranian leadership has continuously threatened to “wipe Israel off the map” and with nuclear weapons they could also implement this aim. Given their collective memory of the Holocaust and the hostile surrounding in which they have had to defend themselves, Israelis take this threat especially seriously. A nuclear Iran would change radically regional or even geopolitical balance. It would increase the danger of miscalculation towards a nuclear crisis. Iran could take bolder position threatening Israel and moderate Arab regimes, undermining any Israeli-Arab peace process and manipulating the energy markets.

Dore Gold hits the core of the problem in his column published in IsraelHayom by asking Is Iran rational? One of the most difficult questions that the West needs to answer in the year ahead is whether Iranian behavior will be influenced mostly by rational considerations or by ideological beliefs. Some analysts say that the possession of nuclear weapons might encourage moderation in the Iranian regime ( Reuven Pedatzur in Haaretz on Dec. 20, 2011). The leading commentator on international affairs in the U.S., Fareed Zakaria, also believes that a nuclear Iran would act rationally and could be deterred. He notes that the Revolutionary Guard has become the center of power in Iranian decision-making taking, displacing the religious leadership.

Western intelligence has assessed that if Iran wanted to develop atomic bombs, it has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity eventually to do so. There might be not yet a consensus in Tehran that they actually want build a bomb, it is seen more like an open option for the future. So far the aim of in fact covert war has been to give Iran’s leaders a reason not to go nuclear weapons. However Iran might see this current policy opposite way, it could give Iran a reason to weaponise. So far the aim of in fact covert war has been to give Iran’s leaders a reason not to go nuclear weapons. However Iran might see this current policy opposite way, it could give Iran a reason to weaponise.

The registration of candidates for the Majles elections slated for March 2, 2012 ended last weekend. Meanwhile, power struggles are still being waged between the two major bodies affiliated with the conservative bloc: the United Conservative Front, affiliated with President Ahmadinejad’s political opponents, and the Stability Front of the Islamic Revolution (Jebhe-ye Paydari), which consists of activists considered to be the president’s allies. The Khabar Online website reported this week that from among more than 1,000 candidates who registered for the elections in Tehran Province, only about 60 are well-known political personalities; and that 46% of the candidates are affiliated with the United Conservative Front, 21% with the Stability Front, and 7% with the reformist camp.

Will there be anything else than negative and more negative outcomes?

An alternative way to military option from my point of view – which might be too optimistic – is to boost of diplomacy and sanctions. After years of measures that had little impact, the new sanctions are the first that could have a serious effect on Iran’s oil trade, which is 60 percent of its economy. Sanctions signed into law by U.S. President Barack Obama on New Year’s Eve would cut financial institutions that work with Iran’s central bank off from the U.S. financial system, blocking the main path for Iran to receive payments for its crude.

Following the announcement by the European Union that its member states will cease imports of Iranian crude oil, Japan said yesterday that it would also consider cutbacks in its purchases of Iranian oil. Also China has cut its purchases of Iranian oil by half this month, and is set to extend its cuts into February. The EU, China and Japan account for about half of the totality of Iranian exports of 2.6 billion barrels of oil per day. These new sanctions will have some economic effect in Iran but other sanctions might be needed.

Diplomacy must be done with various interests in mind. Iran has recently signaled that it is willing to restart talks with UN lead international community based 5+1 composition (=UNSC+Germany). The hope is that Iran will come around and allow IAEA inspectors to resume inspections. However, there always exists the possibility that Iran may use IAEA inspections as a way to buy time at sites unknown to the IAEA. If sanctions and diplomacy fail and proof of a nuclear weapons program is established, should the military option be seriously considered.

If all non-military pressures fail there are clearly no “good” options available. In my opinion it is hard to believe either side wants a war to start because all sides are aware about risks. Today’s preparations for strike might be aimed to be means of pressure to get non-military solution. However, when emotions are high, domestic political interests differ in different key player states and massive destruction weaponery is on the theatre the situation can escalate anytime.

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Cyber war has became a tool between political and military options

Stuxnet may be the most developed tool for cyber war today, it made more harm to Iran’s nuclear development program than all the sanctions and diplomatic negotiations together. Despite its effectiveness it helped to avoid traditional air strike which could cause destruction of military targets as well collateral damage in Iran and new conflicts/terrorist actions outside Iran. Stuxnet is prominent example about cyber war which may be new factor between political and military options.

Stuxnet surfaced in June and, by July, it was known that it is a highly sophisticated computer Malware (worm) – cyber attack – aimed at destroying an industrial process in the physical world. The real target was not Bushehr like earlier speculated but Iran’s centrifuge farm at Natanz, which enriches uranium and saw a major accident in early 2009.


Stuxnet

The Stuxnet virus that has infected Iran’s nuclear installations may have been behind the decommissioning of 1,000 centrifuges at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility last year, according to a new analysis of the malicious software. The New York Times report on 16th January gives light to operation. According NYT Israel tested the Stuxnet virus in Dimona, Israel’s nuclear plant. Israel reportedly has centrifuges that are identical to those at the Iranian nuclear site in Natanz, which were used to test the Stuxnet computer worm. In 2008 German company Siemens cooperated with the Idaho National Laboratory, allowing it to identify problems in the company’s computer controllers, which are used in Iranian nuclear plants. The laboratory is part of the American Energy Department, which is responsible for nuclear weapons in the US. According to the NYT, Stuxnet was developed by the US and Israel, with help from the Germans and the British, who may not have known the part they played. The vulnerabilities identified in 2008 were used the following year by Stuxnet.

Stuxnet operates following way: First, it spun Iranian nuclear centrifuges out of control. It would also secretly record the daily routine at the nuclear plant and play back the recording of a regular day to operators at the plant. This way, it would seem that the facility was operating correctly, while the centrifuges were being destroyed. The Stuxnet virus enters computers through removable drives or through the internet. It then spreads to other computers and any drives that may be plugged into them. The virus searches for computers with Step 7, software that programs Siemens controllers. After a controller is infected, Stuxnet hides itself. After a few days, the virus speeds and slows motors in such a way that could damage them. At the same time, it sends out the false signals described above. The worm was reportedly only partially successful, delaying Iran’s progress but not destroying the nuclear sites. A Washington official told the Times that rather than allow Israel to attack Iran, the US wanted “to put time on the clock…and now, we have a bit more.” (Source: Jpost: ‘Israel tested Stuxnet virus on Dimona plant’ )


Stuxnet as part of campaign

The French weekly Le Canard enchaîné reported, quoting French intelligence sources, that US and UK intelligence services are cooperating with the Mossad to sabotage Teheran’s nuclear program in exchange for Israel agreeing not to launch a military strike on Iran. Acts of sabotage carried out in the past year in Iran were conducted by Israel with the help of the CIA and MI6, the sources said.


The sabotage included the introduction of the Stuxnet computer virus into 30,000 computers in Iran’s nuclear reactors and explosions in October in which 18 Iranian technicians were killed at a factory in the Zagros mountains that manufactured Shihab missiles. According to the sources, the assassination of five Iranian nuclear scientists were also carried out by the Mossad in cooperation with the American and British intelligence agencies. (Source:
JPost/Mossad, US, UK cooperating to sabotage Iran nukes )


Iran nuclear sites

Iran nuclear sites

Earlier in my article Saudi-Israeli cooperation for attacking Iran I described one process to prepare military option. The secret Saudi-Israeli meetings on Iran have been taking place for more than a year dealing extensively with clandestine cooperation between the two agencies and plans for attacking Iran. Arab and Western sources reported that they reached an agreement in the course of the year for Israeli fighter-bombers to transit Saudi air space on their way to bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities. The Saudis were even willing to build a new landing strip in the desert with refueling facilities for the use of the warplanes en route to their mission.


Some early steps of cyber war

Indeed cyber war is not only recent phenomenon; in 1982, a computer control system stolen from a Canadian company by Soviet spies caused a Soviet gas pipeline to explode. The code for the control system had been modified by the CIA to include a logic bomb which changed the pump speeds to cause the explosion. (A logic bomb is a piece of code intentionally inserted into a software system that will set off a malicious function when specified conditions are met.)

In the late 1990s, a computer specialist from Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service hacked into the mainframe of the Pi Glilot fuel depot north of Tel Aviv. It was meant to be a routine test of safeguards at the strategic site. But it also tipped off the Israelis to the potential such hi-tech infiltrations offered for real sabotage. “Once inside the Pi Glilot system, we suddenly realised that, aside from accessing secret data, we could also set off deliberate explosions, just by programming a re-route of the pipelines,” said a veteran of the Shin Bet drill. So began a cyber warfare project which, a decade on, is seen by independent experts as the likely knew vanguard of Israel’s efforts to foil the nuclear ambitions of its arch-foe Iran. (Source: Reuters)

Cyber war in Tunisia too

Hacked GOT website

A sort of warm-up to the recent cyber war came with the release by WikiLeaks of a number of US diplomatic cables on Tunisia in late November and early December. The cables gave details about “Family-Mafia” lead by Tunisian President. A Lebanese news website that published the cables, Al-Akhbar, was blocked in Tunisia, and attacked by hackers. Political campaign on the internet escalated with Operation Tunisia (an open letter to media, request of help from journalists, bloggers, hackers) in which activists targeted government sites with Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. The hackers also got their Open Letter on the main page in the Government of Tunisia website. (see a screenshot: Open Letter from hackers) During critical days social media have been used to help get people out on the streets.


Conclusion

Latest developments with cyber warfare show that Israel has a formidable offensive cyber-war-fighting capability stuxnet as its best example. This scale of tool can have its role in international geopolitics between diplomacy and traditional warfare. At regional/local level social media like twitter can be a decisive factor by collecting masses to throw out existing regime. WikiLeaks from its part makes official and clandestine diplomacy more public forcing states and companies revise their practices.

A list of cyber attack threat trends (from Wikipedia)
  • Internet social engineering attacks
  • Network sniffers
  • Packet spoofing
  • Session-hijacking
  • Cyber-threats & bullying (not illegal in all jurisdictions)
  • Automated probes and scans
  • GUI intrusion tools
  • Automated widespread attacks
  • Widespread, distributed denial-of-service attacks* Special Activities Division
  • Industrial espionage
  • Executable code attacks (against browsers)
  • Analysis of vulnerabilities in compiled software without source code
  • Widespread attacks on DNS infrastructure
  • Widespread attacks using NNTP to distribute attack
  • “Stealth” and other advanced scanning techniques
  • Windows-based remote controllable trojans (Back Orifice)
  • Email propagation of malicious code
  • Wide-scale trojan distribution
  • Distributed attack tools
  • Targeting of specific users
  • Anti-forensic techniques
  • Wide-scale use of worms
  • Sophisticated botnet command and control attacks

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Saudi-Israeli cooperation for attacking Iran

While negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program in Geneva are continuing some WikiLeaks documents are highlighting the other – military – option to solve the problem. According to these classified cables, Saudi Arabia had been pressing the US to attack Iran’s nuclear sites before it developed a weapon. Saudis are not alone with their aggressive position. According to the U.S. State Department documents, Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. indicated to Gen. David Petraeus in 2009 that Iran’s nuclear program should be stopped, saying, “The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it.”


From my point of view much more interesting information is coming from DEBKAfile‘s intelligence sources that the secret Saudi-Israeli meetings on Iran have been taking place for more than a year and will also to continue after the changing of the guard at the Mossad. The meetings between Saudi General Intelligence Director Prince Muqrin bin Abdaziz and Meir Dagan, most of which were held in the Jordanian capital Amman, dealt extensively with clandestine cooperation between the two agencies and plans for attacking Iran. Arab and Western sources reported that they reached agreement in the course of the year for Israeli fighter-bombers to transit Saudi air space on their way to bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities. The Saudis were even willing to build a new landing strip in the desert with refuelling facilities for the use of the warplanes en route to their mission.

Busher

Targets

Few years ago a senior military intelligence official told the U.S. Embassy that the Government of Israel does not know where all of the targets are located and said that any attack would only delay, not end, the Iranian program. Also then the MFA’s (foreign ministry) office director for the Gulf states noted that potential target sites are well dispersed throughout the country, with several located in built-up civilian areas. In addition, the GOI is acutely aware of Iran’s ability to retaliate, both militarily and through attacks by its regional surrogates. PM claimed that Hizballah has 11,000 rockets (and possibly UAVs) capable of reaching Israel from launching sites in Lebanon. This old information may not be expired even today. (Wikileaks cable 05TELAVIV1593)

After Gaza flotilla case the northern route may not anymore be for use but as now found from WikiLaeks cables the southern route for air-strike may not anymore be hostile.


Human targets too

The Mossad is widely seen as responsible for a wave of covert actions including the sabotage of Iranian nuclear projects. Prof. Majid Shahriari, who died when his car was attacked in North Tehran Monday, Nov. 29, headed the team Iran established for combating the Stuxnet virus rampaging through its nuclear and military networks. The scientist’s death deals a major blow to Iran’s herculean efforts to purge its nuclear and military control systems of the destructive worm. Only this month, Stuxnet shut down nuclear enrichment at Natanz for six days from Nov. 16-22 and curtailed an important air defence exercise. Prof. Shahriari was the Iranian nuclear program’s top expert on computer codes and cyber war. Another Iranian nuclear scientist, Prof. Feredoun Abbassi-Davani, and his wife survived a second coordinated attack with serious injuries. This was the fifth attack in two years on Iranian nuclear scientists in Tehran.

A special unit for providing nuclear scientists, their homes and families with the same level of security as heads of the regime is being set up jointly by Iran’s Intelligence Ministry (MOIS), Revolutionary Guards and Al Qods Brigades. Top scientists are to be provided with armoured-plated vehicles able to withstand sticky bombs and RPG.


Iran’s defence

According the New York Times a diplomatic cable (from the WikiLeaks cache) from this past February confidently describing the sale of 19 missiles to Iran by North Korea that could give Tehran the ability to strike Western Europe and Russia. American officials appear to agree on is that at the very least North Korea sold a number of ballistic missile parts to Tehran in 2005. The sale set off alarms in Washington, because the parts were for BM-25 missiles, a weapon with powerful engines that — if deployed by Iran — could bolster Tehran’s ability to strike far beyond the Middle East (with a 2,000-mile range), State Department cables show.


The other cable (from Spring 2006/AR) discusses a meeting between the Connecticut Senator Lieberman and Meir Dagan, director of Mossad/Israel’s main spy agency. According to the cable, Mr. Dagan talked of Iran’s having a medium-range missile, the Shahab-3, that “can currently carry nuclear material, and reported that Iran is also trying to adapt the BM-25 missile, which already has a longer range, for this purpose.” (Source WikiLeaks/NYT). For Israel, the introduction of the BM-25 would have relatively modest impact on its strategic calculation, since Iran already has the ability to strike Israeli cities with ballistic missiles, but it would allow Iran to disperse its launchers over a much larger area in the eastern part of the country.

BM-25, unveiled in a North Korean military parade

However the core question related to Iran’s ability to defend herself against Israeli airstrike is the Russian-Iran deal of S-300 anti-aircraft missile system that scares every Western air force with range of 200 km. To wait if U.S.’s “Reset” strategy will work, Russia has put missile deal on hold. The S-300s changes Iran’s nuclear gambit as without them airstrike against Iran is still possible option, with S-300s the risk might be too high. Also Iran has designed and tested successfully an air defence system that has the same capability as the Russian-made S-300 missile system. Iran claims that they have developed the system by upgrading systems like S-200 and we tested it successfully.

Iran now self-sufficient in uranium ore

Iran has developed its defence not only against air strikes but against sanctions too. DEBKAfile‘s military and intelligence sources disclose that despite the six-day shut-down of the Natanz uranium enrichment plant from Nov. 16-22, due to an invasion by the Stuxnet malworm and the serious injury suffered by Prof. Fereydoun Abbasi, Director of Centrifuge Operations, the Iranian program has managed to come within touching distance of its goal: It is only 4.7 kilos short of the 28.2 kilos of 19.75 percent enriched uranium needed for going into weapons-grade production. The Iranians need no more than a few weeks, up to early February at the latest, to reach that goal. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, for his part, will have to face up to falling down completely on his solemn, oft-repeated vow to never allow the Islamic Republic acquire nuclear arms. When the uranium powder can be used for making homemade rods – both to fuel nuclear reactor cores and produce plutonium, the alternative to enriched uranium for weapons-grade fuel. Conclusion: Iran no longer depends on imported materials to move forward at speed toward an N-bomb on both self-sufficient tracks –unhindered by sanctions. (Source: DEBKAfile )

Regional view

King Abdullah describes a conversation he had with with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, on the issue of Iran’s “interference in Arab affairs.” Abdullah challenges Mottaki on Iranian meddling in Palestinian politics and support for Hamas. “These are Muslims,” he quotes Mottaki as responding. “No, Arabs,” countered Abdullah, before adding, “You as Persians have no business meddling in Arab matters.” quote the Saudi king’s assertion of Iranian aid to the Houthi rebels in Yemen. So the leaked cables provide added and deepened color to an already existing picture of regional cold war.(Source: Jerusalem Post/WikiLeaks)

Hamas government’s deputy foreign minister Dr. Ahmed Yousef is actively campaigning for the Gaza regime to form a strategic partnership with Iran on the same lines as the Iranian-Syrian-Hizballah alliance. He also invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to visit Gaza. Close ties between Gaza and Tehran will bolster the Palestinian extremists’ military and intelligence ties with Damascus and Hizballah. This will in turn boost the bloc led by Iran and Syria and add to its leverage for derailing any fence-building moves between the feuding Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah and perpetuate the division between the two Palestinian entities – one in Gaza and the other on the West Bank. This stronger alliance may also threaten the stability of Jordan, where already Hamas-Damascus controls the local Muslim Brotherhood branch.

The Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Rai Al-Aam reported on Wednesday that the Shi’ite organization has completed its preparations for a war against Israel, including the construction of an extensive network of tunnels throughout the whole of Lebanon. According to the report, Hezbollah has completed equipping its arsenal of missiles and weapons and finished building its defensive network against a possible Israeli attack. Likewise, Hamas has reportedly dug tunnels between Rafah and Gaza City of a similar nature to the Hezbollah tunnels. The network stretches from the length of the Lebanon’s coast to the country’s mountainous eastern region.

Egypt’s intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, in a meeting with Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, is more explicit regarding Egyptian efforts to counter Iranian subversion. Suleiman noted that Iran is “very active” in Egypt and that it is granting $25 million per month to Hamas and reports Iranian efforts to recruit among Sinai Beduin.

The WikiLeaks cable, written on April 16, 2008, by Michele Sison, the U.S. embassy’s charge d’affaires in Beirut, was based on a meeting she had with Lebanese Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh. She wrote that Hamadeh, who had requested “a special meeting,” had opened it by declaring, “Iran Telecom is taking over the country!” Hamadeh said the importance of the move for Hizbullah was that it was “the final step in creating a nation state. Hizbullah now has an army and weapons; a television station; an education system; hospitals; social services; a financial system; and a telecommunications system.”Hamadeh accused the “Iranian Fund for the Reconstruction of Lebanon” of funding the network. This group, according to the cable, has been rebuilding roads and bridges since the 2006 Second Lebanon War and has previously been accused of installing telecommunication lines in parallel with new roads. (WikiLeaks )

Bottom line

It’s understandable that Iran has some doubts about U.S. intentions. U.S. has strengthened its forces near Iranian shores with three aircraft carriers, four nuclear submarines and marine assault units. Earlier the influential Senator Lindsey Graham (R. South Carolina), member of the Armed Services and Homeland Defense committees, said: “The US should consider sinking the Iranian navy, destroying its air force and delivering a decisive blow to the Revolutionary Guards.”As part of this strategy, two weeks ago, the White House requested the heads of NATO to draw up operational plans for attacking Iran’s nuclear and military facilities.

With Iran’s nuke there is now more at stake than ever before: Iran is more resistant against sanctions, it has more developed anti-aircraft missile system and its ability to attack/respond is higher. On the other side international community may be slightly more unit by demanding that Iran limits its nuclear programme for peaceful purposes only. Pre-emptive punitive nuclear attack against Iran is however still possible so let’s hope that negotiations in Geneva will give some positive alternative to military option.

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