Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Iran, Israel, and the USA







The US Congress’s National Defense Authorization Act contained an anti-Iran provision that went into effect July 1. It requires the US government to strong-arm the countries still purchasing Iranian oil to stop buying it. The boycott cut Iran’s oil sales in half in 2012 (though 2011 was a particularly lucrative year for the regime). At the same time, Saudi Arabia flooded the market by pumping extra petroleum, keeping the prices from rising astronomically. This economic blockade of Iran’s petroleum is unlikely to change the regime or its behavior, but it will likely kill the Iranian reform movement. And it could be a path for rising tensions and war between Iran and the United States.

Juan Cole


DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran has obtained data from a U.S. intelligence drone that shows it was spying on the country's military sites and oil terminals, Iranian media reported its armed forces as saying on Wednesday.
Iran announced on Tuesday that it had captured a ScanEagle drone belonging to the United States, but Washington said there was no evidence to support the assertion.


The incident has underscored tensions in the Gulf as Iran and the United States draw attention to their military capabilities in the vital oil exporting region in a standoff over Iran's disputed nuclear program.
"We have fully extracted the drone's information," Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said in a statement on Wednesday, according to Iran's English-language Press TV.
The drone was gathering military information and spying on the transfer of oil from Iran's petroleum terminals, the IRGC statement said, according to Press TV. Iran's main export terminal is at Kharg Island.
The U.S. government has focused on blocking Iran's oil exports through sanctions to persuade Iran to give up its disputed nuclear program, which the U.S. and its allies believe is aimed at developing a bomb, something Iran denies.
Israeli officials have threatened to strike Iran's nuclear sites if sanctions and diplomacy fail to stop its program.
Iran has repeatedly threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz - through which about 40 percent of the world's seaborne crude oil is shipped - if it comes under attack. U.S. commanders have said they will not let that happen.
The compact ScanEagle drone had been flying over the Gulf in the last few days and was captured when it strayed into Iranian airspace, the IRGC said in a statement on Tuesday.
The U.S. military has been using Boeing Co ScanEagle spy planes since 2004 and they have become a relatively inexpensive way for the United States and others to conduct surveillance.
In November, the United States said Iranian warplanes shot at a U.S. surveillance drone flying in international airspace.
Iran said the aircraft had entered its airspace to spy on Iranian oil platforms and said it would respond "decisively" to any incursions.
In December 2011, Iran said it had captured a U.S. RQ-170 reconnaissance drone in eastern Iran which was reported lost by U.S. forces in neighboring Afghanistan.
Iranian commanders have since announced they have extracted valuable technology from the aircraft and were in the process of reverse-engineering it for their own defense industry.
(Reporting By Yeganeh Torbati, Editing by William Maclean)


– CNN reports: Recent satellite photos show continued activity at a controversial Iranian military site that international weapons inspectors have repeatedly been denied access to, according to a Washington-based think tank.



By Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON | Fri Nov 30, 2012 11:34am EST

(Reuters) - The Senate on Friday resoundingly approved new sanctions on trade with Iran's energy, port, shipping and ship-building sectors, its latest effort to ratchet up economic pressure on Tehran over its nuclear program.

The new package builds on existing U.S. sanctions but maintains exemptions for countries that have made significant cuts to their purchases of Iranian crude oil.

Iran's currency has plunged this year as its oil exports were slashed by U.S. and European sanctions aimed at pressuring the country's leadership to stop pursuing nuclear weapons.



Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. The United Nations' nuclear chief said on Thursday his agency has made no progress in its year-long push to investigate whether Iran has worked on developing an atomic bomb.

"We must be clear to the Iranians that toughing it out and waiting it out is not an option, that it will only get worse," Democratic Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey said ahead of the vote.

Menendez co-authored the package with Republican Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois and Senator Joseph Lieberman, an Independent from Connecticut.

Senators voted 94-0 to make the new sanctions part of an annual defense policy bill.

The Obama administration has not publicly commented on the proposals, but has privately raised concerns that it does not provide enough "waiver flexibility," said Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Levin said those concerns may be addressed when the Senate and House of Representatives work out differences to finalize the massive defense bill. Both bodies will need to approve the defense bill before it would be given to President Barack Obama to sign into law.

The new sanctions also include measures aimed at stopping the flow of gold from Turkey to Iran.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful pro-Israel lobby group, endorsed the measures, which they said would close a loophole in existing laws.

"In an effort to circumvent international sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran, some purchasers of Iranian oil and natural gas have been using gold and other precious metals to pay for petroleum products," AIPAC leaders said in a letter to senators ahead of the vote, urging support for the bill.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Vicki Allen)




Jonathan Saul and Marcus George
Reuters

5:27 a.m. CST, November 28, 2012


LONDON/DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran's food distribution system is in crisis even though Western sanctions do not directly target the market, badly hurting the poor and turning some staples into luxuries.

Private importers are shrinking away from deals made risky by turmoil in the rial currency, and many foreign banks are reluctant to finance even trade exempt from the sanctions for fear of drawing fire simply for doing business with Iran.

The result is that the Iranian state is under growing pressure to import and allocate more goods as it tries to avoid any social unrest due to shortages and soaring prices.

An increasingly shaky state apparatus will struggle to fill the gap often left by private companies, analysts say.

"If you are talking about the number of deals needed for a country of 75 million ... you do not have an organized overall strategy for finance, purchase and distribution. I do not think they can cope with the challenge," said Scott Lucas, a specialist in Iranian affairs at Birmingham University.

"Even if the sanctions were lifted, which is a huge if, the problems in the system are now so endemic I think they face real serious structural problems."

Sanctions led by the United States and European Union, designed to halt Iran's nuclear program, are strangling the economy and particularly energy exports, but so far Iranians do not face a widespread humanitarian crisis.

Nevertheless, many foreign foods are hard to find and high prices mean Iranians cannot always afford even basic items.

Hossein, a Tehran shopkeeper, described the problems faced particularly by the poor. "A few days ago an elderly woman came to my shop to buy 12 eggs, but when I told her how much she had to pay, she decided to just take five. I really felt bad because she is old and lives by herself," he said by telephone.

The problems have become politically charged. Earlier this year Iran's police chief urged television stations not to show people eating chicken to avoid fueling social tensions, as a jump in poultry prices has made it a rarity in many homes.

Even the relatively well-off are feeling the effects. "Not only have we had to cut back on less important things, we are also forced to purchase local products. I haven't had real, good chocolate for a long time," 25-year-old management student Sanaz said by phone from Tehran.

Iran is estimated to consume around 15.5 million tonnes of wheat a year and about 2.6 million tonnes of sugar.

The sanctions on the nuclear program - which Western governments fear is aimed at making weapons, despite Iranian denials - helped to push the rial into a nosedive earlier this year. The currency has since stabilized, but importers are finding it increasingly difficult to buy dollars for purchases, and are wary of getting caught out by another currency swing.

Instead, many commercial buyers are preferring to lock in their wealth in real estate or safe haven assets such as gold.





Lecture delivered by Matthew Machowski at the School of Physics and Astronomy, Queen Mary, University of London.

This lecture introduce issues related to nuclear enrichment, nuclear weapons technology, international legal restrictions on nuclear technology and use, and the latest developments surrounding Iran's nuclear energy and weapons programme.

There is no good evidence that Iran has a “structured” nuclear weapons program as opposed to a civilian nuclear enrichment program; the regime has not made a decision to build a nuclear warhead; and it may have decided (not clear) that it wants ‘nuclear latency’ or the ability quickly to weaponize if it feels threatened.

Machowski urges us to view the conflict with Iran as already a war in progress.







RT's Marina Portnaya interviews former senior advisor to George W. Bush, Robert McNally.




Barack Obama's second term is only just beginning - and he's already making bold steps in the international arena.The U.S. has sent an air force detachment to service warplanes in Poland, which had pressed Washington for a security guarantee against Russia.

U.S. lawmakers are also reportedly preparing new sweeping sanctions against Iran, targeting its foreign business transactions. That's on top of the latest round of restrictions imposed by Barack Obama just after he was re-elected to the White House.

Strains are widening between America and Iran - after The Pentagon revealed that Iranian jets fired at a U.S. drone flying off Iran's coast last week. Political analyst Mohammad Marandi says it's unlikely Tehran will bow down to Western pressure.





Jeremiah Goulka writes at Tomdispatch:
The Dogs of War Are Barking: Mitt Romney’s Team Wants to Let ‘Em Loose in Iran
It’s the consensus among the pundits: foreign policy doesn’t matter in this presidential election.  They point to the ways Republican candidate Mitt Romney has more or less parroted President Barack Obama on just about everything other than military spending and tough talk about another “American century.”
The consensus is wrong. There is an issue that matters: Iran.
Don’t be fooled.  It’s not just campaign season braggadocio when Romney claims that he would be far tougher on Iran than the president by threatening “a credible military option.”  He certainly is trying to appear tougher and stronger than Obama — he of the drone wars, the “kill list,” and Bin Laden’s offing — but it’s no hollow threat.
The Republican nominee has surrounded himself with advisors who are committed to military action and regime change against Iran, the same people who brought us the Global War on Terror and the Iraq War.  Along with their colleagues in hawkish think tanks, they have spent years priming the public to believe that Iran has an ongoing nuclear weapons program, making ludicrous claims about “crazy” mullahs nuking Israel and the United States, pooh-poohing diplomacy — and getting ever shriller each time credible officials and analysts disagree.
Unlike with Iraq in 2002 and 2003, they have it easier today.  Then, they and their mentors had to go on a sales roadshow, painting pictures of phantom WMDs to build up support for an invasion.  Today, a large majority of Americans already believe that Iran is building nuclear weapons.
President Obama has helped push that snowball up the hill with sanctions to undermine the regime, covert and cyber warfare, and a huge naval presence in the Persian Gulf. Iran has ratcheted up tensions via posturing military maneuvers, while we have held joint U.S.-Israeli exercises and “the largest-ever multinational minesweeping exercise” there.  Our navies are facing off in a dangerous dance.
Obama has essentially loaded the gun and cocked it.  But he has kept his finger off the trigger, pursuing diplomacy with the so-called P5+1 talks and rumored future direct talks with the Iranians.  The problem is: Romney’s guys want to shoot.
Unlike Iraq, Iran Would Be an Easy Sell



Remember those innocent days of 2002 and 2003, when the war in Afghanistan was still new and the Bush administration was trying to sell an invasion of Iraq?  I do.  I was a Republican then, but I never quite bought the pitch.  I never felt the urgency, saw the al-Qaeda connection, or worried about phantom WMDs.  It just didn’t feel right.  But Iran today?  If I were still a Republican hawk, it would be “game on,” and I’d know I was not alone for three reasons.
First, even armchair strategists know that Iran has a lot of oil that is largely closed off to us.  It reputedly has the fourth largest reserves on the planet.  It also has a long coastline on the Persian Gulf, and it has the ability to shut the Strait of Hormuz, which would pinch off one of the world’s major energy arteries.
Then there is the fact that Iran has a special place in American consciousness.  The Islamic Republic of Iran and the mullahs who run it have been a cultural enemy ever since revolutionary students toppled our puppet regime there and stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979.  The country is a theocracy run by angry-looking men with long beards and funny outfits. It has funded Hezbollah and Hamas.  Its crowds call us the “Great Satan.” Its president denies the Holocaust and says stuff about wiping Israel off the map.  Talk about a ready-made enemy.
Finally, well, nukes.
The public appears to be primed.  A large majority of Americans believe that Iran has an ongoing nuclear weapons program, 71% in 2010 and 84% this March.  Some surveys even indicate that a majority of Americans would support military action to stop Iran from developing nukes.
That’s remarkable considering how much less certain most experts seem.  Take, for example, the National Intelligence Council, the senior panel that issues the government’s National Intelligence Estimates.  It continues to stick with its opinion that Iran once had such a program, but closed it down in 2003. U.S., European, and Israeli officials consistently say that Iran does not have an ongoing program and hasn’t even decided to pursue one, that at most the Iranians are hanging out near the starting line.  Iran’s supreme leader himself issued a fatwa against building nukes.  Why, then, is the American public so certain?  How did we get here?
There are three main reasons, only one of which is partially innocent.
What’s in a Name?
The first is linguistic and quite simple.  Say these words out loud: Iran’s civilian nuclear program.
Does that sound familiar?  Do those words look normal on the page?  Chances are the answer is “no,” because that’s not how the media, public officials, or political candidates typically refer to Iran’s nuclear activities.  Iran has a civilian nuclear power program, including a power plant at Beshehr, that was founded with the encouragement and assistance of the Eisenhower administration in 1957 as part of its “Atoms for Peace” program.  Do we hear about that?  No.  Instead, all we hear about is “Iran’s nuclear program.”  Especially in context, the implied meaning of those three words is inescapable: that Iran is currently pursuing nuclear weapons.
Out of curiosity, I ran some Google searches.  The results were striking.
  • “Iran’s disputed nuclear weapons program”: 4 hits
  • “Iran’s possible nuclear weapons program”: about 8,990 hits
  • “Iran’s civil nuclear program”: about 42,200 hits
  • “Iran’s civilian nuclear program”: about 199,000 hits
  • “Iran’s nuclear weapons program”: about 5,520,000 hits
  • “Iran’s nuclear program”: about 49,000,000 hits
Words matter, and this sloppiness is shaping American perceptions, priming the public for war.
Some of this is probably due to laziness.  Having to throw in “civilian” or “weapons” or “disputed” or “possible” makes for extra work and the result is a bit of a tongue twister.  Even people with good reasons to be precise use the shorter phrase, including President Obama.
But some of it is intentional.
The Proselytizing Republican Presidential Candidates
The second reason so many Americans are convinced that Iran is desperately seeking nukes can be attributed to the field of Republican candidates for the presidency.  They used the specter of such a weapons program to bash one another in the primaries, each posturing as the biggest, baddest sheriff on the block — and the process never ended.
The hyperbole has been impressive.  Take Rick Santorum: “Once they have a nuclear weapon, let me assure you, you will not be safe, even here in Missouri.”  Or Newt Gingrich: “Remember what it felt like on 9/11 when 3,100 Americans were killed. Now imagine an attack where you add two zeros. And it’s 300,000 dead. Maybe a half million wounded. This is a real danger. This is not science fiction.”
And then there’s Mitt Romney: “Right now, the greatest danger that America faces and the world faces is a nuclear Iran.”
The Regime-Change Brigade
Even if they’re not exactly excusable, media laziness and political posturing are predictable.  But there is a third reason Americans are primed for war: there exists in Washington what might be called the Bomb Iran Lobby — a number of hawkish political types and groups actively working to make believers of us all when it comes to an Iranian weapons program and so pave the way for regime change.  It should be noted that while some current and former Democrats have said that bombing Iran is a good idea, the groups in the lobby all fall on the Republican side of the aisle.
Numerous conservative and neoconservative think tanks pump out reports, op-eds, and journal articles suggesting or simply stating that “Iran has a nuclear weapons program” that must be stopped — and that it’ll probably take force to do the job.  Just check out the flow of words from mainstream Republican think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and AEI. (“It has long been clear that, absent regime change in Tehran, peaceful means will never persuade or prevent Iran from reaching its nuclear objective, to which it is perilously close.”)  Or take the Claremont Institute (“A mortal threat when Iran is not yet in possession of a nuclear arsenal? Yes…”) or neoconservatives who sit in perches in nonpartisan institutes like Max Boot at the Council on Foreign Relations (“Air Strikes Against Iran Are Justifiable”).
You can see this at even more hawkish shops like the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, with its “campaign to ensure that Iran’s vow to destroy Israel and create ‘a world without America’ remains neither ‘obtainable’ nor ‘achievable.’”  (According to one of its distinguished advisors, a Fox News host, Iran has “nuclear weapons programs” — plural).  At the old Cold War group the Committee on the Present Danger, Iran is “marching toward nuclearization.”  Retired general and Christian crusader Jerry Boykin of the Family Research Council even told Glenn Beck, “I believe that Iran has a nuclear warhead now.”
There are also two organizations, much attended to on the right, whose sole goal is regime change.  There’s the Emergency Committee for Israel, a militantly pro-Israel group founded by Bill Kristol and Gary Bauer that links the Christian right with the neocons and the Israel lobby.  It insists that “Iran continues its pursuit of a nuclear weapon,” and it’s pushing hard for bombing and regime change.
No less important is the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), an Iranian dissident cult group that was recently, amid much controversy, removed from the official U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations.  The MEK brought Israeli intelligence about Iran’s then-active nuclear weapons program into the public eye at a Washington press conference in 2002.  Since then, it has peppered the public with tales of Iranian nuclear chicanery, and it ran a major lobbying campaign, paying dozens of former U.S. anti-terrorism officials — several of whom are now in the defense industry — to sing its praises.
It wants regime change because it hopes that the U.S. will install its “president-elect” and “parliament-in-exile” in power in Tehran.  (Think of Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress, who played a similar role with the Bush administration in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.  They even have some of the same boosters.)
And then there are the groups who want war with Iran for religious reasons.  Take Christians United For Israel (CUFI), an End-Times politico-religious organization run by John Hagee, pastor of the Cornerstone megachurch in San Antonio.  As scholar Nicholas Guyatt shows in his book Have a Nice Doomsday, Hagee’s organization promotes the belief, common among fundamentalist Christians, that a war between Israel and Iran will trigger the Rapture.
Hagee’s own book, Countdown Jerusalem, suggests that Iran already has nuclear weapons and the ability to use them, and he aggressively advocates an attack on that country.  To many mainstream Americans, Hagee, his followers, and others with similar religious views may seem a bit nutty, but he is not to be discounted: his book was a bestseller.
The Supporting Cast
Republican-friendly media have joined the game, running blustery TV segments on the subject and cooking the books to assure survey majorities that favor military action.  Take this question from a March poll commissioned by Fox News: “Do you think Iran can be stopped from continuing to work on a nuclear weapons program through diplomacy and sanctions alone, or will it take military force to stop Iran from working on nuclear weapons?”  Absent priming like this, a majority of Americans actually prefer diplomacy, 81% supporting direct talks between Washington and Tehran.
And don’t forget the military-industrial complex, for which the fear of a nuclear-armed Iran means opportunity. They use it to justify that perennial cash cow and Republican favorite: missile defense (which the Romney campaign dutifully promotes on its “Iran: An American Century” webpage).  It gives the Pentagon a chance to ask for new bunker busting bombs and to justify the two new classes of pricey littoral combat ships.
If the U.S. were to bomb Iranian facilities — and inevitably get drawn into a more prolonged conflict — the cash spigot is likely to open full flood.  And don’t forget the potential LOGCAP, construction, and private security contracts that might flow over the years (even if there isn’t an occupation) to the KBRs, SAICs, DynCorps, Halliburtons, Bechtels, Wackenhuts, Triple Canopies, and Blackwater/Academis of the world.  (Too bad there aren’t meaningful transparency laws that would let us know how much these companies and their employees have contributed, directly or indirectly, to Romney’s campaign or to the think tanks that pay and promote the convenient views of professional ideologues.)
The Problem With Romney
All of this means that the public has been primed for war with Iran.  With constant media attention, the Republican candidates have driven home the notion that Iran has or will soon have nuclear weapons, that Iranian nukes present an immediate and existential threat to Israel and the U.S., and that diplomacy is for sissies.  If Obama wins, he will have to work even harder to prevent war.  If Romney wins, war will be all the easier.  And for his team, that’s a good thing.
The problem with Romney, you see, is that he hangs out with the wrong crowd — the regime-change brigade, many of whom steered the ship of state toward Iraq for George W. Bush.  And keep in mind that he, like Romney (and Obama), was an empty vessel on foreign affairs when he entered the Oval Office. Even if Iran has been nothing more than a political tool for Romney, regime change is a deep-seated goal for the people around him.  They actually want to bomb Iran.  They’ve said so themselves.
Take Robert Kagan.  His main perch is at the non-partisan Brookings Institution, but he has also been a leader of the neocon Project for a New American Century and its successor organization, the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI). “Regime change in Tehran,” he has written, “is the best nonproliferation policy.”
Kagan’s fellow directors at the FPI are also on Romney’s team: Bill Kristol, Eric Edelman (former staffer to Cheney and Douglas Feith’s successor at the Pentagon), and former Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman Dan Senor, who has become Romney’s most trusted foreign policy advisor and a rumored contender for national security advisor.  The FPI’s position? “It is time to take military action against the Iranian government elements that support terrorism and its nuclear program. More diplomacy is not an adequate response.”
Or how about John Bolton, Bush’s U.N. ambassador and a frequent speaker on behalf of the MEK, who has said, “The better way to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons is to attack its nuclear weapons program directly and break their control over the nuclear fuel cycle,” and that “we should be prepared to take down the regime in Tehran.”
And the list goes on.
It is, of course, theoretically possible that a President Romney would ignore his neocon team’s advice, just as George W. Bush famously ignored the moderate Republican advice of his father’s team.  Still, it’s hard to imagine him giving the cold shoulder to the sages of the previous administration: Cheney, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.  Indeed, Romney is said to turn to the “Cheney-ites” when he seeks counsel, while giving the more moderate Republican internationalists the cold shoulder.  And Cheney wanted to bomb Iran.
In a Romney administration, expect this gang to lobby him hard to finish the job and take out Iran’s nuclear facilities, or at least to give Israel the green light to do so.  Expect them to close their eyes to what we have learned in Iraq and Afghanistan when it comes to “blood and treasure.”  Expect them to say that bombing alone will do the trick “surgically.”  Expect them to claim that the military high command is “soft,” “bureaucratic,” and “risk-averse” when it hesitates to get involved in what will inevitably become a regional nightmare.  Expect the message to be: this time we’ll get it right.
Kenneling the Dogs of War
No one likes the idea of Iran getting nukes, but should the regime decide to pursue them, they don’t present an existential threat to anyone.  Tehran’s leaders know that a mushroom cloud in Tel Aviv, no less Washington, would turn their country into a parking lot.
Should the mullahs ever pursue nuclear weapons again, it would be for deterrence, for the ability to stand up to the United States and say, “Piss off.”  While that might present a challenge for American foreign policy interests — especially those related to oil — it has nothing to do with the physical safety of Israel or the United States.
War with Iran is an incredibly bad idea, yet it’s a real threat.  President Obama has come close to teeing it up.  Even talk of a preemptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities is delusional, because, as just about every analyst points out, we wouldn’t know if it had worked (which it probably wouldn’t) and it would be an act of war that Iran wouldn’t absorb with a smile.  In its wake, a lot of people would be likely to die.
But Romney’s guys don’t think it’s a bad idea.  They think it’s a good one, and they are ready to take a swing.
Jeremiah Goulka, a TomDispatch regular, writes about American politics and culture, focusing on security, race, and the Republican Party.  He was formerly an analyst at the RAND Corporation, a Hurricane Katrina recovery worker, and an attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice. You can follow him on Twitter @jeremiahgoulka or contact him through his website jeremiahgoulka.com.
Copyright 2012 Jeremiah Goulka
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Mirrored from Tomdispatch.eom




Around 12,000 troops from more than 19 nations are wrapping up a massive military training drill in the Middle East. But for some of those servicemen, these exercises might be just the beginning of something much bigger to come.

The United States, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan are just a sampling of the many countries — along with European allies — that have been involved in the nearly month-long Eager Lion 2012 exercise expected to end this week. Although much of the drills have been kept under wraps, it isn’t a secret that these states have spent the last month cooperating together through mock combat drills and comprehensive training. Some sources overseas report, however, that as many as 3,000 troops aligned with US forces have conducted a simulated landing and attack on Iran, preparing America and its allies for a war that becomes more likely by the day.

Intelligence sources speaking to Israel’s Debka news agency report that US troops and other forces aligned with America recently staged a landing on a Jordanian beach that was immediately followed by a military seizure of fortified mountain bases and command posts. The exercise was meant to emulate an attack on Iran and accompanies other drills that witnesses say show off just what America’s foes face if they continue to put the heat on the United States and its pals abroad.

Speaking of a drill assumed to be a mockup of a raid on Syria, Major General. Awni el-Edwan, Chief of staff of the Jordanian Operations and Training Armed Forces, says, “The exercise is not connected to any real world event,” reports CNN. “This has nothing to do with Syria. We respect the sovereignty of Syria. There is no tension between the Syrians and us. Our objectives are clear.”

Others, however, say that the intentions of the Eager Lion 2012 drills are obvious.

Gen. James Mattis, head of the US Central Command, visited both sections of the exercise led by American troops in Jordan, adds Debka. Should the US officially attack either Syria or Iran, Gen. Mattis will be the head of the military forces there. Additionally, intelligence sources speaking with the Israeli outlet reveal that Gen. Mattis has recently sought approval from US President Barack Obama to deploy a third aircraft carrier to the Middle East to increase America’s presence.

The United States currently has two massive aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf area, both the USS Abraham Lincoln and USS Enterprise, and CNN adds in their report that the Air Force has sent six of the stealth F-22 fighter jets to the neighboring United Arab Emirates.

The US is believed to be engaged in exercises involving the Navy and Air Force in operations on the land, air and sea, with the US Special Operations troops also working in tandem with Jordanian special forces units in counterterrorism to put both teams on the same page.

Debka reports that, during Eager Lion 2012, a command post was also established by around 700 US Marines onboard the USS New York amphibious transport dock that was stationed in the Red Sea. The entire exercise there, they say, was “clearly visible” to observers in a neighboring Israeli port. Only days earlier, Debka reported that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told his country that “all options remain on the table” involving an attack on Iran, and that the Jewish state will strike first if necessary, even without the assistance of American forces.

"There is no need to tell us what to do, and we have no reason to panic. Israel is very, very strong, but we do know that the Iranians are accomplished chess players and will try to achieve nuclear capabilities,” said Barak.


If Israel goes from threats to military actions, “it is Israel who will be destroyed,” says a high-ranking Iranian general. This comes as a fresh twist in the war of words that has engrossed Israel and Iran in recent months.

­"If the Zionist regime takes any actions against Iran, it would result in the end of its labors," Brigadier General Mostafa Izadi, deputy chief of staff of Iran's armed forces, told the Fars news agency.

Israel cannot harm Iran in the slightest, assured the top military official.

"If they act logically, such threats amount to a psychological war, but if they want to act illogically, it is they who will be destroyed," he added.

The message is a response to Israel’s renewed calls for tougher sanctions against the Islamic Republic. As Iran sat down to another round of nuclear talks with world powers last week, Israel issued more calls threatening Iran with military action. Tel Aviv believed Tehran did not take the threat of war seriously.
“The Iranians think this is just a warning. That people are not serious enough,”
Israeli President Shimon Peres said in an interview, as the talks kicked off in Moscow.

“If the Iranians understand seriously that this [military action] is an option, maybe we shall not need it. If they think this is a bluff, then it may lead to a war,” he added.

Israel and its Western allies suspect that Tehran is enriching uranium in a bid to secretly create nuclear warheads, though no evidence for such a claim has been presented and most Western experts say otherwise. Tel Aviv has also repeatedly said that it will bomb Iranian nuclear facilities before allowing it to build nukes. Iran insists that it needs enriched uranium for civilian uses.

The Moscow negotiations wrapped up with no breakthrough.

Western powers again demanded that Tehran scale down its nuclear work: to shut down the Fordo underground uranium enrichment facility and ship any stockpile out of the country. In return, Iran was offered enough fuel to meet the country’s medical needs, assistance in nuclear security and lift a ban on spare parts for Iran’s civilian planes.

Iran slammed the proposed deal for having too many demands while offering little in return. Tehran wanted to see relief from strangling economic sanctions, imposed by the EU and US, and an official acknowledgement of its right to enrich uranium before they considered scaling down nuclear activities.

A follow-up meeting is scheduled for July 3.





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Subject: Tell President Obama: We support diplomacy with Iran, not an unnecessary and costly war.
Dear Friend,

The next week is critically important for those of us who want to avoid an unnecessary and costly war with Iran.

Iran has come to the table for negotiations about the future of its nuclear program, with the next round of multilateral negotiations scheduled to take place today and tomorrow in Moscow.

But the Obama administration is under tremendous pressure to abandon diplomacy with Iran, and follow a path that would make war inevitable. And much of the pressure is coming from warmongers like John Bolton (an ambassador to the United Nations under George W. Bush), who want the talks to fail.

We need to speak out now to ensure that President Obama knows the American people support diplomacy, not war.

I just signed a petition telling President Obama that we support diplomacy with Iran, not an unnecessary and costly war.

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The next few days are critically important for those of us who want to avoid an unnecessary and costly war with Iran.
Iran has come to the table for negotiations about the future of its nuclear program, with the next round of multilateral negotiations scheduled to take place today and tomorrow in Moscow.
But the Obama administration is under tremendous pressure to abandon diplomacy with Iran, and follow a path that would make war inevitable. And much of the pressure is coming from warmongers like John Bolton (an ambassador to the United Nations under George W. Bush), who want the talks to fail.
We need to speak out now to ensure that President Obama knows the American people support diplomacy, not war.
Many in power seem to have learned nothing from the catastrophic mistake and tremendous moral failure that was the war in Iraq.
There is already dangerous momentum to begin a war of choice with Iran. And should the Moscow negotiations break down or bear no fruit, the drumbeat for war will only grow more intense.
Those who would welcome a war with Iran are trying to suggest that the window for a diplomatic solution is rapidly closing.
But both American and Israeli intelligence services agree that Iran neither has made a decision to build a nuclear bomb nor currently has the capacity to do so. So there is no short-term imperative to wage war.
To his credit, President Obama is clearly not rushing to start another war. But many members of Congress, including many Democrats, are pushing him to offer nothing meaningful to Iran until Iran gives the United States and its allies everything we want.
Fundamentally, this kind of negotiating strategy would set us up for failure.
While there is no easy solution to the challenges we face with Iran, it is imperative that we pursue diplomacy in good faith and give diplomatic solutions the time they need to bear fruit.
And that means being open to a slow but steady move away from the brink of war through mutual concessions.
In an election year, when many of President Obama's traditional allies are either opposed or highly skeptical of his strategy, President Obama must know that there is full-throated support for diplomacy that can prevent an unnecessary war.
Tell President Obama: We support diplomacy with Iran, not an unnecessary and costly war. Click the link below to automatically sign the petition:
Thank you for speaking out for diplomacy.
Matt Lockshin, Campaign Manager
CREDO Action from Working Assets





WASHINGTON – The Russian military anticipates that an attack will occur on Iran by the summer and has developed an action plan to move Russian troops through neighboring Georgia to stage in Armenia, which borders on the Islamic republic, according to informed Russian sources.

Russian Security Council head Viktor Ozerov said that Russian General Military Headquarters has prepared an action plan in the event of an attack on Iran.

Dmitry Rogozin, who recently was the Russian ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, warned against an attack on Iran.

"Iran is our neighbor," Rogozin said. "If Iran is involved in any military action, it's a direct threat to our security." Rogozin now is the deputy Russian prime minister and is regarded as anti-Western. He oversees Russia's defense sector.

Russian Defense Ministry sources say that the Russian military doesn't believe that Israel has sufficient military assets to defeat Iranian defenses and further believes that U.S. military action will be necessary.

The implication of preparing to move Russian troops not only is to protect its own vital regional interests but possibly to assist Iran in the event of such an attack. Sources add that a Russian military buildup in the region could result in the Russian military potentially engaging Israeli forces, U.S. forces, or both.

Informed sources say that the Russians have warned of "unpredictable consequences" in the event Iran is attacked, with some Russians saying that the Russian military will take part in the possible war because it would threaten its vital interests in the region.

The influential Russian Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper has quoted a Russian military source as saying that the situation forming around Syria and Iran "causes Russia to expedite the course of improvement of its military groups in the South Caucasus, the Caspian, Mediterranean and Black Sea regions."

This latest information comes from a series of reports and leaks from official Russian spokesmen and government news agencies who say that an Israeli attack is all but certain by the summer.

Because of the impact on Russian vital interests in the region, sources say that Russian preparations for such an attack began two years ago when Russian Military Base 102 in Gyumri, Armenia, was modernized. It is said to occupy a major geopolitical position in the region.

Families of Russian servicemen from the Russian base at Gyumri in Armenia close to the borders of Georgia and Turkey already have been evacuated, Russian sources say.






Read more: http://articles.businessinsider.com/2012-04-09/news/31311454_1_russian-defense-ministry-military-action-dmitry-rogozin#ixzz1s2j7KMHO





Sheldon Richman

Published: Monday, April 9, 2012 at 4:56 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 9, 2012 at 4:56 p.m.

When President Obama spoke before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee some weeks ago, he admonished those who engaged in “loose talk of war” about Iran. Apparently, his secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton, didn’t get the memo.

The Associated Press reported this week,

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made clear Saturday that time is running out for diplomacy over Iran’s nuclear program and said talks aimed at preventing Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon would resume in mid-April. With speculation over a possible U.S. or Israel military attack adding urgency to the next round of discussions in Istanbul set for April 13, Clinton said Iran’s “window of opportunity” for a peaceful resolution “will not remain open forever.”

She also expressed doubt about whether Iran has any intention of negotiating a solution that satisfies the U.S., Israel and other countries that believe Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons.

That’s another memo Clinton seems not to have received. Both American and Israeli intelligence say that Iran has neither started to build a nuclear weapon nor even decided to do so in the future. Both also regard the Iranian government as a “rational actor.” (The American news media occasionally reports this, but then goes back to stating, as though it were uncontroversial, that Iran is building a nuclear arsenal.)

So why the conflicting signals from the U.S. government? This conflict can be seen in Obama’s own statements. While he calls for diplomacy and warns against loose war talk, he has imposed harsh economic sanctions that make the daily lives of average Iranians miserable, has rejected “containment,” and boasted that he doesn’t “bluff.”








Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has revealed the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command has trained operatives from an Iranian opposition group at a secret site in Nevada. Writing in The New Yorker, Hersh reports JSOC began training the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, or MEK, in 2005, even though the group is listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department. The training included intercepting communications, cryptography, weaponry and small unit tactics. The training is said to have ended before President Obama took office. Last month, NBC reported members of the MEK have been involved in the assassinations of five Iranian nuclear scientists.





US President Barack Obama has approved the introduction of fresh sanctions on buyers of Iranian oil.

In a statement, Mr Obama said US allies boycotting Iranian oil would not suffer negative consequences because there was enough oil in the world market.

The move would allow the US to take measures against foreign banks that still deal with Iranian oil.

Iran is facing international pressure to address concerns over its nuclear enrichment programme.

Western countries suspect Iran of attempting to develop a nuclear weapon. Iran insists the programme is purely peaceful.

Mr Obama said in a statement that he would continue to monitor the global market closely to ensure it could handle a reduction of oil purchases from Iran.

The US president was required by a law he signed in December to determine by 31 March whether the market allowed countries to "significantly" cut their purchases from Iran.
'On notice'

A statement from the White House acknowledged that "a series of production disruptions in South Sudan, Syria, Yemen, Nigeria and the North Sea have removed oil from the market" in the first months of 2012.

"Nonetheless, there currently appears to be sufficient supply of non-Iranian oil to permit foreign countries to significantly reduce their import of Iranian oil," the statement says.

"In fact, many purchasers of Iranian crude oil have already reduced their purchases or announced they are in productive discussions with alternative suppliers."

Under the law signed in December, countries have until 28 June to show they have significantly reduced the amount of crude oil they purchase from Iran or face being cut off from the US financial system.





By Michael McGehee:

Today the New York Times published a revealing page one article by Mark Mazzetti and Thom Shanker under the headline “U.S. War Game Sees Perils of Israeli Strike Against Iran.

The revelation is not so much that an Israeli attack on Iran would be illegal—there is, predictably, not one comment on the legality of such a “first strike.” Rather the revelation is the übermenschen mentality illustrating that what makes an attack “dire” or “perilous” is how it would affect us, not the untermenschen. The U.S. and Israel, by the laws of superior might, are people. By those same laws, anyone who happens to be the “enemy”—in this case, Iran—are unpeople. Therefore a war game which would “leave hundreds of Americans dead” and less than a thousand Israelis dead is perilous. What about Iran? There are no provided figures on Iranian casualties. They don’t matter.

We read that, “In December 2002, Gen. Tommy R. Franks, who was the top officer at Central Command, used Internal Look to test the readiness of his units for the coming invasion of Iraq.” At that time there was no concern about dire consequences. Apparently an American war that left more than one million unpeople dead is breaking a few eggs to make an omelete.

It was also troubling to read that,

The initial Israeli attack was assessed to have set back the Iranian nuclear program by roughly a year, and the subsequent American strikes did not slow the Iranian nuclear program by more than an additional two years. However, other Pentagon planners have said that America’s arsenal of long-range bombers, refueling aircraft and precision missiles could do far more damage to the Iranian nuclear program — if President Obama were to decide on a full-scale retaliation.

What the paragraph above implies is that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, and Israel is determined to stop them. The truth is that U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, various U.S. intelligence agencies, and even Israel’s Mossad has admitted the program is non-existent.

Times Editors let it slip by very slyly when reporters Mazzetti and Shanker tell Times’ readers that “American and Israeli intelligence services [...] disagree on how much time there would be to prevent Iran from building a weapon if leaders in Tehran decided to go ahead with one.” However, the article quickly goes back to implying that is what Iran is moving towards: “With the Israelis saying publicly that the window to prevent Iran from building a nuclear bomb is closing, American officials see an Israeli attack on Iran within the next year as a possibility.”

The last part of Mazzetti and Shanker’s article deals with how “some military specialists in the United States and in Israel” disagree on how Iran might respond towards U.S. forces in the region because, “Their analysis, however, also includes the broad caveat that it is impossible to know the internal thinking of the senior Iranian leadership,” but, “…these specialists continue their work, saying that any insight on how the Iranians will react to an attack will help determine whether the Israelis carry out a strike — and what the American position will be if they do.”

Mazzetti and Shanker close their article noting that, “Israeli intelligence estimates, backed by academic studies, have cast doubt on the widespread assumption that a military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities would set off a catastrophic set of events like a regional conflagration, widespread acts of terrorism and sky-high oil prices,” and “Defense Minister Ehud Barak” telling Israel Radio last November that, “The state of Israel will not be destroyed.”

An illegal war of aggression waged over a bogus pretext that the perpetrators have already admitted is bogus, and that has predictably “dire consequences”—which to the perpetrators means considerably low costs as compared to what it would mean for the victim—cannot even be called what it is in the “paper of record.” There is not one word on how criminal such a “first strike” would be, or how necessary it would be for the perpetrators to be hauled off to a war crimes tribunal. All we are treated with is the concern of what such an attack would mean for the übermenschen while being assured that Israel would not be destroyed for their wreckless and criminal behavior. The message is loud and clear: the U.S. and Israel are such rogue states that moral and legal considerations are not even entertained. For them all they are concerned with is whether or not they can get away with it, and at minimal costs.









Dear Friend,
The war in Iraq was a catastrophic mistake and a tremendous moral failure. But there is dangerous momentum to begin another war of choice, this time with Iran.
That is why Congresswoman Barbara Lee has introduced legislation that, in her words, "directs the President to appoint a Special Envoy for Iran to ensure that all diplomatic avenues are pursued to avoid a war with Iran and to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon."
Whether or not you think your representative will co-sponsor the bill, we need you to pick up the phone and make a call.
Unfortunately, while the American people are opposed to another war of choice, those pushing for war have been far more vocal and organized than the rest of us.
Our friends on the Hill have told us that congressional offices are hearing from people who want us to go to war, but not from those who would like to see a diplomatic solution.
We cannot allow those howling for war to be met with a deafening silence on our side.
Our allies in Congress need to know their constituents want them to remain steadfast. And we need to put other lawmakers on notice that their constituents reject the dangerous saber-rattling that might bring our nation to the brink of war.
While there are no easy solutions to addressing the challenges we face with Iran, it is imperative that we pursue diplomacy.
Yet right now, all options are on the table except direct negotiations. That's a recipe for another needless war.
We can't wait for the first bombs to drop. We need to speak out now.
Thank you for speaking out.
Matt Lockshin, Campaign Manager
CREDO Action from Working Assets





Dear Friend,
As we approach the ninth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, we once again see dangerous momentum for another irresponsible, unnecessary and costly war — this time with Iran.
Fear-mongering and propaganda aside, Iran is not an imminent threat to the United States — and we haven't yet exhausted all avenues for diplomacy to ensure Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon.
But as a result of the Iranian Revolution over 30 years ago, current law makes it very difficult for American diplomats to talk directly to representatives of the Iranian government.
That is why Congresswoman Barbara Lee has introduced legislation that, in her words, "directs the President to appoint a Special Envoy for Iran to ensure that all diplomatic avenues are pursued to avoid a war with Iran and to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon."1
Whether or not you think your representative will co-sponsor the bill, we need you to speak out.
Unfortunately, while the American people are opposed to another war of choice,2 those pushing for war have been far more vocal and organized than the rest of us.
Our friends on the Hill have told us that congressional offices are hearing from people who want us to go to war, but not from those who would like to see a diplomatic solution.
Not only will your petition signature signal support for Rep. Lee's bill, it will also ensure that those howling for war are not met with a deafening silence on our side.
Our allies in Congress will know their constituents want them to remain steadfast, and other lawmakers will be put on notice that their constituents reject the dangerous saber-rattling that might bring our nation to the brink of war.
We can't afford to remain a silent majority. We must push back on the ever-increasing clamor for war.
While there are no easy solutions to addressing the challenges we face with Iran, it is imperative that we pursue diplomacy.
We know all too well the consequences of starting an unnecessary war.
The war in Iraq was a catastrophic mistake and a tremendous moral failure.
But right now with Iran, all options are on the table except direct negotiations. That's a recipe for another needless war.
We can't wait for the first bombs to drop. We need to speak out now.
Tell your member of Congress to co-sponsor Rep. Lee's bill to avoid an unnecessary and costly war with Iran. Click the link below to automatically sign the petition:
Thank you for speaking out to stop another needless war.
Matt Lockshin, Campaign Manager
CREDO Action from Working Assets

1. Dear Colleague letter from Barbara Lee, dated 3-7-12
2. "Poll: Americans Favor Diplomacy Over Israeli Attack On Iran," David Taintor, Talking Points Memo, 03-14-12.






Three reasons not to attack Iran
Five reasons to attack Iran

An attack on Iran and sanctions are both unworkable. A third option is to create a nuclear-free Middle East. Yes, it sounds far-fetched. But it actually meets the strategic needs of both Israel and Iran. One idea is to relocate Israel's nukes elsewhere, rather than destroy them.


By Boaz Atzili / March 9, 2012

For half a century now, Israel’s regional nuclear monopoly has been its “Samson option,” the one weapon it can threaten to use if all else fails and Israel faces a real existential threat. As a scholar concentrating on the Middle East conflict, and also as a native of Israel, I am not comforted by the nuclear security blanket under which I was born.

Now that this monopoly is facing an increasingly possible challenge from Iran, Israel should reconsider its nuclear supremacy – as far fetched as this may sound. The argument in favor of such a radical shift is not moral, but strategic. Israel may well be better off in a Middle East with no nuclear powers than in one with – potentially – several of them.

Iran, too, would have its own reasons to support such an arrangement. And a secure path to a “no nukes” zone may be found not in dismantling Israel’s arsenal, but in relocating it. In the face of an apparently fast-advancing Iranian nuclear project, the two options mostly discussed are sanctions and military attack. Neither is very appealing. The first is unlikely to halt the Iranian program and the second will only postpone it temporarily while possibly creating a regional conflagration on a large scale.

When Israel developed its own nuclear program, apparently in the late 1950s, it made much strategic sense. Israel was a small country, with very limited human and material resources, surrounded by hostile neighbors. Nuclear arms could provide the ultimate guarantee of security.

But Israel is no longer so vulnerable. True, much of the region is still hostile (despite peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan). Yet Israel holds a profound conventional superiority over any potential rivals – a superiority that makes a nuclear-free Middle East a strong and effective second-best option after a nuclear monopoly.

Moreover, it’s unclear that Israel would sacrifice much in a nuclear-free Middle East. Its nuclear arsenal has not deterred Arab countries from launching conventional attacks against it (as in 1973) and it has not deterred asymmetric campaigns by nonstate actors.

The only role Israel’s nuclear arsenal may have played so far has been to deter attack from unconventional weapons, as in Iraq’s nonuse of chemical weapons against Israel during the 1991 Gulf War. But Israel’s air superiority and precision weapons could do that just as well.




Six major world powers and Iran are to hold fresh talks on Tehran's nuclear programme, the EU has said.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she had replied to a letter from Iran on behalf of the five UN Security Council members plus Germany.

Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili sent the letter last month proposing talks. No date or venue has been set.

The move comes amid fresh speculation of a pre-emptive military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities.

Iran insists there is no military element to its programme but Western powers fear it is constructing nuclear weapons.
Parchin access

The statement from Baroness Ashton said the EU hoped that Iran would "now enter into a sustained process of constructive dialogue which will deliver real progress in resolving the international community's long-standing concerns on its nuclear programme."

It added: "Our overall goal remains a comprehensive negotiated, long-term solution which restores international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme."



WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Benjamin Netanyahu assured President Barack Obama on Monday that Israel has not made any decision on attacking Iran's nuclear sites, sources close to the talks said, but the Israeli prime minister gave no sign of backing away from possible military action. With Obama appealing for more time to allow international sanctions to work against Tehran, the two men agreed to keep up their coordination on the issue, but differences remained on how to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. ...

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told US President Barack Obama that Israel must always remain "master of its fate".

Meeting the Israeli leader at the White House, Mr Obama said a nuclear Iran would be an "unacceptable" development.

On Sunday, Mr Obama told a pro-Israel conference in Washington there had been too much "loose talk" of war with Iran.

Israel fears Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, although Tehran insists its nuclear plans are peaceful.

"The bond between our two countries is unbreakable," Mr Obama said, as the two leaders sat side-by-side in the Oval Office.

In November 2011, at a G20 summit, journalists overheard a private exchange between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Mr Obama in which Mr Sarkozy called the Israeli leader a "liar".

Mr Obama replied: "You may be sick of him, but me, I have to deal with him every day."
'No hesitation'

In his speech on Sunday to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), Mr Obama said the US "will not hesitate" to use force to stop Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.

But he stressed that diplomacy could still succeed.

"Iran's leaders should know that I do not have a policy of containment - I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," Mr Obama told the annual Aipac conference.

"And as I've made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests."

President Obama has said Iran must be stopped from "possessing" a nuclear weapon. That probably will not happen for a couple of years. The Israeli government's red line is apparently when Iran has enough enriched uranium to make a bomb (and when they hide it deep underground). That could be later this year.

One Israeli journalist has written that the plan is to drag the US into a war just before the presidential elections in November. But this is not just about when to go to war. President Obama has stressed his reluctance to go to war at all. The US military feel this even more strongly.






WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama warned that he is not bluffing about attacking Iran if it builds a nuclear weapon, but in an interview published Friday, Obama also cautioned U.S. ally Israel that a premature attack on Iran would do more harm than good.

In his most expansive remarks on the issue thus far, Obama told The Atlantic magazine that Iran and Israel both understand that "a military component" is among a mix of many options for dealing with Iran, along with sanctions and diplomacy. That is the most direct threat he has issued during months of escalating tension with Iran over its disputed nuclear development program.
His comments appeared aimed more at Israel and its supporters in the United States than at Iran. Obama addresses the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Sunday and meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Monday at the White House. Netanyahu will also address AIPAC.
"I think that the Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don't bluff," he said in the interview. "I also don't, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are. But (both) governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say."
Netanyahu, speaking Friday ahead of a meeting in Canada with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, called Iran's nuclear ambitions a "grave threat to the peace and security of the world, and I think it's important that the international community not allow this threat to materialize."
"As for Israel, like any sovereign country, we reserve the right to defend ourselves against a country, against a country that calls and works for our destruction," Netanyahu said.
Obama will try to convince Netanyahu to postpone any plans his government may have to unilaterally attack Iran's nuclear facilities in coming months. An attack that soon would not carry U.S. backing, and the U.S. would probably not be involved in planning or executing it.
Nonetheless, it could force the United States into a new conflict and an arms race in the Middle East, as Obama made clear in the lengthy interview. It also could allow Iran to paint itself as the victim and draw new support that would undermine rather than enhance Israel's security, Obama warned.
"At a time when there is not a lot of sympathy for Iran and its only real ally (Syria) is on the ropes, do we want a distraction in which suddenly Iran can portray itself as a victim?" Obama said.
At the same time, Obama has consistently refused to renounce a military option for the United States down the road. The dispute with Israel is over the timing and efficiency of such a strike, not whether one is ever appropriate. The difference of opinion has quickly come to dominate the U.S.-Israeli relationship and the U.S. strategy for dealing with a nuclear Iran is a major issue for American Jewish voters in this election year.
Israeli leaders have strongly hinted that they want to hear clearer terms from Obama for what the United States would do if Iran crosses the threshold from nuclear energy to nuclear weapons. Until now, Obama has said a nuclear Iran is unacceptable but has not spelled out just what the U.S. would do or when.
In the interview, Obama did go further than he has before. He explicitly referred to the possible use of military force, and he firmly rejected the notion that the United States might settle for a strategy of deterring Iran from using a nuclear weapon.
"You're talking about the most volatile region in the world," he said. "It will not be tolerable to a number of states in that region for Iran to have a nuclear weapon and them not to have a nuclear weapon. Iran is known to sponsor terrorist organizations, so the threat of proliferation becomes that much more severe. "
He also pointed to economic turmoil in Iran and reiterated that sanctions against the Iranian regime are starting to bite.
In a series of recent meetings with Israeli leaders, administration officials are believed to have sought to persuade the Jewish state to give sanctions more time to work and to hold off on any military strike. Speaking Thursday to reporters, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Obama believes there is still "time and space" for those measure to persuade the Iranian regime to take a different course.
Israeli officials acknowledge the pain in Iran but have publicly expressed doubt those measures will ever cause Iran's clerical leaders to change course.
Obama wasn't so sure. "They're sensitive to the opinions of the people and they are troubled by the isolation that they're experiencing," he told the Atlantic. "They know, for example, that when these kinds of sanctions are applied, it puts a world of hurt on them."
Though Obama emphatically portrays himself as one of Israel's best friends, touting military and other ties, his relationship with Netanyahu has at times been frosty. The two have sparred publicly over Jewish settlements on the West Bank, with Netanyahu pushing back on Washington's efforts to move forward on peace talks with the Palestinians.
The Iran issue has risen to the forefront of his foreign policy. At a fundraiser in New York on Thursday night, an audience member shouted out, urging the president to avoid a war with Iran.
"Nobody has announced a war," Obama cautioned. "You're jumping the gun a little bit."



Defense Minister Ehud Barak strongly criticized President Shimon Peres on Thursday, after a Haaretz report revealed that Peres is expected to tell U.S. President Barack Obama that he does not believe Israel should attack Iran in the near future.

The two presidents are due to meet in Washington, D.C., on Sunday March 4.

"With all due respect to various officeholders from the past and present, the rumor that there is [only] one government in Israel has also reached the United States," Barak said sarcastically in private conversations, adding: "In the end, there is an elected [Israeli] government that makes the decisions and that is its responsibility."

During Barak's criticism of the Israeli president, he made reference to Peres' conduct in the early 1980s when Israel attacked the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak, when Menachem Begin was prime minister.

"It's the same Shimon Peres who in 1981 opposed the bombing of the reactor in Iraq," the defense minister said.

"Peres argued then that Begin was leading us to a holocaust, and there are those who claim that, to this day, Peres thinks the attack on the reactor was a mistake. Imagine what would have happened if the Americans and their allies had attempted to get [Iraqi dictator] Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait if he had three atomic bombs. The Americans said in retrospect that Begin was farsighted," Barak reportedly said.

Barak's harsh criticism of Peres is unusual in that over the past three years, the defense minister has carefully accorded respect to Peres, even meeting with him every Sunday before cabinet meetings.

Nonetheless, tension between the two has been simmering for over a year on the Iranian issue, as far back as the tenure of former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi.

In Barak's office, Ashkenazi - who opposed an assault on Iran - was thought to have enlisted Peres as a supporter of his stance during his dispute on the issue with Barak.

Thursday's Haaretz report about Peres raised eyebrows in both the Prime Minister's Office and in Barak's bureau. Sources close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the premier was surprised to read Peres' comments in the newspaper. They called the comments very disturbing, and added that although the president has the right to express an opinion, ultimately there is only one prime minister in Israel, and he's the one who is responsible for making decisions.

Peres and Netanyahu are scheduled to meet on Friday, which will give them an opportunity to discuss the issue. Thursday morning, however, staff from the two offices were already on the telephone with each other in an effort to head off a crisis. Peres' advisers denied the comments attributed to the Israeli president on the Iranian issue and also denied that he intended to convey such a message to President Obama.

After contact with Peres' office from the Prime Minister's Office and from Barak's office, Peres committed to redress the situation in a speech later in the day to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, toeing Netanyahu and Barak's line.

Peres delivered the speech on Thursday and underlined the fact that Israel is a sovereign country that has the right and the ability to defend itself. "When we say that all options are on the table on Iran, we really mean it," he told his audience. The president called a nuclear Iran a threat not only to Israel but to the entire world.


Late last week, amid little fanfare, Senators Joseph Lieberman, Lindsey Graham, and Robert Casey introduced a resolution that would move America further down the path toward war with Iran.
The good news is that the resolution hasn't been universally embraced in the Senate. As Ron Kampeas of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports, the resolution has "provoked jitters among Democrats anxious over the specter of war." The bad news is that, as Kampeas also reports, "AIPAC is expected to make the resolution an 'ask' in three weeks when up to 10,000 activists culminate its annual conference with a day of Capitol Hill lobbying."

In standard media accounts, the resolution is being described as an attempt to move the "red line"--the line that, if crossed by Iran, could trigger a US military strike. The Obama administration has said that what's unacceptable is for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. This resolution speaks instead of a "nuclear weapons capability." In other words, Iran shouldn't be allowed to get to a point where, should it decide to produce a nuclear weapon, it would have the wherewithal to do so.
By itself this language is meaninglessly vague. Does "capability" mean the ability to produce a bomb within two months? Two years? If two years is the standard, Iran has probably crossed the red line already. (So should we start bombing now?) Indeed, by the two-year standard, Iran might well be over the red line even after a bombing campaign--which would at most be a temporary setback, and would remove any doubt among Iran's leaders as to whether to build nuclear weapons, and whether to make its nuclear program impervious to future American and Israeli bombs. What do we do then? Invade?
In other words, if interpreted expansively, the "nuclear weapons capability" threshold is a recipe not just for war, but for ongoing war--war that wouldn't ultimately prevent the building of a nuclear weapon without putting boots on the ground. And it turns out that the authors of this resolution want "nuclear weapons capability" interpreted very expansively.

The key is in the way the resolution deals with the question of whether Iran should be allowed to enrich uranium, as it's been doing for some time now. The resolution defines as an American goal "the full and sustained suspension" of uranium enrichment by Iran. In case you're wondering what the resolution's prime movers mean by that: In a letter sent to the White House on the same day the resolution was introduced, Lieberman, Graham and ten other senators wrote, "We would strongly oppose any proposal that recognizes a 'right to enrichment' by the current regime or for [sic] a diplomatic endgame in which Iran is permitted to continue enrichment on its territory in any form."

This notwithstanding the fact that 1) enrichment is allowed under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty; (2) a sufficiently intrusive monitoring system can verify that enrichment is for peaceful purposes; (3) Iran's right to enrich its own uranium is an issue of strong national pride. In a poll published in 2010, after sanctions had already started to bite, 86 percent of Iranians said Iran should not "give up its nuclear activities regardless of the circumstances." And this wasn't about building a bomb; most Iranians said Iran's nuclear activities shouldn't include producing weapons.

Even Dennis Ross--who has rarely, in his long career as a Mideast diplomat, left much daylight between his positions and AIPAC's, and who once categorically opposed Iranian enrichment--now realizes that a diplomatic solution may have to include enrichment. Last week in a New York Times op-ed, he said that, contrary to pessimistic assessments, it may still be possible to get a deal that "uses intrusive inspections and denies or limits uranium enrichment [emphasis added]..."

The resolution plays down its departure from current policy by claiming that there have been "multiple" UN resolutions since 2006 demanding the "sustained" suspension of uranium. But the UN resolutions don't actually use that term. The UN has demanded suspension as a confidence-building measure that could then lead to, as one resolution puts it, a "negotiated solution that guarantees Iran's nuclear program is for exclusively peaceful purposes." And various Security Council members who voted on these resolutions have made it clear that Iranian enrichment of uranium can be part of this scenario if Iran agrees to sufficiently tight monitoring.
Indeed, that Iran's right to enrich uranium could be recognized under those circumstances is, Hillary Clinton has said, "the position of the international community, along with the United States." If the Lieberman-Graham-Casey resolution guides US policy, says George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, that would "preclude" fulfillment of the UN resolutions and isolate the US from the international coalition that backed them.

The Congressional resolution goes beyond the UN resolutions in another sense. It demands an end to Iran's ballistic missile program. Greg Thielmann of the Arms Control Association notes that, "Even after crushing Iraq in the first Gulf War, the international coalition only imposed a 150-kilometer range ceiling on Saddam's ballistic missiles. A demand to eliminate all ballistic missiles would be unprecedented in the modern era--removing any doubt among Iranians that the United States was interested in nothing less than the total subjugation of the country."

On the brighter side: Maybe it's a good sign that getting significant Democratic buy-in for this resolution took some strong-arming. According to Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now, the resolution got 15 Democratic supporters only "after days of intense AIPAC lobbying, particularly of what some consider 'vulnerable' Democrats (vulnerable in terms of being in races where their pro-Israel credentials are being challenged by the candidate running against them)." What's more, even as AIPAC was playing this hardball, the bill's sponsors still had to tone down some particularly threatening language in the resolution.
But, even so, the resolution defines keeping Iran from getting a nuclear weapons "capability" as being in America's "vital national interest," which is generally taken as synonymous with "worth war." And, though this "sense of Congress" resolution is nonbinding, AIPAC will probably seek unanimous Senate consent, which puts pressure on a president. Friedman says this "risks sending a message that Congress supports war and opposes a realistic negotiated solution or any de facto solution short of stripping Iran of even a peaceful nuclear capacity."

What's more, says Friedman, the non-binding status may be temporary. "Often AIPAC-backed Congressional initiatives start as non-binding language (in a resolution or a letter) and then show up in binding legislation. Once members of Congress have already signed on to a policy in non-binding form, it is much harder for them to oppose it when it shows up later in a bill that, if passed, will have the full force of law."
No wonder Democrats who worry about war have the "jitters."


TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran ordered a halt to its oil sales to Britain and France on Sunday in a move seen as retaliation against tightening EU sanctions, as a team of U.N. inspectors flew to Tehran to press the Islamic Republic over its disputed nuclear program.

The European Union enraged Tehran last month when it decided to impose a boycott on its oil from July 1. Iran, the world's fifth-largest oil exporter, responded by threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz, the main Gulf oil shipping lane.

On Sunday, its oil ministry went a step further, announcing Iran has now stopped selling oil to France and Britain altogether - a powerful yet largely symbolic message since neither European nation relies on Iranian crude imports.

"Exporting crude to British and French companies has been stopped ... we will sell our oil to new customers," spokesman Alireza Nikzad was quoted as saying on the ministry website.

Iran, which denies Western allegations that it is seeking to make nuclear weapons, has ramped up its rhetoric in recent weeks while also expressing willingness to resume negotiations on its nuclear program.




A five-member team from the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) flew to Tehran late on Sunday for talks, although Western diplomats have played down any hopes of a major breakthrough in the two-day meeting.

"I'm still pessimistic that Iran will demonstrate the substantive cooperation necessary," one envoy said in Vienna.

Yet the outcome of this week's discussions is important and will be watched closely because it could either intensify the standoff or offer scope to reduce tensions.

The European Commission says the bloc would not be short of oil if Iran stopped crude exports as it has enough stock to meet its needs for around 120 days.

Industry sources said European oil buyers were already making big cuts in purchases from Iran months in advance of EU sanctions. France's Total has stopped buying Iranian oil while debt-ridden Greece is most exposed to Iranian crude disruption among European countries.

MILITARY STRIKE?

Iran says its nuclear program is entirely peaceful but its refusal to curb uranium enrichment, which can have both military and civilian purposes, has raised concerns.

Western powers have not ruled out using force against Iran, and there has been an intense public discussion in Israel about whether it should attack Iran to stop it making a nuclear bomb.

However, on Sunday the top U.S. military officer said a military strike would be premature as it was not clear that Tehran would use its nuclear capabilities to build an atomic bomb.

"I believe it is unclear (that Iran would assemble a bomb) and on that basis, I think it would be premature to exclusively decide that the time for a military option was upon us," said General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff.

He said he believed the Iranian government was a "rational actor."

The West has expressed some optimism over the prospect of new talks with Tehran, particularly after it sent a letter to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton last week promising to bring "new initiatives" to the table.

"In these negotiations, we are looking for a way out of Iran's current nuclear issue so that both sides win," Iranian TV quoted Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi as saying on Sunday.

Oil is a major part of Iran's export revenues and an important lifeline for its increasingly isolated economy. It has little refining capacity and has to import about 40 percent of its gasoline needs for domestic consumption.

Tightening sanctions, combined with high inflation, have squeezed the ability of working-class Iranians to feed themselves and their families, and this uncertainty forms the backdrop to a parliamentary vote on March 2.

"Everything's become so expensive in the past few weeks," said Marjan Hamidi, an Iranian shopper in Tehran, "But my husband's income stays the same. How am I going to live like this?"

(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi and Ramin Mostafavi in Tehran, Susan Cornwell in Washington and Fredrik Dahl in Vienna; Writing by Maria Golovnina; Editing by Kevin Liffey)



Senior Israeli government official issues complete denial of Foreign Policy report that Mossad agents posed as CIA officers to recruit Pakistani terrorists to carry out attacks in Iran.

By Amir Oren Tags: Iran nuclear Israel spy Israel US Jonathan Pollard

A senior Israeli government official has called "absolute nonsense" a Friday report in Foreign Policy that Mossad agents posed as CIA officers in order to recruit members of a Pakistani terror group to carry out assassinations and attacks against the regime in Iran.

Quoting U.S. intelligence memos, Foreign Policy's Mark Perry reported that the Mossad operation was carried out in 2007-2008, behind the back of the U.S. government, and infuriated then U.S. President George W. Bush.

Perry quoted a number of American intelligence officials and claimed that the Mossad agents used American dollars and U.S. passports to pose as CIA spies to try to recruit members of Jundallah, a Pakistan-based Sunni extremist organization that has carried out a series of attacks in Iran and assassinations of government officials.

Israel generally refrains for responding to reports on alleged Mossad activities. However, in the wake of Perry's report as well as the official U.S. condemnation of the killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist in Tehran earlier this week, Israeli officials were quick to issue a complete denial of the report.

The concern was that leaving Perry's report without a response would revive tensions that existed between the U.S. and Israeli intelligence communities following the Jonathan Pollard affair in the 1980s. Pollard was sentenced to life in a U.S. prison after being convicted of spying for Israel.

The senior Israeli government official said that if there were any truth the claims in Perry's report, Meir Dagan, the head of the Mossad at the time of the alleged operation, would have been declared a persona non grata in the U.S. and that "Dagan's foot would not have walked again in Washington".



The US has condemned the killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist in a car bomb attack in north Tehran.
National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said the US "had absolutely nothing to do" with the attack.

Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan, who worked at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, died along with the driver of the car.

Several Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated in recent years, with Iran blaming Israel and the US.
Both deny any involvement.

Washington and its allies suspect Tehran of secretly trying to develop a nuclear weapons capacity but Iran insists its nuclear programme is peaceful.

"The United States had absolutely nothing to do with this. We strongly condemn all acts of violence, including acts of violence like this," said Mr Vietor.
Iran's Atomic Energy Organization described the killings as "a heinous act".

Western intelligence sources told Time magazine on Friday that Israel's Mossad is responsible for the latest assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist.

A magnetic bomb was attached to the door of 32-year-old Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan's car during the Wednesday morning rush-hour in Tehran. His driver was also killed. Sources tell the magazine Israel was behind three previous assassinations of scientists.

Iran scientist - AP - January 13, 2011 The shrouded body of Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan is seen prior to his burial in Tehran on January 13, 2012.
Photo by: AP 

A senior Israeli official told is quoted in the report as saying "yeah, one more… I don't feel sad for him."

On Saturday, Iranian state television said that Iran had evidence the United States was behind the latest assassination. We have reliable documents and evidence that this terrorist act was planned, guided and supported by the CIA," the Iranian foreign ministry said in a letter handed to the Swiss ambassador in Tehran, state TV reported.

"The documents clearly show that this terrorist act was carried out with the direct involvement of CIA-linked agents."

The Swiss Embassy has represented U.S. interests in Iran since Iran and the U.S. cut diplomatic ties shortly after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Tension has mounted between Iran and the West as the United States and European Union prepare measures aimed at imposing sanctions on the Iran's oil exports, its economic lifeblood.

The United States and Israel have not ruled out military action if diplomacy fails to resolve the nuclear dispute.
Also on Saturday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. has stepped up contingency planning in case Israel launches a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.

According to the report, U.S. defense officials are becoming increasingly concerned that Israel is preparing to carry out such a strike.

The U.S. military is reportedly preparing for a range of possible responses to an Israeli strike on Iran, including attacks by pro-Iranian Shiite militias against the U.S. Embassy in Iraq.

The report said that, largely as a deterrent to Iran, the U.S. has 15,000 soldiers in Kuwait and has moved a second aircraft carrier strike group to the Persian Gulf region.

Additionally, the U.S. has been pre-positioning aircraft and other military hardware and has accelerated arms transfers to U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf region.

According to the report, top U.S. officials, including President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, have sent a series of private messages to Israeli leaders warning about the consequences of a strike on Iran. The U.S. reportedly wants to give sanctions and other measures more time, as part of efforts to compel Iran to abandon its alleged work to build nuclear weapons.

Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by telephone on Thursday and General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will visit Israel next week.





TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Two assailants on a motorcycle attached a magnetic bomb to the car of an Iranian university professor working at a key nuclear facility, killing him and his driver Wednesday, reports said. The slayings suggest a widening covert effort to set back Iran's atomic program.

The attack in Tehran bore a strong resemblance to earlier killings of scientists working on the Iranian nuclear program. It is certain to amplify authorities' claims of clandestine operations by Western powers and their allies to halt Iran's nuclear advances.

The blast killed Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, a chemistry expert and a director of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran, state TV reported. State news agency IRNA said Roshan had "organizational links" to Iran's nuclear agency, which suggests a direct role in key aspects of the program.



TEHRAN, Nov 12 -- A massive explosion at a military arms depot near the Iranian capital Tehran on Saturday killed 17 Revolutionary Guards and wounded 15, a spokesman for the elite fighting force told the semi-official Fars news agency.

Officials said the blast was an accident which happened as troops were moving munitions at a base in Bidganeh, near the town of Shahriar, some 45 km west of Tehran.

The explosion shook homes and rattled windows for miles around, at a time of mounting tension with Israel over Iran's nuclear programme.

"Today at 13:30, (0900 GMT), an explosion happened in one of the Revolutionary Guards' bases while a consignment of explosive devices was being moved out from the arsenal, besides that some munitions in the arsenal exploded which created a terrifying sound," Revolutionary Guards spokesman Ramezan Sharif told state TV.

Sharif initially said 27 people had been killed but later revised that figure down to 17.

Residents in western suburbs of Tehran told Reuters they had felt the blast, some assuming it to be a moderate earthquake.

The explosion started a fire at the base which raged for hours. Surrounding streets were closed and reporters were kept away from the scene.

RISK

Some media reported there had been two explosions and the head of Iran's Red Crescent organisation said there was a risk of further blasts.

Mahmoud Mozafar told the Mehr news agency that only six paramedics had been allowed into the Amir Al-Momenin military base and that thick smoke was hampering the rescue operation.

There were no reports linking the blast to any air strike or other attack. Tension has risen in recent weeks between Iran and its enemies Israel and the United States, which have not ruled out attacking facilities whose occupants they believe are working towards making nuclear weapons.

Sharif denied what he said was speculation in the Western media that the military base was linked to Iran's nuclear programme.

"This blast is not related to any nuclear tests that some foreign media have reported," he told Mehr.

Tehran denies Western accusations, that were given some credence by a report from the UN nuclear agency this week, that its nuclear programme has military ends.

On Oct. 12 last year a similar blast at a Revolutionary Guards munitions store killed and wounded several servicemen in Khoramabad, western Iran. Authorities said that explosion was an accident too.



Huge Explosion at Iranian Nuke Processing Plant; Second Explosion at Missile Site

The war against Iran's nuclear program has already begun

A second Iranian nuclear facility has exploded, as diplomatic tensions rise between the West and Tehran

Read article in Hebrew: המלחמה הקרה בין ישראל לאיראן

Reports from Iran are that yet another "accident" may have occurred at a site involved in the Islamic Republic's nuclear ambitions. Early reports from Iran claimed that there was a massive explosion in the city of Isfahar, where uranium for the country's "peaceful nuclear plants" is processed. But later, those reports were yanked from Iranian news sites and the mullahs are in deny-it-ever-happened mode.
Ynet:
Less than two weeks after a mysterious explosion destroyed an Iranian missile base near Tehran, the Islamic Republic's official news agency Fars reported Tuesday that a loud blast was heard in the city of Isfahan at 2:40 pm local time, but later removed the report.

According to the initial report, search and rescue teams called to the scene confirmed the blast, but reported no injuries....In a curious turn of events, shortly after the initial report was published, the item was removed from the news agency's website, which is affiliated with the country's Revolutionary Guard.
Two weeks ago another explosion at an Iranian military base killed 17.

Above photo  courtesy Muqata who says that Israeli news sources indicate a second explosion at an Iranian missile base today.




Satellite imagery seen by The Times confirmed that a blast that rocked the city of Isfahan on Monday struck the uranium enrichment facility there, despite denials by Tehran.

The images clearly showed billowing smoke and destruction, negating Iranian claims yesterday that no such explosion had taken place. Israeli intelligence officials told The Times that there was "no doubt" that the blast struck the nuclear facilities at Isfahan and that it was "no accident".

The explosion at Iran's third-largest city came as satellite images emerged of the damage caused by one at a military base outside Tehran two weeks ago that killed about 30 members of the Revolutionary Guard, including General Hassan Moghaddam, the head of the Iranian missile defence program.

Iran claimed that the Tehran explosion occurred during testing on a new weapons system designed to strike at Israel. But several Israeli officials have confirmed that the blast was intentional and part of an effort to target Iran's nuclear weapons program.

On Monday, Isfahan residents reported a blast that shook tower blocks in the city at about 2.40pm and seeing a cloud of smoke rising over the nuclear facility on the edge of the city.

"This caused damage to the facilities in Isfahan, particularly to the elements we believe were involved in storage of raw materials," said one military intelligence source.

He would not confirm or deny Israel's involvement in the blast, instead saying that there were "many different parties looking to sabotage, stop or coerce Iran into stopping its nuclear weapons program".

Iran went into frantic denial yesterday as news of the explosion at Isfahan emerged. Alireza Zaker-Isfahani, the city's governor, claimed that the blast had been caused by a military exercise in the area but state-owned agencies in Tehran soon removed this story and issued a government denial that any explosion had taken place at all.

On Monday, Dan Meridor. the Israeli Intelligence Minister, said: "There are countries who impose economic sanctions and there are countries who act in other ways in dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat."

Major-General Giora Eiland, Israel's former director of national security, told Israel's army radio that the Isfahan blast was no accident. "There aren't many coincidences, and when there are so many events there is probably some sort of guiding hand, though perhaps it's the hand of God," he said.

A former Israeli intelligence official cited at least two other explosions that have "successfully neutralised" Iranian bases associated with the Shahab-3, the medium-range missile that could be adapted to carry a nuclear warhead. "This is something everyone in the West wanted to see happen," he added.

Iran has repeatedly denied the existence of a nuclear weapons program, and strongly condemned the International Atomic Energy Agency's report last month that accused Iran of trying to build a nuclear weapon.


In June 2010, the press reported that the computer system operating the uranium enrichment centrifuges at Natanz had been infected with a virus. A deadly worm, known as Stuxnet, had infiltrated the controllers, manufactured by Siemens.

Two weeks ago, a huge blast ripped through a Revolutionary Guards military base 40 kilometers west of Tehran. The explosion could be heard as far away as the capital. Dozens of people were killed, including the head of Iran's missile development project, General Hassan Tehrani Moqaddam. This week, there was a powerful explosion in Isfahan, Iran's third-largest city, which has a uranium conversion plant on its outskirts. It is not yet clear what was damaged in the blast.

These incidents involved three key elements of Iran's nuclear program. The first is uranium conversion (which comes after the mineral has been mined ), the second is enrichment, and the third is the delivery means.

Coupled with other incidents, including the assassination of several Iranian nuclear scientists, these events have worried the ayatollahs' regime, causing reactions ranging from embarrassment to anger. The public response usually follows a pattern: first a sweeping denial, then a limp and stuttering admission that "something happened," and finally the claim that it was an "accident." This shows that the regime does not know exactly what to say, and that its voice is not uniform. It also reflects the fierce dispute within the regime's top ranks. The leadership is divided, and the reactions come from a range of ministries, rival organizations and competing media outlets.

The kind of sabotage used in Iran requires sophistication, financial and technological resources, agents and precise intelligence. Someone, for example, had to know that General Moqaddam would be at the base that day to supervise a test, apparently of a new missile engine.

Infecting the computers required access to them: A person with a flash drive had to have plugged it into the system. The prevailing assumption is that foreign intelligence agencies are initiating, managing and executing the secret operations.

The Iranians, and international media outlets, believe these operations are the work of Israel's Mossad and possibly also a Western partner such as the CIA or Britain's MI6.

The Mossad's campaign to assassinate the Black September members behind the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre was code-named "Wrath of God." This week, when asked whether God had carried out the recent operations in Iran, former Mossad head Meir Dagan smilingly said yes. Dagan is known to be an ardent supporter of secret operations, as he told Yedioth Ahronoth explicitly this week. He believes it will be at least two years until Iran can assemble a functioning nuclear weapon. This assessment may be based on past secret operations and on Dagan's faith that future actions can indeed disrupt Iran's progress.

A senior American official went even farther. President Barack Obama's special assistant and coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction, proliferation and terrorism, Gary Samore, said in May 2011, "I'm glad to hear they are having troubles with their centrifuge machines, and the U.S. and its allies are doing everything we can to make it more complicated." Do we need any clearer statement that humans are behind the "hand of God"?

Even if the Mossad or the CIA are not involved in these incidents, the speculation that they are serves Western intelligence bodies by enhancing their image as "omnipotent," and heightening the Iranian leadership's fear. This is known as psychological warfare.

Still, with all due respect for Western intelligence's great efforts - including what is probably unprecedented operational coordination - it is unlikely these operations could have succeeded without inside support, meaning from individuals or groups ready to help sabotage the ayatollahs' regime. It should be remembered that Iran is a mosaic of ethnic minorities, and almost all have reasons for disliking the regime; some have their own underground armed militias.

The theory about inside-help gains traction given that, in addition to the military targets, other sites - including oil facilities, gas pipelines, trains and military bases - were also damaged over the past year. Last year there was a considerable increase, of at least 10 percent, in "breakdowns" and "accidents" at Iran's strategic infrastructure sites. Some were caused by poor maintenance, due in part to the international sanctions, but the volume of these incidents may also indicate the "hand of God" was involved. If this is the case, then it's possible that internal Iranian opposition groups (as opposed to exiles ) are stronger and even better organized than generally thought.

It is almost certain that Tehran's patience is about to run out. This was evidenced by the student mob's "conquest" of the British embassy this week. This was not spontaneous rage: It was a warning from a regime that realizes someone has declared war on it without leaving marks or fingerprints.

Sooner or later, the ayatollahs' regime will decide to react and will order its secret intelligence and operational units to retaliate. If and when this happens, Iran will take steps to conceal its involvement in such activities. However, past experience proves that despite the caution and sophistication of the Iranian secret services, they have often failed in obscuring their fingerprints.

Two weeks ago, a huge blast ripped through a Revolutionary Guards military base 40 kilometers west of Tehran. The explosion could be heard as far away as the capital. Dozens of people were killed, including the head of Iran's missile development project, General Hassan Tehrani Moqaddam. This week, there was a powerful explosion in Isfahan, Iran's third-largest city, which has a uranium conversion plant on its outskirts. It is not yet clear what was damaged in the blast.
These incidents involved three key elements of Iran's nuclear program. The first is uranium conversion (which comes after the mineral has been mined ), the second is enrichment, and the third is the delivery means.
Coupled with other incidents, including the assassination of several Iranian nuclear scientists, these events have worried the ayatollahs' regime, causing reactions ranging from embarrassment to anger. The public response usually follows a pattern: first a sweeping denial, then a limp and stuttering admission that "something happened," and finally the claim that it was an "accident." This shows that the regime does not know exactly what to say, and that its voice is not uniform. It also reflects the fierce dispute within the regime's top ranks. The leadership is divided, and the reactions come from a range of ministries, rival organizations and competing media outlets.
The kind of sabotage used in Iran requires sophistication, financial and technological resources, agents and precise intelligence. Someone, for example, had to know that General Moqaddam would be at the base that day to supervise a test, apparently of a new missile engine.
Infecting the computers required access to them: A person with a flash drive had to have plugged it into the system. The prevailing assumption is that foreign intelligence agencies are initiating, managing and executing the secret operations.
The Iranians, and international media outlets, believe these operations are the work of Israel's Mossad and possibly also a Western partner such as the CIA or Britain's MI6.
The Mossad's campaign to assassinate the Black September members behind the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre was code-named "Wrath of God." This week, when asked whether God had carried out the recent operations in Iran, former Mossad head Meir Dagan smilingly said yes. Dagan is known to be an ardent supporter of secret operations, as he told Yedioth Ahronoth explicitly this week. He believes it will be at least two years until Iran can assemble a functioning nuclear weapon. This assessment may be based on past secret operations and on Dagan's faith that future actions can indeed disrupt Iran's progress.
A senior American official went even farther. President Barack Obama's special assistant and coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction, proliferation and terrorism, Gary Samore, said in May 2011, "I'm glad to hear they are having troubles with their centrifuge machines, and the U.S. and its allies are doing everything we can to make it more complicated." Do we need any clearer statement that humans are behind the "hand of God"?
Even if the Mossad or the CIA are not involved in these incidents, the speculation that they are serves Western intelligence bodies by enhancing their image as "omnipotent," and heightening the Iranian leadership's fear. This is known as psychological warfare.
Still, with all due respect for Western intelligence's great efforts - including what is probably unprecedented operational coordination - it is unlikely these operations could have succeeded without inside support, meaning from individuals or groups ready to help sabotage the ayatollahs' regime. It should be remembered that Iran is a mosaic of ethnic minorities, and almost all have reasons for disliking the regime; some have their own underground armed militias.
The theory about inside-help gains traction given that, in addition to the military targets, other sites - including oil facilities, gas pipelines, trains and military bases - were also damaged over the past year. Last year there was a considerable increase, of at least 10 percent, in "breakdowns" and "accidents" at Iran's strategic infrastructure sites. Some were caused by poor maintenance, due in part to the international sanctions, but the volume of these incidents may also indicate the "hand of God" was involved. If this is the case, then it's possible that internal Iranian opposition groups (as opposed to exiles ) are stronger and even better organized than generally thought.
It is almost certain that Tehran's patience is about to run out. This was evidenced by the student mob's "conquest" of the British embassy this week. This was not spontaneous rage: It was a warning from a regime that realizes someone has declared war on it without leaving marks or fingerprints.
Sooner or later, the ayatollahs' regime will decide to react and will order its secret intelligence and operational units to retaliate. If and when this happens, Iran will take steps to conceal its involvement in such activities. However, past experience proves that despite the caution and sophistication of the Iranian secret services, they have often failed in obscuring their fingerprints.


Two weeks ago, a huge blast ripped through a Revolutionary Guards military base 40 kilometers west of Tehran. The explosion could be heard as far away as the capital. Dozens of people were killed, including the head of Iran's missile development project, General Hassan Tehrani Moqaddam. This week, there was a powerful explosion in Isfahan, Iran's third-largest city, which has a uranium conversion plant on its outskirts. It is not yet clear what was damaged in the blast.
These incidents involved three key elements of Iran's nuclear program. The first is uranium conversion (which comes after the mineral has been mined ), the second is enrichment, and the third is the delivery means.
Coupled with other incidents, including the assassination of several Iranian nuclear scientists, these events have worried the ayatollahs' regime, causing reactions ranging from embarrassment to anger. The public response usually follows a pattern: first a sweeping denial, then a limp and stuttering admission that "something happened," and finally the claim that it was an "accident." This shows that the regime does not know exactly what to say, and that its voice is not uniform. It also reflects the fierce dispute within the regime's top ranks. The leadership is divided, and the reactions come from a range of ministries, rival organizations and competing media outlets.
The kind of sabotage used in Iran requires sophistication, financial and technological resources, agents and precise intelligence. Someone, for example, had to know that General Moqaddam would be at the base that day to supervise a test, apparently of a new missile engine.
Infecting the computers required access to them: A person with a flash drive had to have plugged it into the system. The prevailing assumption is that foreign intelligence agencies are initiating, managing and executing the secret operations.
The Iranians, and international media outlets, believe these operations are the work of Israel's Mossad and possibly also a Western partner such as the CIA or Britain's MI6.
The Mossad's campaign to assassinate the Black September members behind the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre was code-named "Wrath of God." This week, when asked whether God had carried out the recent operations in Iran, former Mossad head Meir Dagan smilingly said yes. Dagan is known to be an ardent supporter of secret operations, as he told Yedioth Ahronoth explicitly this week. He believes it will be at least two years until Iran can assemble a functioning nuclear weapon. This assessment may be based on past secret operations and on Dagan's faith that future actions can indeed disrupt Iran's progress.
A senior American official went even farther. President Barack Obama's special assistant and coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction, proliferation and terrorism, Gary Samore, said in May 2011, "I'm glad to hear they are having troubles with their centrifuge machines, and the U.S. and its allies are doing everything we can to make it more complicated." Do we need any clearer statement that humans are behind the "hand of God"?
Even if the Mossad or the CIA are not involved in these incidents, the speculation that they are serves Western intelligence bodies by enhancing their image as "omnipotent," and heightening the Iranian leadership's fear. This is known as psychological warfare.
Still, with all due respect for Western intelligence's great efforts - including what is probably unprecedented operational coordination - it is unlikely these operations could have succeeded without inside support, meaning from individuals or groups ready to help sabotage the ayatollahs' regime. It should be remembered that Iran is a mosaic of ethnic minorities, and almost all have reasons for disliking the regime; some have their own underground armed militias.
The theory about inside-help gains traction given that, in addition to the military targets, other sites - including oil facilities, gas pipelines, trains and military bases - were also damaged over the past year. Last year there was a considerable increase, of at least 10 percent, in "breakdowns" and "accidents" at Iran's strategic infrastructure sites. Some were caused by poor maintenance, due in part to the international sanctions, but the volume of these incidents may also indicate the "hand of God" was involved. If this is the case, then it's possible that internal Iranian opposition groups (as opposed to exiles ) are stronger and even better organized than generally thought.
It is almost certain that Tehran's patience is about to run out. This was evidenced by the student mob's "conquest" of the British embassy this week. This was not spontaneous rage: It was a warning from a regime that realizes someone has declared war on it without leaving marks or fingerprints.
Sooner or later, the ayatollahs' regime will decide to react and will order its secret intelligence and operational units to retaliate. If and when this happens, Iran will take steps to conceal its involvement in such activities. However, past experience proves that despite the caution and sophistication of the Iranian secret services, they have often failed in obscuring their fingerprints.

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