US, UK know Iran attacked oil tanker, but are unlikely to strike back

Posted August 3, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Blinken promises a ‘collective response,’ but any military reaction will have to come from Israel

Lazar Berman

By LAZAR BERMANToday, 4:01 am  

This Jan. 2, 2016 file photo shows the Liberian-flagged oil tanker Mercer Street off Cape Town, South Africa. (Johan Victor via AP)

This Jan. 2, 2016 file photo shows the Liberian-flagged oil tanker Mercer Street off Cape Town, South Africa. (Johan Victor via AP)

The once-covert maritime war between Israel and Iran seemed to escalate further on Thursday night, when an oil tanker operated by an Israeli-owned company was struck by armed drones off the coast of Oman.

Two ship crewmen, a British and a Romanian national, died in the attack on the Mercer Street, a ship operated by Zodiac Maritime, a London-based company belonging to Israeli tycoon Eyal Ofer.

Analysts said the attack bore all the hallmarks of tit-for-tat exchanges in the shadow war between Israel and Iran, in which vessels linked to each nation have been targeted in waters around the Gulf.

But the latest incident seemed like a significant and perhaps dangerous departure from the established rules of the game, in that it was the first known fatal attack after years of assaults on commercial shipping in the region.

The US and Britain followed Israel in blaming Iran for the attack, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken promising Monday that “there will be a collective response.”Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

Earlier Monday, Iran pledged that it would “not hesitate to protect its security and national interests, and will immediately and decisively respond to any possible adventurism.

Despite the widespread belief that Iran was directly responsible for the lethal strike, the attack should not be seen as a significant chapter in the long struggle between Iran and Israel. Nor should Israel expect major world powers to act militarily against Tehran, despite Blinken’s tough-sounding message.

“I don’t think it’s going to change the big picture,” said Yoel Guzansky, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

Iran’s modus operandi

The attacks on Israel-linked ships come as Iran is being blamed for a parallel campaign against US forces in Iraq and western Syria. Bases housing US troops and contractors have been struck by missiles and drones launched by Iranian-backed militias in Iraq.

Iran has made sure to avoid any direct involvement in these low-level, rather unsophisticated strikes, and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps leader Esmail Ghaani was even said to have tried unsuccessfully to urge the militias to refrain from attacks on Americans until after the nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA, is reconstituted.In this photo released by the official website of the Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader, Gen. Esmail Ghaani, newly appointed commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, weeps while praying over the coffin of the force’s previous head Gen. Qassem Soleimani at the Tehran University Campus in Tehran, Iran on January 6, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

“The shipping attacks are a bit different because they’re clearly carried out by the Iranians,” said Jack Watling, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in the United Kingdom.

Though Iran vehemently denies any involvement in Thursday’s maritime strike, it has no proxies that could have carried it out. The only Iran-backed group that could operate drones that far south is the Houthis in Yemen, but they don’t have the means of carrying out such a sophisticated attack.

The Houthis do, however, have a record of claiming responsibility for drone and missiles attacks that were clearly the work of Iranian forces. The Houthis, for example, said they carried out the September 2019 Aramco strikes that temporarily cut Saudi oil production in half, but major world powers, as well as the Saudis, agreed it was an Iranian operation.

“The Houthis have a long history of activity where their claims don’t match up with what happened, where they’re claiming actions that the Iranians conducted,” Watling pointed out. “I think it’s pretty clear that Iran is responsible and not the Houthis in this case.”During a trip organized by the Saudi information ministry, workers fix the damage in Aramco’s oil separator at processing facility after the September 14 attack in Abqaiq, near Dammam in the Kingdom’s Eastern Province, September 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

“The Mercer Street attack marks the confluence of two trends in Iranian regional aggression: attacking commercial vessels at sea and using drones,” Ari Cicurel, a senior policy analyst at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America, told The Times of Israel.

“This latest attack represents a growing tendency by Iran and its proxies to use drones, particularly armed suicide drones across the Middle East, which are challenging for existing air defense systems to intercept,” he said.

It is unclear exactly what Iran was seeking to accomplish with the attack, though it seemed to fit an Iranian pattern of striking Israel-linked vessels in response to Israeli actions in Syria or at sea.

On February 26, a blast struck the Israeli-owned MV Helios Ray, a Bahamian-flagged cargo ship, in the Gulf of Oman. The operation seemed to have been carefully planned, and mirrored a series of attacks on tankers in 2019 and an Iranian campaign against shipping vessels four decades ago.This picture taken on February 28, 2021 shows a view of the Israeli-owned Bahamian-flagged MV Helios Ray cargo ship docked in Dubai’s Mina Rashid (Port Rashid) cruise terminal. (Giuseppe CACACE / AFP)

In subsequent months, other Israeli-owned ships came under missile fire in the Indian Ocean.

The Mercer Street strike would appear to fit that pattern.

Tehran certainly didn’t intend to sink the Mercer Street, as the drones carried a small payload and targeted the superstructure, not the hull, of the ship, similar to the strikes against other Israel-linked ships.

The attack might also have been influenced by the stalled Vienna nuclear talks.

“Iranian projectile attacks seek to increase Tehran’s influence in the Middle East and pressure the United States to reenter the JCPOA,” said Cicurel. “With a hardline Iranian president taking office, Iran may be testing the resolve of the new Israeli government, as well as the UK and US governments.”File: Russia’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mikhail Ulyanov, stands in front of the Grand Hotel Vienna where closed-door nuclear talks with Iran take place, in Vienna, Austria, Wednesday, June 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Lisa Leutner)

Iran and the US have been holding indirect talks in Vienna since April over a return to the 2015 deal, which granted Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for significant curbs on its nuclear program.

The sixth round of talks adjourned in late June, and while the Biden administration has expressed interest in returning to the negotiating table, US officials have voiced increasing pessimism regarding the chances for an agreement.

There is also the possibility that the drone strike was not part of a broad Iranian strategy. The Iranian system is not especially well-integrated, especially between the executive branch and the IRGC, and attacks have been carried out in the past without the knowledge of the president.

The queen’s gambit

The Mercer Street is managed by a London-based company, but it is unlikely that Iran was looking to specifically target the UK.

Because the attack killed a British citizen, London will be forced to respond in some way. Still, based on past incidents, Israel should not anticipate a kinetic attack by UK forces.Iranian Revolutionary Guards patrol around the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero while it is anchored off the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas, on July 21, 2019. (Hasan Shirvani / MIZAN NEWS AGENCY / AFP)

In July 2019, the IRGC navy seized a British tanker — ignoring warnings from a British warship — and held it for two months. The UK did not strike Iran militarily in response to the brazen move.

Nor did the British military act when 15 Royal Navy personnel were seized by Iranian forces in the Persian Gulf in 2007.

If the British do act, it will likely be in the diplomatic or economic spheres.

“In the UK’s case, there is a preference to say that if you cause the UK problems in one area, we will demonstrate a capacity to cause you problems in a seemingly unrelated area,” Watling explained.

The Biden administration isn’t likely to act either, according to Guzansky, who said, “I don’t see the climate right now. Bear in mind there are the negotiations in Vienna.”

“The public statements [about Iranian complicity] may be about providing a green light for an Israeli response,” said Cicurel.

Israel’s options

Israel, however, has shown that it is willing to strike Iranian assets and allies in Syria, and even at sea — a form of deterrence by punishment.

“Unlike the UK, Israel is quite comfortable engaging in this type of behavior,” said Watling.Screen capture from video said to show the Iranian ship MV Saviz, on fire following an explosion as it was anchored off the coast of Yemen. (Screenshot: Twitter)

In March, the Wall Street Journal reported that Israel has targeted at least 12 ships bound for Syria, most of them transporting Iranian oil, with mines and other weapons, starting in late 2019.

Israel is also believed to be behind the April attack on the Saviz in the Red Sea,  described as an IRGC “mothership.”

But this attack won’t necessarily lead to another retaliatory strike by Israel on Iranian shipping.

“I don’t get a sense at the moment that the Israeli government feels that this is beyond acceptable,” said Watling.

Moreover, while Israel’s operations in Syria seem to have forced decision-makers in Tehran to accept that they would be wise to avoid attacking Israeli soldiers and infrastructure from across the border, the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman are different stories entirely.An Israeli Navy Dolphin-class submarine. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Israel has little capacity – beyond submarines — to project power there, while Iran has invested heavily in pursuing hegemony over the seas in its neighborhood, including the Strait of Hormuz, a key shipping lane.

“The experience that we have is that the Iranians are not hesitating to escalate in an area where the Israeli Navy has no capability to operate,” said Prof. Shaul Chorev, head of the University Of Haifa’s Maritime Policy & Strategy Research Center.

“It’s a bit of an overstretch,” said Guzansky. “I would advise Israel to leave it. Iran made a mistake and it will pay for it in the international arena.”

So far, Israel is pursuing the diplomatic avenue aggressively.

On Friday, Lapid said he had ordered Israeli diplomats to push for UN action against “Iranian terrorism.”

“I’ve instructed the embassies in Washington, London and the UN to work with their interlocutors in government and the relevant delegations in the UN headquarters in New York,” Lapid said on Twitter.

Marshalling a firm international response would be a major achievement by the Lapid-Bennett government. But with the Vienna talks looking increasingly fragile, many world powers have bigger issues on their minds.

US, UK know Iran attacked oil tanker, but are unlikely to strike back

Posted August 3, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Blinken promises a ‘collective response,’ but any military reaction will have to come from Israel

Lazar Berman

By LAZAR BERMANToday, 4:01 am  

This Jan. 2, 2016 file photo shows the Liberian-flagged oil tanker Mercer Street off Cape Town, South Africa. (Johan Victor via AP)

This Jan. 2, 2016 file photo shows the Liberian-flagged oil tanker Mercer Street off Cape Town, South Africa. (Johan Victor via AP)

The once-covert maritime war between Israel and Iran seemed to escalate further on Thursday night, when an oil tanker operated by an Israeli-owned company was struck by armed drones off the coast of Oman.

Two ship crewmen, a British and a Romanian national, died in the attack on the Mercer Street, a ship operated by Zodiac Maritime, a London-based company belonging to Israeli tycoon Eyal Ofer.

Analysts said the attack bore all the hallmarks of tit-for-tat exchanges in the shadow war between Israel and Iran, in which vessels linked to each nation have been targeted in waters around the Gulf.

But the latest incident seemed like a significant and perhaps dangerous departure from the established rules of the game, in that it was the first known fatal attack after years of assaults on commercial shipping in the region.

The US and Britain followed Israel in blaming Iran for the attack, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken promising Monday that “there will be a collective response.”Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

Earlier Monday, Iran pledged that it would “not hesitate to protect its security and national interests, and will immediately and decisively respond to any possible adventurism.

Despite the widespread belief that Iran was directly responsible for the lethal strike, the attack should not be seen as a significant chapter in the long struggle between Iran and Israel. Nor should Israel expect major world powers to act militarily against Tehran, despite Blinken’s tough-sounding message.

“I don’t think it’s going to change the big picture,” said Yoel Guzansky, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

Iran’s modus operandi

The attacks on Israel-linked ships come as Iran is being blamed for a parallel campaign against US forces in Iraq and western Syria. Bases housing US troops and contractors have been struck by missiles and drones launched by Iranian-backed militias in Iraq.

Iran has made sure to avoid any direct involvement in these low-level, rather unsophisticated strikes, and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps leader Esmail Ghaani was even said to have tried unsuccessfully to urge the militias to refrain from attacks on Americans until after the nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA, is reconstituted.In this photo released by the official website of the Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader, Gen. Esmail Ghaani, newly appointed commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, weeps while praying over the coffin of the force’s previous head Gen. Qassem Soleimani at the Tehran University Campus in Tehran, Iran on January 6, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

“The shipping attacks are a bit different because they’re clearly carried out by the Iranians,” said Jack Watling, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in the United Kingdom.

Though Iran vehemently denies any involvement in Thursday’s maritime strike, it has no proxies that could have carried it out. The only Iran-backed group that could operate drones that far south is the Houthis in Yemen, but they don’t have the means of carrying out such a sophisticated attack.

The Houthis do, however, have a record of claiming responsibility for drone and missiles attacks that were clearly the work of Iranian forces. The Houthis, for example, said they carried out the September 2019 Aramco strikes that temporarily cut Saudi oil production in half, but major world powers, as well as the Saudis, agreed it was an Iranian operation.

“The Houthis have a long history of activity where their claims don’t match up with what happened, where they’re claiming actions that the Iranians conducted,” Watling pointed out. “I think it’s pretty clear that Iran is responsible and not the Houthis in this case.”During a trip organized by the Saudi information ministry, workers fix the damage in Aramco’s oil separator at processing facility after the September 14 attack in Abqaiq, near Dammam in the Kingdom’s Eastern Province, September 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

“The Mercer Street attack marks the confluence of two trends in Iranian regional aggression: attacking commercial vessels at sea and using drones,” Ari Cicurel, a senior policy analyst at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America, told The Times of Israel.

“This latest attack represents a growing tendency by Iran and its proxies to use drones, particularly armed suicide drones across the Middle East, which are challenging for existing air defense systems to intercept,” he said.

It is unclear exactly what Iran was seeking to accomplish with the attack, though it seemed to fit an Iranian pattern of striking Israel-linked vessels in response to Israeli actions in Syria or at sea.

On February 26, a blast struck the Israeli-owned MV Helios Ray, a Bahamian-flagged cargo ship, in the Gulf of Oman. The operation seemed to have been carefully planned, and mirrored a series of attacks on tankers in 2019 and an Iranian campaign against shipping vessels four decades ago.This picture taken on February 28, 2021 shows a view of the Israeli-owned Bahamian-flagged MV Helios Ray cargo ship docked in Dubai’s Mina Rashid (Port Rashid) cruise terminal. (Giuseppe CACACE / AFP)

In subsequent months, other Israeli-owned ships came under missile fire in the Indian Ocean.

The Mercer Street strike would appear to fit that pattern.

Tehran certainly didn’t intend to sink the Mercer Street, as the drones carried a small payload and targeted the superstructure, not the hull, of the ship, similar to the strikes against other Israel-linked ships.

The attack might also have been influenced by the stalled Vienna nuclear talks.

“Iranian projectile attacks seek to increase Tehran’s influence in the Middle East and pressure the United States to reenter the JCPOA,” said Cicurel. “With a hardline Iranian president taking office, Iran may be testing the resolve of the new Israeli government, as well as the UK and US governments.”File: Russia’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mikhail Ulyanov, stands in front of the Grand Hotel Vienna where closed-door nuclear talks with Iran take place, in Vienna, Austria, Wednesday, June 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Lisa Leutner)

Iran and the US have been holding indirect talks in Vienna since April over a return to the 2015 deal, which granted Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for significant curbs on its nuclear program.

The sixth round of talks adjourned in late June, and while the Biden administration has expressed interest in returning to the negotiating table, US officials have voiced increasing pessimism regarding the chances for an agreement.

There is also the possibility that the drone strike was not part of a broad Iranian strategy. The Iranian system is not especially well-integrated, especially between the executive branch and the IRGC, and attacks have been carried out in the past without the knowledge of the president.

The queen’s gambit

The Mercer Street is managed by a London-based company, but it is unlikely that Iran was looking to specifically target the UK.

Because the attack killed a British citizen, London will be forced to respond in some way. Still, based on past incidents, Israel should not anticipate a kinetic attack by UK forces.Iranian Revolutionary Guards patrol around the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero while it is anchored off the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas, on July 21, 2019. (Hasan Shirvani / MIZAN NEWS AGENCY / AFP)

In July 2019, the IRGC navy seized a British tanker — ignoring warnings from a British warship — and held it for two months. The UK did not strike Iran militarily in response to the brazen move.

Nor did the British military act when 15 Royal Navy personnel were seized by Iranian forces in the Persian Gulf in 2007.

If the British do act, it will likely be in the diplomatic or economic spheres.

“In the UK’s case, there is a preference to say that if you cause the UK problems in one area, we will demonstrate a capacity to cause you problems in a seemingly unrelated area,” Watling explained.

The Biden administration isn’t likely to act either, according to Guzansky, who said, “I don’t see the climate right now. Bear in mind there are the negotiations in Vienna.”

“The public statements [about Iranian complicity] may be about providing a green light for an Israeli response,” said Cicurel.

Israel’s options

Israel, however, has shown that it is willing to strike Iranian assets and allies in Syria, and even at sea — a form of deterrence by punishment.

“Unlike the UK, Israel is quite comfortable engaging in this type of behavior,” said Watling.Screen capture from video said to show the Iranian ship MV Saviz, on fire following an explosion as it was anchored off the coast of Yemen. (Screenshot: Twitter)

In March, the Wall Street Journal reported that Israel has targeted at least 12 ships bound for Syria, most of them transporting Iranian oil, with mines and other weapons, starting in late 2019.

Israel is also believed to be behind the April attack on the Saviz in the Red Sea,  described as an IRGC “mothership.”

But this attack won’t necessarily lead to another retaliatory strike by Israel on Iranian shipping.

“I don’t get a sense at the moment that the Israeli government feels that this is beyond acceptable,” said Watling.

Moreover, while Israel’s operations in Syria seem to have forced decision-makers in Tehran to accept that they would be wise to avoid attacking Israeli soldiers and infrastructure from across the border, the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman are different stories entirely.An Israeli Navy Dolphin-class submarine. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Israel has little capacity – beyond submarines — to project power there, while Iran has invested heavily in pursuing hegemony over the seas in its neighborhood, including the Strait of Hormuz, a key shipping lane.

“The experience that we have is that the Iranians are not hesitating to escalate in an area where the Israeli Navy has no capability to operate,” said Prof. Shaul Chorev, head of the University Of Haifa’s Maritime Policy & Strategy Research Center.

“It’s a bit of an overstretch,” said Guzansky. “I would advise Israel to leave it. Iran made a mistake and it will pay for it in the international arena.”

So far, Israel is pursuing the diplomatic avenue aggressively.

On Friday, Lapid said he had ordered Israeli diplomats to push for UN action against “Iranian terrorism.”

“I’ve instructed the embassies in Washington, London and the UN to work with their interlocutors in government and the relevant delegations in the UN headquarters in New York,” Lapid said on Twitter.

Marshalling a firm international response would be a major achievement by the Lapid-Bennett government. But with the Vienna talks looking increasingly fragile, many world powers have bigger issues on their minds.

Iran warns it will respond to any action over tanker attack

Posted August 2, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Tehran dismisses UK, US comments linking it to drone strike; Britain summons Iranian ambassador over incident

By AFP and TOI STAFFToday, 5:03 pm  

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh during a press conference in Tehran, on February 22, 2021. (Atta Kenare / AFP)

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh during a press conference in Tehran, on February 22, 2021. (Atta Kenare / AFP)

Iran on Monday vowed to respond to any “adventurism” after the US and Britain joined Israel in blaming Tehran for a deadly tanker attack, claims it denies.

Iran “will not hesitate to protect its security and national interests, and will immediately and decisively respond to any possible adventurism,” Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a statement.

He dismissed US and Britain’s allegations as “contradictory,” and said that “if they have any evidence to support their baseless claims they should provide them.”

The MT Mercer Street, managed by prominent Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer, was attacked on Thursday off Oman.

A British security guard and a Romanian crew member were killed in what the United States, Britain, and the vessel’s operator Zodiac Maritime said appeared to be a drone strike.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

Israel blamed Iran for the attack, accusations rejected by Tehran.

Khatibzadeh said Sunday that Israel “must stop such baseless accusations.”

The US and Britain followed Israel in blaming Iran for the attack, with Washington vowing an “appropriate response

Khatibzadeh on Monday accused the US and UK of effectively supporting “terrorist attacks against and sabotage of Iran’s commercial ships” through their “silence.”

Britain summoned Iran’s ambassador to London in response to the tanker attack.

“The Iranian ambassador to the UK, Mohsen Baharvand, was summoned today to the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office… in response to the unlawful attack committed on MV Mercer Street on 29 July,” said a Monday British government statement.

“Iran must immediately cease actions that risk international peace and security,” it added, saying that “vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law.”

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Sunday that Britain “believes the attack… was carried out by Iran and was deliberate, targeted and unlawful.”

Romania as well pinned responsibility on Iran for the drone attack that killed one of its citizens.

This Jan. 2, 2016 file photo shows the Liberian-flagged oil tanker Mercer Street off Cape Town, South Africa. (Johan Victor via AP)

“There is no justification whatsoever for deliberately attacking civilians. We continue to coordinate with our partners for an appropriate response,” Romanian Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu said in a statement on Monday.

The Iranian ambassador was summoned to the foreign ministry in Bucharest, according to Romania’s national news agency.

US Navy forces came to the aid of the crew in response to an emergency distress call and saw evidence of the attack, said a US military statement.

Analysts said the attack bore all the hallmarks of tit-for-tat exchanges in the “shadow war” between Israel and Iran, in which vessels linked to each nation have been targeted in waters around the Gulf.

The MT Mercer Street was in the northern Indian Ocean, traveling from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates with no cargo on board when the attack occurred.

Iran’s state TV channel in Arabic Al-Alam, citing “informed regional sources,” said the attack was a “response to a recent Israeli attack” targeting an airport in central Syria. It did not provide further details.

In this photo provided by the US Navy, sailors assigned to an explosive ordnance unit board an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter on the flight deck of aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan to head to an oil tanker that was attacked off the coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea on July 30, 2021 (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Quinton A. Lee/U.S. Navy, via AP)

There have been several recent reported attacks on Iranian ships that Tehran has blamed on Israel.

Iranian Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri said on Monday that over a dozen Iranian tankers had been damaged by US and Israeli bomb attacks during the time Donald Trump was serving as US president.

“Trump and his team stood to prevent us from selling even one barrel of oil,” Jahangiri said, according to the Iranian Fars news agency. “They exploded or damaged 12 of our oil tankers. The Israelis stepped onto one of our oil tankers and exploded it.”

In March, Iran said it was “considering all options” after an attack on a cargo ship in the Mediterranean that it blamed on Israel.

In April, Tehran said its freighter Saviz was hit by an “explosion” in the Red Sea, after media reports said Israel had targeted the ship. The New York Times reported at the time that it was an Israeli “retaliatory” attack, after “Iran’s earlier strikes on Israeli ships.”

Iran has also accused Israel of sabotaging its nuclear sites and killing a number of its nuclear scientists.

Iran runs out of water after years of mismanagement

Posted July 30, 2021 by davidking1530
Categories: Uncategorized

Sucks to be you, Iran.

I know of a nearby country that has world class expertise in water management…

https://www.theaustralian.com.au/world/the-times/iran-runs-out-of-water-after-years-of-mismanagement/news-story/ab8e0e30f1760624b80f7c00ae40af51

25 July 2021

A diver takes the plunge into the deepest swimming pool in the world - reaching 60m below - in the United Arab Emirates, one of five countries to record temperatures above 50C on the same day last month.

Iran is “water bankrupt” after years of mismanagement under the regime, leading to shortages that have triggered deadly protests across the country and discontent in the wider Middle East, an exiled expert has said.

All sources of the nation’s water — rivers, reservoirs and groundwater — are starting to run dry, Kaveh Madani, a scientist and former deputy environment minister now living in the United States, told The Times.

Iran’s energy minister has admitted that the country is facing an unprecedented crisis, and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 82, the supreme leader, has expressed some sympathy with the demonstrators. “We cannot really blame the people,” he said.

At least eight people have died in recent protests, which started in Khuzestan, the southern province which has suffered some of the worst effects, according to Amnesty International.

The water shortage is being replicated across the region, with the marshes of southern Iraq starting to dry out again despite restoration efforts, and eastern Syria suffering a drought.

Farther west, nearly three quarters of Lebanon’s population, including a million refugees, could lose access to safe water in the next four to six weeks after the pumping system started to break down amid a fuel shortage, Unicef said.

The crisis in the Middle East has been brewing for years, with repeated warnings of “water wars”. The problem has been exacerbated by global warming, with average temperatures rising inexorably.

Five countries recorded temperatures above 50C on the same day last month — the UAE, Iran, Oman, Kuwait and Pakistan — and the region’s mega-cities are expected to experience temperatures of up to 55C for days at a time by the middle of the century.

However, water experts say that the underlying problem is mismanagement across the region. In Iran, 600 dams have been built since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and the accompanying hydroelectric power plants are now a vital part of the nation’s economy. Experts say that reservoirs in such hot and arid areas lose so much water to evaporation — two billion cubic metres of water a month in Iran — that they have become part of the problem.

“The system is water bankrupt when consumption is more than renewable water availability,” Madani said. He was an academic at Imperial College London before being recruited in 2017 to become deputy head of Iran’s environment ministry. However, his appointment offended hardliners and he was detained by the Revolutionary Guard, accused of spying and eventually forced to leave.

He said Iran had to plan to live with shortages. “Iran cannot fully restore its wetlands, aquifers and rivers in a short period of time,” he said. “So, it has to admit to water bankruptcy and stop denying that many of the damages have become irreversible.”

The crisis was foreseen years ago. In 2005 Reza Ardakanian, 63, now the energy minister, wrote a paper in his capacity as a water management expert in which he warned that Iran’s water extraction was double sustainable levels.

He has pointed out that the present crisis has coincided with one of the driest years in five decades: meteorologists say rainfall in the region is down by as much as 85 per cent.

In Iran, cheap fuel has been used to power pumps to extract vast amounts of groundwater to drive the country’s massively expanded agriculture. The falling levels of groundwater can be detected from space; Nasa says the loss in weight has affected the region’s gravitational field.

Iran is not the only victim. Over-extraction of groundwater has caused droughts in eastern Syria, the country’s breadbasket, while both Syria and Iraq have complained about Turkish dams impeding the flow of the Euphrates and Tigris into Mesopotamia.

The crisis has had diplomatic effects. Egypt has threatened war if Ethiopia continues to fill its Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Nile unchecked. Israel, by contrast, has offered to double the amount of desalinated water it sells to Jordan as part of efforts by the new government to build ties.

In Lebanon, mismanagement of fuel supplies has contributed to the water crisis. The central bank has subsidised imports but has now run out of dollars, leading to widespread shortages.

Mains electricity is running at a maximum of two hours a day. Operators of the private generators which make up the difference may have to turn them off in the next few days for lack of diesel, raising the extraordinary prospect of a modern country almost entirely without electricity.

Yukie Mokuo, Lebanon’s Unicef representative, said yesterday: “Unless urgent action is taken, hospitals, schools and essential public facilities will be unable to function and over four million people will be forced to resort to unsafe and costly sources of water, putting children’s health and hygiene at risk.”

After months of optimism, a return to the Iran nuke deal begins to look unlikely

Posted July 27, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized


The Islamic Republic’s demands, along with progress in its program, make a return to the JCPOA seem much more difficult than when Biden came into office

By LAZAR BERMAN26 July 2021, 7:48 pm  

In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, July 14, 2021. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, July 14, 2021. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

After months of expectations that a breakthrough in the Vienna talks on Iran’s nuclear program was only a matter of time, the chances of success are now looking increasingly remote.

Earlier this month, Iran’s deputy foreign minister said negotiations on restoring the nuclear deal will not resume until the hardliner Ebrahim Raisi takes office as president on August 5.

Though both sides have significant incentives to return to the deal, Iran’s aggressive negotiating demands and steady progress in its nuclear program have created a gap between the sides that looks increasingly difficult to bridge.

Furthermore, it is not entirely clear now that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei still wants to return to a deal, despite the Biden administration’s clear desire to finalize one.

Back in the box

Iran and the US have been holding indirect talks in Vienna since April over a return to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which granted Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for significant curbs on its nuclear program.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

Former US president Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions against Iran, which led the Islamic Republic to step up uranium enrichment to its highest-ever levels in violation of the accord.Then-US president Donald J. Trump signs an executive order on Iran Sanctions at Trump National Golf Club, August 6, 2018, in Bedminster Township, New Jersey. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

The new US administration, in contrast, has been open about its eagerness to restore the nuclear deal.

“Biden had from the start been explicit that he wants to get back into the JCPOA and put the Iran nuclear program in a box so that Biden can deal with a million other problems facing him on day one when he took office, both foreign and domestic policy,” said Jonathan Ruhe, director of foreign policy at The Jewish Institute for National Security of America.

The Biden administration has even shown itself willing to allow Iran access to frozen assets abroad, which Iran has dismissed as empty gestures.

“Clearly the regime is not feeling the economic noose at tightly as they were,” said Richard Goldberg, senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, December 2, 2020. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

The sixth round of talks adjourned in late June, and while the Biden administration has expressed interest in returning to the negotiating table, US officials have voiced increasing pessimism regarding the chances for an agreement.

The equation for a deal seems straightforward: Iran rolls back its nuclear program to the terms laid out in great detail by the JCPOA, while the US rolls back most Trump-era sanctions.

But Iran — or at least the hardline elements around Ali Khamenei — is demanding more. Tehran wants all the sanctions removed, including those dealing with terrorism and other non-nuclear issues.

Iranian negotiators are also demanding guarantees that the US cannot withdraw from a deal again without UN approval. The demand is an obvious non-starter, as an agreement by a US administration is not binding on any future ones, and it is utterly unthinkable — not to mention unconstitutional — that the US would give countries like Russia and China veto power over its foreign policy at the UN.Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, arrives at the ‘Grand Hotel Vienna’ where closed-door nuclear talks are taking place in the Austrian capital, on June 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter)

The blunt — some would also say unsophisticated — approach taken by the Iranian negotiating team is a stark contrast to its skillful maneuvering from 2013 to 2015 that led to a deal.

“Iran did a great job building up leverage in the previous talks leading to the 2015 deal,” said Ruhe.

Tehran is looking to build leverage this time around as well, including through its proxy militias in Iraq, which are believed to be behind a series of recent drone attacks on US bases in the country.

Iranian intelligence agents even plotted to kidnap an Iranian-American journalist in Brooklyn and spirit her off to Iran.Journalist Masih Alinejad speaks onstage at the 7th Annual Women In The World Summit at the Lincoln Center in New York City, April 7, 2016. (Jemal Countess / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP)

Most significantly, the Iranians have been openly escalating its nuclear program beyond the agreement’s limits: in the numbers and types of centrifuges they are running, in the quantities and levels of uranium they are enriching — up to 60 percent — and in their production of uranium metal.

“Even the Biden administration, which wants a deal badly, is having a hard time saying, ‘We’ll give in to the pressure,’” said Ruhe.

Iran began to openly abrogate its responsibilities under the JCPOA in July 2019, and has been accelerating its program and limiting access to its nuclear sites after the Guardian Council passed a law in December 2020 requiring the government to do so if sanctions were not lifted.

Facts on the ground

The Iranian advances might render a return to the original JCPOA impossible, even if Iran were willing to remove its unrealistic demands.

“There is a series of new facts on the ground that Iran has been creating in its nuclear program,” said Goldberg.A satellite photo by Maxar Technologies shows construction at Iran’s Fordo nuclear facility on December 11, 2020. Iran has begun construction on a site at its underground nuclear facility at Fordo amid tensions with the US over its atomic program (Maxar Technologies via AP)

The JCPOA was crafted before Iran had developed new advanced centrifuges, which enable them to advance far more quickly to a bomb. Moreover, Iran been building out its nuclear facilities, including the underground Fordo nuclear facility and a new underground centrifuge production site at Natanz.

Since the facilities did not exist in 2015, it is not at all clear that a return to the JCPOA would necessitate their dismantlement.  In any event, the Iranian program is going to be far more advanced than the deal ever imagined, and the Iranians will still possess all the knowledge they have gained over the past two years.

To make matters more complicated, Iran’s program is much more opaque now than it was in 2015.

In late February, Iran limited the IAEA’s access to nuclear sites it had been monitoring as part of the 2015 deal.Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), speaks during a press conference at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna, Austria on May 24, 2021. (ALEX HALADA/AFP)

A three-month agreement reached on February 21 allowing some inspections to continue was extended by another month in May. Under that deal Iran pledged to keep recordings “of some activities and monitoring equipment” and hand them over to the IAEA as and when US sanctions are lifted.

In June, Iran said it would not hand over the footage.

“We have some idea of how advanced Iran’s nuclear program is. But there’s much more ambiguity now around it than there was before talks started,” Ruhe explained.

That ambiguity makes a new deal difficult as well. Without knowing how advanced Iran’s program is — how significant its enriched uranium stockpiles are and how many centrifuges are running — the Americans cannot be sure of what they are trying to get the Iranians to concede.

What does Khamenei want?

Iran’s negotiating posture raises questions about what Khamenei’s endgame is.

One possibility is that the supreme leader’s strategic direction has not changed, and he ultimately wants to get to back to the agreement. That would mean his negotiators have been playing for time as a negotiating tactic, seeing how far they can push the Biden administration.

“They may be saying, we’ve already pocketed all of these sanctions from the Americans, we still want more,” Goldberg said.

“In my opinion, it’s not only Biden who wants to put the nuclear issues ‘back into the box’ but also Khamenei,” said Raz Zimmt, Iran scholar at the Institute for National Security Studies.People withdraw money from an ATM in Tehran’s grand bazaar on November 3, 2018. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

A deal will help Iran deal with its economic woes, grant it increased legitimacy on the world stage, and indicate to the West that Raisi is more moderate than he seems right now.

Still, this does not guarantee that the Iranians will ultimately agree to a deal.

“Even though the Iranians have incentives to get the sanctions relief secured, the hardliners in Iran always seem to have a hard time bringing themselves to say yes to anything with the Americans,” said Ruhe.

It is also conceivable, however, that Khamenei has decided not to reenter the agreement.

“They would prefer to bypass sanctions through countries like China, and create a ‘resistance economy,’” said Zimmt.

In this telling, the Iranians understand that there will never be any guarantees that US will not reimpose sanctions in the future, and the Biden administration itself will push for “longer and stronger” sanctions in a follow-on deal.Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during a meeting with Iran’s army’s air force and air defense staff in Tehran, Iran, February 7, 2021. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Khamenei would thus be continuing to negotiate in order to give the Iranian program as much time as possible to advance while the West is focused on the talks, and so Tehran can blame the US when the talks fail.

Domestic blame game

Within Iran, a blame game has broken out between the outgoing Hassan Rouhani administration and the incoming Raisi team.

“The situation now is that the main argument is not between Iran and the world powers, but within Iran,”  explained Zimmt.

Rouhani and Mohammad Javad Zarif’s foreign ministry are trying to write their political wills, said Zimmt.Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (left) welcomes Cornel Feruta, acting head of the UN atomic watchdog, to the Iranian capital Tehran on September 8, 2019. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Zarif wrote a letter to the parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee on July 11, laying out his view on the JCPOA and on the ongoing negotiations with the US.

The letter defended the deal, and put blame on the Iranian deep state for failing to take advantage of the deal’s potential and for not reciprocating American attempts to find common ground this year.

The hardliners, including the Revolutionary Guards and their allies, blame Rouhani and Zarif for failing to defend Iranian interests and red lines, and for not adhering to the December 2020 law on accelerating Iran’s nuclear program.

Ultimately, however, the decision lies with Khamenei and Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.

Lapid and Gantz said to warn US: Iran is close to nuclear threshold

Posted July 26, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized


Senior diplomat cautions that Tehran could take advantage of lull in talks, until Iran’s new president installed, to advance program

By TOI STAFF25 July 2021, 10:45 pm  

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken greets Foreign Minister Yair Lapid ahead of their meeting in Rome, on June 27, 2021. (Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken greets Foreign Minister Yair Lapid ahead of their meeting in Rome, on June 27, 2021. (Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP)

Israeli authorities have warned US officials in recent days that Iran is closer than ever to attaining nuclear weapons, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and other Israeli officials have addressed the issue with their American counterparts recently, issuing an “unusual warning,” according to the Sunday report.

Nuclear talks between world powers and Iran — attended indirectly by the US — have been ongoing for months in Vienna, but have stalled in recent weeks.

“Something has to happen with the negotiations with Iran,” a senior diplomat told Kan. “This ‘limbo’ cannot be a time when Iran is quickly advancing toward becoming a nuclear threshold state.”

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is working to schedule a meeting in Washington with US President Joe Biden next month, though he is hampered by his wafer-thin majority in the Knesset, requiring his presence for every crucial vote.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

Since April, Tehran has been engaged in talks with world powers in Vienna over reviving a 2015 nuclear accord, with Washington taking part indirectly in the negotiations.US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (right) hosts an honor cordon welcoming Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the Pentagon in Washington on June 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The talks aim to return the US to the deal it withdrew from in 2018 under former president Donald Trump by lifting the sanctions reimposed on Tehran, and to have Tehran return to full compliance with nuclear commitments it has gradually retreated from in retaliation for sanctions.

Then-president Reuven Rivlin and US President Joe Biden in the White House on June 29, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Iran has confirmed that the talks will not resume until the ultraconservative new president, Ebrahim Raisi, takes office in August.

Israel has long opposed the nuclear deal and Biden’s stated intentions to reenter the treaty.

“We would like the world to understand that the Iranian regime is violent and fanatical,” Bennett said last month. “It selected the ‘Hangman of Tehran’ as its president — a man who is willing to starve his own people for years in order to have a military nuclear program. That is a regime that one should not do business with.”

Bennett added that Israel “will continue to consult with our friends, persuade, discuss, and share information and insights out of mutual respect. But at the end of the day, we will be responsible for our own fate, nobody else.”

From left, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States and United Nations Gilad Erdan, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan meet in Washington on June 23, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

Shortly after Bennett took office, then-president Reuven Rivlin met with Biden at the White House in Washington, and made clear Israel’s message on Iran. Rivlin told Biden that “the Iranian nuclear deal, as it currently stands, endangers the State of Israel.”

Lapid met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Rome a month ago, and stressed that Israel has “some serious reservations” about the Iran nuclear deal being negotiated in Vienna. Gantz was hosted by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin last month.

Also last month, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi warned US officials during a visit to Washington about “the failures of the current nuclear deal, which allow Iran to make significant advances in the coming years in the quantity and quality of centrifuges and in the amount and quality of enriched uranium, and he stressed the lack of oversight in the area of developing a nuclear weapon.”

AFP contributed to this report.

IDF said asking for major budget increase to enable attack against Iran

Posted July 15, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Request for billions of shekels comes as government begins preparing for possibility that talks to revive nuclear deal fall apart; Netanyahu accused of neglecting issue

By TOI STAFFToday, 5:38 am  

Illustrative: Fighter jets from the IAF's second F-35 squadron, the Lions of the South, fly over southern Israel. (Israel Defense Forces)

Illustrative: Fighter jets from the IAF’s second F-35 squadron, the Lions of the South, fly over southern Israel. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces is reportedly asking for a major budget increase worth billions of shekels so that it can properly prepare for a potential attack against Iran’s nuclear program.

The request was made during preliminary discussions on the budget, which the new government will seek to pass in the coming months, the Kan public broadcaster reported Wednesday.

Those negotiations took place as Israel began preparing for the possibility that indirect negotiations between the US and Iran in Vienna, aimed at reviving their multilateral nuclear agreement, fall apart, Kan said.

According to a separate Channel 12 report on Wednesday, the security establishment has accused former prime minister and current opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu of neglecting to adequately prepare for such a scenario.

Unnamed sources in the security establishment claimed that Netanyahu did not allocate funds for drawing up a military strike, which could be necessary in the months ahead if Israel wants to attack Iran before it reaches nuclear breakout capacity.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

Such operations require significant preparation, and defense officials told Channel 12 they’re concerned the delay in planning could lead to a scenario in which Israel is “waving a gun without any bullets in it.”

Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the United Nations General Assembly on September 27, 2018, in New York City, and holds up a picture of what he said was a secret Iranian nuclear warehouse. (John Moore/Getty Images/AFP)

The network quoted a source close to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett who lambasted his predecessor, claiming “his neglect is what allowed Iran to reach the most advanced stage yet in its nuclear program.”

Earlier Wednesday, the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom daily published an op-ed by the opposition leader in which he claimed the new Bennett-led government has been “silent” as “the Iranians are rushing toward the bomb.”

Prospects for failure in Vienna appeared to have been bolstered Wednesday after a diplomatic official told Reuters that Iran had notified mediators they would not be returning to negotiations until after the relatively moderate outgoing President Hassan Rouhani is replaced by hardliner Ebrahim Raisi next month.

Also on Wednesday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz called for Israel to step up its preparations for the possibility of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon.

“Against the greatest threat — Iran arming itself with a nuclear weapon — we have no choice but to expand our force build-up, to continue to rely on our human capital and to adapt our capabilities and our plans,” Gantz said at a graduation ceremony for Israel’s National Defense College outside Tel Aviv.

In his speech, Gantz called for the government to allow the country’s security services to “maintain military superiority, which ensures our secure existence and advances peace.”

“All of these threats demand that we speed up and increase our preparedness to carry out our mission with an iron wall of action and not to get by with just words,” Gantz said.

Iran accuses Israel of June attack on alleged centrifuge plant

Posted July 6, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

In reversal, Iranian government acknowledges damage to Karaj facility, says strike was meant to thwart Vienna talks on reviving nuclear deal

By AP and TOI STAFFToday, 1:48 pm  

The alleged Karaj centrifuge parts plant near Karaj, Iran, seen in a photo posted online by google user Edward Majnoonian in May 2019. (screen capture: Google Maps)

The alleged Karaj centrifuge parts plant near Karaj, Iran, seen in a photo posted online by google user Edward Majnoonian in May 2019. (screen capture: Google Maps)

Iran on Tuesday accused Israel of a sabotage attack in June that reportedly targeted a nuclear facility near Tehran, the official IRNA news agency reported.

According to the report, cabinet spokesman Ali Rabiei said the alleged attack sought to thwart ongoing talks in Vienna on resurrecting Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers. IRNA quoted Rabiei as saying such actions only make Iran stronger.

“The Zionist regime carried out this action to signal it can stop Iran and to say [to world powers] that there is no need to talk with Iran,” said Rabiei. “But whenever sabotage has happened, our strength has increased.”

Iran has offered few details on the attack it said targeted a sprawling nuclear center located in Karaj, a city about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of the Iranian capital. On June 23, state TV said it was an attempted attack against a building belonging to Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization that left no casualties or damage.

Rabiei on Monday said there was damage to the ceiling and also that “damage to equipment was not remarkable.”Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

“A hole appeared on the ceiling of one of the industrial sheds so the roof was removed for repair,” Rabiei said. He said a satellite image that was distributed at the time was taken after the roof of the shed had been removed for repairs.

Iran’s government spokesman Ali Rabiei at a news briefing, on July 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

His comments came several days after an Israeli report said experts believe the attack caused extensive damage, destroying or disabling all equipment at part of the site, which was allegedly used for producing centrifuges to enrich uranium.

On Saturday, private Israeli intelligence group The Intel Lab Saturday said that the roof had largely been dismantled by Iran as part of rehabilitation activities following the attack. The dismantled roof allowed analysts to peek inside, where dark coloration indicated the presence of a large fire in the building, the smallest of three main structures at the site.ADVERTISEMENT

Iranian authorities did not specify which facility in Karaj had been targeted. There are two sites associated with Iran’s nuclear program known to be in the area, including the Karaj Agricultural and Medical Research Center, founded in 1974. Authorities describe it as a facility that uses nuclear technology to improve “quality of soil, water, agricultural and livestock production.”

The area is located near various industrial sites, including pharmaceutical production facilities where Iran has manufactured its domestic coronavirus vaccine.

The agricultural nuclear research center is not listed as a “safeguard facility” with the UN nuclear watchdog — the International Atomic Energy Agency — though a nearby nuclear waste facility around Karaj is.

Previously, social media in Iran crackled with unconfirmed reports that an unmanned aerial drone was prevented from targeting a COVID-19 vaccine production facility.

The Karaj incident followed several suspected attacks targeting Iran’s nuclear program that have heightened regional tensions in recent months, as diplomatic efforts gain traction in Vienna.

In April, Iran’s underground Natanz nuclear facility experienced a mysterious blackout that damaged some of its centrifuges. Last July, unexplained fires struck the advanced centrifuge assembly plant at Natanz, which authorities later described as sabotage. Iran is now rebuilding that facility deep inside a nearby mountain.

According to a New York Times report last month, the factory at Karaj was tasked with replacing damaged centrifuges at Natanz.

Iran also blames Israel for the November killing of a scientist who began the country’s military nuclear program decades earlier.

Former US president Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw America in 2018 from the nuclear deal has seen Iran, over time, abandon all limitations on its uranium enrichment. The country is now enriching uranium to 60 percent, its highest ever levels, although still shy of weapons grade. Iran has claimed that its nuclear ambitions are peaceful and that it will return to its commitments once the US lifts its sanctions.

While Iran maintains that the Karaj facility is used for civilian purposes, the country has been subjected to United Nations, European Union and American sanctions since at least 2007 for being involved in nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The US lifted those sanctions under the 2015 nuclear deal, but then reimposed them in 2018 when Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord.

Biden tells Rivlin he won’t allow Iranian nukes on his watch

Posted June 29, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized


US president hosts outgoing Israeli head of state at White House, says he will meet with Bennett ‘very soon’; Rivlin says he is ‘very much satisfied’ with Biden’s comments

By JACOB MAGIDTAL SCHNEIDER and APToday, 12:45 am  

US President Joe Biden meets with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in the Oval Office June 28, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Doug Mills/New York Times/Pool/Getty Images/AFP)

US President Joe Biden meets with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in the Oval Office June 28, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Doug Mills/New York Times/Pool/Getty Images/AFP)

WASHINGTON — US President Joe Biden sought to assure Israel that he would not tolerate a nuclear Iran as he met with outgoing Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Monday amid growing angst over the US administration’s effort to reenter the Iran nuclear deal.

Biden noted that he had ordered airstrikes a day earlier targeting facilities the US military says were used by Iran-backed militia groups near the border between Iraq and Syria. The rhetoric seemed to underscore that he would remain tough on malign Iran activity even as he seeks a diplomatic track to stem Tehran’s nuclear program.

“What I can say to you is that Iran will never get a nuclear weapon on my watch,” Biden said at the White House meeting.

Rivlin said he was “very much satisfied” by Biden’s statement.

“Things are still far from decided,” he said, referring to talks to revive Iran’s 2015 accord with world powers to limit Tehran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons. Former US President Donald Trump, with former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s backing, scrapped the accord in 2018, but the Biden administration has sought to re-enter the deal.

Israel’s new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, has maintained Netanyahu’s line of opposition to the pact, which Israel maintains still allows Tehran to pursue nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles while supporting proxy groups that sow terror abroad.

However, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has pledged to handle disagreements behind closed doors, as opposed to Netanyahu, who was more willing to publicize his disapproval with the American administration https://youtu.be/gpCCtAx7SK8

Biden said he hoped to meet Bennett at the White House “very soon.” Following the meeting, Rivlin told reporters in Hebrew that Biden “thinks it is necessary to invite the prime minister as soon as possible in order to coordinate matters regarding the way forward on the problems that the world is facing and in the Middle East.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki earlier said the sides were “working on a date” for the meeting. Bennett’s office confirmed the talks to Israel’s Walla news site.

US President Joe Biden and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin (L) hold a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, June 28, 2021. (SAUL LOEB / AFP)

Israel has “no greater friend alive,” than the US, Rivlin said at the start of the meeting with Biden, attempting to downplay the seriousness of any rift arising from disagreements over Iran or other policy matters.

“We, according to real friendship, from time to time discuss matters and even agree not to agree about everything,” he said, without mentioning Iran by name. “But we count on you and your declaration just now really brought Israelis to understand that we have a great friend in the White House.”

Rivlin later told reporters that “Biden was a real great friend of Israel.”

“We found a friend who was responsive to our requests and demands to keep an eye on everything related to the agreement being formed with Iran,” he said.

Rivlin, on his last foreign visit as president, is set to leave office on July 7 after a seven-year term. Isaac Herzog, a former parliament member who most recently headed the Jewish Agency for Israel will take over as Israeli president.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin speaks with members of the media after meeting with US President Joe Biden in the Oval Office June 28, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)

Rivlin later met with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of the House leadership team. Pelosi said bipartisan support for Israel in Congress remained bipartisan “because of our shared values and because of our mutual security concerns.”

During Netanyahu’s time in office, he had been accused of harming the bipartisan nature of that support by publicly feuding with former president Barack Obama, especially over the nuclear accord, and by closely allying with Republican lawmakers.

Only one Republican, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, attended the meeting.President Reuven Rivlin, left, speaking alongside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Washington on June 28, 2021. (Tal Schneider/Times of Israel)

Among those joining Rivlin and Biden in their meeting were Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan and Deputy US Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, a key architect of the 2015 nuclear deal.

Prior to his trip, Rivlin held consultations with Bennett and Lapid to coordinate messaging on various issues. During a private portion of the meeting with Biden, which lasted about an hour, Rivlin was expected to bring up Iran and Israel’s demands for the return of Israeli captives and soldiers’ remains being held in the Gaza Strip.

Meeting with heads of Jewish organizations and community leaders in New York on Sunday night, Rivlin said Iran’s election of hardliner Ebrahim Raisi as president was “further proof of the terrible danger that the Iranian regime poses to the Iranian people, to Israel, to the Middle East and to the entire world.”

“I intend to talk about this with President Biden during our meeting,” Rivlin said.

Biden said he would talk about Iran and the aftermath of the Gaza war with Rivlin. The president also underscored his support for continued normalization of relations between Israel and countries in the Arab and Muslim world and planned to reiterate the administration’s promise to resupply Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, which was depleted during the 11-day war with Hamas in Gaza.

Rockets from Gaza, on right, are seen in the night sky fired towards Israel from Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on May 14, 2021, while Iron Dome interceptor missiles, on left, rise to meet them. (Anas Baba/AFP)

“As American president, my commitment to Israel is… ironclad. It’s something that I often say, ‘If there wasn’t an Israel, we’d have to make one.’ This includes… an unwavering commitment to Israel’s self defense,” he said.

Before meeting Biden, Rivlin also met with Yousef al-Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates envoy to the US, to personally thank him for his significant role in bringing the Abraham Accords — which saw Israel and Abu Dhabi normalize ties last year — to fruition.

Biden has low hopes, at least for the moment, of reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, according to an official familiar with Biden administration deliberations. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations, said Biden administration officials are starting at square one in building contacts with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, a relationship that eroded during the Trump administration.

The meeting with Rivlin came one day after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met in Rome with Lapid, a centrist who along with Bennett and six other political allies built a fragile coalition government that put Netanyahu in the opposition.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (C) greets Foreign Minister Yair Lapid ahead of their meeting in Rome, on June 27, 2021. (Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP)

Aviv Kohavi, chief of staff of Israel Defense Forces, met last week with Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, and other senior national security officials. Kohavi reiterated Israel’s opposition to efforts by the Biden administration to revive the 2015 accord.

Administration officials, however, have countered in talks with Kohavi and others in the new Israeli government that it’s worth giving diplomacy a shot at stopping Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapons system, even if it’s not guaranteed, the official said.

US airstrikes in Iraq, Syria target Iran-backed militia groups

Posted June 28, 2021 by Joseph Wouk
Categories: Uncategorized

Biden authorizes strikes on three targets used to launch drone attacks against US soldiers and bases in the Middle East

By AFPToday, 3:32 am  

Illustrative: An F-35 fighter jet pilot and crew prepare for a mission at Al-Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, August 5, 2019.  (Staff Sgt. Chris Thornbury/US Air Force via AP)

Illustrative: An F-35 fighter jet pilot and crew prepare for a mission at Al-Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, August 5, 2019. (Staff Sgt. Chris Thornbury/US Air Force via AP)

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon announced Sunday it had conducted targeted airstrikes against “facilities used by Iran-backed militia groups” on the Iraq-Syria border, which it said were authorized by US President Joe Biden following ongoing attacks on US interests.

“At President Biden’s direction, US military forces earlier this evening conducted defensive precision airstrikes against facilities used by Iran-backed militia groups in the Iraq-Syria border region,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.

Kirby added that the targets — two in Syria, one in Iraq — were selected because “these facilities are utilized by Iran-backed militias that are engaged in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) attacks against US personnel and facilities in Iraq.”

US interests in Iraq have come under repeated attack in recent months, with the United States consistently blaming Iran-linked Iraqi factions for rocket and other attacks against Iraqi installations housing its personnel.

“Given the ongoing series of attacks by Iran-backed groups targeting US interests in Iraq, the president directed further military action to disrupt and deter such attacks,” Kirby said.

“Specifically, the US strikes targeted operational and weapons storage facilities at two locations in Syria and one location in Iraq, both of which lie close to the border between those countries,” he added.

US President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden walk on the South Lawn of the White House after stepping off Marine One, Sunday, June 27, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Since the start of the year there have been more than 40 attacks against US interests in Iraq, where 2,500 American troops are deployed as part of an international coalition to fight the jihadist Islamic State group.

The vast majority have been bombs against logistics convoys, while 14 were rocket attacks, some of them claimed by pro-Iran factions that aim to pressure Washington into withdrawing all their troops.

The strikes come one day after Iraqi Kurdish officials said three explosives-laden drones hit near the northern Iraqi city of Arbil, where the United States has a consulate.

It also occurred as the Hashed al-Shaabi, a pro-Iran paramilitary alliance opposed to the US presence in Iraq, held a military parade near Baghdad attended by senior officials.

In April, a drone packed with explosives hit the coalition’s Iraq headquarters in the military part of the airport in Arbil, the Iraqi Kurdish regional capital.

The tactic poses a headache for the coalition, as drones can evade air defenses.

“As demonstrated by this evening’s strikes, President Biden has been clear that he will act to protect US personnel,” Kirby said.