Saturday, June 29, 2019

Iran Is Very Close to the Nuclear Threshold

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Iran is threatening to resume its uranium enrichment effort to the point that it will be able to produce a nuclear bomb. According to Olli Heinonen, who served until 2010 as IAEA deputy director general, Iran will be in a position to acquire nuclear weapons within six to eight months.

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano confirmed on June 10 that Iran is realizing its threat to increase its rate of uranium enrichment, in direct defiance of the terms of the nuclear agreement of 2015 (JCPOA).
On May 7, Tehran threatened that if no solution was found to the problem of US sanctions, it would ignore the restrictions on uranium enrichment placed on it by the nuclear agreement and enrich up to 20%. Two weeks later, on May 21, Iranian Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said the uranium enrichment capability at the Natanz plant had increased fourfold. As a result, Iran may soon exceed the limitation on the amount of uranium it is allowed to enrich under the JCPOA.
Former IAEA deputy director general Olli Heinonen recently stated, during a visit to Israel, that he believes Iran will be in a position to acquire nuclear weapons within six to eight months. He later clarified his remarks, explaining that he was referring to the time needed to enrich uranium in the quantity and quality required to produce a nuclear bomb.
Heinonen served as the IAEA’s deputy director general and was head of its inspection department in the last decade. He was considered a hawk on the matter of Iran’s nuclear program, in contrast to the feeble position toward Tehran taken by the previous IAEA DG, the Egyptian Muhammad al-Baradei.
Heinonen’s conclusion about Iran’s proximity to the nuclear weapons threshold apparently stems from an assessment of its capabilities in two areas: first, its uranium enrichment capacity today versus its capabilities before the nuclear deal was signed on July 14, 2015; and second, the progress it has made since 2003 in the development of nuclear explosive devices in the AMAD program. That program was intended to produce five 10-kiloton nuclear bombs (the size of the Hiroshima bomb in WWII) which could then be fitted onto the Shahab-3 ballistic missile warhead. This program was revealed when the Iranian nuclear archive was smuggled out by Israel.
After 2003, the nuclear program underwent various organizational changes in order to disguise its characteristics. It has operated since 2011 within the framework of the SPND organization.
According to the IAEA’s reports on Iran from 2013-14, before the nuclear deal was signed, the uranium enrichment plant in Natanz contained the following:
·        15,420 centrifuges from Iran’s first IR1 design, which enriched natural uranium to about 3.5% (nuclear fuel of power reactor grade)
·        328 IR1 centrifuges enriching uranium from 3.5% to 20% (nuclear fuel of research reactor grade)
·        1,008 more advanced centrifuges of the IR2m design (which apparently has twice as much enrichment capacity as the IR1 design). These centrifuges have not yet been activated
In addition, 2,710 IR1 centrifuges were installed at the Fordow enrichment facility, of which 696 were activated prior to the nuclear deal. They also enriched uranium from 3.5% to 20%.
It is reasonable to assume that if Iran breaks the nuclear agreement, it will – as soon as possible – restart all the centrifuges installed at Natanz and Fordow, as well as the advanced IR6 and IR8 models centrifuges that were developed in recent years. (According to Iranian experts, the enrichment capacity of IR8 is 20 times greater than that of IR1.) Based on data published by the IAEA, it can be roughly estimated that if Iran breaks the nuclear deal, it will be able to enrich uranium to about 20% at the rate of about 450 kilograms per year. It would then enrich the 20% uranium to 90% (the level of enrichment required to produce a nuclear weapon core) in the quantity of 200 to 250 kilograms – sufficient to produce more than 10 nuclear bombs a year.
Based on the assumption that the time needed for Iran to restart a full-scale uranium enrichment project is three to four months, and adding a month or two for the production of enriched uranium cores in the form of hollow hemispheres, it can be estimated that within half a year, Iran may have at least enough fissile material for one core of a nuclear weapon, and perhaps even more.
The IAEA has tried to monitor Iran’s facilities associated with the production or use of nuclear materials, in accordance with the NPT. However, it has not been able to uncover Iran’s secret activities in the various areas of development of a nuclear explosive device and installation of a ballistic missile. Most of the information gathered by the IAEA in these areas was received from Western intelligence services.
The most significant breakthrough in exposing the Iranian nuclear program was Israel’s Iranian archive operation. Documents in that archive indicate that as long ago as 2003 and 2004, Iran made great progress in its nuclear effort, far beyond what the Western intelligence services and the IAEA estimated at the time. Had the information in the archive been exposed before the signing of the JCPOA nuclear deal in 2015, a better agreement would have been signed.
The Iranian nuclear archive operation and a comprehensive description of its contents were revealed by PM Benjamin Netanyahu on April 30, 2018. From October 2018 through May 21, 2019, the Washington Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), headed by David Albright, presented a series of highly detailed reports on the contents of the archive, including information about secret facilities that had not yet been exposed. In addition to Albright and others, Heinonen was also involved in these revelations.
Key elements of the nuclear program were conducted at the Parchin military site, about 30 kilometers north of Tehran. The IAEA was informed in 2004 of the possibility that the site was conducting activities related to the development of nuclear weapons, and asked Iran to allow its inspectors to patrol it. At first, Iran evaded the request by claiming that it wanted to maintain military field security, as Parchin was a military base. However, in January 2005, it granted the inspectors partial access to a few buildings on the site.
The inspectors did not find any evidence of suspicious activity at Parchin. On their second visit (November 2005), which also involved only a small part of the site, they took soil samples. The IAEA’s subsequent testing of those samples did not substantiate suspicions of nuclear activity at Parchin.
But in 2011, the IAEA received new reports that Parchin was testing explosives related to the development of nuclear weapons.
In May 2012, suspicious activity was detected at Parchin through satellite photographs: the Iranians had destroyed some of the buildings they had forbidden IAEA inspectors to visit in 2005. Not only that: they completely razed the areas surrounding where the buildings had stood.
It was not until September 2015, after the signing of the nuclear deal, that Iran allowed IAEA inspectors to revisit Parchin. Once again, the inspectors took soil samples, and once again, the IAEA’s lab tests revealed nothing.
The samples were reexamined in US labs, however, and found to contain a few uranium particles – proof that Parchin had indeed seen nuclear activity.

Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Raphael Ofek, a BESA Center Research Associate, is an expert in the field of nuclear physics and technology who served as a senior analyst in the Israeli intelligence community.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Why is Iran taking such risks and playing an endgame of Russian roulette?

President Donald Trump announced on June 22 that the US would impose “major” additional sanctions on Iran


The question on the minds of Middle East leaders is: Why is Iran taking such risks and playing an endgame of Russian roulette?

On Thursday, June 20, President Donald Trump ordered a retaliatory attack on Iran for the downing of a US surveillance drone in the Strait of Hormuz. The order was rescinded just before it was due to be carried out. Why? The president had determined that the number of fatalities likely to have occurred would be too great.

Trump tweeted: “We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General. 10 minutes before the strike... I stopped it.”

The president wrote that such a death toll was “not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone.” Trump added: “I am in no hurry, our Military is rebuilt, new, and ready to go, by far the best in the world. Sanctions are biting & more added last night. Iran can NEVER have Nuclear Weapons, not against the USA, and not against the WORLD!”

The consensus is that the US military is superior to that of Iran in every substantial fashion. The Iranian Air Force contains approximately 330 combat aircraft. These include old or archaic Russian and Chinese aircraft, and the US F-14s that were purchased by the shah of Iran prior to the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei bragged about his “3 Khordad” system ,reported by the Fars News Agency to have been used to shoot down the US military drone on Thursday. The Iranian Navy possesses about 130 combatant ships and three diesel submarines. Its military ground troops number over half a million. This includes about 350,000 soldiers in the army and another 150,000 in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, an entity which the Trump administration has just designated a terrorist organization.

Why has Iran’s leadership become so emboldened? Their rationale for baiting the US is certainly not calculated using the criteria of mutually assured destruction (MAD), as Iran is ruled by clerics on an apocalyptic mission to usher in the Mahdi, the twelfth descendant of Muhammad. 

This event was certainly lauded by the former president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Following a speech at the UN General Assembly, he was touted as saying: “One of our group told me when I started to say, ‘In the name of God the Almighty, the Merciful,’ he saw a light around me, and I was placed inside this aura and I felt it myself. I felt the atmosphere suddenly change, and for those 27 or 28 minutes the leaders of the world did not blink. When I say they did not bat an eyelid, I am not exaggerating because I was looking at them.”

I had arranged an interview between Ahmadinejad and Fox News after he spoke at the UN in November 2005. Before the appearance, a number of mullahs were seated in a row, praying to Allah for the Mahdi to empower Ahmadinejad. He had told me earlier that Iranian people die 20 years before Zionists. When I asked him why he thought that was, he said the Zionists injected poison into rats and released them in Iran’s fields to infect their crops.

President Trump has been sorely tried by Iran this past year. Its leaders have sanctioned blowing up ships in the Gulf of Oman, using its proxies to fire missiles into Saudi Arabia, targeting one unmanned US drone and downing a second one, and releasing pictures and video of leaders showing off parts of the drone. Iran openly and unabashedly arms its proxies in Lebanon, Syria and Gaza, and its paramilitary units in Iraq. A rocket was aimed toward the US Embassy in Baghdad. Had the missile hit the building, the US would have been forced to take decisive action.

These offenses have thus far tested the patience of the Trump administration. Iran seems determined to see how far it can go before Trump is goaded into retaliating. Is Ali Khamenei using the same humiliating tactics that Ayatollah Khomeini employed against Jimmy Carter? The Iranian hostage crisis was certainly one cause of Mr. Carter’s downfall.

On September 23, 1980, I was invited to dinner at the home of then-Mossad director Isser Harel. Reuven Hecht, senior adviser to prime minister Menachem Begin, was there. I asked Harel: “Will terrorism come to America?” His response was, “Yes, they will strike your tallest building in New York City – the Empire State building.” (At that time, the World Trade Center had not been built.)

My second question was, “What is Anwar Sadat’s future?” Harel responded, “The Muslim Brotherhood will kill him. We have saved his life twice already.” My final question was, “Who do you think will be the next US president?” (Jimmy Carter was ahead of Ronald Reagan in the polls.) Harel’s reply was, “The Iranians will have something to say about that. When Reagan places his hand on the Bible to take the oath of office, the American hostages will be released.”

On the morning of the inauguration, my phone rang. It was Reuben Hecht. He shouted, “Harel is a prophet! Look at your television. The hostages are being released as Reagan is taking the oath of office.”

I learned later that Iran had refused to release the hostages in order to keep Carter from being reelected. Cyrus Vance was negotiating through the Algerians for the release of 52 American hostages that had been held for 444 days. The United States imposed a trade embargo against Iran and demanded that the hostages be freed. Iran demanded unblocking Iran’s frozen assets in the US ($24 billion) to release the hostages. Shortly after 4 a.m. on Inauguration Day, January 20, 1981, the Carter administration relinquished $7.98 billion to the Iranians. According to one source, the transfer required 14 banks and the participation of five nations acting concurrently.

The Carter administration had been complicit in the overthrow of the shah of Iran. The shah’s widow, Empress Farah Pahlavi, told me during an interview in 2008: “My husband said to me that if Jimmy Carter keeps this up [his apparent vendetta against the shah], ultimately Khomeini will come back, and with him will come an Islamic revolution. The Russians will invade Afghanistan, Iraq will go to war against Iran, and who knows what horror will come upon the world?”

In my interview with former French president, the late Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, I was told that Carter was a “bastard of conscience, a moralist who treated with total lightness the abandonment of an ally that we had supported in exchange for a cleric Carter thought would be better for human rights.”

Ayatollah Khomeini soon moved beyond the borders of Iran and unleashed countless terrorist proxies on the world. In 1983, a little past 6 a.m. in Beirut, I was standing on a beachhead along the beautiful Mediterranean, talking with a group of US marines. The troops, stationed at Beirut International Airport, were just beginning a new day. One marine sentry at the airport gate looked up to see a big yellow Mercedes truck barreling down on the compound’s security gate.

The truck carried explosives, later determined to equal six tons of TNT. The driver rammed into the lower floor of the barracks, discharging his deadly cargo. The four-story building pancaked floor by floor into a heap of rubble. Many of the 241 troops inside were not killed by the blast, but crushed beneath the cinder-block building as it fell.

The threat has not lessened with time. What action might President Trump be forced to take in order to keep the world safe from the mad mullahs – and an Ayatollah determined at all costs to keep a death grip on the country of Iran while exporting terrorism?

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

An excerpt from Iran’s Constitution - the ideological mission of jihad

In the formation and equipping of the country's defence forces, due attention must be paid to faith and ideology as the basic criteria. Accordingly, the Army of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps are to be organized in conformity with this goal, and they will be responsible not only for guarding and preserving the frontiers of the country, but also for fulfilling the ideological mission of jihad in God's way; that is, extending the sovereignty of God's law throughout the world (this is in accordance with the Koranic verse "Prepare against them whatever force you are able to muster, and strings of horses, striking fear into the enemy of God and your enemy, and others besides them" [8:60]).

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Economic boon and more terrorism?

Letters to the Editor, Jerusalem Post, June 24, 2019

Regarding “Kushner reveals peace plan to invest $50b. into region” (June 23), I hope this economic prosperity is not the gist of the peace plan. Palestinians commit acts of terrorism not because they are economically frustrated but because they are waging jihad.


Friday, June 21, 2019

Warning: Iran may actually seek mutual destruction

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Weekly Commentary: Warning: Iran may actually seek mutual destruction

Dr. Aaron Lerner 20 June 2019

Policymakers considering the challenge presented by Iran today would be well
advised to heed the warning of Bernard Lewis:

"...In Islam, as in Judaism and Christianity, there are certain beliefs
concerning the cosmic struggle at the end of time -- Gog and Magog,
anti-Christ, Armageddon, and for Shiite Muslims, the long awaited return of
the Hidden Imam, ending in the final victory of the forces of good over
evil, however these may be defined. Mr. Ahmadinejad and his followers
clearly believe that this time is now, and that the terminal struggle has
already begun and is indeed well advanced....

A passage from the Ayatollah Khomeini, quoted in an 11th-grade Iranian
schoolbook, is revealing. "I am decisively announcing to the whole world
that if the world-devourers [i.e., the infidel powers] wish to stand against
our religion, we will stand against their whole world and will not cease
until the annihilation of all them. Either we all become free, or we will go
to the greater freedom which is martyrdom. Either we shake one another's
hands in joy at the victory of Islam in the world, or all of us will turn to
eternal life and martyrdom. In both cases, victory and success are ours."

In this context, mutual assured destruction, the deterrent that worked so
well during the Cold War, would have no meaning. At the end of time, there
will be general destruction anyway. What will matter will be the final
destination of the dead -- hell for the infidels, and heaven for the
believers. For people with this mindset, MAD is not a constraint; it is an

Bernard Lewis The Wall Street Journal Aug. 8, 2006

Time and again simulations have been carried out during which those assigned
the Iranian roles operated under the working assumption that the ultimate
goal of the Iranian leadership is to remain in power.

The true outcome could be dramatically different if Bernard Lewis is right.
IMRA - Independent Media Review and Analysis
Since 1992 providing news and analysis on the Middle East with a focus on
Arab-Israeli relations

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Yes Prime Minister On the Arabs and Israel

Nothing much has changed in 30 years. The USSR is no more, but British policy towards Israel remains as it used be. 

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Bret Stephens: If Iran won’t change its behavior, we should sink its navy.


The Pirates of Tehran

If Iran won’t change its behavior, we should sink its navy.

June 14, 2019

On April 14, 1988, the U.S.S. Samuel B. Roberts, a frigate, hit an Iranian naval mine while sailing in the Persian Gulf. The explosion injured 10 of her crew and nearly sank the ship. Four days later, the U.S. Navy destroyed half the Iranian fleet in a matter of hours. Iran did not molest the Navy or international shipping for many years thereafter.

Now that’s changed. Iran’s piratical regime is back yet again to its piratical ways.

Or so it seems, based on a detailed timeline of Thursday’s attackson two tankers in the Gulf of Oman provided by the U.S. Central Command, including a surveillance video of one of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps patrol boats removing an unexploded limpet mine from the hull of one of the damaged tankers.

The Iranians categorically deny responsibility. And the Trump administration has credibility issues, to put it mildly, which is one reason why electing a compulsive prevaricator to the presidency is dangerous to national security.

In this case, however, the evidence against Iran is compelling. CentCom’s account notes that “a U.S. aircraft observed an IRGC Hendijan class patrol boat and multiple IRGC fast attack craft/fast inshore attack craft (FAC/FIAC) in the vicinity of the M/T Altair,” one of the damaged tankers. The Iranian boats are familiar to the U.S. Navy after decades of observing them at close range. And staging deniable attacks that fall just below the threshold of open warfare on the U.S. is an Iranian specialty.

Trump might be a liar, but the U.S. military isn’t. There are lingering questions about the types of munitions that hit the ships, and time should be given for a thorough investigation. But it would require a large dose of self-deception (or conspiracy theorizing) to pretend that Iran isn’t the likely culprit, or that its actions don’t represent a major escalation in the region.

That raises two questions, one minor, the other much more consequential.

The minor question is why the Iranians did it. There has been a pattern of heightened Iranian aggression for nearly two months, including highly sophisticated attacks on four oil tankers near the Emirati port of Fujairah on May 12.

This might be seen as a response to the resumption of major U.S. sanctions, which have had a punishing effect on Iran’s economy. Except that Tehran did nothing to moderate its behavior after the nuclear deal was signed, and most sanctions were lifted, in 2016.

It might also be seen as an effort by regime hard-liners to sabotage the possibility of a resumption of nuclear negotiations. It’s hard to believe it was just a coincidence that the attacks on the ships, one of which was Japanese, coincided with the visit to Tehran by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan. Then again, the I.R.G.C. was a major economic beneficiary of the nuclear deal, so it’s not exactly clear why it would want to stop a new one.

The most likely explanation was offered by Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who suggested that Iran’s purpose was “to demonstrate that Trump is a Twitter Tiger.”

It’s not a bad guess. The Iranians know that vainglory and timidity often go hand in hand.

Trump went from apocalyptic to smitten with Kim Jong-un in a matter of weeks after concluding that the risks of a confrontation with North Korea just weren’t worth it. He’s delivered similar mixed messages toward Tehran. Driving a crisis in the Middle East so that the U.S. president can “solve” it with a fresh nuclear deal on even easier terms than Obama’s would be a canny Iranian gambit.

Which brings us to the consequential question: What’s the proper U.S. response?

It can’t be the usual Trumpian cycle of bluster and concession. Neither can it be the liberal counsel of feckless condemnation followed by inaction. Firing on unarmed ships in international waters is a direct assault on the rules-based international order in which liberals claim to believe. To allow it to go unpunished isn’t an option.

What is appropriate is a new set of rules — with swift consequences if Iran chooses to break them. The Trump administration ought to declare new rules of engagement to allow the Navy to engage and destroy Iranian ships or fast boats that harass or threaten any ship, military or commercial, operating in international waters. If Tehran fails to comply, the U.S. should threaten to sink any Iranian naval ship that leaves port.

If after that Iran still fails to comply, we would be right to sink its navy, in port or at sea. The world cannot tolerate freelance Somali pirates. Much less should it tolerate a pirate state seeking to hold the global economy hostage through multiplying acts of economic terrorism.

Nobody wants a war with Iran. But not wanting a war does not mean remaining supine in the face of its outrages. We sank Iran’s navy before. Tehran should be put on notice that we are prepared and able to do it again.

Bret L. Stephens has been an Opinion columnist with The Times since April 2017. He won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary at The Wall Street Journal in 2013 and was previously editor in chief of The Jerusalem Post. @BretStephensNYT 


My comment:    

I do not think that Trump's terms would be "even easier terms than Obama’s "  On the contrary.

Douglas Murray at his best - Israel & Nuclear Iran

The proposition being put before you tonight is that you have a choice between war and an Iran with the bomb.  You have a choice as has been said before, between war and dishonor – you will choose dishonor this evening and you will get war.  You have a choice between a war with a nuclear Iran, or a war at some point, with an Iran that is not nuclear which you stop from ever being nuclear, and hope that in stopping that regime  in embedding itself, you will give the Iranian people the best chance of overthrowing that regime. But as I say, thank God this does not rely on you or any Europeans. Because you’ve made the same mistake before and nobody should trust you to get it right this time.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

A deterrent strategy is aimed at a rational enemy

Albert Wohlstetter

The central issue: nuclear Iran

In “2019 is becoming Israel’s ‘lost year’” (May 31), Yaakov Katz writes: “There was no talk about the issues that Israelis really care about – social equality, matters of religion and state, the lack of civil marriage, education, health and more.” 

There was also no talk about the Iranian nuclear threat. Why do Israelis refuse to talk about the only topic the resolution of which is the precondition for all others to have meaning since matters of religion and state, the lack of civil marriage, education and health would be pointless in a rubble after an Iranian nuclear attack?

Are Israelis in collective denial? Netanyahu’s legal troubles or not, we all seem to forget what Albert Wohlstetter wrote in his 1958 paper “The Delicate Balance of Terror” – “A deterrent strategy is aimed at a rational enemy.”